It’s June 2017, on some beach in Staten Island at the start of the Flat as a Pancake sprint tri. The water is frigid and smells vaguely of gasoline. My blood sugar is 142 less than an hour after eating a Clif bar– when it should have been about 200.
A friend and I spot each other. “Hey Caroline!” she says with a hug, arms slightly immobile in wetsuits. “How are you?”
“Well, this is my first triathlon in…..1.75 years.”
“Oh, that’s great!”
“Yeah,” I say, perhaps unconvincingly. The whistle blows and the first wave goes off with a cheer. “It’s prep for Lake Placid 70.3. I’m doing that in September.”
“Wow! How are you feeling about that?” my friend asks.
The answer to that question has changed on a weekly, daily, sometimes hourly basis over the past five months.
Oh my gosh, triathlon. Remember biking? Clips?! After riding the war rig a grand total of TWICE in the past year? Hey, this is great. I remember why I enjoyed this. Ugh, running sucks. Whoa, look at my leg muscles! They’re huge now! I hate triathlon. I hate diabetes even more. This sucks. I love this! I’m a freaking beast! Every time I ride my bike I’m riding a DRAGOOOOOOOON!
But for real, the ROI kit plus my bike is all black and red. Like House Targaryen.
I knew I wasn’t done with long-course triathlon after a miserable DNF in Wisconsin in 2015. The variables became, when and how long? “How long” was answered first. In the months after the race– and after frolicking for five hours through Prospect Park at the Brooklyn Marathon in one of the most chilled-out races ever– I waited for the Ironman gleam to return to my eye. It never did. Instead I thought about how much I enjoyed not exercising for two hours every night after work, or having to ride endless circuits of the park or 9W. Ugh! I like my long rides on endless country roads. I like sleep even more. Half Ironman it would be!
I was doing all that sleeping while taking a break from training for an event for the first time in over five years. Forget training plans, and rising before dawn for workouts, and my significant other sighing loudly when I lay on the couch groaning about my IT bands instead of scrubbing the toilet. It was time to RELAX! Until the the spring of 2016, when I decided that my A1C, weight, and sanity had enough relaxing and got back on the workout wagon.
Except…..I relaxed so hard that I slouched my way into a spinal misalignment and nerve impingement that kept me from running for six months. Yes, friends, I didn’t get injured by overtraining. I got injured by NOT EXERCISING ENOUGH.
So the “when” got pushed from 2016 to 2017. And that’s when the stars aligned: I had the time, the physical ability, AND suddenly a brand-new half Ironman a few hours away from home! That both my local friends and ROI friends were signing up for!
My palms started sweating as soon as I paid up and got the confirmation email.
You have done four triathlons, the devil on my shoulder said, and they’ve all been DISASTERS! Whether it was diabetes, thunderstorms, bad bike luck, or just being in over my head…it was true. Triathlon had gone very poorly for me. Was this large, Ironman-branded dent to my wallet going to be the same?
Which brings us back to the start line of that sprint tri in June. I signed up mostly to get some good transition practice and get back in the tri groove after nearly two years off, but also because I needed to exorcise that demonic spirit telling me that I am a failure at triathlon. It didn’t look too promising at the start. The gasoline smell was definitely ripe during the frigid swim, and my blood sugar drifted high by the end. But after a 400 meter swim, 16 miles of biking, and a 5k run, I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. And no disasters. One for five, baby!
Though it did cross my mind, at multiple points during the 90 minutes it took to complete the race, that I would be doing quadruple that distance in Lake Placid…..
But that’s what a good training season is for, and many weeks and long rides later, I’m READY. The nagging fear of failure meant that I actively corrected for the mistakes I made and lessons learned from Wisconsin. Here’s what’s better in 2017:
- Quality people– who are local. I am proud and happy to be a part of team Riding on Insulin. We are a nationwide group participating in races all over. For both fun and accountability, I knew I needed a local group and a local coach. Fortunately, that materialized in the TNT alums and friends of mine who signed up for the race. We created an informal group called Endurance Club Brooklyn. Even better, we got coaching and advice from our multi-Ironman finisher experts Joel and Alix. They gave us hours of coaching and support in exchange for us fundraising $1000 or volunteering 100 hours for the cause of our choice. I’m obviously fundraising for ROI. If you want to donate, go to my personal page!
- Quality people, part two. The other thing that was fantastic about group training is that people have CARS! This is an unfortunate necessity in NYC for long rides. Being able to drive out with my teammates to locations like Harriman State Park, New Jersey, and even Lake Placid meant far fewer junk miles and more quality hill training. Moreover, the fun and reduced mental burden of group training means that there are quite a few workouts that I nailed with ECBK that I wouldn’t have if I were solo. Because of them, I truly got to fulfill my goal of having more fun while getting ready for race day.
- Logs, logs, logs. I kept an extensive training log and had stretches of monitoring my diabetes with logs too. While I nearly defenestrated myself when my endocrinologist barely glanced at six pages of meticulously detailed food, blood sugar, and insulin records, I gained a new level of insight about training and diabetes needs. As a result, my A1C is at a record low for adulthood and I can pat myself on the back for the progression I see when I open my Excel sheets and Garmin history.
- Discipline. I never woke up before 6 when training for IMWI. There were a number of workouts that I shortened or skipped, whether out of necessity or sloth. Obviously, it’s much easier to get ‘er done with a half Ironman instead of a full. Still, I would estimate that it’s about two-thirds the training volume, despite being half the distance. I kicked myself in the ass this year. Not just when rising before dawn, or forcing myself to don my bike shoes when I wanted to just zone out and read Reddit. I also tried harder to maintain equilibrium between training, professional workload, and home life. Marathons, ultras, and long-course tris require hours and hours away from work and family. I didn’t always succeed, but I tried to be more mindful of the stress that others might bear. Having the discipline to be fully present in each activity enhances your performance across the board.
The race is– gulp!– tomorrow, so you may be reading this post-facto. If not, and you want to watch along from the warm, cozy, sensible comfort of your own home, you can use the Ironman tracker. Just enter my bib number, 867, for Lake Placid 70.3.
I’m estimating a 40 minute swim, 15 minute T1, 4:30 bike, 10 minute T2, and a 2:30-2:45 run. So…..super slow! I am working to banish the negative feelings and fear of failure. It might be half the distance this time around, but I’ll do my damndest to make sure it’s 100% the effort. I hope and pray that it leads to actually crossing the finish line. Otherwise, I’m really going to be playing that Talking Heads song about how this is not my beautiful life…..