I remember almost every step of the last few miles: I was going to throw up, I stopped, I started, I stopped again, I sat down, I cried, I picked myself up, I stopped once more…
I just took part in my first Ironman. I also think it was my last. A few people have asked for my thoughts on whether they should sign up for one and so in the hazy aftermath, here are my views, in a kind of reverse order of priority:
What are you willing to do?
There are many facets to a multisport endurance race. One or more will be your kryptonite. You’ll have to spend a lot of time with your kryptonite. Can you immerse yourself in the things you enjoy least?
How do you feel going to bed at 8pm, waking at 5am, jumping into a lake with what feels like thousands of spawning salmon, riding for hours on a saddle narrower than your hand, eating nothing but sweet flavoured food for hours end…?
How much money do you have?
Sh*t’s expensive. The race, the hotel for the race, getting to the race, all these same costs for a practice race, physical therapy, energy bars, energy gels, energy drinks, clothing, wet suit, bike, bike equipment, bike spares, bike trainer, computer, a bike ‘fit’. BOY do you need a bike fit!
Without a good bike fit, you risk sore shoulders, back pain, hip trouble, knee pain, or trashing your legs before you even begin the 26 mile (42 km) run. The correct saddle choice is part of that process, unless you’re happy to risk losing feeling in your penis. (If you’re a lady demi-god Ironman-in-waiting and can’t feel your penis anyway, then don’t worry because you’ve almost certainly got bigger balls than most.) And did I say sh*t’s expensive!
How much time do you have?
If you add the time spent doing the workouts, getting to the workouts, stretching, going to massage, research, recording your workouts, bike maintenance, shopping for more stuff… I conservatively estimated that I was spending over 35 hours a week, on top of my wage earning job.
How bloody minded are you?
I guess another way of phrasing this is to ask how you handle adversity. That adversity may come during training, perhaps if injury comes to you and suddenly your training plans are upended. It might arrive during the race itself, when successive mechanical issues on your bike prevent you from getting into any rhythm. Sometimes you need to battle, sometimes you need to roll with it, and sometimes you need to do both… at the same time.
What are you willing to give up?
Even more important than what you’re willing to do to succeed is what you’re willing to give up. Training is a job and there will be time for nothing else. Do you have a family, a demanding job, an active social network, a love of sleep, a love of sex? It will be impossible to give the time you want to everything in your life as it is at the moment. You’ll also be exhausted. (Hey! Maybe you can save time on that bike fit since you won’t need your penis anyway.) Everything will need to be compromised at some point.
What do your friends and family need to give up on your behalf?
You might be a type ‘A’ endorphin junkie but did your life partner / other life partner / kids / pet platypus sign up with you? You won’t be with them when you want to be…or when THEY want you to be. You’ll be out riding, or running, or swimming, or getting a massage, or… (See section on “sh*t’s expensive!” for a wider list. )
Do NOT do an Ironman to:
- … lose weight.
You’re not “in it to thin it”. In fact you’ll be consuming so much in sugars that your dental bills may even go through the roof.
- … FOMO (or “Fear of Missing Out”).
Has Tetris not taught you that if you try to fit in you’ll disappear? You will race to the beat of your own drum, and you need to take on this challenge on the same basis.
- … a drunken dare.
I have no words.
The above sets out the logical approach but if we always applied logic in life, we’d miss out on the glory that is children, a big wedding, acquiring a taste for wine or beer. And how many achievements of significance are undertaken because they are logical, or easy?
Logic isn’t enough. Sometimes it’s just something you need to do although you need to be able to articulate that reason to yourself. Make sure it’s a burning fire, bright enough to both guide and sustain you through the dark times of training, and the dark times of the race.
When I signed up, 11 months before the day of the race, I didn’t truly appreciate how much I’d have to invest. (I don’t think you can truly understand until you’ve done it.) I didn’t realize the toll it would take on those closest to me. And if I’m being honest, I signed up with too much naivety and with too much social emphasis; my friends were doing it. But I loved my experience.
I cry when I think back on it. I found more in myself than I knew I had. I finished with such humility after what I went through, and drew so much from the inspiration I saw around me. I found myself experiencing such unbridled love for everyone and everything – for DAYS afterwards – that I want that feeling again, with everything I have. But it’s not just my decision now. There are other things I want to do in life. I don’t regret one moment of the whole 6 month experience of training, and then racing. Everyone should have such a gruelling experience, such a sublime experience, and feel those same emotions.