Training for Tuesday: Adapt.

I've talked a lot recently about a book I've been reading (for, erm, the last 4 months) called How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald, who both competes in and writes about endurance sports. The book explores the concept of "mind over matter" by detailing both experienced athletes' anecdotes and the science that backs them up. One of those athletes is Willie Stewart, a promising young rugby player and wrestler who lost his left arm in an accident at the construction job he was working on shortly after graduating from high school. A few years later, a friend of the family invited him to run a 5k race, thinking it would help with the depression and lack of direction he'd been suffering from since his accident. That run, coupled with seeing the TV coverage of Ironman Hawaii 1982 (arguably the most famous Ironman finish in history), gave him the inspiration to go out, buy a triathlon suit, jump in a river, and start swimming. With one arm. In 2002, Willie finished in the top third in a field of 1600 of the world's best triathletes at Kona. With one arm.

Willie's chapter in the book is about adaptability, and his is the first story I thought about when I hurt my foot during the Shamrock half last weekend. When my foot pain popped up at mile 4 and I decided to keep going anyway, I did so accepting that my Big Sur dream would probably be over. I couldn't bear weight on my left foot after I crossed the finish line, and I winced in pain with every step as I walked the couple hundred yards to the bag check to get my dry clothes. Any reasonable person might have started to wonder if I hadn't only sacrificed Big Sur, but also Ironman North Carolina in October. Seven months seems like plenty of time to prepare, until you're facing weeks, if not months of training potentially put on hold. But instead of going there, I thought of Willie. I thought, if he can adapt enough to be a better competitor and triathlete with one arm than I'll ever be with two, then I can adapt too.

I never intended to become a triathlete. I didn't really want to be a triathlete. To be honest, I'm not really sure I even knew that triathlon existed when I first started running. Maybe I'd heard of it, but I couldn't even tell you what the 3 disciplines involved were. Given those facts, my progression from total ignorance to preparing for an Ironman is as shocking to me as it is to anyone.

I became a triathlete on accident. I got a running injury, and I adapted. I developed really bad shin splints when I was training for my first half marathon four years ago, and eventually it turned into a stress reaction (which is almost a stress fracture, but not quite). I was able to run the race and a couple of short subsequent runs, but my shins weren't improving. The doctor told me to take at least 8 weeks off of running, and after a week or two I bought my first road bike so I could at least do something, and I figured the cross training would be good for me. After six months or so of cycling, and a healthy return to running, I got it in my head that I could probably also swim 300 yards in a pool. The rest, as they say, is history.

As strong as I felt when I was training for Beach2Battleship and as much as I looked forward to putting my training to the test on race day, I was equally as excited about getting back to my roots after it was over and just focusing on running again. I've completed 12 triathlons over the last 3 years, including a half Ironman, but I've never really identified as a triathlete. Actually, when I was training for my HIM last year, I got really frustrated that my run times were getting slower instead of faster, and I went through a bit of an identity crisis. I felt like triathlon was stealing running from me, and I started to get resentful that, despite working out more than ever in my life and becoming a better, stronger athlete overall, the swimming and biking I was doing were so fatiguing that my runs were pretty mediocre. I didn't feel like a triathlete, but I didn't really feel like a runner anymore either.

My great return to running after B2B wasn't all that I'd hoped it would be. I had a hard time getting motivated, I struggled to get through my long runs (or didn't get through them at all), and I just didn't feel like training for a marathon. It was frustrating having no real or discernible reason for not being able to re-claim my Runner title. Now that I'm injured and haven't been running (for 9 days now, thanks for asking), I've realized that maybe that excitement about just running was a little misguided, and maybe there's a reason it was so hard to get back to being a runner. Maybe, just maybe, deep down...I'm really a triathlete.

And since I'm, once again, in a period where I can't run, I'm adapting. I hadn't been in any type of water since I climbed the ladder out of the Intracoastal Waterway in Wrightsville Beach last October. I kept putting off getting back in the pool, mainly because I just didn't want to do it. I told myself that I'd worry about it once Big Sur was over, but now that Big Sur isn't happening, and swimming is the one workout I can actually do right now, I had no choice. Plans changed. I had to adapt.

Anticipating spending more time on my bike in the coming months, not only because of my timeout from running but also because my IMNC group is planning on doing a 100-mile ride in 6 weeks (did I tell you guys that? Yeah, it's a thing), finally got me to work on some of the upgrades I've been meaning to do to my bike. I gave it a little makeover with the teal bar tape I've been meaning to buy forever, got new pads for my aerobars (which probably doesn't mean anything to anyone else, but for me it means my forearms will be cushier and happier), and I'm deciding on a new seat, something I've been wanting for ages. Cycling is not my strong suit, but that makes it the sport I probably need to spend the most time focusing on. I'm ready to put in the hours in the saddle to get comfortable enough for a 112-mile tour of Wilmington, NC. I'm ready to adapt.

I don't know when or how I'll be able to run again. I don't know if I'll have a sufficient time to prepare to run for a marathon, or if that training will get cut short. I don't know if the swimming and biking I do in its place will be enough to get me through. I don't know if I'll have to figure out a new way to land on my foot, or if I'll have to hop on one leg all 26.2 miles. I don't know if I'll have to walk the whole thing. I don't know if I'll have to adjust my time expectations - a conservative estimate gives me at least 6 hours for the run, realistically probably 8.5 hours to make the time cutoff. I don't know. I'll adapt.

If Willie Stewart can go sub-11 at Kona, the least I can do is get my able body back in the pool and back in the saddle. It's not how I planned to start my training for my first Ironman, but I can adapt.



  1. Injuries SUCK and there's nothing more frustrating than your body failing you after mustering the determination to do it. But I'm amazed at your ability to find those silver linings and turn your determination in another direction. That's something I really didn't do - when I couldn't run I just didn't do anything, and it wasn't helpful at all for my overall happiness. So yeah, you continue to inspire me - go get it!

  2. What an inspiring story about Willie Stewart, I wasn't familiar with it/him. I love your positive attitude through your injury-- and a good reason to focus on swimming and cycling. All of your new bike gear sounds awesome! Even though I'm not a super serious biker I hope we can go on some rides once you guys move here!

  3. I'm wondering if this foot injury isn't exactly the RIGHT thing for you at this time. If you are, in fact, a triathlete at heart, that doesn't make you NOT a runner. It makes you a runner AND. And it makes you more disciplined and amazing than anyone I know, but that's besides the point. Maybe this injury is your body's way of forcing you to wear the title of Triathlete and begin a new journey of self-discovery that you've been resisting for a while. It's not a disaster, it's purposeful.

    As for your showing at IMNC. I'd be foolish to say something like "cross that bridge when you get to it" because... well. I know. Shamrock 2017 training plan is already in my mind. But maybe it just HAS to come later, that worrying about time expectations and goals. What matters most now is your training, and the fact that whether you finish in 11 hours or 22, Ben and I will be standing at that finisher's chute as you cross the mat wondering how the hell you do it, because you could walk, crawl, or roll the whole course through and you'll still be the most amazing athlete I know.

  4. Wow! So I need to get that book, I can only imagine the inspiring stories.

    I'm so sorry about your injury, that truly does suck. I think it's awesome that you are adapting and reevaluating yourself and your abilities. Keep going, you've got this! I'm cheering you on!

  5. I love your attitude about adapting. It is amazing how many times we adapt to things throughout our lives. You have me thinking about all different kinds of situations, not just working out haha. Getting deep! I hope that you recover quickly so you can get back to it!

  6. I think its great that you're taking the bad, and making it good. You're adapting! I love this post. It was so encouraging. I may need to pick that book up. Although I never plan to be in a tri - I think the book sounds motivating!

  7. okay first off... woah. i have never seen that julie moss finishing thing and holy crap i started crying at work. i am not a triathlete, but even if i was a couch potato (okay probably not) you just can't watch that without getting all silly and emotional and ermaghard.


    i know sometimes you struggle with like identity and emotions towards all these things (and that sounds really weird and vague) but you always come off so adaptable and strong to me. very inspiring and motivating. like if i had a running injury, i would probably turn into couch potato, but you went and got a bike and made yourself a triathlete. i mean, who knows what i would have done, but you just seem so resilient, and yeah.. very adaptable. so i am still very sorry about your foot and everything else going on right now but hopefully this will somehow turn into a positive thing and you know, like open a door or window or something to a new journey of self discovery or something. like, i'm super good with words, i know. anyway.

    yay for cushy forearms! that seems important for sure.

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