3 simple things half ironman training taught me about life
Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,
I’ve learned a few things about training for half ironman races over the years. In the process, triathlon has taught me a lot about life. And I hope one day, that through these letters, you kids will understand how why and learn from it as well – even if just through my experiences.
1. Uncertainty is part of the game: I never feel like my fitness is going to come back. I’ve doubted it everytime. I start believing that 15mph is all I’ve got on the bike and a 10 minute mile is all I’ve got on the run. I know this about myself – but I still think it every time. I wonder who the guy was who went so much faster – and doubt I’ll ever be that guy again. This is a voice you have to fight back against and block out. It’s there – but don’t listen. It’ll hold you back from great things.
2. Patience and Diligence are what count: the fitness that I doubt when I start, gradually, slowly, painfully – comes back. Every time. With patience and belief. It takes about 12 weeks of SLOW diligent training, but then you wake up one day and 15mph is 18mph and then 22mph. Your run is 10 min mile, then 9, then 8, then you’re forcing yourself to slow down. 20 long miles becomes 30 becomes 40 becomes 50 and 60 and 70 and then you realize that your “short ride” is now 20.
3. There’s both joy and sadness in the end of the journey: I remember feeling really emotional the first time I trained for a 70.3 when it came to an end. There’s a fulfillment and sense of accomplishment that can’t be explained – just having completed the training. Maybe part of it is just because you’re tired and there’s happiness in having worked hard for something. I’m tired today and resting hard. I completed my final long ride today and will do a longish run in the morning. I wrote about these emotions back in April 2013 for Rev3.
Here is that blog post reposted, because it’s how I’m feeling today, 1 week out from Toughman Alabama half ironman.
The Last Long Run
Again, in the dark.
Moving through the shadowed house, bare feet on hardwood, dressing in the layers I laid out by the door the night before.
Slowly down the stairs, feeling my age. It’s not just you, I think. It’s normal.
The coffee maker tucked into a corner, it’s solitary red light in our kitchen. Humming as it warms.
I sip my coffee as I tie my shoes. Set out in the predawn hours. Underdressed, hoping I’ll be comfortable as time passes.
The rhythm of my breathing and my footfalls set against the awakening of birds and other more hushed sounds. At least it’s finally spring, I think as I exhale against 30 degrees. April indeed.
I wonder where I started. Some 19 weeks ago. Staring at a plan.
Thinking about where it would lead me. Personal records and such. The price.
I think back on the coldest mornings. When my brakes and my tires froze, because I’m too stubborn to ride a trainer. Because I need to be outside, even if it’s dark and freezing and mist feels sharp against my cheeks. Even as my 3 children sleep warmly in their beds and I shiver at the coldest hour just at sunrise.
Mornings when I had to wake up at 4:15am to start my car, so that it would defrost before I drove to the pool for another swim. The absurdity of that. While the world sleeps and I think about triathlon.
I drift through the final miles of the plan thinking about the road. How it rises. How I never understand it. How I don’t have to try. How it never asks anything of me, but that I keep moving. How it’s taught me so much about progress.
One foot in front of the other. One foot. In front. Of the other. Power only measured in my ability to keep going.
The sun rises as I crest a hill a few miles into the last long run. The last long run before a two week slow taper begins.
I remember my first 20 week long course plan. How strange it felt just to complete the training.
Like I was losing an old friend.
But I was too excited to be sad. I’d made it – after all. The race was really going to happen. And then I did it again. And again, several more times.
The long road.
Travelled one long ride, one long run, at a time. One lap of a 25 yard pool at a time. Am I on 425 or 475?, I wonder.
It’s just numbers, I told a training buddy.
Along the road.
The joy is suffering the journey, I remind myself. Again, in the dark. Rising before the sun. The final miles to be explored.
Before the end of the plan. Before the race.
In the dark. Before another plan. And more miles.
I love you,