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The Pursuit of Passion

By Courtney Kutler

“The world is your oyster. It’s up to you to find the pearls.”

 -Chris Gardner, The Pursuit of Happyness

2020 was a year many of us looked forward to with eager anticipation.  As a self-proclaimed Type A person drawn towards symmetry and balance, 2020 seemed like a magical year.  I had family goals, travel goals and race goals.  My goal race was Ironman Mont Tremblant 70.3 at the end of June.  In addition to being an amazing race venue, the race date allowed me to do the bulk of my training while my daughter was in school, kick off the summer with a 70.3, then shift to shorter distance races while my daughter was home for the summer.  It was all a perfectly laid plan that allowed physical challenge as well as balance in my personal life.  It will probably come as no surprise that 2020 did not go as planned.  With the world facing a global pandemic, businesses were closed, schools went remote, people sheltered in place.  I stayed strong and adjusted to the new normal.  My husband, a health care worker, continued to go to work, and I continued to work from home, train 100% from home, and help my 9-year-old daughter with schooling.  I had it all under control.  I was strong; I was smart; I COULD DO THIS!  Mont Tremblant would be my celebration of overcoming obstacles.  However, the pandemic put a wrinkle in this plan.  With the international borders closed, my race was postponed and then finally cancelled.  When you’ve put in countless (mindless) hours on the bike trainer, braved the icy (mind-boggling) temps on the run and numerous (mind-numbing) laps in the pool which then turned into even more mind-numbing strokes on the VASA after pools closed, it feels like a real loss when the race you’ve been training for gets cancelled.  As I grieved the loss of the race, I thought of the bigger picture of this pandemic.  People were in very unsettling situations all around me.  Loved ones were sick, my husband was risking his life as he went to work, my daughter couldn’t see friends or celebrate her birthday as planned.  The cancellation of my race was a small inconvenience in the grand scope of things. PIVOT…Reset…Focus!

I adjusted to the new normal and found gratitude in everything; big and small.  I was thankful for my health, the ability to train from home, Zoom, outdoor playdates, open water swimming, family, and forced quietude in my life.  I trained for the joy of training.  I became more flexible.  I embraced my gifts.  I set new goals.  I would focus on my limiter, the bike, and crush the 70.3 in Mont Tremblant in 2021!  Back in the saddle!

2021 brought on some additional challenges that tested my patience, my strength, and my will.  Training for Mont Tremblant was going well for me.  I was feeling strong in all 3 disciplines.  Businesses were opening again.  Schools were back in person, first part time then eventually full time.  Vaccines were available.  Life was returning to some sense of normalcy.  FINALLY!  At the end of April, I got my second Covid vaccine.  I felt more protected and was excited for the future.  In person racing resumed.  I embraced it with a renewed enthusiasm!  I had a great half marathon at the beginning of May.  Things were lining up for a great 70.3 at the end of June!  Then…BAM…Shingles.  Yep, that’s right.  Yes, I know there is a shingles vaccine.  Ironically, the vaccine is available for people 50 and older; I was 45.  Shingles side-lined me for about 2 weeks.  It was just too painful to train.  When I was healthy enough, I resumed training. Just about 1 month to go!  Ooops…not so fast…I got hives.  MERCY!  Fortunately, hives was no biggie after shingles.  I wasn’t letting anything get between me and Mont Tremblant.  Well…. except for the fact that it got cancelled…again!  I frantically searched 70.3 distances near me, and found one in Hudson Valley, New York.  Pivot…RESET…Focus!

Race weekend came with all the normal jitters.  Would I be ready after my missed training?  Could I really race strong?  I went about all my pre-race rituals and felt ready to go the morning of the race.  This was my time to shine!  I had a great swim and exited 5th woman out of the water.  I got on my bike and pushed hard to keep position and try to move up.  The run is my strongest discipline, so I felt confident I gain some more places toward the end of the race.  I just needed to concentrate on the bike and ride strong.  I was nearing mile 50 and starting to set my focus on T2 and the run.  I came around a turn at a blistering pace, and I was surprised to see a steep downhill with no warning. I started to brake, but my bike began to fishtail.  Over to my left, was a steep ravine.  I couldn’t control my bike.  I had to make it stop.  CRASH!  Down I went.  I quickly got up and was scared, upset, and convinced I could keep going.  I went to get back on my bike and realized I was holding my right arm across my stomach and protecting my shoulder area.  Something was not right.  I hobbled with my bike to the side of the road. Fellow racers asked if I was okay.  I assured them I was and asked them to notify someone.  As I waited for the ambulance with two police officers, we witnessed two gnarly crashes (one into a tree, one over a police cruiser).  Obviously a very treacherous part of the course.  I was grateful to be alive.  I was grateful my family was there to support me. The EMTs confirmed my collar bone was hurt and off to the ER I went.  X-Rays showed a double fracture.  4 days later, I was in surgery getting a plate and 10 screws.  After the shock of what happened wore off, I was determined to set a new goal.  Biking and swimming would be out for the unforeseeable future.  I could probably resume running relatively quickly though.  New goal…Philadelphia Marathon.  My ultimate goal was to get a Boston qualifying time.  Pivot..Reset…FOCUS!

At my 2-week post op appointment, the Nurse Practitioner told me I shouldn’t resume running for 3 months.  Philadelphia Marathon was in 4 months.  I broke down into tears.  I felt like I had been punched in the gut. The comeback goal of a marathon was drifting away.  My compassionate daughter went over to give me a hug.  The nurse shifted uncomfortably in her chair.  My big audacious goal, or maybe my tears, made her uncomfortable.  She couldn’t get me out of the office fast enough.  She probably thought I was crazy! Through the help of friends in the field and athletes who had been through similar recoveries, I was assured I could most likely resume running sooner than 3 months.  Back to getting focused! I started walking the day after my surgery; I made it one mile.  I resumed running about a month after surgery and had 3.5 months to get into marathon shape.  It was slow to start, but my fitness did come around eventually. 

“Still a dreamer, yet more of a realist than ever before, I knew this was my time to sail. On the horizon I saw the shining future, as before. The difference now was that I felt the wind at my back. I was ready.” 

- Chris Gardner, The Pursuit of Happyness

I toed the line in the “City of Runnerly Love” on November 21.  I was, more than anything, grateful to be healthy and ready to run.  As with any marathon, I had the nervous of energy of what might be.  Would I be able to complete the 26.2 miles?  Would I feel strong?  Would I run fast?  Would I run smart? I took a moment to pause, smile, reflect and find my inner confidence.  In listening to the “We Can Do Hard Things” podcast the day before the race, Abby Wambach reflected on her first marathon in New York.  She said, for inspiration she asked herself, “Who are you now?”  That question kept playing on repeat in my head throughout the race.  Who am I now?  The answer shifted every time I asked the question.  I am strong, I am tough, I am someone who perseveres, I am a mother, I am thirsty, I am a coach, I am a wife, I am a runner, I am tired, I am smart, I am patient, I am hungry, I am an Ironman, I am optimistic, I am sore, I am resilient, I am determined, I am leading by example, I am loved.  I am so much more than one setback, one race, one goal.  I am not defined by my challenges nor my accomplishments, and yet these same experiences shape who I am becoming. I look forward to finding more pearls; one of them will be Boston 2023!

About the author ...

Courtney Kutler is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, The Run Formula Coach, Outrival Racing Expert Level Coach as well as an EDGE Master Level Personal Trainer and Swim Coach. Contact her at [email protected] for more information.



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