November 05, 2019 - When you finally get the day you have been working for and dreaming about.
The Road to Kona
Hope for the future, be in the moment, appreciate the journey, and take time to reflect on where you have been.
This is long. If you only want to read the report about IM Louisville, scroll down till you see RACE DAY. Otherwise, grab a glass, pint, or cup of something and settle in.
Eleven years ago (2008), life felt a little unsettled. We had been moving a lot for Jeff’s work. Cincinnati, Lexington, Portage. Claire was three and we were facing another move after having only been in Portage one year. I had a strong willed child, few friends, no family nearby, a busy husband, and my faith in anything bigger than myself had been packed in a box and left unopened.
Before our third move in four years I read an article about Kate Conklin, google her, which led me to say, “I’m going to do an Ironman.” I had no idea that triathlon would become a huge part of my life. I couldn’t have imagined that God had put a desire in me to challenge myself to do something that in the process would break and rebuild me over and over.
In 2010, I did Ironman Louisville and had fully embraced the swim-bike-run lifestyle and all the friends that came with it. A month later we were moving again, this time to Chicago, and although it was hard to leave, I found myself excited. It was overwhelming looking for neighborhoods, schools, and homes but I let myself register for a few local races and it kept me training and happy despite the big changes.
We bought a home in February and were settling in when I got the call that my father had passed suddenly of a heart attack. For about 18 months life moved in muted slow motion. Jeff convinced me to race as planned but my heart was broken. Training became a time when I questioned everything, cried, and exhausted myself enough to sleep at night. Slowly it became a constant conversation with God. I would run hard until my defenses were down and then things would happen. I know now that the hours spent training were healing me and that racing was keeping me ok.
Seasons passed and my love for triathlon only grew. I wanted to be faster and stronger. I loved training. I loved the friends I had made and I loved seeing how far I could push myself. It wasn't long before Kona became a thing. In 2013, I hired Jenny Parker Harrison because I knew I wanted to get to the top. In 2014 I raced IM Wisconsin and was disappointed in my 11th place finish. Looking back I realize that 2014 was about being ok with admitting out loud that I had a big goal.
In 2015, I was headed back to Wisconsin when life hit again. I was diagnosed with EIAE and was forced to pull out of the race and instead have two artery reconstruction surgeries. I spent recovery doing everything they would allow me to do. I walked 70 miles one week. I was so determined to come back that I never even considered an alternate option.
2016 was spent honoring my body by letting it heal. Physically and emotionally I needed a break. I raced at low intensities and was reminded how much fun triathlon could be. Kona had added pressure to triathlon and it was nice to cross finish lines with zero expectations.
In 2017, I was hungry to race again and had my season planned long before the snow melted. I raced Madison 70.3 and got a roll down spot to 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga. On a high, I decided to head to Austin to attempt to qualify for the following years WC race in South Africa. My plans aren’t always the best ones and a flat tire on the bike made for a disappointing race and directed me away from South Africa.
I started 2018 frustrated that my South Africa plan had been foiled by a rock. GRR. I new I could still qualify in Madison but when I listened closely to my gut I knew I needed to let it go. I decided it was time to head to Louisville again and finally crack the podium at the 140.6 monster. In the process I raced Ohio 70.3 and landed 4th in my age group going sub 5 hours for the first time at that distance. This brought the opportunity to race at World Championships in Nice, France the following year! I spent the remainder of 2018 battling fear as I prepped for Louisville. Workouts felt too big for me. I often broke down crying during runs. I was afraid to fail and that fear was beating me up. Again my training hours became arguments with myself and God. Gently and patiently, because God knows I can be difficult, I was confronted with big questions. Am I the sum of my race stats? If I don’t stand on the podium am I worth less? Of course I would say those things didn’t define me but the truth was I had put my worth in them. I measured myself against results and I felt chained to them. I don’t know how many runs, rides and swims it took to sort that out but I began to understand that my worth wasn’t connected to triathlon at all. My value and purpose was in that I was created and all created things are priceless to their creator. Triathlon was just what I used to figure things out and understand life. 2018 was big personal growth for me.
I raced Louisville and was hopeful I’d find my way to the podium. The race was a great effort for me, one that I am proud of, but I came one place short. Sixth. That was the moment. Had I really learned anything ? Sometimes I believe we are given a change to demonstrate our growth and often, just like any test, it is hard. I had learned. Sixth place, 1st, or last had no impact on my worth and there was freedom in that. My season was over, the snow began to fall and I took a break from all things triathlon. I was tired. It had been a big year with huge personal and athletic growth. It was time to rest.
January 2019 came and went and I wasn’t ready. February came and I was still sluggish about choosing races or structured training. I knew I wanted to take another shot at Madison and Nice was scheduled for September but my head was solidly stuck in, “off season.” In late February, Ironman announced that Louisville would host an All World Athlete Challenge offering 26 spots to Kona. NO! I had sworn I was done with Louisville after the cold brutal race the previous fall. Unable to even consider another round with the full distance I focused on Madison. I had been on the podium there and I wanted the top spot. Everything was going perfectly. I was fit and fast. A few weeks before the June 8th race I raced a half marathon in hopes of testing my speed. It was a mess. In a sudden turn of events I was experiencing symptoms very similar to those that led to the EIAE diagnosis. I was terrified and angry. I had already beat this! Why would this be happening now? With nothing to do before Madison I put my head down and forged on. I ran and found myself reminding God about the plan for Madison. “I’m crushing Madison and then coasting through this season with a celebration in Nice.” “I’m trusting that you will make this happen for me.” I continued this reminding every time I ran and my legs would not respond. In the mean time I was being torn up about the challenge in Louisville. I really didn’t WANT to go back to Louisville but I didn’t want to ignore opportunities.
I raced Madison and it didn't go well. I ran on numb feet for miles and was frustrated and sad when I crossed the finish line. I had no idea how to manage whatever was happening with my legs and I didn’t want to. By this point I had scheduled all my races and Madison had been the big goal. Now I felt like everything was up in the air. I had no plan. My next race was Muncie and I spent the next four weeks preparing. I had never had a great race there and I just wanted to put together something respectable. I wanted to break the curse of making mistakes on that course and I wasn't sure if my legs were even going to let me run. The emails kept coming about Louisville. Ironman is relentless. I couldn't see how going to Louisville and racing for Kona was smart given the situation with my legs, which I was actively ignoring. Jeff, Jenn and my gut were telling me that not making a decision was actually deciding.
I raced Muncie and finally crossed that finish line happy and had managed to land on the podium which was unexpected. Shortly after I found myself feeling afraid that Louisville would sell out. Fear can be a telling and useful emotion and its presence made me realize that I did want to go back to Louisville and grab a Kona spot. I was overwhelmed and unsure how the whole thing would play out. I had Nationals in Cleveland, World Championships in Nice, and now Louisville.
I wasted no time shifting my focus. I wasn’t going to do the work and not be all in. I ran every decision though the lens of Louisville. I raced Nationals but focused on Louisville. I absorbed the atmosphere knowing I was surrounded by top athletes and I needed to feel comfortable racing with them. A month later we were in Nice and I relished that experience. I was relaxed. Aside from the jelly fish sting I enjoyed the race. My effort in Nice was restrained. I knew I would be going deep into the well leading to Louisville and no other race mattered.
We returned from a fantastic trip in Europe and immediately the final build began. It was miserable. I returned from Budapest on Saturday afternoon and Sunday woke to ride my bike for two hours and then run 20 miles. The run tackled me and after 16 miles I was napping in the grass of a fire station. The next three weeks were brutal. I did everything Jenn told me, almost without question because I had no energy to argue. My runs and rides were not confidence boosting. I wasn’t crushing anything. I felt like I was on the right path but I couldn’t see how this was going to work. I reminded God, I tend to do this, that I wanted KONA. I told him that I knew my value wasn’t rooted in triathlon, just in case he had forgotten that I didn’t need that lesson again. One day on a shorter run I realized that I needed to stop having a plan and get on THE PLAN. I needed to be led. I prayed that I would be able to fully surrender my triathlon goals and listen closely to directions. My plans have always failed me. If I could just release control, trust that I would be led by the one who never fails, and whose plans are perfect and good, I would have all I needed. The more I released my grip on Kona the better I felt about Louisville. God was asking me to give triathlon back to him. He had introduced it as something to help me and it had. Now he was asking me to trust him with something that had come to mean so much.
The next weeks were physically hard. I was so tired but totally focused. I ate, trained, slept, ate, and breathed Louisville. I visualized the race over and over. I melted in the sauna preparing for heat. I chose my race playlist and listened to it until each song took me to a specific part of the course. Finally, I agonized over a race plan. I slowly came back to life during the taper and felt confident and ready.
We arrived in Louisville on Thursday. I was relaxed and excited. I kept having the same thought, “so this is how it happens.” I found myself pausing to enjoy every moment. I took in the faces of the volunteers at check in knowing that this race was going to be special. Friday at the athlete meeting we were told the swim had been canceled due to algae. I was not shocked and felt zero emotion. I wanted to swim but I had already let go of anything I couldn’t control so I focused on how to make the change positive. Saturday my pre race workouts went well and I enjoyed every bit of big breakfast. I felt fat and happy. The rest of the day went smoothly. I could tell Jeff Miller was getting nervous, he always does, but I was calm.
The morning started later than normal. The time trial start was scheduled for 8:30. My number was 58 which meant I would be among the first to head out. We arrived and I checked my bike. I paused to take in the chaos of transition and my eyes filled with tears. I knew this day was my day and I was overcome by gratitude. “This is how is happens,” I said aloud as we walked back to the car to wait. The time came and I found myself back to transition lining up. The atmosphere was intense. Everyone was anxious and ready to get going. We were in line, the cannon blew and beep, beep, beep
It was different starting the ride with a low heart rate. It usually takes time to settle in but from mile one I was settled and focused. I had written a workout for this 112 miles and I new I needed to stick to it and nail my nutrition. The first two hours went as planned despite the mph being slower than I’d hoped. Girls were passing and mashing pedals uphill and I refused to play that game. I sang my three songs over and over and reminded myself that nothing mattered until mile 80. “Give me faith like Daniel, hope like Moses, a heart like David.” Hours passed. I rode by Jeff and he said “there are 10 ahead of you.” I didn’t love the sound of that but I was following the plan and I felt good. The next time I saw him I said, “don’t worry, I’m on the right plan.” Just before mile 80, as I turned to head back into Louisville on River Road, I said, out loud, “ok girls, it’s time to play.” I felt confident, strong and ready to start working. The last 32 miles went well except for an absent minded throwing of a full bottle to ditch weight. I must have, for a moment, thought I was in a 40K time trial in the Olympics. With no liquid to mix my Infinit, I decided to eat it like fun dip. Not getting the last serving wasn’t an option. What a sticky mess! Between the fun dip and peanut butter I looked more like a toddler than an athlete. Thank God for my new helmet which has the ability to make even a care bear look like Tron.
Back in Louisville I started the next song on my playlist and tried to ignore the rough road over the last 4 miles. With one mile to go I pulled my feet out of my shoes and prepared for transition. I needed these minutes. I had worn my socks and race bib on the bike to streamline T2. The dismount line came and I was off and running. Bike, helmet, jacket, yell number, shoes, hat, bottle. The movement stopped only for the few seconds it took to slip my feet into my shoes. Running out of the tent the volunteer said “wow that was fast!”Exiting transition I could tell from the faces of Jeff and Robbie that they were impressed. “Blazing fast, nice work.” I would learn later that I had made 4 min on an athlete who was close all day.
The first couple miles of an IM marathon pass quickly and without much thought. I had learned that these miles are crucial. I knew I needed to immediately set my focus and intension before my brain caught on to what was about to happen. I started my playlist and smiled as much as possible. “It’s your breath in our lungs...” I settled into a sustainable effort and focused on myself and nutrition. The course was three loops and the first was uneventful. I felt ok starting the second loop but around mile 12 my focus was being challenged by...female issues. I’ll move right past this except to say that the things women could be forced to deal with on race day would make most men cringe. I walked 21 steps past Claire, my mom, and Michael and for a moment I felt like I wasn’t strong enough. I am certain they were concerned. Running again, I was reminded that all I had to do was move and trust. I didn’t need to know how. I didn’t have to rely only on my own strenth which would always fail me anyway. I needed to, in my weakness, surrender the desire to see each step and just be led. The second loop came to an end and starting the third I felt revived. I saw Jeff and Robbie around mile 18 and they informed me that I was down 2 minutes with 10k to go. “How can I make up 2 min in 10K?” I thought. “In the waiting, the same God whose never late, is working all things out.” At this same time another athlete just behind me yelled to Robbie, “she’s got this.” For over a mile he ran just behind me whispering encouragment. “Ask for strength,” he said. “I’m rooting for you.” My eyes filled with tears and I felt such gratitude for him. I never looked back. My legs were tired and my feet were sore but I forced them to maintain good form and fast turnover. I saw Dana Zausch around mile 22 and for a moment relived how our friendship started. Life can be so very beautiful. Of course she said I looked gorgeous which I chose to believe. At mile 23 I could hear Jeff yelling. He had brought binoculars and he could be heard long before I would see him. He said something about 45 seconds and told me she was right behind me and to power up the the next hill. I mighted have laughed a little. I had wanted a battle but seeing my podium spot 20 seconds behind me was a bit much. I ran focused and hard. I heard Jeff yell, “get to Robbie he’s right up there.” Rounding a corner I saw Robbie and he said, “16 seconds.” The course pops in and out of the park and around every turn I surged in an attempt to grab time and hoped she couldn’t see my effort. I ran around transition the final time and popped out on the road feeling as if any sudden turn would cause me to fall. Around mile 24.5 Robbie yelled, “you need 10 seconds and you can not get them tomorrow.” The weight of those words felt physically heavy. Apparently I grunted at him but responded by surging the best I could. I was running at max effort and when the incline picked up in the last half mile I couldn’t breathe. My vision was fuzzy and I wasn’t sure if I was crying or falling asleep. As my foot hit the carpet I knew I had had my day. I just knew, like I had in the weeks prior, that the outcome was good. I was sobbing across the finish line and I let all effort go which left me lying in a mushy mess totally exhausted and completely happy. Jeff looked at me and answered my silent question with “podium,’ as they wheeled me to medical.
A quick breathing treatment fixed the apparent asthma like attack I was experiencing and I was returned to the group of faces who had agonized, cheered and challenged me all day. It was good.
The next day.
The process of awards and slot allocation is long. Even if you feel certain of the outcome the tension builds to almost unbearable. Finally they were ready to annouce the All World Althelte slots. “In women 40-44 we have two slots.” I bent over crying tears of joy. “The first one goes to_________ and the second to Myia Miller.” I stood, Jeff hugged me, and over his shoulder I saw Claire, mom and Michael teary and beaming. “Myia Miller, you are going to KONA.”
There it is. The beautiful, complicated, and not always straight or planned by me path that I took to Kona. I would change nothing and am grateful for each person, lesson, and experience along the way.
There are so many people who deserve a thank you but I really must call out a few.
Jeff Miller For all the things but specifically for looking me in the face and saying “ I believe it too.” Sharon Cooper for coming to all the races and bragging like a mom should. Claire for always supporting me and not taking triathlon too serioulsy. Jenny Parker Harrison for simultaneously teaching me to think like a champion every day and to stop thinking and just do. Jenny Hayes and Brad Muckerheide for our text chain over the last 6 months. It has some days been a lifeline to sanity. The two of you are super special to me and your support, laughter, and ability to make things seem ok even with the shit is LITERALLY hitting the ...office wall is appreciated more than you know. Robbie Williams for standing in the gap left by dad and for wanting to see me reach my goals and sharing it all. Scott Reed, my pastor, who a week before the race prayed over me and said, “Don’t feel guilt about the time you spend training, God wired you this way.”