Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Why Ironman is good for my family

Sure training for an Ironman (or any long endurance race) takes us as athletes away from our families, that is the down side of this obsessive hobby we call triathlon, but there is an upside too. There is the exotic travel to popular tourist destinations like Boise, Idaho, Louisville, Kentucky, or Tempe, Arizona. OK maybe not all of them are exotic but all roads to Kona go through the lesser known  meccas of triathlon. Another benefit to the family that my wife could attest to is getting to see me in tight spandex. Who doesn't look good in spandex, right?

All kidding aside though there is one benefit that is not always obvious and probably should be articulated to others more often. That is, the underlying life lessons that training and racing teaches us and hopefully teaches others around us.

My children are at an age where they are just becoming aware of the values of hard work, perseverance, failure and did I mention hard work. I here parents complain that they don't know how to motivate their kids to do more than the minimum. They don't know how to get their kids to look at the ultimate goal ahead and learn to plan a strategy for reaching it. Motivation is a very personal thing so it is hard to know how to get anyone to be excited about accomplishments but as a triathlete I hope that my children can see what I do and translate that into inspiration for their own lives.

Some of the comments I have been hearing at home are; "I will never be able to". "She is better than me". "Its just too hard". "What if I am not good enough". Phrases familiar to all of us at one time or another in our lives. To me the fascinating part of life is the variety of choices people make to deal with these thoughts. Some cave under the pressure, some fight to the death. Still others choose something in between. In the end what we do, how we succeed or fail, whether we decide to try or not, is based on more factors than we can possibly imagine. All of us choose differently and it could even vary with the situation. Just because you try does not mean you will succeed. Just because you work harder than anyone else does not mean you will win.

So how does this all relate to Ironman and my family. Well, in triathlon nothing is guaranteed. Race day could be hot or cold, wet or dry. You could be injured or healthy. Your equipment could fail you or it could be your best friend. The nutrition that you ate at the last race could cause you to get sick at the next. In training you do what you think will work and some times it doesn't. You have to decide whether to train through injury or not. You have slow days and fast days. The list could go on forever.Triathlon is like life in more ways than you can imagine. The point is that life and ultimately triathlon is not about the trophies or being on top. Its about the experience of trying to get there, and if it happens that you win so be it, but if not what did you lose? Nothing compared to what you would if you never tried at all.

So here is a list of some lessons I have learned from Ironman and hope that my kids can learn from their IronDad:
  1. Setting a goal is the easy part.
  2. There is NEVER a guarantee of success.
  3. Not everyone wins.
  4. You can still win even if you are not 1st place.
  5. There is always somebody who will work half as much as you and still be better.
  6. Have a back up plan.
  7. Set intermediate goals. re-evaluate, and adjust as needed.
  8. Learn to enjoy the struggle. Pride in hard work is better than any trophy.
  9. Stretch yourself mentally and physically everyday.
  10. All forward motion is good. Never get caught standing still.
  11. Whatever the outcome giving your all is never a failure.
  12. Improvement takes time.
I think that the character values needed to do what I do are something that is learned. I can see it now as I think back on my childhood and the choices I have made in life. I don't know if my parents consciously taught it and I don't know if I am doing it right but I hope that somewhere in my kids minds there is some subconscious absorption going on.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

IM St. George Race Report

Well I did it and man does it feel good to get the first one under my belt. Last Saturday was so much fun I am ready to do it again this weekend.

I arrived in Utah on Wednesday, and it was not much fun getting there. My flight out of Phoenix was kind of stressful. I was supposed to land in Las Vegas at 6:30 PM then drive to St. George (2 hours). Instead my plane circled Las Vegas for an hour before having to turn around and go back to Phoenix for more fuel. High winds in Vegas caused the airport to shut down. We refueled in Phoenix and finally arrived in Las Vegas at 10:30 PM (4 hours behind schedule). Then I drove to St. George. St. George is on mountain time and Las Vegas is Pacific so when I arrived in St. George it was 2:30 AM. Talk about a long day!

First thoughts are that Utah is probably the most beautiful place that I have ever been to. It is truly a land of contrasting geography. 10K snow capped peaks that can be seen from anywhere in the city. Red rock cliffs, and even a couple of extinct volcanoes dotted the lower landscape. The bike course even wound through some lava fields (reminiscent of Kona).

Fresh start Thursday morning. Thursday was hectic. Did a swim at the lake in the morning. Hello COLD water!! then spent the rest of the day running around checking in and taking care of last minute details. I capped the evening with a short run just to stretch the legs.

Friday was a little more relaxed. I met with my parents to show them the course. I dropped off my bike and gear bags at transition. Did a short ride to test out the bike and another COLD swim. That night was early to bed because 3:30 AM would come fast.

I was surprisingly calm in the morning. I was most nervous (as I had been all week) about transitioning onto the bike. The weather was a chilly 50 degrees and we would be coming out of 58 degree water. I tested this on Friday and froze to death. My plan was a complete change of clothes in T1.

This was my first IM so I am not used to starting with everyone in the water. It was crowded but surprisingly not to the point of me feeling panicked. It took 1000M before I found some space to swim and despite that my time was pretty good. I think if I had not spent 10 minutes fighting for space I could have gone faster.
Out of the water I headed into the changing tent. Now that was chaos! The tents were way to small. There was not enough room for everyone and not enough volunteers, which were badly needed because everyone coming out of the water was shivering so bad we could not even use our hands to grab gear. I had decided before hand that extra time spent in T1 would be worth it to get dry and warm for the bike. Thus I took almost 15 minutes to exit transition.

On the bike I was comfortable early I was conservative at first but did make a few moves early while I knew I was fresh. On the first loop there was no wind (what a relief) and the hills, including the infamous Wall were not as tough as I thought. Especially since I had decided to not let my heart rate get too high and I kept a high cadence on all the big hills. Once over the wall it was downhill for about 15 miles. This is where I hammered it and made up for lost time. Starting the second loop the wind had picked up and there were a few miles were I was lucky to get over 10 MPH. Once in the hills though I was protected from the wind. On the second loop I was feeling the hills but still taking it easy knowing that the run was going to be the deciding factor. I got off the bike in just under 7 hours, not ideal but also not shabby for this course.

The run was exciting. Probably because when I got off the bike I had 9 hours at worst to finish. I could have walked the entire 26 miles and still crossed the line. This was also where people start to break down and people watching is quite a good distraction from the pain. The first 13 miles felt easy. Probably because I was happy to make it through the bike. I walked the aid stations and ate everything in site. Not ideal for the stomach but I was hungry and craved salt and sugar. I did not have much of a problem with my stomach until the last few miles so I think I got lucky. On the second loop I finally felt the tiredness and my legs started to rebel. I ended up walking 3-4 miles of the second loop. I consciously walked the uphills and there were a lot of them. At some point the sun was getting low in the sky and it started to get cold. I was happy that I had kept my arm warmers and had not given them up in transition. When I hit the 8% downhill at red cliff heading back into town I had less than 3 miles to go. All of the sudden my body purged itself of pain and I started sprinting. I wish I had the splits for those last three miles because I had to be clocking 7 minute miles. The crowds were awesome. I should have slowed down just to savor their cheers. I was so elated to see that finish line I had to be skipping and grinning from ear to ear. I remember going back and forth in the chute and high fiving all the spectators as I crossed.

For this race I had a hierarchy of goals:
1. Finish
2. Finish before dark
3. Finish under 13 hours

I met all three and it was because of so many people. My family for letting me train and race even though I was gone a lot. My parents for taking the trip out and cheering me on. It was such a boost to know that at certain spots my family would be waiting in the crowd. Even tough I would only see them for a few seconds it was instant energy. My training partners (all seasoned Ironman finishers). They made sure that I did not make a lot of the rookie mistakes people make. The crowds for turning out in the thousands and cheering for me, yelling my name even though they had never met me or may never see me again.

Will I do it again? Hell Yes!! Even 24 hours later I was looking into the next one.