The Beginning of the End

I already wrote an update at the halfway point, and it's only been 3 weeks since then, but I'm feeling like I'm at another pivotal point. Maybe even the most pivotal point. Twenty weeks of training divides almost into thirds, putting me now in the final third. I can't decide if I feel like I should be farther than roughly 67% of the way through training or if I'm not where I should be yet, but in reality this last third will be about half work and half taper, leaving me just a few more weeks to get in as much training as I can before I start to rest up.

I've experienced significant mental fatigue and burnout over the last several weeks, so I wanted to break down the first two thirds of training to make a plan for how to successfully tackle this final third. All of my successes and failures thus far are worthless if I don't learn from them. 

The First Third 
(Weeks 1-6)

I started my training bright and early at 6am on a Monday morning. I was pumped. I had a race that first week, an Olympic distance tri, which went okay but I wasn't acclimated to the heat yet (I think that was actually the first real summer day we had this year). I came down with a cold the next week and suffered through that for the majority of the first third of training, but I didn't let it stop me from training. I discovered the W&OD trail, which I have come to both love and hate, but admit that it is an amazing trail to have nearby for long distance. I tested the waters of pre-work bricks and, surprisingly, actually pulled one off! My long runs got back into double digit territory, which made me both anxious and excited considering how recently I had gotten back to running after taking time off for my foot. My training started to really pick up by the end but I felt like I got to a balance between working hard enough without feeling completely drained.

What worked: Night swims. Finding a trail for long rides. 

What didn't: Long runs on Saturday and long rides on Sunday. I just couldn't make this work. I prefer the opposite - for some reason it feels better to me mentally, and I figure there can't be any harm in emulating the race order of events, right?

The Second Third 
(Weeks 7-13)

The second third of training had me on an emotional roller coaster. I wish someone had told me to buckle my seat belt and hold on for dear life, because that's how I felt the entire time. My training volume nearly doubled in one week. All of a sudden I was swimming for an hour at a time, doing 2.5+ hour bricks after work, and riding 60 miles. Week after week, my training volume kept increasing to distances and times I didn't think were possible. I really struggled to make it all work. My joke about how Ironman training is my part time job got really unfunny when it really started to take up as much time as a part time job. Morning workouts became a necessity, although I still struggled to get up and do them, which made things very rocky and stressful. I forced myself into the habit doing as many bricks in the morning as I could, which led to many 4am alarms. I did one brick after work after a few weeks of mornings because I didn't think I'd have enough time before work, and it was so horrible that I vowed never again, which led to alarms before 4am. Weekdays were tough, and weekends were tougher. This entire third of training was a build period, so there was more and more every week. This also coincided with some of the hottest weather of the summer, including a record-breaking month of August (23 days of 90+ temps, which is 23 days too many if you ask me). My runs after my long rides were the worst - it was anywhere from 10am to 2pm by the time I could start them, and every single one felt like running on the surface of the sun. My long runs jumped up quite a bit, from 10 miles to 13 to 15 to 18 (it was only by the grace of a little cold front that I was able to complete that one). Ben and I discovered Hains Point, which got me off the trainer and outside for one weekday ride every week. My swims got longer and longer and before I knew it, I was swimming the full Iron distance. My emotions were up, down, and all around during this third, but it ended at the lowest point of training so far. After 13 weeks of hard work, with 6 weeks in a row of really hard work, I had reached a breaking point. I only did about half of my long weekend training and I had a total breakdown over it. The effects of 13 weeks were really taking their toll, and panic about only having 7 weeks left was starting to set in. 

What worked: Training with my group. Figuring out my nutrition (both daily nutrition, which came earlier, and workout nutrition, which came later). 

What didn't: Taking easy workouts for granted. Long workouts by myself, especially long rides. I knew this was something I would struggle with, but I didn't think it would be quite this bad. 

The Final Third 
(Weeks 14-20)

Last week was the beginning of the end, and I mustered every bit of determination I could find to turn around my training and my attitude. One of the key things I wanted to change was doing my weekend workouts alone. It's just not working for me so I vowed to do whatever I have to do - go home, find a race, anything - to be able to be around people, preferably my IMNC group. 

Luckily that was already taken care of last week (Week 14), as my IMNC group (plus Ben!) had all been planning for months to do the Nation's Tri in DC. Although the swim was canceled because of bacteria levels in the Potomac, we did our best to get in some hard biking and running and enjoy the day. Even if I wasn't with them for the actual biking and running parts, it was so good to be around people on this journey again. 

Nation's Tri 2016
This week (Week 15) I have a little race cation planned! I'll be heading up to New Jersey to see my favorite Jersey girl and race IM 70.3 Atlantic City. I registered for this race as soon as it opened last year, right after B2B and well before any of this full Ironman craziness was conceived. It worked out that it's just about a month before IMNC, so it should be a good test run. I'm really nervous considering this time last year, a 70.3 was the big goal, not a practice race, but I'm also excited. It will be interesting to finally see what an IM brand event is like, and I've never been to AC before! 

The next week (Week 16) one of my training friends will be in town for the weekend, and since I have struggled so much at doing long rides alone, she's brining her bike! We don't know yet what our schedule will be but we will only have this week and next week as final build weeks before taper, so I imagine it will be big (and I need it to be, for confidence if nothing else). She will be in town on Sunday so that will be our bike day, and I'll do my long run on Saturday. Hoping to get together with Christy since she also has some big miles to put in for the Richmond Marathon! I think I'll also schedule a sports massage this week to help me recover from IMAC 70.3 and get ready for the last two big weeks. I got one a few weeks ago and it was amazing!

The next week (Week 17) is my birthday week and last peak week before taper! Like I said about last week, this week should be a big one, and I plan on heading home for the weekend for the last big push. I celebrated my graduation earlier this summer with a century ride - why not celebrate my birthday with some of my longest rides and runs of training? 

Then taper week (Week 18) begins! This weekend I'll be heading to Blacksburg to run the Hokie Half Marathon. I have run this half for the last two years - the first year it poured rain (and I ran my first sub-2!) and last year it was beautiful. Hoping for the latter again this year because the only reason I'm really running it is to see the course now that I don't live there anymore. I also plan on writing my race plan this week, which I hope will help me not only figure out logistics, but my emotions as well. I wrote one last year for B2B and it was a really valuable exercise. Other logistics include taking my bike in for a tune-up! I never got it tuned up after I bought it, and at this point I might as well just wait so it will be ready for race day. 

Hokie Half Marathon 2014
The following week (Week 19) is Ben's 30th birthday, so we'll be going home to celebrate. While we're there I'm hoping to knock out my Ironman training bucket list - some workouts I've compiled to look forward to before the big day:
  • Run in Portsmouth - These brick sidewalks are where I took my very first running steps and ran 95% of my miles before I moved away two years ago. The very first thing I did after registering for IMNC was run 12 miles through one of my favorite cities, and that's how I want to end my training. 
  • Bike the Jordan Bridge - I get some gorgeous views in DC, no doubt, but there's no place like home - and no place to see it all like the top of the Jordan Bridge. It's a long, super tall bridge and getting up it is absolutely killer, but the reward at the top is worth it and the ride down is so fun! The first time I ever rode my bike more than 16 miles I went out with a group of friends and rode all over town, including over this bridge, for a total of 33 miles. That was the first long bike ride I'd ever really done, and I remember being so tired at the end but so proud of myself! I never thought I'd ride a bike that far. This bridge also used to be part of some of our after-work training rides and I miss it so much! It's been over a year since I've ridden and I just want to do it one more time before the big day.
First Jordan Bridge ride, May 2013
  • Run at the beach/on the boardwalk - Last summer I lived at the beach during half Ironman training and did a ton of runs on the boardwalk. It's always been a special place to me since I finished my first 5k, 10k, and half marathon on that boardwalk, in addition to numerous PRs in everything from the 5k to the marathon. I have countless memories of running up and down with the ocean by my side, but the one that seems most directly relevant to this journey is catching a glimpse of someone's M dot tattoo at Surf and Santa last year when I was on the cusp of signing up for IMNC. That guy gave me all the motivation I needed to push through to a super fast 5 mile PR and to press the "Register" button the next day.

And then I'll blink and it will be race week and I'll wonder where those 10 months and 2 days since I registered went. I'll forget about every hard training session, every time I cried, every time I wanted to quit - or better yet, I'll remember them and know that I am stronger for them. Here's to the last third, the beginning of the end, the last pieces of the puzzle. A journey 5+ years in the making comes to an end in 5.5 weeks. I've been worried this whole time that I wouldn't be ready for the race, but the closer it gets, I'm only worried that I won't be ready for this chapter to come to an end. 


  1. oh how exciting!! hope the half is awesome and fabulous and gives you a boost and confidence and all that. i hope you are able to do every long workout with someone, or around other people. whatever works! not like you'll be doing the full race alone, so why not!
    you are definitely stronger from everything you've been through and will likely continue to go through. i'm so happy i got to watch you go through this and can't wait to virtually cheer for you on race day!
    only question is... what next?!

  2. What a journey you've had so far! I love all of the things that you have planned to round out your training - sounds like exactly something that I would do. Hit all the places you've enjoyed training & that are significant to you for one reason or another. Love it :) Hope things continue to go well!