It’s so much harder to get motivated to follow an intense workout program when you’re not working toward a goal race. The seven months leading up to IMLP was challenging—it took most of my free time (at least during the final 4 months) and pushed me beyond all of my perceived physical limitations. Having spent 4 years in med school and 6 years in surgical training, and having made it through 2 pregnancies—during surgical residency—and raised two children, I thought I had risen to physical challenges that could not be matched. But there is nothing quite like spending 5 ½ hours in Zone 2-3 on the trainer in your living room burning up 2 entire seasons of “Weeds” on the iPad. THAT is a physical challenge like no other. And though I was tired and sore, and lost my “mojo” a few times for a day or two, I never once thought of laying down and crying “uncle”. I had committed to IM and I was going to do it in the allotted 17 hours come Hell or high water. My perseverance often took the shape of fear of failure rather than actual desire to succeed. But never once did I actually consider giving up.
Now, with IMLP more than 2 months in the past, I am looking forward to the Fall and Winter and wondering how I should structure my training. “Training”: the word implies there is an end or goal toward which one is working. To finish. To get faster. To win. So, I am left to ask what my goal is now. Last year it was so obvious—I am going to Lake Placid to become an Ironman. Now that I’ve accomplished that goal (ahhh! I’m an Ironman! It still makes my heart flutter…), I find myself daydreaming about the next title. Multiple IM Finisher. First in AG. Top 3 overall woman. But my next race is likely to not be until next April, and will surely be a 70.3 distance. There is not a 70.3 distance training schedule that I am aware of that starts 7 months in advance of the race. I am stuck in this limbo of post-IM recovery (honestly, I think I was recovered fully at 2 months) and pre-pre-race training. And motivation is NOT on the menu. I am perfectly happy to get my 3 runs in each week and sprinkle in a bit of activity with my kids: jumping on the trampoline, passing the football with my son, 1.5 mile no-pressure run/walks with my daughter to instill in her a love for running. I’m trying to take the opportunity to check my nutrition and lose a few of the IM-training pounds I gained in May/June when I succumbed to my ravenous hunger. I am taking better care of my feet and skin, working out all of the callouses, blisters, and abrasions caused by hours of chafing from running shoes and heart rate monitors. And I’m logging some quality family time to front load now in my “off season” in the hope that I won’t feel so guilty when I check out on the trainer for 3 hours at a time come February. But, if I’m honest with myself, I’m avoiding getting back to the intense training schedule of last Spring.
Actually, if I’m totally honest with myself, I think I’m experiencing the post-Ironman “blues”. For 7 months last winter/spring I had one clear goal: to prepare myself physically and mentally to swim, bike, and run 140.6 miles in 17 hours. I ran the Philly Marathon in November to convince myself I could run the 26.2 miles. I swam a 1.2 mile river race to feel comfortable with that open-water distance. I went to Training Camp in Lake Placid to get to know the 56 mile bike course and did the full 112 miles so that in my heart, I would feel confident that I could go the distance. I spent ridiculous amounts of money on equipment and nutritional products so that I felt equipped for this journey. I rearranged my work schedule and carved out an entire week to stay in Lake Placid the week of the race so that I would have no worries about accommodations or making it to bike check-in on time. Eighty percent of my time during those 7 months was dedicated to preparing and planning for that one day. And it was awesome. Everything I dreamed it would be, but more. Because during the race, and even up through about mile 20 of the run, I had doubts. Would I crash on the downhill and have to DNF? Would I cramp up during the first loop of the run so bad that I had to be removed from the course on a stretcher? We all see the unforeseen happen on the IM reruns, even to the strongest of the pros. It can happen to anyone. But during those last few miles, as the sun was setting, and a chill replaced the oppressive heat of the day, the pain and doubt turned into magic. I no longer felt the ache in my legs. The nausea went away. The darkness blinded my peripheral vision and I saw only the light at the end of Mirror Lake Drive. I heard HIM: “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” And my pace quickened. My arms pumped harder. My mind tricked my body into believing that this wasn’t so bad. Even fun! And that jolt, that high is what brings athletes back time after time to mile 1 of 146. And that’s exactly what motivates us through months of grueling training. When that’s spent, though, what are we left with? What wakes us at 5:00 am to get on the trainer while the kids sleep? What drags us out in the chilly air to dive into 62 degree water stuffed like sausages into our wetsuits to log 1600 meters in open water?
Could it be that the post-IM blues is comparable to one of Kubler-Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief? “1. Denial 2. Anger 3. Bargaining 4. IM-depression…” Maybe this is a natural dip in energy in response to the 7-month deficit leading up to the race. Maybe the answer is to enjoy the 3 runs a week. Enjoy the extra 5 pounds and the absence of sports bottles filled with overly sweet nectar. Enjoy sleeping until the sun rises. And allow ourselves the time to recover and refuel. I actually believe that my training will take flight again once my goal is in sight. I’ll feel the familiar pangs of fear that I will fail if I don’t drink that recovery drink and do my strength training. I’ll gaze eagerly at my training schedule each night before bed, reconfiguring my schedule for the next day so that I can fit in that trainer ride or make it to the pool before it closes. I know I can be ready for my A and B races next season with planned preparation. I just have to find a way to calm the unsettled feeling I have now on the off season. The feeling that I should be on a schedule, anxiously squeezing workouts into my days instead of enjoying the downtime as my body prepares for the next challenge. I need a goal—it’s what fuels me. It’s time to put my money where my mouth is, and sit down with my friend Google to find and register for my first 70.3 of 2016….