It’s hard to think of a more classic fable than the story of St. George and the Dragon. Villagers must make a sacrifice to a dragon who lives by the spring where they draw water. Typically, they sacrifice animals, but if no animals were to be had, a maiden had to be sacrificed instead. The maiden was selected by lottery, and, eventually, the princess’s name is drawn. In typical storybook fashion, the princess does not die because St. George shows up and slays (or, in some versions, wounds and subdues) the dragon. But there’s one particular variation that’s quite good wherein George is initially defeated by the dragon but then melts his armor and forges it into a box, into which he places his fears and doubts. Then, without armor (but also without fear), George returns to fight and immediately is victorious. The moral, of course, being that it is our fears and doubts (and lack of faith, either in ourselves or in god/God/whatever or both) that ultimately keeps us from being victorious.
This latter version, with or without the religious connotations as you prefer, is the one I like the best. It’s also the one that I think is most appropriate to focus on with the Ironman 70.3 US Pro Championships coming up in just under two weeks. The race is in, as you may have guessed if you didn’t already know, St. George, UT. It also features several “dragons” in the form of one of – if not the – most competitive fields outside of the Ironman World Championships in Kona. It’s also a particularly difficult course, with a lake swim that can be quite rough depending on the wind, a hilly and potentially very windy bike, and a very hilly and potentially very hot run. The weather in St. George is unpredictable in early May, and we may not get extreme wind (in which case it will likely be hotter) or extreme heat (in which case it will likely be windier), but it’s almost certain that the conditions will make the topographically challenging course even more difficult in one way or another.
The challenging course is only one highlight of what is a pretty awesome town. I’ve been to St. George twice, once on a mountain biking excursion to Gooseberry Mesa, and the other as a waypoint on a drive from our summer base in Penticton, BC, Canada to Interbike en route to our home in Southern California. It’s a wonderful town, and it’s become(ing) a training camp destination for triathletes with great roads for riding, great trails (for both running and mountain biking), and good open water and pool swimming (though it’s a bit on the chilly side in the winter for open water). It also has some great restaurants, with the Painted Pony Cafe being a great dinner spot and the Bear Paw Cafe being the only choice for anyone interested in serious breakfast. Anyway, back to the dragon…
As someone who enjoys what I’ll call “honest” courses, the course itself is one of the most appealing parts of this race. Ironically, this was – as an Ironman – one of those courses I really wanted to do but never got to, unlike, it seems, everyone else, since IM St. George rarely – if ever – sold out; this stands in contrast to the 70.3, which sold out rapidly, and which every single pro seems to have placed on their calendar. And while I’d love to say that the dragon is the incredible pro field, it’s hard for me to really feel that’s an honest answer either. At the best of times, half Ironman tends to be as short as I’d like to race, and even that can – at times – feel more rushed than the steady grind of Ironman, which is where I feel most comfortable in my discomfort. For me, the biggest dragon in this case is the bounce-back from Melbourne. The first long race of the year always seems especially taxing, and there have been plenty of fears and doubts, both in the brain and in the body, as I’ve worked to get back into rhythm and routine following the race in Melbourne.
In many ways, it’s hard to write something like that, because it feels that admitting to it makes it both more real and also sort of exposes my own humanity. I do this for a living. I *win* Ironman races. I’m not supposed to get the “Ironman blues,” which is really a combination of the physical, hormonal, and mental ups-and-downs that follow a fully-taxing effort like an Ironman. But I do. And as hard as it can be to admit that, I also have found that whenever I admit to something like that, I find that it often resonates with other people who may have wondered, “am I the only one?” I can say, with certainty, that you are not. But there’s a bit of a stigma within the endurance community to being tired. I said to my coach, “I’m supposed to be super human.” His reply was, “You are. But even super humans get tired sometimes…” And that’s been a hard – but good – lesson for me. And I hope it might offer some solace to someone else as well.
So I don’t know what to expect of myself in St. George. Sometimes, after an Ironman, you surprise yourself with the fitness you have inside of you. I’m certainly not showing up in St. George to go through the motions. I’m going to race. But, at least this time, I think the thing that I’m really going to beat is my own doubts. Where will that leave me at the finish? I guess we’ll find out.