Thursday, May 27, 2010

Because It's There

Firstly I just want to point out the small change to the sidebar of this blog.  Under the races section you'll see IMSG 2011.  St George was an incredibly tough race that got the better of me on the day, but I still remain convinced that I can perform there and it represents one of my best opportunities to qualify.  This time I know what to expect and can tailor my training accordingly.

The title of this post is the well known answer to the question "Why climb the mountain?" and that simple phrase is as eloquent a reply as anyone could hope for.  I am often asked the same question about Ironman and typically this response is the first one in my head.

However this post would be pretty short if I left it at that.  What I want to talk about is what effects it has had on my life and what motivates me to keep coming back, and indeed to make it one of the major aspects of my day to day existence.  Partly this is to remind myself.  After a few weeks downtime, getting back into training has not been that easy.  That intoxicating feeling of being in peak form has disappeared and I look at the sacrifices I make and wonder if they are truly justified.

Long Term Planning (LTP)
Ironman forces me to think about the future and further ahead than most people are used to I suspect.  It is now May and this season is all planned, as indeed are the major events of 2011 (St George and Regensburg, not to mention a couple of months over the winter in Cape Town to work and train).  As IM athletes we are all well aware that most races need to be booked a year in advance.

There are events I want to do such as the Berlin Marathon, but I already know I cannot do it this year or next.  This is because I have got it into my head that I want to qualify, and in the words of my coach "Doing a marathon will not make you a better triathlete".  OK sure, I could do a marathon, but not the way I'd like to, namely a 6 month run focused training program to produce a maximal effort on race day.  I have no interest in a social marathon during this window of time when I am still able to break PBs.

It Takes a Long Time to Get Good
This one's from Gordo, and is probably the most valuable lesson and linked to LTP.  Ironman is unforgiving - you can't just turn up and perform, you need to put in the work and typically you need to put in the work over several years, not just a couple of months.

It has taught me commitment, patience and resolve; the power of consistent effort over many weeks, many months.  The need to slowly build the aerobic engine (usually 3-4 months for me) before throwing in intensity.  The resolve to get out the door when it's cold, dark, wet and you're tired both mentally and physically, and the bed is so warm and inviting.  It's 3 years since I started training specifically for my first ironman, and I know my best performances are still ahead of me.

The lesson is there for all aspects of life - if you want to get really good at anything, then be prepared to put in the effort and the large numbers of hours it will require.  And on the flipside there are only so many things you can truly commit to, you'll need to decide what's important to you and leave the rest.

Mental Game
Ironman has also taught me how important a strong mind is.  There are 2 major and quite different challenges here - one is training and the other is the race.  To train well over an extended period requires the ability to be consistent and structured.  My life has become more organised as I have to plan how I can fit 10-12 workouts into my normal week.

It has taught me that I need to develop inner balance to be able to support the fatigue and other calls on my time (the rather irritating distraction we call a job..).  I don't have a family or indeed a girlfriend so that does simplify matters, although that's one complication I'd be happy to throw into the mix!

The race is a sharper challenge and cuts to the quick.  There is no hiding - if there is a weakness in your inner resolve, in the reasons why you do the race, in your self confidence, in your willingness to endure pain, ultimately in your mental self control, it will show clear as day come the race.  The dark patches that you will be experiencing will expose your true colours, and your actions in those moments will speak louder that any words.

Where in everyday life do you get such an extreme test?  Very rarely.  Ironman gives you one of the most intense and rigorous mental challenges available in civilian life - how will you cope?  Will you break apart out there on the road, or will you conquer your demons?

The Sheer Hell of It
If you want to do well in this sport, then you better have a deep love of swimming, cycling and running, because you're sure gonna be doing a hell of a lot of it.  It's best to forget about results most of the time and enjoy the journey.  If you don't enjoy the journey then why do it?

I do love the journey, and of all the ways I could be using my time, this is the one I choose more often than not.  My holidays are training camps or races, and actually that is much higher on my list than sitting on a beach all day, or going out there to see 'the sights'.  Of course I'm not averse to doing those activities when the training's done and I've earnt the right to a bit of relaxation..

The People
I've met some great friends through the sport.  No doubt with any activity you do for any length of time you will meet like minded individuals, but I have noticed something different about the endurance crowd.

Many of the friends I have made are quite exceptional people, people who I admire and who are a constant inspiration.  People who I consider role models for a life well lived.  The difference is these role models are not film stars or authors or celebrities or business leaders, but living breathing people in my life.

It's a privilege to have met these friends - I just wish I could be more like them!  Well here's hoping some of it will rub off!

Summing It Up
This sport can be an addiction, it can take over your life, demand huge sacrifices and if you're not careful can destroy relationships.  But it can also be life giving and a firm but beneficent teacher.  For me it has stripped away the layers of my life and exposed my weaknesses, as well as what is truly important to me.  It has shown me how to grow, both as a person and as an athlete.  I feel I still have a very long way to go, and can't help feeling like a novice most of the time, but hey I'm enjoying following the path.

So why do I do it?  Well because it's there of course.


  1. Inspirational post mate - it sums up nicely the draw that I have felt for a few years towards attempting an ultra. Hopefully I can do the 50K in August, and maybe, inshallah, work towards a 50 miler in a year or so.

  2. Mate - that's awesome - ultras put the fear of God into me! My friend Robby is doing Comrades again in a few days time, and I can't even begin to think about the pain fest that involves.

    I think I'm also scared that if I do one, I might like it and want to get better... maybe it's something to look at when the competition bug is out of my system. In the mid term future I want to explore more adventure type racing and broaden my horizons.

    Good luck with the ultra training!

  3. Nicely stated mate. I may be joining you in St. George again next year...

  4. Good news Jack! A couple of top ten finishes will be just what the doctor orders, and hopefully we'll see you on the podium this time..