Final Thoughts

This is my second-to-last will and testament
Only a rough draft, a handwritten estimate
Carter USM

Tomorrow is the Mountains of Misery ride.  For those who suffered through this epic ride with me last year (many of whom are not present this year. . .Jason, Jennifer, Julie, I miss you all) or who suffered through the even longer written account of this ride, the big question will be: IN GOD’S NAME WHY?  And when you realize that I’m actually doing this for the third year in a row, most intelligent people will probably be reduced to making little fishy motions with their mouths accompanied by spastic gestures of incomprehension.  Of course, I exaggerate (moi?).  For most of my fellow team-mates the answers are many and obvious (even if they wouldn’t dream of asking this particular question themselves): because it’s there, because you can, because it is all about testing yourself, precisely because this ride is so bad-ass, etc.

This year, however, I’m experiencing something entirely new to me on the eve of a ride.  Doubt.

It was a little more than seven months ago that I completed IM MOO and I’m still grappling with the legacy of that event.  You’d be justified by this point in telling me to quit my whining, grow a pair, and get over it.  Or at least you would be if I’d written that much about it.  This blog has been unusually quiet this year.  This isn’t because I haven’t done anything by myself or with the team.  Training, of a sort, has been taking place.  Fun times have been had.  In part, my scribal failures were due, as I mentioned earlier, to a frenzied period of writing in the first part of this year that left me a little burned out.  Just like athletic activity, when it comes to writing everything pulls from the same energy source.  You can be a fast-twitch blogger (all you twenty-somethings out there) or you can be a slow-twitch kind of person (the rapidly dwindling group whose members recall how to write or even read at length).  In practice most people have a bit of both in them.  But energy wise, you can’t run several back-to-back long races or write several back-to-back long pieces without experiencing some exhaustion.  But that isn’t the whole story.  In fact, I’ve started and abandoned several blog entries since March.

No, the issue here is something completely unexpected (in fact, while I thought that the Ironman training itself would throw a lot of unexpected things my way but looking back over the blog I can see that it didn’t really.  The training was unexpectedly hard, but that was expected).  What was unexpected was just how difficult things have been in various ways since the Ironman.  I managed to finally pull myself out of the usual post-Ironman funk with the Shamrock half-marthon followed by a  sprint duathlon.  Motivational issues have persisted.  But it has become clear to me that at the root of many of these issues is a complete lack of perspective.  The strange thing about this is that so many people, myself included, start training for their first Ironman with the expectation that it will change their perspective on things in a positive way.  And it does.  I don’t want anything I’m saying to be interpreted as telling people not to do an Ironman.  I would do it all over again, and I plan to do so some time!  But you pay for everything great and good in this life, and when it comes to Ironman, those costs go way beyond the substantial race fees charged by the WTC or the rapacious prices charged by even the most flea-bitten rat’s nest of a motel in Lake Placid.  It has always been my hope that this blog would be a) self-indulgent, b) a pep talk for myself, c) a way of helping organize my thoughts, but above all d) useful for others.  I have a lot of friends training for this first Ironman this year, and I wish I had known some more about what exactly to expect after the big day.

So, back to why I’m sitting here in a hotel room on the eve of an epic sufferfest, trying to talk myself into manning up for said event, rather than working on my syllabus and my current writing project or, more to the point, going out and making a nuisance of myself amongst the coeds taking summer classes around the VTech campus.

Ironman can have a lot of beneficial effects.  In my case it has helped me become marginally more personally organized, marginally more proactive, marginally more able to prioritize.  But I have also found that it has created in me this powerful, almost sub-conscious sense that nothing else quite measures up in terms of a challenge.  This, of course, is ridiculous on so many levels.  As I’m once again finding, the logistics of a large-scale DIY home improvement project make training for an Ironman look like as challenging as watching Survivor.  However it also forces you to lose perspective on even your own athletic endeavours.  This runs in two directions: either you are consistently under-estimating just how hard some of your events are and therefore how proud you should feel to have completed them, or you are over-estimating others.   Earlier in the year I pulled out a significant half-marathon PR despite not having trained as assiduously as I could have, and then a week later knocked out a couple of sprightly (for me) sprint runs in a duathlon.  Meh.  Two weeks ago I completed a half-Ironman for chrissake, a major athletic proposition for a vast proportion of the population.  Despite not having trained the swim in any meaningful sense, and having slacked off on my run training, I still managed to better my run time on an atrociously hilly course by more than two minutes over the previous year.  Whatever.

Now I’m facing up to the double-metric century tomorrow and this thing has been weighing on my mind for the last couple of weeks, eating away at me.  This is despite the fact that I’ve already completed the double once, in my very first year riding this event. . .on a mountain bike that is at least ten pounds heavier than Mabel.  And I completed the century last year in a pretty good time overall, all things considered.  Prior to the half-Ironman I did a couple of 90 mile rides and although they didn’t feature a lot of climbing (I’m right, I think, to have some concerns there) the same was true in my first year attempting this ride.  Moreover, in contrast to last year, I felt fine after those 9o mile rides.  So what if I’m about ten pounds heavier than I was last year?  I’m older, a little wiser, a lot more experienced at facing up to big challenges, plus, a little fact, perhaps too obvious to mention, I completed a motherfucking Ironman! 

Why is it then, that I am sitting here shitting myself over this ride?

The double metric is legit, no mistake.  With over 13,000 feet of climbing it is arguably one of the toughest rides you can do in these parts with the exception of the Garrett County Gran Fondo Diabolical Double.  If you are anything less than a pro this is not your average training ride.  Even if you are a well-trained cyclist you need to dig deep for this one.  I can do that.  I have done it before.  For some reason, however, I’m no longer sure that I can.

It is true, I could bail on this and “only” do the century option; this ride does give you a bailout route if you aren’t feeling strong.  However, this is really cruel joke, since that option comes at mile 28, and unless you are suffering from recurrent bouts of explosive diarrhea most moderately trained cyclists are going to be feeling pretty good with only 28 miles in their legs.  So I will probably attempt the entire thing.  This could be a good thing, or a very bad thing.  I feel that I’m in the position of approaching this ride with a bad combination of a totally unjustified need for redemption and with a desire to prove something to myself.

But there is a more positive thing that needs to happen.  I need to put Ironman behind me.  I’m sitting here staring across at Mabel, propped up against the television.  No high-end carbon lay-up, no fancy carbon wheels, just the same old bike that has carried me through so many epic rides.  In addition to her signature skull and crossbones since last September she has been carrying my Ironman number.  My original intent was to keep that thing on there until it rotted off.

It is coming off tonight.


2 responses to “Final Thoughts

  1. Thank you Mark…I needed your post more than you could ever know. I just spent 20 miles riding my bike here in Alabama, all the while thinking…”I’m doing a Half Ironman in 6 weeks and it’s going to have to be “JUST FOR FUN” because it’s not going to be a PR. How in the world did I do an Ironman in NOV 2009?” What I couldn’t fathom, until just this moment…is that was then, this is now…Focus on what’s ahead and save the “M-DOT” glory for when I need to pull up harder on the pedals and keep pushing…I realize that is not exactly what you meant for you, but THANK YOU for helping me figure that out for me…

    • Thanks for the kind words, Holly. They mean a lot coming from someone who has always been such an inspiration to me and others. I’m glad that this was useful in helping you figure out where you are in your very different situation. These are the hidden facets of accomplishing something–anything–that they never tell you about. It is hard to envisage how you can be trapped by a major accomplishment, and lose the all-important focus which should be on what you are becoming and not what you have been.

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