Saturday, October 24, 2009

LUNA Chix Pro Athlete Tyler Stewart's Ironman Hawaii Race Report

Ironman Hawaii

I think there are a lot of people out there who have some sort of athletic goal that they want to accomplish before they “kick the bucket”. I didn’t sign up for Ironman as a lifelong goal but rather a lifelong lesson. I had things to teach myself, lessons to learn before I “kick the bucket”. After my fifth time racing at the Ironman World Championships I can say that I have achieved my goal of teaching myself some lifelong lessons.

What are these lessons? Well, they aren’t about to stop wars, cure AIDS or eliminate cancer but they are my little goals. When I started doing triathlon 6 years ago I did it as a way to teach myself to face fear. As a child growing up I had ridden horses and played a number of team sports including lacrosse and field hockey. I was quite good at all of them. In fact, I was one of the best at both field hockey and lacrosse up until the 8th grade. But when I went to high school I gave up team sports. There would be a bunch of kids coming from all different schools and what happened if I wasn’t one of the best anymore. Instead of find out, I just quit! What a loser!

When a dare got me into triathlon I couldn’t turn it down. This was a way for me to play sports after a 12-year hiatus. This was my chance to nip fear of failure in the butt. So what if I wasn’t the best, so what if I didn’t finish, so what! People weren’t going to think any differently of me whether I won or whether I lost.

I’m now 8 Ironman deep, 5 Ironman world championships in and I am confidently going to say I have faced my fear of failure! I have raced as an amateur, I have raced as a professional, I have been 6th in my age group, I have won my age group, I have been the last professional to finish, I’ve won an Ironman and now the 10th best in the world. As a kid 10th in sports would have made me quit. Today 10th feels like a huge victory to me!

About my race:
Every morning of a race I wake up and say to myself, “Why do I do this?” When you are about to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles you better have a good answer to that question. I recently read an article asking the same question. Many people said things like, “so I can eat what I want” or “it keeps me fit”….let me tell you when you are out on the Queen K running towards the energy lab with the wind in your face, 100 degree heat, blisters on your feet, you better have a better answer than that!

I had thought about why I do this a lot before I came here to Kona this time around. In the last year I’ve had some seriously bad luck and unfortunate events and I didn’t even think I would be racing this year. I came here strong, healthy and ready to race. I came here to race for my friend and training partner Monique Petrov, who was suppose to race with me but 3 weeks ago was hit on her bike by a car going 45 mph. She’s alive but with 8 broken vertebrae, a shattered patella, a punctured lung, the list goes on and on she couldn’t be here. I came here to race for my step-dad Don that was suppose to be dead 3 years ago from lung cancer but is still here stomping around my races and giving me splits as I bike and run by. I came here to race because last November I came dangerously close to heart attack during IM Arizona after an ignorant doctor incorrectly – and dangerously—medicated me for a thyroid disorder. I came to Hawaii to race because I could and a lot of people would kill to be racing this race. I am now healthy, I am now strong and I am fortunate, so I toed the line at 6:45 am on October 10th and the cannon went off.

For the first time in my triathlon career I spent the entire swim with a pack. I have been working a lot on my swimming and it has been getting a lot better. I felt like the swim was easy, I sat on feet and just got pulled along. I was a little disappointed in my swim time cause I know I could have done better had I found some faster feet! But I was still 2 minutes faster than last year so at least I’m improving.

The bike is always the fun part. Every time I get on my trusty Orbea I feel at home. My coach, Matt Dixon, and I had decided that this year we were going to go about the bike course in a different way. I took the entire ride up to Hawi easy. I felt awesome. On my way back down from Hawi I planned to pick up the pace a little bit and own the back half of the bike course. I was flying. I am pretty sure I passed at least 35 girls on the bike. By the time I hit mile 80 I had not been drinking enough and the damage started to set in. For the first time in a race I had not peed on my bike which had me a little worried and in the last 30 miles I felt terrible. A wretched head wind coming back on the Queen K, dehydration and a left foot that was bugging me, I think I lost about 10 minutes in that last 30 miles. But hey, its all part of the race and all part of the day. I had very negative thoughts in my head as I was getting off the bike.

Onto the run and immediately I was in trouble. I have never been passed by that many girls right off the bat. I’m pretty sure in the first 8 miles 6 girls passed me that I had passed on the bike. I was running like a slug just doing anything I could to get through mile by mile. I still had not peed and for a girl that usually pees 5 times on the bike, I knew I was in trouble. There’s not a whole lot that I can say about the run except that I ran from aid station to aid station, ice cups to ice cups, cold water to cold water, hose to hose. There was nothing I could do about my pace as much as I tried to motivate myself by thinking about all the reasons I was here to race, my legs just wouldn’t move. It was hot out there! There seemed to be no wind at times, no mercy and all just survival mode. As awful as I felt some of the girls that passed me in the beginning had slowed down and I was able to pass them back and hold them off until the end of the race. (picture from

I learned a lot out there last Saturday. Often times when you don’t feel well its easy to give up, but if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other its amazing what forward motion will bring you. When I talk to my friend Meredith about this race I often find myself describing it as a race of attrition. Sometimes if you can just hang on, just keep moving, you will do better than you think. I ended up in 10th place last Saturday. Am I happy? I am happy to be 10th in the World. Does it make me wonder what I could have done had I had the race I wanted, sure does! But that is part of this sport. Aside from Chrissie Wellington, the athletes that finished in the top 5 last year either DNF’ed or placed way below where they did last year. It’s not because they are not as fit as last year, it’s just that this sport has such a huge x-factor that we cannot control. At the same time I think that is also what makes it so much fun!

Now my season is over and I couldn’t be happier to get back to the more normal part of my life. Back to hanging out with all my friends who I have neglected over the past 2 months, back to hosting our annual costume party, and of course our annual mechanical bull riding night.

As much as I love this sport I will never give my life to it. There are so many great things to do in this world and for me I now have the wings to explore all those other things. I can’t wait to go skiing, run the Dipsea Trail, do my first 50k, go snowshoeing, have another Saturday at work where we wash 35 dogs and to sleep in on a Sunday with my husband and not get out of bed until noon!

If you do this crazy sport of Ironman make sure you thank all of those that support you. It may look like a one-man sport but it is a team sport and couldn’t be done any other way.

I was 4th at Wildflower this year, won my first Ironman at Coeur d’Alene, was second at Vineman and was just 10th in the World at the Ironman World Championships, I think I will call that a good year. Accomplishing my life long goal of “no more fear of failure”, I’d call that a great year!


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