Throughout my career in the sport of Ironman, and particularly this last year, I’ve found that training can be broken down into two sensations, comfort and discomfort. Large volume (to the amateur age grouper) has taught me to tolerate sitting in the saddle for up to 7 hours then getting off the bike to run 10 miles on frequent Saturdays, while still feeling good enough to go out, spend time with friends, and not completely crash as would be expected. As strange as it sounds this has become my comfort zone, typical weekends with moderate exertion levels for extreme periods of time. Discomfort is the term I would use to express the feeling in a race where you are not really allowed to test yourself until mile 134 (mile 20 of the run). It’s experienced while attempting to hold 7 minute miles after 9 hours of pushing with blisters developing and muscles on the verge of cramping. I consider both comfort and discomfort when pertaining to exertion levels to be mild terms.
Severe discomfort, or pain, is a feeling I have not pun put through in quite a while. A sense of agony such as that which was reserved for the last mile in a college 8k, attempting to negative split a sub 5, or in a road race averaging over 200+bpm. Even last night on the track running 5:20 mile repeats I couldn’t help but feel a sense of comfort from doing what I have done routinely for almost 10 years now. Perhaps it’s more of a mental aspect from the preserved understanding of exactly what my body is capable of so that I can cross the line with just enough energy as to not surpass my physical limitations.
One week ago I started with a very renowned swim program in the area called Tower 26 after finally admitting to a fact that was long overdue, I am a terrible swimmer. Since I have felt not only a sensation of discomfort that would be expected from switching my alarm to 4:50am and starting something completely new, but moreover a feeling of pain, perhaps absolute agony, that I have not experienced for a long time. Every morning that I’ve gotten in the water I’ve been asked to swim as fast, if not faster, than my fastest TT pace for intervals in workouts twice as long as I’ve been used to. To add to that already discomfort I’ve been challenged with different strokes (what triathlete swims the fly!!), and in a couple days I’ll join the rest of the group in drills when my snorkel, fins, ankle straps and buoy come in. I am afraid, VERY AFRAID!!
The experience has been a good one as it serves as just another example of the importance of getting out of your comfort zone to advance, in the sport of triathlon or whatever else. 5 months ago I started a new job and it was VERY intimidating and belittling to deviate from what I was used to, but finally in recent weeks I’ve started to adjust and it has allowed me to realize that there’s a potential for me to do new things, different things, that I never saw it in myself to achieve before. Equally challenging was moving to a new location and dealing with elements I hadn’t prepared myself for; crazy traffic, obscene parking tickets, getting robbed, etc that have since settled down and left me in love with a new city. Perhaps the best example is when I was a young snowboard instructor. At my best I was crashing every day, horrible, bone shattering crashes. The more difficult the trick and higher I got the more painful the fall but my mind was always far more on the reward than risk. It wasn’t until I stopped crashing that my ability ceased to improve.
It’s easy to get comfortable, even at a high level, but there is nothing more dangerous and detrimental to growth. I look forward to seeing how this whole Tower 26 thing plays out. This year my fastest 800 yard TT was over 12 minutes, 3 weeks ago I swam a 30:08 min 1500 open water to start the LA Tri, and this morning I practiced in the second slowest lane. I am eager to look back one year from now and revisit those numbers.
On a different note I’m happy to say I’ve discovered the secret to getting up early – beautiful scenery, warm temperatures and inspiring athletes. I’m not disappointed looking back to my mornings in Buffalo, crawling out of bed to negative temps and having to brush feet of snow off the Jeep in order to get to practice in the dark. It’s given me a unique sense of appreciation for what I have now making swimming under the stars in October and each sunrise that much sweeter.