My M-Dot

This is my M-dot. 

There are many like it, but this one is mine. 

I posted this on Instagram the night I got it, but felt remiss to not document it here (and take advantage of the fact that there is no limit to the number of words I can write about it here, unlike on IG).

Well before I ever did even a half Ironman, I was positive that one day, if I ever did a full Ironman, I would get the famous M-dot branded somewhere on my body. I thought about it all the time and couldn't wait for the day I might earn that symbol in ink. Maybe not the conventional solid red, back-of-the-calf version, but an M-dot nonetheless. I always loved seeing them on other people, especially at races - in fact, following a guy with one on the back of his calf in a race that I spent weighing the pros and cons of hitting the “Register” button that I’d been staring at for a week gave me the final push to finally sign up for my first full, and I registered the next day. This symbol has always been so much more than a race logo. 

But when I did finally finish an IM (one year, one month, and 11 days ago but who's counting), I was surprisingly uncertain about being permanently marked with this symbol I coveted for so long. I guess after such a long road getting to that finish line, the tattoo just wasn’t all that important anymore. I know I have touched on this in previous posts but am not sure I have ever really talked about it, mostly because I'm not sure I've ever really been able to fully understand it myself, but finishing Ironman Louisville felt way different and way more complicated than I ever expected it to. I have my suspicions that the disappointment that was IMNC played a huge role in this - although I suppose I can never know for certain - but getting to the finish line in Louisville felt like such a long, arduous task, and not totally in a good way. Of course it was more fulfilling than I will ever have words for, but at the same time it was somehow less gratifying than I will ever be able to understand or explain. It took me a long time to come to terms with the enormity of what I accomplished on that day, and even a year later I'm not sure I really have yet. A year later I still have mixed feelings - as much as I loved the experience and would relive that day in a heartbeat if given the chance, I also have some yucky feelings, I think simply because the road to get there was not at all what I imagined when I first signed up for IMNC. Whether I like it or not, my journey to the red carpet, to get through 140.6 was tainted. I know there's nothing I can ever do to change that, but I also can't change how I feel when I look back on it, not just on Louisville but on all of it. 

So once IM Louisville was over I couldn’t decide if this tattoo I've dreamed of for years would be a nice way to commemorate such a big event, or if it would just be silly and obnoxious to follow the trend. Maybe both? I have spent the last almost-year hemming and hawing over this, to the point where I had almost decided not to get it. But I also couldn’t stop thinking about it. 

Making the decision to go for it was even harder considering that I am not at all artistic or creative and even though I knew I wanted to make this symbol my own, I couldn’t visualize what exactly my M-dot would look like. I assumed I would incorporate Louisville or Kentucky - fleur de lis, maybe something horse related - but that never felt quite right. Ben always thought I should make it NC-related, maybe something with the battleship or something ocean-y, but that didn't feel right either given that I didn't really think of IMNC as my first true IM. I considered something with flowers, partly because I have always wanted a floral tattoo (for unrelated reasons), and partly because on race morning I asked my mom to Sharpie something on my arm for my long day ahead and she simply wrote, “Bloom” and drew me a flower. She was also the first person I saw once I came through the finisher's chute, waiting for me on the other side of the barricade with a bouquet of flowers. Given that my mom has zero interest in anything triathlon-related and given that she would have preferred to be at home in Virginia in bed and not states away in Kentucky at my 9:30pm finish time, just having her there was a big deal. So much so that, in fact, in the first few days after the race, when I was still riding that post-race high and feeling convinced that I was going to get my M-dot tattoo, I was almost sold on getting the word, "Bloom" in script with an M-dot in place of the M. But I couldn't fully commit to that design either, and over time my commitment to getting one at all diminished. There were several times over the last year when I thought about what design I might want, researched studios and artists, and a handful of times came thisclose to picking up the phone to move forward. But every time something stopped me and I let it go, told myself it wasn't worth the hassle or the money or the, you know, permanence of it being on my skin for.ev.errrr. 

As unsure as I was, I periodically perused various sources - Pinterest, IG, the IronTats Facebook group before I got off Facebook - for inspiration. I kept coming back to a very loose idea I had of filling an M-dot  outline with flowers, but I still needed to see how that could translate to a tattoo. I didn't know what flowers, couldn't picture what it would look like, etc. I wasn't looking for something to straight up copy, but given my extreme lack of visualization skills I needed to see, with my own two eyes, something somewhat similar to what I had in my head, something that I felt like I could base my own design on if I had any hope of ever making the idea of getting this tattoo a reality.

I came across a lot of really interesting ways people had incorporated their races into the M-dot shell (and even more totally awful ones if I'm being honest), but for a long time I couldn't find anything that even remotely resonated with me.  I came across some floral M-dots but nothing that really jumped out at me, until finally one day I found something that made me say, "Yes, that's it!" I must have looked at hundreds, maybe thousands of inspiration photos and it was the first time I had seen anything that felt right. There were enough aspects of the design that I liked and felt like I could make my own, and few enough things I disliked so that for the first time I was able to picture what my own tattoo might look and feel like.

I thought about it for a few months, but it didn't really come together until I decided what type of flowers I wanted to include in my design. Neither of favorite flowers (sunflowers and hydrangeas) would look good or make sense, and I couldn't think of any others. I liked the look of the flowers in the original design I had found but wasn't sure what they were, so I finally got the bright idea to find out. It turns out they're dogwoods, which just so happen to be the North Carolina state flower. Once I put that together, suddenly everything clicked. I had spent so long looking at this design and liking it but not knowing why, and convincing myself that it wasn't quite right because I couldn't link it to Louisville like I had been trying so hard to do. It finally hit me that of course it was not just okay, but right, for it to be based around North Carolina: without North Carolina - the 70.3 and especially that cursed 84.6 - there would have been no Louisville. 

Two days before the 1-year anniversary of IM Louisville, I went to a tattoo shop for a consultation. I had looked at tons of portfolios online before narrowing it down to an artist whose work I just adored. So on a Saturday afternoon I went to the shop to talk to her about what I wanted, knowing fully well that I was going to have to wait days or weeks after that to actually have it done. In a life-is-funny kind of way, and true to my IM experience, things didn't end up working out with the first artist. Instead, as I was getting ready to leave and wondering if I had just had a sign that I should maybe not go through with this after all, I overheard the shop manager telling someone on the phone that another artist (whose portfolio I had also looked at and thought could be a good fit for me) was currently taking walk-ins. And so I ended up with a different artist than the one I came in for, but one who worked with me to perfectly combine the inspiration I had brought and tailor it just for me. Two hours after I first stepped in to the shop, I walked out with my M-dot.

I have two other tattoos, one small script on my wrist and my childhood dog's paw print in black and gray on my hip, which were both very straightforward, so it was nerve-wracking not knowing exactly how this one was going to turn out until it was over. I kept looking over every few minutes and it was amazing watching it come to life, and I couldn't stop thinking about and wondering what it would look like when it was all done. Finally seeing it complete for the first time was surreal - it was strangely, admittedly not exactly what I had pictured in my head or what my inspiration looked like, but somehow was exactly perfect and perfectly mine. Just like Ironman, it happened the way I never expected or wanted it to, but the way it was always supposed to.

So this is my M-dot.

There are many like it, but this one is mine.

(And I'm a little obsessed with it)


  1. I love the story behind how you ended up going with that design! It does look really pretty, and that's awesome that it has so much significance to you :)

  2. I just love it! You ROCK lady - totally ROCK