My Village

I've always trained for races solo. I've been lucky to always have family and friends who cheer me on through training and on race day, but as for the training itself, it's usually just me, myself, and I. I don't have anyone to meet for a run at 6am. I don't have anyone to talk to when I get bored, or to push me when I think I can't keep going. I'm the one that gets myself out of bed. I'm the one that gives myself the pep talks to keep going. For a long time, I really prided myself on that, that discipline and that self-motivation to get through training for everything from a half marathon to a half Ironman, but the closer I get to Ironman the harder it gets to do it alone.

If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed that Ironman training was...difficult this week. From the moment I opened my training plan last Sunday night, the resounding words in my head were, "I can't do this. No freakin' way. I can't do this." And when I slept through core on Monday morning, that voice got a little louder. "See, you can't even get up to work out for 20 measly minutes - how do you think you're going to get through 18+ hours this week?" Some time during work that day I decided that no, that voice was wrong, and I was going to make it through training this week. All 18 hours of it. With a feigned motivation I swam that night and it went well - swimming is really the only thing I feel kind of good at and confident about - but that was just one workout, and I still had so many left to do.

Tuesday was actually a fun day of training - I had a really nice morning run, then Ben and I biked together after work. But I knew the hard parts were coming, and they were just going to get harder. By Wednesday I was feeling more unsure than ever, so I took to Snapchat (as you do):

My swim that night wasn't great, and I was barely hanging on. The next morning things came crashing down when, once again, I was unable to complete a workout before work. This time I had 2.5 hours of biking and running to do, which is hard enough to get through before work, but I woke up 10 minutes late and my whole plan just crumbled. Instead I worked out after work, without eating dinner, which was horrible and miserable. But I did it, and I made it up to 8 hours total for the week (and I let Snapchat know but I forgot to save it). It had to get better, right?

Then came Saturday. It was...umm....I don't actually know what word would adequately describe how bad it was. The sad part is I was actually kind of looking forward to this! The trail where I ride is an old railroad that was converted to a multi-use paved trail, and it's 45 miles long. I park at MP 3.5 and the farthest I've ridden out is to MP 33.5. I remember the first time I rode out there, a 30-mile ride, thinking that eventually during my training I'd get to ride the whole thing. So I was kind of looking forward to it, at least as much as I can look forward to riding my bike 90 miles. So I got up this morning - I was on time and not even tired! - and things were going well. I got to the trail before it was light out so I had to wait about 30 minutes, but when the sun started coming up I got my things all set up and set off.

Usually I ride north because I'm only 3.5 miles from the south end, but today I went south first since I had to ride the whole thing either way. So I was on a part of the trail I hadn't been on before, looking around, admiring the scenery, when all of a sudden I saw a raccoon run out a little bit ahead of me. It ran out from the right side, the same side I was riding on, so it was basically directly in my path. I'm not sure what I was thinking at the time, but since it had run out from the right and was facing toward the left side, I guess I thought maybe it would keep crossing the trail? So because of that, I decided to try to pass it on the right, behind it, instead of on the left, in front of it. I was honestly equal parts afraid of hitting it and getting attacked by it. So I went to the right and as I passed I could see it run toward me (not sure if it was trying to get me or just trying to get back into the bushes) and I'm pretty sure I hit it but to what degree or how badly, I don't know. 

So this raccoon is running either under or just behind my bike, and I'm screaming, and the next thing I knew I was in the bushes on the side of the trail with my bike on top of me. I have never crashed my bike before - I've fallen a couple times just because I've forgotten to clip out when stopping - and the whole thing really, really freaked me out. Luckily both my bike and I were okay - in hindsight I guess it was a good thing that I tried to pass it on the right, because that way I crashed into bushes instead of asphalt. And one of my feet came out of my pedals so I didn't break my legs or anything. I have always wondered how people get thrown over their handlebars since, you know, their feet are clipped into the pedals. I do know that my cleats are pretty worn out so my feet slip out of my pedals all the time, which is usually quite annoying, and I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but if so I am really glad I haven't replaced those cleats. 

I jumped out of the bushes as fast as I could because I really didn't know where the raccoon was and I didn't want it coming after me (I don't think they do that, but it was a very disorienting experience). I got up and my bike was still laying there bushes because it had gotten tangled up in the bushes, and my whole body was shaking uncontrollably. Like I said, I wasn't hurt, just really freaked out. I called Ben just to tell him what happened - I didn't need help and there was nothing he could do anyway, I just wanted to tell someone. I talked to him for a few minutes and he helped calm me down.

You guys. This was a mile and a half into a NINETY mile ride. I had been riding for all of six minutes. After I pulled my bike out from the bushes and finished texting my training group and Tweeting about the incident, I was on my way again, just praying the rest of the ride would be uneventful. 

Unfortunately, that just wasn't in the fates today. Things went okay for a while after that. I made it to the trailhead, and then I was off to cover the 45 miles to get to the other end. I don't even really know how to explain what happened the rest of the way, except that I think I just let my fear get the best of me. In a perfect world, riding 90 miles would take about 5 hours and 15 minutes. Even on an extraordinary day, it would take 5 hours of pedaling to get through that kind of distance. This ended up being a sub-par day (even without the raccoon), so I was looking at more 5.5+ hours to finish. That's a LONG time to be out on a bike by yourself. I'm not even a very social person and like my alone time, but that's a long time even for me. And I just couldn't stop thinking about that as I was riding, even though time was ticking by I still had SO much farther to go. It just got to me. 

At about 35 miles in, a little over 2 hours, I just couldn't take it anymore. I pulled over on the side of the trail. I don't know what my plan was - I don't think I really had one. I just had to get off that bike. I called Ben (or texted? Or both?) and we talked for a while. I also texted my coach telling him what was going on. I'm not sure what I wanted to hear from him, I just wanted him to know.

More tweets.

And funny enough, I checked Facebook only to see that there was a conversation going on in my IMNC group about burnout. So I contributed.

I am not a person who posts on Facebook. If it weren't for these IMNC groups and posts I don't think I would check it at all. That's how badly I needed to reach out to anyone who would understand at that moment.

I had been feeling on the verge of burnout all week and stopping on the side of the trail was pretty much the culmination of that. I thought about turning around, but what would that do? I was 27 miles from the car. It wasn't like I could just call it quits right then and there. I was 14 miles from the north end of the trail - remember that getting to it had been my goal for the day. I decided to keep going at least that far and figure out what to do when I got there.

I got some texts from my training group.

(These are my people so I don't care if you know their names, haha. But from here on out I will refer to them by their initials, except for Jay because I already have a nickname for him and it's Dad)

And Ben.

And, understandably, there was a lot of ugly crying over the next 10 miles. My legs felt like lead weights and it was just so hard to keep going and ugh, even if I did keep going when I got to the end I had to turn around and go all the way back?

With about 3 miles to go until I got to the trailhead, my coach finally texted back telling me to shut it down and try again next weekend when we all do a group ride together. I pulled over again to call him to talk and told him I was almost to the end, 40 miles away from my car, so I really had no choice but to keep going. He asked me if I had enough food - he is super concerned about nutrition, which is good because I seriously suck at it - and I didn't. I had already eaten a banana and apple and had raisins and a banana left, which wasn't really enough for another 3 hours. I had meant to pack a PBJ but I forgot, and I was definitely hungry. Then he told me that he often gets a cup of coffee and a candy bar in the middle of a long ride, so you better believe that once I made it to the trailhead and turned around, I made a beeline to the nearest 7-Eleven. I almost had a meltdown when they were out of iced coffee, but I compromised and settled on this instead and stood outside for about 10 minutes basking in my spoils.

I also posted this on Instagram (along with a caption that was more like an essay), and I have never been more thankful that my Garmin gets smart notifications than I was in the next hour or so. I got a rush of Instagram comments and Tweets during those miles and they seriously helped me power through. I felt so much better on the way back (could have just been the coffee and the candy bar, though). 

The one from Becky about the brewery is the best and worst. There are seriously at least 5, maybe 10? breweries right off this trail - no lie, I passed a different one as she tweeted that - and I never get to stop. One day!

The ride back went much more smoothly than the ride out, until I hit a headwind with about 20 miles left to go. It wasn't super strong, but after the day I'd had, it was strong enough to wear me down. I stopped for water and texted my coach some more. 

At mile 73, T (yes we have the same name but he's a 55-year-old guy and I'm a 28-year-old girl so it's not actually that confusing) called me. "Whatcha doing?" "Oh, just riding my bike..." He's done one Ironman before and was just calling to help me get through. He told me that he had done a 90-miler alone during his training for his last IM and that it was super depressing, so he knew how I felt. We talked about our training for a couple miles before hanging up. I actually called him during his Ironman a couple years ago - I had been tracking him all day and my heart was just about to burst I was so proud of him. He had a really hard time on the run and struggled really, really badly, so I called him around mile 15 or 20 to leave a voicemail to say how proud of him I was. I guess it was his turn to return the favor.

I would say that the last 5 miles were the hardest I've ever ridden, but I once rode 5 miles 2000ft to the top of a mountain, so I can't say that. But they were nearly as tough as the previous 85 miles had been. I was tired, and sometimes I would slow down almost to a complete stop and just cry because it was so hard. 

By the time I finished, I had been in the saddle, pedaling, for 5.5 hours, and out on the trail for over 7.5. I started at 6:20am and didn't get back to my car until just before 2pm. And I didn't even do the hour run I had scheduled for after the bike. I had planned on a long day, but not that long. I thought I'd be back home and showered and napping by 2pm. From the minute I maybe (probably?) hit that raccoon, nothing went according to plan.

Ben initially did the Couch25k program with me and trained for our first 5k and 10k, and sometimes I run with other people in training or just for fun - and I don't want to diminish that in any way - but 95% of the time, it's just me. I don't have a problem with that, and most of the time, I prefer it. I'm not a very social person and I enjoy the alone time. But 5.5 hours on a bike is a long time to be alone, even for the most introverted of us introverts. It's clear from the amount of cellular data that I used between 6:30am-2pm yesterday that I really, really needed people to get me through.

We all know the saying, "It takes a village," and I knew that would be true for Ironman training, but I didn't know to what extent until Saturday. I knew before I even dared attempt an Ironman that I would at least need one other person to be in it with me - to suffer with me, to celebrate with me, to help me pick up the pieces, to encourage me - but I didn't know just how many people I'd need.
"I didn't know how hard this would be" has been a recurring theme for me throughout this training. I just...didn't know. I knew it would be hard on me physically, but I underestimated how hard it would be on me mentally and emotionally. I underestimated how draining it would be to come straight home from work, eat a quick dinner, work out for 2.5 hours, then go to bed only to wake up to do it all over again. I underestimated how hard it would be to be away from my family during the only free days we get together. I underestimated how hard it would be to say, "No, I can't, I have to work out." But I underestimated how many people I have in my life who understand, and encourage me, and believe in me - even when I don't believe in myself. 

So, if you're reading, thanks. Thanks for helping me get through. Thanks for being a part of my village.


  1. You can do it! And when you finish your race, you're going to be so proud of yourself that all of this is going to feel like it was worth it!

  2. i love that you have so many people supporting and encouraging you. i can't imagine how tough and stressful this training is, and this ride sounds pretty awful and terrifying - but you did it! and all the people who love and support you will continue to do so no matter what, and they'll be as pumped as you (well okay maybe a little less pumped) when you cross that finish line!

  3. I love your tribe that you have rooting for you!!! I am sure it really helps when you aren't feeling it. You should be so proud of all that you accomplished so far! Don't let a few bad days get you down :)

  4. I've been struggling with just surviving work lately. I can't imagine training for as long as you do every week! I'm just so dang proud and inspired by the work that you have put into training.

    Also, the raccoon story is going to be hilarious after you cross the finish line. For the rest of your life, you're going to be telling people about that time you were training for an Ironman and happened to run over a raccoon. ;)

  5. I always love reading your updates about how supportive Ben always is, so I loved reading about your training group & the FB group and all of the other ways to find support during the hard times. I'm still so impressed that you were able to keep going after the raccoon incident. I think that's where a lot of people would have been like NOPE, going home for the day. I completely know what you mean about loving alone time, but sometimes too much alone time is a really easy way to ruin yourself when you're full of doubt, so thankful you have a network that you can reach even if you're in the middle of a trail physically alone.

  6. I can't really summon enough words to say how in awe I am of you. I've told David this several times over the past couple weeks but I don't think I've told you? Here it is: Tracy Jones-Schoenfeld is the single most dedicated, hard-working, committed person I know. She does not quit.
    Now, I know it's not easy—though I can't possibly imagine how NOT easy some of these experiences are. But the fact that, even though sometimes you have to alter your plan or bow out a little early because of the fact that HELLO you're only human, not a robot, and the world is a harsh place, you have yet to quit on anything, ever. You are one of a kind, and you inspire me all the damn time. I am honored to be a part, however small, of your village.


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