Roughly seven years ago, I learned about what the Ironman triathlon was.
The concept seemed virtually insane. And although I was only jogging 5 or 6 kilometers a few times each week, I convinced myself that someday, I would do it.
Last week, I crossed the finish line at Ironman Lake Placid. The Ironman still seems a bit crazy to me… but at least now, I can make that claim based on experience.
In short, I did the swim in 57 minutes, the ride in 5:50 and the run in 4:10.
My total finish time was 11 hours and 10 minutes.
A big part of me was happy to be finished… but I’ll admit, there was a small part that did not want it to end…
Maybe you know the feeling… If not, I’ll do my best to lay it out for you here.
Swim : Swimming for position, and then hanging onto it.
This seems to be the name of the game for the first 250 – 500 metres of Ironman. I am lucky. I am long and lean with a naturally efficient swim stroke.
I shoved my way into a pack of fast guys and within minutes found myself very nicely situated directly above the arial survey line that ran below the buoys in Mirror Lake.
With plenty of fast-moving people around me, I coasted through the first loop, running out of the water in 28 minutes.
Great… The second loop will be slightly faster, and I’ll be out of the water in just over 55 minutes.
On the second loop, I was quickly positioned right above the survey line once again, and on pace for a slightly faster second half of the swim.
However, with about 400 metres to the shore, the pack of swimmers I was with came to a near stand-still as we approached a bottleneck in front of us made up of swimmers finishing their first loop of the course.
The delay was brief, and we were moving again, albeit, with more congestion, and certainly, at a much slower pace.
Soon enough though, the beach was in sight and the time on the clock read 57 minutes. I’ll take it.
Bike: Riding to stay energized
The most important thing I learned about Ironman was actually just one week prior to the race from a very well-seasoned Ironman triathlete named Dev Paul from Ottawa.
Actually, the lesson was quite comparable to something I learned from my dad at the age of 17 when I wanted to buy my first car.
My fathers lesson was this:
Derek, the act of owning a car is essentially to lose value on your investment as gracefully as possible…
I should say that back then, this message didn’t really stick. I’m pretty sure I wasted plenty of money on stereo equipment and all kinds of other things for what slowly became a rust-bucket.
10 years later, Dev’s lesson was:
Ironman is all about how gracefully you can lose energy and slow down. Inevitably, you will lose energy and slow down… but whether it happens slowly, steadily… or drastically all at once, is entirely up to you.
With this advice striking a very familiar chord, I was determined to take it to heart.
Keeping a close eye on my heart rate for the entire ride was one thing I wanted to make sure I was doing. I managed to monitor it quite well, and with the exception of the steeper climbs, I kept things modest.
Finishing the first loop in 2:47, I felt great; ready for more.
On the second loop, I stopped twice to pee, and once to adjust my speed/cadence counter which had stopped working near the end of the first loop.
Fixing the counter and the computer was a bust… After a few minutes of messing with it, realizing it wasn’t going to start working again, I was done with it. Move on.
The second loop was definitely slower, but considering the stops, not too much slower. I was finished with the bike in 5:50 and was looking forward to running.
Run: Don’t walk
Another important lesson from Mr. Dev Paul.
This was really the only goal for the run. About one mile into the run, my legs had made it quite clear that the 6:00 / km pace they were moving at was as fast as I would go.
Watching my heart rate here down at 130 bpm was slightly frustrating knowing that aerobically, I would tolerate much more intensity. Below the waist though, it was a different story.
I focused on trying to split as even as possible, and refusing to let myself walk.
After 20 miles, surprisingly, everything felt about the same as it had after just 2 miles of running. Realizing at this point that in just one more hour I would finish the Ironman was enough to keep a smile on my face for the rest of the run.
And that was it…
Soak it up. Enjoy it.
I was working at the Around the Bay Race Expo a few months ago when I met someone who told me that I would love IMLP so much, I wouldn’t want it to end.
Naturally, as a first-timer, I had trouble believing that. I dismissed the possibility at the time. But there I was, 10k from the finish line, feeling strangely like someone had told me to expect this…
The Average Ironman…
Last weekend I also learned that I wasn’t exactly the “average” Ironman triathlete. Making roughly 25% of the average Ironman triathlete’s salary, and training far fewer hours each week.
In terms of financial costs, as well as time and energy, Ironman is expensive. That’s no secret.
I put everything that I could afford to into Ironman when it came to time, energy, and of course, money.
If nothing else, Ironman training and completion should serve as some form of credible certification for budgeting both time and finances.
Joking aside though, that does seem to be what it’s all about for a lot of the people out there. Myself included.
So maybe we should think of it this way…
9 hours. 11 hours. 16 hours. Whatever. You paid to be here. Financially sure… but more importantly, you paid physically through time and effort. And you paid quite a bit.
You paid in a currency that consisted of early morning 100-mile bike rides, grueling hot runs, tediously-long lane swims and everything else it took to balance work, family, and relationships. You paid for it… so enjoy it.
If I do this once more some day… five more times… or even ten more times, I am quite confident that this will always be one of the most important things to take away from it all…
Remembering the sacrifices that you have put into Ironman should certainly be enough to keep you going.
And maybe (it is possible), there will be that very small part of you somewhere that just doesn’t want it to end.