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The Pain Cave

This weekend I went to the pain cave. I didn’t realize that my first Half IronMan distance would be quite so challenging, but it was definitely a test of endurance and mind over matter.

Because so many IronMan races have been cancelled, IronMan came up with a virtual platform to race where you are. Instead of swimming the first leg, they replaced it with an additional shorter run.

I have done a few Olympic and Sprint distances (see the distances of triathlons here) and I thought I was ready to move up to the arena where the real athletes play. I decided that I would have to ride away from the house instead of doing any kind of loop route because then I would have no choice but to come back as far as I went out. As of right now, the bike is my biggest worry because it is such a huge part of the race and it can make or break your ability to get the ending run completed.

What I find hardest about the bike is my hands and wrists. I have not mastered being in aero for long periods of time yet, so I spend a lot of time up on my hands…which then start to go numb over time.

Day 1 Run: 3 Miles – The weekend began very positively. I went out for the first leg which was a run – an easy 3 miles and finished with no issues. I went super easy so my legs would be fresh for the arduous route I had mapped out on my bike.

Day 2: Bike 56 Miles– I decided I was going to ride up a relatively continuous incline from Phoenix into Cave Creek. After riding steadily uphill for over an hour, my legs started to shake. My hands and wrists were killing me and I started to question if I should turn back. The elite athletes were whizzing by without even being out of breath while I was concerned about cardiac arrest. A few people rode by with a concerned, “are you okay?” Very nice but also a message of “you look like you might be dying and need help.”

There was no way I was going to admit defeat – this is what comes of announcing to the world that you are doing an IronMan race – you can’t just go back and say “it didn’t work out.”

I was NOT going to give up! So I entered the pain cave (see these cool shirts from IronMan). It was a constant battle of tolerating the pain and telling myself to go just a little bit more. At one point I was stopping at every intersection just to give my legs and arms a rest. There were so many thoughts that floated through my head. So many reasons to turn back. My brain was really good at telling me I could race that distance another day, or I could go back and ride on the flatter areas.

  • Resting stop in Cave Creek

Just when I thought I couldn’t go on, Mr. M showed up like a knight in shining armor with ice cold water, hydrate, breakfast and snacks. I could have cried it was so good to see him and take a break. That support was just the push I needed to go on. I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t burn out on the way home and have to call him to get me, but I was ready to push on.

This was a true victory of mind over matter. I think that is what being an Ironman is all about – persevering in spite of the pain. I had a true moment of break through. I have a new understanding of what this race is all about. It is being comfortable with the uncomfortable – heck it is being comfortable with being in pain and pushing past it.

I was taking a break at Apache Wash Trailhead when Mr. M showed up and surprised me with another round of ice cold water and snacks. That was exactly what I needed to get back on the bike and finish. I finished up at almost exactly 56 miles – the longest I had ever biked in one session. I was so proud and yet overwhelmed at how hard it had been.

Day 3: Run 13.1 miles – But the race wasn’t over yet! I still had a half marathon to run and somehow, on Sunday morning, I got up bright and early and got out there. By the time I was on my last 5 miles, the heat was really challenging – another visit to the pain cave.

Of course the other point to ponder and wrap my head around is that I will have to do double that distance ALL IN ONE DAY in November. That is a lot to take in and a real wake up call to train more seriously and with total committment. I have recruited Mr. M to help me stay on track and I’ve given him full permission to tell me the hard truths that will get me out the door if I have a moment of weakness.

Today I’m happy to say I’m not very sore. I will continue to mitigate inflammation with supplements like curcumin, amino acids, and my very effective sweet potato ginger soup.

I know I will be stronger from having completed this challenging race and I will focus on nailing the distance on flatter routes before trying the elevation challenge again. I earned my badge on IronMan Dashboard (see below) and will hang my medal proudly to remind me of the first half IronMan distance I completed.

Not every day is an entry to the pain cave, but this weekend I went there and won. It is a good feeling.


PS. Thank you Mr. M!!! <3

IronMan VR 12 - Half IronMan Distance
First Half IronMan Distance Completed!

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  1. Ari

    June 22, 2020 at 5:48 pm

    Love this! It’s so great to hear that it’s not unusual to experience pain/discomfort when you’re bettering yourself! Keep it up, we all believe in you!

    • IronWoman

      June 22, 2020 at 5:50 pm

      Thanks so much – it is certainly a journey and I’m learning so much as I go!

  2. Mr. M

    June 22, 2020 at 9:37 pm

    We’re all *SO* proud of you! I’ve wandered around the entrance to the pain cave a few times—and I may have even taken a small step or two in on very rare occasions—but I’ve never had the mental or physical stamina to confidently explored its inner depths, beyond the light of day. I’m guessing biking 90 km and running over a 1/2 marathon in one weekend is an impressive exploration of the pain cave for all but the elite athletes; to optionally choose a bike route that is arguably one of the most difficult rides in the greater Phoenix area, is really saying something about your desire and commitment! You didn’t just casually wander in the vicinity of the pain cave, you armored up and biked/ran into it head-on, as hard as you could, and emerged stronger and smarter. You pushed further than you thought possible. You overcame crazy-difficult conditions. You persevered and you were victorious—what an amazing accomplishment! GREAT JOB!

    • IronWoman

      June 22, 2020 at 9:51 pm

      Thanks honey – I couldn’t have done it without you! I love you so much!!!

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