I can't believe it. Starting tomorrow, I will have crossed into a double-digits countdown until Ironman Arizona. Nevermind that there's currently no place to swim for the event. We won't concern ourselves with that trivial detail for the time being.
I've written approximately 230 blog posts to date on the Ironmadman website (plus dozens of other posts on the Blogspot site). Each one trying to capture some nugget, some detail about my training that I can internalize for the future. A mental file folder I can click open in my brain when I need it during a race. When I pause to think about all those file folders I've accumulated during this now 10-month Ironman journey that began last fall, I recall one sentence that Coach Gerardo spoke very early into my training.
"By the time you get to your Ironman, you won't recognize yourself."
He's right, both physically and mentally.
Physically, I've lost close to 10 pounds (from where???). I have muscular definition for the first time in my life. I can see what vaguely appears to be a six pack on my abs. I can see the little veins on my biceps that I had wished showed up in high school. For the longest time, I didn't even think I had veins there! Like maybe I was a reverse genetic defect. My quads are getting so big that certain pairs of pants are starting not to fit because my legs have no room to breathe. Believe it or not, that used to be how my waistline felt when trying to squeeze into a pair of Diesels that Stephanie bought for me. Now I can wear them without a belt.
Mentally, I've changed even more. I've learned that toughness comes from within, not from how long I might last in a martial arts studio sparring session -- as was the case with my prior passion. I've also learned that my personality is uniquely suited for triathlon. The sport rewards tenaciousness. Grit. Hard-work. Sacrifice. Guile. G-d given talent alone doesn't propel the best triathletes to the podium. While innate skill certainly helps, in my opinion it's a triathlete's sense of will and want that determines wins on race day.
I won't necessarily be faster than the competition, but I can outwork them. I can out-grind them. I can out-will them.
Of course, this is my big-picture assessment so far. I've got a lot more training to go. Zooming back in to the past 100 days, here are my top 10 lessons learned.
1) Pain is on a sliding scale relative to rest, recovery and nutrition.
Pain can be managed and mitigated. It can be compartmentalized too, but it requires training just like speed workouts at the track or five-hour marathon rides in the Malibu hills. There are triggers for pain that can be neutralized with proper training as well. That's where rest, recovery and nutrition come in. I've definitely performed better when I have between 7-8 hours sleep over a few days, when I've been able to stretch in the morning and at night, and when I'm not eating fast food (which is rare now) or over-eating in general.
2) Know when to push and when to hold back.
This is critical for intensive training. You can't go at Mach 5 every workout. I've had to learn to prioritize. For example, last night I ran with less intensity during the run portion of the Griffith Park brick knowing I had a 6 a.m. swim workout today and what would be a grueling speed session at the track (5x800s at 10k pace, one mile at 6:00 pace). I didn't hit all my goals during this evening's track session, but I had enough energy to finish strong. I've also learned when to push within workouts, whether it's that one hill I'm trying to climb faster than last week or saving myself for the inevitable timed 100 during the swim workout. Practice pacing translates to proper race pacing.
3) Hard training pays off on race day.
While I've learned to pace myself better during training, I'm still going pretty hard every session. I know I'll only get out of my workouts what I put into them. So I generally put in everything I have. What this has allowed me to do is find that extra reservoir of strength and power come race day. I know what exhaustion feels like. I know what my body can handle. And I know when I can dig to find that precious extra energy at just the right moment when I need it most. This has propelled me to strong finishes at Breath of Life and Wildflower, not to mention surviving the final three miles at the Vineman 70.3.
4) So does having the right equipment.
Of course, this past 100 days have been highlighted by the addition of my Charlie, my Cervelo P2 tri bike. Combined with the Bontrager/Hed Aeolus 5 race wheels, I've picked up about 2 mph on the bike. As the great Ferris Bueller once said: "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly suggest picking one up." He was talking about a Ferrari, but you get the point.
5) In swimming, competitive fire can replace form when it comes to gaining speed.
Some swimmers are graceful and fast. Others, like me, are ugly to watch. When I'm sprinting, I'm splashing. Flailing. But I'm also hauling ass. It may not be pretty to watch, but if I'm pitted against someone in a 50-yard sprint, I like my chances to win. I simply hate losing, and I've learned through the Fortius-coached workouts that I'll do damn near anything to avoid it. I treat every practice race like a real one, and honestly I think it translates when the real starting gun goes off.
6) I need to find a way to generate more income to help pay for this sport!
I recently got a credit card bill that dropped my jaw and bugged my eyes out. I was reminded how expensive this sport can be, and that with a wedding coming up I really need to be more careful about which events I participate in, where are they located and whether I truly need that next "must-have" piece of equipment (current obsession is a power meter).
My solution: Returning to freelance writing. For triathlon only. So, if you know of any magazine, newsletter or blog site looking for experienced writers, please let me know!
7) 70.3 doesn’t feel that different than an Olympic tri if you train right...
With the exception of some dehydration issues, completing my first Half Ironman didn't feel that different from completing my first Olympic triathlon. If you follow a training plan for a prescribed distance, that volume of work and effort should bring you to the finish line. Now I won't say you'll get there pain-free, but with the right regimen it is a lot easier than you think. Dedication and commitment can make all the difference.
8 ) ...Which is why having a coach makes a huge difference.
That said, my first Olympic triathlon was a solo effort. I had no coach, no plan, and ultimately no clue. I overate and drank on the bike and cramped on the run, finishing in three hours on the dot. Now that I'm part of a coached team, I've never cramped in a race (knocks on couch) while knocking off more than 30 minutes from my Olympic triathlon PR. Yesterday I detailed why coached swim workouts are so beneficial. Multiply that times the bike and run, along with the intangibles associated with the camaraderie and it's easy to see why I'm feeling so good about my health and life outlook.
9) Supplements: Proceed at your own risk.
I tried beta alanine over the past few weeks and while I can feel the benefits during a workout (increased energy), I also have experienced negative side effects that affected my sleep patterns. However, before I ingested my first beta alanine pill, I did research on it. And made sure it wasn't an illegal performance enhancer (it's not). I hope you'll do the same for any nutritional aid. And don't just assume that because it works for your buddy, it'll work for you too. Every body is different. Every metabolism works differently.
10) Be a fan.
It's shocking to me that the biggest lesson I learned from my training the past 100 days came while watching other people race. My experience at Vineman Full was so eye-opening. It felt just as good as to cheer on others as it did to race myself. I enjoyed witnessing the purity of the sport at its finest without worrying about all the anxiety associated with negative splits, quick transition times and proper pacing. I will remember watching Rusty and my other friends finish their first 140.6 event much more than I'll recall most of the individual workouts I've logged the past few months. If you haven't supported someone by attending their race, DO IT. Even if you're not a fan of the sport, I bet the life stories in motion will make you reassess your own goals and priorities.
I'd say the last 100 days have been quite fruitful. In feeling stronger, I feel wiser.
In the next 100 days, I may or may not become an Ironman officially -- depending on the water situation in Tempe. But no matter what, I feel like I've developed an Ironman mentality that will carry me through the rest of my days.
I can't believe I still have another 100 days to go though!
I wonder what's beyond the horizon.
100 days and counting