2013 will always be remembered as the year of training for my first IRONMAN, which would be the obvious choice for the biggest moment of my year, but it’s not that simple. After a lot of reflection I have truly come to understand that training for an IRONMAN is much more than the race. It’s about the challenges, the breakthroughs, and the people. I didn’t recognize many of these memories at the time, but now I see them for what they were, a list of inspiring moments that have helped re-shape me as an athlete, and a person.
1. Early season group spin at the East Nashville YMCA. This was a miracle on many levels. For one, I got to the YMCA before it opened. I sat in the parking lot on that cold February day wondering what the hell had gotten into me. I was meeting the Fab 5 +1 for a four hour spin, followed by a 30 minute run. I’d never done either of those either, but by the time we finished our little jog through some of Nashville’s shadiest neighborhoods, I started to believe I could actually pull this Ironman thing off. Great moment, but the most memorable part of the morning was having breakfast with everyone at the Pied Piper.
2. First open water swim. The first time I walked down the hill to Percy Priest lake, I was nervous and confused. I grew up in lakes, but I was more of a “screw-around-chase-the-girls-kind-of-a-swimmer” back then, so the idea of actually “swimming” in deep water freaked me out a little. It was also the first time I wore a wetsuit (other than the day it came in the mail and I put it on immediately and walked around the house like I was some cool triathlete, then realized it made me look like a lard ass). It was cold that morning, too, but getting that day out of the way was major, and the perfect transition for my first “real” race of the year.
3. Rev 3 Olympic. If I had to site the most important training day of my summer, it would be this race. It was in the mid 50’s and rained all day. The water, too, was cold. 56 degrees at race time. I didn’t have feeling in my feet until mile 4 of the run, but the confidence I gained at this race carried me a long ways.
4. First long ride outside. Jim and I volunteered at Cedars of Lebanon Sprint triathlon, then decided to act like bad ass Ironman-training-guys by doing a four loops around the old 15 mile sprint course. I remember it being pretty hot that day, but the part that sticks out is how hard it was. The roads were unbelievably bumpy and I shit you not, the tip of my left pinky finger stayed numb for the next 6 months. My back was killing me, and allergies tore apart my eyes. But the WORST part was the rash I developed somewhere on lap three. It started taking over my upper body and kept getting worse. We cut the ride to 3 laps, then ran a couple miles. I surmised heat rash and with all the variables (and virtually no breakfast) it was one of the hardest workouts I did, but it definitely made me even tougher.
5. First ride on Natchez Trace. I used to ride my motorcycle on this very road and remembered it as beautiful, but I did not fully understand the terrain or general vastness of this glorious bastard called Natchez Trace. I think we only went about 30 miles or so that day, but it was a rude awakening. Thirty miles and I was ravished with hunger and reeling with pain. It was a sign of things to come and initiated my hatred for the bike. It was a long, painful summer on the Trace, but eventually I would overcome my disdain.
6. Muncie Half Ironman. This was my first Ironman brand race and it definitely had a different energy. It was also my first half and that thought shot fear into my skull. But it wasn’t panic. I knew I was training hard and thought I could do a sub 5:30. My attitude changed a little when I saw the desolate course, however. I would have to race without the energy of a crowd and that scared me a little. I’d been swimming a lot, but it still made me nervous. The year before they shortened the race because of the heat, this year the swim was wetsuit legal. It was a godsend for my confidence and the first long swim where I didn’t have a brush with panic. It was a smooth, deliberate, and strong swim for me. I knew the bike would be fine, but the last 6 miles proved to be quite a challenge. The run was tough, but mainly because my feet were on fire the last half. Every step felt like walking on coals. Somehow I toughed it out and it paid off in a 5:16. This was a breakthrough and probably the first time I knew I was going to be ready for Wisconsin.
7. Watching Louisville. If you’ve never watched an Ironman, get your ass out of bed! I went in 2012 as well, but this year, it was different. I had my first IM looming in less than a month. I watched with a different eye. It was both inspiring and intimidating now. I saw the pain in their faces a lot clearer this time. I saw one of my friends DNF and another battle through cramps for 26 miles. An awakening to the realness that is Ironman. But I also saw my training buddy, Corey, navigate the terrain with a calm and cool that gave me hope. While sprints, olympics’, and even half’s turn you into rabbits, the full is definitely more suited for the turtle. Especially your first time. You need control and pace. Corey showed me the way that day.
8. Pre-race at Ironman Wisconsin. I get chills just thinking about this moment. The half hour before my first Ironman. My friends and family gathered and we talked, laughed, and high-fived over the fence. It sounds strange, but I truly enjoyed seeing the concern in their eyes. I interpreted it as love. It was a happy, yet stressful moment. In under 15 minutes, I would be swallowed by a mass of nearly 3,000 others in a massive lake. I would swim off into the mystery and they would be forced to wait. It is an anxious hour for friends and family, but the rush you get when you see their body emerge from the water is undeniable. I’d seen it before, now they would be waiting for me.
9. The time I almost quit. I documented this moment with a full post, but in a nutshell I was shooting for sub 12 at Ironman Wisconsin and my timing device was basically a stop watch. I was resetting it with every mile marker on the marathon, but missed mile 25. Time was closing in and I thought I was cooked. Over a mile to go and my watch said I had 8 minutes. I could not pull that off. I stopped to walk. It was a painful ending to a glorious day. But, somehow, someway, I convinced myself into believing I had missed the marker and had less than a mile. I took off in a sprint and the rest is history. This moment stays with me like glue. Never quit.
10. The Finish Line. You train a year for this moment and yes, it is far more than finishing, but I cannot deny the feeling I had the moment I saw the white IRONMAN arch. It was like a thousand pound weight was dropped from my back. I hit the carpet in the finisher’s chute and all the blood, sweat and tears felt justified. I was about to officially be an Ironman. Nobody can take it away now. I have done something that less than 1% of the population will ever attempt. I am very aware that this doesn’t mean much in its own right, but it was proof, to myself, that I am capable of doing what I set my mind to. You don’t just “do” an Ironman, you commit to it for a long time. Endless weeks of two-a-day workouts and 10 hour weekends on the bike. It’s not for the weary, but anything worthwhile rarely is.