This weekend past was Ironman UK at Bolton, and once again – hundreds, if not a couple of thousand, of hardy souls lurched into the breach of pain, suffering and achievement in order to hear those much sought after words – you are an Ironman.
I admit it. More than a couple of times over the weekend I reflected back to where I was one year ago at that moment. ‘This time last year I was racking my bike’. ‘This time last year I was just out of the water’. ‘This time last year I was still on the bike’.
So what have I learned in the year since becoming an Ironman?
I want to go again
I went back and forth on this one immediately afterwards, but my overwhelming feeling now is – I want to go back. It was a great experience, even though there is a definite risk that I am suffering from ‘pregnancy brain’ – otherwise known as the concept that enough time has passed now since the significant pain, that I only now remember the positive stuff. There are just too many fantastic races over the Iron distance that I want to experience that mean that I really want to go back to it. Lanzarote, Nice, Roth, any US race – these are all on my race checklist. I also don’t want to forever be a ‘one and done’ guy; I feel like a lot of people could do this if they wanted to – but it wasn’t just a bucket list thing for me. I did Ironman because I love triathlon, and I want to do it again. There is also another reason…
I’m still pissed about my bike leg
I really thought I could go around sub-6 hours for my bike leg at Bolton, and my 7:17:42 bike leg was the most disappointing element of the whole day. It wasn’t just the disappointment in the physical effort either – psychologically it was the most down I felt all day, and the only time at which I felt like quitting. For the effort that I put into the bike leg in the leadup training, I was really disappointed that I didn’t do a better job, and I’d really like the opportunity to set that one right. I really feel that if I worked at it, I could be a slightly better than mediocre biker, and that is where I would like to be. The only way I find out whether or not I have that talent in me is to go again – and really look to smash that bike leg.
I still have the base fitness?
This one is a little more open to argument. In retrospect, I don’t think I trained enough for Ironman, but I also think that, and just bear with me on this one…it might not take all that much for me to get back into a place where I would be able to do another one *wince*. Look, I could run a marathon tomorrow if I needed to – no problems. And I didn’t do all that much swim training, so I could build up the endurance again in that area. It is really the bike that would take the work – so give me a few months, a cycle trainer, a backyard shed and a looped video tape of the NBC coverage of Kona – and I’d be ready to go again.
I don’t know how I got the training done
That being said – how the hell did I do that? How did I get up at those ridiculous times on Saturday mornings to ride 100km before rolling home at 930am and spend the day with the Tin Lady? Granted – I’m neck deep in 3am nappy changes at the moment (except for last night when I *completely* slept through one, much the chagrin/humour (hopefully) of the Tin Lady), so it seems all the crazier, but how did I do that? A lot of people get by with social networks, leaning on each other to push through the training – but with few exceptions, I really did it all by myself. I didn’t do a single training session focused on Ironman with anyone else. That’s a bit crazy; and I’d likely have to do it differently the second time.
I’m proud that I stopped
It was the right decision. It was hard, and it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do – but stopping to focus on non-triathlon things was the right decision. I know this because I am two and a half chapters progressed in my PhD, and I would have had to stop anyway because of the arrival of my little boy. I’m proud for a pretty immature reason, which is because I did what I had to do, rather than what I wanted to do. While this might qualify as ‘adult behaviour’ for most people – I still consider it a minor achievement for me.
So what have I learned in the year since Ironman? Well, I want to do it again, and I want to nail the bike. The biggest difference is that now I know can do it. That confidence is still there. A marathon doesn’t fill me with fear in the way that it used to – because it isn’t prefaced with a 3.8km swim and a 180km bike. I have a sporting confidence that comes from having gone to the deep dark places and coming out the other side. I’m not as fast as I want to be – but I know that with the right focus I can get faster.
And everyday that passes gets me closer to the day when I have the time and space to get back on the bike, having signed up for an Ironman the night before.
In honour of a recent television premiere – Ironman is coming. Again.
Listening To: ‘You Know You’re Right’ by Nirvana
I’ve not written for a while, and that is not likely to change any time soon. It’s not out of a desire to avoid blogging in any way, shape or form; but rather because what I thought was already a fairly full life of activities has become even more full owing to this little guy:
Going beyond the fact that I managed to convince The Lady to name our son after one of the worlds greatest triathletes, he does mean that my priorities have obviously changed for the foreseeable future, and those priorities don’t necessarily include a large amount of running, let alone cycling or swimming. Not that I am able to do a large amount of cycling anyway, given that some absolute ******piece of *** of a ******* stole my beloved Cervelo road bike, but one must look at these things in context and it is only a piece of carbon. An expensive one that I loved – but a piece of carbon all the same.
So – season 2017 is quite rightly a bust. I mean, I don’t look at it as a ‘bust’ per se, because of the amazingly great things that have come out of it. I’ve got a son for instance. I’ve also managed to progress significantly in my PhD and maintain my sanity (somewhat) at work. And its not the end of running for me in totality – it just means that the more structured weekends of long runs and weekly *ahem* ‘speed’ sessions will give way to ad hoc runs during the week at work lunchtimes, occasional runs home from work and maybe even a rare long run on weekends. It’s all about adjusting to the new routine at this stage.
So that’s where we are. I’m still on the countdown to the Great Aberdeen Run and Frankfurt Marathon coming down the pipe, but I’m far less focused on getting PBs and going under 20 minutes for 5km. More focused on changing nappies, cuddling and gazing longingly at the cute face looking back at me.
Listening To: ‘Lights Out’ by Royal Blood
I was at a student workshop/convention/thing earlier this year, and I can’t wholly remember the context in which it happened (I may have been hungover at the time), but a question was asked – what is the hardest thing about being an off-campus PhD student?
I didn’t answer at the time – possibly due to the aforementioned hangover (or possibly because of jet-lag – those are my two excuses and I am sticking to them non-exclusively), but there is an answer that I wish I had provided. The inability to immerse yourself wholly in the subject matter you are addressing.
I am a person with a variety of labels, and this is self-imposed (the variety – not the labels). I am a Dad, a boyfriend/partner, a son, a training manager, a professional, a PhD student, a triathlete/runner. Like many/most people – to use the corporate bingo terminology – I wear many hats. What this means though is that my ability to be execute these roles faithfully is diluted by volume. I’d love to be a better runner, and I would likely be so if I spent the time that I spend reading and writing for my PhD running instead. I’d love to be a better PhD student – more immersed in the subject matter and knowledgeable of ongoing developments, and I would likely be so if I spent the time that I spend running – reading and writing for my PhD instead. We make these conscious choices because we enjoy more than one thing and sometimes we make these choices because the alternative is not palatable. Ideally, I would quit my job as a training manager and spend the time that I would then gain running and studying for my PhD. That won’t happen because in my hierarchy of values – I value having food and a roof over my head (and helping provide for those I love) more than I value a potential PhD or a sub 20 minute 5km.
But sadly (for me at least), that immersion feels more and more like a (the) key to success. When I encounter those who work in the think-tank world and talk to them about nuclear weapons, it’s not just a job – they live it. It’s virtually all they talk about (that, and Game Of Thrones. Naturally) – and that is what makes them so successful. Their success comes from the immersion in the subject matter. They are the opposite of that adage – ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. I see the same in the triathlon/running world. The ones that are the most successful are (generally) the ones who live, breathe, sleep triathlon. I don’t need to ask them what they are doing on the weekend, because I know. It’s one of four things (wait for it) – they are swimming (yep), cycling (yep), running (ok…) or drinking (boom). Everything ties back to triathlon – and that is awesome. I envy that level of dedication and focus, and it why – for the time being at least – I am not likely to reach the levels of the first group of running at track nights. I choose not to immerse myself wholly in these things, but rather spread myself amongst a number of things – and I’m constantly looking for new things to distract away from the things I’m already working on. I want to do a podcast about politics, I want to get more involved in local politics, there are numerous television shows that I keep meaning to watch but haven’t gotten around to. Too many things.
And it’s not even as if this is new ground for me. I particularly remember – as a young boy – being told by a family friend over a campfire one evening about this very thing. They told me that the key to success, and why they felt that hadn’t been as successful as they could have been, was to pick one thing and go for it. My choice was between being a mediocre tennis player and being a mediocre cricket player at that time. I went for cricket (really) and was not bad – I think I probably maximised my talent in that area. But I lost that lesson over time, and now I find myself in this position of once again being middling and unfocused – as justified as that is with the other priorities in my life.
The advice sticks true though I believe. If you want to succeed – and I define success here as making the most of the talent and whatever you have available to you – then pick one thing and go at it. Be single minded in your goal and give it everything you’ve got. Then see how far you’ve come.
Listening To: ‘Fall At Your Feet’ by Boy and Bear
I was born and raised in a city called Melbourne in Australia. Melbourne could easily be characterised as one of the most sport-crazy cities in the world, and from my experience of living in a couple of places – that is not far off the mark. I used to joke that greetings in Melbourne went “What is your name?” first, and then “What team do you support?” second. It wasn’t even a question of sport – it had to be Australian Rules Football – or ‘footy’ as we called it. It was just a natural thing; we needed to know what team you followed in order to categorise you immediately – to put you in a bucket. If you said ‘Collingwood’, I could marvel that you actually had your full set of teeth and rapidly put my hand on my wallet for security reasons. If you said ‘Footscray’, I could pass comment that I wondered what class of drug you were currently high on. If you said ‘Sydney’, I could immediately infer that you had only followed the sport leisurely and had no fucking idea what you were talking about. You get the idea.
So then I moved to London, and I wanted that kind of tribal loyalty again – though I knew that it would have to be, in a way, manufactured. You can’t replicate a lifetime (years 1993-1996 excepted) of support for a single team by simply dropping in. But how do you choose? How do you choose your loyalty with little frame of reference to pick from? I decided I needed a system, I needed a completely objective process. So I said – wherever home is when I first get to London; the team closest to that will be my team. Fair enough right? Here’s the problem – the first place I lived was Kensington. So QPR, Fulham or Chelsea could lay claim. I decided Fulham. But I had a problem – no-one cared. People would ask who I supported, and I’d say Fulham, and they’d kinda shrug. That wasn’t what I was looking for! So I hit reset and said -the next place I move to; that will be it. And I moved to Caledonian Road in North London. On match days, when the wind was blowing the right way, I could hear the sounds from the Emirates Stadium bellowing out. When I told people that I supported Arsenal, they would sneer. I had found my team – though trying to get passionate about them was sometimes trying, because I didn’t necessarily have that conditioned feeling for it that I have for my Australian Rules (footy) team, Melbourne. But I tried to get into it.
It hasn’t been great being an Arsenal ‘supporter’, but it hasn’t been completely rubbish. A couple of trophies, and a couple of embarrassing walks to work after European floggings – but all in all, they’ve been great to follow. Much the same like Melbourne really; ever disappointing and with fans accused of being fairweather at best. My kind of team. But then I did this:
And now I had something on the line. I had a real reason to dislike Spurs, and not just because I was supposed to. Because I hate losing – I hate losing at almost everything. I have to swallow a small part of my pride whenever I let my 5-year old daughter win a running race. I am 95% sure I will lose a Fantasy Football league I am in this year, and I’m furious with myself! One of my driving motivators for getting better at triathlon and running is because I am competitive enough that I want to be at the pointy end – not stuck in the middle. I am a competitive person, even though I try my hardest to suppress that as much as I can.
But in making this bet with Joanna – I lost, and I lost huge. It wasn’t even close. Arsenal have been abject to watch this year, and Spurs have been…well…they’ve been…good. They’ve been good to watch, a good professional football team. Arsenal haven’t been – and now I have to do a ParkRun (thank god its not a marathon!) in a Spurs shirt courtesy of Joanna. Time to take your medicine boy – you made your bed, now you have to run in it.
It’s all in great fun though, isn’t it? This is the kind of stuff that I was looking for, this kind of feeling, this kind of rivalry. It’s great. Though I won’t enjoy running in the shirt.
And it’s actually come at a rather good time, as my running is on the upswing at the moment. I’m not setting myself any targets, just running. Trying to get that mojo back and build myself up to being as fast as I know I can be. I did a track session with Chasers on Tuesday night, and I loved it, even if it did make me feel glacially slow and inferior compared to all of these amazingly fast people (and their bodies – my goodness – chiselled gods in all directions; I bet they don’t eat Pizza Hut for dinner!). But I really pushed myself because I was surrounded by all these fast people, which was exactly what I was looking for. I’ll be back.
So I’m running well, in that I am running. I’m reminding myself that this is supposed to be run focused triathlon training, as I still have designs on returning to triathlon to do 70.3s in the future. I know my end-goal targets (under 0:30 swim, 2:30 bike and 1:30 run) that are incredibly optimistic for someone of my standard, but something I want to push for somehow. I have to believe I can do it – and I have to work for it. Spending this year focusing on the run is a good way to start that, while I still pursue my other pieces that are ongoing (which are going well – past the halfway word count on my PhD draft!!).
Lots of work to do on the roads of West London. Sadly, some of it in a Spurs shirt. Go Gunners!
Listening To: ‘The Captain’ by Biffy Clyro