Friday, September 25, 2009

Final Thoughts

That sounds so profound - "Final Thoughts" - but they're really not. I didn't have anything in mind when I reserved a post for a bit of reflection after the actual race report ended, thinking that a flood of things would come to me in the days following the race. Unfortunately, the real world hasn't allowed me to really reflect much on this training cycle and the race itself. Dog health issues, work, etc., have kept me pretty occupied since the 13th. But, because you've no doubt been on pins and needles waiting for some Final Thoughts (ha!), I'll throw a few out there:

- The Ironman is so much more than just a really long triathlon. It's much more than just another endurance event. It's unique. I hope that my extended race report brought out even a hint of the emotion, and tension, and drama that surrounds the weekend surrounding the race. It's really like nothing else you'll ever experience. I'm not sure if it's because it's still considered by most to be such an extreme thing to put yourself through, or because the athletes themselves invest so much of their lives (and their family's lives, no doubt) into a single day, but the atmosphere surrounding race weekend is just amazing. To be a part of that stew of athletes, spectators and volunteers is like being initiated into a special club - one that meets only on select occasions and for only one day at a time.

- That said, the Ironman is a really hard race. And I don't mean just physically hard. They say that every athlete that competes in one will face adversity - usually severe - sometime during the race. As I mentioned earlier, there were times during the run when my body was begging me to stop and rest, or "just walk a few hundred yards." And I'm positive that there were plenty of other tired bodies out there making the same demand. And you just don't know how your mind will respond. Push forward? Or give in? I think this is actually one of the reasons a lot of people do this race again and again - they want to know how they're going to react on any given day when things go bad out there. It may sound crazy, but you really don't know until you're facing that challenge. And who doesn't want to know?

- There is one problem with Ironman racing: it makes all other distances look insignificant. I certainly mean no disprect to anyone who has/does non-IM distance triathlons, and perhaps has no interest in doing an Ironman race, but I will tell you that Ironman races are truly addictive. I don't know of a single person who has done their first Ironman race and thereafter said, "Well, that was nice, but I wouldn't want to do another." I'm sure it happens - bucket list item, or whatever - but I haven't seen it. If you've done one, you know the feeling.

- If you end up doing an Ironman race, you really have to watch the last finishers come in at midnight (the 17-hour mark). I swear, if you could harness all the positive energy coming off of the crowd during these last few moments of the race, you could light up a city. This is the first year that we were able to go back to the hotel, get cleaned up, and return for the end, and it was so worth it. Mike Riley, the official announcer, was leading the cheers/singing, and each finisher got a hero's greeting as they came across the finish line. Again, my weak description can't do it justice. Just make sure you go. You won't regret it.

- So, when's the next one? much as I was determined to have IM WI '09 be my third and last Ironman race, there has already been talk of taking on Ironman Florida in '11. That's a quite a long ways away, and a lot can happen between now and then, but I'd be excited to re-live the experience. Like I said, it's addictive, these stupid IM races. It gets in your blood and causes you to spend an insane amount of time swimming, biking, and running - way past the point of being 'fun.' And Florida's a flat course!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Run

So leaving T2 is always a nervy experience in IM because, no matter how well the rest of the race has gone, you just never really know what it's going to feel like when you start running. Could be easy, could be next to impossible. You just don't know until you take those first tentative steps onto the course.

In '06, having just come off of a cold and pretty miserable bike ride, I was shocked to discover that the run started super easy, and it stayed that way for about 17 miles. In '07, upon leaving T2, I immediately felt an uncomfortable bloat in my belly, which stayed with me for most of the marathon, but was manageable enough so as to keep going. Two different IM races, and two different run experiences. This year, having already experienced some cramping on the bike, I was especially unsure of what the run was going to offer. I took another pee break heading out of T2, and shuffled toward the transition exit.

Crap, I thought to myself. Not feeling too good. The legs were turning, but I felt really slow and my heart rate already seemed too high. But I figured, "Give it some time, let the salt tabs kick in, get into a nice rhythm, everything will work itself out." Made my way around the Capitol square, past the first water station, and gritted my teeth for pretty much the next 26 miles.

Cue the Drama Queen Moment (DQM): This was by far the most difficult run I've ever endured. I don't think I've ever had to pep talk myself more, engage in more internal negotiations ("Okay, just run to the next aid station, and then you can walk for as long as you want..."), or just plain demanded that I continue the forward motion than I have during this race. Which is funny, because I don't recall being in extreme pain, or having (too bad of) an upset tummy, or anything that would usually make you want to sit down and cry, but something inside me really, Really, REALLY just wanted to walk. Running just seemed too damn hard. There were definitely moments, especially early on, when I didn't think that I'd finish. Then I thought that I'd probably finish, but much later than I had hoped. After that, I figured that we were looking at a repeat of '06 - running for the bulk of it, but walking in the last 10k.

But, luckily, the miles somehow kept ticking by. I'd run aid station to aid station - downing water, Gatorade, and/or Coke - telling myself that, if I could just get to the next aid station, I'd get another break. Apparently, a great many of my fellow competitors had a similar deal going with themselves, because I saw very few people running through the aid stations. And quite a few people had given up running entirely - they'd be walking in one's or two's, commiserating about "what went wrong" and how hot it had become.

At around mile 8, a nice guy named Juan drifted back to me and started running alongside, asking how I was doing and if I wanted a runningmate for a while. I said sure, despite the fact that I really didn't have much conversation in me at this point. It was taking all my will just to keep soldiering from mile to mile. But it went well - not a lot of talking, just a few questions or comments here or there, and we knocked off miles 9 through 12 together, before Juan faded a bit and I was alone again.

Pretty soon I was back at the Capitol, where the course takes you tantalizingly close to the finish line before scooting you back onto your second loop. Although I still felt pretty lousy, I figured that I was a half-marathon away from finishing my third IM, and that started to feel totally do-able. I feel bad for all the volunteers who handed me cups of liquid during that second loop, though, because the look on my face must have been a mix of anger/dread/fear/pain great enough to intimidate an NFL linebacker. I don't even recall faces, or cheers, or much of anything at that point except my internal dialogue telling me to "run, don't walk." Drew once reminded me that your slowest jog is almost always much faster than your fastest walk, and that if I could just keep turning my legs over...

Coming toward mile 16 or 17, I knew that we were once again approaching the only really steep section of the run course - a series of hills that take you over the top of the UW campus before heading back toward State Street. I had already walked this section on Loop 1, and actually looked forward to doing the same on Loop 2. Knowing that this break was coming gave me a huge boost. I knew that the final miles were counting down as I made the last turn on State Street, and once again hit the lakefront trail that would take us out toward the Ford inspiration zone (an electronic board where people's messages of support are shown when your chip trips the corresponding mat). That's at mile 22. The aid station there was great - the volunteers were all dressed up as characters from famous movies - but I was still pretty grim-faced and serious as I thought about the handful of miles I had left.

About a half-mile later I saw Cath and Drew running together going the opposite direction - I was excited that Cath looked like her chipper self (she's probably the happiest racer that you've ever seen - smiling, high-fiving, and cheering on other athletes), although Drew looked like he might be struggling a bit. We exchanged encouragement, and I went another 50 yards before I had to stop and walk. The last four miles had a lot that: run 50 yards, walk 10 yards, run 50 yards, walk 10 yards, etc. I finally got to the 25 mile marker, and could visualize the last mile+ to the finish, but again had to agree to a walk break through the last aid station before my legs would let me run again. I saw Ross at this aid station, where he was volunteering, and I barely remember telling him something about how glad I was to be finishing up.

The adrenaline kicked in when I sensed how close I was to the line, and then, out of no where, there was the finishing shoot - I let the one gal in front of me have her finishline moment, and crossed the line with three fingers up on each hand to signify my third time coming home as an IM finisher. 12:03.22. A 30-minute improvement over my time in 2007, and almost two hours faster than 2006. My super-secret, really-shouldn't-even think-this, don't-tell-anyone, pie-in-the-sky, goal time was sub-12, and to be this close, after the run I had just endured, was too good to be true. I couldn't believe it.

It's really impossible to explain what's going through your head when that finish line finally arrives. Words just really don't do it any justice. It's weird the way that the finish is always a million miles away during the race, until it's right there in front of you - there's, like, no transition from being hip-deep in the heart of the race until it's absolutely over. No mental downhill to the line, just racing and then there's no more racing. Even after such a long day you want desperately for that finishing shoot to go on for just one more block, to allow you to absorb the enormity of what you've accomplished, but then it's done. You're an Ironman.

Crossing the line, two volunteers ("catchers") grabbed my arms and immediately asked how I was feeling ("great!"), what size t-shirt I wore ("medium"), if I needed any water or Gatorade ("yes, water, please") and helped me get a photo taken (yeah, great, my hat's on crooked). I walked around a bit and soon found a folding chair to collapse into. Sipping a mix of water and Gatorade, I just sat there, silently watching as athletes made their way across the line and into the arms of waiting volunteers, each person's face etched with a mix of joy and relief. It took me a bit for the emotions to hit me. I had never expected to be so close to 12 hours for this race, especially after suffering through what I thought was a horrible run (oddly enough, my 4:18.14 was actually a 10-minute improvement over my run at IMAZ in '07). The PR, combined with all the mental pushing that I had to do during those last 26 miles, almost had me in tears. This race was really hard - much harder than IMAZ - and I actually felt like I had done something pretty special. Sure, my finish time didn't get me to Kona, and wouldn't win me any praise on Slowtwitch, but it meant a lot to me. I kept on going. I ran when I could have walked. I overcame the doubts. I persevered.

And I think that's what Ironman is really all about.

The numbers:

Overall - 544/2397
Total Time - 12:03.22
Swim - 1:17.43
T1 - 11:07
Bike - 6:07.58
T2 - 8:21
Run - 4:18.14 thoughts.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Bike

I don't care how good of a swimmer you are, every IM triathlete has *got* to experience a profound sense of relief when the water is behind you and the remainder of the race awaits. There's just a certain sense of unpredictability associated with swimming, especially in a mass-start format like IM Wisconsin. You hear too many stories of people getting clocked so solidly during the swim leg that it kicks them out of the race - imagine training for over six months, putting in all the blood, sweat and tears that's required, only to get kicked in the eye and be forced to drop out within the first two miles of the race. Horrible. But it happens.

So, needless to say, I was thrilled - as always - to be heading out onto the bike course. Hit the porto-let real quick before grabbing my bike, and quickly made my way back down the helix. The first five or so miles on this course is pretty uneventful - the roads are narrow, and you are pretty much forced to follow single-file as you make your way out of Madison. Which is fine - it's nice to take a few moments to gather yourself after the swim and focus on the new task at hand. Of course there's always some idiot that's too eager to get going, and, sure enough, one hotshot took an unceremonious spill when he failed to negotiate a tight 90 degree turn not two miles into the course. Luckily, he was up quickly and didn't disturb any other riders.

I was much more surprised when I heard Drew call out my name and pull up beside me just a few miles later - it was great to see him, especially after having missed each other at the start, and it was good to know that he also had made it through the swim leg unscathed. We chatted a few minutes, during which time I looked over and saw probably the nicest view I'd see all day (except for the finish line, of course) - a ginormous field of yellow flowers off to our right. Considering that Drew and I last did this race in 2006, under a steady cold rain, this bright yellow field laid out peacefully under the morning sun just felt like a good omen.

As riding side-by-side is considered a penalty, we soon parted ways, and was again left to my own thoughts. I've had people ask me what one thinks about during the course of a six-hour bike ride, and, honestly, I can never really remember anything specific. Feelings come and go, little internal pep talks get thrown out there, snippets of songs get sung (sometimes out loud). Nothing too profound, that's for sure. But it's crazy how quickly the time flies by. The first loop - roughly 60 miles total - was over in a heartbeat. My nutrition plan - an area where I've failed miserably in the past - was going pretty well. One bottle of Infinit (275 calories), one of water, and one of Gatorade was already inside me, and I'd knocked back at least 3/4 of my gel flask and a package of Shot Blocks. I stopped at special needs and choked down a Balance bar, and stuffed another package of Shot Blocks in my jersey pocket. I had another bottle of Infinit in the bag, but it was warm and sounded gross, so I decided to just stick with Gatorade and water from there on out.

The second loop seemed to drag a bit slower than the first, but I was feeling great when I hit the hill leading up to Mt. Horeb High School. At that point, I knew that I just had the string of rollers along Witte and Garfoot, and the final three hills, before I'd be heading back to Madison. My nutrition faltered a bit here, as gels sounded less and less appetizing. I kept drinking as much as I could, and killed the second package of Shot Blocks, but that was it for the solid food. I was definitely excited to make that final turn-off back to Madison, just before the 100-mile mark, and it was nice to note the lack of any appreciable headwind. But it was even nicer to know that I'd soon be able to get off the &*@#%^ bike seat, which had by now pounded my nether regions into hamburger. Seriously, I won't get into details, but the pain I was feeling down there was ridiculous. A brief glimpse post-race was pretty shocking. Let's just say that I wouldn't wish that kind of pain (or injury) on anyone. Yikes.

Unfortunately, it was also at about the century mark that I got a bit of a scare. Both of my quads started to cramp up. Nothing horrible, but definitely uncomfortable, and it got me worried about whether I had taken in enough water and salt. The thing with IM is, you can feel great one minute and wiped the next, and it often depends on what you did or didn't do in the hours before. So, although I still felt good, generally speaking, I was afraid that maybe I hadn't done as good of a job as I had thought, nutrition-wise, earlier in the race (which, considering that I didn't have to pee AT ALL during the bike, was looking more and more plausible).

Anywho, I made it back up the helix with the cramps coming off and on, and handed my bike to another nice volunteer before walking (I couldn't run) into the Convention Center and toward T2. Grabbed my bag and found an empty seat, where another volunteer materialized out of no where and started helping me get my run stuff together. And here's another instance of extreme IM kindness - the athlete next to me, a guy in his late 40s or early 50s, saw me rubbing out my quads and asked if I was okay. Told him I was cramping up, and he immediately started digging into his own transition bag for salt tablets. I couldn't believe he was taking time out of his race to help me, a complete stranger, but he handed me three tiny ziploc bags with three pills each and told me to take one package immediately and then another if the cramping wasn't going away. I had salt pills in my T2 bag, courtesy of Drew, but I took the little baggies because I didn't want the pills to dissolve in my pocket.

I, of course, thanked this man profusely for his thoughtfulness, and, once again, thought about what an amazing event this truly is - how everyone out there has there own goals and dreams, and have invested so much in this one race, but so many will gladly go out of their way to help a fellow competitor. It's this kind of positive energy that envelops the whole day - it's like the air is saturated with it. I've never felt this kind of energy in such force during any other competition, and I think it's part of what makes an Ironman race such a unique and special athletic event.

After downing the three salt pills, I jogged out of transition, hit the porto-let, and was soon on the run course.

Bike split: 6:07.58.

T2: 8:21.

Next up...the run.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Swim

Surprisingly enough, I slept pretty well - for Steelhead, the half-IM we did earlier this year, I don't recall sleeping for more 10 minutes all night. This time, I was much more relaxed. Very strange, but also very welcome. The alarm summoned us awake at 4:00 a.m., and Cath and I silently assembled our special needs bags (goodies to be stashed at the half-way points of both the bike and run) and choked down some breakfast. We then went down to meet the rest of our masochistic friends in the lobby at 5:00 a.m.

As you can imagine, the tension was pretty thick as we nervously greeted each other and death-marched our way to the special needs drop off boxes, and then to the start area. This is always the worst part of the entire IM experience - 2500 athletes, all stewing in their own anxiety, waiting for the final moment when Mike Riley (the long-time IM announcer) orders everyone into the lake. The nervous energy is so powerful, and not at all in a good way. It's like every competitor's worst fears are all escaping from their heads out into the air at once, creating a huge cloud of dread in the air. Yuck.

Unfortunately, after we all (somewhat reluctantly) pulled ourselves into wetsuits, Cath and I got seperated from Drew and Danielle. They are both much better swimmers than either of us, and were therefore going to situate themselves in different start positions, but I was still sad that I didn't get a chance to wish Drew well out there - he and I did our first ever triathlons together, and have started both of my previous IM experiences together, wishing each other good luck just before the cannon sounds. I probably wouldn't be doing triathlon without his influence, and almost certainly not at the IM distance.

It's that kind of thing that you think about before an Ironman - at the risk of over dramatizing the whole IM thing, it really is an incredibly emotional experience. Maybe it's the thought of the full-day's racing that awaits, or realizing that you've put so much time and energy into one event, but it's hard not to get choked up during those last moments before the clock starts. I was admittedly a little teary-eyed just thinking of how Cath had successfully balanced her work and training for the last eight months, and how cool it is to have a wife that supports this arguably crazy lifestyle. I gave her a last hug and kiss and we drifted to our respective start positions, hoping that she'd have an easy and uneventful swim to start her day.

And, just like that, Mike told us that we only had one minute left to wait and then - BANG - the cannon sent us on our way. I seeded myself about halfway between the shore and edge of the rectangular swim course, hoping to let the speedy-McSpeedersons go ahead, but stay ahead of the truly swim-challenged. (An interesting aside, and not meaning to sound demeaning to anyone, but you would amazed at the number of truly BAD swimmers there are in a typical IM race. The rules give you 2:20 to complete the 2.4 mile course, and there are a substantial number of people that need the bulk of that time to finish. If they finish at all. Now, maybe some of these folks are kick-ass bikers and/or runners, and will blow away a lot of the field later in the day, but still, I'm always taken aback by the number of people that are still in the water long after I'm done, and I am by no means a good swimmer).

Anywho, the swim starts pretty well for me - there's contact, but I'm moving forward, and not getting pummeled. Much. At least not until we get to the first turn bouy. Then the beatings commence. To say that the seven turns that you need to make on this swim course are 'physically-challenging' would be an understatement. It's more like a bar fight. Or full-contact karate. But you get through it. I advised Cath before we started to just go with the punches - literally - and not let the contact throw you off your rhythm. I tried to take my own advice, and was able to get back on track pretty quickly. I actually thought the first loop went by pretty fast, but resisted the urge to look at my watch and just press on. The second loop wasn't as good - I think I got a bit off-course, and spent a goodly amount of time getting back on-line, which freaked me out a bit. I have a tendency to do this in open water, and it's frustrating to think that you're going farther than you really need to. But at least the water was becoming more and more open, and, therefore, easier to just swim with a nice cadence.

The backstretch also seemed to take forever, as it usually does - the intermediate bouys just keep coming and going, but you never seem to get to the big red one that signals the turn for home. Luckily, my shoulders felt good and I wasn't feeling overly tired, but I could have used a gel around the 3/4 mark. Having made the final turn for the swim finish, I successfully battled all the last-minute sprinters and exited the water in 1:17.43. I could hear Mike Riley tell the crowd that 1,100 athletes had already completed the swim portion, which was a bit disheartening - I know I'm a mediocre swimmer, but had half the field already passed me?! Bummer. But I felt good physically, and figured that was the most important thing - conserving energy and escaping the water without a fat lip or black eye (which, sadly enough, not everyone did).

Jogged up to an inviting-looking wetsuit stripper, who had me on my way in no time. The swim out requires you to run down a path and then up a multi-tiered parking ramp (the so-called helix), which was lined with loud and excited spectators. The support here, and everywhere on the course, was totally incredible. Madison is a great IM location - even the people who were stopped in traffic because of the race would be yelling support for the racers. It felt great. Ran into the Convention Center, grabbed my transiton bag, and changed into my bike gear. The appetizer portion of the race was done, and now it was onto the main course.

T1 -11:07.

Next up...the bike.

photo courtesy/stolen from:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ironman Wisconsin 2009

Wow, as usual, what a crazy ride it's been. It's Tuesday, and I can't believe that it's already over. That the race is now behind us instead of up there, somewhere around the bend. That I don't have a plan to follow or workout to complete. Which I guess is both refreshing, but just a little sad, too. Anywho, I think I'll indulge myself in a multi-part race report, so please bear with me. I want to try and remember all of it. We'll start with the build-up.


Cath and I dropped off the dogs at the boarding place and were on the road by 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, and made record time up to Madison - something like 2:10 from Chicago. It was a beautiful drive and, despite the undercurrent of nerves, it felt great to be going back to such a great city. We arrived and checked into our room about 12:30 p.m., and set out for some lunch. The weather was spectacular - nothing but clear, sunny skies. Took a nice walk down State Street - which we'd spend quite a bit of time on come Sunday - and had a nice (long) meal at a little Lebanese place. Decided to push off registration until Friday, and instead opted for an afternoon nap. Dinner was had at the Great Dane Brew Pub, where it very, Very, VERY difficult to avoid indulging in their great selection of in-house beers. They looked delicious. But, being a tad concerned about hydration issues, I stuck to Ginger Ale,and we ended up going to bed pretty early.

Friday we hit the Expo and checked in as soon as they opened at 10:00 a.m. We hoped to avoid the long lines, and were pretty successful, escaping just around noon. Cath got some ART done on her hips and hamstring while I watched former IM champion Greg Welch interview some of the pros who would be competing. I also had a little work done on my hips and hammies, which felt great - wonderfully loose. So nice to have that available, and totally free! Afterwards, we picked up sandwiches and waited for Drew and Ross (who would be volunteering on Sunday) to arrive, as well as Danielle and her Husband, John, who were coming in from Minneapolis. After everyone got registered, we got together for dinner at a Mexican place on State Street (where there was just a little drinking involved - but it was Mexican food, it's mandatory, right?!). It was another incredible evening, weather-wise, and, after a leisurely walk around the Capitol, we retired to the hotel for some dessert, hot tea, and more good conversation.

Brief aside: Apart from the race itself, and exceeding our personal goals, this weekend - and Ironman, generally - was all about connecting with great people. So many times during this experience I was reminded just how great this sport is - how it brings different people together, how supportive they can be, and how great the energy is that surrounds the whole thing. Cath and I both noted that, despite the nerves and stress, we laughed so much this past weekend, and were greeted with such kindness, it was almost overwhelming. Coming from a big city, where so many people think that "Fuck you!" is an acceptable greeting, it was a wonderful refresher that there are genuinely nice people out there.

Anywho, on Saturday, I decided to brave the thick algae and dead bodies (sadly, a fisherman drowned early in the week in the lake that we'd be swimming in and had yet to be found by race day) and head down to the Gatorade swim. Luckily, the water wasn't as bad as I had feared, and was crazy warm. There's something about a warm-water swim that's really comforting, and I was super glad that I checked it out. I just did an easy 20 minutes, checked out the site lines, and headed back to meet everyone for breakfast. We then made our way back to the Expo for a bit before getting our stuff together. Putting together your transition bags and special needs bags really brings the magnitude of the event into focus for me - double checking, triple checking, quadruple checking to make sure everything's in there....pfft. It was then that the nerves really started to kick in - the 'Holy, shit, we're doing an Ironman tomorrow!' moment. Yikes. I get a nervous belly just thinking about it again!

Dropped off the bags and bikes, which always takes way longer than you'd expect, and we (finally) sat down for lunch (again, at the Great Dane - highly recommended, btw) at around 2:15 pm. I knew the anxiety had started take over at that point because I was agitated that we were eating lunch so late, which would mean that dinner would be pushed later, and I don't like eating late before a race...blah, blah, blah. Hopefully, my friends didn't/don't think I was too much of an ass, and it was just the pre-race jitters doing their thing. Regardless, we then retreated for a little naptime before gathering again for dinner. Because of the size of our party, we decided to just take advantage of the pasta buffet in the hotel and avoid a long wait somewhere outside, which meant that we were done eating by 7:30 pm. The food was pretty blah, but, by that time, everyone's thoughts were more focused on raceday than the quality of the cuisine. Again, we capped off the night with some hot tea and dessert and wished each other good luck on getting some measure of sleep.

Next up...the swim.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I should probably have something profound to say...but I don't, so I'll just ramble a bit

Well, the days are ticking away, and the start line awaits. Cath and drop off the dogs at the Petsmart Hotel and make the three-hour trek to Madison tomorrow, around mid-morning. Drew is coming up on Friday, as is our friend Danielle and her crew. We've got tri stuff piled up on our dining room table, wetsuits on the floor of the guest bedroom, and clothes that still need to be packed, but our bikes are tuned and we should be ready to hit the road by 10:00 a.m.

I was freaking out a bit over the weekend, but have calmed down quite a bit over the last couple of days. Even the (deteriorating) weather report hasn't phased me much, which is nice. Perhaps I'm in a good 'head space' about the race. Or maybe it's just denial. Whatever, at least it beats anxiety.

I'm not sure if I have a time goal(s) for this race - Ironman is a hard race to have goals for, just because the day is so long, the conditions so unpredictable, and the human body is...well, let's just say that we've all had a bad day on race day. So, it's hard to predict a time goal. I'd prefer to think of IM as less of a race and more of a journey from start to finish - a long, steady journey around the great state of Wisconsin. Just taking each leg as an adventure. Never getting too winded or stressed. Trying to be in the 'the moment' at all times. Having that mentality worked well for me at IM AZ, and I think it's the key to a successful IM experience. I also think that this one might be my last, for at least a year or two. Never say never, right? But I'm honestly ready to move on to some other challenges (including fatherhood, perhaps?), so this gives me extra motivation to run a smart race.

Racing an IM truly is a gift - getting to the start line is your reward for getting through a tough training cycle. The day, itself, is a celebration of all that hard work.

I probably won't be able to post again until after the dust (or mud) has settled, so thanks for reading everyone (anyone?). I look forward to recounting what the day gives me. It should be quite an adventure. Ironman always is.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The agony and the ecstasy

When my buddy Drew first brought up the idea of possibly committing to an IM distance triathlon, I distinctly remember thinking two things: "Oh, God, are you kidding?! No way" and then "Well, really, how hard could it be?"

With time, the idea of doing one became less crazy and more doable - I figured that we all exercise anyway, that we might as well have a (major) goal at the end of our training, that we had already done a 1/2 IM (and lived), and that it would be fun to go back to Wisconsin - where I had lived a bit as a youngster and later attended law school - to race the ultimate in triathlon. So, we signed up and ended up finishing it (albeit not entirely the way that I had hoped). But the journey from registration to finish line was a lot more complicated than I had ever imagined.

Make no mistake, twenty-four to thirty straight weeks of ever-increasing training is a beast. It's not just a series of workouts, it's a gauntlet of sessions designed to trick your body into going harder and longer than it would otherwise want to go. It beats your body up in more ways than you can imagine, but, hopefully, at the end, you'll be acclimated enough to move continuously for 140 miles. Once. And then have nothing left. A lot can happen during that period, and most of it's bad. Cath signed up for IM WI 2006 with Drew and I, and had put in a huge amount of training, only to have a freak bike crash take her out of the race before she even got to start. My blogger friend Kristin is now, sadly, in that same boat - a freak injury may prevent her from competing in a race that she's already invested so much in. It's not fair. Both gals put in the time and effort, made the sacrifices, had gained the fitness, but had their IM dreams put off for another day.

Unfortunately, Ironman can be cruel like that. Maybe that's what makes it so special. The race, itself, is just one (long) day, but the training it takes to get to that day makes up a huge chapter in your life. Watching a competitor cross the finish line is merely the last page of the IM novel. If you miss a 10k this weekend, there's no doubt another scheduled for next week. The next IM is a whole year away, and another long training cycle awaits. But it will be there. If you want it enough, it will be there. Cath put the disappointment of 2006 behind her, and successfully completed IM AZ in 2007. I know Kristin will be back, as well. And all the disappointments will be forgotten. That's the Ironman.