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.
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.