Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Things I learned from an Ironman

1. I'm really not a huge fan of the whole commercial aspect (it's a 180° from the low-key UTB I did in July), but I was able to buy into it for the weekend because with the Ironman brand, it is totally assumed - sort of like Las Vegas totally assumes its kitsch while Los Angeles (like the UTMB) pretends that it's not that way at all when it really is and is just trying to hide it. There's something to be said for experiencing once in your life the strobe lights, crowds and blaring music of the arrival mini-stadium that you pass through three times on the looped marathon course, before finally getting to hear "YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!"

2. I do like medals. I think trail races are being rather standoffish in not giving medals (at least in Europe), like they're trying to prove they're superior to road races. A bit the way cats act all superior... I really want a belt buckle too.

3. It takes way more time to train for adequately than I am ready to commit. A peak running week for me is 50-60 miles, or about 8-9 hours of training. Peek week. I did a few of those in the past three months, not to mention the UTB. But my swimming totalled 7.5 miles and biking 180 miles since beginning of June running up to the event. I think most competitors average that in a week! Certainly my friend who joined me in Vichy this weekend was hitting peak weeks, I think of about 15 hours. It's the bike that does it - you really need to focus on the cycling and fit in a lot of long rides, and these - as my friends's performance in the marathon proved (3h50 vs my 5h15 - his first and only dry marathon was 15 years ago, and I don't thing his long runs stretched any further than 15 miles). 112 miles on a bike is a really long time - that's really what I underestimated most.
4. Which means that biking is an excellent cross-training for running endurance, as I'd started to guess when most of my training in May was biking (coming off a torn calf muscle).
5. I love salty food! Actually, I'm rather shocked at the "food" provided at what is after all a long-distance endurance event: gels, energy bars, bananas and a few salty crackers on the run. I was going bonkers. With the heat and the fact that the biking took more out of me than it should since I had dedicated so little time to it, I  know that this lack of savoury food contributed to my lethargy and latent nausea on the run. Fortunately some guy was serving up grilled sausages in the middle of town, and for once I blessed the four loops on the run that we had to do. I really think he saved my event. That's pretty much all I ate on the run. If there was a next time, though there won't be, I would take my running pack and stuff it with crisps, cheese, and salami.
6. It is a tough event and I'm certainly pleased with myself for finishing it. I won't make any comparisons to ultras, if only to say that it didn't take me to the same dark spots that I've encountered on ultras, even ones that last a similar time (14h+), perhaps because I felt quite sure I could finish (though I briefly wondered at the beginning of the run if I hadn't blown out on the bike, but then I just scaled back...). On the other hand there's a competitiveness about the event that means you can't really slack off, sit down in the shade of a tree and snack on a sandwich and coffee (if they even served them), and it drained me in ways that many of my ultras haven't.
7. And so it did kindle my rather poor competitive spirit (I'm generally quite happy just muddling though to the finish line), which is a good thing since I decided a few months ago that I was tired of being a plodder, and I realized that I can step up to the plate: I didn't post a great marathon time, but I did fight the urge to just take it easy and walk it in (despite being vaguely dehydrated, undernourished, and somewhat broken from covering 112 miles on bike which I'd never done before), and jogged as much as possible. Hopefully this bodes well for the 100km Millau road race next month, where I will have to go out of my comfort zone as well and aiming to push myself and not "just finish".

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