All of a sudden, my great big hairy-assed goal for 2014 is almost here – 5 weeks to go till raceday…
Right now, today, I’ve hit a brief, and possibly my last, pause in training before the big day. I’ve just completed my 2 hardest training weeks (19 hours and 17 hours, respectively) and this week is an easy week, before it all ramps up again in the next few weeks (before, hopefully, tapering down again as well, coach?). I was beginning to feel a bit smug about avoiding any illness during this training cycle when I was hit by a wave of exhaustion and a sore throat this week – pride comes before and all that. I’m babying myself and cutting back on training this week, hoping that I can head off whatever’s brewing and be ready for what next week throws at me.
I can’t quite believe that I’m beginning to see the end goal of what has felt like an enormous personal journey. When I set my great big hairy-assed goal out there last year and signed up for this Ironman, a number of women around me who had done Ironman themselves told me this would be a transformative experience. I nodded along, wondering in my head how different this was going to be from marathon training. Harder, I knew. Longer, I knew. But really – training is training, right?
Wrong though. The harder and the longer make a huge difference.
- training (and racing) goes in waves. In marathon training I’ve had hard weeks and easy weeks. Sometimes it flows, and sometimes it doesn’t. But when it doesn’t flow, usually my whole workout doesn’t flow. And when it does, my whole workout does. In IM training I feel waves in training and in racing. In the course of a 100 mile bikeride sometimes you feel like death warmed over. I have cursed all the decisions that have led me to be outside, grinding out the slow miles in the pouring rain. 30 minutes and a coke and snickers bar later, I am singing my heart out, loving the landscape, the birds and life itself.
And in racing the same has proved to be the case. I’ve had bad running races but usually they’ve started badly and finished badly – when my heart wasn’t in it, or my body was not co-operating, very little got me out there. 4 weeks ago I raced my only build-up race to the full distance, a nearly half-ironman distance tri. The weather was shitty, the field was fast. And I was not. I felt comfortable and in my rhythm in the swim but as I was slugging along, I slowly became aware of fewer and fewer people around me. It got quiet. I sighted badly. I went off-course, and was nudged back on again by a marshal in a canoe. In a field of nearly 300 there were only 12 people behind me in the water. Running the 500m through wet grass to the transition area in the pouring rain I saw that all the spectators had left. Getting back to my bike I found my bike shoes and socks floating underneath the plastic cover I had put over them to protect them from the rain. I felt like crying. And then I pulled myself together. A bad – a slow – swim does not mean a bad bike or a bad run I told myself. I had a new bike to try out, food to eat and hey – the leg I dreaded was over. So I got out there on the bike and just smiled. I may have been a bit nauseating – I cheered everyone on who passed me, encouraged everyone out there who I passed. I forced myself to be positive, to smile and to enjoy it and it worked – I was smiling by the time I came off the bike. The run course was no fun – 4 laps up a steep hill, down again and into a muddy field. Running past the finish 3 times before being allowed through. But I persevered, encouraging all those around me, just staying in the moment and not thinking about the 13 miles I did not feel like running. The miles passed and I felt better, and I sprinted through the finish feeling if not strong, victorious. The urge to quit had come up a few times but I’d ridden it out and come out the other end – something that I’ve never experienced in a running race.
- But more than this, the long and the hard of the training has forced me to really confront where I am in life. This is, in part, because training is taking up a lot of my time – much more time than marathon training ever has. On the days where I cycle 100 miles, I struggle to do much more. Cook / deal with family life / clean / admin – I basically want to eat, have a bath, and go to bed. For someone who overcommits herself constantly, this has been a really tough lesson in prioritisation. Do I want to race well and confidently in 5 weeks time? If so, I will NOT go out, I will not go to bed late, I will make smart choices with food and I will not commit to social events. I’ve not completely dropped out of the rest of my life, but have pared back, pulled out, and moved away from a lot. And I’m surprised by how little I miss it. The truly transformational aspect of training has come from this – realising that I was slightly sleepwalking into a spending a lot of my time doing things that I did not feel passionately about. Having to constantly consider my priorities, and, certainly this last month, having to just forget about much social activity, has given me a jolt and woken me up. My children are growing up and need me in a different way from how they used to. I feel very much needed by them, but in a very different way. The model that I have been living for the past 14 years or so is losing its usefulness, and I need to think about how I’m going to fill in the next phase of my life. I have no firm plans but quite a few avenues to explore. And of course, I’m open to suggestions and ideas…
Of course, these are the contemplations of a rest week. Which is about to come to an end. 5 weeks on Sunday I will lining up on the shores of Lake Zurich, ready to start one of the most exciting days of my life. Yes – I am getting nervous. Despite some really encouraging sessions in the pool, I still worry about making the swim cutoff. My biking is getting stronger (aided, not in the least, by my fabulous new bike and the endless help and advice of Alex at La Bicicleta) and I’m not usually worried about the bike cutoffs (though trying to avoid thinking about punctures, broken chains and other things that can go wrong). The run is the run. I know that it will be hard, but I also know I can slug out a hard run. I’ve done it before and will do it again. Right now my brain will only go as far as July 27th. I’m not sure how I will feel the day after – whether I will be signing up for another Ironman, or will vow never to do it again. I do know that – from today’s perspective – aiming for and training for this event has been one of the most challenging and most gratifying experiences of my life. So far..