Blog

IM World Champs – 7th with the power of sisu

Still a few strides, hands up and a leap through the finishing line! I have done just that kind of a performance for what I have been preparing during the last few years. I jump for joy, hug Markus and hug Siri. I know I have been able to give my very best and fulfill my childhood dream.

The morning in Hawaii is still dark, yet warm. I open my eyes in the pro athletes lounge and can feel the excitement around. One of the fellow athletes is jumping lightly to warm up. I envy her. I have not been able to jump or run during the last two weeks. In fact even walking the stairs has been a real struggle and once again last night I did wake up because of a cramping left calf.

It is exactly one hour till the most important race of my life and as always, I want to jog a few minutes to warm up. I hide behind a row of toilets before I dare to try a few running steps. It feels like someone is stabbing my hip and calf with a knife. Luckily no one sees my desperate limping.

There can not be any real injury in the leg, not right now! Most likely it is only the excitement that makes me listen to my body too sensitively and when the race starts and all the blood vessels are filled with adrenaline, the pain will be gone. After the finish line it will be fun to laugh to my paranoia. I am in the shape of my life!

The gun goes off. The level of this race becomes reality, the fighting under the water is more fierce than ever before. Why do I feel so tired? I struggle to find a good spot in the group, but slowly I relax to the strong stroke and good rhythm. I get a bit nervous when I notice that I am not in the group in which I did hope I would be swimming in, but I calm myself telling there is still a long way to go after the swim.

I exit the water and get very surprised when I see the race favorite Daniela Ryf running behind me. How did she swim this slow? Now everything is possible. My biking has been very strong lately and even though it might be stupid to try to hang on to Daniela’s super fast pace, the game has changed when she is starting in this group. There are also many other really good bikers around and I know that everyone is eager to limit the deficit to Daniela before the run. Game on! This will be my day!

I hop onto the bike. Why do I still feel so tired and why that left leg is so powerless? Luckily my goal effort is only 7/10, “as easy as possible, as fast as possible”, so now it is time to just relax. Daniela flies like the wind somewhere far ahead, but I am very surprised that in the climb of Hawi, also I do catch a big group of top women. I try to pass the group, but do not succeed in that. The next 50k or so is something very different from what I have used to in women’s ironman racing as the group stays big and it is really difficult to find the own pace in it. However at the late stages of the bike some of the women find extra power and the group gets split up. I know that today I have to stay calm and not use too much on the bike so I still have chance to survive the run.

In T2 I take some deep breaths. Will I be able to run? Of course, I am not really injured, the pain is just my imagination! Everyone hurts at this stage of an ironman race. It is time to empty the mind, stay in the moment and just run. Energy flows where the focus goes!

Siri and Markus are cheering from all their hearts. And there are mom and dad, they do exactly know how important this race is to that little girl still living inside me, who loved to bike on her little pink bike imagining that all the Finnish spruces were Hawaiian palm trees.

It is half way of the marathon. I am 8th and Markus is yelling that if I dig very deep, I still might catch some girls. The calf is cramping and I do not know if I can keep my body in one piece until the finishing line. Siri is trying to cheer me up by reminding that this race is the race of my dream. I do cry thinking that I never dreamed about this kind of a two week struggle. The temptation to give up is huge. Exactly this moment is what this race is all about. Would that little girl inside me give up? Never!

Daniela runs in the other direction and I do congratulate her for the win, which seems to come with a surprisingly big margin. Hats of to the best female ironman athlete of all time! Young Lucy Charles is second, well done! There seems to be a tight fight for the third place in between Anne Haug and Sarah True. I hear that Rinny will most likely end up 5th, which is very inspirational as she just came back from her maternity leave!

Still a few kilometers to go. My toes are getting dumb and I notice that they are moving inside the shoes more than normally. The laces are totally loose. I realize that I have been able to empty my mind so well that I have not even noticed that I have run a whole marathon without tightening the shoe laces.

Finally I get to the finishing line. I put my hands in the air because in this race even making it to the finish is something to be proud of and to celebrate. Seventh place in the highest quality race ever is also a great result. Still I am deeply disappointed. My heart is broken as I know my permormance has been far from the ideal. However I force a smile to my face, turn back to thank the incredible audience and congratulate the fellow athletes. Then, finally, I creep to Markus’s embrace and cry.

Today it is nearly two months since the race and only now I was able to write this story. It has never been this difficult for me to analyse my performance. Still it is very hard to get an objective view to everything that happened and I do remember pretty much only the moments described above.

Unfortunately the injury is real and not only my imagination. In my left shin bone there is severe stress reaction, which could be described as a huge area filled with an early stage of a stress fracture. I am lucky that it did not go much worse because of the race. The hip pain was caused by an irritated and inflamed enthesis of the gluteus muscle.

Now the hip is totally fine. The calf is a lot better than during the weeks before the race, but the bone has not yet totally ossified so I still have to give it some time to heal. At the end this will most likely mean a total of 10 weeks without running, of which the first 6 weeks was pretty much without any exercising. We have been trying to analyze the causes for this injury, but there are still many questions to answer. The only thing that is clear is as Sebastian Kienle said, “there is a thin line in between being fit and f****d”.

Only lately it has sunk into my mind how much the leg did hurt. Never before in the same situation would I have been able to go to the start line with confidence and ready to fight. I am very proud that also during the race I did try my very best till the end. Still this mental toughness does not change the fact that I was very stupid. I take the full responsibility of the injury as no one else could know how much it did hurt and it was me who made the decisions to run through the pain in too many sessions.

I think I can never fully forgive myself, but I do hope that some day I am able to look into the mirror and tell that it is humane and ok to screw up this bad. Now I do still avoid those eyes in that mirror. I do also feel deep sadness knowing how happy all the people around me would be if I only had succeeded.

Already before the race we had been discussing that this might be my last attempt in Hawaii. I was terrified about the thought. However lately I have realized how liberating and satisfying it might be to put some of my energy into something else than being an athlete 24h a day.

However I still do love swimming, biking and running. I do love racing and trying my very best. Inside me there is still a huge passion for figuring out how much can I improve. I am sure that I can still become a much stronger long distance triathlete.

Even though Hawaii 2018 is a cruel disappointment, it is also a precious learning experience. Now I know how strong the mind can be when trying to achieve dreams of the heart. With the Finnish sisu power – and with some more patience – we decided to go one more year full gas. I will come back and I will give my everything to Hawaii 2019.

Thank you to everyone who is living this journey with me!

Read next