Never before have I subjected myself to such a big challenge as an athlete. To say that an Ironman is only a feat of human endurance that tests your physical limits is only scratching the surface. The 3.8K swim, 180K bike, and 42K run are only tests of many other forms – to find a sense of balance in a clearly imbalanced schedule. It is a test to your commitment in doing something; a test to resolve and how to adapt in the midst of tough setbacks that come along the way.
Balance in imbalance
Time management was one big concern that needed to be addressed. On top of training, which involved at least 13 weekly hours weekly (which went up to 18 at some point) logged in consistently, there were other more essential aspects of my life, like work and family, which needed some time as well. It was key essential that my wife and the people I work with totally understood what Ironman training entails. Since I coach mostly triathletes for a living, the work front had been covered, only the homefront needed to be addressed. As pussy-whipped as it may sound, I believe the first step to a successful Ironman finish for any married triathlete, is spousal consent. Having my wife’s permission as well as telling her what the training months will be like way before it all started put us both on the same page, and didn’t leave any surprises for her along the way. But with that said, some kind of balance must still be achieved. A green light for more training time is not the same as a green light for no together time. If you agree to watch Star Wars with her after a 6-hour ride, better make damn sure that you stay awake to see Han Solo die, despite your body wanting to just shut down. Also get lots of strong coffee ready at your disposal.
There were lots of times where I was far from 100% raring to go for a swim, bike, or run. At some point, you just get worn down by the workout from the previous day, or an inevitable dinner that ended later than planned, or just by a long day of work. It was easier to go back to bed, and just call it a rest a day even if it weren’t. This is where those around you have a hand in giving you that extra push. My wife and I being on the same page came in handy – it was she who at times dragged me out of bed and reminded me of what I set out to do. Our cat also helped in his own way by his regular 5AM pestering me to feed him, which forced me to get up and help shake off the slack. It’s also much better training with people during these times – it’s doubly harder to flake on them when you’ve already committed to joining them the day before.
Resolve amidst setbacks
In early January I would go for runs with a bottomed out pair of race flats which I didn’t want to retire because they felt good on my feet. Big mistake. One day I woke up feeling a strong pain on the arch of my left foot, barely able to walk—I had acquired plantar fasciitis. I had to dial down the running until the pain and inflammation had subsided. The pain subsided, but not as much as I hoped it would. I was advised to lessen the intensity and mileage on my runs. I tried various sorts of treatments to my foot – ball rollers, heat compress, even acupuncture. For a time, I replaced most of my run workouts with bike workouts. As I look back, the injury got me fitter more than ever on the bike. I surprised myself with a 5 and a half hour bike split when I would’ve just been happy to break 6. Had I panicked and gone on complete rest instead of managing my injury, the result would have been way different.
On one of those long rides in February, I crashed head on into a person crossing the road. Luckily she suffered minor scratches while I had deep road rash and a badly bruised hip. But worse, my confidence was at a low. It took me more than a week to hit the road again and for both my wounds to heal and to for me to gain my confidence back. But at this point, I was now facing 2 obstacles: a foot injury and a mental hurdle from the crash. “You can’t quit now, just keep on going. The crash could’ve been a lot worse, and you’re fine now,” I told myself. I was back on the saddle in no time.
So, after everything that happened in the training months leading to the big day, an Ironman is already made. Crossing the finish line, the medals, and the finisher shirt, are all just formalities to what you’ve already made of yourself even before the gun fires off. The best of luck to everyone training for your Ironman races this year! Hope your journey gets to be just as interesting, and can’t wait to hear your stories.
Noy Basa is a triathlete, and Head Coach & Co-founder of Streamline Sports Instruction. He was the fastest Filipino in last year’s Ironman in Melbourne, Australia.