2 months ago I competed in my 3rd full Ironman at Mt Tremblant Canada. It was a long time in the making with an extensive period (10 months) of season planning and commitment to workouts. I left Canada tired, beat up both physically and more so mentally, feeling a little lost and defeated. My immediate impulse was to jump into another cycle with a deep desire to rally the fitness I had to prove something, as close friends were doing in Tremblant Worlds, Muskoka and Maryland. Unfortunately it was quickly apparent that although the desire was there the drive to put in 3 sessions a day was gone, struggling to get the mental capacity for just one. I became a mad man putting workouts, race options, etc. down on paper but no matter how hard I tried I could not execute. Finally, about three weeks after Tremblant I came to the realization that it wasn’t going to happen, I had nothing left, and with that in mind I considered another option, finish out the season racing for fun.
The idea of racing for fun should be a straight forward concept, as in question – “why do you do triathlons?” answer – “because they’re fun”. I’ve been known to put on a costume to do a fall road race or two. Last year I enjoyed a couple 10k wins and a respectable finish at the Rock and Roll Los Angeles Halloween Half Marathon, the theme of that period being to train light and race hard, rejuvenate the system through building ego by capitalizing on strengths and ignoring weaknesses.
What I had left on the calendar this year was Silverman 70.3, and instead of squeezing in another 3 build weeks I decided to race a couple fun events, the Malibu Classic sprint distance triathlon and the running leg of the LA triathlon. The Malibu was a last minute add through a friend looking for a standby in the celebrity division. The race was beautiful, difficult, slow, but above all exciting, participating amongst local celebrities and ex-Olympians.
This being my first sprint distance triathlon I explained afterward how Ironmans are difficult to finish because your body is exhausted where sprints are difficult to finish because your body is fresh, there being no restrictions on the pace. That in mind I tried to hold low 5min miles for the 4 mile run portion and ended up hurting my right calf after a mile, probably from pushing my body harder than it was accustomed to.
I took the next week off from running to get ready for the 10k leg of a relay team in the LA triathlon. I had raced this event last year and enjoyed the experience, beginning in the ocean at Venice Beach and finishing downtown LA, amongst participants and spectators form the LA Tri Club and Tower 26. Unbeknownst to anyone leading up to race weekend was just how horrible the new course was in Torrance Beach, with a fun surprise, the run portion being not only incredibly hilly but half on sand!! Foolishly I ran, having committed to my team, but did some harm to my legs and calf from going hard as I could on loose sand. In the end we won by like 20 minutes, with the fastest bike and run splits, but the victory felt very underwhelming.
The result of some weak decisions coupled with intense burn out was Silverman 70.3. A race I competed in last year as 70.3 Worlds under similar conditions (a couple weeks after my training bike was stolen and race bike deemed defective). It was another two weeks off from running and my calf was hurting me from a 4 mile easy run I had done at 7:30 pace 3 days before the event, so I was fairly certain I would only be aqua biking at best. The briefest synopsis of this race is that it SUCKED! Hot, windy, hilly, and slow. My calf hurt running from the water into transition so I accepted that I would not be doing the 13.1. I raced the bike as if there was no run at the end, even though effort was hard pace was pathetic (first time under 20mph!), and more significantly my fueling was as if I was only doing an aquabike, stomach starting to growl as I got into T2.
I was divided about trying to run but I figured I’d give it a shot and was shocked to not feel any pain. I was certain it would come but nearing the first of three laps there was nothing, not so obvious by my crawl of a pace. This was my 3rd 70.3 this season, running 1:21’s on hilly courses in both my previous races, one being the fastest overall run split, but on this day I could barely get it under 8min miles. I kept looking for places to quit, knowing I could use my calf as an excuse, but couldn’t find the strength to stop. Finally I ran into a triathlete friend, Pro Jim Lubinski who I asked what to do. He said I could quit, but I’d have the rest of my career/life to live with it, so I decided to keep going for as long as I could and ended up finishing in a slow 1:51, which felt longer and harder than any of my previous Ironman marathons.
Silverman brought up an interesting question which is ‘why so much significance on finishing?’ I met a girl after the race who, full of emotion, told me she had DNF’d for the first time and wept on the course. She was battling health issues that led to her being unable to complete the run. I have known pros to walk it in due to nutrition and even broken bones, I have a friend who completed an Ironman on a stress fracture, I have seen multiple athletes cross the finish line bloody from bike crashes. Is there a point to make by pushing through pain and discomfort once your goal race is no longer achievable? Is it sign of character or ignorance form the extra trama it can create for the body? Is it different for pros and age groupers, fast and slow?? I have never dropped out of a race but at the same time, excluding my first ever half I have never gone over 5 hours. Even if the calf issue wasn’t there, I paid, traveled and showed up to race with a purpose and once that objective was unachievable was there any significance left in enduring suffering for a finisher’s medal??
I am not suggesting either side is right, and I am not defending habitual DNF’ers who under train, just presenting the question as it was all that was going through my mind in the last hour of my race. I’d love to get opinions on this. I think of the AG athlete fighting for a Worlds spot or podium who works hard day in and day out but for any number of reasons is unable to execute and pulls out so as to be able to resume training the following day in working to that goal in the next opportunity. I can also picture the first timer choosing a hellish course like Silverman, writhing in agony in medical (as I witnessed post-race) from crawling across the finish line. Both are admirable. I guess the answer lies in finding acceptance with your decision to finish or not as you are the only one you have to answer to. I have my opinion, but I could see it changing with time.
As to the notion of racing for fun I have decided that for me, at the age of 30, fun is what I have with my friends outside and around the race, my reward is a sense of accomplishment (not fun) from going fast, working hard, and competing to the best of my ability. At the Surf City Half marathon this year I distinctly remember the sensation of running shoulder to shoulder with another athlete toward the finishing shoot, knowing with confidence that I could out kick him, and a feeling of excitement for a new PR at first glance of the clock. Some day in the distant future I’ll be that old guy at a 5k racing with my shirt off and drinking beer at the finish, but between now and then my opportunities for PR’ing are numbered, a consideration I hope to help motivate me through the start of next season.
Thus concludes the 2014, where I posted PR’s in the half marathon, marathon, half Ironman and Ironman. I look forward to taking those numbers on in 2015, but first a much needed break!