Ironmaz - Training Log

Tuesday, November 25, 2008
perspective
Day 2

It is just over 48 hours since I pulled out from the Ironman and I have gained much perspective since. It’s curious in a way for me because although I can solve problems very quickly, it takes me time to arrive to conclusions.

As expected, Ironman Arizona 2009 sold out early this morning. Once North American Sports announced the new registration process a few weeks ago, I knew that races in the US would sell out almost immediately. And like I said before, if you want to do one of these races, you really have to want to do it because odds are you will need to visit the race site the morning after the race in order to register. In the past 4 years I have watched this race grow exponentially in participants. It seems that everyone wants to be part of this phenomenon.

I learned a lot about my limitations, which is something you don’t expect to admit. I know that I am not at my ideal weight and that slows me down. I know that I need to work a lot more on the run. I don’t do well in cold weather or water. And I know that my asthma is more real than I care to admit. It is these factors that make Ironman difficult for me.

But it has been a long time since I have felt good about a race. Two weeks before the Ironman I ran a 5k and felt lousy after it for several days. My LA Marathon was literally a bloody mess. And while Vineman 70.3 was good overall, it was not a great race. The last great race I had was doing a sprint XTerra off-road triathlon in May 2007.

Triathlon only makes up a small percentage of who I am. My world consists of much more than just triathlon. Ironman has consumed my life for the past several years. An old friend put it well several months ago: “You’ve got a score to settle with that distance.”

And while that is true, I think the healthiest decision both mentally and physically is to let the distance go. The stubborn side of me still runs Sunday past me and says that maybe I could have found a way to keep going and finish. But here I am two days later and my biceps and triceps still hurt. My hamstrings are still sore. Even my palms are tired from holding the handle bar for those 74 miles.

Pulling out when I did was a smart idea. I got myself out of a bad situation before it got worse.

That is not an easy decision for ego to accept. No. Ego wants to conquer the world. Ego wants to prove that he is just as tough as anyone else. Ego was glory. Ego would find a way to glorify crawling across the finish line and passing out.

My ego gets me into a lot of trouble these days.

And so 48 hours later, I have accepted my decisions. I am not sad, upset, or angry about the decision. I feel lighter. This score I wanted to settle was something I imposed on myself. I didn’t finish the Ironman but people still think I’m nuts for even trying one. And many others respect me for trying one and getting as far as I did.

But in the moments when I lose perspective I remind myself that on Easter Sunday 2003, three of my friends and I got together to celebrate the end of Lent and that I rode my bike 20 miles on that morning.

I have come a long way since those 20 miles. But every time I ride down the San Gabriel River path and cross the bridge that marks the 10-mile spot, I slow down and remember that moment.

It was only 20 miles, but on that day it felt like I had just conquered the toughest distance I could imagine.

Monday, November 24, 2008
The story began in 2003 with the thought of a triathlon. Since then, I have been to many places and seen many events. I have covered short distances and long distances. I have dreamt of the Ironman and I have tried. And yet the distance still evades me.

Race morning began as they all do, rising just after 4am and going through all the race preparations. Ironman spoils you because you check in all your transition gear the night before along with your bike. All you need to do is show up with your wetsuit and you’re pretty much ready to go.

I rehearsed the entire event the night before. I visualized every step, every stroke, every transition. I have been to Tempe before; I knew what to expect. But I never imagined that the water could be so cold.

The official temperature was 63 degrees Fahrenheit. The water felt much colder. And not just to me but to everyone else as well. The night before I jumped into the non-heated swimming pool at the hotel. I thought that was cold. The lake was extremely cold. I had difficulty catching my breath let alone putting my head under water. I really did not know how I was going to swim.

I still was not warmed up when the cannon went off. I found myself in the middle of the pack and as much as I tried moving to the outer edge, I kept getting trampled. It was chaos and I could not get out. After about 15 minutes I finally found a spot to call my own and started swimming. The water was calm and I felt good, but still cold. I figured I would warm up as time went by.

I could not escape the thought of my previous experience in this lake in 2006 when my legs cramped up and almost caused me to pull out. I stayed relaxed and loose and worked with the water, careful not to let myself get tense.

I had an easier time with the swim than last time and my time was 10 minutes faster than before, but I still wanted to get out of the water and get warm.

The swim exit was a series of steps. The volunteers told me where to put my hands and knees and pull myself out. But my legs would not move. As I stood up, my feet felt like pins were being stuck in them. My legs would not bend at the knee. I hobbled to the wetsuit peel and once the suit was off, I realized how cold I was.

Part of me wished I had packed a towel to dry myself off and wipe the grass from my feet. But I had nothing of the sort. I grabbed my bag and went into the tent. The tent was warm and as I changed I tried to warm up, but nothing helped. I hoped that getting on the bike would help. I was on my bike 10 minutes later making my way down Rio Salado.

I wish I could say that the bike ride was good, but it wasn’t. From the start I began having problems. I ingested my Gatorade and electrolyte tablets in hopes of reducing the cramps in my legs. That helped quite bit. But then my stomach decided it did not like the concoction of fluids I was taking. The wind was strong on the way out, and by the time I reached the top of the first loop, the wind shifted the directions. The next lap would have me going up the slow and steady 6-mile climb into the wind. I started having flashbacks to my 2006 attempt. I fought winds and fatigue through the 112 miles only to make cutoff by 1 minute and too tired to start the run.

By the middle of the second lap, my asthma started flaring up and my digestive system decided that none of the nutrients would stay in me long enough to do me any good. My arms were hurting from the swim. I couldn’t get comfortable on the bike. I was not having a good time at all.

So at the end of the second lap of the bike, at mile 74, I called it a day.

And here I am just over 24 hours later wondering if I made the right decision. I know I did, but it still doesn’t help that the Ironman continues to be the elusive distance. Could it be that I have put so much value into this distance that I have created a monster within myself? I have decided that Ironman would define me in a new way. If I could finish an Ironman, everything in my life would change. I could prove to myself that I could actually finish something for once.

But every attempt has resulted in me pulling out. Not because I didn’t try enough. Not because I didn’t train enough. Not because I didn’t want to do it. I simply ran out of options. In 2005 I was one week out of the flu. I cramped during the 2006 race. And now in 2008, I couldn’t keep food inside of me.

I did everything right.

But the Ironman is too unpredictable. It is unstable. It is uncertain. Someone once said that Ironman encompasses and entire lifetime in 140.6 miles. I wanted Ironman to define my life because I felt that my life had no meaning.

I have travelled many miles in this journey. I found meaning in all those miles. Perhaps I have forgotten those meanings.

And so the question everyone is asking: Will I return next year? Will I try again?

I told myself before the race began that this would be my final attempt in a long time. I have sacrificed too many other aspects of my life for this event. I have let this event consume my thoughts and my dreams. This is not the way I want to spend the rest of my life.

I promised myself that after this attempt, I would step away from Ironman for some time. I would focus on the rest of my world, and those around me. I would make time for music, for friends, for love. I would return to something others might call a “normal” life. There are too many other things in my life to give up for 140.6 miles of Ironman.

Triathlon is not dead for me, however. I will still swim, bike, and run. I might even try my hand at 70.3 again. But not in the immediate future.

I have lost sight as to why I started this story 5 years ago. It was never about Ironman in the beginning. It was about a lonely man who bought a bike one day and decided to go up the side of a mountain only to discover that his body wouldn’t let him. It is about a man who found his way to other parts of himself he had forgotten about. It is about learning from mistakes and dealing with loss. The finish line is important, but it is not the defining moment.

And so 2009 will be a year without events. A year without training. A year without worrying about how many miles I need to cover next weekend.

I will let the blisters heal. I will let the toenails grow normally again. I will take care of my body. I will still swim, bike, and run. I will still time myself on my favorite rides. But I will explore unknown trails in the mountains, chase leaves down the road, and occasionally pass a bus on the road.

I hope that in the coming weeks, you will read about a man who went out riding out on his bike and remembered how he and his best friend in high school, Mike, once rode from Mission Viejo to Irvine in the rain and came home miserable and wet. And how the next week they went again but just a little further. And then a few weeks later found themselves walking into a Coco’s restaurant at Fashion Island in Newport Beach asking the hostess if they could have their water bottles refilled because they were thirsty.

I will have fun with all this again.

Another promise to myself.

Friday, November 21, 2008
1 day, 10 hours
I am maintaining a much lower profile this year than previous years. And I am not sure why. I didn't make my way to the registration until after noon. It was a very smooth process and no lines, which was fantastic.

The town of Tempe feels so familiar, and it has been a year since I've been here. The weather has been mild with slight winds. It has been warm but not hot, definitely different weather than April or July.

After registration , we headed out for a late lunch and an early nap. Then it was off to the race dinner and race meeting. I am sad to report that the race dinner has not gotten any better. It was a buffet of salad, pasta, rice, and a chicken breast. None of it was very appetizing or nourishing. I know it is included in the race cost but I wish they could make more of an effort, especially since it costs $25 for the guest tickets.

Tomorrow morning I will start packing my race bags and transporting my bike to the check-in.

I have a feeling that the anxiousness will really start to kick in tomorrow.

Arrival
Well, Karen and I have arrived in Arizona. Actually, we rolled in yesterday afternoon around 4pm. I had hoped to get in a little earlier to handle my registration, but the 1-hour time difference doesn't always work in your favor.

We spent last night hanging out with friends and were out a little too late, so this morning is off to a slow start. But that's ok. This morning's agenda is to pick up my registration packet and drive the bike course. The Ironman dinner is tonight as well.

I will write more later, once this day gets going.

The notion of doing this event has not hit me yet.

Saturday, November 15, 2008
Moving forward
And so it is one week until the big day. It is always a surprise when this time arrives. When it all started, it was so far away ago. I registered in December 2007. November seemed so far away then. After Vineman 70.3, the race was 20 weeks away. Now it is down to one.

There are still moments when I second-guess myself. I look back at my training schedule and training log and see if I had forgotten anything. I try to determine if there were places where I could have added the extra miles. Maybe I should have tried to squeeze in a 20-mile run even though all training manuals I researched said that if I had been running for over 9 months continuously and doing long distance, adding a second 20-mile run late in the year was not a good idea.

I wonder if my bike will be fast enough. Will I be able to keep the 15mph average I want. Or will it be like Vineman where somehow I managed 16.1 mph on the hilliest race I have ever done. I just don’t know.

And it turns out that everyone doing an Ironman wonders the same things. Even the pros. All of just want to finish. If we happen to be in first place, that is wonderful, but there are so many factors it is hard to tell. This year’s Hawaiian Ironman had unexpected twists. The top three men who all could have won, fell back in the last 6 miles. The woman who was down 14 minutes after a flat came back and won the race by 12 minutes. Last year’s men’s winner dropped out of the race after he was told it would take 10 minutes to fix his broken cable. Why didn’t he just go for it?

I don’t plan on stopping. No matter what mechanical failure I might have, I will find a way to keep on going. As long as I can stand and move forward I will keep on going. It has been a long road leading up to this event. I have sacrificed much, and so I will not stop.

I may run out of time, but I will not stop.

Monday, November 03, 2008
Magic is stronger than Steel
In September of 2003 I completed my first sprint triathlon in Long Beach. I believe I finished in 2.5 hours. Not the fastest sprint time, but considering that I had started training in July and I could not walk let alone run 3 miles, I felt empowered and ready for me. Since then, triathlon has become an important part of my life and a variable of how I define myself.

I often describe my training as my only time to be alone with my thoughts. It is where I clear my mind and remove myself from my present reality. It was the place where I could solve problems and learn more about myself. Oddly enough, it was about 4 years ago when a good friend of mine pointed out that I really hadn’t solved any problems. I was just using triathlon as an escape. I discovered things about myself. My mind grew stronger, but focus greater, and my determination solid. But it was all internal, aimed directly at myself.

I would take breaks from the sport and attempt to interact with others, but as soon as I felt threatened or insecure, I would hop on the bike and let the miles carry me away. It was my sanctuary.

And somewhere along the line, I decided that the only way to truly discover who I was involved me completing an Ironman. It was only in crossing the finish line after 140.6 miles would the new and improved Andrew Maz emerged. My first attempt was in 2005, where I caught a cold 1 week before the race and as a result pulled out after mile 35 on the bike because my asthma and sinuses would not let me comfortably finish.

I went back in 2006 and made the bike cutoff time by 45 seconds and withdrew because I wasn’t sure I could finish the marathon in the allotted time. This time I caught a cold 10 days before the event. On race morning, my bronchial tubes were still draining.

It seemed like discovering the new version of me was never going to happen.

I did three races in 2007, two sprint mountain bike triathlons and an Olympic distance triathlon. I was not trying to set any records, I just wanted to race and have fun for once. The XTerra triathlon in Temecula was my best race ever. I finished nearly an hour faster than I planned and smiled the entire race. Still without the Ironman under my belt, I would never realize my true potential.

I have grown to realize that the Ironman has become this obstacle in my life. Instead of empowering me, it prevents me from moving forward. Instead of seeing it as a challenge and an opportunity to learn, it has become a barrier. My entire life has been stalled because of this Ironman.

I came across a quote last night that sparked new thought in me: “Magic is stronger than Steel.”

Ironman has become my shield, my protection, my excuse. I don’t have time for anyone because of Ironman. I can’t grow inside until I finish an Ironman. I won’t really know who I am until I complete Ironman. No one can really understand what I am going through because they are not trying to complete an Ironman. I have turned an event that should impact my life into one that prevents me from living a life.

This shield has pushed me away from the one I love.

I have grown weak from fighting a battle I was never supposed to fight.

Ironman is supposed to be a journey. A journey of discovery and adventure. A journey that brings you closer to yourself and the ones you love. Without her there is no magic.

The Ironman will not change me. It will not redefine me. It will take me to a place I have never been before. It will force me to look deep into my soul and find strength and courage to move forward. But I will not be a lesser man if I don’t finish. I will not count the miles I have left to complete. I will reflect on those I have covered and seek more memories.

I will allow Ironman to become part of the magic that I already have in my life.

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