Ironman North Carolina: Final Thoughts



On Training
Training for an Ironman sucked. I don't think there is any other way to describe it, and I know that might be confusing because why would you purposely do something that sucks? To be honest, I asked myself that question constantly. I was unhappy throughout a lot of my training because it was just so demanding and I was so tired and really had no time for anything except working, training, eating, and sleeping. Looking back now, though, I realize that there were a lot of factors that played into it that I couldn't really see at the time. Life has been a complete whirlwind this year and right up until IMNC, I was going all day every day at 100%. My training started at the same time that I finished school, moved to a new city 2 days later, and started a new job 4 days after that. I realize now that that was just...a lot to take on all at one time. That's not to say that it wouldn't have been hard even without all of those other moving parts, but they certainly added to my already-full plate.

I have said many times that I knew training for an Ironman would be tough, but I never knew how tough. I am just now getting back to normal life - and well, really living a normal life for the first time all year - and every normal day makes me realize how insane training was and how it completely flipped things upside down. It was without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done, for so many reasons, but I’m really, really proud to be able to say that I did it and I made it through. I knew that the actual Ironman would be a 12+ hour day, but I don’t think I really envisioned 6-8 hour training days. I felt so weak at the time, but looking back now I can see how much stronger it made me.


On Doubts
It’s actually a little hard for me to look back at my training, because while I’m really proud of the fact that it happened, it didn’t happen gracefully and I’m a little bit embarrassed by that. I was plagued with fear and doubt and that overshadowed a lot of the months I spent training. An Ironman was a lot to take on, and I know that, but looking back I was just so…afraid. All the time. Afraid of so many things - of having to share my lane in the pool, of being by myself on the bike, of reinjuring my foot, of not getting to spend time with my family, of not getting to go do fun things - and that negativity really affected a lot of my training. I still managed to get it done, but I didn’t enjoy a lot of it and I think it was largely because I was just so scared, both of the work I needed to put in and of the idea of failing anyway. 


I have never been afraid of taking on challenges before this, no matter how unlikely they might seem, because I always believed deep down that I could do them. Even when I couldn’t run to the end of my block, somewhere in my heart I knew that if I just kept at it, I could eventually run long enough to do a 5k. I wasn’t even afraid of doing an Ironman when I signed up, but the more I trained and the harder I got, I felt like I was just barely getting by and that there was no way I could make it through the race. I said that, out loud, many times, and I honestly think I might have quit if I didn’t have 3 other people in this with me. The fear overwhelmed me and for the first time since I started all of this stuff about 5 years ago, I really thought I might have finally found my limit. 

On Overcoming
There is a reason for the saying, “Trust your training.” All of those months I spent doubting myself but pushing through anyway finally paid off on race day. I didn’t get to do the full race course so I’ll never know what would have happened with an additional 56 miles out on the course that day (and in that headwind, ugh), but I do know that the 9 hours I did spend on it were a testament to my training, my coaching, and my ultimate unwillingness to give up (despite the number of times I strongly considered it during training). 

I had hoped the bike would be my story of triumph, but with the shortened course and the strong winds, that’s not the story I get to tell. Instead, the run ended up being my story of triumph that day. I ran consistently and was training for the Big Sur Marathon up until March of this year, but then I abruptly stopped running when I injured my foot during the Shamrock Half Marathon, so by the time I started official Ironman training, instead of the solid running base I'd planned to have, I had to work back up from basically nothing. When my 20-week training plan started in June I'd only been back to running for about 3 weeks. I was still supplementing a lot of my runs with the elliptical and my longest "long" run was up to 5.5 miles. I think back to those two months from March to May when my foot just didn't seem to be getting any better, when it would feel kind of okay so I'd optimistically try to do a test "run" of a few steps in my parking lot only to be completely dejected when I felt immediate sharp pain, when I seriously tried to come to terms with the very real possibility that I might have to walk all 26.2 miles of the Ironman marathon if things continued the way they were. But by some miracle over the last 5 months I was able to get back to running, train for, and complete a marathon! I was so worried I wasn't going to be prepared for it, but I was able to run it pain-free (well, as pain-free as a marathon can be, I guess) in just under 4.5 hours. It wasn’t the PR I was hoping for, but it was closer to my PR than the other 2, standalone marathons I’ve run, so I was over the moon.

On My Journey
I don't know when my Ironman dream was born. I started participating in triathlons about 3.5 years ago and by the end of my first season, with one Olympic under my belt, I knew I would most likely do a half Ironman one day, and from there it followed that maybe, maybe, a full Ironman would be in the picture eventually. Then it took me 2 years to a 70.3, and training for that was the hardest, most-time consuming thing I'd ever done. I had a great race, but knowing how much work the training had been made me question whether I really had what it took to ever do a full, and it wasn't something I planned on doing for at least a year or two.

There aren't many full IM races on the east coast of the U.S. (I've never had to fly to a race and really didn't want the added stress of air travel and the associated logistics for an already high-stress event), and surprisingly few in the U.S. really, and none of the ones offered every really appealed to me. I knew what my options would be for the far-off scenario when I might want to do a full, but I figured I would cross that bridge when I came to it and pick the least uninteresting option. 

But then...the Universe spoke. Or at least I thought it did (more on that later). One of the major requirements I had if I were even going to consider doing a full was that it had to be put on by Ironman and not an independent race organization. I was browsing Reddit on my phone at dinner last December when I read that Ironman was buying Beach2Battleship, the independently owned race that had been my first half Ironman, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve had the idea of a full Ironman in my head as a one day, far away goal for a while now, but I don’t know that I ever really saw myself here. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I actually made it this far.

On the IMNC Shortened Course Debacle
Time to face the music on this one. Let me just set the stage, though: it’s 4 days until race day. I’ve been tapering for 2.5 weeks and my emotions are running high. One second I can’t wait to get to Wilmington, the next second I want to crawl under my covers and never come out. I’m at work, and all I can think about is going home and packing in preparation for my drive to North Carolina the following day. It’s been 10 days since Hurricane Matthew hit and although rumors about how that may have affected the race have been flying around, they seem to have quieted. I mean, it’s 4 days before the race, it’s go time, right?

Getting the email about the shortened bike course less than FOUR DAYS before I was supposed to be riding it felt like I got sucker punched. I had been training for this race for ten months, with the last four of those being my intensive, official training. I had given up any semblance of a social life, had started getting up at 3:50am, and had hardly done anything except work, swim, bike, run, eat, or sleep since June, for one goal: to be an Ironman. Finding out that that all of that work, all of those sacrifices had been in vain, that at the end of the day I would have gone through all of that and still wouldn’t be an Ironman - and there was nothing I could do about it - yeah, it was devastating.

I was in a really bad mood the couple of days before the race. I tried to put on a happy face but I just couldn’t. Doing all of the pre-race activities felt like going through the motions, and not the exciting and nerve-wracking experience it should have been. Fortunately by race morning I had given in and accepted my fate: it wasn’t a full Ironman, but it was my Ironman. 

I put a lot of energy into hearing, “You are an Ironman!” at the finish, into being an Ironman, and at the end of the day…I don’t know how much it mattered. I thought that those things were important, but I learned and grew so much from my training and from race day itself, and from showing up despite it not being the day that I wanted, and ultimately that’s what I’m taking from this experience. And I know that sounds like something people say to make themselves feel better, and maybe it is, but I honestly just don’t care anymore whether I’m an Ironman or not. I had a great day and a great race and I was happy the whole time (okay maybe not that happy during the 25mph headwind on the bike) and even if it wasn't the full Ironman I trained and planned for, it was 14.6 miles and over 3 hours longer than anything I've ever done before. The biggest thing I got from this experience wasn’t a title, it was a lifestyle.

With that said…having completed 83% of a full Ironman, I hesitate to call or think of myself as one. I don’t really want to tell anyone I did it because I don’t want to have to explain how I didn’t do the full course, and no not because I didn’t finish or something like that, but because 84.6 miles was how long the course was that day. I bought a finisher’s jacket (even though I SWORE I wasn’t going to but ugh, I had to go by the convention center the day after and the expo was still set up and I was still under Ironman’s magic spell and it was really cute…) and I feel weird wearing it because I know it should have an asterisk or something. The story of my first Ironman will always be a weird experience that will have to come with a disclaimer, and there’s nothing I can do about that. I’m not an Ironman, but I am an Ironman*. Ironmanish? Something like that.

On What’s Next
It’s been my experience that the natural reaction to finishing a big race is, “Okay so when’s the next one?!” Although I knew this wasn't going to be a one-and-done for me, I was excited about not training so intensely for a while and wasn't planning on doing another Ironman next year. But with our first full IM not really being a full IM, that conversation actually started among our group during our pre-race prep. We talked a lot about pros and cons, and the discussion this time was so different than last time. We were so excited about IMNC last year - we were already familiar with the course from doing the half, it’s fast and flat, it’s in a coastal location that we love - but I personally wasn’t excited about coming back to Wilmington for a third time. My main consideration this time was actually the bike course. Since I hate the bike I think I’ve always been like well, I don’t like to bike so it’s probably going to suck no matter where it is, but then I started to think the opposite. The bike course in IMNC may lack hills but it is SO boring and not scenic at all, and I really wanted something different this time. I figured I could deal with whatever the run course is - IMNC was nice but not amazing. And of course, another down current swim would be nice but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we had a more (but still not super) challenging swim. And, not that it’s a huge consideration considering it makes up like 30 seconds of the whole day, but the finish line at IMNC was pretty lackluster tbh.

We talked about a few difference possibilities and quickly narrowed it down to two choices: Louisville and Chattanooga. Louisville’s swim is against the current for the first 1/3, but then with current, while Chattanooga is all down river with current. Both bikes are hilly. The run is hilly in Chattanooga but flat(ish? I seriously don’t believe people who use this word) in Louisville. I don’t know that much about the finish line at Chattanooga, but Louisville has one of the best finish lines in all of Ironman.  And the bike course at Louisville goes through horse country so….see you in 2017, IM Louisville!

9 comments :

  1. Congratulations! But WOW, that really sucks about the short course. I would be so devastated. I'm glad you are taking it in stride.

    And, damn, I was hoping at the end you hadn't made a decision about 2017 yet because I was totally going to suggest you come here and do IM Wisconsin in September!

    I know what you mean about the training sucking. I've never done and probably will never do an IM, but I felt that way training for my last marathon. I had a time goal and while I did end up achieving it, I feel like I sold my soul in the process. When I crossed the finish line I wasn't even all elated or happy, I was just relieved and thought "thank god, I don't have to run another marathon for 18 months!" I'm definitely taking a more balanced and less demanding approach next time, even if that means my slowest time yet.

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  2. DANG IT! Why couldn't you have chosen Chattanooga?! I would have been at that race cheering you on in a HEARTBEAT. It's not even 2 hours away from me!

    On a less selfish note, I'm glad to know you're going to compete again! I'll always consider you an Ironman sans asterisk, but I know it won't feel real to YOU until it truly is a full Ironman.
    I'm curious about how you'll train. I mean.. you won't be starting from scratch, but at the same time, it's almost a full year away, isn't it? Either way, you're freaking awesome.

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  3. YAHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! Louisville for the WIN!
    Honestly, every Ironman I work, I hear from so many athletes that they love Louisville the most because of the course, the atmosphere & of course, that finish line!!!
    I am so hoping to be there to be the one to give you your medal!!!!.... I'll be your biggest cheereleader!!

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  4. You absolutely, 100% should be incredibly proud of how well you stood up to the torture of training this year. I know you had your hard moments and meltdowns like every training cycle brings, but you cannot say you did not earn the right to race that race throughout your training. You are an incredible woman for that alone.

    We've talked about this and you know I agree and am so glad your attitude changed by the time you hit that finish line and you were able to race, enjoy, and appreciate the race you were given. The asterisk is there, but I hope you let it be a neutral or maybe positive one, rather than a negative one. Your first Ironman was unique, special, and challenged you in ways no other race could have. You climbed a whole different mountain that day and that week than you would have if you'd been given the 140.6. You faced another, different battle than you thought you would, but you didn't have 20 weeks to train for it; just 4 days. I think that is a huge fete and one that sets you apart in a way that you weren't expecting, sure, but that gives you an extra bragging right if you ask me.

    Anyway. I can't wait to see you finish in Louisville. Can.not. wait.

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  5. I am curious with Kate too about how you'll train, and I'm interested in knowing more about your decision to jump right into signing up for another race. Especially after reading all your thoughts about how long and difficult training was, etc. Just curious in more background on that! Of course I think you're super amazing and hard core. Are you going to do any other races besides the IM next year? Obviously the doubting part will be totally different because you KNOW you can do it and do it well. Will your dad do it too?

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  6. You accomplished so much through this journey! On a physical level, but also through all of the mental and emotional challenges that come with this intensity of training! I'm so excited you're doing it again next year- I still can't even imagine the disappointment you had when you heard of the shortened course, love what you said about it being about more than a title.

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  7. I keep reading your race posts at work (where I can't comment) and forget to comment when I get home! I know this sounds corny but I think deep down in your heart, you are definitely an Ironman. It's not just about the race... it's about getting to the starting line. Just thinking back to all of your Ironman posts, you trained with a lot of dedication. Especially through all of your life changes! I'm excited for you for 2017... I will keep my fingers crossed for you that you get the race you've been dreaming about. Thanks for being such an inspiration!

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  8. Louisville sounds like a great choice for your next IM! I can't wait to see how your journey for that one differs than this one now that you've been through it once before.

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  9. okay, one of my favourite things to do is put an 'ish' after words. i am not a minimalist, i am minimalish. i'm not a vegetarian, i am vegetarianish. etc etc etc. so i love the Ironmanish.. i don't love what happened to your race day and all, and nothing i say will convince you to call yourself an ironman or whatever.. so i say rock that jacket and ironmanish label. it was completely out of your control, but you still made it your day and it's not like some people in that race got to do the whole thing and you didn't... so everyone who knows anything about IMNC knows what happened, and no-one NO-ONE will mock you for wearing a jacket or saying you're an ironman because of something completely out of your control.
    so are any of your friends/family doing Louisville as well?
    i can't wait to follow along and i hope the training is easier and all that.
    I don't know exactly where the run is (I suppose i could look) but i would assume hilly and be pleasantly surprised when it is flat-ish. it's definitely not flat like highway that stretches on for miles or whatever, i can't remember what park it goes through if it does, but the races i've run (derby & urban bourbon) have hills, so..... you know. haha.
    i can't wait though. now that our house is sold and all that, life is much more calm, so let me know if you want me to get out and take photos anywhere or anything.

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