Friday, August 27, 2010

After Ironman

Going into Ironman last September, I had big plans for the rest of the fall. In October I'd registered for a North Face trail run (13.1), and in November I was going to be serious about trying to race a fast 5k. I'd wanted to just stay active and fit throughout the winter, but I wasn't making any real plans for 2010 yet - I didn't want to commit myself to anything like a Half Iron after having summer 2009 really revolve around triathlon. So the plan was to stay fit, and with that fitness, be able to decide whenever I wanted to if I wanted to ramp up for this or that race.

But a few things happened. I mentioned life a little bit in my earlier post - one thing is that work got really busy. And as a partner in my company, my work is more than just my job - it's a big part of my life, of my imagination. And things started to take off a little bit, and I was happy and willing to devote more of my energies to that, even at the expense of training. I also started working on a few other important projects that I'd kept dormant for too long (here's one). My wife is writing a book (it's an academic book about teaching - very cool, totally over my head, to be published sometime in 2011 I guess. There is nary a murderer, ghost, or vampire to be found within its pages...), and so her writing time were essentially her long rides- it was my turn to head to the library with D, or go upstairs and play, or head to the park. And especially after missing out on some of that throughout Ironman training, I was all too happy to spend my time that way.

I had - to be expected - some pretty serious burnout after Ironman. I expected that, and allowed it of myself. I'm still learning how to be more moderate with my big goals. I'm a goal-oriented person, so I love to have something on the horizon - Ironman or a Half Iron or whatever that's months or even years down the road - and make it my total focal point for training. Inevitably, then, when I've reached the goal and its behind me, I'll find myself both floundering a bit for purpose, and needing recovery not just from the obvious physical toll taken, but the sudden absence of this thing in my head around which I've spent so much time and energy.

But what I didn't expect - and what might have contributed more than anything to a necessary break from the game - was how deeply I felt disappointed with my Ironman marathon.

If you want the full story I'll let you go back and read the race report, but the very short version is that I had a great swim and bike - perfectly to plan - but I fell apart in the marathon not because of heat or spent effort too early or stupid mistakes but just because I couldn't keep anything down. I kind of puked and lurched and hurled my way through those 26.2. I think the reason was green algae in the lake during the swim, but I'm still not comfortable with that - I still want to be able to hold myself accountable.

But you know what - that's racing. Shit happens, you deal with it. I'm not the kind of triathlete who lacks perspective with these things. I'm way past an era of maturity with the game where a DNF seems like the end of the world - it doesn't to me. I don't think Ironman finishing times are terribly important except/unless if they're important to the individual racing. So my disappointment with the run isn't really tied to anything like that - it's not really about a performance thing.

It's that the the situation made me more emotional than I wanted to be, and I feel like that made things a little harder on my amazing friends and family who came from so far to cheer me on. It's that I have so much of my heart dedicated to the Ironman race, and get to do it so rarely, that it wasn't just frustrating, but was actually sad, to know that I left something out there on the course (I simply couldn't run as fast as I wanted to, and was capable of, because I was gagging my guts out). It's like the olympic athlete who gets off the plane after waiting and training for 4 years and then stubs their toe getting into the hotel room and so suddenly can't race. (I'm apparently the olympic athlete in this analogy - brilliant!) What do you do with all that energy? All that fitness? All the goals and ideas and strategies you spent so much time carefully devising, to the smallest detail? The opportunity was gone, and that was that.

I wasn't feeling sorry for myself or anything, I just found myself in kind of a funk. In the moment - at Ironman - I was very good at dealing with the situation as it was, as it presented itself. But once it was over, it took a long time for me to really understand how I felt about it, and how it made me feel. I wished - again - that I'd just drank too much Gatorade or eaten too much gel or something self inflicted. But I can't logically explain the situation and why it happened, and so it really took something out of me. Combine this with all of the rest of above, and my heart just wasn't in the game for a long time. And the fact that this situation was so unsettling to me showed me how much I still had to learn, how much I still needed to mature, in this part of the game, in this part of my life. My nature is to want to get out there and start doing something with those lessons - hit the road again and start turning them over and seeing them from every angle and devising a way to make them a strength.

I ended up skipping that October trail race - family time was more important. I skipped that November 5k. Winter came and I spent a weekend getting my bike all set up on the trainer - and then never touched it after that. All these thoughts - which I've so neatly laid out in the paragraphs above - still really had no form or value to them, they just kind of hung around and made me confused. March came around and it should have been time to start itching to get out there - but I wasn't, really. I tried the familiar persona on - I got out for some rides, I'd get a few miles running in here or there - but it wasn't for purpose like I enjoy it to be. Work got crazy in April - like, 18 hour days crazy, and it stayed that way into June. Sometime in April I registered for the Twin Cities marathon, and I had these awesome notions that if I did x, y, and z, I could try and race it fast. But devising notions was about as far as that got - I charted a 20 week plan, which suddenly was a 16 week plan, which suddenly was me counting backwards and reorganizing my goals for, "okay, if I start next week, that gives me 12 solid weeks..." but still my heart wasn't into it. I wasn't training with any consistency at all. I was lucky if I got out there to huff about for 3 miles once every couple of weeks.

Now in case all of this sound depressing - it wasn't. I've spent my summer doing almost entirely what I wanted to do with my summer. Lazy days at the lake with Amy and D and my family. Saturday morning dozing in bed. An occasional nap on Sunday afternoons. Eating for the enjoyment of food instead of its strict nutritional value. When we took a family road trip I didn't bring my bike, didn't obsess about my running gear - Jack and I took long walks on gravel roads. Amy's Dad and I took a casual jog for 4 miles. I've taken more walks - just turn on the iPod and go for a walk, not always with the dogs, and not monitor my vital signs and distance and pace - just look around and enjoy the summer shadows on the yards in my neighborhoods. Take work off early on a Friday not to get in 30 miles on the machine, but to head to the pool with Dakota (who, incidentally, is honest-to-god an emerging swimmer, and runner.) This is the other stuff life is made of, the real stuff, and I made the very most of it. I've loved every single second of it. The break from the game has done me good. Its been instrumental in teaching me more about how to temperate and moderate my natural obsessiveness with the game - which is something I enjoy about it - with other passions. I don't want to enjoy these things only in off years. I don't want the game to the mortar between the bricks in the rest of my life, and I don't want the rest of my life to be the mortar holding my passion for the game together. To this point they've kind of been two separate entities in my life. I want to learn to merge them.

Sometime in late July I'd pretty much given up on the idea of running the Twin Cities marathon. But I was out on a walk one lovely evening with the dogs, and for whatever reason - I can't think of what on earth it was - the switch flipped. I though - okay, I have about 10 weeks to the marathon. What can I do with that? I devised a rough workout plan. My goals were totally unambitious - if I could train so that an 18 miler was fun, then I could have fun in a marathon. I'm not interested in a sufferfest, and I don't care how fast I go in this marathon - I wasn't going to try and cram training in to the point of injury or anything dumb like that. I had a little bit of base fitness, but otherwise it was really starting at zero.

That weekend I headed out for my first long run, which would be the barometer for where I'd go next with this idea. I just wanted to run easy for as far as I could - until my legs couldn't take it, or it wasn't fun. I managed 7 miles, and it was slow, and I walked a bit, but it was mostly comfortable. From that I devised a plan to get me to 18 miles. It involved adding a mile/week for the long run, having another run of half the long run distance at "race pace" (which, really, I didn't know what that was, but :30 or 1:00 faster than my long run pace), and then a third run in the week, half the distance again of that second run, which would be speed or interval work. So with that 7 miler as my long run, I also ran 3.5 miles that week at race pace, and then 1.25 miles of speed work. Start small, and work up incrementally.

In the last week or 10 days I've started to see some return on the early work. Things are getting easier. I ran 3 miles at around 7:35/mile the other day, which was faster than I expected (though I faded in the last mile). My long run is up to 12 miles, and tomorrow I'll be running 14 miles as a bit of a "race rehearsal" to see what kind of pacing I can achieve and work from. I'm on my bike at least twice/week as well, and loving it. I'm back to reading slowtwitch with frequency, back to checking in on twitter. I even raced - on a total whim - an aquathon last week. It was the last aquathon of the year, and when I realized it that morning I thought - life is short, and this is what summertime is for. I had not swam since Ironman - not one stroke. Last year, in peak fitness, the aquathon was really just a strictly fun way to get in some unexpected speed and race work. It was never too hard. Showing up on a whim last week was definitely hard. Everything was a little excruciating, a lot slow. I told Amy when I got home that I'll never take for granted when I'm fit and these things are fast and easy. Because there was nothing fast, and nothing easy, about it. But, I had a blast.

I'm still hauling 10-15 extra offseason pounds around, which is making things a lot more difficult, and as I said, I'll not be turning in any kind of PR at this marathon, and that's not the point. I really, really miss race day - so I'm just excited for the atmosphere of being back in a big race like this marathon. But I'm also hoping that this is the fitness build I'm looking for to head into an active - and not my usual hibernating - winter. I'd like to tackle that 13.1 mile trail run this fall, and that fast 5k in November. I think I'm going to look at some running showshoes for this winter, and see if I can find ways to have fun and stay active when the snow falls. I'm making plans to do a computrainer group ride on Saturday mornings, and a fun basketball league on Thursday nights this winter. I'd like to arrive to next spring fit and healthy and ready to take the summer seriously - already planning on a hard and fast 70.3 next summer.

So - you're up to speed. I remain, as ever, a student of this game. For every lesson it teaches me, I learn as much or more about myself. At some point you'd think there'd be some diminishing returns on that - you reach a point in life where, hopefully, you kind of have your shit together. And mostly, I do. Everything in triathlon used to be like a shock of cold water, all this decompressing and catharsis and eye-opening, its lessons would be for me. I feel like a much more seasoned student now - not too surprised by much, not needing those lessons as much, as often, or in the same way as I did 5, 6, 7 yeas ago - but a student nonetheless. If ever I make goals to be faster, or stronger, or go farther for longer, or be better...those are always, I think, secondary to my real purpose in this game, which is - what can I learn from it today? And how can those lessons in turn make me a smarter, more peaceful, more open person, father, husband, friend, human being?

May it be always so.


Derek said...

Great Post. I have never done an Ironman, but I did way to much this spring and had to back off and really take time to enjoy things this summer and will continue to do so. Having fun while training is more important to me than even trying to go faster and longer and won't be making those mistakes again.
Lifes to short for that for me. Good luck at twin cities!

marathon2tri said...

I have been reading your blog since 2007, after seeing your videos on Youtube (and they even had sound back then). I still run with the sound track you made in Becoming Ironman on my mp3 ("it's all will!!!"). After doing four HIMs, I finished my first full IM at Lake Placid this year with a smile on my face. It was wonderful. Your thoughtful and introspective approach refreshingly maintains the proper prespective in a sport laden with the need for speed. Thanks for the ride so far. I look forward to the next step, which for me is (hopefully) IMLP 2012.

NursAdrn said...

Excellent! Merging passions is where it's at. Best of luck to you in your marathon.

Alisa said...

I found your blog recently from Ironmom. This post really hit home almost my exact thoughts after my first HIM in July. While I know HIM isn't a full IM, it's still something you have to put a lot of time into. I was really disappointed with my bike performance and utterly pissed off about the whole thing. It took me a few months, pretty much until now to realize--HIM is FAR and I finished, not everyone can. I think being goal-oriented can sometimes be a blessing and a curse. I find it incredibly hard to live in the moment =).

I appreciate reading other people's journey's. Thanks for posting.

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