Kona Diary 2016 Part 3. Week 5 Recap. Week 4 Preview. Being Perfectly Unhappy.

© Eric Wynn 2013
Part 3: Kona 2016 Diary presented by Matchsports
Week 5 recap. Week 4 preview. Being Perfectly Unhappy.
I am a huge fan of Matt Inman and his comic, The Oatmeal. I liked Matt’s style and dark sense of humor well before I learned he was an avid runner. Once I discovered that – check out the awesome commercial he did with Saucony, he became something of an idol. Matt just drew a new “strip” (for lack of a better term) on being “Perfectly Unhappy” which draws from, according to Matt, Augusten Burroughs (who I do knot know) and Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (who I do know but whose name I cannot pronounce). I think it also draws heavily from Viktor Frankl (of “Man’s Search for Meaning”), the father of so-called “Logotherapy.”
Essentially, the meaning of our lives is to find meaning in our lives. That’s how I like to phrase it anyway. Matt’s “Perfectly Unhappy” reminds me a lot of the research that talked about how people who choose to have children are less happy. Which I think kind of misses the point. I don’t think people, generally, choose to have kids because they think it will make them happier. Though maybe I’ll just get away from generalizations. I did not choose to have kids because I thought it would make me happier. I chose to have kids for a variety of reasons, but – if I had to summarize – I’d say that I chose to do it because I thought it would make me feel more fulfilled. I thought it would give more meaning to my – and Jill’s and our collective – lif(v)e(s).
I find a lot of parallels here to endurance sport. Matt does too (he talks about the parallels with his passion for ultra-running). There was a great study recently that concluded that, “Long-Distance Runners Mostly Think About How Hard Long-Distance Running Is.” I can confirm that this pretty much matches up with my own experience training for Ironman. If you asked me what I thought about during all the hours that I train – 99.9% of which are done alone, I’d say that thinking about how hard it is is probably the thing I think the most about, though certainly not the only thing I think about.

All of which goes to say, that if you ask me if Ironman training – and/or racing – makes me happy, then my answer is a pretty resounding, “No.” There is a huge amount of suffering involved in training. So much so that Joel and I refer to “Suffering” the way you’d refer to a person. The idea of telling “Suffering” to grab a chair, to sit down, and to make himself at home is a fundamental image that is one of my earliest shared memories with Joel. I actually imagine suffering as this sort of wizened old man with a cane and a hunched back who sort of shuffles around and who shows up not to make you miserable, but to keep you company. Like, “Yes, this is terrible and awful, so why don’t I join you so that we can endure this together.” The “endure” part of “endurance sport” is remarkably appropriate. I, especially, resonate with this concept. I believe my best races come when I am just better at “enduring” than everyone else. I’m not fast. I just slow down less.

how I imagine Suffering, from Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree

By now, you may be wondering what all this has to do with the last week of training. Well, the week before last, I did nothing. And it was glorious. I was much happier doing nothing than I was getting back into training last week. I am still tired. I am still a bit sluggish. Having done two weeks of taper, an Ironman, a week of nothing, and then a week of “transition,” I have general fitness and periods of, “wow, this feels pretty good,” but also lots of, “Blah!” It’s not the sort of training that makes you feel good. It’s the not particularly glorious or motivating or inspiring mundane building block that make sup a huge amount of what leads to success in, well, I think pretty much anything that’s challenging. I am certainly not happier as a result of it. And, thanks to the challenging hormonal cycles that follow an Ironman, the second week is always worse than the first. The rush of the race is gone; the fatigue, however, is not.

The second week is largely about faith. You have to believe it will get “better” (whatever that really means), which is does. It also gets worse, in terms of being harder – both physically and mentally, but somehow I feel more prepared. This is the wonderful and terrible thing about endurance training. The best defense against injury and overtraining and almost anything else that can go wrong is more training. Well, more consistent training. Being tired is the best way to keep yourself from doing too much. This is a big part of why I think being self-coached is so hard. It’s very hard to make consistently good decisions because so many of the good decisions are counterintuitive.

So last week, I had some really good swims, some pretty lazy swims, all of my rides were fairly good though I never really challenged myself, and I felt generally bad on every run though I actually was running ok (as defined by pace). I managed to get myself out the door for a workout every day before 7am (that’s early for me). I went to bed pretty early most nights and slept pretty well most nights. I did have two nights where I needed to go eat because I forget that training a lot requires a lot of calories. People often remark, “you’re going to have to watch yourself once you stop training!” because I eat enough for two – or maybe three – people. But truthfully, when I’m not training, I don’t eat very much. Near the end of my week off, when the EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) from Ironman has died down – it takes a few days, in my experience – I really don’t eat very much. During training, I actually have to eat more than I want to. I don’t desire to eat for three people; I have to. I misjudged that in the wake of eating more like a “normal” person a couple days last week and had to chow down in the middle of the night twice, but otherwise, when I ate enough, I slept pretty well.

And yet I also had doubts. Would I bounce back in time? Was I really ready to ratchet it up again? Was I prepared to prepare for Kona? And most often the answer was, “I don’t know.” I am not profoundly motivated by the knowledge that I “should” – or even that I “could” – win, though in truth I believe that this is probably the most “wide open” that the men’s race has been in quite some time and that this is a better year than many to have a breakthrough performance. I do not wish to inspire anyone else or even, really, myself. I would not say that that training last week made me happier. But, really, that isn’t the point. I do not enjoy it because it’s enjoyable; I enjoy it precisely because it is not. Which makes absolutely no sense but somehow does.

If it wasn’t for writing about here, I’d probably not think too much about it, because thinking about it is also hard and because I am prone to overthinking. But, having committed to sharing this journey, I decided to consider it more fully while also attempting not to overthink. To embrace thinking about something that is scary. To think about why I decided to do “it” (which could refer to a lot of things), because – to be quite frank – there were a lot of times this year when I thought this might be my very last year of racing. For a variety of reasons. I even had some interviews for “real” and “normal” jobs. Thankfully none of them worked out. Because I decided that I did not want this to be my last Kona. That I want to commit (at least) two more years to doing this (which could also refer to a lot of things). Not because it makes me happy. It doesn’t. But because it makes me feel fulfilled. It makes me feel challenged. And, to borrow once again from Matt, I find it very, very interesting. I don’t know how this ends. Or even how it plays out. That’s the worst part about it. But it’s also the best. And that’s what gets me out the door. And on that note, I’m off to swim.

7 thoughts on “Kona Diary 2016 Part 3. Week 5 Recap. Week 4 Preview. Being Perfectly Unhappy.

  1. This is my favorite post you have written. It is hard to put into words why we pursue things that make our lives harder, but also more fulfilled. That feeling of fullness lasts longer than fleeting happiness. I hope.


  2. Although racing and training may not make you “happy” now, 20 years when you look back it will have been the best time of your life. It happens in all professions that people love. What you see as tough times and soul searching, you will understand in the future. Try to enjoy your family, abilities, and experiences today. It is what you will appreciate later on in life 🙂


  3. @Dave – maybe, but I actually think that's because of how our brain stores memories. We tend to block out and repress stuff we don't want to remember, for obvious reasons. We tend to view the past, generally speaking, with a positive bias. Which is probably a good thing. I'm not saying that I won't remember it as the “best years of my life,” but I don't necessarily believe that'd be truthful. Though who really knows. Is the truth what was? Or what you remember?


  4. Great Blog! I found myself nodding my head in understanding quite often while reading your blog today! I had a very hard, ugly and to echo your words interesting/challenging run today. When I was done…I was glad it was over. It was terrible….your blog put my feelings into words, Thank you! I survived another day of being challenged, lol. @Rappstar, Kill it Kona!!


  5. Interesting read Jordan… I've had to admit to myself that I really enjoy suffering in all forms. Suffering makes me satisfied and fulfilled. As a trainer and cycling instructor to others, I really get a kick out of other people's suffering too. This sport and other hard stuff makes me feel like I'm getting my monies worth out of life! An Ironman is like birthing a baby, there's lots of pain and discomfort but its awesome just how much our body can handle. That taught me to go right for the pain like the eye of the hurricane, relax into it, sit a while and chat or play uno and eat m&m's like I did. I feel you. Good luck in Kona! I'm 2 weeks from IM Chattanooga!


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