Iron-Distance Triathlon Training Update

Is it possible to write about triathlon training in ways that aren’t painfully narcissistic? To write about it as a means to more meaningful ends like greater self understanding, greater appreciation for health and nature, for self improvement more generally?

I’m a triathlete and I find most triathlon writing uninteresting. Too many triathlon writers assume others are as interested as them in the details of their training sessions, their equipment choices, what they had for breakfast at 4:30a.m. pre-race, who they happened to run into right before the swim, their frustration that everyone drafted on the bike, and “their amazing support crew.”

Maybe triathlon writing will never be of interest to people who would never think to string a swim, a bike ride, and a run together. I’m diving in based on the theoretical possibility that one can engage the non-triathlete world if the niche sport is a springboard for thinking more deeply about struggle, life purposes, and things social scientific. If this post gets more than average page views I’ll weave in occasional swimming, cycling, and running posts. If not, I won’t.

I’m four weeks into training for Ironperson Canada on August 26th, an athletic event consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a marathon (26.2 miles, but you knew that already). The four weeks in March called for increasing volume beginning with 51% of max, then 58%, 65%, and 72%. This week, hallelujah, I’m dropping back to 58%. In March I swam 29.6 kilometers; rode 392 miles inside, 150 outside; and ran 167 miles. I’m giving myself an “A-” for the month. I hit the swimming and running targets, maintained some core work, even lifted a bit, but fell a bit short of the cycling targets. I’m blaming La Niña for that. If we have many more colder and wetter than normal weeks, I may snap.

I’m not too worried about being behind on the bike. In May, I’m cycling up and down the Eastern Sierras and then I’m riding up, down, and around Southern and Central Oregon in late July. Eventually, I will return to summer 2011 form. Last weekend the weather broke for 48 hours and I got out for the first long group ride of 2012. I got dusted on the climbs by people I dusted last summer. Of course they hadn’t run 10 miles beforehand, but still, I realize I can’t replicate the intensity of group rides when I’m soft-pedaling indoors while watching Downton Abbey (that’ll intimidate my competition).

On the plus side of the ledger, I’m doing a better job of embracing a process I’ve long resisted. I’ve made peace with my decision to go long. I’ve always considered iron-distance training and racing a form of lunacy. Here’s why it’s taken me so bloody long to dip my toes in the long-distance waters:

1) Long-distance triathlon training and racing confounds one of my more important life goals—to maintain balance between sleep, work, family, friendship, citizenship.

2) Long-distance triathlon has become a big business and participating in it confounds another goal—resisting mindless consumerism. For me, the incessant in-your-face advertising that accompanies the increasing commercialization of the sport takes away from the beautiful settings and the purity of the activity. Go ahead and call me inconsistent, but I acknowledge the benefits of capitalism while simultaneously disliking the conspicuous advertising that is integral to it.

3) Long-distance triathlon is exceedingly expensive and I already play one country club sport—golf. And a person, if they’re a 99-percenter, should only be allowed one country club sport. I’ve benefitted greatly from capitalism, and I don’t begrudge any business legit profits, but I don’t like contributing to the supply that enables the World Triathlon Corporation to charge exorbitant entry prices. More triathletes need to say enough already, I’m seeking out less expensive races, or I’m sitting out the season altogether.

4) Long-distance triathlon is a poignant example of peer pressure something we should grow out of, by say, fifty years-old. I like to think of myself as individualist, but I have to admit I wouldn’t have committed to this race if it wasn’t for my brother and Lance who I will no doubt be cursing at my lowest moments on game day. I’ve never heard anyone of their own volition say, “Next weekend I think I’ll swim for an hour, then cycle for six more, and then run for four or more.” Hey, can I join you? And I have an idea, let’s wait until it’s the hottest day of the year.

5) Admittedly paradoxical, but I suspect long-distance triathlon has detrimental effects on one’ health. Especially for those who make it a lifestyle and repeatedly go long. If one trains seriously and then swims 2.4 miles, rides 112, runs a 10k, and then rests a lot, their body probably benefits. It’s the last 32k of the run where the health tipping point is most likely crossed. Apparently, studies of veteran long-distance triathletes are already showing the health costs of their mania.

Now though, I’m viewing it as a one-off project. And its part and parcel of the interest and identity tweaking I alluded to in the previous post. I told the GalPal, unless I don’t perform to 90% of my (perceived) ability, it’s one and done. If I don’t race smartly and thereby am not able to capitalize on my training, I reserve the right to a do-over in Santa Cruz in fall 2013 or 2014.

Also, in reading a bit about aging, I’m learning it’s important to mix things up on occasion, to break out of one’s normal routines. It’s easy to get in a rut—at work, while working out, in the sack, in one’s relationships. It’s important to travel to new places on occasion, meet new people, experience new things. This is about experiencing a few related things—getting in the best physical shape of my life and discovering my mental and physical limits. And I’m curious about how well I can spread my effort out throughout the day and how long I can force myself to run. Six months of lunacy to learn more about my mind and body.

Correction. Only five more months of long-distance lunacy.

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