In preparation for Ironman Arizona Coach Brian and I came up with mileage goals for the six month training period leading up to the race. We also devised 5 Milestone achievements that would operate as individual victories along the way. The race would be icing on the cake with the milestones tangible achievements that could stand alone in their own right. Those milestones are:
1) Ironman distance ride (112 miles), non-stop
2) 8,000 meter swim
3) 300 mile bike week
4) Ironman distance ride + 1 hour run
5) 95 minute 13.1 run
I finished #1 July 6th. #2 was done October 10th. #3 was done and then some (315 miles) in July. On October 3rd I attempted #4 and wound up running 45 minutes off the bike before I bonked. Good lesson, still a milestone. Number 5, the 95 minute half marathon, became history today as I ran harder and faster than I’ve ever done before. Today’s run: 1:34:57.
There was no way I could have hit that number if it wasn’t for Coach Brian pacing me out the entire run and new triathlete friend Michael B. jumping in at the halfway point and motivating me to push it out. Both of them were nursing different hangovers – Michael had been to a concert the night before and Brian had been to an epic birthday party (which I missed due to a migraine). But both showed what true friends they were by never letting me give up and pushing me to run even when I desperately wanted to slow down.
To run a 95 minute 13.1 you must average 7:15 minutes per mile. Slow down to recover and you’ve got to make up that time. Brian asked me at the beginning if I had a preference of how to break up the run. I said I’d always wanted to negative split (run the first half slower than the second) but I’d never been able to do it right. Mostly I’ve seen my energy drop steadily over the course of a long run and had just resigned myself to that scenario. But saying it out loud made me realize the thing I’ve known all along – if you can’t do a negative split you went out too hard to start. And yet today after a brief warmup jog we started at 7:20’s – which meant it was going to get faster from there.
Brian is a good coach. He’s a good coach because he recognizes the kind of athlete I am, physically and mentally. There have been a lot of different voices out there happy to criticize his coaching plan – “why are you swimming 8,000 meters?!” was a frequent one. Not all coaches are athletes themselves. What I do know is that Brian is not only the best coach for me, but he’s also the right kind of athlete friend for me. He provided positive motivation, has set difficult goals, and created routes to achieve them. And for days like today, he ran with me, wore my GPS so I wouldn’t get hung up on the numbers, and was my rabbit to chase for those miles. When Michael B. joined us at the halfway point I knew the run would change – Michael is very competitive and likes to be out front. He’s faster and stronger than I am and I’m not trying to beat him, I just had two rabbits to chase. In the past when friends have pulled away from me because they are faster I’ve reached a critical point where I say to myself, “well, they’re gone, now I can run my own pace.” Today that wasn’t an option. Michael woke up and overrode his fatigue because he made a promise to me to show up and help. Brian could have partied into the morning with our friend Jim but he didn’t – he woke up early and showed up. The way to honor my friends was to give it everything I had, not to quit, not to let them pull away, and not to just run the thing for myself.
One day soon I’ll be the rabbit helping someone reach that goal, waking up early when I could be sleeping in. Maybe that person will be Michael on his road to his first half Ironman (or full….), or my own coaching clients once I get my certification and start training others.
More importantly was the purpose of today’s milestone, and all the others before it – on race day I’ll need to dig in harder and harder, crushing the desire to quit, reaching deep within myself to finish what I’ve started. At times it will be for me, and at others it will be for the people in the crowd who have come to support me in this wacky, selfish endeavor. With digital technology people can track an Ironman’s progress online as timing mats are crossed which means I have no idea how many people will be watching.
In those moments when I don’t know if I can go any further I’ll recall days like today, or the 8,000 meter swim, or the epic bike miles, or any of the times in training when I thought it could not get harder and still I made it through by digging deep and not giving up – that is what makes an Ironman.
Two weeks ago it took root. The intense desire for it. It’s part of every workout now: imagining the finish line, hearing my name called, wanting it so badly I can taste it with every step. Joe Friel’s Triathlete Training Bible has a quick and dirty self psych exam which asks you to rank your desire with the understanding that if you don’t want it badly enough then question why you’re doing any of it in the first place.
I have no doubt, no questions, no hesitation – I want this and I will get it.