Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Next Ironman

Almost the first question you get after doing an Ironman is "So, do you want to do another one?" I have to admit, that even as a swim coach who has trained people to do the Ironman, I never fully understood how people could get bit by "the Ironman bug" and want to do more of these super-intense, super-long races. Now that I've done one, all I can say is I Understand. For me, the answer to that question is yes, but it's a qualified yes.

Yes, in a world in which I had no commitments and finding the time to train was easy and painless, and the massive cost of registering and traveling to an Ironman was not an issue, I would do them all the time. But I don't live in that world. I live in a world in which, as a homeschooling mom, my children have a reasonable expectation that I will actually be around. Now, instead of dropping them at classes, activities, and friends' houses and jetting out the door with my running shoes or bicycle, I can actually hang out and watch them dance or ice skate or work with the robots. Admittedly, I feel a bit twitchy while doing so. As Maureen said in a comment below, my injured toe is probably a good guarantee that my body will get the rest it needs. I can tell that without it, I'd probably still be out there putting on the miles. It's hard to go from really ramped up to regular without feeling a little let-down. It's good for my kids, our budget, my spouse, my house (ah, the stuff that piled up while I was training intensively) to actually have me around. And, as my husband says, "Now we don't have that fifth mouth to feed either." I can't believe how much I was eating, now that my appetite is pretty much back to normal. Amazing! I don't wake up at 3:00 am completely ravenous. I don't think about food 24 hours a day.

But all that being said, I would love to have another Ironman date out there on my calendar, would love to sustain this incredible level of fitness, this feeling that my body can do anything I could throw at it. Would love to get on my bike and ride for hours and hours without fatigue, to regard a six mile run as a "quick lunchtime jaunt." It's all very appealing. And truth be told, I loved the Ironman. I really loved it. I loved all the stuff leading up to it, the travel and excitement, the other athletes, the feeling of doing something truly amazing. And other than my injury, I had a fun day out there on the course. I was really trained up just right, had put in the miles but not overdone it. I hit my peak and felt great.

Maybe it's crazy to expect that it would be as much fun the second time around, though I met athletes who were doing their third, fifth, or seventh Ironman and still seemed to be having a good time. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the reasons I enjoyed myself so much this time is that I had very few expectations. I wanted to finish. I'm used to being competitive in triathlons, often placing in my age group or even overall. Before a race, I look at who is entered, at previous course times, I try to estimate what time I might hit, where I might end up. I set no such goals for this race. In a way, it really reminded me of my first triathlon 20 years ago. Though that race was a sprint, I had no idea if I would be able to finish it. It seemed like a big, and possibly unachievable goal. The Ironman was much the same, and similarly I just enjoyed myself, especially once I knew I would make it to the finish line.

Looking back over 20 years of triathlons, though, I can honestly say that I've enjoyed almost every one (well, there was that one in the Columbia Gorge where it was 104 degree with winds of 20+ mph and I actually cried during the run). Whether my goal was to finish or to compete, each of them has lived up to Richard Bach's prophetic words in the book Illusions: There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts. In reference to triathlons, I would replace the word "problem" with "challenge". The Ironman was the biggest challenge of all, and I appreciate its gifts.

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