Monday, November 24, 2014

Chasing the finish line euphoria - my thoughts on Ironman goals

In my experience there is nothing quite like the euphoria experienced when one crosses the Ironman Finish line.

Background informal Case Studies
In the best of cases Ironman races take your intended goals and chew them up and spit them up as tears during the marathon. This year however mother nature joined the show and just made chaos out of Ironman goals across the nation.
Lake Placid Ironman - lightening in the swim.
Lake Tahoe Ironman - cancelled. The whole kit and caboodle.
Florida Ironman - swim cancelled and it became the IronBrick. Goals crushed.
Arizona Ironman - super windy beating the tar out of pro and age grouper dreams on race day.

These things got me thinking about Ironman goals. I'm a big goal person.

Who am I to say?
I'm certainly not an Ironman expert. I've done only two and I didn't win either of them. I dunno but I'm giving myself license to expound on my thoughts on Ironman goals.

Be realistic. It has to fit into your life.
There's a lot of bravado and type-a personality stuff that goes around with Ironman training. Slogans like HTFU, Sufferfest, pain cave, PR or ER. It's part of the package.
This is just here because I think it's funny.

When I was not even signed up for my first Ironman a fellow training buddy Tony was training for his first Ironman. He mentioned that he was looking forward to having a good single-malt scotch after the race. He had abstained from scotch for the duration of his six month training and was missing it. Tony is young and single. He had sworn off happy hours for the duration of his training and he was feeling lonely and anti-social. My other training buddy Randy snorted and said something like, "That's ridiculous! It [Ironman] has to fit into your life."

Two things. First, I agree with both things these guys said. I'll explain in a minute. Second, I think the key to being happy with your iron-distance performance is partly in what Randy said.


The more we sacrifice for something the more important it feels and the more pressure there is that it just be perfect. It takes 6 months of daily physical training to prepare for an Ironman. About 6 weeks of that is very time intensive and requires sacrifices by everybody in a family just because of the time involvement needed. Those are the facts, according to me.

I do abstain from lots of things including alcohol, carbonated drinks and deserts for a short period (about 4-6 weeks) before an Ironman or marathon. I want my body to be in as good of shape as I can to take on the challenge. But I don't feel deprived while I do this. If I did ... I wouldn't do it.

In fact, for the first time for this marathon coming up after Thanksgiving I am not modifying my diet before the race. It will affect my performance but I'm enjoying my life.  So, I agree with Tony's decision to drop this from his diet. But I also agree with Randy. Because it is ridiculous to give up something you enjoy, something that is a part of your life in pursuit of this hobby if it makes you unhappy. I'm not going to win this race so why should I make myself miserable training for it?

I think that in order to be able to enjoy your race you need to not resent the time investment it takes to get to race day.  It is always a good idea to remember that this is just a race and it is just a hobby we do for fun.

So let's talk about goals. 
Anybody who has ever taken a leadership or management seminar has probably been taught about setting "smart" goals. It's a pretty common technique and I think it's fairly effective. One of the things that makes a smart goal smart is that it's realistic. It's worth saying again - Realistic.

This is something to be very careful of when making your Ironman goals. So much of the day is completely out of your control that it's important to take this into account when making your goal. I think it's also a good thing to keep in mind with your training goals. It has to be realistic. It has to fit into your life.

Why do diets fail over and over? Because people try to make dramatic changes all at once. Anybody can make a drastic change for a short period but if it doesn't fit into your life it won't stick forever. The same is true of endurance training for these races. You probably can make huge financial and lifestyle changes for six months while you train for an Ironman but if it doesn't fit in your life, you might be miserable and it might not feel worth it.

Even more common is that you will be mentally exhausted by sacrificing so much during your training that you don't have the mental capacity to dig very deep during the race.

Beware racing in training
I've been running and racing a long time. I'm old. Okay not old but older. One thing I've observed is that if you can't tell the difference between racing and training you won't race well. It takes an effort both mentally and physically to perform on race day. Leave that effort to race day if you want to have the best performance on that day.

There is another danger hidden in racing during Ironman training and that is that you may err and set your time goals based on peak training performances. That is super risky because the only time most people put all three of the disciplines together at that distance is on race day. So don't stress how fast you ran your 18 miler or your best time on your 100 miler because it may not relate in the end. 

Beware the time goal
One hour in an Ironman race is both a huge amount of time and also practically no time at all. So much of an Ironman is completely out of our control. Specifically, the weather and flat tires. We can only race the race given to us on the day of the race. So if I give myself a goal of a 1:15 swim but I wake up to 15 mph winds I'm not going to make that goal. I'm just not. If I set my goal for a sub six hour bike but I get two flat tires - it's not going to happen. It's not a realistic goal given the scenario. So, in that case if I'm not prepared to adjust my goals on the fly I will most likely experience a sensation of failure.

This dog is awesome but perhaps not a goal setter. He's not worried about anything but enjoying this ride. A lot can be learned from this dog about being happy.
Many people are afraid of adjusting their goals because they feel that it might open up the mental door to allowing less of an effort during the race. That's a definite thing to be wary of. A lot of Ironman is mental and sticking to your goals in the middle of the long bike and long run is tough. There is a difference between adjusting your goal for a flat tire and giving up because you're tired during the end of the bike/run. I mentally practice how I will get through the mental fatigue in the bike and run. I have a mantra I want to use if I find my self veering off my desired effort. In Chattanooga on the run it was to ask myself do I have anything left? The answer was always yes and I would pick up my feet and run. 

But there is another option in those two scenarios which is to be proud of the accomplishment. To finish a 2.4 mile swim in rough conditions is impressive. To finish a 112 mile bike including two flat tires is impressive.

This is not to say that we shouldn't have time goals. I have conditional time goals for all of my events but I try to have the awareness that conditions have to be correct for me to meet them. Conditions of my body, conditions of my training, conditions on race day. And for me the ultimate goal is always to give each race my best effort that I can that day.

Beware the one and done pressure.
You may only want to do one Ironman. That is a perfectly acceptable goal. Ironman races sell out sometimes as much as a year in advance. Ironman races are also very expensive. So there is a lot of pressure on that one single day. It's a good idea to think about that before the event. 30% of people who register for an Ironman don't start the race. Their training fails, they are injured or they just get sick. Due to no fault of your own you could have the flu on race day.

File this under the 7 ps slogan. Prior proper preparation prevents piss poor performance. Be ready to accept it and make a plan. It would stink but what will you do?

One way to avoid this pressure is to be registered for more than one race in a year. But for Ironman sometimes that's not feasible.Another way to avoid this is to celebrate your accomplishments as they come and understand that the race is just a race and nothing more and nothing less.
Yes, propaganda but I love it.

So how do you get that euphoria over and over? You have to love it all.
My kids love winning. And they hate losing. Who doesn't? But I tell them this when it comes to sports. You have to love it all. You have to love everything about it. The practice and the competition or else it isn't worth doing. You will lose. Anybody who chooses to participate in sport will at some point not be the winner. What makes winning so special is that it is so incredibly tough to do.


For me in Ironman winning is finishing. Winning is doing my best, meeting my goal of the day whatever the day may bring. 

May your next finish line be euphoric wherever that finish line may be.


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