Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ironman resolutions

What can an Ironman resolve for the New Year?

Get in shape? Done that.
Lose weight? Done that.
Swim, bike, and run 140.6 miles in less than 17 hours? Done that, baby!
Do something that no one else you know thinks they can do? Yes, I've even done that. (and by the way, most of those people are wrong - if I can do it, most of them can, too)

So here's what I'm thinking for 2009. Not resolutions, really, but goals.

1. Get religious about my training schedule. In 2008, knowing I had to work very hard to build the endurance to complete the Ironman distance, I signed up with Cadence Multisport Centers for individual coaching. I knew I needed some external accountability - someone keeping track of my training - to keep me on the plan. And it worked, mostly. But there's often a reason to cut a workout short, or to skip it. Family schedules, work, other activities - everything conspires to ask whether Ironman is more important. And for the age grouper (amateur) Ironman, training and racing are all about balance, as in, how to balance Ironman with the rest of your life. For me, when training loses the contest, it's usually not about balance, but about planning. So I'm going to do a better a job planning, this year, so I get the benefits of training and everything else, too.

2. Push harder in training. In 2008, I learned how to push myself in races - to keep a pace of eight minutes-per-mile in the 10K run of an Olympic distance race, for example. I learned how to push myself in training, also, and my coach's workout plans helped focus that. But with a major goal for 2009 to increase my speed in all three disciplines, I need to make sure I'm pushing hard in training, throughout the year, so I have more to push during races.

3. Bring more people into triathlon. In the four years I've been doing triathlon, I've enjoyed nearly all of it. Long, aerobic-paced runs with a friend. Early morning indoor cycling workouts at Cadence. Six-hour rides through Chester and Berks counties. Sharing brief conversations with other participants during races. Seeing my fitness and times improve in tangible return on my work.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I did an Ironman?

Seven weeks after Ironman Florida, it's getting hard to imagine how one does Ironman. Can I really swim 2.4 miles in open water, bike 112 miles, and run the 26.2 miles of a marathon, all in one day. And survive?

Thinking about 2009, right around the corner, and Ironman Louisville on August 30, it's hard to imagine what it will take to do another Ironman. With the past seven weeks of shorter, less intense swimming, biking, and running, my body has recovered from the long, hard work of the summer and early fall. Aches and pains are gone, and my body's ready to get back to work.

I've run two 5K races since Ironman. For those of us who discovered that the metric system died when we finished sixth grade, it lives on in race distances. And since it's been so long since most of us have had to do a conversion: 5 kilometers equals 3.1 miles.

Thanksgiving morning, Ben and I ran his first 5K, the "Gobble Wobble," at a local Y. Ben has owned most of the 1-mile "fun runs" in which he's participated in conjuction with at marathons and other events. He had yet to run longer than a mile, and he'd been wanting to go farther. He was pretty sure he could cover the distance, but had an unusual (for him) respect for the longer distance. He decided to take it easier than normal, and I ran with him. Ben finished in 26:58, at a pace of 8:42 per mile. Only three and a half weeks after Ironman, my goal was simply to run with Ben and have fun.

December 14, Ben and I ran the "Reindeer Romp 5K," in a nearby burb. This time, Ben thought he could run faster, now knowing that he could cover the distance. I also wanted to see how fast I could make the distance. So we each ran our own pace. I finished in an amazing-for-me 22:41, a pace of 7:17 per mile. That's 39 seconds per mile faster than I've ever run in an event. I came in only 1:38 behind the third place winner in the Male 40-44 age group, and 11th overall in that group. I also came in one second ahead of the second and third place women in the 40-44 group. Literally - they were running together and I finally cought and passed them about 20 yards before the finish line. And I have no problem being the second place woman!

We'll do a couple more 5Ks over the winter as I continue to work on my run speed. My new crazy goal for 2009 is to qualify, in fall 2009, for the 2010 Boston Marathon. For my mid-life crisis age group, that means running 3:30 or less in a qualifying marathon.

I'll run the SunTrust National Marathon, in Washington, March 21. That will give me a stand-alone marathon result to tell me how much time I'm going to have to shave off my pace between then and the fall. If I don't qualify for Boston, I'll still be a lot faster than now, which of course will help my Ironman Louisville marathon time.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What do you call the last person across the finish line?

In Ironman, what do you call the last person to cross the finish line before midnight? Ironman!

The folks at North America Sports, the organization that produces Ironman branded events throughout the continent, know one important fact: the athletes who push through the pain, exhaustion, and in some cases overwhelming feelings of defeat, still complete the 140.6 miles under their own power, in less than 17 hours. Each one is, by definition, an Ironman.

Everyone else at the race knows it, too. Although the crowd is big, and loud, when the pro winners come through after eight and nine hours (I know this because I started my run as Bella Comeford, came in for yet another first place at Ironman Florida), they get louder and more excited in the waning hours of the race. Many people who finish the race earlier in the evening come back to the finish line to cheer on the people who finish in the literal, physical, and emotional dark as the clock races toward midnight. They know what it takes to get wary bodies through those last few miles and yards, and they give it with gusto.

Eighty-seven people did not finish Ironman Florida. Some pro's abandon the race for various reasons, but most of the the DNFs (did not finish) are age groupers, amatures, who get injured, suffer exhaustion or dehydration, or just don't have the speed on race day to make it to the finish before midnight. I've been out there with those people - I was on the run course with many of them, although at least three hours ahead of them. I can tell you that many of those people, knowing it was physically and mathematically impossible to finish before midnight, kept pushing as long as they could.

An Ironman event is about completing the 140.6 miles in under 17 hours and claiming the title, Ironman. But it's also about not giving up when every part of your body is telling you to roll into the gutter for a nice, ten-hour nap. So although Mike Reilly won't give you a title after midnight, everyone who finishes the course has something amazing inside themselves.