The Emotion of Ironman Triathlon at 53

The emotion of Ironman triathlon has caught me.

I keep telling myself that I can write this in a week or two.

But I can’t.

In two weeks it will be over. As my fingers type this post out it’s Wednesday. One week from Sunday I’ll be doing this thing.

It wasn’t the experience I thought it would be.

It never is.

Neither this sixth experience of the emotion of Ironman triathlon or any of the marathons I’d done before were what I expected. I’d always based that expectation on what had happened during the one before it. Though that isn’t what I’d done with this one since I’d purposely planned to do less volume and more intensity it’s compulsive to compare.

You go to yoga, you compare your outfit to the one in the front of the room. You compare your pose to hers.

You go to the store and compare contents of your shopping cart to the one you pass in the isle.

You compare your dirty car to the spotless one in the parking lot.

It’s worth trying. But it’s hard not to compare how I felt going into the last week-to-10 days before other races and the emotion of Ironman triathlon events I’ve done. There are things that tell me I’m normal at this point in time.

Like the inability to think straight.

Like the check and recheck of reservations and times for bike shipping and race checkin that I find myself doing.

Like the lists of last minute things that are probably 80% unnecessary but somehow must make me feel like I’m more prepared.

Like the feeling I’m not ready, I haven’t done enough, I should have done another long run, or gotten up earlier on those swim days to fit in work, appointments, and longer swims more consistently.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that I’m doing this one in survival mode rather than full on training mode. I’m testing the bare minimum of training with a less-is-more approach.

It’s hard to ignore that I’ve put together a lose training program for myself based on three different coaches I’ve worked with, my time and travel constraints, and that it’s at this point not having a coach becomes most challenging.

The emotion of Ironman training is a leg of the race no one talks about. They talk transitions (from swim to bike, and bike to run) and about nutrition and sleep. But this is the stuff that media broadcasts talk about and stir up.

It comes down to wanting it and overcoming the discomfort during the race. It comes down to planning the hydration, and nutrition more carefully than anything else because at this point you don’t control anything else. You’ve done the work or not. You’re as strong and as aligned as you’ll be, you have as much endurance and stamina as you’re going to have.

It’s now about not doing anything silly in a last workout that will waste energy you want to be there on race day. It’s just about staying tuned up.

It’s about not gawking at elite bodies when you arrive or listening to stories about other people’s training or what they’re going to do even in those last few days approaching the race.

It comes down to now having planned the work, working the plan. You have to trust yourself and stay your course.

I’m staying at a hotel away from the main expo and the meetings. It’s away from the finish line enough to matter. I nearly ended up at the race hotel but it was full by the time I was booking and then it became a need for dependable internet. Like football coaches take their teams to hotels the night before a game, and golf coaches book their teams away from the rest of the competition, controlling your environment and the stimulation you have is important.

In the end, it comes down to your mindset. Your body is what it is at this point. Your job is to let in only the thoughts that help you and release the others. You need details and facts and then you need to avoid all else. O.P. (other people’s) fears, dreams, worries, plans … can’t be yours. This is where the emotion of Ironman triathlon can make your experience or rob you of it.

I’ve kept this post “safe” until now. Have you noticed? I drifted into “you” instead using “I.”

I feel pretty vulnerable right now.

My honest reveal of emotion of Ironman triathlon right now? I am most worried about the run. Of all things I’ve put in less time on my feet and fewer miles. Both.

I remind myself I can walk it and inevitably there will be a significant amount of walking. I’m OK with that. Strategy-wise I plan to follow a run-walk from the beginning. An Ironman triathlon isn’t a speed race, at least not for me.

I also remind myself that I could not possibly feel worse starting the run this year than I did in the Cozumel Ironman triathlon 2012 when I had nothing but water and a single Power Bar during 112-miles on the bike. I managed to wrestle a teenage volunteer out of a half a banana at some point over half way though the bike leg. [By comparison I was used to taking in at least 4-5 times that.]

In 2012 I had just tearfully watched my son play his last season of high school golf, sign a letter of commitment to play golf at UNI, and was contemplating leaving my job, and hadn’t shared that with anyone yet. I wasn’t without other [besides the physical] stressors at that point in time. The emotion of Ironman triathlon that year was mixed in with so much of life I can’t be sure what I felt that day. I do know I was done. Cooked. Toast following that race. And then absolutely fine the next day.

This year I’m prepared. I’ll have more than enough food on me, and be prepared to add my own electrolytes to my water. I also know the impact of the emotions of Ironman triathlon better and plan to harness it.

Though I have a level of apprehension, like anyone would or does when you set a goal, a meaningful one, and you’re about to do it, it’s different. It’s as if I have a shield between me and the apprehension. No one is bleeding or dying or going to because I do or do not do this event or do it in 30 minutes more or 30 minutes less time than I predict.

emotion of Ironman triathlon training time The real emotion of Ironman triathlon

At this point in the last long bikes (last Sunday), last long runs (this last Monday), and last long swims (this coming Sunday), I have tears. I go to my “why,” as I insist every client and every participant in every program do. That “cry why” is a crucial reminder for me of two things: the significance and the insignificance of this race.

The significance for me is not about a physical feat. If you’re on the outside looking in it may seem that is the focal point. It’s so not. Perhaps for elites or even age group athletes who’ve switched to focusing on wanting a podium finish that’s true, too. For me there’s no denying that additional tone or a new definition from a little more swimming is nice… but it’s so minimal… you (and I mean you), can achieve that in two short swims a week, the “extra” from endurance training is minimal.

It’s where my friend Dr. Stuart McGill might say the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. In less eloquent terms, the threshold of no returns was passed a long time ago in endurance training. I’ve in fact been more toned and defined on a fraction of exercise… 20 minutes a day to be specific.

The significance comes down to every person and every memory I’ve loved and felt deeply in my life. It’s what brings the tears at the starting line of a race or during the middle of these long workouts this week. I am glad to be alive. I’m glad for every person who by no accident has been in my life or is there now. All those bittersweet and poignant moments flood in. Monday on my run I found myself thinking about my oldest (10-year old) great nephew. I had been thinking about his dad who was killed in June of 2016, and how doing this race has significance for me in living fully. He has been such a shining example. I have put things off during the past. I’ve decided not to do things… yet, or that the timing isn’t right.

It’s never right. And the plain truth is life, and death, are never convenient. You better get on with it. I’m traveling to Cozumel alone, but I don’t feel alone. The people around me most likely to go along just can’t right now. Someone said, so you just like to do these things yourself? I was taken back a little… and laughed… “No, no, of course not, I just don’t let that stop me!”

 I am way past asking for permission. I don’t need someone to go with me to have someone be with me.

All those people will be with me. Every one of them, along with a few angels.

emotion of Ironman triathlon training swimIt’s never been and will never be about race day for me. It’s about the human race. The simplicity of using a strategic plan to change the status of the human body and increase the strength, stamina, and change markers of aging. (More on telomeres, mitochondria, and brain function when emotion doesn’t win over science in my topic!)

So this race has significance. I decided Monday during my trail run that I am giving my nephew my medal. I want the memory not the medal after all. And, you know, I get the t-shirt! Really what I treasure is the race water bottle truth be told.

This race is also so insignificant. The emotion of Ironman training is the emotion of life. I’ve thought about what could go wrong. And really, it doesn’t matter.

The last time I did Cozumel the water was pretty choppy evidently. I didn’t realize. But a hundred or more athlete’s day ended there. They’d gotten sick. That could happen to me I suppose. I could realize what it was when jellyfish sting me this time and get hung up on that.

I could have some issues with heat and humidity on the bike. Wind was an issue last time as well. You never know what could happen on a bike. It’s not just you; a tire, a chain, or another rider could be an issue.

On the run, I clearly remember getting off the bike in Cozumel last time. I said to myself I must have been blocking this memory. Run, or cover, 26.2 miles now? Really?

Then again, it’s just a long workout, with friends, and a buffet. During long rides that had to be done on my trainer I watched 100-mile ultra runs on and reruns of Ironman world championships in Kona, HI. They’re inspiring. And just as you have to surround yourself with people who are choosing to eat better, sleep earlier, be less addicted to sugar and work and wine, and to exercise regularly even when it’s not convenient, I surrounded myself with people who think 100 mile runs are normal.

That makes what I’m about to do seem more balanced.

It’s the power of the mind and the emotion of Ironman triathlon that makes athletes want to return to it. You might say I’m crazy. Yes. Come on in. I’m crazy about life and experiencing it. You will not find a place where the human spirit is challenged or cherished more than when you’re reaching for something that other people say can’t be done. Or that you yourself wonder if can be done. Does it excite you and scare you both?


In the end… if a flat tire ruins my day or I struggle with not feeling good, it really is not the purpose of this whole exercise to finish the race. The purpose is to sign up. To start. No matter what I’ve still got another day of beach vacation in flip flops to face the tough decision about the chair by the pool or the chair by the ocean. No one is bleeding and no one is dying. It’s a tropical vacation for crying out loud.

emotion of Ironman triathlon training bike My niece, who became a widow a year and a half ago at age 34, said something to me one Sunday morning when I ran into her in the parking lot at the gym. As I was going inside to swim she was returning from a bike ride in the canyon.

“I want to get better riding on gravel.”

Who does that? Who says that?

I thought to myself on the way home after my swim. She’d been riding on gravel at that point for 14 months since Bill was killed.

We are all stronger than we think. You just don’t know what you’ve left unused until you look for it. Most of us don’t until we have to.

I’ll go. I’ll start. I do believe I’ll finish. I also believe this doesn’t define me. Not if I finish or how I do. What defines me is how I think about it after.

Harness the emotion of Ironman triathlon. It’s available to you, too. You don’t have to do an Ironman, a triathlon, or a race for that matter. You do have to find something that scares you a little, that attracts you, and you have to say, “yes” to the fact that it’s not convenient, it’s not the right time, and do it anyway.

The emotion is about the message. Who are you? What message are you sending yourself about who you are? When you find something that at first feels like a distraction taking time and energy away from what appears on your to-do list, it may actually be the beacon that makes the rest so much more clear and meaningful.

P.S. The next post will be on Thanksgiving from Cozumel. Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving early!

P. P.S. I’ll be testing my hormone levels to report on cortisol and adrenals within a couple days of my return on the 28th. I’ll compare them to the pre-training test done last June. I’ll also update body composition and weight changes along the way along with the self-report on sleep quality, stress, levels and mood and function.

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