This past year, I have been a member of a Facebook group that was set up by the
Ironman brand organizers for people who registered to do an Ironman for the first time. Can you believe that about 70% of the participants in Ironman Barcelona 2017 had done an Ironman before? The more I have spoken with people, the more I have discovered that lots of people get hooked on the race. Some people do more than one Ironman race in a single year!
The Facebook group was really helpful. Being a complete novice, it was helpful for me to see how other people trained, what their plans were for what to wear during the race (one piece vs two piece), how they planned to go to the toilet (stop at a port-a-potty vs peeing on oneself while cycling/running…yes, that seems to actually be quite common), what their nutrition plans were for the race, etc. Once people in the group participated in the various Ironman races around the world, many posted reports on how their races went, most of them successful but some not. It was as inspiring to hear the stories of those who crossed the finish line as it was to hear the stories of those who did not. In both cases, a tremendous effort was had, sacrifices were made, and strength and determination shone brightly. There was so much to learn from every story.
As my race day neared, my nerves began to fall apart. During the major part of my training I was able to keep my mind focused on getting through one session at a time. I didn’t need to think about “the race”. I just needed to get through a training session. I could do that. Tapering began three weeks before the race. I started feeling fatigued. The race was also suddenly becoming so much more of a reality, which frightened the heck out of me.
It was around this time that someone in the Ironman beginners’ Facebook group wrote that he finished his race, but he wasn’t feeling, like others had expressed, that he had done something absolutely amazing. I think lots of people took that in a negative way. But when I read his post my immediate thought was, “I want that! That’s how I want to feel about this race!”
In the last three weeks before my race, my head had turned it into some kind of monster. I’m normally quite good at recognizing my thoughts and dealing with them through self-conversations. But for three weeks, I couldn’t converse myself into perceiving the race for what it was, just another race, instead of it being either a human-gobbling creature from beyond the after-life, or a you-must-finish-this-race-because-it’s-the-most-important-thing-you’ll-ever-do. Mentally, I knew it wasn’t either. Physically, every fiber in my body and mind were telling me otherwise.
I was incapable of shaking the feeling until my body hit the water for the swim portion of the actual event. It was then that everything in me shifted from fear of the unknown to comfort in the known. I had trained for this specific event for months. I had been competing in triathlons for about three years. I knew how to do this. It was familiar. I enjoyed every minute of the race, and that says a lot because I don’t usually enjoy training. I do it to keep fit. If there was another way to keep fit and to develop mental strength without the aches and pains of exercise, and without getting up early in the morning or jumping into cold lakes, I would be doing it.
Crossing the finish line was AMAZING. It was such an exhilarating experience. It’s the same exhilaration I’ve had crossing any finish line. I feel exhilarated when I finish a 5km parkrun in my local town in the UK. The training may be difficult, but seeing the results of that training is always worth it.
It was during the race that I realized, “This is just another race! That is all this is. It won’t eat me alive. My life doesn’t depend on it. It is just another race.”
That sudden release of stress that I felt hitting the water may have helped me do so much better than I had expected to do. I was no longer worrying about how well I would do or if I could. I was just doing.
When I crossed the finish line I was very happy. But not for one minute did I feel like I had done something that only a limited number of people in this world can do. What I felt was, “Well, if I can do this, pretty much anyone with the resources could too.”
That feeling continues to linger with me ten days later.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll boast about actually finishing an Ironman to anyone who will listen to me. But my feeling is that I’ve done another race and I’ve shown myself yet again that I can do whatever I put my mind to. Now, what do I want to focus on next? What will help me feel like I am living life to the fullest?
Not another Ironman race. Not anytime soon anyways (although I have registered for another half-distance event next year). I can see why people continue to do these full-distance Ironman races. They can be enjoyable experiences and the training keeps you really fit. I’m sure it’s also nice to try to beat your previous time(s) or to compete in more difficult Ironman races.
But I have so many other things I want to do in life. There are so many other experiences to be had. I race to keep fit, not because racing is my objective. And I keep fit so that I can go places and see things that are beyond the city limits and that don’t involve getting there using mechanized transportation.
So for now, I won’t get the Ironman tattoo. I won’t frame my Ironman medal. It has gone into a folder with my other medals from other races. What I will do is plan for my next adventure. For that, I’ll need to keep fit. I have a few more days of fluffy recovery time, and then it’s back to the gym and the roads. I’m actually looking forward to it (although the fluffy life has been GREAT).