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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Ironman Summer

To say a learned something about myself this past year would be an understatement. When I signed up to do my first Ironman on September 14, of 2009, I thought I was signing up for a grueling one day endurance race, little did I know what the other 364 days had in store for me.

I saw this race for the first time on TV as a child and thought “These people are crazy!” I always imagined that it would be great to someday run a marathon and wanted to accomplish that feat, but to swim 2.4 miles and then bike 112 before? No way! It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. Two years ago when my mother and her two sisters did a relay triathlon I thought why not me? I’ve been biking for a while, swam as a kid, and well running, well lets just say I know how to put one foot in front of the other (though that has been debated many times). I decided to do a triathlon, and started looking into the different distances and found the sprint and Olympic distances to be too short and didn’t provide a challenge to me (apparently I didn’t understand the English definition of challenge) and I saw that half-iron distance and thought “Yes!”, because when I saw the Ironman distance again I said “No way!” but deep down I knew someday it would be a reality.

Over my first year of training I learned a lot about the sport and fell in love with the training. This was what I have been looking for in sports my entire life. Too many times playing team sports my successes were meshed together by my teammates performance. No I am not saying that I was better then my teammates, but instead I could never really measure my success as there was no objective way to see it. Triathlon gave that to me, and gave me something to beat (my times). My first triathlon last summer was humbling to say the least. I swam 1.2 miles, and when I was out of the water I was dizzier then the night of my 21st birthday. The bike was rather easy for me, but then I had to run 13.1 miles virtually up hill. I had time goals that I failed to meet, but I finished the race and realized just how hard these triathlons are, and I was hooked!.

The next day I went to Madison and watched the Ironman from start to finish. Watching 2500 athletes start swimming forward all at once is an incredible sight. I knew at that point I wanted to do this. I spent the rest of the day following a friend’s brother along the 140.6 mile journey that is an Ironman day. Bikers climbing up the steep hills of Timber Lane and Midtown Road with people running beside them, and then watching everyone suffer through the marathon when temps reached up into the high 80’s. I was inspired by those competing, a man with one leg, a woman who had cancer through part of her training, and of course a man in his 70’s running the marathon! It took the winner just under 9 hours to complete the race (that is fast!), and the last finisher came in just under the 17-hour cutoff. Wow 17 hours of moving, I don’t know who had it harder the first finisher or the last finisher.

While my official training started at the beginning of the year it wasn’t until this summer is really when the training kicked into high gear and the 10-20 hour weeks of training really kicked in. I waved goodbye to my friends, my girlfriend, passed on all the bar nights (sorry for ignoring all your calls guys), forgot about any chance of having a day off work and training together, decided my vacations would be training days in other cities at races, and realized I would be spending a lot of my summer alone. Let me tell you that is a tough thought to swallow, and so began in May my Ironman summer. Swimming endless laps in the pool, 2 hour bike rides were “short”, and running while packing enough food and water for a small army was “normal”. I did this day in and day out. The days I took off were “rest” days spent at work usually working a double shift, is rest 10+ hours on your feet? No, but it mentally prepares you.

A lot went though my mind during this my Ironman summer. My mind would drift aimlessly while swimming in the pool, only to grab it’s attention back to wonder if I’m on the 143rd lap, or the 144th. I spend countless hours by myself on the bike course trying to decide just how to attack it, or take it easy because after the bike all I have to do is run a damn marathon. I ran countless miles, and it became easy to run except when my weekly long runs were now longer then the 13.1 miles I ran in May as a race, complete with taper and recovery. But biking was the most enjoyable, why, you ask? Well every once in awhile I would pass, or would be passed by someone who is going through the same thing. This is the only time ever in my life I have felt an instant bond with someone, other then when I met fellow backpackers in Europe. I would share the reasons why I am doing this, talk about how training is going, and then we would both realize what our family and friends are giving up for us to do this race, and I became even more grateful for them. We would then split off and go back to our rides. I would be alone again, myself, my thoughts, and my bike.

I had plenty of ups and downs this summer, more then I could count spokes on my wheel I suffered through all thebad training days, the runs in January where I was running on top of a foot of packed snow, the winter rides inside on my trainer watching virtually all nine seasons of Seinfeld with a picture on the wall next to me “140.6 miles of awesome!”, that will keep you going. Of course I swam a bit in April and May, but those were swims of roughly a sprint triathlon swim, and I started to worry if I really would be ready for the 2.4 miles next to 2,400 others. I had a run one day in June that was supposed to be 10 miles, I could barely run 2. This was just after a really disappointing half-marathon a couple weeks prior. You want something to suck the confidence out of you….that will do it. A few days later I was in Madison and planned on riding all but one loop of the course (72 miles total). I got 20 miles in and gave up. It was too windy, I was going too slow, and I had no energy for the next 52 miles. While I waited for my support to pick me up an older dude when zooming by not phased at all by the wind “Are you alright?”. Wow can I really do an Ironman? I can’t bike in the wind or run more the 2 miles right now. The good days would erase my doubts and instill me with confidence. I did an 85 mile ride in July that encompassed the loop done twice. I did it in 4:30 just the time I want at Ironman. Kate waited patiently around the city of Madison while I did this, we drank a few beers after with an obstacle course (okay so maybe I did have a few drinks this summer). I had a 3000 meter time trial pool swim one day and though it was hard to count all 120 laps my time was way better then I expected and even better my shoulder felt great after, my swim was back! I had a run in early May of 11 miles where I cranked out a 7:30/mile pace consistently. I never knew I could run this fast this long.

No weekend was better then the weekend of August 21st. Friday night was a dinner with about 10 other fellow Ironman athletes, some rookies, some veterans. We shared stories about our summer, talked about the race, and our plans afterward. The next day I planned to do the 2.4 mile open water swim, followed by the full 112 mile bike, 2 of the three distances of Ironman. The following afternoon I ran for 2 hours and 5 minutes. I ran 14 miles and change. All summer and since I signed up for Ironman I really wondered how I would get myself to be able to do this all in one day. I had days that went great, followed by horrible days, I had races where I went fast, PR’d, and felt even better, and races I didn’t want to wake up for. After that weekend in August I had found the answers I was looking so hard for. After that weekend I knew I was ready and now it was just a matter of counting down the days.

So here I stand a week away from the biggest day in my life (I have yet to get married and have no kids so I can lay claim to this being the biggest day in my life). I have never been more prepared for anything in my life then this race. While next Sunday is a race it is also a culmination, and celebration of all my hard work over the past 2 years. All those miles when no one was watching will finally pay off, everyone will be there. It will be a swim with 2400 of my best friends, followed by the greatest 112 miles ever on my bike, and then the final long run of my ironman summer all 26.2 miles of it. Sunday night will be the moment that has replayed in my head 1,000’s of times will become a reality. I will run off the square, and down MLK. I have ran through this so many times that I know exactly how I want to do it, but I am sure I will just stop and enjoy the moment because everyone will watch as I take the final steps and accomplish my dream of so long. It has been an absolutely amazing experience training for this one day. I urge you all to come to Madison Sunday the 12th if not to watch me, then to watch 2400 other accomplish a dream that they have all worked so very hard for. It is a truly amazing and inspiring event to watch and I hope you call all be in Madison.