Friday, August 07, 2009


This summer has been busy. I like that. I am uncomfortable when I'm not busy. The past few weeks have been particularly hectic, with IMLP followed up by a family vacation to Marthas Vineyard.

I went up to Lake Placid the Wednesday before the race, to meet with my athletes, help out some sponsors, and to kick off some of my own training towards Hawaii. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to get in some solid training on my own before heading away for a week with the family. I train alone maybe 95% of the time, however, up in Lake Placid it's just the opposite, as I'm usually there for my training camp or the race and training with others. This trip, I made no real commitments to train with others and have finally, after 20 years, realized that I prefer training alone. I enjoy the company of others, but I also like to escape with my ipod and just go at my pace, be it slow or fast, without feeling bad about slowing someone down or dropping someone.

Thursday in LP, I did a big training day including a swim in mirror lake, a 4 hr ride, and a 1 hr run. So it's no surprise that I awoke Friday a bit tired and sleepy. I rolled out of LP and down rt. 86 around 6:45am, yawning and hedging. Hedging is something that Jeff and I have discussed quite a bit and basically, it's making excuses. I talked at dinner the night before about how maybe I'd ride up Whiteface in the morning, and now, as I rolled down towards the climb early in the morning, I was rationalizing why I didn't need to climb it. "it could rain - it always rains on this climb and I've done the wet, cold, hypothermic thing before and don't need to do it again" was what went through my mind first. "you had a solid training day yesterday and could probably use the recovery of an easier day today" was next up. "you got off to a later start and need to be off the mountain by 8:30am which will be cutting it to close. Plus, you have downhill practice with your athletes at 10am and you'll be climbing rt 73 pre-downhill practice which is tough" was another hedge floating through my noggin. "Hawaii is still a good ways off", "You've done this climb a bunch already", "you're not dressed properly for the weather up top", and then finally as I approached the left turn off 86 signifying the start of the climb, "just ride up to the tollbooth (3 miles of the 8) and make the right turn off there" was the hedge I had settled on. So I turned on my ipod with a playlist I made specifically for this day of riding, and began climbing. As I climbed the initial 3 miles, I continued to hedge with things like "you are making the right call, your legs are a bit tired today", "you still have a big day planned for tomorrow, so riding just to the tollbooth and is clearly the right thing", "look at that cloud circling the peak like a donut - man, you know it's going to be wet and cold up there!". And then, as I approached the right hand turn just before the toll booth that takes you off the Whiteface climb, I instead just kept climbing. I settled into a rhythm and just blanked out my mind. I didn't hedge anymore. In fact, I didn't even think much. I looked off the mountain at the scenery and just pedaled.

It was quiet and peaceful, yet errie since there was absolutely no one on the road. I climbed well and tried to stay as relaxed as possible as I pushed. At the 6 mile mark, I began climbing through the donut cloud circumferencing the peak. At the 7 mile mark, I popped out of the cloud and the sun was out. I was actually above the cloud and still ascending and it was amazing. I had the views of the cloud directly below me and past the cloud, it was sunny and beautiful and the views were the best I have ever witnessed up on Whiteface. I hit the top in 56 minutes from the start of the climb, drenched in sweat from the humid conditions, slightly chilled from the drop in temperature at this elevation, and smiling ear to ear. I remember clear as day now, two weeks later, pausing there for a moment and feeling at peace - not because of the views or the fact that I just rode up Whiteface, but because there was no more hedging going on. It was now 8:20am, and they want you off the mountain on bike, past the toll booth, by 8:30am, so I began my descent. At 8:30am on the nose, I slipped under the toll booth. Funny, writing this now, I feel like a tool for all the hedging that I was doing prior to my ascent.

Two days later I watched the race and thought about my ride up Whiteface as I watched many athletes, some of those I coach included, struggle with the Ironman. One of my athletes (he's cool with me mentioning this) was so nervous that for the two weeks prior to the IM, he was only sleeping maybe two to three hours each evening. The first couple of days he fell short on sleep because of nerves, I discussed with him his "race". I mentioned how he's not a pro, feeding his family based on his result. How his family would love him just the same, regardless of how he did, and reminded him of his training and of some key sessions that he had done. It doesn't matter what someone else tells you though, unless you yourself believe it. He continued to not sleep from the nervousness of race day approaching. I then told him he needed sleep so to try taking something to assist, like Tylenol PM. This didn't work for him. Finally, I met with him two days out and he just looked exhausted, yet I told him he'd be fine and to go do what he trained to do. He was worked up enough already and the writing was on the wall. He had a difficult time elevating his heart rate into his aerobic racing zone, and dropped out in the run. He questioned me as to why he couldn't elevate his heart rate. I explained that he was simply exhausted - that during his taper, when he was to rest and absorb, he was doing the opposite. He began the race in an exhausted state. It's something we all can learn from, myself included. He couldn't stop the hedging and it got the best of him on race day. His hindsight perspective is interesting and very well adjusted.

Straz was telling me about a race report he read from an LP athlete who made it through 70 miles of the ride and dropped out due to "severe dehydration, internal bleeding, and bleeding from his eyes"!!! I've got to call bs on this one. Unless you haven't trained for an IM, how do you get to the 70 mile point of the bike in this condition? The point being that many of the physical conditions we experience in IM are a result of our brain.

So what's the lesson here? You can reiterate positive affirmations but if your conscience doesn't buy it, they won't help. One of my athletes once mentioned, "when I look in the mirror, I don't see an athlete having a strong day" even though he trained amazingly well. Basically, your gut needs to buy what your mind is selling. I tend to remind myself in the days/weeks leading up to a race to keep it simple. It's really just swim, bike, run. Pretty simple activities. Don't over think it and make it more than it needs to be or should be. Yes, finishing an IM is a huge deal and can even be life changing to many. That doesn't change the fact that it's as simple as moving from point A, the swim start, to point B, the run end. I guess that the focus during race week should be to remind ourselves of all the days, weeks, months of training that we put into getting us ready for just one day. After all, it's the cumulative effect of all this training that sets us up to accomplish what we want to do realistically on race day. Maybe realistically is the key word here? With the proper, positive mindset, and the proper pacing, IM race day should become a celebratory finale of our training cycle. Maybe proper pacing is the key words here? I certainly have fallen victim to doing the opposite. It's a very fine line, because you never want to finish feeling like you could have gone a lot faster, right?



1 comment:

alan said...

Thanks for this post, Eric. I wasn't exactly doing an Ironman today- just a sprint- but after tweaking my the muscles around my lower back carrying Ian on my shoulders at the fair Friday, I was close to dropping out of a race this morning after my swim warm-up.

I thought about this post, and about just going from point A to point B, and not worrying about how I felt or trying to analyze what might happen or how this race might impact bigger goals. I just went, and was glad for it.