Athlete Journal Entry 34: Impending Doom
Ever had one of those moments when you realized that everything was about to get much harder? Like the time I was wrestling my BJJ coach and as I tried to rip my arm free ended up elbowing him in the jaw. That sense of impending doom just kind of hovers in the air and sucks the spirit from you.
That’s this week.
I’ve been kind of sucked into feeling like this Ironman preparation thing was no big deal. Honestly, while it has been time consuming so far the sessions haven’t been soul-destroying. And then we got to week thirteen. My training plan is twenty weeks, and although this week marked nine weeks from the event I have a full weekend of work coming up soon and gave myself an extra week of preparation time so I could get that whole week of training in.
At eight weeks to go, this week marks what I can see in the plan is the start of the serious stuff. The sessions are a bit longer. They’re a bit harder. There are extra sessions too. Thursday is a real delight with a hard ride in the morning followed by a hard ride later that day. I can tell you now that my response when I got back on my bike Thursday afternoon and felt the heaviness of my legs from that morning was demoralizing.
The ebb and flow of training is funny. With so many sessions in a week you can go from feeling like a total stud to feeling pathetic and weak in the space of twenty-four hours.
Starting with the events in order they’re done in:
I’ve always enjoyed swimming. Even when I used to despise my coach as a kid I enjoyed it. Some days I find myself dreading having to train again but I know that if it’s a swim I’ll feel invigorated afterwards. Plus I get to wear speedos and work on my absolutely ridiculous tan lines (I have the whitest butt in the world, trust me).
While I enjoy riding too and have always liked the feeling of freedom from being on anything with two wheels, these longer and harder sessions are very draining. I’m writing this Sunday afternoon after a four-and-a-half hour ride that I had to do indoors because of the weather this morning. This ride was increasingly harder the longer it went and finished with a thirty minute all-out effort.
If you’ve never sat on an exercise bike for four-and-a-half hours I suggest trying it to see just how uncomfortable it is and how painful it becomes (and for extra points do it in the aerodynamic position used on a time trial bike and see how many holes you can rub in yourself). Anyone who suggests cardio makes you weak has never come to understand the enormous mental strength gained from sessions like this.
Additionally, because the bike was locked into place I could really hammer it without having to worry about cars, traffic lights, or other cyclists in my way. With legs filled with blood and my heart rate screaming I literally had to hold my hands out for support getting off because I was so dizzy. This session would have burnt around 4000kcals. I fueled it with a breakfast of eggs, bananas, and Turkish bread with honey then by having another banana, seven gels, six bottles of water, and an energy drink. And looking at that intake makes me realize that I was still probably about fifty percent depleted by the end.
Running – what can I say about running that I haven’t already for the preceding months? I have days where I feel like I am ready and will put in a good marathon time and other days where I feel like there’s no way I’ll ever get to the finish.
While my calves seem to have adapted to the new demands, the same can’t be said of my Achilles tendons. Since the week after the Half Ironman in mid-December they have been problematic. That might have had something to do with having gone from running about 30km/week up to about 50km/week overnight. I had hoped that they would settle down after my week’s break over Christmas, but no such luck. If anything, they are worse. Luckily it’s apparently not the tendons themselves but the sheaths they are in that are inflamed. What that means is simple – they’re still painful as hell to run on until they warm up, but there’s no risk of the tendons snapping. While they’re not getting better they’re not getting worse either.
While I stumble off at the start of my run like the Tinman from Oz in need of oil I am heartened by a story former marathon World Champion Rob de Castella told me. On the morning he won the World Championships he left the hotel for his warm up run. Across the street was a woman taking a recreational running group out for a jog. She pointed across the street and said, loudly enough for him to hear, “Don’t run like that guy – just awful.” Three hours later he was World Champion. So while I know I look stiff and tight at the start of my run, I also know that once I get going I am fine. Once I’m warm there’s no pain and I can run normally. It’s just that first ten minutes that really, really sucks.
The time is ticking away quite quickly now. What started a year ago is now only two months away. Eight weeks may seem like a lot of time, but that’s only eight more long runs and rides to dial in that muscular endurance needed to get over the line. Eight workouts between success and failure. As the sessions mount up and fatigue takes a firmer and firmer grip on me each week I have to constantly re-evaluate everything else in my life. Social events are long gone. Housework is neglected in favor of lying on the couch with my legs up in the air. My friends and family understand. Those close to me are constantly telling me now how skinny I look and are even astounded week to week. They also see the fatigue in my eyes no matter the day or time.
People often mistake bravery as the absence of fear. But it is only in the presence of fear that we have a chance to be brave. That’s lucky because with eight weeks to go I’m shitting myself.