Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Early Morning Coffee

Early Friday morning, I found myself sitting across from a friend that had also completed an IM on October 21st and was ready to spill the details of her success over a cup of coffee.

It was a few months ago when we ran into each other at the pool and realized that we were both training for an Ironman. From there, we began a summer-long Ironman-induced adventure that covered many, many miles. She was the first person, other than my husband, that I had trained with in years and reminded me of the fun of sharing recovery rides, killer swims, and long runs.

Like me, she seemed more aggravated than anything else by the last 2 weeks of training leading up to the race. You feel fat, you feel fit, you feel moody, you feel anxious. The weather turns cold and it gets dark far too early and still you have to swim, bike, run. It had been a long summer of training, sacrifices, eating. We both conceded that it was just time to get the thing done.

But despite all of our anxieties and annoyances with the training and preparations and doubts about our abilities to do the distance without pain, injury, or mental defeat, the race arrived, the distance went by, and we both crossed a finish line to become an Ironman, after 140.6 miles, on the same day.

A few days later, she sent me an e-mail reporting her race success and asking “is it wrong to consider doing this again?” I had to laugh because it took me a few days to feel the same way. So she suggested we meet over coffee to share our experiences in the safety of someone that understands it fully because they’ve been through it just like you.

She admitted that she hadn’t done anything since the race and actually liked that. I concurred that sitting on the couch or falling in love with your job again is attractive and satisfying when it’s been so long and so far in the other direction. And we might as well have been on our bikes, passing the miles as we recounted our race experiences together. But somehow on that chilly morning I was grateful that we settled for Starbuck’s instead.

Though we were thousands of miles apart with 6 time zones between us, our Ironman experiences mirrored each other almost every step of the way. We both found the swim to be much easier than we thought it would be. The bike was not nearly as boring or long as we thought it would be. We both had anticipated miles 60 – 90 would be hard on our head and body. We were both surprised when they weren't. We both agreed that everything we loved to eat in training tasted terrible on race day. And the run, we both were surprised how great our legs felt, how you can bike that far and still feel fresh and ready to run.

What surprised us even more was crossing the finish line. Not that it was anti-climatic, but it gets built up in your mind as something so huge that you almost expect bells, whistles, confetti, and fireworks to go off simultaneously in your head as it nearly bursts with the excitement of your own accomplishment. But that wasn’t the case for the both of us.

Of course she, like myself, took that as a cue that we did not race it hard enough. Which then plants the seeds of sick curiosity and compulsion of what if next time I raced it, how fast could I go? Which naturally leads to the question of which course would be the best course to make that happen? And what do you think my time would be? Could I take 10 minutes off the run? 20 off the bike? The questions multiplied the mysteries of Ironmans that one day might be and the excitement of our own abilities, what if’s, could be’s was like a natural stimulant more powerful than the coffee.

And after awhile we asked what if we should just be happy with what we’ve done and settle with that for awhile. That seemed to quiet us down and return us to happiness with the life we were now leading, post-Ironman, in which we have reconnected with our families, and jobs, and former versions of our selves. That would be good enough for now.

And so we decided that next year would not be the year to go out and race another Ironman. A decision that surprisingly got us excited all over again, because imagine the possibilities now that we have this aerobic base and enormous engine to start from so early in the year. Just imagine.

It was an exciting place to be, to look at the year ahead and imagine with someone equally as excited as you are. It reminded me of how grateful I was that we had run into each other in the pool that one day and connected for so many workouts. And with that I knew I’d pass many more miles with her – Ironman or not – in the next year.

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