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.
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