When I mentioned my 2009 goal of completing an Ironman 70.3 & an Ironman event to my running friends, one of the first questions with which they responded came down to 'so, what time do you think it will take for you to complete the Ironman?' 'Frankly,' I told them, 'all I want to do is finish, but it would be nice to complete it in...'
At that point I stopped, partly because I was trying to calculate what would pass for a good day doing 140.6 miles by taking my crappy day of 70.3 & multiplying times two. But, remembering my hubris, I also told them I'd take the entire 17 hours if I had to, all that mattered was to finish & hear Mike Reilly bellow out the affirmation: "You Are An Ironman!" After that I can have a beer, take the time to determine which set of muscles hurt the least; those muscles will the ones over which tattoo number two will be placed. Hubris hurt me worse during my past two marathons than the tattoo I got to remind me to respect the distance. I'm not counting my first marathon; I knew nothing about running a marathon & it showed on race day. But I survived, & that's what was important on the day:
- I participated in my second marathon against the advice & counsel of my own coach. I spoke very lightly about my chances of qualifying for Boston, based on the (5K/10K racing-focused) training I accomplished that autumn. I did two long (16-mile) runs which left me susceptible to the worst case of flu I had ever experienced...two weeks out from race day. I ran (I think) a 7:00-15/mile pace for the first 13.1 miles, which put me 5-7 minutes ahead of Boston Marathon qualifying pace. The next five miles were where the wheels began to fall off, with the game over moment coming at mile 19. I screwed up the hydration plan & was passed by the 3:20 pace group six miles out from the finish. The 40-mile drive was painful, as well as the ilitibial band friction syndrome I suffered from over the next year. Brought a whole new meaning to the term walk of shame.
- My most recent marathon experience saw smarter training; I followed an adapted Brooks-Hanson's plan & focused on the hydration/nutrition necessary to make the marathon a good day. However, a poor choice of training shoes (when a running store owner/sub-3:00 marathoner tells you he wouldn't run a marathon in the shoes you chose, you made a poor choice) brought on overuse injuries which never really went away come race morning. I followed my heart rate monitor for the first 13.1 miles, hydrated religiously every 15-20 minutes, & had eight minutes to play with at that point, when the training injuries came back to haunt me. My achilles' tendon began to swell because I adjusted my stride to deal with bilateral calf cramps which hobbled me. I lost the eight-minute cushion bymile 20 & had to make a Hobson's Choice of three options:
- - Push the pace to make Boston qualifying time, & risk serious/permanent injury.
- - Walk the last ten kilometers to the finish, & live to fight another day.
- - Drop out, take the did not finish, & live to fight another day.
I say all that to write this Memo to Self: If the marathon is a humbling distance, then triathlon of nearly any distance is even more humbling due to the breadth of disciplines. Performance gains in one discipline often come at the expense of hard-earned gains of one or both of the other two. If the sprint distance hurts X much at the end, the intermediate distance do not hurt X-times-two; the half-iron distance do not hurt X-times-four, & the iron distance sure as hell does not hurt X-times-eight. It's probably more than that.
Multisports.com coaches Paul Huddle & Roch Frey said it best this month in their article in Triathlete magazine, from which I (shamelessly) quote (emphases are mine):
"...Madam Pele....hears & sees everything. She doesn't take kindly to overconfidence & disrespect....Ironman was born in Hawai'i &, therefore, the rules of aloha & kapu extend globally....we encourage all first-time Ironman athletes...to approach their first attempt at the distance with a healthy heaping of humility."
"...The No. 1 goal that every athlete should have when toeing the line for an Ironman is to finish. What are some other goals worth shooting for? Let's list a few: 2. Finish while still standing. 3. Finish while still standing & smiling. 4. Finish while still standing & smiling & in good enough physical condition to bypass the medical tent for food & a massage. 5. Finish while still standing, smiling, bypassing the medical tent & remaining gainfully employed. Finish while still standing, smiling, bypassing the medical tent, remaining gainfully employed & married."
"Look, we're already at No. 6 & there's been no mention of times and/or placing..."
Hardest part about the preparation for Ironman so far isn't so much the distances necessary to be accomplished in training, but partly of getting one's head wrapped around the big, honking numbers of distance & time that will be traversed. I have several friends (male & female) who are Ironmen; several provide sea stories about what they did/do in training, what worked & what failed. But, with very few exceptions, many Ironmen don't tell everyone they've done one. There might be a discreet M-Dot sticker on the back of their car, or they might wear a polo or fleece. Some have the M-Dot tattoo, which may or may not be revealed in the throes of tipping back a few adult beverages. (I still love the explanation to the kids, Jean. For the religious at heart, I would call it an outward manifestation of an inward process.)
At this point in time I feel like a kid in an orphanage or foster care who wants so badly to be accepted into the family. And family is so much a part of the training experience, from what my closest IM friends have said: they serve as domestiques, soigneurs, cheerleaders, psychologists...you name it. That explains the family member boogie down the last few hundred yards with the participant, which to me seems pretty cool. But, like every adoptive child, we're all unique, on the outside looking in. We want to know from the other kids what they did to get into the family.
I don't care how long it takes to get into the family. I just want to be a part.