Why Ironman is Hard, and it’s Not the Physical Part

Well this week was a doozy – one of my biggest training weeks yet, putting an offer in on a house (oh the emotional stress! I don’t recommend this), getting poured on + a flat tire during my long weekday ride, oh, and catching a cold / allergies – not my cup of tea. Though I am drinking lots of tea to try to get through this. Not my favorite week, that’s for sure. Funny how one weekend can switch so quickly!  So maybe it will help me to write about it…

For the last two weeks, the volume has been up, and my body is feeling it.  Sure I’ve felt sore and exhausted before, but this is a different kind of load.  An intentional fatigue that pushes my whole body just enough – not to exhaustion or injury but through some pretty big build & repair cycles.  Not just on the weekends, but all the time.  Training with a smart plan is pushing me to a new level I haven’t experienced before, and this I love.  My progress has been pretty awesome and I’m feeling strong.  I (my legs) am so thankful for all my rest days and I’m using every recovery tool that’s available to me – massage, compression, ice, Epsom salt baths.  My plan has surprised me in a good way and my coach says I’m right where I should be.  Apart from this darn little cold that is causing a 2-day break, I’m really happy with everything physically!

What I hadn’t expected was how this ironman training would test me in so many ways other than physically – it’s an emotional, mental process as well that doesn’t leave room for a whole lot of other things in life (for a short, temporary period of time).  I realize I’m lucky I have only me to worry about; it would be a lot more challenging with other commitments such as travel, kids, etc., but it’s not easy whatever your position is.

I can’t say I never question why I’m doing this – it sometimes feels pretty selfish and egotistical (and is in a sense), and pulls me away from time with family & friends, so yes, I definitely struggle. Sure it’s a goal, and a big life goal, but it’s a ME goal that others are having to support. But part of the reason is this very experience – the highs, the lows, the tests. What can I do at my optimal level of endurance fitness, how can I push my body to the fittest condition it’s seen yet?  Plus, endurance is what I’m good at.  I’ve known this since my first long rides where I realized I got my “second wind” at mile 70-80.  That’s usually when I start pulling the paceline.  I want to excel in what I’m good at of course!

But unfortunately while I’ve been SO focused on my goal and good execution, I’ve been really bad about balancing my personal life. Getting from one day to the next has consumed me – and it’s not that I dread any workouts (I really enjoy them), but they require a lot of time at this point. They’re all manageable, but require planning and there’s not much excess time for other things. With a 9-10 hour workday, 45-60 minutes of commuting, and anywhere from 1-3 hours of training on the weekday and 3-4 on the weekends, my schedule is pretty full and I’m not thinking about much but ironman.  I have been going to work, doing my workouts before/after, and when I get home, I’m pre-occupied with eating, packing my gear for the next day, prepping food for the next day, then hitting the sack as early as possible. Then I’m out the door the next day before David wakes up.

It hit me pretty hard this week when David and I sat down and talked (for the first time in too long), and I realized what kind of wife & partner I have been to him lately. It’s really easy for me to become extremely focused on a task and get stuff done, laying emotions aside and “checking out”. I put all my energy into that ONE goal, and then become mechanical about getting it done.  Not spending enough time with family is one thing, but I’ve been really, completely emotionally checked out lately.  And David has been nothing but supportive, so it’s not fair to him.  All I can say is I’m aware of it now, and moving on, I’m trying to make better efforts to be present when I’m home and not completely lacking emotion and energy.  And David has promised no more house hunting until after IMTX is over (even “just looking”) is a lot of work and an emotional process. We both know ironman training is only a temporary thing – 6-7 more weeks and it will be here before we know it. 

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{ the little things – instead of TV playing a silly board game.  A lot more laughter! }

Like anything in life, this is a learning process – and I’m not perfect.  But I wanted to share this; sure the training is tough, but ironman will test you in more ways than one. With that, I’m doing my best to give lots of hugs, be present, and enjoy things with family/friends that I can make time for – game nights, chats, walks, post-run breakfasts, occasional dinners out (pizza!) and living room dancing 🙂 Do you struggle with balance, for lack of a better term? One of my strengths is extreme focus and I thrive with hard work (in work, school, athletics, etc), but it can backfire on me sometimes.

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9 thoughts on “Why Ironman is Hard, and it’s Not the Physical Part

  1. Glad that your training is going well – I’ve enjoyed reading your blog.
    I’m training for my first IM too – CdA in June – and so much of this resonates with me, especially the wife/partner piece. I’m also a teacher and I find that I “give” less to my students – not in terms of the work that I have to grade but the after-school-commitments, so many of which I’ve missed the past few months because I can’t fit it something else.

    1. Thanks so much for writing (and reading!) Kristina. Glad someone else can relate, it’s funny how it helps to know others are going through the same thing. Hope your training is going well!

      1. Joan d’Arc and Deborah of Israel should be on a couple of those tokens! Annie Oakley too, and you get the idea.

  2. I am so happy I have found your blog! I am training currently for my first ironman (mont tremblant in August). I love all of your posts about IMTX and I can relate to so much to this post, specifically. Training for an IM can be so consuming… it’s easy to let it take over your life. I am trying to find a balance, but it’s so hard. So grateful (just like you) for my supportive husband! Congratulations on your Ironman finish! You must be thrilled!!! I look forward to reading about your future endeavors!

    1. Thank you so much Kristin!! I’m glad there are others that relate – yes, thank goodness we have supportive husbands! Yes – super excited on the IM finish and now just really enjoying some time off 🙂 I’m going to have to follow your journey too and see how it goes!

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