January 25, 2006

A Walk Through Priority Park

Morning Workout
1 hour 20 minutes
Heart Rate Zone: Lactate Threshold (Zone 2)

Random Comments: I’ve got weak quads. Quads are very important for endurance racing about as much as they are important for, say, standing. After 100 miles or so of exercise, it’s nice to have strong quads so you don’t trip on tired legs and smash your face on the concrete or suddenly crumple to a sad little ball, rolling about helplessly on the side of the road. I don’t want to end up as a sad little ball on the side of the road. The weak quads aren’t helping me. So Coach Gareth has me on this quad strengthening phase of my work
out program. This morning’s bike ride, though not overly speedy, had me bouncing back and forth between high and low cadences. The low cadences being the parts that are supposed to strengthen my legs. It made my quads tired. But that was the problem I had in the first place.

A few people have come up to me and said, Hey there. Hey you! (Cause I was ignoring them, you see, they had to keep calling out to me.) I’ve got a question for you, they say once they finally grab my attention, usually by giving me a little shoulder shove. Tell me, how do you balance Ironman training with your job and everything else you have to do in life?

I usually let out a slight chuckle at this point. Sometimes I even throw in a snort for dramatic effect. [chuckle][snort][chuckle][snort], I reply. Actually it’s not that difficult as long as you get your priorities straight, I finally say nonchalantly (though the chuckles and snorts probably add a bit of cockiness to the whole nonchalantness. let's call it nonchacockiness)

You see, everybody is under the mistaken impression that training for an Ironman distance race is a forty-hour a week commitment. It isn’t. Not even close. Even more, it sometimes seems that people are under the impression that I’m the only person who’s ever tried to train for an Ironman race while maintaining a full-time, demanding career. I’m not. Not even close.

There are only a handful of professional triathletes in the world that can manage to make this sport a full-time activity. And they are a very sick, physically and mentally deranged group of people. I would not want to be a professional triathlete. Train for 8 hours a day? No thank you. I've got better things to do. Instead, the rest of us regular folk (and there are hundreds of thousands of us) have to work to make a living so we can afford the exorbitant costs required to participate in this godforsaken sport. Triathlon, to us, is a wonderful hobby. And though in the past, Ironman was viewed as an out-of-reach achievement only accomplished by the most elite athletes, the times they are a-changing. The reality is that anybody can complete an Ironman race and balance a full life with but a modicum of effort.

To complete an Ironman, you have to spend about 15-20 hours of training per week. It may sound like a lot to you, and perhaps it is a wee bit daunting compared to the amount of exercise you're doing now, you lazy such-and-such. But keep in mind that you're probably watching a helluva lot more TV than I am. And the fact is that a majority of the weekly training takes place on weekends. Which only leaves 10-ish hours of training during the week. Which, if my abacus is working correctly, comes to about 1-2 hours of training per day. Which all of the sudden sounds pretty darn reasonable. I mean, if you really think about it, you can probably find an extra hour or two each day to reallocate. Don’t get me wrong, the 20 hours per week of training can take its toll. I’ve seen a girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife or two feel pretty darn perturbed and neglected during training season. It causes stress and strain if you let it.

The fact is, in order to find that time all you’ve gottta do is be prepared to make a few sacrifices. I'm not talking human sacrifices like knife through the heart type stuff, but regular lifestyle type sacrifices. Which gets me to my main point: Ironman training is all about making sacrifices and balancing priorities.

I recently did a survey of some people training for Ironman races. Actually, it was a rather small sampling of people. Like....um.... a survey of one. Mostly just me. According to the survey results, some of the most popular sacrifices amongst Ironman racers include personal hobbies, personal relationships, extracurricular activities and, in very rare cases, overall sanity.

So Cat and I made a deal. We decided to set our priorities together cause Lord knows if we set different priorities in this whole Ironman training period, it'd be a recipe for disaster. There are three main priorities in our lives: work, training, each other. Pretty simple, huh? I thought so too.

Work: Even if we work 60 hours a week, there is still ample time to get all of our training done. Work only gets in the way of training - and training only gets in the way of work - if you let it. We don't let it. Now that I have resigned from my job, I am not sitting back and thinking, Whew, I finally have all of this time to train non-stop. As I already said, I don't want to be a professional triathlete. Training for 8 hours a day is just plain nutso. And I try to stear clear of nutso as much as possible. Two hours a day during the week is enough for me, thank you very much. Work is only a sacrifice if you want it to be. We don't want it to be.

Training: Cat and I are lucky in that we decided to tackle this Ironman together. Instead of losing 20 hours of together time, by training together we get to experience our relationship in a new and exciting way. Usually involving some sort of movement.

Each Other: Sure we train together as much as possible, but the real quality time together is spent with very little movement. So Cat and I try to spend as much non-training time together as possible - which doesn't really equate to a ton of time. This is where it gets sticky cause, you see, we are both close to our family and friends. That's the part that gets a bit of a hit. It’s tough to find the time you want to spend with friends when you are spending all the time training and being together. We love our families. We love our friends. And we trust in their love and understanding that Ironman training requires sacrifices.

Ironman is no longer a daunting task. When Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile, suddenly that wasn't a daunting task. Similarly, when tens of thousands of regular everyday people complete Ironman races every year - it is no longer daunting. All it takes is being honest with yourself and the sacrifices and priorities you need to make in life. After that, the race is just a walk through the park.