Just a few more days of taper, and then race day - in less than one week! I'm still not too restless or anxious, although I did wake up yesterday thinking "Holy shit, what if the date of the race is today and NOT next Sunday!". I knew that was a ridiculous thought, but I opened up the ironman.com web page with some nervousness, afraid that I would see under the "Live" tab: Coeur d'Alene. Ack! Fortunately, that did not come to pass, it IS the 29th, so I will continue to wait.
I realize that Sunday is the BIG event, and perhaps it's premature to reflect on training before the race, but there is something of value to think about this process separate from race performance. I don't know how race day will go, and while I did not have a flawless training program (what would that mean, anyway?), I would describe it as "solid" and consistent, especially in April and May. I wish that I could say that I loved every moment of training, but that would be complete BS, because there were plenty of low points when I was tired, cranky, lonely or frustrated or some combination of all of those. However, I did enjoy seeing or feeling myself get stronger in the pool, on the bike, on the run. While this progress rarely followed a linear trajectory, having those "aha!" moments reinforced that my sense that the training was working and that I was moving towards this ironman goal. There were also so many milestones, small and also more significant, that boosted my confidence along the way. Even though I have a few "I wish that I had done X" thoughts (which maybe I'll enumerate just for fun), on the whole, I followed a consistent training plan and hit about 90% of my workouts. That's an A- and is good enough for me!
As I've mentioned, signing up for this event back in August last year freaked me out so much that I wanted to throw up after I hit the 'send' button (not sure if it was the price tag or the idea that I was now committed to this IM thing). Fortunately, I let things settle before my thoughts really turned to training. The beginning of the school year, as usual, trashed any sort of training schedule that I might have followed, so I waited until October before I began to reestablish my base from the summer, and then in November, I committed more fully to swim/bike/run, but without a specific plan. I also figured out my coaching/training situation for IM in November, which came as a huge relief, and I began working with Beth in December, but training was low-key until February. Starting then was great, as I felt mentally ready and excited to be focused about training, even though I had to deal with a quad injury. In a way, being out of my running game for a few weeks was a good experience. I wanted to freak out, I often thought that I would be walking the entire marathon (and I still might), but I was able to focus on the swim and bike and I learned that you can maintain some run fitness on the elliptical. I owe Beth and Dr. Choy, the ART guy here in Pasadena, many many thanks for their patience and for dealing with my crazy thoughts. Okay, she dealt with my crazy doubts, and he kept working on my body and encouraging me to keep running a bit further and a bit further, until finally I was back at it!
It's strange to say that I had a favorite month of training, but I loved March - the volume went up, but it still felt manageable, plus I was running again which came as a huge relief and also a source of fun and enjoyment. I probably went slightly overboard with events in March (I had the Desert Tri, the Solvang Metric Century, and the Malibu Canyon Half-Century), but each event was different and gave me more experience on the bike or swim/bike/running without much pressure - I gained confidence and built up endurance. May was the month of the BIG BUILD, which logically would have been the greatest challenge, but I struggled more in April. I think (know) that much of the struggle had to do with the training/work/life balance, plus Wildflower was looming and I didn't feel as strong as thought that I *should* be. The struggles in April did reap dividends in May, as I felt stronger on the bike and stayed healthy for the longer runs that I had to put in.
Looking back, this has been such a positive experience, no matter what happens on Sunday. First of all, I learned tons by working with a coach. I'd never followed much of a specific plan for training, and I really enjoyed the structure and the variety that Beth built into my weekly or monthly schedule. While I still had plenty of flexibility within the plan, it was a slow build that allowed me to stay healthy and get stronger and the variety ensured that I wasn't bored and that I didn't get injured. Having a coach also made me feel accountable to my Training Peaks account (and maybe a bit obsessive). Also, I did not talk a lot about IM training at work or socially or even with CalTri, the group with which I infrequently train - I really used Beth as my main source of information which kept out a lot of noise. Finally, she was great about guiding me through being injured, plus the build, the peak weeks, and different races and events, and she has often been more confident about my abilities than I.
While there were many moments (especially in April and May), when I did not want to wake up at 5:00 am during the week for a swim or trainer ride or on a Saturday or Sunday for a long ride, I certainly feel that those early mornings have been worth it. I often told myself that I alone made the choice to sign up for an ironman and I now had to do everything that I could to get to the start and finish line. Somehow, this sort of reasoning worked for me and did, more often than not, motivate me. Before my training really kicked in, I expected to be more social for my long rides, but I ended up riding the majority of them solo, which had its own benefits (like having to change tires on my own). At times it was hard to be so much in my head, but that was another aspect of training that I enjoyed - the solitude of training which gave me time to think and just 'be'. This wasn't the best year for me work-wise (not that it was a "bad" year, just not a great year), and I recognize that IM training often served as a refuge for me, a place where I could see progress and where I learned to push myself.
Despite the moments of "I-don't-want-to-get-up", I never felt that this training totally took over my life. In May, Beth emailed me my schedule and said that I should tell Mike that I'd see him in July (she was joking!). I know that I said 'no' to a lot of school/work commitments due to IM training (didn't go the musical for the first time in 9 years; missed a class retreat; skipped out on a pre-graduation happy hour...), but maintaining some sort of social life WAS a priority to me. Nor did I give up alcohol or gluten. I really took the attitude that this training was one aspect of my life, an interest that enriched my life and, in many ways, kept me physically and mentally sharp, but Ironman and triathlon certainly did not define my life.
So, with race day approaching, I will be happy to find myself at the start line with the sense that I trained and tapered well. I know that anything can happen during a race, and I'm trying to steel myself for that, but I hope that I'll be able to remember the positives from training. I think back on my first open water swim years ago when I almost hyperventilated, and this past week, I hit Hermosa Beach and Malibu for my final open water practice swims of the week, and just couldn't believe how amazing it was to swim in the Pacific Ocean. As I swam, I took in the long expanse of water on one side and the beach on the other, the sun rising up.. I'll think about the great rides I've experienced (suffering and all) and the places that I've seen on my bike in the LA area and beyond, rides I would have never done without the pressure of the Ironman. And how sweet it's been to stay healthy for the run. I feel really lucky and grateful that I've had the experience to train - and now, it's almost time to race!