As I write this post, I am still riding a high from just watching the Ironman World Championships in Kona two days ago. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so inspired, and I wasn’t even there, but merely staring, mesmerized, at the tiny video on my computer screen for nearly five hours. I know from the past, and from others I shared this event with, that watching the IMWC is inspiring and moving for anyone. But to have shared that goal with the best of them, of being there on that day and giving it absolutely everything you’ve got; to have put in your own blood, sweat and tears while working your ass off in attempt to be ready; to have felt that indescribable desire of wanting something SO badly you feel you’d give anything for it… makes it feel all the more real, and makes the experience of spectating (even just through the computer) so much more emotional — even despite not having accomplished the goal.

Though I wasn’t there, I felt a surreal connection to the event. Perhaps because I wanted to be there SO bad, I felt like, on some level, I understood the feelings my idols were experiencing: wanting to win; to turn in their best performance; to exceed their expectations, etc. On so many levels, the race was epic to watch. My personal hero, Mirinda Carfrae, turned in an amazing performance with SO MUCH heart — something too evident for anyone to deny. It was admirable beyond belief, and the result couldn’t have been more deserving, or come from a classier, more stand-up competitor, though I know she wanted more from herself. Just like me.

As bad as I wanted to be at Kona this year, I am honestly grateful for the way things panned out for me this year. I gave it my all in my qualifier at St. George, but I wasn’t truly prepared, as evidenced by my much-improved performance a few months later at Vineman. Next year, I won’t make the same mistake. I wanted Kona, and I set it in my sights and wrote it down in my list of goals. But each time I wrote or even thought about it, I preceded the thought with a notation about how lofty the goal was; how much it was something beyond my control and how I did consider it an expectation, but merely a dream. Undoubtedly, there was some hesitance there to really go “all in.”

While I still feel that I need to have other goals beyond qualification, as it is something not merely based on my own performance but rather on those of others, I know without doubt that the goal is something I truly want to attain, and will prioritize this year, work toward, and yes, even allow myself to expect — provided my training and racing stays on track. Now that I have witnessed the drama, challenge and triumph of the race not just from the perspective of an ordinary spectator or someone who has considered Kona as a distant dream, but from the eyes of someone who truly wants to be there, has worked to get there and come up short, and can now picture themselves there more than ever, I know absolutely without a doubt just how important it is for me to be a part of this exceptionally special experience.

Next year, I don’t want to be watching things unfold. I want to be making it happen for myself. I know this now, more than ever. I am truly inspired to do what it takes to attain this seemingly-unattainable goal, and confident that I can. And, more than anything, I am certainly confident that I’m doing the right thing for myself in pursuing these goals and dreams, despite other things I might sacrifice. While I have questioned this on a re-occurring basis in the past, witnessing this dream that I so want to be a part of has been truly reaffirming to me that my heart is in the right place, and I am putting my efforts and energy in the right direction, regardless of the struggles I may face. I want this; I want Kona; I want a sub-10:30 Ironman this year and then a sub-10, and so on…; I want to increase my speed in my Olympic Distance performances and finally accomplish what I know I can in a 70.3; I want to dedicate myself wholeheartedly, to not hold back and sell myself short; I want to break out in my performances and get my professional license. I want to be an athlete in every sense of the word, and embrace the lifestyle that that definition affords me.

With this new confidence of purpose, inspiration and desire fueling me, I believe I am beginning a new journey of sorts. After incurring one of my most impacting injuries earlier this summer, in the height of what I consider one of my best athletic years and following perhaps my very best performance, I am finally on my way back up. I went nearly six weeks without running, which, for someone who loves to run, is a LONG time. I watched race opportunities pass me by. But I am finally back, and — slowly — regaining my shape. I have been running for about three weeks now, and it has felt as amazing as I could have imagined. But it hasn’t been without its frustrations.

Initially, I felt horribly out of shape, despite having increased my biking, swimming and ski training during my running hiatus. It’s been tough for me to be nowhere near where I was earlier this summer — in perhaps the best running shape of my life, in both interval and distance sessions. I have turned in mediocre times in intervals, and my legs just don’t have the strength to handle the impact of long sessions yet. But, I am getting there. My times are slowly coming down, and my speed is coming back, and my legs are gradually getting stronger. Last weekend, I raced the San Jose Half Marathon. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have raced, as my body was just not quite ready for that type of effort. I wasn’t expecting much, and got exactly that, as I turned in eight really solid miles before my body totally fell apart from the impact it it just not used to yet. It was a painful and frankly pretty miserable experience. But, I made it through, and I came out stronger on the other end. With that behind me, I am back to rebuilding, moving along my stepping stones, and looking forward to what lies ahead.

I still have a few races left in 2011, including the California International Marathon in December, for which I have set my sights high, wanting to break 3:15. I do believe that, with patience, positivity and passion, I can get there. I know I can get back to running the way I was this spring and early summer, and perhaps even faster. I just have to take it one day at a time.

Looking ahead, and starting now, I know that I have some big dreams and high expectations to fill. But, perhaps for the first time, I am not afraid to claim them, and to really put myself out there. Ultimately, this season will not be a story of failure to accomplish the iconic goal, or of injury, but of some really high ups interrupted by a few downs, a lot of learning, growing and improvement, and of preparation and inspiration for what is yet to come. 2012, I can’t wait to see what I can make of you. But, for now, and along the way, California International, here I come. And I’m going to bring everything I’ve got.

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