Strangely enough, no one has yet to ask me the most obvious question, Why? I have, however, asked myself countless times. I've never thought of myself as the athletic type. Amongst our family friends growing up, I'd easily have been selected as the least likely to engage in any sort of athletic endeavor. My President's Physical Fitness Test from 8th grade reports that I completed ONE mile in 14:22. In high school, I attended a performing arts school, where we were so sarcastic about being athletic that we put a photo of empty bleachers in our yearbook and labeled it, "football team." And, in college I probably ran 3 miles… total… the entire four years.
So why am I signed up to complete an Ironman?
The anecdotal answer, is that I started on this path my senior year of college, when some friends invited me on a bike ride, and were kind enough to pretend I wasn't too much slower than them on a borrowed ten speed. Something about biking appealed to me. I could cover ground and observe all of the environment around me. I enjoyed rolling over the hills and breathing in the fresh air. It had meditative quality to it. I could focus on my surroundings or lose myself in my thoughts. I purchased a road bike a few months later. I started riding it hesitantly, as I lived at the bottom of a mile long hill. But, the purchase turned out to be a good one when my car got stolen. I lived south of San Francisco in a very rural area, I would do an 80 mile round trip to get groceries and savor the views of the California coast. It was the same year that I started running trails, mostly so that I could get to my favorite spot a few miles away from where I lived. I absolutely hated running at first, but the more I did it, the more I started to enjoy it.
A friend suggested signing up for my first race a few years later. It was an adventure race with running, biking, and kayaking. He thought it would be fun to do and asked if I wanted to do it with him. I had never even heard of triathlons at that point, and had no idea if I could even do one. I surprised myself in that race by doing really well and loving it. So, I decided to learn to swim a more efficient freestyle at a gym near my house. The swim instructor focused on core and slow drills to learn an efficient stroke and it worked well with my interest in yoga.
Then, I completed my first sprint, and won. I had no idea that I was first out of the pool, and biked as hard as I could to catch up with a group of people I thought were in front of me. It wasn't until the last mile when I heard a man say to his daughter, "look it's the first female," that I had any idea that I was winning. Then onto olympic distance, marathon, half ironman, and a 50K run… In every race I've entered I've surprised myself by getting respectable times. Yet quite honestly, I still don't imagine myself to be an athlete.
Last summer, I decided to train for a Half Ironman. As a teacher, I always try to take advantage of having the summer off. I decided to travel to Montana and Wyoming. All of the long bike rides and runs were in new places I wanted to explore. A favorite ride was during sunrise in Jackson, the morning sun over the Tetons was phenomenal from my aerobars. Another highlight was a trail run I did near Bozeman Montana. The climbs were challenging, but the scenery was stellar.
During that time, I attended a friend's wedding. There, I found myself in conversation with a complete stranger. We talked about training for triathlons and I shared with him my thoughts about Ironman. I had told a few friends before that, but had the feeling that it wasn't something I would ever do. I had the feeling that training for Ironman had little to do with who I am. Yet, at the same time, I was incredibly drawn to do it. At some point, I heard myself say that I would regret never completing an Ironman as I was so close while training for a half. His reflection of my words made it clear to me. And, when I hear that voice speak, I can't just stand there, I have to do something. I signed up for Ironman Couer D'Alene the next day.
Answering the question of why runs deeper than how did you start triathlon and why did you click purchase after entering your credit card information… like, why keep training, even when it often is lonely, irritating, exhausting, and just plain hard? Well, honestly the answer is different every second. But, what keeps me motivated is the vision of myself finishing the race, and I've found that when I have a vision like that I have to pursue it.
Here are some day-to -day reasons that I've found:
Training for Ironman allows me to savor some time to myself. Don't let anyone mislead you, training for Ironman is a bit lonely. While there are often people in my area to ride, run, or swim with, there are times when the weather is bad, everyone is busy, or it just makes more sense to do a workout alone. For a while this was really challenging to me, but now I've found that those hours to myself are incredibly valuable. I have time to ponder how to motivate a child at school, how my body feels starting a long ride, or how I feel about something that happened during the day.
Training for Ironman gives me an appreciation for living. Training means making sacrifices in how I will spend my time. I give up some of the things I love, like playing guitar, reading, yoga, or backpacking, in order to complete the training. Putting these things aside for a while has made the time I have for them seem even more enjoyable. And, I've learned to love a whole new part of myself and life. I've found that the more I swim, bike, and run, the more I love all of those sports. I've found the joy of hitting 40 on my bike on a steep downhill. I've found the best thirty minutes of a run for me are between 1:15 and 1:45. And, I've come to love numb feeling my feet have when coming out of an ocean swim.
Training for Ironman gives me a chance to cook delicious food for myself and discover how my body responds to it. I love to cook and training really compliments eating! I've been mostly vegetarian since 2002, and don't plan on changing during my training. It's taken some research to figure out if my body is getting what it needs, but there are some great resources out there. I've learned so much from people like Brendan Brazier and a friend of mine who is a dancer and eats mostly raw. I don't like to eat processed foods, so have adapted some recipes for energy bars and recovery drinks (figs are genius for holding bars together). I've learned how to carry sweet potatoes and black beans in plastic bags, so that I can eat them on long bike rides. (use a ziplock and cut off the corner…)
Training for Ironman gives me a chance to get in touch with my capabilities. While training, I get to face the challenges of reaching my goals. Many of these challenges for me are mental. I've found that so far my body has responded incredibly well to training, as long as I've trained properly, rested, and eaten. But, honestly, I still have a little devil in my head that says, "You're not the athletic type. You can't finish an Ironman." Then, I hear all the voices of other people questioning if training this much is healthy, if my body can handle it. It's those moments, where I get to focus on that image of finishing the race. Then I put my head down and keep swimming or put my shoes on and step out the door. It's those moments that have made this training experience challenging, yet worth it. And likely, it's those moments that will be the most memorable when I finish.
Ultimately, training for Ironman gives me a chance to follow that little voice inside my head. The one that believes I'm capable of anything, even when it doesn't come naturally, even with all the doubts trailing behind, even when I tell myself it's a sort of silly goal. And, to me, learning to ignore those doubts, and follow that little voice is to live and to express my gratitude for being alive.