I’ve lately begun to openly discuss my desire (probably) to compete in Ironman Boulder in 2015. I’ve even gone so far as to volunteer at this year’s race and get a higher priority registration slot.
My mention of this usually draws a reaction of either you’re crazy (or something to that effect) or merely the question of “Why?”
It’s not an easy question to answer but a quote from the book Iron War probably sums up why I want to complete the 140.6 distance in particular and why do triathlons in general:
“…it can be better to feel anything—even pain—than to feel nothing. Sometimes pleasure and pain are derived from the same source. There is no pleasure in doing triathlon, but it metes out a kind of suffering that is satisfying in the context of our soporific modern existence with its all infernal conveniences.”
Until recently reading that book, I’ve had a hard time articulating why I do what I do. Before I started training for triathlons, soporific was probably as good an adjective as any to describe my life. I had run and trained, but it had fallen off and I was more or less sedentary.
Of course, while suffering has its utility, it can also be destructive. Indeed, for most people, using the term positively probably seems odd if not completely masochistic.
My own recent training experiences have helped me find a way to suffer, but to manage it in a way analogous to the way one manages their intake of hydration and nutrition during a race.
About a month ago my coach “bumped” (his word) both the volume and intensity of my weekly training. Two weekly swims have become three, 20 miles running have become over 25 and cycling has been based on power zones. In a non-recovery week, training hours are around 12. That eases back to 8 every third week when I get to recover. In short, I’ve had ample opportunity to suffer.
Last week, I was assigned a series of interval workouts in which the distance descended and the pace ascended. The last interval in each of the two sets was 200 meters at a more or less all out speed (or what I could manage by that point). A day later, I was riding my bike up a hill for over a mile to push my heart rate into Z5. I had to do that five more times before getting to warm down.
Like anyone who has committed to train, I’ve accepted a certain level of suffering as part of the price to be ready come race day. Each of us has variation on the mantra “It’s worth it” that helps us get through the tough workouts.
What seemed different about these most recent efforts, however, was my ability to keep the suffering of my body separate from the suffering of my mind. While I knew I was hurting, my brain was really showing no more emotion about it than the needles on a dashboard that tell you your engine is getting too hot or that you’re running low on fuel. That’s not to say that I didn't feel mentally miserable at times as well, just not all the time.
When I did my first multi-sport event (a triathlon turned duathlon) the most significant memory I took away was how miserable I was as I moved from bike to run. Leaving the transition area, I felt almost overwhelmed by my high heart rate and shortness of breath. This despite multiple bricks in practice. That feeling crept in a few times during my track and bike workouts, but it never really took hold.
Have I discovered a secret to training and racing even when my body feels terrible? Probably not. More likely it’s one more tool in the belt.
More to come on training and the specific steps I’m taking to prepare for the first race of the season.
In the meantime, have a great week and thanks for reading!