There are four points in every long-course race (defined as half- and full-iron-distance triathlon) where I officially retire from the sport. Over the past four years, that’s roughly 50+ retirements. (Although highly complex math, such elementary school addition, is not my forte, so it might be more).
- Point #1: Being called to the water for the swim start. In general, I find it easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy to stay calm, cool and collected leading up to the race. Until, that is, the summonsing to the water. Then, the sensation is that of my Vitamix blender making a smoothie out of my innards, which were recently force fed a spicy Mexican buffet. Get the picture? Even a mere whiff of neoprene can bring it on—it’s a Pavlovian thing.
- Point #2: The first 15 miles of the bike when the body is trying to transition from swimming to cycling—especially courses like Ironman Lake Placid that warm you up with a grinding six-mile climb. There is something about this early stage of the ride that feels demoralizing—that psychologically makes it easy to decide that you suck, your bike sucks, your race wheels are crap and your aero helmet has a parachute out the back. These thoughts are ping-ponging in your brain with a mere 120.2 miles to go. The good news is that after years of racing, I know to expect it and that it will pass (except when it doesn’t pass, which is whole different blog post).
- Point #3: This usually comes late in the bike, when the back, shoulders, ass and undercarriage rebel against the pretzel-like contortioning better known as “getting aero.” It’s that point when the stomach, taste buds and gag reflex all simultaneously say “Hell no” to another serving of pre-packaged snot that marketing gurus call sports gel. It’s also the point when I start thinking I’d sell my bike and all three kids to anyone standing on the side of the road with a hamburger.
- Point #4: The onset of sledgehammer legs—usually late in the run. Folks, this doesn’t require much explanation. Just imagine someone taking a sledgehammer to your quads, hammies and calves. If all goes well, sledgehammer legs don’t appear until late, late, late. In which case, you’re close enough to the finish to suck it up and execute a Chariots of Fire finish. However, if you are in fact having a sucky race (see point #1), then it can show up early, say six miles into the marathon. In which case, no Chariots of Fire moment for you—just 20 miles of weeping and waddling.
With a few exceptions, these points of a long-course race are a reality (at least for me). And after years of racing, I know these points in the race will come. I hate them. I mentally retire when in them. But then, afterwards, I put it all back into perspective and find myself on active.com paying big bucks for yet another whack at it. Why? Because I’ve friggin’ loved this sport and all the maniac episodes that come with it.
But as this season draws to a close, the tenor is different. See, training for long-course has always had pros and cons, but as long as the pros outweigh the cons, well, onward. But what if the cons start to outweigh the pros?
I have a good friend who refers to life’s general balancing act as the “wheel of focus.” Her theory is that all the things important to you are given equal space on a wheel (think Wheel of Fortune-style). This includes family, friends, work, triathlon, cross-dressing, underwater basket weaving, you name it. However, only one thing at a time can be at the top of the wheel. Whatever is on top is not necessarily the only important thing—merely the thing that, at that point in time, you have the bandwidth or need to focus on fully. As you go through life, the wheel spins, putting different things at different times into the focus zone.
I feel grateful that life has been humming along nicely, often allowing me to put racing into the focus zone. But now, I need to spin the wheel. This doesn’t mean quitting altogether, but moving away from the long stuff to free up the focus zone. And the reason I know this is because, at long last, my cons of long-course racing have started to outweigh the pros:
- Constant fatigue. I’m tired of being tired. There. I said it. There’s a chronic, underlying level of fatigue that comes with high-volume training, especially when mixed with parenting young kids. It’s not always an obvious “I’m about to fall asleep in my spaghetti” type of fatigue but more of an insidious “I’m just going through the motions, checking all the boxes here” type of tiredness. Instead of being in the moment, I’m often trying to just get through the moment—pretending to smell the roses, if you will. It’s not fair to family and friends to be in that state indefinitely.
- Family Stress. Okay, another unpopular truth: while family time rocks, it can throw those in high-volume training mode into a highly-anxious tail spin. I can’t truly relax for fear of detraining or missing something. It makes me edgy—and certainly not a fun “in the moment” vacation partner. And don’t even get me started on the expense of racing.
- Irritability. This may not be true for everyone, but I have to admit that for me, the end result of weeks of high volume is akin to a caged wolverine being poked repeatedly with a skewer: one meltdown away from court-ordered anger management therapy. I can keep it at bay about 84.3% of the time. That’s no longer good enough.
Let me be clear: this is not a “woe is me” sob story. Instead, it’s an honest realization that all these cons were outweighed by the awesome rush of racing long-course for years. But now the rush has ebbed to a slow trickle and the cons are bigger than the pros. Performance is slipping.
So, time to spin the wheel and focus on a less time-demanding endeavor for a bit, like training for an ultra-marathon. Just kidding—makin’ sure you’re still awake.
But don’t count me out. Qualifying for Kona is still in the plans—I’m just going to wait until I’m in the W85-89 age group. It’s not that I expect to be super fast at that point in my life. I just expect everyone else to be super dead.