Friday, August 10, 2012
A little over a year ago, my wife and I were vacationing on the big island of Hawai'i. During our stay, there was a half Ironman event hosted at our resort. Lots of excitement surrounded the event as I watched participants wheel in their multi-thousand dollar bikes. The idea crossed my mind that I should do a full Ironman triathlon, but it didn't stick. All it did was get me to run a few miles... and those few miles exhibited exactly why I shouldn't run an Ironman triathlon. During a mere 4-mile run, I wound up walking about 2 miles. I was terribly out of shape.
Less than a week later I was talking to a buddy of mine. He had done IM Louisville and he can run 7:30/mile pace for an entire marathon. I mentioned that I would like to one day do an Ironman and he said, "If you sign up, I'll do it too"
And that was all it took to sign up for IM NYC.
That was June 26th, 2011.
Why do an Ironman? In retrospect, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I didn't know how many hours (even though I'm terribly undertrained) would go into training for the event. I didn't know how much time would go into eating and sleeping just to recover from training. I didn't know how much time it would take just to prep my bike for a ride. I underestimated the Ironman from a time commitment perspective. Toss in a building a business and having a baby and you wind up with a serious time crunch when it comes to training.
So why do an Ironman? I had something to prove. That isn't new because I always seem to have something to prove. My last event was a half Ironman in 2008. I was even more seriously undertrained and I wound up finishing the event around 8 hours. I had gone out too quickly and burned out in the first half of the ride. Additionally I had saddle sores that forced me off the bike multiple times. By the time I got to the run I had nothing left. I walked most of the run.
That fear still looms large as I fly into JFK today.
I enter this event undertrained but not as undertrained as I was last time. I am a lot smarter. I know what to expect. I know what pitfalls I must avoid in order to finish my event. My only goal is to finish so I know what the time cutoffs are for me to finish my event (there are cutoffs for each leg of the event). My goal is to have an uneventful event and manage the problems because there will be problems. My problems will be saddle soreness, gastral-intestinal problems, hydration problems, cramps, flat tires, potential accidents on the bike, falling on the run, and pain pain pain. Running an Ironman is like managing a meltdown at a nuclear power plant. Something is going to fail. The whole place is going to hell in a hand basket. The only question is if you can hold off the inevitable long enough to get everyone out of harm's way.
But you don't have to do an Ironman. I suppose not. But there are lot of things you don't have to do in life. You don't have to buy a house. You don't have to have a career. You don't have to have kids. Ironman is something that I've always wanted to do. It's an exclusive club that I want to be a part of. I've met more doctors than I've met Ironman finishers. Call it a bucket list thing.
What makes you an Ironman? This is a great question. If you look at the Ironman participants, there isn't an obvious physical archetype. Sure, being able to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles probably requires a somewhat fit person but you'd be surprised. Ironman come in all shapes and sizes, big and small. So I think the one archetypal Ironman trait is the Ironman mentality. That no matter what you're faced with, you will endure and prevail. That you get really good at managing pain. That you are really good all alone and can fight that mental battle. That you can dedicate yourself to something and finish it. That's what makes you an Ironman. It's not the physical attributes so much as it is the psychological strength and persistence to endure and potentially conquer the event.
What does the Ironman mean to you? A few weeks ago I realized that training for IM NYC had become a lifestyle. I was starting to think what I would do after IM NYC was over. Would I would still train after the event was over? And during the philosophical pondering of those questions I realized that I had become the machine. It was no longer an act. The training had become an integral part of who and what I was. I had absorbed running and cycling as part of my (almost) daily routine. It no longer hurt to run 6 miles (without stretching). I felt normal when I trained.
There are huge parallels between training for Ironman and running LUCIMA as a brand. It comes down to an issue/question of identity. As many of you know LUCIMA started out as a brand (actually started out as a name for the website). But sometime during the process of running the brand, I realized that the distinction between the brand and me as an actual person was nearly indistinguishable. I was as much a part of the brand as the brand was a part of me. These days I try to maintain some separation between my real life and LUCIMA but that's easier said than done. I am the LUCIMA machine as much as I have become the Ironman machine.
Training for IM NYC made me a better person. Even though it required long hours and meant that I spent many hours alone, it is obvious that the positives outweigh the negatives. Ironman has given me more energy, makes me smarter and funnier (I think better and faster after training), given more lung capacity (and VO2max), given me permission to eat whatever the hell I want to eat, and gives me a confidence to do pretty much anything that I want. It's given me time to reflect on my work and it forced me to face some of my biggest fears (such as my fear of failure). (Interestingly the same is mostly true of running LUCIMA as a brand). Last but certainly not least is that training for IM NYC has taught me that life is short . Though not faced with immediate life/death problems, there were many training rides and runs that had me wondering whether or not I'd make it home in one piece. Getting lost, freezing out in the cold, no food no water, no one to help you, etc. It made me appreciate life and friends/family a little bit more. It made me realize that my time on Earth is "borrowed" and that at any time my number might be up. So more than anything Ironman has reinforced the saying, "Live as if you'll die today, dream as if you'll live forever."
(fast forward 2 days)
It's about 4 hours before I board the ferry to the transition dock. Today should be an interesting day. When everything is said and done I stand by the saying that I tell all my workshop photographers, "You get as much as you want out of it". So I'm going to go to Ironman NYC and enjoy the hell out of this event. I'm going to thank the volunteers that hand me food and water. I'm going to cheer on my fellow participants. I'm going to appreciate the race to the fullest of my degree. Because that's what I want out if it. The pain I can handle. The suffering from regret, I can't.