In the fall of 2009 I tackled my first Ironman distance triathlon in Florida, followed a week later by a half-ironman. Because hey, I was in Florida already, and I’ve never been one to turn down a convenient opportunity to race. The ironman didn’t go especially well, but the half in Clearwater was a blast and I pulled off a decent race. In the aftermath of this training season I was more than happy to retire my tri bike for a few months, instead giving my running shoes some much-needed love and attention. On the heels of a few warm weather races I was actually looking forward to the upcoming winter months – I’d had my fill of the heat and would happily take the cold and snow over some of the grim, overheated and dehydrated training sessions of the past summer. At that point it was a decision to focus on running for a year, and come back to triathlon as a stronger runner. It didn’t quite go that way. I found contentment in just running, and never had a strong desire to do another tri. This was about how it went:
2009 – Rhode Island 70.3, Muskoka 70.3, Ironman Florida, Clearwater 70.3
2010 – Registered for Boston, overdid it on Pfitzinger’s training plan and wound up with a stress fracture in one femur and a stress reaction in the other. Cue 6 weeks sans running and a gradual return by the start of summer. Then a friend mentions he’s doing the JFK 50 miler, and would I like to join? I didn’t have to think about that one for very long, I really can’t say no to a trail run. Signing up for this ultra was like a gateway drug, leading to an autumn chock-full of racing: Vulture Bait 50K, Run for the Toad 50K, Horror Hill 6hr, Back-to-back marathons (Indianapolis and Huntington) and finally JFK. You’d think so much running would drive me back into triathlon’s welcoming embrace, but this was not the case. Boston had been deferred, it was the end of November and…
2011 – Remember last year when I went all-out with Pfitzinger and fractured the hell out of my femurs? No risk of that happening the second time around. I ran… sporadically. It was a consequence of my A-race occurring so late in the year, coupled with some lingering worries that I may have re-injured my femur. I took 6 weeks off to be safe, putting the start of Boston training smack dab in the heart of winter. Motivation was low to nonexistent. I did some indoor cycling and a handful of runs, maxing out at 10 miles. Goals for Boston were more in terms of high-five counts than mile splits. And on that account I pretty much nailed it. Came in under 4 hours too – not too shabby. I returned to running, eagerly signed up for Vulture Bait and Toad, took a trip out west to visit my sister and foolishly only brought new balance minimus shoes, consequently developed an IT band problem, and ran neither.
2012 – First race of the year was a 6 hour race in Buffalo on a whim, ran 29 miles. A week later Bear Mountain marathon, a challenging dance over rocks and through mud. And I think that was it for races that year.
2013 – Toledo marathon in the spring. I put in some solid if haphazard and unstructured training for that one. It wasn’t a great day – a gentle mist on race morning transformed into a torrential downpour and the cold became a real issue. I’ve never been great with in-race nutrition and it doesn’t help when my hands have the dexterity frozen out of them so that I can’t open any wrappers.
That fall was Grand Rapids, coinciding with the 5 year anniversary of my first marathon, also at Grand Rapids. I had a great summer of Pfitzinger training and was geared up to race. I signed up for a 6 hr race , the Toad 50K, Grand Rapids Marathon, and a local half. Maybe a bit too much to take on at the time; I went into Grand Rapids slightly worse for wear. The first half went decently, but I could feel myself fading; a creeping feeling that I wouldn’t be able to keep this up for very much longer. Some pains set in, nagging little issues flared up and forced me into some walking breaks, and my average pace plummeted. Fatigue set in (probably owing to my shitty race nutrition. If things are going well I could run a marathon on three Clif Bloks and a few sips of gatorade, but that wasn’t a things-are-going-well kind of day.) Suddenly I was in a “get to the end without walking too much” state, and crossed the finish line in a mediocre 3:36. If I was disappointed at all, this was quickly remedied by the awesome food and beer consumed in the aftermath. Grand Rapids Brewing Company, Founders, Wolfgang’s for breakfast… and we probably didn’t even scratch the surface of food and drink purveyors in that town.
2014 – I don’t know what we Northeasterners collectively did do deserve the winter we just had, but it must have been bad. Really bad. The snow, ice, wind and intense cold were relentless. So many weekends I’d work up the motivation to jumpstart my Boston training, only to wake up at 5am on Monday morning facing the pitch-black, -30 degree, 2 ft of fresh snow that was “the outdoors”. My motivation to run would evaporate. I always put out two sets of clothes in the morning just in case – one set with my running tights, jacket etc, and one with gym clothes. And it was never hard to talk myself out of a run and into a nice hot, sweaty gym workout. I put on a noticeable amount of muscle over the winter, and went into Boston about 10 lbs heavier than my usual marathon-running weight. Just as in 2011, my expectations were low and I set out to enjoy the day and make the most of it. That wasn’t hard with the great weather and amazing crowd support. What I lacked in endurance training I made up for in smiles and high-fives. I even high-fived a dog, and mini high-fived a baby with two of my fingers as her mother held her hand out. The strength and high-intensity training I’d done over the winter transferred to marathoning more than I could have hoped, and I kept up a solid pace around 8-minute miles for the whole race, finishing in 3:33. I would have been happy just breaking 4 hours, so I was super pleased with 3:33. It was such a great experience, a really perfect day, and it did so much to rekindle my desire to run. The moment I finished I wanted to sign up for next year.
And since then it’s been a build-up of my desire to take a more serious approach to training. There was a trip to Sedona and some awe-inspiring trail runs:
A week in Bermuda for work, including a sprint triathlon the day after I arrived, a swim in the ocean that was pure joy, tagging along for a ride around the island with some strangers, and fitting in some hot, sweaty runs wherever I could:
And weekends spent running and cycling, eating and drinking, exploring and getting lost on unfamiliar roads, attempting a 130km bike ride I was wholly unprepared for, and letting my training be dictated by opportunities and guided by feel.
Then a few weeks ago there was news of a full Ironman in Muskoka. Muskoka, where I had a great race on a beautiful course and qualified for Clearwater. Close to home as far as ironmans go, with a challenging bike that plays to my strengths (I love me some hills) … it wasn’t a difficult decision. I threw my $700 down without hesitation, and just like I’ve got my second ironman on the calendar, with a year to prepare. A year which I dearly need. I’ll need that year to build back my cycling base, learn how to feed myself properly in a race, and re-learn how to run off the bike. I’ll join a group, get myself properly fitted on my bike, clean up my diet, and follow a proper training plan. All pretty basic stuff that in the arrogance of my youth I thought I didn’t need. I may have been able to get by without some of those things before, but getting by isn’t the same as excelling, and adequate doesn’t come close to optimal.
I’m excited! About triathlons! I listened to Chrissie Wellington’s A Life Without Limits, bought some training books (Joe Friel’s Going Long is my favourite so far), subscribed to Triathlete magazine and am following a bunch of triathlon blogs. 371 days to go!