I’m nine days post-Ironman Arizona. I’ve been too distracted and too mellow to write, but it’s time, lest the whole thing slip away faster than these fall days are getting shorter.
One doesn’t usually take something like an Ironman lightly. But if you know me or follow this blog, you’ll know that a wacko medical problem made quality training almost impossible for 6 key weeks. Because of this, I had no choice but to take this one lightly (even leaving my decision to race at all to the absolute last minute).
A frustrating season of disappointment and DNF‘s (OK, one) drained my training and racing hunger. Thus, I labelled Arizona my “experimental Ironman.” I knew I could probably finish if I kept my esophagus pain from escalating. In order to do this, I employed three experiments: a “cut out all the ‘bad’ foods” diet over the month leading up to the race; pulling back 30-plus watts on the bike; and increasing my salt intake.
There was also a not-so-secret fourth experiment: seeing whether less anxiety about my performance would result in less pain. That one’s tough, however, because you can get anxious about trying to be less anxious. Regardless of whether I actually was less tightly wound, I did feel surprisingly relaxed about this race. (OK, OK, there were a few fleeting thoughts like “maybe being super rested will yield the performance of my life!” and “maybe my base fitness and early-season speed work will lead to a miraculous sub-4 hour marathon off the bike!” Shut up, inner idealist.)
Everything, down to the road trip and accommodations, felt so wonderfully normal. I road-tripped out with my friend and Groove Tri teammate, Julie (I’m still kicking myself for not taking any Thelma and Louise road trip pictures), and stayed in a house with her and Kat, who was also racing (and ended up fifth in her age group—way to go, Kat!)
Race day didn’t feel monumental, but like a slightly more complicated Saturday long ride. Sure, I got a tiny bit stressed at gear drop-off (“Shit I forgot my gels … we can access these bags in the morning, right?!”) and battled the usual fitful sleep on race eve. But aside from those few expected blips, it was business as usual. I think this is a significant point to get to as an athlete—when Ironman becomes comfortable. Not ordinary, exactly, but the sort of thing that makes you shrug and say “this is just what I do.”
Here is my day in 300 words.
Swim: I swam better than I’d hoped to, despite sighting slip-ups that led to swimming .2 extra miles. I pulled myself up the exit stairs to see 1:10 on my watch—my second-fastest Ironman swim yet!
Bike: Gus (my new name for my dysfunctional esophaGUS) had flared up in the swim, and proceeded to get worse on the bike. I’d planned to hold back 30 watts, but despite that found it unusually hard to push. I just didn’t feel “one” with my bike. The three-loop ride into gusting headwinds was hard; I was only able to smile because—vanity alert—I knew my friend Nils was out there and would get some great photos. (A tiny part of me is still trying to let go of my ridiculously slow 5:49:45.)
Run: I’d received the following text earlier in the week from a friend facing some real sadness: “Go out there and celebrate your health. Enjoy every painful second with a smile!” And that is exactly what I did. I ran happy that I didn’t have calf cramps and wasn’t bonking. I ran happy that I could run at all. I doled out high-fives to kids and grannies. I said more specific thank-you’s to volunteers. I talked to other runners. I reveled in familiar faces on course. I took in a lot of salt, and I tried Advil for the chest pain. I drank more at aid stations. My pace plan didn’t really pan out (run 10 miles very easy, reset and run another 10 slightly faster, and then finish up with a peppy 10K), but this was undoubtedly my happiest Ironman run to date.
Gus hung around, but I was able to keep his voice from going from an annoying “Hey! I’m baaa-aaack!” to a deafening “PAY ATTENTION TO ME!” The joy of that small success pulled me toward the finish line waiting in the darkness of the chilly autumn desert night. And there, in 11:37:41, under the lights flooding Rio Salado Parkway, is where my triathlon season ended in the same way it began: with a 140.6-mile journey known as Ironman.
Beyond that, I’m feeling a bit blasé about the details. I don’t want to write about what I ate on race morning or how many calories I took in on the bike or about my watts or heart rate or what shoes I wore. I’ll let others tell you about shivering in Tempe Town Lake while we waited to start our 3000-person group swim into the blinding sunlight. I’ll let others bemoan the day’s extravagant gusts—wind that Meredith Kessler called the worst she’d seen in a decade of racing in Tempe.
Replacing the usual attachment I feel (to details, splits, performance) there’s peace and acceptance. At least for now. It’s a state I more often find myself in when hiking or doing yoga than when swimming, biking, or running these days. A state I used to experience more often when I first started in this sport— and which might, perhaps, contain a key to my approach next season.
But first, the off season. That glorious, confusing, and sometimes frustrating period where the world feels simultaneously empty and yet so full. I flit from thought to thought, activity to activity, as if suddenly thrust into a playground of free moments. I don’t know what this next undefined period holds for me, not just as a triathlete, but as an employee, friend, spouse, person.
And for now I’m enjoying the calm. The anticipation of the coming holidays. The quiet of darkness and shorter days, and the company of things I too often forget to pay attention to.
And that is good enough for now.
This race was brought to you by Leslie Myers and Julie Dunkle and the Groove Triathlon squad, Nytro Multisport, Cannondale Bikes, Giro, Bonk Breaker, and Betty Designs. And of course, Mark Barber—sherpa, bike mechanic, and #1 man.