Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why?

I seem to be asked that question more and more often lately. Or maybe not. It could be that I'm just asking it of myself every three minutes while suffering through the boredom of a foggy, six-hour Marin ride: "Would someone please explain to me why I'm doing this again??"
 
Unfortunately, there isn't just one single answer. So here's an FAQ of sorts.

Why an Ironman?

Short answer: It's on my bucket list.

Long answer #1: I know I want to complete (at least) one Ironman before I die and, as Alex said so long ago, "It's not going to get any easier." I have a window of opportunity here, professionally and personally, that I am seizing with full force.

Long answer #2: I've been a swimmer for most of my life but "retired" after college. Cycling took over. In November '09, I burnt out and needed a change - so I joined a swim team. Before long, the pressure to "do a triathlon" was just too great for me to resist.

I've never been a sprinter - not in the pool or on the road. The greater the distance, the better I fare: endurance is where I excel. So I knew if I wanted to find some measure of success with triathlon, I'd have to go long. So I am.
[Side question] What is an Ironman?

Short answer: A triathon consisting of a 2.4 mile (3.8 km) swim, a 112-mile (180 km) bike ride and a marathon (26.2 miles/42 km) run.

Long answer: Are you serious? Who doesn't know what an Ironman is? See "short answer" above.

Why Australia?

Short answer(s): Why not Australia?!?! The prospect of doing an Ironman race in Australia makes doing an Ironman race in some place like Idaho seem positively dull.

Long answer: When I worked up the desire and motivation to sign up for an Ironman, I went to their website to see what was available. This was in February, and all 2010 Ironman events were sold out - except one. Western Australia. The next available one after that was New Zealand, but that wouldn't have been until March.

February to December. Hmm. I figured I could handle ten months, mentally - but not thirteen. And training through the winter months (December, January, February) would have been unpleasant. San Francisco's Indian summer is going to lend itself well to my Build phase. I'll be boarding the plane to Australia just as the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Related answer #1: I found myself bored enough to entertain the idea of registering for an Ironman in late February. As many of you know, late February is one of the most boring months of the year because:
  1. Football season ended a few weeks ago.
  2. Baseball season doesn't start for a while.
  3. The weather sucks.
I guess you could say I just needed something to fill the void. When I get excited about something, I go all-out.

Related answer #2: Seriously, Australia seems like the coolest place ever. An entire nation of people who actually care about the sport of swimming! Deserted, white-sand beaches as far as the eye can see! KANGAROOS!! I've been looking for an excuse to go Down Under for a while. Now I finally have one!

Australia's far. For how long will you go?

Short answer: 3 weeks.

Long answer: The plan is to arrive a week early, acclimate, adjust, preview and race. Then I'll have two weeks to relax and sightsee. It will be summer there, and I am going to celebrate completion of my race by doing very little (e.g. sitting on a beach) for a long time.

Why are you training so much?

Short answer: It's an freaking Ironman, dude.

Long answer
: Right now I'm in "Base Training," which is designed to be lots and lots of high-volume, low intensity work. It's like laying the foundation for a skyscraper: the taller you want it to be, the broader and/or deeper the base. In mid-September, I will begin the "Build Phase," which is where I'll back off on volume (slightly) and incorporate intensity (intervals, etc.) into the mix. Build will peak toward the end of October and then I begin a taper period leading up to race day on December 5.

Do you have a coach? Do you train with people?

Short answer(s): No, and usually.

Long answer: I'm following a training program set forth by Triathlon coach guru Joe Friel in his Training Bible and Going Long books. I will admit, I probably bit off a bit more than I should be chewing, but now that I'm two months into the mix, there's no turning back or backing down.

I don't have an official "triathlon coach," but I bounce ideas off of various cycling and running coaches that live in my network of friends. I swim on a swim team. Many of my runs and a lot of my base rides are solo, but I ride with a cycling club, for the most part. So yes, I am "training with people," but no, I am not training with anyone who's training for what I'm training for.

Why don't you take an extra rest day/get drunk tonight?

Short answer: I haven't missed an hour yet. I'd rather feel good on the bike tomorrow than feel good at the bar tonight. And by the way, I'm f$%@ing tired.

Long answer: I'm on a roll. I'm just about eight weeks into this training program and I haven't missed a minute. This is pretty cool, especially when you consider the sheer number of hours I've been putting in. The first three weeks contained 70 hours. The past three? 75. It's borderline insanity. And at the same time, it's kind of like Brett Favre's unbroken 265+ game start streak - all I want to do is keep it alive. And I'll go to great lengths to do so.

This means making a lot of sacrifices. I'm okay with that. Hitting these targets is fun for me. You may not understand, but I enjoy destroying myself on my bike more than I enjoy being hungover.

What's with your diet?

Short answer: I needed a change to something healthier.

Long answer: I used to eat a lot of junk food. A lot. I have removed dairy, sugary snacks and starch from my life. They don't really have a whole lot of nutritional value. I feel great about it. They've been replaced by extra fruits and vegetables. It's all based on this book.

What's your goal?

Short (but unrealistic) answer: Kona.

Long answer: I'd really like to finish within the 10th hour of the race. I'd really really like to break 10 hours. I'd practically give my left arm to qualify for Kona. (Of course, I'd need to hold onto said arm for a few more months, in that case.)

But... why?

Short answer: I love a challenge.

Long answer: I love a challenge and this one is both physical and mental. Can I complete an Ironman? Sure. I think anyone can. But can I conquer this oh-so-aggressive training plan? While maintaining a full-time job? While completely exhausted? Can I run a sub-4-hour marathon after a 112-mile ride? Now that Alex is out, can I do this whole thing solo?

It's not just one big challenge in December - it's six whole months of challenges. Every week is a puzzle where I try to fit all of my scheduled workouts around my meetings and (admittedly limited) social obligations. I love it. Physically, I know I can do it. Mentally, it's the most extreme test of discipline I've ever faced.

And in all honesty, this I want to go into this knowing I did everything in my power to be as successful as possible. I want to nail every training session. I want to find the right equipment, practice the right transitions, get the right amount of sleep, eat right... do whatever I need to do so that I know that when I take the start in December, I will have reached my absolute physical peak.

So maybe that's a better short answer. All I want to do is to know that over the course of six months I've pushed every limit I have to it's maximum. I want to know, even if only for one day, what it feels like to be the absolute best that I can be.