Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Looking back at my life as an endurance athlete.

On August, 29th, 2010, I completed my third in a row Ironman Canada at a personal best time. I had some interesting struggles and some triumphs and a pannier-full of revelations about myself, my abilities and what motivates me. You can read all about the race, my actions and my times in my race report.  

But this isn't the place to go over the individual race. I deliberately took my time before I blogged, just so I could put some distance between where I am now and the four years of preparation, training and racing that went into three years of Ironman.  

During most of September, I also struggled with what I've come to understand as T3. In triathlon, one contends with two transitions - swim to bike and bike to run - T1 and T2.  T3 is the transition from racing to not racing. It doesn't matter if you are a professional, a serious age grouper or just some guy, like me, who one day decided to get up off the couch, T3 is something many triathletes and endurance folk will probably face after they have completed their "big" race. Google Marathon Blues or post race depression for some more specific thoughts on this. Or for a quasi scientific/scholarly analysis, read an Ironman specific analysis here

I've been to T3 before and got the Tshirt. The best way out of it is simply to plan another event or activity before the end of the "big" race. Then you have something to keep training for. You have good reason to rest and do very little (you have to rest up before the big push). This pre-planning (some would call it goal setting) also helps you answer that most annoying of questions - "so whatcha doin' next?" 

But this time, I wanted to try something different. I have been training so long and so hard, I had lost sight of what I was actually doing. Looking back at my training blogs over the past four years, I have seen reduced time in the pool and significantly less time on the bike. I did spend more time running this year, but that had something to do with a new goal - the Fargo Marathon. 

Despite the reduced training time, I still achieved a personal best. Not because I was in better shape, I would argue that I was in marginally mediocre shape, training wise. I did better because I raced smarter. I had a faster swim, despite ending up on the rocks and losing time there. I had a crappy bike ride. Mind you I got hailed and rained on and faced surprisingly strong winds. But my pre-race plan was to not push as hard on the bike and save something for the marathon run. 

The weather conditions forced me to not push that hard on the bike and I had a tremendous run - I actually ran! In my third year of racing I figured out how to race this race and was pleased with my results. I broke 14 hours by 10 minutes. If I were racing Ironman Canada a fourth year, I'd be focused on getting an even faster time.

But I'm not racing #4. Not this year. I'm looking back from the finish line. 

Over the past four years my family has been very patient and understanding with the absentee member of the family. Training 17 hours a week meant a lot of time out of the house and a little too much time in the shower. At least I was the one who did most of the laundry. My hope for this year and beyond is to synthesize everything I've learned about myself and coping with challenges and make our family life a little richer. (We will actually be a lot richer since I won't be spending all that money on race fees, travel  and hotel rooms this year!). My hope is to spend more time living my life with my beautiful family and looking for opportunities to train with them, whenever possible.

Over the past four years I've also made some friends through the sport and through the various blogs and websites I've trolled around. Some have become truly special confidants and albeit virtual, training partners and friends. I have traveled thousands of miles to see some of them, or traveled across the continent with them as athletic support. I've also texted with them from airports, Starbucks, hospital waiting rooms and roadside motels  for their words of wisdom, encouragement and acceptance.

Over the past four years I have met some others that I met have broken my heart.

Looking back beyond the finishing tape, what have I learned? More than I'm willing to admit. I used to joke that through this training I'm getting younger. And I did. Physically, I reversed much of the excessive living and corpulence that had taken hold of me. Similarly, I reversed some of the closemindedness and intolerance that I found myself experiencing. Ironically, when I was most alone - 30 km from home on foot or 120 km on bike, I was nearest to when I used to walk miles and miles alone after school as a pre-teen and teen. And, during those long, training sojourns, I found myself having the same rich, creative, expansive thoughts that I had believed were gone forever.

Looking back what have I learned? 
  • Procrastination is good, just don't make a habit of it.
  • Be prepared to improvise and you'll not have to...much. 
  • A little pain means you are doing it right. a lot of pain means you're not. 
  • Hear from everyone, but listen to yourself.
  • Those who have the least to give you sometimes give you the most.
  • The more you spend (time and money) the faster you will become, but then what?
  • Shower lots, but don't forget to moisturize.
  • Swimming in a chlorinated pool in your running shorts will get the stink out.
  • If you can't run, walk...but really, are you sure you can't run?
  • Make peace with the wind. You don't have much of a choice.
  • Experience fear, discomfort and disappointment during training - you'll respect them more race-time
  • Asthma drugs rob you of Potassium. Stock up on your bananas and Fig Newtons.
  • A little spit goes a long way...preventing fogging in goggles, for instance. 
  • A C02 pump will quickly inflate your tire. A conventional pump will get you home.
  • During a race, stopping feels great. Finishing feels better.
  • If your butt hurts on the bike, stop sitting so much.
  • If your loved one says she doesn't mind you training for 6 hours...again, spend time with her instead. 
  • Non racers don't care about the details of the race. It's the bloopers that are interesting.
  • There is no shame in lubing your nether regions. 
  • Regular running shoe laces still work better than speed laces during long runs.
  • You can save money by eating and drinking real food during training. 
  • There will always be people faster and slower than you. Who cares! Just beat the nun!
  • Every little while do a systems' check and see that you are on track, then adjust appropriately. 
  • Make your experiences available for others to read. Learning should never be kept secret. 



  1. but have you encountered failure? One must pick their challenges carefully. My big race of the year was a failure and when the race season is done how does a person find something to focus on? What is next?

  2. ...failure as opposed to success? I have failed a lot more than I have succeeded, both in life and in racing. I wrote a little about it here:

    Yes, picking challenges is just as important as the training or preparation for that challenge. When I wrote "Be prepared to improvise and you'll not have to...much." it means that you may not complete or finish the challenge ahead of you. This isn't a "everyone should feel good and hug each other regardless of outcomes" -thing. It is a learning from what you do achieve in spite of the failure - thing.
    How can you improve? How might you adjust? Should you attempt again?
    Answering these questions honestly and without pressure from what others are doing is the first step in thinking about what to focus on. What is next? You have to look back and determine if next is something you haven't done before. Or perhaps in your case, going back and working on achieving a more palatable outcome in what you've just done.

    Either way, figuring out what's next can be both the most difficult and most rewarding decision you will ever make.

  3. I had a good laugh reading some of the points!
    And also realized that we experience this 'getting younger thing' in a very, very similar way.
    Is is the excessive pedalling and running that simplifies life and provides an escape from the overly complicated life, or is it just a part of getting older that makes you revisit the sentiments from the past?

  4. Now there is a list of wisdom, man! VERRY well done. New to your blog (thanks for stopping by mine!), and having read only this post (I can catch up!) I wonder what, and where, you are off to next?


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