One Hundred and Forty Point Six
Growing up, I was not particularly athletic. Sure, I was active and played outside, but I also ate a lot of Little Debbie snacks. Like, more than a human should consume in a lifetime, a lot. So I had always carried around a few extra pounds. When it came time every quarter to run the mile in gym class (or every year, I have no idea how often it was, just too often for my taste), I dreaded it. But I suffered through like everyone else, usually finishing near the back and being happy enough it was over.
Today I voluntarily ran laps around that same Mount Horeb track, some 15 plus years later. If you had told high school Steve that at 33 he would be spending much of his free time following a regimented workout schedule, exercising 4 plus hours some days and tracking every morsel of food he puts into his body, I’m certain he would have laughed in your face. What would possibly motivate me to do that, after all?
I didn’t start running of my own volition until later in my college career. I remember being amazed the first time I ran 5 miles. My body can do that?! And I could run fast too, albeit for very short distances. It was… kind of enjoyable. After college, when I started sitting at a desk all day, the extra pounds I was already carrying started multiplying. Something needed to change, I quickly realized. Running became my chosen form of exercise, and before long I was hitting the myriad trails around Madison regularly. The pounds started coming off and I began enjoying my newfound active lifestyle.
I ran and biked on and off over the next five years. When I felt good, when the weather was beautiful, when I needed to blow off steam or clear my mind. And that was basically the extent of my relationship with exercise, until Mike Deau came into my life.
After meeting a couple times and bonding over our shared (irrational) love of working on houses, Mike and I became fast friends and exercise buddies. We soon did our first race together, the Madison Marathon Half. Despite (or more likely because of) our respective competitive natures, we ended up running the race side by side. Although we crossed the finish line simultaneously and clocked the same time, we both know I won, as the official results showed me coming in 58th and him 59th.
At some point Mike decided it would be fun to do a Half Ironman, and tried to talk me into joining. I knew better, but ended up compromising and signing up to do it as a relay, with my counterpart at the time doing the swim. After getting as sick as I’ve ever been a couple weeks before the race, I decided to still do it but didn’t have high expectations. Sure enough, it was miserable, and I had to walk a lot of the run portion due to dehydration and cramping (I blame being sick, but if I’m being honest I was pretty undertrained as well). After finishing and taking about an hour to recover basic bodily functions, I told everyone that would listen something to the effect of “If Mike ever tries to talk me into something like this again, remind me that this was basically the worst thing ever and for the love of god don’t let me do it”. They say time heals all wounds though.
The next summer we both signed up for the Wisconsin Tri Series, a collection of relatively short triathlons around southern Wisconsin. As a significant portion of the triathlon involves water, I decided I should probably learn to swim more than 10 meters at a time. It wasn’t pretty, but after a few weeks of frustration and exhaustion in the pool I finally reached the point where I could actually swim laps and start focusing on efficiency and endurance.
Getting in the water for the first race was about as terrifying as anything I’ve ever done, but the short 400 meter distance passed quickly and swimming soon became just another element of the race. One of the five time splits to be scrutinized at the end of the day. How did I do compared to the rest of the field, to the winners, to Mike? Where can I improve, what do I need to work on? Swimming is still my weakest link (like most Triathletes), but it’s doable, and some days I actually enjoy my pool workouts… or at least that’s what I tell myself to make it suck less.
Despite the nightmare Half Ironman (where I only even participated in 2 of the 3 events), somewhere in the back of my head there was a slowly growing seed called Ironman Wisconsin. I grew up in a small town along the IMWI bike course, and was familiar with the event at an early age. I remember watching the athletes zipping by on exotic looking bikes for hours on end, and being amazed people were actually able to accomplish what appeared such a superhuman feat.
As I became a runner and built up distance and endurance, that incredible feat started to look less unachievable, less superhuman. When a couple people I sort of knew did Ironman, it began to seem almost attainable. After learning to swim, a path from where I was to where they were slowly emerged, and I remember thinking yes, that’s something I’d like to do in my lifetime.
It didn’t take many races before Mike and I had the triathlon bug. We had talked casually about doing Ironman, and as the prospect of it became more real we realized there really wasn’t much to discuss. We both knew it was time; that we were capable of training for it and we’d better commit now before life got in the way like it so easily does. We decided to volunteer at IMWI last fall and it was pretty much a done deal – we were signing up!
This week marks number 26 of the 36 week training plan I’m following. Does it feel like I’m 26/36th’s (or 72%) of the way trained for Ironman? No, not really (and looking at it that way I feel like I should stop writing and go do the rest of my workouts for today this minute). But I’m confident I’ll be able to finish. The swim continues to be my weakest link and primary source of apprehension. To be honest, traveling in the van has made swimming quite difficult. It has made pretty much all workouts more difficult, but it’s a lot harder to find a pool or suitable lake than it is to find a road where I can run or bike. I’m definitely making progress though, and it’s rewarding to see the gains in my times and endurance. A year ago it was pretty hard to imagine doing a casual 14 mile run and feeling fine after.
The training can feel long. It is long. It dominates my weekends, and takes up a significant chunk of most weekdays. I feel lucky to be at a point in my life where I have ample free time, at least. The thought of trying to fit this amount of training into a schedule where I also work full time is frightening. Mike is also lucky enough that his job allows flexibility to prioritize workouts over work. So when we get up at 6:00, do a basement trainer ride from 7:15-8:30, run from 8:45-9:45, then shower, eat, and head to our respective jobs around 10:15, it’s totally cool. And after we get home (when I stay in their driveway, which is kind of a lot), his awesome wife Carrie somehow prepares enough food to make up for the massive amount of calories we burn.
Yes, the training regimen takes some getting used to, but it feels good. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been, my body feels like it’s working the way it was intended to, and the feeling of satisfaction after successfully finishing a long or particularly hard workout is sublime. Like a true engineer, I diligently track my progress through various spreadsheets, performance metrics, apps, and social media platforms (follow me on Strava!), and it’s addicting.
Watching the weeks on the training schedule steadily tick by (regardless of whether I do all the prescribed workouts) is a stark reminder that race day (September 10th) will be here before I know it. Looking back on those early years where exercising was about the last thing on my mind, I already feel a deep sense of accomplishment having gotten to the point where I am. I suspect the feeling after crossing the finish line will dwarf that, but I’m trying to put first things first and focus on what I still need to do to get to that point.
Now if you’ll excuse me, what I need to do at the moment to get to the finish line is go enjoy a large post-workout second breakfast.