Two years ago I was sitting at work on a Friday afternoon when I got a call from my dad.
“So, you know how I told you I was signed up for the Madison Mini-Marathon tomorrow?” he asked.
“Well since this calf injury is still bothering me I’m not going to be able to do it, and I was wondering if you wanted to run in my place”.
“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass” I quickly decided.
I hadn’t exactly been training for anything, and the last serious race I’d done a month or so before had been miserable. Still I couldn’t help but think about it after I got off the phone with him. I knew I could do it, I’d knocked out ten miles a couple weeks prior and felt pretty good. And I didn’t really have anything else going on the next day, aside from plans to go catch some music that night. And it was set to be a beautiful Madison weekend. What reason did I have not to do it?
So I called him back and let him know I’d had a change of heart, then headed over and picked up ‘my’ registration. He and I conveniently have the same name, so it was an easy switch. I decided I wasn’t going to let a silly race I didn’t really care about get in the way of my Friday night, so I went to the show as planned, had about five more beers than is recommended the night before a race (which just totals 5), and got a solid 4 ½ hours of sleep.
The next morning was a little rough, but I’d decided that I didn’t have any expectations for the race and was just going to go out and enjoy it. By the time the start gun sounded I was feeling pretty good, and within the first few miles any ill effects from the night before had faded. I took it slow, enjoyed the scenery, chatted with people, and it was perfect. The last few miles I was starting to feel the consequences of not being appropriately trained, but I finished without issue and had a lot of fun.
It wasn’t fast, but I had a great time and it remains the most enjoyable race I’ve run. No expectations, no nerves, no risk of disappointment.
This Sunday I’ll attempt to complete my first Ironman triathlon – 140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running. The only goals I have are to finish, and to try to duplicate the feeling of that half-marathon as much as possible. Minus that hungover feeling before the race, perhaps.
It feels unnatural to consider being happy with just finishing when this is a race I’ve been training for since the start of the year, but I have to be realistic about what I can and should try to achieve. After all, two weeks ago I didn’t even know if I’d be able to race at all. Subsequent to the now infamous failed backflip, my training took a bit of a nosedive. Apparently spending six weeks in a neck collar isn’t part of the typical Ironman training plan.
But as depressing as it was to be sidelined, I knew there was a chance I’d be healed enough by race day to still attempt the event. Sure enough, after a couple weeks I felt good enough to start biking on the trainer again. And after a few more, I got out for some light running. My last doctor appointment wasn’t the glowing endorsement of my perfectly healed vertebrae that I’d secretly wished for, but it did show that the bone had fused and was well on its way to being back to normal. They didn’t exactly recommend doing Ironman, but gave me enough information about the potential risks and complications that I’m comfortable going for it.
So the last couple weeks have been filled with “compressed training”. A balance between building up what fitness I can in the time remaing, and trying not to overdo it. Last weekend was the final test, a long open-water swim in Lake Monona, about 2/3 of the Ironman bike distance ridden on the course with my race bike, and one of the two loops of the run course in downtown Madison. It all felt pretty darn good, and gave me a lot of confidence that I’ll be able to finish.
With Sunday fast approaching, about the only thing left is to prepare mentally. This certainly wasn’t how I envisioned doing my first Ironman, but at the same time I’m still eternally grateful to be able to even think about racing. So I’m trying my best to get in the mindset of slow and easy. To appreciate being able to compete, and just enjoy the day.
They say that’s the best way to do your first Ironman anyway. Slower than you think you need to go, conserving your energy as much as possible for that last stretch of the marathon. That it’s a unique experience, and if you’re too focused on performance you’ll miss out on fully appreciating the atmosphere.
A few people have asked if I think I’ll do another Ironman in the future. It’s hard to say right now. A large part of me only wants to go through this once, but I also know myself well enough to accept that I’ll probably look back on this fondly and want to do it again at some point. But for now I’m going to stay focused on what’s in front of me – getting to the finish and enjoying the journey there. There will be plenty of future years to focus on speed if I choose, but there’s only one first time and I’m going to do my best to fully experience it.