ironman Q&A: part II

The second half of the Q&A is much more opinion than it is facts about the race, just so you are warned.  The same disclaimers about this being my first attempt at the distance and generally knowing nothing about how to be fast (or generally much at all, except how to pose for ass pictures) still apply.

Race Recon
What surprised you the most about each discipline at that distance on race day?
In the swim, I think I did an excellent job of scaring the crap out of myself about how much contact there was going to be.  On race day I was surprised to find that it wasn't nearly as bad as I had been imagining.  On the bike, I was surprised to feel happy well past the half split - this makes me excited to go race another 70.3, because usually I'm ready to get off at 56 miles.  I was also surprised by how low I felt after mile 60 and how long it lasted.  On the run, looking back I'm surprised at how positive I stayed inside my head, despite the fact that I was hurting pretty badly.  Even when I was walking, I wasn't mad and pissy, I was just....walking.  All day, time felt like it was passing incredibly quickly.  I remember someone around me asking the time of day during the run, and I was FLOORED when I heard the response of 5:30pm.  For whatever reason, I thought it was barely noon.

What mental tricks did you use to warn off fatigue?
I'm not sure I have any tricks, really.  I think I had a lot of long training days which prepared me to be in my head for a long time.  In the second loop of the bike, when I really started to get low, I attacked the problem.  I went after calories and caffeine and in-between doing those things, I focused on thinking about my family and how much they had sacrificed so I could be there, my friends who were all cheering for me, and of course my puppies.  I just tried to distract my brain from falling into a big sandpit of negativity.  When pain and fatigue were really getting me on the run, I pulled my visor over my face (sensory deprivation) and tried to go to an empty place in my head.  I didn't try to "think positive," I tried to not think at all.  

Where do you think you could see the most improvement in time and how?
Well, if I could spend 30+ less minutes dicking around on the bike, that would definitely make a huge difference in my day.  But I think I can make a bigger difference on the run.  The slowness on the bike was because I was off of it so much, peeing, so that's not a training improvement, that's an execution improvement.  On the run, now I know how much it's going to hurt.  Now I know that it hurts just as much to walk as it does to run, and I think that's going to help me with continuous forward motion the next time around.  
Did you ever think "WTF am I doing out here?" during the race? 
I thought it a few times before the race got started, but not once while the race was going on.  I was so happy to be out there.
Did you ever think "I hope he got a good shot of my ass" as you passed a race photographer or someone with a camera?
I didn't think that, exactly, but after my mom went by on the moto, I laughed because I figured she got plenty of good ones!  I actually don't remember seeing a single race photographer all day.
I imagine one of the biggest hurdles was knowing that after finishing the bike you still had a marathon to run.  What did you do to prepare for this and how did it go on race day?
A good friend of mine told me many times this spring to not think about the marathon while on the bike.  There were several days in training where I had long rides and then a run off the bike, and I can remember being so done with the bike that I was THRILLED to change into run shoes and run, just so I could not be on the bike anymore.  I channeled this pretty hard on race day.  I didn't think about the marathon as an entity even once, and I tried pretty hard to just focus on the leg I was on.  The bike course was broken up into four out-and-backs, so I just concentrated on getting back to town each time I passed through.  I remember crossing the 110 marker on the road and finally thinking, "Wow, only one more transition and then I'm headed towards the finish line."

Once I was running, I never thought of it as a marathon.  My longest run in training was 16 miles, so I just thought about that distance for a long time.  I was a bit annoyed with my body when it started hurting before then, but once I got past it, the thought, "this is the furtherest I've ever run in my life!" went through my head every few minutes.  But the whole day, I never felt like I was clicking off miles and counting up or down.  I never wanted to be looking ahead or backwards.  I wanted to stay in each moment, all day, because I knew I had worked hard to enjoy every single one.
What was your most earth shattering/entertaining/thought-provoking/soul-defining thought(s) on the course. I am sure there were many...
I'm actually a little sad to say that there actually weren't that many.  I have seen a pretty big change in my mental approach to racing this season - i.e., the work I'm doing in my head on race day.  I never realized I was doing such negative work in my head until this spring.  However, it hasn't been difficult to make this change.  Once I became aware of it, it was like flipping a switch.  I don't spend all day cheering myself on, it's more like I've found a way to become more emotionally detached from my own performance.  I saw this at Knoxville when I had a poor showing on the run but never got drowned in my own thoughts.  And I will argue that I saw it again at CdA - both when I started walking and didn't start hating myself and when I figured out how to start running again.  It's really hard to describe what is going on in my head and why it works, but it feels like a blank slate.  Like there is just air and space and waves washing onto the shore.

What was the first thing you wanted to do after finishing?
Hug my husband.  Eat a piece of pizza.  Do nice things to my legs. 
Do you feel like IM training gave you better perspective on what is stupid shit and what's actually worth caring about? 
I feel like I've talked so much about what this journey has done to my life.  Through this entire process, I think I am beginning to learn how to separate the things that matter in life from the things that don't.   I thank my little lucky stars that I crossed paths with Sonja when I was going through this because she has been exactly what I needed to grow.  A lot of ironman training was fun.  A lot of it was hard.  A lot of it broke me down over and over and over again.  And when life gets hard, when it throws hard shit your way, that's when you figure out who you are, what's important to you, the people that matter.  And the rest just falls away.  

I don't think you have to train for an ironman to go through these kinds of "ahaaa" moments.  But I think training for an ironman combined with my own life experiences and journey made it a perfect crossroads of change for me personally.  Even though I didn't know it at the beginning, I was ready to change, I was ready to face some tough truths about myself, and from all of that I have a much better grasp on what is important in my life.  I also know that I'm not done, ironman training hasn't popped out the most perfect version of me.  I'm still going to make mistakes, I'm still going to fail, it's still going to hurt a lot to keep growing, but routing my journey this way makes me happy.  

I got a lot of questions about maintaining balance in life while training.  I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer those.  It was easy to whittle down things into priorities, but across the board, I didn't do a great job of maintaining balance while training.  I had a very supportive husband who did an incredible job of supporting me throughout these months.  I had some great friends, many of whom had done this before or were going through it themselves or just wanted to jump in the pool with me to keep me company, and they all helped me not lose my marbles.  
Did you lose a lot of weight during training?
No!  I had a range of about 5lbs that I fluctuated inside of over the course of about seven months.  Sometimes after long training weekends or too much ice cream, I'd be at the top of the range.  After a rest day or a recovery week, I'd be near the bottom.  I don't think my body changed significantly throughout.  There were some small changes in where I have muscles, especially after quadrupling the amount of swimming I was doing, but in general things pretty much stayed put.  

Do you have any tips for time management?  Recovery?  Managing the costs of this expensive sport?
Time management is basic.  I was lucky enough to be working from home (and then unemployed), so my time was perhaps more flexible than most.  But it's just a matter of being organized and prioritizing.

I can think of at least a dozen times where I asked Sonja for some magical recovery tips and was sad that there wasn't a big secret she could share.  Sleep, what goes in your mouth, stress, body work (foam rolling, massage, etc), all those things contribute towards recovery.  The spaces between training matter just as much as the training hours, maybe more.  I learned a lot this spring about how to make those things count much more.  

As for costs....sigh.  I got a great deal on a previous-year QR.  I bought all my shoes at Road Runner Sports, and most of them while on clearance/super sale (my Newtons were under $100 which is a miracle of the shoe gods).  I stocked up on nutrition when it went on sale on Amazon or in a local store.  I made it through all of this training on two pairs of running shorts and two pairs of bike shorts and Target-branded sports bras.  My (very cheap) gym membership includes a pool, and I swam there despite it being small and cloudy and full of huffalumps doing aqua-robics.  None of this means it wasn't expensive, because it was.  But I'm a frugal little miser, and I did everything I could to keep costs as low as possible.  When I first signed up, I decided to track every dollar spent along the way, but gave that up pretty quickly because I just didn't want to know.

We also made other sacrifices for things that were less important.  We've never really been people that eat out a lot, but we cut down in a huge way this year.  I learned how to cook a lot more meals.  We sucked it up and shopped at Costco even though it makes me so stabby to go there.  I've been cutting my own hair for over a year now.  I can't remember the last time I bought clothes that weren't from Target and absolutely necessary.  I don't wear makeup, I don't like jewelry, we don't have cable, we cut our own lawn.  Our furniture doesn't exactly match because we bought it at an outlet.  Budgeting was actually pretty manageable until I lost my job, and by then, almost everything had been paid for already.  And there were many times when I said no to things I didn't want to say no to, or I had to squeeze a few more miles out of running shoes until the next month, or use that weird gel that came in the race bag instead of buying more of my favorites.  It's all part of deciding what matters.  

I know you didn't talk hours/distances on the blog during training, but if you're willing to now, what was the time commitment like during peak weeks/during rest weeks?  What did your training schedule look like during some of your peak weeks?
Oh, this is such a difficult question, because it varied quite a bit based on where the volume was focused (on swimming, biking or running).  A big run week resulted in less overall hours than a big bike week, just due to the differences in time and distance.  That said.  All of my peak weeks were well over 20 hours of training.  I did one IM-focused block that overlapped the end of May/beginning of June and I believe all those weeks were over 20, even the first build week.  I know I got close to the 30 hour mark at some point (too much PTSD to look it up just now).  I had rotated through several 3 week build/1 week recovery blocks before that IM-specific block, and I'm sure that most of the peak training in those blocks resulted in 20+ hour weeks.  Recovery weeks varied from 6-12 hour weeks, again depending on where the volume was focused.  
But, I don't think that it's all about how many hours you do per week.  It's like adding up mileage and hoping you'll be the biggest bitch on race day.  I've seen people and plans do well off of far more and far less time commitment.  A lot of it has to do with the quality and intensity of your sessions and how to balance the training.  It's all far more complicated that I can explain, which is why I got a coach so I don't have to worry about it on my own.

As for during peak weeks, they were all different.  Because of the way my life allowed me to schedule, most of my bike volume was on the weekend and most of my swim/run volume was on the weekdays.  I'd usually have 1-2 shortish rides during the week, I did all of my long runs on Wednesday or Thursday, and both weekend days I'd be on the bike.  I actually like this because it separated long days on the bike and run.  My bigger weekends would generally be a 5-6 hour ride on one day and a 3-4 hour ride plus a run of some distance (usually at least an hour) on the other day.  And a short swim of some sort thrown in there.  When a complete rest day showed up at the end of a training block, I was ready to enjoy it.  

The best investment I made during Ironman training was______.
A coach.  No question.
What is your weakest sport?  How did you overcome fear in that sport?
It's interesting, because last summer I would have told you that cycling was my strength, then running, then swimming.  I worked hard on all three sports this year, but the one that showed the most improvement by race day had to be swimming, which kicks running down to being my weakest.  Which is sadly accurate.  If I got to choose, I would be strongest on the run and weakest on the swim.  I'd also be 5'10" and stacked with a flat ass, if we're choosing.
However, being weak on the run, comparatively, isn't something that made me fearful.  When I got off the bike, I knew I had plenty of time to make my way to the finish line.  When you stop swimming you drown and when you stop riding you fall over, but when you stop running you walk.  There's no fear there.

What is one thing you'd do differently in your training?
I'm not sure I can pick a thing.  I wish I had understood the whole-body approach to training earlier in my life, because once I started paying attention to the spaces between training, I felt like everything just got better.

Did you deal with any injuries during training?
I dealt with lingering issues from last year's back problems all throughout this cycle.  The back problems stemmed from lazy/weak glutes, so a lot of my strength training was focused on that chain.  I tore my calf in February and ended up missing about four weeks of run training from it.  I periodically have a cranky shoulder that pulls on my bicep tendon, which I also address through regular strength training.  I did maintain strength training throughout ironman training, 1-2 sessions of full-body work per week.  Sometimes I would leave it out of a recovery week if I felt like the rest was more important, and I didn't do it while tapering because I wanted my body to really focus on healing.
How much sleep did you regularly get during training?
It varied, but I'm happiest when I am asleep before 9pm and get at least 8.5 solid hours.  There were nights after killer weekends where I would sleep 10+.  

How long after the race was it before you swam/biked/ran again?
I swam three days after the race, I biked eight days after the race, and I ran eleven days after the race.  I didn't do anything hard or long for several weeks.
How sore were you after the race?  How long did it take for the soreness to go away?
I was sore, but I've had worse post-race soreness after a hard half-marathon.  My soreness lasted for about two days and then was gone.  I felt a lot of deep fatigue for at least 3-4 weeks (I might still be feeling it now).  

What was your longest continuous training day before your IM, and how did you account for the difference between that and race day?
Someone once explained to me about half marathon training that your training is like a puzzle, and you don't put the pieces together until race day.  Short interval work is a piece, easy runs are a piece, tempo runs are another piece, and the long slow run is the last piece.  On race day they all fit together to make a complete picture.  Ironman training is exactly like that, spread out over the three disciplines (please see: why I think a coach is so valuable).  

What were the biggest sacrifices you made during training?
Probably the ability to spend significant quality time with my friends and family.  Time itself is the biggest sacrifice.
What is your best piece of advice to someone contemplating an ironman?
Ohhhh, I don't know, I'm not so good at the advice.  Probably something along the lines of, make sure you really want to do it.  Because there is a lot of it that is hard, and it sucks away so much time out of your life, and if your heart isn't in the training, you won't make it.  If you are in it just to hear Mike Reilly call your name, I don't think you are in it for the right reasons.  I've always enjoyed training so much more than racing, and I especially enjoy long days on the bike and I still had moments in training where I hated it and wanted to throw my precious bike in the bushes.  It's really important to have a strong support system in place as well, so you have people who will listen to your babbling when you've been sitting on the kitchen floor crying for two hours about how tired your legs are.  And figure out how to talk nice to yourself.  That might be the best thing I've learned from Sonja, over all this time.  There's no good to be found in yelling at yourself in your head.  Just be nice to your brain, be nice to your legs, be nice to your body as much as you are able.

Finally, I got a huge amount of questions that had to do with how to know if you are ready.  How do I know for sure I can do this, when did you feel ready, if you didn't feel ready why did you sign up, did you freak out during training about feeling ready, all kinds of great questions like that.  And I don't have an answer.  I do think that having reasonable expectations before signing up and during training helped tamp down a lot of those questions in my mind.  Being very honest with myself about where I was in my training and not having secret time goals in my head helped me to feel very ready on race day.  I knew I could cover all the distances and while I had no idea how long it would take, I knew I would get there.  I think the biggest mistake you can make while training for your first - and there are exceptions to this - is to have ambitious time goals.  If I had made realistic time goals for myself for CdA, I probably would have accomplished what I expected to do on the swim but not the bike and run, and then I would have been disappointed and started filling my mind with crap about not being ready.  Instead, I truthfully just wanted to enjoy the day, and I did.

And I was a little terrified when I signed up, but in the end, it was a fever that just wouldn't break.  Once the idea got in my head, I couldn't shake it, so I took the leap.  And now that I've been through it once, I can say that the cliche is true: Anyone can do an ironman.  Anyone.