Maybe This Time

I had a lot of anxiety in the week or so leading up to officially starting my training for Ironman Louisville, and it surprised me. Maybe it shouldn't have, since anxious is pretty much my natural state, but it did. This wasn't a new experience, going off into uncharted territory; I've done this song and dance before - maybe not the full race, but the full training cycle. And then I realized that it was those two simple facts causing my heart rate to spike in the middle of the day just thinking about giving this another shot, since my Ironman experience thus far can be boiled down to these two points:
  • I have completed a full Ironman training cycle before, which should be confidence-boosting, except...it was the hardest thing I have ever done. Ironman training moved me to tears and brought me to my knees like no other experience - training or otherwise - ever has. I have tried to find the words to explain why or how it was the hardest thing I have ever done, but all I can come up with is it was. the hardest thing. I have EVER. done. It was so physically and mentally draining that by the end of it I didn't even know who I was anymore or what I was doing or why. I have never had a training cycle rock me to my core like that. And was it worth it? Well...
  • I didn't get to do the full race. I trained, I shirked nearly all responsibilities that weren't absolutely essential, I sweat, I bled, I cried on way too many occasions, and when it came down to race day, I only got to complete 84.6 of the 140.6 miles I had sacrificed so much for. I am absolutely terrified that that's going to happen again. I try not to think about it, but deep down I know it's a possibility, because I've lived it, and I just don't know if or how I can handle that happening again.  

If you were to ask me about IMNC, some days I'll shrug it off and tell you it's fine that the race got shortened, that it didn't matter that much at the end of the day anyway. Other days I'll feel that same punch in the gut that I felt when I read that email about the shortened bike course a mere four days before the race, and I'll just start weeping because I have to admit that no, I didn't complete a 140.6-mile course and, no, I'm not really an Ironman. 

I still don't know what to do with the mess that was IMNC - do I call myself an Ironman or not? How much of that experience do I feel comfortable claiming? Do I want to remember it and use it as fuel for this time, or do I want this time to be a new experience without IMNC - the good or the bad - weighing in? Is it possible to compartmentalize or separate the two? And if it is, should I separate the two, or do they have to be bound together forever? Can I deny that I wouldn't be doing Louisville if it weren't for what happened with IMNC? Like I said, it's a mess, and I don't know what it's going to take to wade through it, which I think is the best I can hope for since I don't think cleaning it up is even an option. And that's only if Louisville actually goes on as planned. I can't even bring myself to think of what a mess I'd be dealing with if something happens there too. 

So, to say that I went into this training cycle with some mixed and difficult feelings is a bit of an understatement. 

But as I've gotten into training these last few weeks, I've started to realize that I do have somewhat of a blank canvas here. Although it hasn't been constant over the last several weeks, at times I've felt such a sense of calm comfortability about training this year, and when I think back to last year, it's crazy what a completely different place I'm in this year. When I started training last year, I had only been living in DC for all of 3 weeks and literally everything was new. My job was new, my apartment was new, my city was new, my commute was new (including my mode of transportation: walking), my gym was new, my pool was new, my running routes were new, my cycling trails were new (it took me until 3 weeks into IMNC training to even find the trail where I'd end up doing most of my long rides). I had also been injured for 2 months and had only recently started running again, so constantly worrying about if I could run or if it was going to hurt was new. Because of that, even running itself felt kind of new. Fitting my training into a 9-5 work schedule was new. I started working with a new coach and my training plan was new and the format was new (rather than seeing it all up front, I got weekly plans email to me by my coach).

This year looks quite a bit different. I've been living and working in the District for over a year. I now bike to work (saving me a half hour of commuting time every day!), and have even experimented with making my bike and run training part of my commute! I'm comfortable with my job responsibilities and can better balance my work schedule. I've spent countless hours in my pool and have even learned to use it - gasp! - at the same time as other people (i.e. not at 10pm). My running routes are established and, as I've learned that variety is the spice of my bike life, I've expanded my horizons for long rides. My foot injury is a distant memory and, in fact, I started this training plan, like, the opposite of injured: I completed a marathon 2.5 months prior, a half Ironman 3 weeks prior, and a challenging century ride the week prior to starting it. And my training plan is mostly recycled from last year, but better adapted to meet my abilities and needs this year, and laid out in a handy dandy Google spreadsheet, just the way I like it.

And, so far, it's felt really different. Last year my training plan went from too easy and not really pushing myself for the first month to in over my head almost overnight, so this time I've tried to ramp up a little more gradually a little earlier on. So while I'm not even close to being in the thick of training yet, I daresay that my training up to this point has felt good. It's been challenging without being too much, and I'm enjoying it in a way that I'm not sure I've enjoyed a training cycle before.

The highs aren't as high but the lows also haven't been as low. I noticed during training last year that the highs weren't as high as they were when I was training for, say, my first half marathon or my first marathon, and I couldn't figure out why. Did I not really want to do an Ironman? Was it just too big and too overwhelming? Had the novelty of pushing myself to new limits finally worn off? I still don't really know the answer, but I feel a similar way this time and it's not bothering me as much. I feel so much more comfortable, so much more even-keeled, so much more quietly confident. I don't know why I want to do an Ironman. I don't know how bad I want it. I don't know just how profoundly losing last year's race affected me, or how much that's keeping me from wanting it now. I know there's a part of me that wants to stay focused and cool and calm, because I don't want to get my hopes up for a race that could end up not going as planned. Not again.

I just know that it's something I can do - and that it feels like something I'm supposed to do. I don't know what race day is or isn't going to hold, but although I can't think for more than a second about the utter defeat I'll feel if I get less than 140.6 miles again, after what I went through last year - the highs and lows of training, the devastatingly lowest of the lows when the course got shortened, and the herculean strength I felt after pushing my body and my mind through 4 long months of training and one 9-hour day - I don't know that I can go through this training cycle visualizing a race day that might never come. I just know that getting back into this training rhythm has felt like coming home.

4 comments :

  1. It sounds like, on some level, you've come to recognize that there is value in the process of training itself and not just the outcome - not to downplay how devastating the shortened course was. Even if that snafu hadn't happened, there are still a number of things that could have gone wrong on race day. In that way, getting to the starting line is just as much of an accomplishment as crossing the finish.

    Of course most of us wouldn't put ourselves through training cycles if there was no "prize" at the end, but still, it's so much commitment and work for a reward that is ultimately fleeting and short lived, so I firmly believe that we all have other reasons for doing this, even if we may not be consciously aware of what they are. You could have cut your losses decided not to put yourself through this again so soon, that maybe an IM wasn't meant to be. But something brought you back. Maybe it was redemption, or maybe you just really enjoy the training, in all of its gritty difficulty. Those of us who enjoy the process of training are ultimately the ones who get the most out of the sport, even if we don't always have the results to show for it.

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  2. When I trained for my first Chicago Marathon, the forecast called for thunderstorms on race day right up a few days before the race, and I lost SO much sleep over worrying that all of my training would be for nothing and I'd either have to "waste" my first marathon on a different event, or I wouldn't get to run a marathon at all until the next year. With how much stress just the threat of losing my marathon caused, I can only imagine what it must've been like to go through all of IM training and not get your full race out of it! I haven't looked up any statistics (I don't know if statistics even exist), but if I had to guess, I would imagine it is FAR more likely to have an IM run as scheduled than it is to have it cancelled or shortened. I only say that because I keep a relatively close eye on what's going on in the endurance sports world, and I have so rarely heard of IMs getting cancelled or shortened that I feel comfortable saying what happened to you last year, while always a possibility, was more of a fluke than a guarantee, or even something that has a 50/50 chance of happening. I obviously can't say anything for sure, but I really think you stand a pretty good chance of having IM Louisville at least giving you the opportunity to complete 140.6 miles.

    Even not considering the possibility of what could or could not happen on race day, it sounds like you are in a MUCH better place to train than you were last year. I often tell first time marathoners that marathon training isn't just made up of the six (or however many) hours you spend per week exercising: you are in training from the moment you wake up on the first day of training until the moment you cross the finish line at the end, and every single thing you do during that time will, in some way, impact your training--the food you eat, the decisions you make, the way you spend your non-exercising time, the life events, planned or spontaneous, that happen: all if it adds up and impacts your training in one way or another. It sounds like a LOT of those "non exercising" variables that were a big factor in your life last year are out of the picture this year, which will hopefully help the entire experience be a lot less stressful for you!

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  3. I am glad you feel like you're in a good place when training nkw, but I understand why you would have all this anxiety about it! It was a somewhat traumatic experience for you in some ways. But hopefully (and most likely!) you will be able to finish the full mileage and feel confident when you call yourself an Ironman.

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  4. You are truly amazing to me. I say it time and again and mean it. Glad you're pushing through the emotions. Im rooting for you!

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