Ironman Maryland is now a week away and the usual pre ultra distance race thoughts are dancing through my mind. Did I train enough? What do I need to pack? What does the event schedule look like? What about nutrition? What am I wearing? Did I train enough? How many more swims can I squeeze in before next Saturday? What’s the water temperature? What’s the air temperature? What are the winds doing? What’s the extended forecast look like? And DID I TRAIN ENOUGH?
I’ve raced this distance enough to at least understand the inability to understand all of the messages and questions that are colliding into one another and competing for my attention. I’ve learned that I don’t really need to answer all of them. I just need to be able to hush them into a quiet lull of background white noise.
Some of these questions require a little bit of thought and planning. But the answers to many of these questions just don’t matter. What’s done is done at this point. Did I train enough? Who knows? I’ve learned that this race is always going to be painful. We don’t train in hopes of having a pain free race. We train to be able to endure pain for an extended period of time. We train to be comfortable being uncomfortable. We train so we know what race day pain will feel like.
I certainly haven’t trained as much as I did when I trained for my first Ironman 15 years ago. But I’m also 15 years older and hopefully a little bit wiser. I’ve learned the value of rest and the importance of taking care of my body. I’ve also been through a leukemia diagnosis, remission, two relapses, and two more remissions since my first ironman. So perhaps my perspective is different than that of others.
My cancer mindset is much like my endurance sports mindset. Control the things that I can control. Take things in small bite sized chunks. Understand that everything will be cyclical and I will run the gamut from elation to exhaustion in frequent boomerang fashion. The mind is capable of steering very large objects; like my physical body. Patience and positivity are crucial.
While I am a little nervous, I’m more excited than anything else. I know Cambridge Maryland. Between racing ChesapeakeMan and EagleMan numerous times I have created some wonderful memories there for me and my family. For me this race and this life are about creating experiences to look back on with satisfaction and fulfillment. It’s about doing something that you can be (quietly and humbly) proud of. Times mean nothing to me. Assuming of course that I make all of the required cut offs!
While this will be my 12th Ironman, it’s no more, easier, harder, better, or more important than my or anyone else’s first. I don’t proclaim to be any kind of expert. I’m just weathered, but I’ve persevered, I’ve endured. The same questions arise each and every time I race this distance. The only difference is that with the first couple of Ironman races there tends to be a sense of panic and uncertainty that scares you. Ironman consumes you. It is the focal point of your every thought and action. That never really goes away over the years. But over time, you learn that panic and uncertainty are just part of the game. So you figure out ways of loosening your grip a little to handle the anxiety with more of a quiet resolve. You learn how to temporarily tame the beast. You also learn that Ironman will be just one of many significant events in your life so you eventually find that balance and perspective as well. (And if you are lucky, it won’t be the most significant accomplishment in your life).
Ironman is huge. It’s an amazing accomplishment requiring an incredible amount of commitment and dedication. But at the end of it all, Ironman is just a race. It won’t define you. It won’t make you any better or worse than your neighbor. It can’t rob you of your soul or control or own you. It’s just a race. But it’s one long ass painfully blissful race that you will both love and hate a million times before midnight. And one that you will remember for the rest of your life and hopefully end up loving forever.
Train safe, race smart, and thank the volunteers.