Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ironman Chattanooga: We Got This

It has been a year to remember. It was on September 4, 2013 when we jumped, head first, into this Ironman journey. Some first timers, others returning to a distance very familiar to them, but all of us dove into the unknown; The Inaugural Ironman Chattanooga. The reasons for doing this, we have previously discussed, are as varied as there are triathletes vying to earn the title of "Ironman".

Through this journey, we were tested. Our will was tested. Our determination and physical endurance was tested. Our mental constitution was tested. We have found how much discomfort and pain we can endure and how far our limits can be extended. We bent, but we did not break.

And now most, if not all of us, will soon enter the taper period of our training; we have long waited for this. We have followed a strict schedule. We piled on the miles in the pool, on the bike and on the pavement. Some came easy, others not so. We worked on improving and perfecting our stroke if only to cut a few seconds. We practiced our nutrition and for the most part, we have it figured out, we pray however, that nothing changes in the next couple of weeks.

We became comfortable and familiar with those 4 am alarms. We ran in the snow. We ran in the rain. We rode with the head wind and when lucky enough, we rode when the wind was at our backs. Those 3 hour rides, became four, then five and then six or more. We rode enough century rides to make ourselves believe that an 80 miler was an easy (relative term) ride. They were not. When our training schedule came in, we gasped at those bricks. Oh my goodness, those bricks. At first they were easy (relative term). Okay, no... they were not.

We realized early on that this could not be possible without the unyielding support of our family. We became strangers in our own home. But questions were never asked and our mission became theirs. There's not enough paper, enough ink, enough space, enough words to express how grateful we are. So we will do this in the privacy of our own homes, in our own words, at the right time. We are lucky. Very lucky.

We got this.

We are nervous, we are stressed, we are apprehensive, we don't know what to expect. Its natural to worry. Its natural to ask. Its natural to wonder. We asked questions because we want to know. We look for support where we can find it and when we find it, we cling to it. We joined a fraternity of Ironman brothers and sisters. Some of us may not be Ironman yet, but all of us, God willing, will be.

As race day approaches our mind set will be on notice; on high alert. On very high alert. We will be touchy, moody, short tempered and most of us will become quiet. Very quiet. We will climb into a shell and turn off the chatter. We now have the information we need to figure this out. What's our plan again? What will I do? How will I perform? How will I swim? Bike? Run? Lost of questions that we know the answers to but now its time to put it all together.

We will visualize. Every step of our day, we will visualize. We will leave nothing to chance. But we know we cannot predict everything so we will be at peace knowing that we will race the race that's given us and execute the plan we bring. What's beyond our control, we will accept, adapt and move on.

We are at peace.

And now you're there. Time that has been filled with never ending workouts, is now filled with that well earned rest. But while you know you need this rest, your mind will begin to wonder as it begins to wander. There will  be doubt. Have I done enough? What if I had done this? What if I had done that? What happens if? This happens because your mind doesn't know yet, what your body already does. Yes, you are ready.

Have Faith. Have faith in your training. Have faith in yourself.

Finishing an Ironman is no accident. It's the result of hard work, determination and grit. It's the result of those never ending workouts. The results of that missed family time. The result of endless self conversations when you asked yourself why you were doing this. Remember that first bike ride or first solo run when you wondered how in the world would you be ready? That seems so long ago.

And now you're here, among the hundreds of hopefuls. Among the crowd of nerves. Your bags have been turned in, your body has been marked and you have found your place in line. A line that will inch closer to the start when the cannon sounds. When the cannon sounds you will know that your day is about to begin, you will know that you will soon morph into the beast you trained to become. You put on your swim cap, and for one last time, you adjust your goggles.

You jump into the river. The swim will be long. It will take forever, but you reach your destination and when the volunteers reach to give you a helping hand you will know, with a smile on your face you will show, that that one very important step in your journey is behind you. Its time to move on for the clock is ticking. You have cut-off times to meet; no time to celebrate. There will be plenty of that later. But first things first. Time to get on the bike.

As you find your way into the course you will hear the crowd. Yes, those cheers are for you. They're all for you, and those around you. As the miles come, the crowd will thin and the clock will tick. You settle into a pace and you become one with your bike, one with the road. You have broken down your ride into segments because 112 miles at once is much more than you can image right about now. The first 20 miles go by, then the next 20. Before you know it you've reached your special needs bag where you will find, among other things comfort in knowing that your ride is half way done. You saddle up again and you keep going. 20 more mile after 20 more miles.

And now you're in your home stretch. You see the crowds getting bigger and bigger again. You reach your destination and a crowd of volunteers are waiting for you, waiting to take your bike and have you go on. Yes, you have a date with a marathon. You hand off your bike and another volunteer is waiting to hand you your running bag. You go into the tent and quickly realize that from here on out, it's all up to you, your own two legs. Swim... check. Bike...check. Run... here we go.

Keep your Focus. On the task at hand.

And then you're off. First step of a thousand. Your legs are heavy, but they want to move. You fight the desire to push it right off the gate, you know if you do, it will get ugly. So you pace yourself. You have a plan. You will run your plan.

You make it to the first mile, the first aid station. You walk through this because you have to, not because you want to. You take something cold. It's going to be a long haul and you have to settle into your run. You remember you have a plan, you have. to run. your plan.

The miles come slowly. Much slower than you wish they did, but you battle through with the help of the crowd. Your family and your friends are close to you, closer than they've been all day. They encourage you to keep going. You do it. You move on. People are holding signs, you read them. You read them all. You smile at some, you laugh at others. Right about now they all make sense even if they don't. "I'll have to remember that one" you tell yourself.

Half way through you make it to your second, and last, special needs bag. You know now that you have 13.1 miles (give or take) to go. You can do this. You find encouragement in what you find in your bag, perhaps its a note, or maybe a picture, or a verse. Something you put in there to help you make it home. Again, you smile and you keep going.

The aid stations are your salvation. Not just because of the goodies they have for you, but because of the volunteers. Those awesome people that gave up their day to make sure you have a good day. You thank them, you thank them all. That puts a smile on your face, which puts a smile on their face. And then there it is, Chicken Noodle Soup. Cold Chicken Noodle Soup. Take the Chicken Noodle Soup. And flat Cola. Yes, take this as well.

You've heard of mile 18. This will be your last test. You wait for it. If you're lucky you'll run right through it. It hurts. It hurts like hell but you run right through it. You past the test. If you're not lucky enough you'll have to slow down, way down. Maybe you'll have to stop. Stop if you must, but never sit down. Don't ever sit down.

You reach mile 20 and you know that its all downhill from here. Each step is a struggle but you fight through this. One foot in front of the other. Slower than before but you still manage. You find encouragement giving out encouragement. Find a buddy, find a friend, find a stranger. There are no strangers on the course at this point. We're all friends. We're all together in this. Someone else is struggling just like you are. Give them a lift. This will give you a lift.

3.1 miles to go. That's a 5k. With no disrespect to anyone out there, you think to yourself "I can do this in my sleep". The finish line is within reach.

You will Finish strong.

All the emotions of your entire Ironman journey will come together at this point. You'll have flashbacks of all those times when you thought you could never, or how in the world. You pick up your pace because now you can. You found it within you. You're coming home in style.

And then there it is. The finisher's chute awaits you. It's lined up, both sides, with people watching you. All eyes are on you. You've planned it just right and you're there all alone. You're high-fiving each and everyone in sight. Yes sir, yes ma'am, these cheers, the applause, its all for you. You have earned it.

And then you hear it. You've dreamed of this moment. You thought of this moment, and here it is. You cross the finish line, you hear your name. Your legs are wobbly for they have no more, some may need a catcher, others will not. There's no shame in needing a catcher. You let them help you if you need it. They put that medal around your neck, they give you a bottle of water. They take your picture and they hand you off to your loved one.

You hug them. All of them. Everyone cries. You don't want to let go, for you want this moment to last forever. And then, just like that you realize that you in fact are an IRONMAN.


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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Really Big Deal

At least for me, its a really, really big deal.

It is no secret that swimming and I have a love-hate relationship at the very best... and the "love" portion of that relationship is a stretch.

Nothing in this wonderful journey has ever made me lose sleep like swimming has. Nothing. But I have come to terms with it. I have learned to love to swim. And again, "love" is a stretch.

I played golf in a previous life. Well, I went out and hit a few balls every now and then. They would hook, they would slice and every once in a blue moon, they would go straight, I would hit the fairway, I would miss the bunkers and avoid the water. They tell me that this is golf's way of making you come back again.

Swimming I have found out, is very similar. I would have those swims that goodness, made me wonder what in the world I was doing. Those, early on, were the majority. Then I started seeing progress, albeit small progress but progress nonetheless.

This year I have worked very hard on my swim. Not because I want to break world records, but because I know that working very hard is the only way to stay where I was. It requires a lot of work to not take a step back.

The early morning swims have become my favorite. Swimming in the afternoon is tough. But sometimes we have to do what we  need to do to get the job done. Swimming in the lake is now my favorite place to swim. The pool, specially those long sessions, I try to avoid. I seem to swim faster and longer in the lake. Perhaps it has to do with knowing that I can't stop, that I can't stand and take a breather. Also, there's no black line, there's no wall to push from.

Last week on Wednesday, I hit the swimming golf ball straight into the fairway. I went 2.5 miles, non-stop in some four minutes faster than I did in Ironman Louisville in 2011. Yes, for me this is a big deal. I will still be in the back of the pack in my age group in the swim, but this I'll take.

I will continue to swim my laps. I will continue to swim open water as time allows. I will continue to believe that I'm doing everything within my power to maintain, if not ever so slightly, improve my time.

I will show up on September 28 ready to swim. I will take whatever the Ironman gives me. Whatever time limit I have, whatever cut-off time is placed upon me. All my energy will be spent on matters I can control, not in any that I can't. I will swim my swim, one stroke at a time. I will make it to the swim exit where my wife and daughter will be waiting and I will see in their face how happy they are that I have conquered the Ironman Swim...and at this point my race begins.

Please come over and "like" my facebook page for more Motivation and Inspiration on my "Journey Beyond Ironman".  Click here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Ironman Goals

A very interesting, and dynamic, conversation is taking place right at this moment in facebook. Various opinions from a gamma of folks with what appears to be a world of difference in abilities and expectarions. In a nutshell, it all revolves around Ironman Goals.

I have chosen to move my opinion here because frankly, I have a bit more latitude and space to provide said opinion.

I agree 100% with the statement that no one should "sell themselves short". I did for many a year. If not for my coach pushing, pulling and dragging me, I wouldn't have set a more specific goal, one that was more than "I just want to finish".

I have to tell you that I have the world's best coach. I have been with him since the day after Ironman 70.3 Augusta. My first long distance triathlon. It was then and there that I realized I needed someone with a bit more expertise to help me navigate through this treacherous waters. No pun intended. He has taught me how to set goals that go beyond my perceived limitations; he has pushed me beyond my comfort zone.

Can anyone be a 12, 13 or 14 hour Ironman Triathlete? It depends on the athlete. If I were to chose for my Ironman Chattanooga goal to be 14 hours, much less any faster, I know I would fail. The most important element of a true goal is that it needs to be realistic. Realistic for me is 15 hours. I know my body, I know what it will take, I know what it can do and I know what I need to do to get it done. Each and every workout, I push a little bit further, because this "bit" is what's going to get me to my goal.

One of the most important roles of a coach is to be a motivator. We can't have one that tells us that we aren't good enough. A good coach should know how far to push and when to push. As much as a good coach should help us set those realistic goals.

I would love to win my age group. I would love to qualify for Kona. If I were to call Coach Barry and tell him that, he would immediately tell me that "we need to have lunch tomorrow".

Everyone means well. That I understand. I know that as triathletes we have learned to be motivators. We have learned that a little smack in the back of the head, or a swift kick in the seat of the pants is what we sometimes need, and we have learned to give that out when we deem it necessary. With that being said...

If I were to post on facebook that I'd like to win my age group, that I'd like to qualify for Kona, I am certain that I would get a tremendous amount of well intended encouragement from everyone. But what if I were to give you additional information. What if I were to tell you that I am 60 years young, or will be one week after Ironman Chattanooga, that I have been doing triathlons for 5 short years, that I am a consistent "middle of the pack" triathlete, that I have a bulging disk and another one herniated. What if I were to tell you that I've had two tumors removed from my left ankle and that after mile 15 of any race, it hurts like the dickens. Would you still give me the same encouragement? Would you think that my goal was a smart one? Attainable? Realistic?

Believe me is not for the lack of wanting it badly. Is not for the lack of desire or grit. Is just plain and simple... my body will not give that much. I know my limits. My coach knows my limits. We work within those limits.

I have improved in the past two years in the swimming and cycling disciplines. I maintain steady in the run. I have worked my tail off to improve on my Ironman Louisville time. And because of this, I have made my next Ironman Goal a sub 15 hours. Is this realistic and aggressive? For me, you betcha! Does this scare me? Yes, scares the hell out of me!

Please come over and "like" my facebook page for more Motivation and Inspiration on my "Journey Beyond Ironman".  Click here.