In Over Your Head?
Ever been in a situation where you looked around, thought about things…and immediately knew you were in way over your head? It’s usually not a good feeling. Fear, uncertainty, doubt, questions, etc., hit you hard. “Why in the world did I let myself get into this situation? Why did I say yes to this? Why did I sign on the dotted line? I wish could turn back the clock or click my heels and be somewhere else.”
That’s how I’m feeling right now as I’m cruising along at 500 m.p.h. at 30,000 feet on my way to a 70.3 race in Florida. Some who know me and how blessed I’ve been at racing short-course stuff might kind of roll their eyes and think, “He’ll do great.”
Not so fast. I’ll be honest…I’m a bit scared. Intimidated. Doubts bombard my brain like large hail in a spring thunderstorm. My nerves are playing me like a concert piano, but the song isn’t pretty. “But you’ve done this distance before. You’ve done three full Ironman races! What’s the big deal? This is only half of those.”
I’ll share why I am where I am in my mind and emotions, then how I’m trying to deal with it. (I share this because it’s a common ailment for goal-driven, intrepid triathletes.)
- Sixteen years! That’s a long time. That’s how long it’s been since I went “long.” 2005. When you’ve not done something for over a decade and a half, well, you just might be a bit rusty! Indeed. Every time I move, I look down and there’s a pile of red dust at my feet!
- 48 vs. 64. Our bodies change and as the years go by, that change accelerates. Doing anything in my 40s is going to be way different than doing that same thing in my mid-sixties. The difference is not minor, it’s major. How will my body respond? No idea whatsoever.
- It’s springtime in Omaha. Though the grass is greening up and the temps are slowly rising, it’s been a cool and at times, cold spring. So, what’s the big deal? Training is training right? Hmmmm, read on…
- Heat/humidity. I’ve been checking the temps and humidity. It’s central Florida and they’re having a hotter than usual April/May. Forecast calls for 92 for the high. The humidity there yesterday morning was 90%. There’s a recipe for disaster. Nothing during an Omaha Spring can prepare you for that. Most of the time this spring, it’s been multiple layers of clothes when training outside. (I despise indoor training.) Acclimation here is impossible for what awaits me in FL.
- No wetsuit, probably. So, the jury is still out on this one. 50/50 that it’ll be wetsuit legal, they say. I’m guessing no. I KNOW that if it IS wetsuit legal, I’m going to have a much better swim. If it’s not, well, it’s just more energy expended that I could have used the last hour of the 13.1-mile run. Which, bring me to….
- A 13.1 mile run. I’ve not run that far since I crossed the finish line April of ’05 at Ironman AZ. Why not? Cause I get injured. A lot. I’ll spare you my long history in that regard and the issues I deal with…well, OK, just one. My left leg is shorter than my right leg. Big deal, huh? It is. Causes issues. That’s just one of about a dozen issues I have. I’ve worked on all of them and slowly but surely, increased my training distances, but have only gotten up to about 12 miles in stand-alone run/walk workouts. Having raced triathlons with 5K and 10K runs for 16 yrs., 13 miles seems like an ultra-marathon to me. While I’m at it, I’ll add this…
- Total distance, 70.3. All three – swim 1.2, bike 56 and run 13, back-to-back. Again, it’s been since ’05. At 64, having not done this distance for years, what will happen when I put them all together in an OVEN? Only God knows. I do know that whatever comes out of that oven won’t be half-baked. Probably well done to badly burnt. I did get in a brick of 50/9 but that’s different when you’re wearing a couple of layers of clothes and another hour to race..oh yeah and a swim too.
- Pacing. Long races are about pacing vs. pedal-to-the-metal short-course racing. You’d better not go too fast on the swim, bike and first half of the run or you’ll end up doing the death march shuffle to an embarrassing finish. Since it’s been so long, will I know what pace I can hold?
“Well, didn’t you work on that during your training?” Yep. But look at points 1, 4, 6 and 7 above. Nothing dials in proper pacing like racing. During races, you really learn what your body can do. Even with watts, heart-rate data and all the techno devices out there…there’s only a slim margin for error when going this long in horrific heat.
There are other things that play with my mind but I don’t want you to think I’m completely neurotic so I’ll stop with these. What will I do to attempt to overcome most of them and have a “good” race? Good = finish, don’t pull something and have fun.
It will mostly come down to two things.
I’m super competitive. It’s #2 on my Strength Finders profile. This is not a huge race and there aren’t that many guys in my age group. So, of course, I want to win. THAT has GOT to go right out the window NOW. That thought right there could lead me to the death march. So, the first thing is to take this as a long, slower-type workout. “Yeah, right.” No, seriously. Finish. Don’t get injured. Have fun. Long workout.
Therefore, number one is pacing. My success at short-course racing could be my biggest enemy. “Slow down” will be my mantra pretty much all morning. IF I’ve got something left and can pick it up the last few miles, great. Or, even just hold to a steady pace – great. I must stay in control!! Always respect the last 20-30% of the run in any tri at any distance but, particularly 70.3s and full Ironmans! Save something for those miles!
The second big-deal in horrific heat is hydration (and nutrition). I’ve worked on this for 26 years. Actually, over 40 years when considering the long running races I used to do before triathlon. I know what I need to do. I’ll do it. How will my body respond? As mentioned above, no idea. I’ve got a plan. Lots of fluids, electrolytes and the right number of calories per hour. It’s going to be stinkin’ hot, and staying hydrated and properly fueled is beyond critical.
Though 10’s of thousands of people around the world will do 70.3 triathlons this year (you might be one of them), considering it no big deal, this feels like a big deal in my head. SO many things can go sideways in a longer race.
Do I feel like I’m in over my head? Yes. Been there before? Many times, in many situations. How have they turned out? Mostly good, thank God, but there have also been a few disasters in my rearview mirror. You’ve probably had the same experience(s).
I personally think that if, at times, we don’t feel like we’re in over our heads, we’ll never achieve what actually IS possible. That goes for any area of life. What’s the worst that can happen? We fail? So what? Failure is a great teacher. You KNOW you’re going to grow as a person….
OK, we’re starting our decent so I’ll wrap this up. In 48 hours, I’ll know a lot more about the 64 year-old me. So far, I like the guy. I hope I still do at the end of this race.
(Race results – I’m typing this again at 30,000 ft. on our way back to Omaha. Next month I’ll share more about how this went down and add in Chattanooga 70.3, but for now, I survived. I held to my pacing/hydration plan quite well. Very happy with my swim and held back some on the bike which was wise. But, it was 94 degrees with bad humidity that day. A virtual humidity oven on the run. Little cloud cover and exposed to sun much of the run. People were melting down everywhere. It was ugly.
I did take second in my age group. Yeah, there were only four names in my group. Small race. Also qualified for ITU Long-Distance Worlds in Amsterdam in September but I’ll not do that. I guessed I’d go about 5:30 and went 5:33. It was truly humbling to be reduced to a slow jog/walk for a lot of the run. Spent 10 minutes total at the aid stations getting ice water poured over my head and stretching.
I’m thankful. I didn’t pull anything or cramp badly. I had no blisters and had a happy heart most of the race. The swim and bike were really fun. And, I was reminded that “Character is King.” Perseverance, diligence, trust, humility are all learned at a deeper level in this kind of challenge. That’s the stuff of life that really counts. So, on to Chattanooga 70.3 in three weeks. Forward ho!)