Race Schedule and Results

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Ironman Cycle

So many people I know are doing their first Ironman distance race this year.  And although I'm training for my 4th, it's funny how each training cycle has been somewhat similar for me.  And then hearing from all of the first timers (who for some reason think I am an expert... ha!  I have them fooled) it makes me smile to think about the process of Ironman training.

I think everyone starts out gungho.  It's a little frightening at first, thinking about the daunting task of training ahead.  No one really thinks about how daunting the race will be, just how great the finish line and party will be.  But it's a year or so out so you don't really have to think about that yet.  Then a few months go by.  Training finally starts increasing. You are feeling good.  Getting fit.

And the WHAM!

You hit the training wall.  The "holy hell this sucks right now" wall.  It might be that you are fatigued.  Or that you feel like there aren't enough hours in the day.  Maybe it's that you usually run x:xx miles and now it's xx:xx minute miles, no matter how hard you try. You might hear that someone else training for the same race as you did a million hours of training this week and felt great and you've done what your schedule calls for... but it's not a million hours and you didn't feel so great.  Are you doing enough? Is your plan right?

Then you get a second wind.  Someone reminds you that you are on track.  You might have a breakthrough workout.  You are gaining strength, speed, confidence.  The race is only a few weeks out and now you are thinking about it... what will the swim be like, how fast can you transition, what will you eat and drink on the bike, can you run the run.  And still, how great the finish line and party will be!

Then it might happen again. Another wall. But it's closer to the race so you really freak out. You can't make up the fitness that you feel like you don't have.  You're crappy and sleepy and hungry all the time.  You snap at people, but they don't get it.  They aren't going through what you are putting your body through.

Race day comes and for the first time in MANY MANY months, you are fresh.  Your legs are ready.  You're rested.  You are nervous because, the thought of 140.6 miles in one day is in fact daunting (and you didn't really think of that a year ago when you signed up).  But as you stand at the start line, you know that in less than 17 hours, you will be part of an elite group of crazy amazing people who have done so much more than just finished an Ironman.

You've swam, you've biked, you've run.  You've been down.  You've been up.  You've questioned your own sanity, you're own abilities, you're own reason for doing this.  You've conquered your inner demons.  You've proven what you are made of to yourself and anyone that cares to listen.

I wrote this email in response to a few friends the other day that are at the first and second wall and were asking for some insight.  I think it's a perfect bit of advice from someone who's been through it a time or two.  And if you are training for an IM... know that this letter is to you too.

"I wish I had a magical answer, but I'm training for my 4th and just yesterday, I got 2.25 miles into a 10 mile run, walked home (only after getting in a huge fight with Tom), then decided that I wasn't into Ironman training, it was defining me instead of being part of me, and that ultimately I didn't know why I keep putting myself through this.  I decided I was going to switch my registration to the half.  I simply had nothing in the tank.

Let me just tell you that it happens.  IM training is like nothing else that you've ever put your body through.  You are never "fresh".  Not until race day.  The fatigue, both mentally and physically just builds and builds.  Yes, you take a rest week, but that only means that your workouts are only an hour or two a day and at a lower intensity instead of 3-4 hours, going long and hard.

I personally think that another rest week isn't going to do anything but good things for you.  Ramp it up this weekend... if you feel like it.  You aren't going to lose any of the fitness that you built.  If you don't feel like you are ready at the end of the week, keep the full week a rest week and start fresh next week.  Burnout is so easy in IM training.

You have to realize that you have the fitness right now to get through the race.  All 5 of us do.  It would hurt some of us more than others at this exact moment and it wouldn't be pretty, but we could get through it.  Don't get discouraged by a bad workout, or a bad week, or even two.  It happens to all of us and we just need to regroup.

You'll think back on these weeks when you are racing.  I told Jeff many times that you earn the title of an Ironman much before the race... that day you just go pick up the hat, tee shirt and medal that shows everyone else what you are made of.  If it was easy, more than 1/10th of 1% of world would attempt it.  You are in a league of your own. You are a badass!

You aren't doing anything wrong.  And it will get better.  And it'll probably get bad again.  This is where mental toughness is built.  Be smart.  If your body is slugging through, ask yourself if you are getting better with each workout or do you need the rest.

And just so you know, after telling Tom that I wouldn't do Cedar Point, he looked at me, said "you aren't a quitter" and we went off to run 5.5 miles at an 8:20 pace (which is really fast for me).  I'll be there on September 11th, to pick up my medal, hat and tee shirt. :) "


Big Daddy Diesel said...

Freak I needed this, I am hitting the phase of hating training, the miles, the constant fatigue and hunger, the lack of speed (which ticks me off like no other, but I know its a long race and long day, its all about sustainable pace for hours upon end), so I think I am in wall phase 1. Sucks, I think I have mutter "glad when this is over" more then "I cant wait to cross the finishline" I am learning mental toughness is 85% of this race, Thanks again

Matthew Smith said...

Thanks for a great post. Even though I'm only doing a HIM, I feel like I'm close to the wall with the training. You gave me a boost. Thanks.

Kristin said...

I hit a wall last Friday. Cried and Everything. But then the Next few days after that big melt down just seemed to flow. I needed that break down and rest. This is hard. Mentally and Physically!! :)

Teamarcia said...

I love this even though I have no IM in my near future (never say never though right?). It's all so mental.

Heather-O said...

Really Really REALLY needed this! Glad it's not just me feeling this way and that this is "normal". Thanks for the pick me up, Colleen!

Kim said...

love it colleen - awesome letter. you rule!

Christy said...

Thanks for this post! My runs have absolutely sucked and every long bike ride has had wind to fight, so it makes you question why in the hell are we even doing this? I'll keep your words in mind!!! It is so going to be totally worth it for me in September!

Jon said...

Well said and PERFECT timing Colleen! Questioning my sanity has become a daily routine sometimes.

Glad to know what I am experiencing is "normal"

Molly said...

Yep, that's SO how it happens!!! I think we conquer so much more in the mental toughness category than anything else in IM training :)


Keep on plugging. You KNOW the goal and you know the feeling when you cross that line..

Anne-Marie said...

Great post and great letter to your friends!

If only I could've ready this about a year ago - I remember hitting that "wall" mid-6 hour ride/2 hour run brick, bailing early, coming home in tears and wondering how on earth I was ever going to finish 140.6 the following month... :) Guess I'm wiser for it now!

She said I need a goal said...

you are very smart!! LOVE the email, so insightful and supportive.

Kovas said...

Really well-written post Colleen!

Matty O said...

HA! I was in the process of emailing this to Heather and see she already read it... THANK GOODNESS!

Why do I like bloggers? or Why do I like you? You are real. You keep it real. You sum up real feelings and emotions into a great post.

LOVE THIS. I really think you should submit this to LAVA magazine or Triathlete (not joking)... I think the way you have written this everyone can relate to it. Please submit it!

Keep up the good work and keep your head up. This is fun... right? :) Wish we lived closer, would be fun to do group rides with you guys and trade stories on the runs haha.

Melissa C said...

Thanks for this post. I am in moving mess right now, and on vacation, which means I SHOULD have more time to work out, but won't be because I will be too busy eating. ha. what a combo! I should be marathon training on top of HIM training, Muncie is really soon, and while I know the courses are way different and I can't compare times really, I want to feel better at Muncie than I did at Monroe, as well as do a fall Marathon. Yikes. I just want to go to sleep on the beach!

Alisa said...

This is a great post! I think anyone in any kind of training can relate. I think it's especially so with IM training (not that I would know I've only done a HIM but have seen people go through this). You can only put your body through so much for so long, some of it you do have to suck up and do and some of it you do need to listen to your body.

This is a great post. You should definitely book mark it for yourself as I can see re-reading and re-reading.

Kristin Deaton said...

Thanks for writting the letter. I needed it just like the ones who have commented before me. Thanks :-)

MissFancyPants said...

THANK YOU!!!! Needed this, although it is a half for me right now, I have been having bad thoughts recently....

Ironman By Thirty said...

Absolutely love, love, love this post (and the email :) )

It is posts like these that give you your expert status. Argue it all you want, but you are still an expert in my book :)

Don't worry, I'm listening. I'm backing off this week. Listening to the body and letting myself recover a bit. I want to be as fresh as possible for WIBA this weekend. The last thing I want is to experience the IMOO bike course on tired legs.

Ironically, I had one of my better swims in a long time this morning. Just goes to reinforce the roller coaster of training.

Glad to see I am not alone as well!

Wes said...

most triathletes are anal about the details. This workout blah. That week sucketh... but you're right. Fitness is built up over months, and passion over a lifetime :-)

Beth said...

this is such a great post! I want to bookmark it for when I finally train for an IM. I know I'll freak out/burn out a few times in the process and need someone to tell me that it happens to everyone but I'll get through it!

Carolina John said...

that is pretty fantastic advice. I'm starting to hit one of those routine ironman walls, getting sick of my current plan. but I know i'll bust through it.

Emz said...

Holy crap!
Where have I been?!
Holy. Freaking. Irondiva. Amazing!

Jennie said...

Thanks so much for posting this! I may not be training for an IM myself, but sometimes I think living with an IM-in-training deserves some sort of medal too! ;) Seeing this all written out makes it easier for me to understand what's going on inside Kevin's head, so thank you!

Beal88 said...

Such a great post Colleen. I really enjoyed reading it.

Richelle said...

Awesome post. I'm not even close to considering an IM or HIM (maybe someday), but your words were very encouraging. Thanks!

Megan said...

Thanks for pointing me to this post. I needed it. I know I'll get back at it, but we all know it's hard when we're down. Thanks Colleen!

Kurt @ Becoming An Ironman said...

Such a great point to make. I'm by far no expert myself, but the first thing I tell anyone looking to train for anything - 5k or IM - is that mental motivation is key.

You could be in the best shape of your life, but if your mind is not in it, you can't perform.

Rest days are much more than just time for your physical body to recover.

Kelly said...

Great post, Colleen!

Andy said...

Thank you soooo much for this post! This is not my first rodeo, but I am having some serious motivational (and other important priorities) issues this year. I needed a verbal "kick in the pants" with a hair under twenty weeks to go. Hope you have an awesome Rev3 Cedar Point.

Jason said...

CBK - This was so awesome and falls right in line with my last two posts about mental strength.

I think its that time of the year when people are becoming fatigued and all of these motivational posts are popping up.

Thank you so much for this b/c while I have not signed up for an IM yet I am signed up for two more HIMs in the next 9 months and have 2 IMs on my schedule to register for in the next year and I will not only hit these walls but I will be hard headed at first to go through them instead of over them.

I will then remember this post and go around them.

Thank you.

Lindsay and James Cotter said...

that email is just about perfect colleen, and not only for IM training but for any ultra distance event. I never done an IM, mainly because the time to put into it, but if i did, I would read this letter again!

Gotta Run..Gotta Ride said...

I have learned to let go of my pace and focus on covering the training distance.

I have learned that I will eat anything that my hubby cooks me even if it is not as healthy as I like.

I have learned that being tired is only temp until my Ironman in August.

I have learned the this Ironman is NOT my life but I do love it being in my life.

What a journey! This is what I hoped it would be....good and bad.

Keep moving girl.

DRog said...

ahhhhhhhhh YES
totally needed this

skipped over it the other morning cause wanted to wait til I had time to REALLY read it and soak it in.

Was worth the wait

SO MANY takeaways I'm not gonna list them out

so needed this


Patrick Mahoney said...

This is a fantastic post, tons of substance and great insight. Really enjoyed it.

N.D. said...

Thanks for your encouragement! I can't imagine the training for IM. You are amazing.

Beth said...

That is such a great letter, I hope to do my first Ironman next summer, and will probably need that reminder. Now I just need to decided what race, and advice?

Caratunk Girl said...

I loved this when you wrote it to me, and I love it now. I am on a down right now, next week I am hoping for an up! :)

Katie said...

someone else sent me here, and, just, well. thanks.

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