Ironman Maryland Pre-Race Reflection
Three days to go... Does my wetsuit still fit? What’s the weather going to be like? Do I need a new aero helmet? Did I train too little last week? Did I train too much? What’s that weird soreness in my back? With the starting line to IronMan Maryland so close, it’s easy to get lost in all these questions. But rather than dwell on the hypotheticals I think this is an appropriate time to slow down and reflect.
I am now several years into my triathlon ‘career’ and with two full Ironman distance triathlon completions, it’s easy to lose sight of my “Why.” There is a strong temptation to get caught in the grind and the desire to constantly chase personal records. This endless pursuit is exactly where I found myself as I began the training block for IM MD.
I had a really great early season of training. A solid Winter of base training and a very focused Spring meant I was training long hours and setting personal bests in swimming, biking, and running. This had me feeling great and I knew I would be in excellent form with a full Summer of preparation still to go. Then, predictably, the training caught up with me and my ego got in the way. I saw an attainable record on Strava for a notable run segment and I wanted to enshrine my name in the digital record books. I planned a day for the all-out effort and when the day came,I felt a little extra ache in a groin muscle, beyond the typical training soreness. The sensible decision would have been to rest a day or two, let myself recover, and then go for it. But I wanted all the fame and glory that comes with a Strava record so I convinced myself my muscle wasn’t injured and would loosen up. I went all out to set the best time I could but afterward, I knew I pushed too hard. I could barely walk the rest of the day and missed a few days of running, though I still was too stubborn to stop training totally.
I told myself I could still bike and swim, so I kept pushing and ignoring the pain. I couldn’t stand the thought of missing workouts and was constantly afraid that others were training harder than me for this same race. This kept on for a short time until the injury worsened and I could no longer avoid it. I was forced to take several weeks completely off and really let myself rest and recover.
Coincidentally, a week of this rest period overlapped with a trip I was taking to the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland as part of my Ph.D. studies. This trip was a dream come true as I got to work in a lab I’ve read about since I was a teenager and have been working on now for a few years. I should have been able to really soak it up and enjoy this trip, but I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing any focused training. In one sense I was grateful to be at CERN, in another, I was in agony thinking of my competition gaining ground on me. It was a conflict of priorities, yet I can see now how grateful I am that these were my biggest issues (talk about first-world problems…).
Amidst this conflict, I came to a realization. I’m not competing for prize money; my livelihood does not depend on this; even if I have a “bad” race nobody will care except me. I am not a professional triathlete. I am a professional student, fiance, friend, triathlete, and person. There is a unique set of circumstances and challenges that make up my life and my identity and I have to give my energy to them in proportion to my values. In the quest of shaving off a few minutes, I had let the sport of triathlon get too high on the list of priorities, and the other areas of my life were suffering as a result.
Triathlon was always meant as a supplement to my life. At its best, it pushes me to goals I never thought possible, it keeps me disciplined, it supports my health and it allows me to be more fully me in all of my other duties. The best version of me is the one that calls his fiance in a post-run endorphin rush to tell her he has great ideas for a date, not the one who cuts those dates short because he’s got an upcoming interval workout he wouldn’t dare compromise. Sport is first and foremost about letting me have a healthy escape and aids in all other aspects of my identity, it does not become my identity.
With this shift in mindset, training become fun and easy again. I did start to recover from injury and the goal of IM Maryland kept me focused and pushing myself, though I made sure to keep my priorities properly arranged. I started identifying the two or three key workouts each week, made sure to nail those, and didn’t sweat it if I compromised in the less crucial sessions. I started to come back into form and was training very well, but I didn’t feel bad if I cut a workout a bit short or rearranged my training schedule to attend a friend's wedding, go sightseeing in Europe, spend time with family, or do other things that make me feel whole. I trained as hard as I could given my own unique circumstances and controlled what I could, but I didn’t agonize over hitting every single training metric. Sure, maybe my competitors did do a few more track intervals or pool laps, but they are training in their own circumstances, not mine.
My goal in this upcoming race is to perform to the best of my own abilities. I trained hard and I know I’m ready; I can’t control what the other racers in my age group are doing but I can give it all I have. I’ll be anxious and nervous and jittery but I’m also going to have a ton of fun and regardless of finish time, I know I can be proud of the work I’ve put into this. Further, this newfound realization is not me making excuses ahead of time for having a slow race- I do feel as if my fitness is the best it’s been and I’m going to try my best to set a new personal record, but I won’t let failure to do so negatively impact my identity. We are not our race times, we are not our GPAs, we are not our performance evaluations, we are whole humans made for so much more.
More than anything I am grateful to have this sport. It has given me so much- I really do feel that it is a supplement to my life and helps me to be more me. I have swam, biked, and run my way through some dark times and towards goals I never thought possible. I am so thankful to be in an able body and be in a position where I can put so much time and energy into athletics. Thanks as well to everyone who has helped along the way, and especially to Katie who has put up with far too much triathlon talk when we should be having wedding planning discussions. Don’t worry, after this, I’ll have all the time in the world to help put addresses on those Save-the-Dates, at least until I register for my next challenge :)
Three days to go… I’m ready. Now let’s race!
Sep 14, 2022
In September 2019, I completed a self-organized Ironman Triathlon in order to raise aware ness of the harms of Pornography. Click below to read more