Friday, August 31, 2012

Ironman Stories

Ironman, like life’s most poignant stories, is one comprised of a thousand more. Many thousands, even. All of them collide and intersect to make one great, beautiful – if sweat-drenched and stinky – story. Much like the marathon, this event is so powerful that it creates myriad new stories, which may be the most marvelous part.

Feel free to take my words with a grain of salt. I’m well aware that life is full of staggeringly beautiful tales that don’t require expensive bikes with aerobars. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s that the truest experiences are the ones we feel deeply.

I finally figured out how to do this, how to best express my Ironman. Over the next few days, I’ll write about some of the stories that gave my Ironman experience its emotional truth. They’re stories of the people who helped and inspired me, and to whom I owe the most thanks.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Deep Thoughts: Ironman Edition

So I still need to write a very general summary of Ironman and how much it meant to me. Now that my move is winding down, I’m finally getting a little time to think about these things. But before I write and post that, I also wanted to talk about other, less profound things. I could talk about my Ironman experience all day long, but who would enjoy that (I’m not fishing here. You really don’t want it). Instead, I wrote up a condensed list of some of my Ironman reflections.

  1. I sweated off the body markings on both my arms before the bike ended. What I gather from this (whether it’s correct or not is another matter) is that I did a really good job hydrating. Normally, I do a less-than-ideal job with this. I can’t decide what’s worse, my hydration abilities or my sighting.

  2. I did not question the cleanliness of the water in the Hudson until we reached probably the last 10 yards of the swim. I put my face in the water and suddenly could not see my hand in front of my face because it was so black. I kept putting my head in just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things but then I got a mouthful of what tasted like motor oil and decided to just keep my head out until the end.
  3. That hill! That hill at the beginning of the run was brutal. I’m glad we didn’t have to do it twice. When I got to what looked like the end and realized it made a sharp turn and kept going up, I said “COME ON!” and the guy at my side laughed at me.
  4. I’d like to add following directions to the list of things I’m bad at…okay fine it was the first thing on that list (Kim, I can see you laughing). I didn’t bring my bike and run gear bags to transition the day before the race as instructed so had to take them the morning of. It ended up not being a disaster somehow, even though no one seemed to know where the bike bag location was.
  5. Bonk Breakers bars are really good. I looked forward to getting off the bike just so I could eat like two of them. It was my idea of an Ironman feast. They’re so good that I even tried and succeeded at eating one while on the bike. I know, guys. I didn’t even fall.

  6. At one of the miles Trey asked me if I’d tried chicken broth, which they had available at many of the hydration stops on the run. I thought the idea sounded pretty foul, but he insisted that it was amazing so I gave it a try around mile 23. Trey was right. It was amazing.
  7. At some point, though I also stopped being able to eat that much. At the end of Dyckman Hill, someone handed me an orange slice. When I wondered aloud why I hadn’t been eating them the whole time, she handed me another cupful. But I looked down at them and sadly realized I couldn’t eat any more. In the trash they went.
  8. Dyckman Hill was no joke and I admittedly walked it. Even the voice was like “eff that.” For the record, I walked a lot on the run. It’s something I look forward to improving upon in future Ironman races.
  9. Triathletes are really tall. When I was at the pre-race briefing I was surrounded by people and most of what was at my eye-level was mid-back. Toward the end of the race, I was running as fast as Trey could walk.
  10. The swim was fast. I did mine in 1:01! That’s only 6 minutes longer than it took me to swim half the distance in Providence
  11. Crossing the George Washington Bridge was amazing. Not only was the view beautiful and the wind fantastic, but drivers were honking encouragement! At least, I think it was encouragement. But then again, this is New York City so who knows.
  12. I thought about a lot of things on the bike. One of the strangest, though, was a burning desire to know why the eff Berger would break up with Carrie over post-it?!?! If anyone can provide some insight into this, please do. It’ll give me something to ponder on my next IM ride.
  13. I got my nails done (purple, in case you were wondering) for the race. Just because I smelled like an armpit didn’t mean my nails shouldn’t look pretty.
  14. When I finished, I thought Mike Reilly had missed my name and I was crushed (I know, it didn’t diminish the fact that I’d finished the Ironman but let’s face it, no one is rational right after finishing). Many thanks to my amazing friends for hearing (or at least convincing me that they’d heard) him say it.
I’ll think of more things, I’m sure. Word of warning, if I think of enough things there may be a follow-up deep thoughts post.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Alive and an Ironman

I'm still alive and I finished! It's been a week now and I haven't written my thoughts on it. Partly because I'm making sure I do it right and partly because I've been moving into a new apartment all week, which makes writing difficult. Anyway, wanted to check in at least. Here's a picture of my hardware!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ironman Thoughts, aka, I Promise I'm Not Crazy

“Come on, ladies!”

“Let’s see what you got!”

“How bad do you want it?”

Let’s put aside the fact that it should be “you’ve” and “badly” in those bottom two for one second. These will likely sound familiar to anyone who participated in coached athletics of any sort. They’re the voices that drive us and they come from many people. Sometimes it’s a motivated parent volunteer or teacher with a selfless investment in seeing us succeed. As we get older, we’re left to our own devices in the motivation department. For better or worse, I don’t have a greater cause. I’m doing the Ironman because I can. About four and a half years ago, a different voice started to speak up.

If I start sounding crazy, just bear with me.

At first, the voice was reasonable. I saw a billboard flier advertising a 10k and somewhere inside I wondered if I could do it. After weighing all the evidence, the facts that I had two months to train and that I knew I’d been able to run farther distances at some point in my life, the voice said yes. And thus I began hitting the gym at night, after work and running on the treadmill. During those days, running consistent 12 minute miles was a struggle.

In time, I was brave enough to venture outside for my runs. Ithaca is, after all, gorges. A few weeks before the 10k, the voice piped up again after I’d done a beautiful four mile loop. It told me to do another one and I figured “Why not? I can, so I might as well.” Then the voice got crazy and told me to keep going until I’d hit 10 miles. And I did.

I hobbled to campus to visit a friend (I’m looking at you, Gretchen Schmidt) at work the next day. Upon observing me struggle up the two steps into the building and across the marble floor toward her desk, she said “well, that’s what you get for running 10 miles.” It was a fair comment and one that delighted me, not only because it was affectionately snide, but also because it made me feel like a badass.

The voice got louder and more demanding. Not long after moving to New York City I ran a surprise 11-miler. The voice is seductive and it tugs at my consciousness, suggesting that I do just one more. One more mile, one more lap, one more hill. And then it used its sly logic to convince me that running that 11 miles meant it was time for me to sign up for a marathon. I did that, too.

That voice. Or, this voice. It confuses me sometimes. What I’ve observed is that there’s me, and I tell myself things like “I’m not really up for a run, I’ll go out for a few and see how I feel” and there’s some beast in the background that responds with something like “well you’re out here, might as well make it 13.”

The voice’s ideas aren’t always good. It urged me to run an ultramarathon a few weeks after my first New York City Marathon and that happened to work out. But the next year it also convinced me to sign up for a Half Ironman. I didn’t finish and was crushed. The voice didn’t care. It just applied its logic in different ways. My downfall at the Half Ironman was the bike, so it convinced me to sign up for a 90 mile charity bike ride two months later.

Finally, I’ve begun to appreciate the voice in all its mysterious forcefulness. If I’ve learned one thing from Ironman training, it’s that my success (defined for me as finishing) will depend on my ability to trust that voice above everything. A few weeks ago at triathlon camp, as I toiled up a monstrous hill at Lake Placid, I heard it again. It said many things to get me up that hill and made me understand that there was no pride in stopping and no satisfaction in letting the hill beat me. What I remember it saying clearly was, “This is Ironman.” It told me that whatever I was feeling then would be many times worse at the actual race so I might as well suck it up and embrace the pain. Well played, voice.

There are some things we understand and others that we believe. We understand things that make sense in our heads. We believe things that are true to a deeper part of ourselves. They’re not mutually exclusive, by the way. I understand it, but someday I’ll even believe that the voice is mine. I did this. I trained for an Ironman and by God’s grace and many, many hours of training, I hope to finish it.

So tomorrow, when the voice asks, “How bad do you want it?” I’ll shut off everything that’s telling me to stop and I’ll push for the next five, ten, twenty, however many miles are left.

I want it bad…ly.