By: Cheryl Alden, PT
In 2006, I decided to do my first triathlon. I was training a guy who had been racing for years. It was something I had wanted to do for a while but seemed out of reach. I ran cross country in high school and through out college for fitness. I had biked relatively infrequently, mostly as a form of transportation but the swim thing scared me. I mean, I could swim, or at least not drown. I knew the basic strokes but never swam for fitness.
One day I was training him and I mentioned how maybe when I turn 40 it would be a goal. He looked at me and said, “How old are you?” “32”, I replied. “What the hell are you waiting for?” I had no answer. What was I waiting for? My twins were to be starting preschool a couple days a week that fall so I would have at least an hour of uninterrupted gym time where I could swim without fearing daycare come down to tell me one of my little cherubs needed changing. So in September of 2006, I started to swim for fitness and so begin my triathlon training.
In 2007, I completed my first sprint triathlon and won my age groupJ. Needless to say, I was hooked. The following year, I upped my game and entered an Olympic distance triathlon, a bit longer of a race. It was one of the most challenging things I did and remember crossing the finish line thinking that was A LOT of work. No way would I ever do an Ironman 70.3 or Ironman! That’s just crazy!
Welcome to crazy! I had befriended some other local triathletes during my training and racing. Many of them had done those crazy long triathlons that I KNEW I would never do. I couldn’t do an ironman or even a half ironman. That’s nuts. I’ll stick with the Olympic, that’s long enough. Thank you very much.
Well, in 2009, one of my friends who I had raced and trained with had decided to do her first 70.3 distance triathlon, a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run. She asked if I wanted to do it with her. She told me a bunch of others she knew were doing it and it would be fun. Damn. Ok, I’ll do it! It obviously didn’t take much for me to agree to do such a crazy thing but I had to seriously rethink my time. I had still been doing traditional strength training in the gym but with the added swim bike and run training, I needed to re evaluate that option. I decided to experiment yet again on myself and see if doing a few 20-30 minute pilates sessions a week before I started training others would work to keep up my muscle strength and keep me injury free. It allowed me to free up the couple hours a week I needed to add the training for the 70.3 race. I was pleased that I did keep my muscle tone and strength with pilates and trained for the race staying injury free. Bye, bye free weights. Haven’t touched them since.
Although I am not the fastest, the longer distance races seemed to suit me. I am more endurance than speed and ended up taking 3rd in my age group at that race, much to my surprise. But to double that for an ironman, I don’t think so.
Never, say never!
‘Hey Cheryl, a bunch of us are signing up for Lake Placid Ironman in 2011, you want in?’
Damn. Ok, I’m in!
I realized from chatting and training with these ironmen and women that they were normal. No crazy here, just dedicated to training and racing to push themselves for the victory of hearing ‘YOU ARE AN IRONMAN’ as you cross that finish line in under 17 hours!!!
#1 Get to starting line injury free. This is where I, at least tell myself, had an advantage. I knew what aches and pains I could work through and which I really shouldn’t unless I wanted to risk injury. It is harder said than done especially when you have miles upon miles to do on a training plan. I hired a triathlon coach for the first time. I had always grabbed the free training plans online or in magazines that had worked for me but Ironman was different. The task of traversing 140.6 miles in a day via swim, bike and run seemed overwhelming and I didn’t want to be questioning myself race day if I had done enough to prepare. Also, I didn’t want to fall into the over training pit of despair. It is hard to take a rest day, at least for me, as I felt I needed to be constantly training to prepare myself. It was much easier to justify one when coach had it on the training schedule.
#2 Complete the training to the best of my ability and stay consistent. Easier said than done sometimes when the alarm goes off at 4:30a to get in a swim, bike or run before the sun rises, the cherubs awake or my husband has to head to work. Many mornings I had to talk myself into getting up and motivating. I knew that I would be bummed and somewhat irritable for the rest of the day had I missed my opportunity to train so up I went. Although there was no formal strength training on my program, I continued to do my short pilates sessions a few times a week to help keep me balanced. Working those often neglected small muscles helped keep me stable during the long hours of training.
#3 Enjoy race day and stay in the moment. I had my time goals for the race and wanted to do well but it’s a long day and you never know what the day will bring. The best advice I got from my coach as well as other ironman finishers is to enjoy the day. You will only have your first ironman once so take it all in. You can never really prepare for the unknown. And that is what Ironman was for me. My attitude had changed and I was determined to have a good day no matter what Ironman or mother nature had to throw at me.
Race day came and I was as prepared physically and mentally as I was going to be. The magnitude of what I was about to do finally got to me as I am standing in the water waiting for the cannon to go off. ‘What the hell am I doing?’
A few tears and sense of being totally overwhelmed came over me but then off the cannon went and my first Ironman had begun. Game on!
To this day, Ironman Lake Placid 2011 is still one of the most favorite days of my life. It was an experience I will never forget. I definitely learned many things about myself during Ironman training and racing. I learned that I was mentally and physically stronger in ways that I thought I could never be. Hard work and commitment pays off. Whether you are training for an Ironman, rehabbing from injury or just trying to make a change in your life no matter how big or small, commitment and an unrelenting enthusiasm to making a difference is the key to success. Train on!