Sunday, June 17, 2012


When I’m not busy planning a trip around the world, wrapping up a six-year legal career and trying to figure out what to do with all my personal possessions, I’ve got another little pursuit going:  I’m training for an Ironman.

The big day:  September 9, 2012. Madison, Wisconsin.  Ironman Wisconsin.  Save the date!
The Wisconsin State House
People I've met who have been through Ironman training describe it as almost a mystical experience.  Either they loved it, or they hated it, but the training itself seems meaningful and life changing.   

However, I can’t lie…. I just haven’t been able to relate.  Ironman training requires a lot of hours (and I know, I know, I’m still only at the “beginning” and it’s only going to get longer).  But thus far, it hasn’t wiped me out, it hasn’t left me begging for mercy, it hasn’t made me want to eat everything in sight (not any more than usual, anyway), and it certainly hasn’t changed my life.   It’s been triathlon training, just more of it. 

But last weekend, I think I finally started to understand what makes Ironman training such a “big deal.”   

I traveled up to Madison on Friday to ride the course for the first time of the season.  The Ironman Wisconsin course is notoriously difficult, and I can’t say I wasn’t a little nervous.  I tried to ride this course a couple times last year; neither attempt was a great success.  The first time I rode it, I crashed, broke my bike, and needed stitches.  (Keep reading this blog and you’ll learn that this is no surprise.  I’m kind of a klutz).  The second time I rode it, well, let’s just say that with an hour to go, I stumbled into a bike/coffee shop having seriously bonked, and pretty much traded my first-born child for carbohydrates.  A Clif Bar and a Coke later, I was back on the course and finished it off….but it wasn’t pretty.

This time, my goal was to respect the course and finish strong.  I needed to ride 4 hours and 45 minutes, and I knew two 41 mile loops of the course would leave me short on time, requiring me to tack on some extra miles at the end.  But in my mind, I was doing two loops….and then some more.  No sweat. 

I started off, reminding myself to ride smart and conserve my energy.  Loop 1 went by without a hitch.   Loop 2 was equally uneventful, except I was passed early on by a guy with race wheels and an aero helmet.  I couldn’t hang, but that’s OK.  I’ll let Mr. Aero Helmet guy take the June 9 Course Ride Win, and I’ll declare myself the winner in the June 9 Game of Life, because, y’know, I wasn’t the one wearing an aero helmet for a course ride.  

Eventually I got through my two loops feeling pretty good and strong.  I congratulated myself—no crashes, no bonks, the only person who passed me was Mr. Aero Helmet Guy.  This Ironman training stuff is not so big a deal!!

Famous last words. 

Then, I started in on those extra miles I had to do at the end.  And suddenly, I got it.  I figured out what it is about Ironman training that is so “epic” (yeah, I hate that word, too). It’s the mental fatigue.  It’s not the physical toll of hours of training that's truly difficult, it’s having to push through that moment when your body needs to keep going, but the brain simply says, “ENOUGH.”

I’d mentally prepared for my two loops and I’d finished them.  And, at that point, I’d accomplished what I’d come up to Madison for.  I didn’t want to be on the bike anymore.  I was cursing the hills.  My hand hurt from all the shifting.  I was tired of making decisions about which gear to be in. I was getting sunburnt.  I was hot.  I was BORED.  I was sick of the damn song repeating in my head (or should I say, the 5 seconds of a song that was repeating in my head).  And I just wanted to be done.  Now.

Physically, nothing was wrong with me.  My legs felt fine.  I wasn’t breathing hard.  I had eaten enough and was adequately hydrated.  I just did. not. want. to. ride. anymore.  I soft pedaled around for a while, feeling sorry for myself.  And then with 12 minutes to go….12 minutes!..... I stopped.  I stood on the side of the road, and I stared at the ground.  Seriously, for 2 or 3 minutes, I stood still and stared at a patch of concrete.  No thoughts, no pain, no need for fuel.   I was just Done.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t Done anywhere near my car so it took a little self-yell to get myself going for those last 12 minutes.   “Suck it up, Amanda, seriously, 12 MINUTES.”

I finished my 12 minutes hating life and hating Ironman, and then had that awful moment when I realized I still needed to run 30 minutes. 

And so, despite being Done, I talked myself into running.  It was a mental struggle and I hated every moment of it.  Then, just to add insult to injury, 10 minutes in, I found this, right off to the side of the bike path, teasing me like an oasis in the middle of the desert:

Side note:  One of the coaches of the training group I am a part of sends out weekly encouraging emails, mostly about swimming.  In them, he repeatedly attaches the word “Iron” to the front of various words.  Like: “Bring your IronSpirit to the IronSwim tonight and prepare for IronFun!”  I love it.  So I’m stealing his idea.

I stumbled onto that little carnival while I was deep in the depths of Done. Or, IronDone, I suppose.  Did I want to stop, have myself a nice cool Hawaiian Shaved Ice, take a spin on the ferris wheel, and maybe start my recovery with a funnel cake?  [Insert more emphatic word for 'yes' here]  But I didn’t.  Instead I snapped a quick picture and finished my run.  And that, my friends, is IronDiscipline (also, I had no money and wasn’t in the mood to beg, but who’s counting?).  

Once I finally got back to my car, having slogged through those 30 minutes, I was greeted with this sight:
A nice little swimming hole!  With water sufficiently cold to call it an "ice bath"!  Of course I jumped right in.  And loved every second.  It was the perfect end to my IronDay, topped only by the slice of mac and cheese pizza I got at Ian's in Downtown Madison.  IronYum!

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