Thursday, July 14, 2016

Less than two weeks to Ironman Lake Placid

Hard to believe but Ironman Lake Placid is just 10 days away and the taper is well under way. Like many long distance racers I find the taper period harder in many ways than the long training. My legs feel like hell even as I have barely done anything this week!!!! In a rational way this makes no sense, yet this is how it always is. Next week I expect to get hit with a case of the "marathon flu"* for at least a day or two.

This will be my 6th time at the distance, 3rd try at this particular course. Lots of thoughts about making it to the line as well as what I have to do on July 24th. Just getting to start an Ironman-distance race is incredible. To be healthy enough at 46 years of age to swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 miles in the Adirondack Mountains, then run a marathon is just incredible. I am truly grateful I have the ability to do this. No matter what happens on race day, just getting to the beach for the start is a win.

Like past efforts this one has been a long journey. Last July I was in Lake Placid as a race day
volunteer with Cassie and The Mayor, signing up for this year's race the following day. While it hasn't consumed my life, I have thought about race day a lot since the moment I handed over my credit card to pay for the race.

Ironman training is a discipline. The past few years I have been self-coached which takes a different kind of discipline. The only person I'm responsible to is myself. When I was coached in the past it was a great experience, but one that began to not suit me. Just as you need to be disciplined enough to get the work done, you also need to know when the workload is too much. I am wired to work my ass off, which worked for a good long time. As I moved from my 30s into my 40s I found what had been my strength (the ability to get the work done) had started to become a weakness. Drilling yourself into the ground is great, but not if you can't function correctly for three days, or it leads to injury.

I think back to last December and a run I was doing with a few of my training partners. Both of my mates had never trained with me when I was really focused on getting into top shape for an event of this distance. Yes, they were with me for my Ironman Florida training, but that was done after April knee surgery. I trained hard, but training had to be limited. I pretty sure they didn't believe me when I said I had a way I would be training, which is different than what they had previously experienced. Going into this year I had a plan.

This might not be exactly what tapering is, but after weeks of
long training days it's sure what it feels like.
There were some notable departures from years past. My overall mileage was much less than I did for any of my other Ironman events, with the exception of run training for IMFL (just 6 months post-knee surgery). Intensity was higher than ever via intervals. But more easy as well. Hard is hard and easy is easy. That grey area many of us have a propensity to train in? Not me.

If my body wasn't ready to go I would bag a workout. If I felt a little niggle in my calf I would stop running for three days then reevaluate the situation. Still an issue? Two more days with no run. These two simple, rational things kept me able to train on a consistent basis with no injuries.

So now that the training is over it is about getting race ready. These two weeks are about getting rid of fatigue and getting my head ready to race. This is not my first rodeo. Tapering is something I don't necessarily like but I am pretty good at getting the body ready to race. Mentally I need to be prepared to suffer. Specifically, here is I think I need to do come race day:

Pacing - This isn't just me, this is really what we all have to do. OK, the pros are a different story, but for the rest of us a successful Ironman is all about proper pacing. On the swim I have no worries. Every time I have raced a 70.3 or longer my swim has either been paced where it could be or, more so than not, slower than I am capable of. I am not a swimmer and am mostly self taught. I am good, but in a non-swimmer kind of way. My expectations are very reasonable. On the opposite end of the race is my run. Even at IMFL I had trouble on the back end holding it together. Go out at my slow and maintain it. Which leads to ...

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2008
Control myself on the bike - I love, love, love to ride my bike. I have expectations on the bike. I can climb. Give me a series of rollers and my smile can get in the way. And that, my friends, has been my biggest problem at this distance. Ironman is a controlled effort that I am not programmed for. As much as I dislike the deep suffering one can have on the run, I really enjoy it on the bike. This is completely backwards!!! For 112 miles I need to make sure I ride within myself so bad things don't happen later on. That means I can ball down the descent to Jay, but "just ride along" for the long climb from the base of Whiteface Mountain back into town ... TWICE. Must. Have. Control.

Nutrition and Hydration - One of the problems I have always faced at this distance is the desire to keep shoving liquids and calories into my pie hole. What makes this worse is I am a heavy, salty sweater so "forgetting" to hydrate for 45 minutes can be devastating. Ten years ago at my first Ironman in Lake Placid I screwed it up so bad that my upper body was cramping, I thought I had a little green man walking the last few miles with me, and the last half-marathon took 3 1/2 hours to complete. I think I figured it out in Florida two years ago, but that was a cool weather race.

This is what bad bike pacing looks like at
mile 15 of the run.
Listen to My Body - I have always had a habit of getting a bit too robotic when I race long. When I considered myself to be a runner I would have a marathon pace and stick to it until it didn't work. Over the last few years I have changed my approach and started to listen to the signals the body was giving me at any given time. Racing the Philadelphia R&R 1/2 Marathon last year I beat my goal time by not running a pace but by letting how was was feeling dictate weather I pushed the pace or held back for a few minutes. Given my history this is probably most important for me on the bike.

Discipline - Everything up to this point comes down to discipline. I have always told my coaching clients who are racing the Ironman distance for the first time that they should think of it as the longest training day of their lives. That takes the ability to stay within yourself and just continue to move forward while staying present enough to do what needs to be done to continue on. The first four items on my list come down to maintaining my discipline all day long.

Keep the Demons Away on the Run - That little voice inside your head can be the best thing, and the worst thing, when racing. At this distance I have never found that voice to be very helpful. This year that has to change. I have a mantra. I will count my steps. I will focus on my form. I had this for almost 17 miles in Florida before my legs just gave out on me. With the almost nonexistent run miles I had for that race I was happy to make it that far. This year I have another 9 miles to quash the negative self-talk. Bottom line is I just need to harden the F&$k up and shut down the negative self talk.

As always, thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

*The "Marathon Flu" is what I have always referred to as that feeling during race week that you are getting sick. That little scratch in your throat that you normally ignore, or the achy body that is a result of actual muscular healing? That's the marathon flu. Can really screw with your mind.