Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ironman Eve

After 9 months and more than 450 hours of swimming, biking, and running, Ironman Chattanooga is now less than 12 hours away!  It's been an interesting season, filled with endless "learning opportunities."  Since I have plenty of nervous energy and nothing to do but relax in the hotel, here are some of my thoughts on the season.

1.  In the pool, I've built both distance as well as speed and for the first time, truly enjoy my swim workouts.   I won't ever have the speed of collegiate swimmers, but among an age-group field I can hold my own.  

2.  Biking was a heavy focus this year since I considered it to be my weakest link and also the longest portion of Iron-distance racing.  I trained with a power meter for the first time, developed a love/hate relationship with power intervals, enthusiastically anticipated every 4am trainer session, survived three 100+ mile rides, and thanks to some great friends I actually started to enjoy long bike rides.

3.  Running has been consistent, but nothing spectacular.  I gradually built mileage and managed to get by uninjured.  My longest run was 18 miles on one of the hottest and most humid days in Charlotte.  Although I've had some fast race times, the majority of my run training was on tired and sluggish legs, and thus running was the most frustrating sport of the three this year.

4.  Friends who are willing to spend six hours on a bicycle and then follow that with a ten mile run and never once complain are the best of friends.  I've had the fortune of meeting and training with some amazing athletes and great friends on our respective paths to Ironman success.  Andrew and Dana kicked butt at Ironman Louisville and I can't wait to celebrate with Jen, Kelly, Theoden, and many others tomorrow night in Chattanooga.

5.  Ironman training is both mentally and physically exhausting.  You walk a very fine line in an attempt to build sufficient training volume, prevent injury, and maintain your sanity.  Two months ago I was in the middle of some peak training weeks and was just shy of being ready to call it quits.  Fortunately I was encouraged by my coach, great training partners, and a supportive family and I rallied and kept moving forward.

6.  It is possible to train for an Ironman while averaging 60-80 hour work weeks.  Nobody said it was going to be easy to be an orthopedic resident and also an Ironman, but where there is a will there is a way.  Since January, I've only missed 7 total workouts, and three of those were when I was in bed with the stomach flu for several days.  Commitment and dedication were key, as well as an efficient training plan.

7.  Having a supportive family is without a doubt another key to my success.  Although they aren't close enough to bike alongside during my long runs, cook me recovery meals, or do my endless loads of dirty laundry, they've been with me every step of the way and I have no doubt will keep me moving and smiling tomorrow.

8.  The volume of food that I've consumed during these last couple months of training is a bit ridiculous.  Although it was initially quite fun to be able to eat as much as I wanted and still be hungry for more, I'm ready to go back to sleeping through the night and not waking up at midnight and finding myself in the kitchen downing a bowl of cereal.

And with that I think I'll call it quits for now.  I'm sure there are plenty of other thoughts that I'm forgetting about in my daze of nervous race energy, but I'll get back to you with those later.  I'll leave you with my projections for tomorrow's race and a few quotes that have been mantra throughout my training.

Swim: Less than 1 hour
Bike:  6:20 - 6:30
Run:  4 hours?  (total guess on this since I've never run a marathon before)

With a well executed race plan, I'd love to see a sub 12 hour time on the clock as I cross the finish.  Only time will tell.

"Ironman doesn't build character, it reveals it."

"If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done before"

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Ironman Taper

I read this anonymous motivational piece today and knew right away that I had to share it.  The Ironman journey has been without a doubt the hardest physical and mental challenge that I've taken on.  Just 10 more days until I put all of the training on the starting line in Chattanooga!

Right now you are about to enter the taper. Perhaps you've been at this a few months, perhaps you've been at this a few years. For some of you this is your first IM, for others, a long-overdue welcome back to a race that few can match. 
You've been following your schedule to the letter. You've been piling on the mileage, piling up the laundry, and getting a set of tan lines that will take until next year to erase. Long rides were followed by long runs, which both were preceded by long swims, all of which were followed by recovery naps that were longer than you slept for any given night during college. 
You ran in the snow. 
You rode in the rain. 
You ran in the heat. 
You ran in the cold. 
You went out when others stayed home. 
You rode the trainer when others pulled the covers over their heads. 
You have survived the Darwinian progression that is an Ironman summer, and now the hardest days are behind you. Like a climber in the Tour de France coming over the summit of the penultimate climb on an alpine stage, you've already covered so much ground...there's just one more climb to go. You shift up, you take a drink, you zip up the jersey; the descent lies before you...and it will be a fast one. 
Time that used to be filled with never-ending work will now be filling with silent muscles, taking their final, well-earned rest. While this taper is something your body desperately needs, your mind cast off to the background for so very long, will start to speak to you. 
It won't be pretty. 
It will bring up thoughts of doubt, pain, hunger, thirst, failure, and loss. It will give you reasons why you aren't ready. It will try and make one last stand to stop you, because your brain doesn't know what the body already does. Your body knows the truth: 
You are ready. 
Your brain won't believe it. It will use the taper to convince you that this is foolish - that there is too much that can go wrong. 
You are ready. 
Finishing an Ironman is never an accident. It's the result of dedication, focus, hard work, and belief that all the long runs in January, long rides in April, and long swims every damn weekend will be worth it. It comes from getting on the bike, day in, day out. It comes from long, solo runs. From that first long run where you wondered, "How will I ever be ready?" to the last long run where you smiled to yourself with one mile to go...knowing that you'd found the answer. 
It is worth it. Now that you're at the taper, you know it will be worth it. The workload becomes less. The body winds up and prepares, and you just need to quiet your worried mind. Not easy, but you can do it. 
You are ready. 
You will walk into the water with 2000 other wide-open sets of eyes. You will look upon the sea of humanity, and know that you belong. You'll feel the chill of the water crawl into your wetsuit, and shiver like everyone else, but smile because the day you have waited for so VERY long is finally here. 
You will tear up in your goggles. Everyone does. 
The helicopters will roar overhead. 
The splashing will surround you. 
You'll stop thinking about Ironman, because you're now racing one. 
The swim will be long - it's long for everyone, but you'll make it. You'll watch as the shoreline grows and grows, and soon you'll hear the end. You'll come up the beach and head for the wetsuit strippers. Three people will get that sucker off before you know what happening, then you’ll head for the bike. 
The voices, the cowbells, and the curb-to-curb chalk giving you a hero's sendoff can't wipe the smile off your face. 
You'll settle down to your race. The crowds will spread out on the road. You'll soon be on your bike, eating your food on your schedule, controlling your Ironman. 
You'll start to feel that morning sun turn to afternoon sun. It's warmer now. Maybe it's hot. Maybe you're not feeling so good now. You'll keep riding. You'll keep drinking. You'll keep moving. After all, this is just a long training day with valet parking and catering, right? 
You'll put on your game face, fighting the urge to feel down as you ride for what seems like hours. You reach special needs, fuel up, and head out. 
By now it'll be hot. You'll be tired. Doubts will fight for your focus. Everyone struggles here. You've been on that bike for a few hours, and stopping would be nice, but you won't - not here. Not today. 
You'll grind the false flats to the climb. You'll know you're almost there. You'll fight for every inch of road. The crowd will come back to you here. Let their energy push you. Let them see your eyes. Smile when they cheer for you - your body will get just that little bit lighter. 
You'll plunge down the road, swooping from corner to corner, chaining together the turns, tucking on the straights, letting your legs recover for the run to come - soon! You'll roll back - you'll see people running out. You'll think to yourself, "Wasn't I just here?" The noise 
will grow. The chalk dust will hang in the air - you're back, with only 26.2 miles to go. You'll relax a little bit, knowing that even if you get a flat tire or something breaks here, you can run the damn bike into T2. 
You'll roll into transition. 100 volunteers will fight for your bike. You'll give it up and not look back. You'll have your bag handed to you, and into the tent you'll go. You'll change. You'll load up your pockets, and open the door to the last long run of your Ironman summer - the one that counts. 
You'll take that first step of a thousand...and you'll smile. You'll know that the bike won't let you down now - the race is down to your own two feet. The same crowd that cheered for you in the shadows of the morning will cheer for you in the brilliant sunshine of a summer Sunday. High-five people on the way out. Smile. Enjoy it. This is what you've worked for all year long. 
That first mile will feel great. So will the second. By mile 3, you probably won't feel so good. 
That's okay. You knew it couldn't all be that easy. You'll settle down just like you did on the bike, and get down to your pace. You'll see the leaders coming back the other way. Some will look great - some won't. You might feel great, you might not. No matter how you feel, don't panic - this is the part of the day where whatever you're feeling, you can be sure it won't last. 
You'll keep moving. You'll keep drinking. You'll keep eating. Maybe you'll be right on plan - maybe you won't. If you're ahead of schedule, don't worry - believe. If you're behind, don't panic - roll with it. Everyone comes up with a brilliant race plan for Ironman, and then everyone has to deal with the reality that planning for something like Ironman is like trying to land a man on the moon. By remote control. Blindfolded. 
How you react to the changes in your plan will dictate your day. Don't waste energy worrying about things - just do what you have to when you have to, and keep moving. Keep eating. Keep drinking. Just don't sit down - don't EVER sit down. 
You'll make it to the halfway point. You'll load up on special needs. Some of what you packed will look good, some won't. Eat what looks good, toss the rest. Keep moving. Start looking for people you know. Cheer for people you don't. You're headed in - they're not. They want to be where you are, just like you wanted to be when you saw all those fast people headed into town. Share some energy - you'll get it right back. 
Run if you can. 
Walk if you have to. 
Just keep moving. 
The miles will drag on. The brilliant sunshine will yawn. You'll be coming up to those aid stations fully alive with people, music, and chicken soup. TAKE THE SOUP. Keep moving. 
You'll soon only have a few miles to go. You'll start to believe that you're going to make it. You'll start to imagine how good it's going to feel when you get there. Let those feelings drive you on. When your legs just don't want to move anymore, think about what it's going to be like when someone catches you…and puts a medal over your head... all you have to do is get there. 
You'll start to hear the people in town. People you can't see in the twilight will cheer for you. They'll call out your name. Smile and thank them. They were there when you left on the bike, and when you came back, and when you left on the run, and now when you've come back. 
You'll enter town. You'll start to realize that the day is almost over. You'll be exhausted, wiped out, barely able to run a 10-minute mile (if you're lucky), but you'll ask yourself, "Where did the whole day go?" You'll be standing on the edge of two feelings - the desire to finally stop, and the desire to take these last moments and make them last as long as possible. 
You'll hit mile 25. Your Ironman will have 1.2 miles - just 2KM left in it. 
You'll run. You'll find your legs. You'll fly. You won't know how, but you will run. The lights will grow brighter, brighter, and brighter. Soon you'll be able to hear the music again. This time, it'll be for keeps. 
Soon they'll see you. Soon, everyone will see you. You'll run towards the lights, between the fences, and into the night sun made just for you. 
They'll say your name. 
You'll keep running. 
Nothing will hurt. 
The moment will be yours - for one moment, the entire world will be looking at you and only you. 
You'll break the tape at the finish line, 140.6 miles after starting your journey. The flash will go off. 
You'll stop. You'll finally stop. Your legs will wobble their last, and capable of nothing more. 
Someone will catch you. 
You'll lean into them. 
It will suddenly hit you. 
You are ready. 
You are ready.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Six Hours on a Bicycle

Can you imagine spending six hours on a bicycle with nothing to think about besides the thoughts in your own head?  I have, and let me tell you, there are a ton of thoughts in one's head.  Throughout these 30+ weeks of Ironman training, I've learned a lot about myself.  Dedication, fitness, drive, determination, and strength are the good things.  Exhaustion, chronic soreness, early bedtimes, even earlier morning alarm clocks, and lack of a social life are the bad.  In the end though, it's been an incredible journey and one that I can't wait to write the final chapter to in just 3 WEEKS!

Let me catch you up on the past several weeks.  Training has gone well (easy for me to say now that it's behind me and the taper has officially begun!).  A couple weeks ago I made the trip to Chattanooga for a preview ride of the bike course.  I rode all 114 miles of the course - now so graciously lengthened and extra 2 miles for a grand total of 116 - and gained perspective on exactly what to expect on race day.  With the exception of the 10 miles in and out of Chattanooga, the remainder is nestled in the beautiful North Georgia mountains.  It's rolling terrain and a fair amount of elevation change, but only one significant climb.  Compared to the areas I ride in Charlotte and Atlanta, it's nothing to be intimidated about.

I got off the bike and my legs felt very good, despite that having been my longest ride.  I was out of time to do the run I had planned, but I drove the North Shore portion of the course and witnessed the hills from hell that will likely be the land of the walking dead on race day.

Fast forward another couple of weeks and I was back in Atlanta for the Labor Day weekend.  As expected, I had a long brick and a long run on the schedule.  Saturday I rode in Cartersville at the Bud Plant, where the terrain is similar but with more turns and steeper climbs than Chattanooga.

The carnage from long brick workouts is impressive.  Between the 8 water bottles, wrappers from consumed nutrition, sunscreen, multiple pairs of shoes, sunglasses, hat, helmet, cooler, bicycle, and recovery food, you literally need an SUV to contain it all.

Recovery has been taken to a whole different level this year.  I'm doing my best to take it very seriously, including a recovery shake within minutes after long efforts, ice baths, compression gear, hydration, stretching, yoga, etc.  I'd like to say that I'm getting tons of sleep, but an orthopedic surgery residency + training for an Ironman just is not a conducive combination for excess sleep.

Speaking of recovery, I'm doing plenty of eating!  One of the highlights from the past few weeks was dinner at Baku.  These pictures don't do justice to the volume of food that was brought to our table, but I can assure you, I think I consumed a couple days worth of calories in one meal.

Sushi and Sashimi Platter
Dessert - Creme Brûlée, Molten Chocolate Cake, Key Lime Pie,
Pineapple Bread Pudding, Sorbets, and Assorted Tropical Fruit
Labor Day weekend eats were nothing short of delicious, which is nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to my parents cooking.  Sunday morning was pure laziness and we feasted on poached eggs over tomato, spinach, and ezekial english muffin.

Sunday night I made comfort food for the whole family - vegan lentil walnut "meatloaf", mashed potatoes with vegan mushroom gravy, and roasted green beans.  It was the perfect evening for dining al fresco and spending time relaxing and chatting.

It's hard to believe that this will be the next to last training update that I'll share with you prior to race day.  After that, it will be an Ironman Chattanooga race report!  Several of my training partners and friends raced Ironman Louisville a couple weeks ago and the excitement of their race day helped to propel me through these last two weeks of peak training.

Week 31
Swim: 10800 yards
Bike: 9 hours, including 114 miles of the Ironman Chattanooga course
Run: 16 miles
Total: 14 hours, 30 minutes

Week 32
Swim: 10875 yards, including 4000m non-stop in 1:02
Bike: 6 hours
Run: 31 miles, including 18 mile long run off the bike
Total: 13 hours, 40 minutes

Week 33
Swim: 10650 yards
Bike: 8 hours, including 85 mile hilly ride
Run: 26.5 miles
Total: 15 hours

Week 34:  Early week recovery
Swim: 7500 yards
Bike: 8 hours, 20 minutes (including 82 miles Saturday followed by an hour run and 40 miles Sunday) 
Run: 23 miles
Total: 14 hours

And now, it's taper time.  Hopefully over these next three weeks I can set a few less 4am alarm clocks, string together some 8-hour sleep stretches, find some fresher legs, and most importantly, get really excited about the final chapter of this journey.