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.


  1. HBG,

    I won’t wish you good luck because you won’t need it. You are trained, knowledgeable and prepared. That voice you hear is very real and it will be with you for the rest of your life. Listen to it while you’re young because your body will recover. As you get holder, however, you will have to bargain with the voice. It will be just as seductive, but your body will no longer be as forgiving and you’ll want to live to exercise another day.

    You have a big heart Katie and that is the source of the voice. And, you are a part of me; so, part of that voice is me and everyone else that loves you telling you that you can do it. You possess all the good qualities that every parent wants in their child and I love you very much. So, tomorrow when you hear the voice, listen to it. Know that it comes from your big, beautiful heart and from everyone who loves you and then proceed to kick some ass.


    Your Very Proud Father

    p.s. Call me when you’re done to let me know you are okay.

  2. Congratulations Ironman Katie! Can't wait to read the race report!


  3. Hi Katie. I like the way you think. I too have a voice, it's gotten me through 2 IM tris & hopefully soon, my firs NYC marathon. I have to heal up from a cycling injury first.(ran into a dog & shattered my collarbone) I will be following your blog. Good luck & happy trails. Robyn

    1. Yikes! Congrats on your accomplishments and I hope you're recovering well. I'm also running NYC! Maybe I'll see you there!