Ironman. What an experience. To most, the idea of swimming 3.2 kilometres, cycling 180 kilometres and running a marathon (42.2 kilometres), consecutively, sounds like hell. For me, it was a challenge that presented excitement, and one that I couldn’t let fall by the wayside all too easily.
Fast forward ‘20 weeks to glory’; to Busselton IMWA ’16. And call me crazy, but it’s one of the best things that I’ve done in this lifetime. It sounds ridiculous, because there is no other way to describe it. It’s simply that.
To think that people actually pay money to endure up to 17 hours of exercise. To feel all the feels through training until race day, to lay it all out on the course and to hit rock bottom; to persevere through the constant of your mind telling you that enough is enough, and to rise against to beat your own best. There’s something pretty special in that.
I can tell you now, that running down the finishers chute well ahead of my expected time, with a small crowd of ‘my people’ on the side is one of my most special memories. Thinking about it creates a little lump in the back of my throat and puts a sparkle in my eye, and I’ve no doubt that absolutely anyone is capable of following suit. Should they want to.
Ironman is an incredible brand. Its ability to bring people together from all over the world so that they can challenge their potential is impressive. It’s a test of strength and perseverance, a battle of the mind and one hell of a learning curve. And so, I’d like to share with you 5 things that training for an Ironman taught me. In life, about myself and in general.
#1) Anything is Possible: The infamous Ironman tagline that serves as a constant reminder to what we are capable of. Anything, that we dare to dream of. It’s a cue to the many sunrises and sunsets spent banking kilometres, the hard work and determination committed to bettering ourselves; to go further, faster, and to become stronger, and the many beautiful people we meet along the way. Its absolutely testament to the saying ‘we get out what we put in’.
My lead in to Ironman was comparatively short to a lot of others that I know; 20 weeks to glory. With no history of being involved in triathlons, there were times when I felt a fish out of water. Though with a plan in place, a solid team to guide me and a lot of determination on my side, we got to work and came out on top.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Big goals require equally big efforts and persistence. There were injuries, a fulltime job, life happenings, my own mind to contend, and the naysayers. What there weren’t however, were excuses. I’ve somewhat of the ‘go hard or go home’ mentality and I was determined that I’d finish what I’d set out to do, properly. And so, as best I could, I made sure that I showed up, and kept on showing up. Slowly but surely I progressed and my showing up turned into actual training as my body became fitter and stronger.
I did some ridiculous things in those months of training, and as much as I didn’t enjoy them at the time, I knew that it was those moments that helped me on race day. For instance, 6-hour solo bike rides along Melbourne’s bayside (there are only so many times you can cycle to Frankston and back). A 5-hour solo ride in the wind and rain when every ounce of me just wanted to pack it in and go home to the warm and dry. 4-hour sessions on the trainer. A 3.2 kilometre continuous swim, chasing the black line in the local pool. 2.5 hour runs on the treadmill. You get the gist. At times, it was monotonous and boring AF! Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, or character building for better word. There is no question that those sessions were tough and lonely. They were intended as that. They built resilience and all too clearly demonstrated the power of the mind. 12 hours out on course is a long day. With a weak mindset – I’d just hate to even imagine.
Training my body, building strength and fitness both physically and mentally to cope with the demands of a 226 kilometre race is something I’ll carry with me and can apply to many contexts. With hard work and determination, as well somewhat of a plan; absolutely, I’m a true believer that anything is possible.
#2) Consistency is Key: This seems obvious and perhaps it’s an overused term, but it’s so damn true! Consistency, in whatever context is your best friend for progress.
In the initial weeks of training for Busso ’16, showing up to training was half the battle. I was excited by the prospect of Mike Reilly calling out my name as I would shuffle down the red carpet – ‘Kelly, you are an Ironman’, but I was unfit and slow. What I was good at however, was my former illustrious Melbourne lifestyle. Weekends spent exploring new brunch spots with friends, evenings spent enjoying a few too many wines. Fair to say, training was tough!
That aside, I kept on pushing forward. Further, faster, stronger. And this right here, is where consistency counted most. Fitness is a fickle thing. It takes forever to build, yet an instant to lose. So, keep on keeping on!
There’s a saying ‘it doesn’t get easier; you just get faster’ and this more or less sums up the training phase of Ironman. Following the program, being consistent in your approach and trusting the process pays off. You will come out on top.
Consistency was also realised in taking better care of myself. If my body required physio, it went to physio. Similarly, to the osteo. I am absolutely a self-confessed stage 5 chocoholic, however I was mindful to fuel my body with better choices, – nutritious meals more often (chocolate with nuts J). Really, I just ate all the time! I rested more. I was consistently busy with training, and therefore likely of consistent annoyance to my friends, who I would request later dinners/brunches with so that I could bank kilometres first. I was consistently late to work. Lucky for me, my network was consistently understanding, to which I am forever appreciative.
#3) Sunrises are Better Spent with Friends: I’m not going to lie. Getting up at the crack of dawn in Melbourne’s winter is not an easy feat. But waking up and knowing that you get to see the many beautiful smiles on pool deck, pre-run or bike makes those early starts that much more enjoyable. For 20 weeks, I consistently saw the many stunning colours of the morning’s sky than I had previously, and it was such a calming way to start what were often busy days. Despite the long hours spent training, and thinking about training – that could be likened to a part-time job, whilst maintaining a full-time job and enjoying life’s frivolities; the constant output of energy returned an endless bank of endorphins. At a time in my life when I was burning more calories than I could replace and was constantly that little bit sore from pushing my body, I’d never felt better. I had so much energy.
A particular Sunday I remember covering of a 6-hour bike ride (there were a few) that I’d started at 5.30am. By 12pm I was at a local café very much enjoying replacing all those depleted energy stores with a delicious breakfast. It felt as though I had 2 whole days within the single day. Early mornings are a beautiful gift. It’s such a treat to get out when the city sleeps and to enjoy those still moments. And when you have friends to share those long sessions and sunrises with, it’s that much sweeter.
#4) Listen to Your Body: This is not a new piece of information; we know we should do this. Ironman taught me that in order to move forward faster, we first need to slow down. When you’re pushing your body to 15+ hours of exercise each week, it’s important to understand and respect your body’s performance and listen to what it needs. If it says rest, then rest. Missing the odd training session is OK.
Fortunate to have never previously had any serious sporting injuries, I would more often push through any niggles or ill-feelings that came with training. ‘It’ll be right’ was definitely my approach. However, in just 20 weeks I went to more doctors’ appointments, physio, osteo and massage appointments than ever before.
Long short story, – I injured my hip about 6 weeks into my Ironman venture. It was a kind of pain that I’d never experienced and I simply couldn’t run. Going from 0-100 as I did, will likely do this to you. I’d also like to place partial blame on my shiny new Garmin at the time, which encouraged me to want to better my pace/time on every occasion. Too much too soon.
In saying this, as I was on such a mission to get to the start line with a short lead in time, I was open to all of the help that I needed to get there. Plus, I’ve no doubt my body thanked me for enlisting some expertise. My coach adapted my training plan in mind to how my body was coping and I shifted my focus to building strength. ‘Speed would come’ the physio assured me. It was a frustrating setback (at the time), slowing down to move forward but it was absolutely what I needed.
Additionally, I ate better, ensured I got better sleep and though not really one to sit still, I laid low a little more often. On the whole, I took better care of myself and I felt a whole lot better for it. Go figure huh!
#5) You Don’t Need the Latest Gear: It’s no secret that triathlons are expensive. And when you’re starting out, it can be a bit of a blunder to the bank account. An Ironman entry in itself costs close to $1000.00 and then there are training fees and membership, facility costs, equipment, nutrition, specialist appointments, travel, and so on… But very clearly, you do.not.need.the.latest.gear!, neither the top of the range brands. Just what fits within your means that will help you get from A>B. Discipline is key. From banking those key training sessions to keeping a lid on the spending. Because it’s very easy to get caught up in the shiny new colours of the season.
When I first started out I simply used what I had for the first few weeks. Which I can assure you, was far from anything new. I had bathers and associated swimming gear because I used to swim. ‘Used to’ being key words here. Running shoes that were close to 2 years old and had served a few seasons of social netball, as well the very occasional fun run, and a second hand road bike that was pushing ten years old. The words ‘cleats’, ‘bidon’ ‘training peaks’ and ‘heart rate monitor’ were all but foreign. I used to go running with my stainless steel band chronograph watch to keep an eye on the time until the kind lady at the gym suggested I might want to consider upgrading to a sports watch. I had no care for pace or distance. Turning up and surviving was priority… (I treated myself to a Garmin that following week).
With a few solid weeks of training under my belt and certain that I was in this game for the long haul, I slowly but surely began emptying my bank account, or ‘investing’ in my health.
When I began prioritising athleisure-wear over new dresses, I knew that something had shifted! This beautiful community of tri, it pulled me in and it’s a (better) lifestyle for my body. Ironman taught me a hell of a lot. Foremost, that you are the creator of your own journey. And Indeed, ‘Anything is Possible’.
I hope you enjoyed this read and found it somewhat helpful. If you’ve also done an Ironman, I’d love to hear your experiences. I’m chasing another (in time) and looking for an exciting course. Or, if you’re looking to do your first, how exciting! You absolutely won’t regret it. Once finished J