Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Destructive Cycle

The inaugural Ironman Chattanooga was on Sunday, and I had a truckload of friends doing it. It was a blast tracking everybody and watching the live webcam to see three of my friends hit the finish line. In particular, local training partners Brian and Randy both broke 12 hours for the first time. And I got a great screen cap of B.O.B. finishing her first Ironman with almost exactly the same finish time I pulled at IMFL (my 13:06:24 vs her 13:06:45, but she had to bike 4 extra miles). Even my buddy Jason finished in 10:15, he RD's my favorite series of local tri's. Baha pulled a straight up 11 hour ironman - incredible. 

Everyone did really well. PR's were shattered, expectations were met, training plans were executed to reach the goals that were then achieved. It was very inspiring! I wish I could have been there, either racing with them or volunteering.

And that brings on the cycle of doom.  I have narrowed down the Destructive Cycle to this:


Let's examine this downward spiral into depression.


I'm still riding high from finishing Rev3 CP just a couple of weeks ago. Recovery is going really well, and I'm starting to really feel better, like I could start training again. The chafing from the last training cycle has healed, and the memory of discomfort on the last half of the bike ride is distant in the sunset. And now I get to pick up the energy generated by all of my friends from them having great races too!  Yippee, who needs to stop doing Ironmans? These things are great and everybody loves them!


Then today, I stare at this all afternoon at the office like an alcoholic checks out a bottle of whiskey.

Stage 2 is usually where I get into trouble. This race sold out in 9 minutes last year! So suddenly at 12:09 my jaw hit the floor.  And now here it is 9 hours later and it still hasn't sold out! It's got to be some kind of sign.  This is crazy talk. How is it still open? pull. that. trigger.


This is where the rubber hits the road. Literally. Get a training plan and do the same crap I've done the last 3 times. IMChoo is only 116 miles of biking, but there are plenty of nice climbs and descents.  That's my terrain. Surely it will be different this time.  It's Tennessee for goodness sakes.  c'mon man. It's a swim with the current, that's just going to help my strong suit.  And the marathon is always my favorite part of the race, it would knock TN off of my 50 state list.  I'll be ready for it.  Let's train hard this year! It's going to be a great summer.


At this point I think I know how the story ends. I spend the entire summer indoors on the stationary bike and the treadmill, again. I put in countless (but logged) hours thinking I'm going to get better and following some hairbrained training plan that I farted out before it all gets too late. I run enough sub-4 hour marathons in the spring so I think I can come close to 4 hours after the 116 mile bike ride too. Mentally I convinced myself that I'm trained well enough to finish somewhere around 11:xx or 12:xx or at least beat my 13:06 pr. Then I cry on the bike course and finish well north of 14 hours, glad the day is done and I claim to retire from Ironmans again.

The Result

Well I will not be signing up for IM Chatt next year. Yes I would love to and today it is a very difficult thing to avoid. But the proof is in the pudding.

Sure I finished Cedar Point with a big smile on my face. I tell myself that anytime you see an Ironman finish line it's a good day. The #1 goal is always "finish, don't die".

But the truth is that the race sucked. Sure it was very well organized and the volunteers were amazing and the weather was perfect. But I mean I sucked at that race. The swim was so violent and disorienting I really wanted to quit. and I love open water swimming, and that was horrible, and I was horrible at it. I puked in Lake Erie. The bike course was rolling and I was totally under-conditioned. If I had actually put some time into bike training this summer or ridden on the roads more than once maybe I would have had a decent day riding. If my ass didn't chafe so much it might have been more comfortable. and by the time it was over, I felt like I was running the marathon with a gunshot wound in one foot. Which is pretty possible.  Sandusky is this dirty, strange little town with a weird vibe. We stayed at this horrible filthy hotel that was just weird. The run course was very pleasant, the aide stations were great, but I just had nothing left to give at that point in the race. and that is just as disappointing as the rest of the race was.

I turned in a personal worst times in every sport, and my worst finishing time yet. The only slower marathon was my very first one in 2009. Every year I feel like I'm training harder, yet I keep getting older and slower. It's depressing to be a fast swimmer and see a third of the field fly past you on the bike. It's sad to put in a 3:46 standalone marathon in the spring and a 4:49 marathon in Ironman. If the proof is in the pudding, my pie is slimy and gross.

I see it as a fork in the road.  Obviously what I have been doing is not working anymore. I found a good training plan and followed it in 2011 to a decent IMFL. Since then I've been on my own plan and getting worse every year. So the fork, the decision I am faced with, can go two ways.

I can buy a tri bike instead of just racing on a road bike and actually get over my fear of riding on the road. This might involve joining some kind of bike team/club/group ride, but those also make me pretty uncomfortable because I don't want to draft or get left out in the middle of nowhere. And I have a tough time keeping a schedule of regular group rides. I have to train whenever I can fit it in around my family and work obligations. I should also hire a good coach since I can't trust my own training plans anymore. And they will force me to do something besides just the same zone 1 & 2 workouts over and over. I've finished 3 ironmans using primarily the Random Hill program on the stationary bike at the gym (seriously, 95% of my bike training).  And I haven't done any running speedwork since before I injured my foot last year. Coach can fix that.  Coach might even be able to motivate me to enjoy biking again.

The other side of that fork offers walking away and doing only what I enjoy. Open water swim racing (not in Lake Erie). Marathons and trail ultras, all that I can handle. Maybe running some 180 mile months and prepping for a 100 mile ultramarathon in 2016? maybe? Maybe 30 hours of running through the woods will make me want to ride a bike again. And I can still sneak in some shorter triathlons next summer too.

Today I know the smart decision is to take the latter option and walk away. It is incredibly depressing not just to witness the downward spiral I've put myself into over the last 2 years, but to not be able to feed off of the energy from the last two days.... ugh. I want to eat it up like a sandwich, then get right into the middle of the whole picture next year - which will only lead to more disappointment unless I do it the right way.

So for now I'm just going to grow the beard back and let my hair grow out again, so I'll have something to hide behind. On a positive note, I have really been enjoying yoga and strength work during the recovery period, and have some great news behind that for another post. Here's to looking forward, and celebrating the successes of the 2014 triathlon season with my friends!


Al's CL Reviews said...

The excitement often clouds all the work that creates the excitement.

Someone told you before, it isn't like 140.6 (or 144.6) is going anywhere. If you decide to do one, you know what works and perhaps what you need to do differently, like get a coach.

Tea said...

That was probably the best post you've ever written.

I have to tell you something. When I quit IM in 2008, it took me a LONG time to stop looking at online registrations. But, I didn't do it. I stayed with the course that I truly believed was best for me at that time.

This year (as you know), I'm doing my first 70.3 in 6 years. I'm EXCITED about it. I've loved the training whereas the last times I did them....I hated it....not the race (just like you said) but how I performed and how I felt, it was the whole thing.

When the time is right, it will happen again. IF it's the right thing for you to do. When you do, it will be a wonderful experience, much like what is happening to me with the 70.3.

Abby said...


This... I had this issue this weekend. I may or may not have starred at a FULL marathon registration after one great long run and almost hit the button. (Even though I promised everyone I wouldn't until I got healthy.)

Glad to see I am not the only one who gets inspired and registration screens start popping up, but glad we both stuck to plan.

Gotta Run..Gotta Ride said...

Not every race needs to be a PR. IMLOU was my worst finish time but my BEST, most MEMORABLE race. For me, I know that I am leading by example in my boys life. They don't care what my finish time is but how it drives them in being active in their life. I am sure your kids feel the same!

As for the body...it's suppose to hurt...it's an Ironman. :)

Pull the trigger or don't. ..just know that it really comes down to the love the sport. :) Robin

Sarah said...

John, I love this post so much! And what Tea said really resonated with me. Once you get off the high and you spend time away, the itch comes back and it starts to motivate you to get excited about it. You should be excited about you next one and I totally agree, it'll happen when it's right. But damn if I didn't' want to go check IMChoo registration when I started reading this. ;)

Karen said...

so much truth in this! I agree with Sarah, if you aren't excited about making it happen wait until you get that feeling to sign up again. Biking is my worst leg of the whole thing. I tend to do all my shorter rides indoors but so get out on the roads for the longer ones. Maybe you should seek out a club around town or find a short loop near your home that you wouldn't be too uncomfortable riding alone. I have ridden at Stone Mountain many a time - it is a 5 mile loop and have ridden as much as 80 miles there. I also seek out century rides. They may cost $25 or $30 but you know you are in for a sagged ride and won't get left out on the road by yourself. Just a thought. I used the same plan you were on for my race in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It is good stuff. I'm thinking if you can get outside for some rides you would see huge improvements in the way you feel about your race.