Some of you may know that my ultimate athletic goal was always to do an Ironman triathlon (and, of course, subsequently get the M-dot tattoo). Then I did a half Ironman in 2007 for which I was woefully (and ignorantly) underprepared, and the experience was so miserable that I grabbed Liz around the neck after crossing the finish line and growled, "No matter what I say, don't let me do this again!" Thus, for the past three years, I've been happily telling people that a half Ironman turned out to be Ironman enough for me.
Well, it's not enough.
Turns out I still want the full distance. And I still want the tattoo.
Of course, three months before the start of PA school is hardly the ideal time for this desire to reemerge. I'm barely going to have time to eat and sleep during this program, let alone handle five- and six-hour workouts. Therefore, I've decided that the best way to squelch this urge -- or at least tame it for a while -- is to do another half Ironman. No, really.
The way I figure it, doing another one will either (a) repeat my earlier experience, by completely squashing the desire to do the full distance, or (b) bolster my confidence in my ability to handle the full distance when the time does come. And either way, it's a way of 'going out with a bang'. I am in quite possibly the best shape of my life at the moment, and I know I'm going to lose a percentage of that when school starts and my free time becomes severely curtailed, so it would be nice to test my current physical limits before I enter that vortex. Also, it'll be a good benchmark for the future -- a point of reference, if you will, to reach for after school is over and I've got my life back.
But seriously, I've been impressed by how far I've come physically since the 2007 race, mostly because, with the absence of an easily-accessible pool, I've gotten a lot more serious about running. I've lost 15 pounds, and my half marathon time has dropped from 3:00 to 2:26. I've also completed two full marathons, though we won't talk about the times I earned there (LOL). On the days that I want a lower-impact workout, I've been cycling for an hour at a time (about 15 miles) in the gym, if not on the roads just yet. Also, there are several good masters swim teams in the area of our new apartment, and I'm really looking forward to joining one so that I can get back into swimming shape over the summer. (Having a few weeks with no job to contend with will really help that endeavor.) Furthermore, I've finally learned one of the hardest lessons ever: that I truly do feel better, and perform better, when I eat healthy food. I'm eating more fruits and veggies now, at age 26, than I ever have before.
In contrast to all this, when I raced in September 2007, my athletic resume included only two 15k races (at 2 hours each) and just one -- count 'em, one -- half marathon, with a time of 3 hours flat. I was 15 pounds heavier than I am now, hadn't swum a stroke since the English Channel relay, was eating a crappy diet, and had done only a few sporadic long bike rides. Heck, it's a testament to my stubbornness that I finished the damn race at all. I finished, but I didn't feel like I earned it. This time -- despite my words to Liz three years ago -- I know I can do it, and earn it... and probably even feel good while doing it.
Anyway, so my candidate race is the Patriots Half Ironman in Williamsburg, VA, on September 11th. (There's something nice about doing a difficult athletic event on the anniversary of 9/11. Taxing one's body and mind to the limit on that particular day feels somehow special.) Anyway, it's a completely flat course, only 3.5 hours from Raleigh, and the timing works out almost perfectly. The last two weeks of any long-distance training program are always a taper, and Duke orientation week starts August 16th, with 'real' classes starting the week after that -- so I have all summer to train (including several weeks where I have absolutely nothing at all to do) and then, when school starts, the workout lengths and intensities will drop. Plus, Williamsburg is just a fun city to spend the weekend in, triathlon notwithstanding.
There are downsides, of course. There's a $180 entry fee (yuck). It's over a school weekend, so there won't be much time to linger and enjoy the city. The drive, while not terrible, is still pretty long. I need new sneakers and a serious bike tuneup. And, possibly most importantly of all, I need to work hard to do more cycle training than I did last time. (But our new apartment is literally ON the American Tobacco Trail, so I'll be able to bike a lot, including to and from school.)
But the bottom line is -- I really want to do it. Again, it's a way of 'going out with a bang', temporarily surrendering a percentage of my physical fitness so that I can devote myself to 'mental workouts' for a while. Not that I'm going to stop exercising or competing, but I know I'll have to limit myself to, say, half marathons and Olympic-distance triathlons... challenges that don't suck up too much of my time in their training phases. And that's okay, because it's for a good reason.
But I want the title of Ironman (or, in my case, Ironwoman). I want the tattoo. I want the 140.6 sticker on my car. I want the knowledge that my body can do anything I push it to do. And this -- training for and competing in a half Ironman that I can feel good about -- is the first step.