We each have unique stories that unfold on the race course. Even on the same day, on the same course, the obstacles and challenges that we face are in alignment with our personal context. The lens through which we overcome depends on our strengths and weaknesses, our goals, and and our experience.
And yet, there is something unifying underneath our individual feats and stories. There are threads of our common human desire to evolve and expand running through our collective calling to test our fortitude so that we can know the intensity of our light, as it guides us through the darkness.
When you put everything together – the individual stories and the universal themes – the conductor of transformation is the witnessing of each other. Would we have the capacity to push through the obstacles if we had no community to recognize our perseverance?
What exists alongside the magnetic force that pulls us towards triathlon is our shared need to be seen as both who we are and as who we are becoming. It is the witnessing that encourages us to move past our self-imposed limits.
The stories that follow are six individual accounts from the first NYX Team Race: Ironman 70.3 St. George. The format of each experience is different. The humanity within each experience is shared, and through the witnessing, amplified.
Relying on Internal Motivation Rather Than External
NYX Athlete: Lynn Harris
What challenges did you overcome?
“To say I was a headcase in college is an understatement. I never realized how much I self-sabotaged in my early life, and how much of a factor mental toughness is in training. Every time things got tough, I used my mantras… actually I used my mantras during the whole race. I used motivating kind statements. I gave myself grace. I was my biggest cheerleader out there. I used to need external motivation to get through tough races, this time I used my internal motivation to get me through my race and it was far more effective and satisfying. It was a big breakthrough for me.”
What training experiences do you feel helped to prepare you for this race?
“Does it count if I say all of it? All the crazy summer challenges (Everest, Bingo, 4x4x24) showed me that I was capable of more than I ever thought possible. The training plan and better consistency on my side helped me build my physical and mental strength as well. It all just built on itself and kind of snuck up on me.”
What insight has this race given you? What have you learned about yourself?
“I used to hate racing. It was super stressful and physically and emotionally painful for me. I’ve learned how to enjoy racing and manage the darkness in a healthy way. I’ve learned to appreciate the little things like a water hose on your face, ice in your bra, a friendly hi-five to a fellow athlete, and warm coke at an aid station. These are the little things that get you through it and help you tackle your goals. These are the things that I look back on and smile about.”
Being Part of a Team
NYX Athlete: Tani Fanic
“Ironman St. George 70.3 was a beautiful and challenging course. I’m always grateful to race, but crossing this finish line was extra special (especially in light of a global pandemic). My favorite part about racing is the camaraderie amongst everyone. It’s easy to exude joy when friends, teammates, strangers, volunteers, and spectators are all excited and supportive. It was awesome to easily spot the NYX kit on course and exchange shout-outs with fellow teammates as well as receive boosts of energy seeing the NYX Sherpa Squad!”
What We Learn When We Resist The Darkness
NYX Athlete: Erin Keane
What didn’t go well?
“Run – I choked. I got psyched out and let the hills get to me. I look back at it now and I never really got out of my funk after I walked that first hill. I focused too much on: this is so hard.”
What training, experiences would you like to see to help prepare for the next race?
“I think I need to suffer a little more on training runs. All my runs so far have probably been too ‘enjoyable’ if that makes sense?
The more I think about StG, to be honest the more disappointed I am. I came around that corner at mile 2.5, saw everyone walking and thought – well they’re all walking, why would I be able to run if they all aren’t. I allowed myself to “be ok with walking.” That little birdie on my shoulder never came out and said – you’ve got this, get your ass moving. It feels like I just needed one swift kick – but I couldn’t find it in myself, which feels disappointing. I guess there is some “pain” in that feeling too to motivate for IM CdA – do you really want to feel this way again? Not really.
I feel like I kind of quit at StG which feels crummy; quitting is really not in my wheelhouse. But failing and learning is a part of the journey and reinforces how glad I am I ended up signing up for StG. Now I’ll be even more ready for Ironman Coeur d’Alene.”
Gratitude As a Resilience Tactic
NYX Athlete: Kasey Burcham
How you felt: “Happy, excited and nervous and scared but very grateful for the opportunity.”
How you embraced the darkness: “When I lost my shit in Snow Canyon and the tears just would not stop, I looked around at the beauty and just took a moment to be thankful I had the chance to see what was around me. Then I noticed another woman who was walking her bike too, just like I was at that moment, and I started to think, “OK, yes this sucks. Yes I want to quit and never do this again and OMG it hurts so bad but I am not alone. Help this woman beside you and bring yourself from the pitch blackness of misery to the gray area of yes I can f**ing do this!” So that is what I did. I talked to her and told her we were almost there and to look around her at how many people were walking just like us. I told her that it was ok and we got this. So we did. We remounted our bikes and kept going.”
What was awesome: “Since my body won’t allow me to do the entire course, the opportunity to be part of the race as a relay member was just amazing. I was able to experience a brand new course and help out a fellow Mob member in getting a team together so she could be there as well.”
What you loved about NYX: “Seriously??? EVERYTHING!!! How the coaches got everyone together before and after the race. How our team was the loudest ones out there cheering on not just each other but EVERYONE. We never singled one person out and we cheered until the last team member made it. The sherpas for getting all the athletes to the start line on time and stayed till the very end. The sense of being part of a family and not being left out to dry because I am slower than the rest. I felt like I belonged and I was of value. The coaches and the teammates actually care.”
Learning How To Let Go
NYX Athlete: Casey Fleming
“I am so proud of my race at St George. I usually like to focus on all of the things I could have done better after the race. This time was very different and I hope to continue the mindset I brought into the race.
Pre-Race: Man was I excited to race. A truly deep excitement that I feel like I have never experienced before or maybe haven’t experienced since my first Ironman/70.3. It was that feeling of the unknown. What is racing like again? What is it going to feel like to push hard for 5 hours? Am I ready for this? It felt like coming home again after being away for a long time. No matter how much I don’t want to believe it, racing is part of my identity and finding that part of me again was invigorating. I was nervous but not. I wanted to let the day play out as it would. I could control what I could control and I knew I was prepared. I would execute based on my training and do my absolute best.
I have never not stalked my competition before. This was a first for me! I am so glad that I didn’t. It made me feel more relaxed not focusing on numbers and goals. I was going to go out and PUSH – but push because it made me happy, not because it was going to help me beat others. This was my goal for the race. Go into it without fear and know that my abilities are limitless. I can do anything if I just let go. This season for me will be about letting go. Letting go of control, letting go of fear. It is my time.”
When The Darkness Gets Real
NYX Athlete: Rami Wilder
“I hit the water and it was instantly colder than I was expecting. I was ok otherwise so started my swim just like any of the ones before. I was lined up on the outside but not too far out and was thinking about a competitive start to my day with a swim in the low 30 minute range. My slowest 70.3 swim prior had been my very first at 39 mins and I knew I was stronger and capable of something around 32-33 mins. I could feel my heart rate was high and it kept climbing and my mind was starting to spin. My wetsuit started to feel too tight and I couldn’t breathe. I popped my head up and I was only around the 3rd buoy going out. I started swimming again and it got worse. The second my face hit the water I was panicking. I was breathing in water and couldn’t get away from the panic. I pulled my goggles up, looked around and moved to the side. I thought I could give myself a quick pep talk and get back to it. The first person from the water support group checked on me. I said I was fine and started breast stroking to keep moving. I was getting angry seeing so many swimmers shooting past me and my mind started to spiral. I was trying to rationalize everything.
I know why this is happening. I have had a lot of stress in my life lately that is catching up with me right now. It isn’t even about the swim. See… now that I know that I can continue with my swim. Just relax and be comfortable knowing why this is happening.
Put my face in the water and immediately can’t breathe and I am swallowing water again. Continue breaststroking and trying to get my face in the water. Stop again to try and reset and get my breathing and heart rate under control. Still doesn’t work and I start realizing I may not be able to finish the swim. This might be my first DNF. There is NO WAY I can make it the way I am feeling.
A kayak approaches and suggests I grab on and rest for a moment. I don’t want to. I feel embarrassed but I do. I say something to them and they say something encouraging back. I realize I can’t stand holding on to the kayak. I know I can float and tread water all day if I need to so I swim away with my goggles on my forehead.
Series of thoughts running through my head…
Why am I so scared? Fuck I am REALLY scared right now and want to quit. Why can’t I think my way out of this. I am Sad/Angry/Embarrassed/Afraid/Lonely/ a Failure/ Weak – If I acknowledge it…. can I just keep going?
People are tracking me on the race. That sucks. I wish nobody was tracking me or knew I was out here because then I wouldn’t have to worry about that.
Is there any way I can pull off my wetsuit in the water? No, that is crazy and I am going to drown myself trying it. Any other plans???????? Can I unzip it a little? Nope that is dumb too. Wetsuit stays on. Need other options.
Even if I can keep going, I have so far to swim that I may not even make the cut off. If I swim that long… people are for sure going to freak out and think I am dead. I need to pull out.
I try to put my face back in the water and I panic again. I swallow in water and can’t do it.
I come to terms with pulling out and quitting.
I can flag down one of the boats and have them bring me in. Becky will be relieved and everyone will understand.
I can go cheer on the team and get ready for my next race. I spend more time justifying why this is the right choice – the ONLY choice.
I start thinking through what I will do next. I will raise my hand and signal that boat I can see right now. This is JUST a race and I can quit. It isn’t a big deal… but why does it feel like a big deal?
I start thinking through what will happen next. How is future Rami going to feel about this choice. I think about Laura and the entire NYX team. This is our first real team event and I don’t want to be the athlete that pulls out of the swim at our first team race. The only problem is time now. I can swim slowly but will never finish in time. I must have been sitting here forever and will be running out of time soon.
I check my watch for the very first time. It says 21 minutes and I am relieved. I thought it had been soooo much longer. I decided I am not going to pull out. Just keep moving Rami! You can still finish. I can make the cut off if I just keep going.
I think about EMBRACING THE DARKNESS for the first time that day and realize this must be my darkness. This is not some silly mantra to make me train harder. I have never felt more panic in the water in my life so this must be the darkness and I am going to push through it and not justify reasons why I should pull out. Becky will be worried for a bit but I can hit the timing buoy and she will know I am still moving. Future Rami will be much prouder and Laura will know I found the darkness and embraced it.
In hindsight, this is the moment when having a coach and team can be important. Some days you might be strong and not feel like you need it but I needed it right then. I really think that if I was a solo athlete (no coach, no team) I would have quit. I hate even writing that because I don’t like how that makes me feel. But I wasn’t strong enough to keep going on my own.”
“I was getting energy from the crowd and knew the NYX tent wasn’t far. Coach Alison was there, Matt was standing by Ryan, and Ryan was on the mic cheering for me. I was a bit of an emotional wreck and I wanted to cry. You can tell Ryan that his cheering skills can make a grown man cry.
I was still having some head trash creeping in. The swim kept popping up and I had to fight it back. How was I doing compared to other NYX athletes? Was my time still going to be good enough? I had to remind myself I had already decided not to think about the swim until after and that I almost quit this race so every step was a win. I just needed to knock out my run and I would have overcome the most challenging mental battle I have ever had during a race.
Before I knew it I only had 5 miles left and I knew the last 3 were downhill. I knew the team was out at 1.2 miles and I was looking forward to that more than the finish at that moment. I got closer and I heard Coach Laura coming out to cheer me on. It was a HUGE boost and carried it all the way to the finish. I pulled my hat down over my face after I finished because I was afraid I would start bawling right then.
This is the most accomplished I have ever felt from a race, including completing my full Ironman.”
The Power of Witnessing Each Other
NYX Mob Member / Sherpa Extraordinaire / Coach Laura’s Husband: Ryan Marcoux
“I think a person’s true character gets exposed when they are faced with levels of darkness they haven’t seen before. Knowing what Rami went through on the swim and then seeing how he looked out on the course is truly inspirational. His performance on Saturday proves that Rami is not just an elite athlete; he is an elite human being. I’m glad you and the team were with him in spirit to help him mentally overcome the challenges he was facing in the water but I hope he realizes the internal strength and mental fortitude it takes to have that type of in-race turnaround.
At absolute least, he inspired me on Saturday. There will be a day where I’m not at my best and I’ll remind myself to “Rami Up” and get through it. I appreciate him for that.”