My Ironman 70.3
Have you ever done something for the first time, and before it’s even over, you know you found a new passion or realized there would be a massive change in who you are going to be in the future? Maybe it was playing an instrument for the first time, taking an art class, going to the gym, or reading up on a particular subject.
This is how I felt at my first Ironman 70.3.
It was the right amount of challenge, mixed with enjoyableness and what I discovered later, opportunity to compete and travel the world. The atmosphere was awesome, the race was credible, the athletes were accomplished, and the event forced you to “grit-up” and endure a handful of elements.
The really invigorating part was that my serenity kicked in fairly quickly. As I made my way up the dirt hill alongside Fairy Lake leading to the starting line where the participants would begin the swim, I felt at peace. I was relaxed and excited rather than nervous or anxious. Maybe this feeling was due to the lack of pressure, or maybe it was because I had trained hard and had accepted the inevitable. Whatever the reason, this relaxed feeling was well received.
Thousands of competitors and spectators gathered around the starting area, as I eagerly waited to start the competition. The feeling was refreshing especially considering I had barely done a single brick workout leading up to this event.
I trained hard. But I trained very unconditionally due to my 365daychallenge requirements.
My training consisted of 4 months of sport specific development.
March was learning how to swim competitively, and properly.
April was marathon prep.
May saw me compete in my first marathon, followed up with my first ultramarathon 3 weeks later (50 miler).
And June consisted of 30 days of cycling, half of which was spent cycling along the Great Lakes of Ontario, riding for 5-6 hours per day.
My days were so packed and physically draining, that brick workouts were very difficult to incorporate. I had zero days off, and my weeks still consisted of weights 5 times per week while kickboxing 2-3. I had to balance my Ironman training with my passions (weights and kickboxing) and this meant not following a strict triathlon training regime.
**Due to my 365daychallenge, each month had its given discipline which required 30-31 days of consecutive workouts of that 1 particular sport – which is not practical or ideal for proper Triathlon training. I still managed to incorporate swimming fairly consistently throughout the 4 months, but other than that, I was going hard for a month with a single discipline, hoping that would condition me for my race. (Spoiler, it did)
As I entered the kind water that morning, I remember looking at the early morning sun, smiling at what would be a beautiful day of competition in Downtown Huntsville and through the Muskoka’s. A sense of appreciation came over me as I was about to do something so unique and fulfilling, and so unexpected. 7 months ago, I had never even given a thought to competing in a small sprint-triathlon, let alone an Ironman 70.3. Yet, here I was skipping past the small races, prepared to compete in 3 relatively new sports.
1.2 Mile Swim
As I waited at the start line, which required 2 minutes of treading water (not my strong suit), I sighed a big breath of relief knowing that I had worked and trained my body for this very moment- a moment I highly questioned would be possible after day 1 of my swim training back in March (read my blog post “50 to 1900” for more insight). Now all that was left was to compete, and hope my body held up to the standard I expected.
With all that’s going on in the swim portion of the race, from over 200 hundred athletes swimming next to, around you, and even on you, to elbows and feet and hands making contact with your body, I vividly remember remaining calm throughout all the craziness. Other than a few brief sightings above water to make sure I wasn’t swimming into any one, my rhythm remained smooth.
4 months ago, the idea of a 45 minute open water limbs-flailing-all-over-the-place swim scared the hell out of me. Instead, here I was able to think back to the growth I had made, steady technique intact, while in the heart of my swim.
As I approached the finish line for the swim, I had experienced very little fatigue, and with that, gained an incredible amount of confidence and knowledge from my first ever Ironman swim.
Now don’t get me wrong, not all went smoothly. Prior to going into the water as all the athletes waited in their respective age group, I noticed that I was the ONLY person wearing their wetsuit with the zipper in the front (in other words, backwards). A week prior up North I swam 3 days in the Lake with my wetsuit on this way, and none of my friends noticed a difference either, so can you really blame me?
In any regard, the suit got me to the finish. So no complaints.
50 Mile Bike
The bike portion of the Ironman was an eye opener however. At first I was incredibly impressed with the speed of the rider’s passing me. I couldn’t help but admire their pace.
But after about 45 minutes of watching Principle Skinner and Lunch Lady Doris types zoom past with no real difference in leg turnover, I really started regretting not having a proper Triathlon bike. I noticed I was the only one not switching gears, and I was one of the only bikes to produce an annoying clicking sound as I rode.
Sure my bike was a great road bike which I used for my cycle across the Great Lakes of Ontario, but in terms of gear shifting and a smooth ride for racing where aerodynamics, weight and every km matters, I was basically up shits creek… without a competitive paddle.
I got passed over and over and over again, with very little to say about it. My bike could only really hit a mediocre top speed compared to most other competitors and with that being said I lost a lot of time in this stage of the race. At least I was able to fuel up as I got passed, not all bad.
Next time, believe you me, my bike will be aerodynamic’d up: race wheels, tri handles, tri helmet, food and water bottle equipped to the front of my bike, basically all the fixins to produce my most competitive result. Maybe even a rocket engine? Who knows.
Live and you learn.
13 Mile Run
Thankfully all that running in April and May really came into effect. I was used to much longer distances than a half-marathon, which is what the Ironman 70.3 run portion is. 13.2 miles is no walk in the park mind you, especially after swimming 1.2 miles and riding 50 miles on bike, but surprisingly my legs felt strong, which was huge considering all that was just accomplished.
Having my legs feel conditioned made up for my “weak” ride. Not only had I made up a significant amount of time, passing many runners that out rode me in the previous stage but I recorded one of my fastest half-marathon times I’ve ever ran, which was a huge personal accomplishment considering it was the final stage of the Ironman.
Upon finishing, the feelings I had that morning were magnified even greater.
I had found a sport that I couldn’t wait to do again.
My thoughts weren’t about the 6 hours and 35 minutes of consecutive competition or the discomfort I was enduring, my thoughts were focused on the feelings of, “I can’t wait to get better at this.” A rare feeling, especially immediately following an event of such intense nature. But this is when you know you found something you really enjoy doing. And not only was this feeling present after the race, but during too.
Now, I expected my 365daychallenge to be a dose of hell. It’s what I signed up for. But one thing I wasn’t expecting was to gravitate to a sport or way of life so heavily.
I learned to love the process of becoming an overall better and more well-conditioned athlete. I always loved the fast twitch nature of sports, which was built around lifting heavy weights up, being explosive and slamming into people, but to witness a new aspect get developed is extremely powerful and rewarding.
And this is the power challenging ourselves has on our life; we can learn about ourselves in an authentic, exhilarating, unique way that most people rarely allow themselves to experience.
7 months ago I’m 27 years old with absolutely ZERO desire to compete in an Ironman, and I mean absolutely no aspiration; not even a quick, “huh, maybe that would be cool to do.” Hell, I could barely stay afloat longer than 3 minutes, I didn’t own a bike, and I wasn’t very fond of running. And here I am 7 months later, 28 years old, ecstatic to compete again, and do so in some of the most exotic, challenging and beautiful places in the world. My focus is on being better. Not the same, but better, every single day, more so than it ever has been before. This came to be by deciding to challenge myself in completely new ways, well outside my comfort zone.
The question than remains, “what are you missing out on?”
“What are you capable of achieving? And what can you add to your life that you’ve completely brushed past, or neglected to try, maybe due to fear, uncertainty or discomfort, that will give you an even greater sense of purpose, achievement and fulfillment?”
Al though my training over the last 4 months was extremely difficult, and even quite painful at times, I couldn’t be happier with the discovery thus far. My life has changed for the better and big things are to follow. I will get to experience some amazing places, moments and opportunities, all because I pushed myself to become an expert in grit and fulfillment.
My yearlong challenge is half way through. I have another 6 months of hard training, extreme challenges, and new ventures to embark on. 2 of my most grueling single events are coming near and although I know there will be no lack of pain, discomfort and dread through the process, I am certain I will learn a great deal more about myself and discover some of my greatest lessons within the process.
This is the power stepping outside your comfort zone, and challenging yourself provides. Embrace this concept and live your most fulfilling life.