Monday, January 04, 2016

Ironman Accountability

I can't believe I started this blog ten years ago. Some of the intervening blog posts will tell you what I've done with my time, but you have probably figured out that my goals have changed somewhat over the past decade. Kona is no longer (or was it ever really?) a serious goal.
Completing an Ironman, however, always was. Here's what went down... I'll break this down into separate posts just because it's forever long.

Last year I turned 39. I stopped to evaluate all of the things I had accomplished to that point, finishing my Ph.D., earning tenure and promotion, having five amazing kids with my wife, running a Boston qualifying marathon, and a handful of other things, but the Ironman still loomed large on the list of incompletes. There was no way I could qualify for Kona, but surely I could complete an Ironman by the time I turned 40, right?
So I began looking at the Ironman website. Ironman Chattanooga is only three hours from where I live and the 2015 race was to be held on a Saturday. It was the perfect setup for me, only it was double the cost to register. I guess those slots are for the Ironman Foundation athletes. $650 is bad enough. $1300 was impossible. IM Maryland was another Saturday race before my birthday, but Maryland is a lot farther from my home, so that meant a lot more expenses in traveling. My last option was Ironman Louisville, five hours from my home, and held on my birthday. I texted my wife about it and emailed her the website link, and to my surprise she told me she would support me if I wanted to do it. I signed up the next day.
Now I had about one year to get ready for this event. I’ve already mentioned I am lazy. I found several free triathlon training plans and began making grandiose plans for the 12-20 hours of training it would require for me to follow these plans. But there was still a long time before I had to start training in earnest, and I am very busy with everything else I have to do. My plan was to run an ultra-marathon in February (50K trail run,) an Olympic distance triathlon in May, a half-Ironman distance in August, and be ready for the big one in October. As panic set in a few weeks before each of these events, I found myself begrudgingly hitting the road to run, bike, or head over to the YMCA to swim. I managed to run a 25 mile training run before the ultra in February in a little over 5 hours, but finished the trail run in a miserable 7.5 hours after slogging through the mud most of the day. I completed the Olympic distance in about 3 hours after a dismal swim, second time in my wetsuit, and first time in years I had swum more than 200 yards nonstop. The half-Ironman distance was another hot death march, albeit I had conquered my fears in the water. Water temperatures in Alabama in August are akin to bathwater, so it was not wetsuit legal, but I finished the swim in 47 minutes, the bike in just under 3 hours, and the run in about 2:45. It was what I deserved and no better than I expected. A 6:40 half-Ironman time, according to some race predictors should yield a 14-hour full Ironman time, but that’s assuming you are fit enough to go twice the distance. There’s a HUGE difference between 70.3 and 140.6!
I had a triathlon bike, I had a nice wetsuit, I had two tri kits, excellent running shoes, and everything else I needed to look the part. I just didn’t have the motivation to really train. My big training came in three separate weeks/events. First, I had my annual running camp (AKA AP Spanish Exam Reading) in Cincinnati, OH from June 11-19. I ran about 60 miles that week, running twice on most days, once at 5:30 AM and again at 5:30 PM. Second, I had swimming camp while I was a scout leader at my son’s scout camp. That week I trained for and completed the BSA mile swim. I finished the mile swim in about 45 minutes, but that gave me the confidence and the understanding that I needed to pace myself through 2.4 miles of open water. My third training event was a 122-mile bike ride on Labor Day. I totally miscalculated my nutrition needs and ended up consuming all of my nutrition by the halfway point. Miles 70-90 were absolutely miserable, and I was fortunate to be able to stop at a welcome center and grab some water and eat a couple of Oreos to prevent a complete bonk. I finally finished that ride in 8:19, counting the 30 minutes or more that I had to take as a rest at the welcome center 35 miles from my home. Beyond that, there were a handful of 25-mile bike rides, several 6-8 mile runs, one 14-mile run and one 2-mile swim. That would be the sum total of my training for my inaugural Ironman. If I’m truly honest with myself, I might be able to say that I trained an average of 2 hours per week, counting my three concentrated events mentioned above. I joined a Facebook group of Ironman participants for the Louisville race and read more about other people training every day than actual training myself. The common theme was, “you can’t fake it on an Ironman.” I began looking desperately online for some sort of confirmation that you actually could complete an Ironman on minimal training. $650 is a lot of money to throw away because you are too lazy to train. I found an article about three University of Georgia undergraduates who completed an Ironman on minimal training and somewhere else I saw the line, “sure, you can finish an Ironman on little to no training, but you’ll be miserable the whole day.” Being 20 years older than the undergrads who finished their Ironman, I was quite frantic, if not desperate as my Facebook comrades began their taper and I hadn’t done anything to taper from. If anything, I was still ramping up mileage. I was in trouble.

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