One week from today, The Runner and I are heading to Saint George, Utah, to begin the Ironman check-in and pre-race meetings and interviews with the press (as a hall-of-fame blogger, my racing exploits are of very high interest to the press. Also, it’s actually me that’s the hall-of-fame blogger. My racing exploits are not a hall-of-fame blogger, and I regret implying that they are).
So it’s a good thing that I’ve really been training super hard for this event. Like, I’ve gone swimming and running a few times and everything.
Between now and after the race (on May 1), you’re going to need to plan on most of my posts being about the Ironman. My preparation for it. The workouts I’ve done for it. Gratuitous mentions of the cool free schwag that’s come my way because of it. My increasing concern about whether I’ll be able to fit into the wetsuit on race day.
Here, for example, is what The Runner and I did for a workout a couple of Saturdays ago.
My attitude about trying an Ironman swings from wildly optimistic to paralyzing terror on a moment-to-moment basis. On one hand:
- I have a lot of endurance experience, and a natural ability to tough out hard efforts for a long time. I’ve done Leadville a buncha times. I’ve done 24 Hours of Moab. I’ve done the Kokopelli Trail Race. I’ve Done the Brian Head Epic 100 several times. Which is to say, I know what it feels like to be in an all-day race, and how to confront the demons as they arise.
- 112 miles on a bike — the longest part of the Ironman — is not a big deal to me. Providing the wind is not my enemy that day.
- I’ve run a couple marathons, and I’ve run the Ironman course after riding the Ironman course. I think my lungs and legs are good for it.
- I have no objective other than to finish.
On the other hand:
- I am terrified of the swim. I don’t really know if I’ll make the cutoff.
- I have done exactly one triathlon in my life: an Xterra event, as a joke, about ten years ago. Some people might claim that this is not enough triathlon experience.
- While I can do each of the events individually, I have no idea what will happen when I try to do them together.
It was with this final bullet point in mind that a couple weeks ago The Runner and I decided we’d try to answer a question: what would happen if we tried to do a big swim, ride, and run in one day?
So we came up with a plan:
- Start the morning at the Orem, UT Rec Center, which has a big pool. Swim 2.5 miles.
- After the swim, go out to my truck, change into riding clothes, and bike over to Racer’s Cycle Service in Provo, where we’d join up with Kenny and Heather for a ride around West Mountain and then back to The Runner’s son’s (The IT Guy) house in Orem. Total ride distance would be about 90 miles.
- At the IT Guy’s house, change into running clothes, then run up to the water tower road (three miles, 800 feet of climbing), back to the house for more CarboRocket and Clif Bloks, and then repeat. 12 miles, 1600 feet of climbing. That’s a lot of climbing for a run, but the Ironman running course has a lot of climbing, too.
Basically, we’d be doing a hodgepodge, self-supported, two-thirds more-or-less Ironman.
With really long transitions and one of the most delicious rest stops I have ever had in my life. More on that in a minute.
The more I swim, the more I hate it. Really. I just hate it. As soon as this Ironman is done, I am going to have a little ceremony wherein I set fire to my Speedo.
Why do I hate it? Because I am awful at it, and I am slow, and I don’t enjoy the isolation, and I am not willing to put the effort into becoming good.
That said, I would hate swimming about five times more if it weren’t for my H2O Audio Interval setup, which lets me listen to my iPod Shuffle while I swim. It’s worked flawlessly for every one of my swims. I love it. The Runner loves hers, too, especially now that I’ve adjusted her playlist to reflect her taste in music instead of mine (“I swear,” she once said, “You have put every single Greenday and Social Distortion song ever made on my iPod.” It was difficult to refute that statement, since it was in fact true.).
Anyway. We did the math and figured 40 laps made 2.5 miles in the pool, so we did it, taking care to go easy, since it was just the first workout in a loooong day of workouts.
By the halfway mark, The Runner had lapped me, as expected.
And that’s when I discovered something truly awesome.
You know how when you’re on a bike and you get right behind them that riding’s a lot easier? Well, that drafting effect holds true in swimming as well.
Except, like five times as much.
So I tucked in and basically coasted the second half of the swim. Listening to Greenday and Social D. Letting my wife do all the work.
It was downright pleasant.
The bad news came at the end of the swim: 1:50. In the pool. Considering the extra time the Ironman swim will take because it’s crowded and in open water, we were both worried.
“We’ll be faster in our wetsuits, you’ll see,” I reassured The Runner.
She wasn’t so sure, so we devised a test to find out whether we are actually faster swimming in wetsuits. And that will be the subject of my post tomorrow.
Our transition to the ride part of our DIY Tri was what I’d like to call “leisurely.” I ate a sandwich as I got our bikes ready. (Yes, The Runner is perfectly capable of getting her own bike ready, but I did it because I was feeling chivalrous, and also a little guilty for being a non-contributing drafter for more than a mile of swimming.)
We cruised — nice and easy, just trying to get our legs to remember the cycling motion — over to Racers, where we ditched our jackets and met up with Kenny and Heather. They professed admiration that we had already been swimming for two hours, and suddenly I started loving the idea of multi-sport.
Not the races, mind you. I loved that I didn’t have to make excuses for being slow on a ride, because nobody expects you to be fast if you’ve already done a workout.
The four of us headed out, and right away, The Runner started pushing the pace.
Now before I go on, I think I need to clear up a misconception about The Runner. I don’t call her “The Runner” because running is all she’s good at. The fact is, The Runner has raced and finished the Leadville 100 MTB race five times (with #6 coming up in a few months). She’s very strong on a bike. So why do I call her “The Runner?” Because she runs, that’s why.
Anyway, my point is: The Runner is also a strong rider, and has been for years.
And my other point is, on the flats in particular, she’s fast.
I did my best to stay with her, riding behind and occasionally alongside her as she pulled the entire group for more than an hour.
Finally, I said, “Um, you’re killing us back here.”
She replied, “You’re the one pushing the pace.” Which was sweet of her, really.
In the interest of factuality, however, I cleared things up once and for all by hollering behind me, “Is there any question at all about who is trying to tear the legs off this group?”
Kenny and Heather laughed.
As we approached Payson, I started dreaming of Joe’s. Joe’s is a tiny little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop where you can get a drink and a bagel sandwich. And when you’ve been on your bike for 55 miles, I assert that a turkey-swiss-avocado bagel sandwich is the best-tasting thing in the world.
We relaxed for half an hour or so, talking about maybe having the four of us race as a SS team for the 24 Hours of Moab this year. Which sounds fun, since it’s still months and months away.
Which brings up an axiom I’m working on, tentatively called The Race Axiom: The enthusiasm-to-dread ratio for a given race is inversely proportional to the chronological proximity of that race.
Can anyone find any holes in that axiom? Cuz I think it’s solid.
We finished eating, rode slow for a few minutes while our legs got used to turning circles again, and then The Runner pushed the pace again, ’til we lost Kenny and Heather, and finished the ride at The IT Guy’s house, where I was anxious to find out whether I’d be able to run at all after two hours of swimming and five hours of riding.
We changed into running clothes — neither of us is interested in running with a chamois (no matter how small) between our legs, and it’s not like the extra couple minutes is going to make or break us, finishing-wise.
We began the run, and I began to feel . . . well . . . good. Here’s why: it’s uphill, and that allowed me to use my lesser superpowers: putting my head down and my feet forward.
We got to the turnaround point, coasted easily back to the house, refueled, and headed up again.
At which point I stopped feeling so good. Where I ran the first time, I was now walking. Where I had slowed to a walk the first time, I now shuffled.
But I did make it to the top, and it was nice to know that most of the final three miles was downhill.
Then, with a mile to go, The Runner broke out ahead of me. Maybe she expected me to try to step it up, but I had nothing extra to give.
So she finished about a quarter mile ahead of me, turned around, and came back to finish the run with me. Her: cheerful and strong; me: toast.
As we sat, catching our breath, The Runner asked: “Do you think you could do that same run again now, if you had to?”
It was a good question. “I think so,” I said. “But I’d have to slow down, if that’s even possible.”
Degree of Confidence
So, after this big day, how do I feel about my chances with the Ironman? Not bad, actually. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that my primary concerns/questions are as follows:
- Will I finish the swim part before the cutoff time?
- Will The Runner get so bored of waiting for me at the finish line that she’ll leave and go get a shower and something to eat, figuring she has plenty of time?
- When — if — I cross the finish line, will I be lucid enough to say something clever?