One week from today, I will be standing on the banks of the Tennessee River (or more likely standing in a bathroom line), ready to start what is going to be a very long day of suffering. (Unless I don't make a time cutoff, in which it will be a shorter but still too-long day of suffering.)
Am I ready? This question has a complicated answer. Yes and no. I have done almost all of the training -- 95+% of it. I did skip a few workouts in the last week, but although I have a tendency to get paranoid about missed workouts, even I can't worry too much about missing these. Ever since March I have trained consistently and completed every single swim and every single long workout with the exception of one two-hour run I was supposed to do last weekend and did not. My training plan didn't call for any 100+-mile rides, but I did one anyway. My training plan also didn't call for any runs after my very long rides, but I did one of those anyway too -- just two miles after my 105 miles on the bike, but still, enough to prove my legs worked. (My legs were fine that day, but my "run" was still more of a run-walk due to extreme heat and the feeling that I was about to spontaneously combust from that heat.) I have done the training, although I think most people worry that they haven't done "enough" training no matter how much they've done.
I have had so little time for anything besides training and working that I haven't updated this blog in ages, so here's a quick summary of what happened since the beginning of August when I wrote last:
*I took my bike to Chattanooga the second week of August and rode one loop of the course. The hills kicked my ass. I have not ridden hills since I lived in Tucson. Uphills were no problem -- downhills are terrifying. I ride the brakes the whole way down. That's a problem because Chattanooga bike course is almost ALL hills, rollers of the type that good cyclists refer to as "fun" and I refer to as "torture." Based on my ride that day, I was not going to make bike cutoff in the race.
*There ARE hills in Florida -- I just have to drive over an hour north to get to them. Fortunately I discovered that I suck at hills with seven weeks of training time left -- and I have ridden hills every single weekend since then, including 105 miles of them on that one miserable occasion.
*I also bought a new bike. While a new bike doesn't make anyone a better cyclist, carbon frame compared to aluminum frame improves my physical comfort substantially, which means I will be less likely to quit when the suffering gets extreme, which it will because -- here is a truth I have discovered -- I just don't really like cycling that much, at least not when I'm trying to go fast. Also, I bought a road bike, not a tri bike. I never learned to ride comfortably and efficiently in aero bars if any of the following were present: vehicle traffic, curves, rough road surface, other bikes, hills, or wind. While I might have kept trying if I was doing IM Florida, which is straight and flat, I figured it was smarter just to get a road bike I liked for the hills of Chattanooga since there is no way I would be confident enough in aero bars to use them while descending all those hills.
*On Labor Day weekend, I attended an event put on by the Chattanooga triathlon club called TriNooga. It was a FREE event designed to familiarize race participants with the course, and included a swim, bike, and run. That was overall a positive event for me. The highlight was the swim. Longtime readers of this blog know that I have dreaded the swim for as long as I have been dabbling in triathlon. I worked so hard on the swim this time around. I have been swimming 3500 yards three times a week since June, with emphasis on intervals and drills. Still, I have only improved my time in the pool a little bit, so I was expecting a two-hour swim in the race. (Cutoff time is 2:20.) I was still planning on using a wetsuit until TriNooga. We swam almost the full swim (full swim is 4224 yards; my Garmin read 4056 yards), and my time was exactly one hour. This was the fastest swim of my life by over 40 seconds/100 yards, and I was in my tri suit, no wet suit. Talk about a confidence builder. Even better, I enjoyed the Tennessee River. It was pretty, the water was clear and clean, there was plenty of room for lots of people, and I knew approximately where I was on the course because of landmarks -- the island and the three bridges. The run course was also not so scary as people make it out to be. Yes it's hilly, with one particular hill -- the notorious Barton Hill -- that you have to do four times on the double-loop course, but I am not afraid of hills when running. And this particular hill is only 3/10 of a mile one way and half a mile the other way, so although it's a grind, it's not really that long. I have historically done well on hilly marathons (most people don't BQ in Atlanta, especially after training all winter in flat Michigan, but I did), so I am not too worried about the run. The bike is another story. Even on my new bike, I still suffered horribly on the downhills. I just hate them! I ride the brakes on every single downhill. I also do this when driving a car, and for the same reason -- fear of losing control. I still would've made the bike cutoff, but barely, and I only did one loop instead of the two loops I'll have to do in the race. That was the one bad thing about an otherwise confidence-boosting weekend.
All in all, though, I was feeling pretty optimistic about completing the race and meeting cutoff times. And then we got close enough to race day that we started to believe that the long-range forecast might actually be accurate. What's happening is that race day temperature just keeps creeping up and up. It was 96, then 97, now 98. Full sun (and that bike course is VERY sunny). Am I worried? YES. I'm good in the heat compared to other people. But even though I have done virtually all of my training in heat, I have never biked or run in anything over 94 degrees, let alone biked longer than I ever have in my life, let alone followed that with a marathon. I have always told myself after a bad training day (of which I have had several), "At least it will be cooler in Chattanooga." But now -- HOTTER? How is this even possible?
I know that I don't have a very good handle on my fluid/electrolyte intake. This becomes really important in a long, hot event. Not enough fluids and you get dehydrated, obviously. Too much fluids without enough electrolytes and you get hyponatremia. Either one can put you in the hospital or kill you. I have always just guessed at amounts and always survived, but often in pretty rough shape. I guess I'll be guessing again next Sunday.
There is also the possibility of the course being shortened or cancelled. There is precedent for this in all types of endurance events from marathons to Ironman to shorter triathlons. If the race directors feel that they aren't equipped to provide a safe experience for athletes, they can cancel the race. (I don't think shortening the course in this case would help. That would just put more runners out in the sun during the hottest part of the day. It's never really too hot to bike, but it is definitely sometimes too hot to run.)
So what is my plan? Keep going as long as possible on Sunday. What if I miss a cutoff? Undecided. I can't get it clear in my head whether, if I complete the course with an official DNF, I can convince myself that I "did" an Ironman or not. I'm not worried about whether I'm "allowed" to continue or not. It's on public roads and they can't stop me. I can just get Sherpa to bring me my wallet and I'll make my own aid stations along the way. Of course, if I get pulled off the course and forced into an ambulance, I guess I'm done for the day. So if I DNF for a medical reason, what then? Do I sign up for Ironman Florida? I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. The Ironman itch will not go away until it's scratched. For now I am just planning on starting Chattanooga and going till I can't anymore.