Getting to the Starting Line

What a year!  I’ve completed 5 triathlons and a half-marathon this year each with increasing difficulties and with increasing performances culminating with a perfect race in Chicago where I finished in the top 5% of my age group and beat several elite athletes in the process.  I have gotten faster in all 3 disciplines and achieved running speeds I never thought possible.  I’ve learned about my body’s reactions to training, exertion, different foods, stress, sleep or lack thereof, and feel as if I am finally getting in touch with my physiology after 35 years.

I am stronger now. My knees are now able to support me for long distances and my ankles are more stable and have resulted in fewer injuries, my flexibility and balance have much improved.  I am also mentally tougher, capable of lasting stamina in the sport but also at work and home where I’ve grown more patient, calm, and able to take a look at problems with serenity and often solve them during an easy run.

It is our responsibility to start the race healthy, no amount of training makes you race faster if you can't start the event

So in many cases, my year has been wonderful on all fronts, except that I failed to meet the goal I set out to finish this year. Ironman Miami 70.3 was my end goal for the year and was to be the test of my fitness, the culmination of my long training rides, my runs in the dark or cold, my swim sessions before 6, my rides in all conditions.  I’ve trained in my basement, hotels, rooftops, different states and foreign countries.  I’ve even asked for flight attendants on my international flights for ice bags to recover from races the day prior.  Needless to say, my family paid a high price for this as well as they supported me throughout the year, often while questioning my sanity.  I trained during every vacation we took, every trip we made, and we even planned family events around my workouts.  This race was the summary of all these events chained together which impacted work, family and entertainment.

As we approached the event however, I had several international trips with heavy workloads and I admit to not have been consistent with my training and my diet.  Two weeks prior to race start, I came down with a cold probably due to mild overexertion from work and poor dieting.  When I came down with the cold, I faced a key decision which was to stop training, rest and risk a lack of fitness for the race, or train through my cold and do well in the race.

After all, I believe in my motto “Fortuna Fortes”, or fortune favors the bold in that only those that take bold steps really succeed.  I evidently made the decision that most triathletes would make in this situation, and that was to keep training.

There are two rules to maintain while training during sickness:

  • The first is to keep it at 50-75% intensity level and never exceed that or your body will be too drained to fight the infection.
  • The second is to NEVER train when the infection gets into your chest.  Anytime the symptoms go below the neck, it’s time to stop.  Everyone agrees on that topic and it makes sense in fact when you look at it honestly.

Unfortunately, I broke both of these rules.  On my first run while sick I ran into someone training for the Athens marathon and we ran together.  I ended up running a 10k PR (50:06) instead of maintaining a “50-75% intensity”.  And I even kept training like that during the week with max efforts in attempt to keep my speed up before the race.  The a few days later my throat started hurting and I could feel a minor wheezing in my lungs.  Though the thought of stopping the training did actually cross my mind, it clearly wasn’t sufficient to stop me and I went along for my 2.5 hour rides and continued to swim/run until the Tuesday before the race.

By then, I had succumbed to a high fever (103-104F) and a pneumonia robbed me of any energy, so much so that  my wife had to take me to urgent care where I received enough antibiotic, steroid, codeine and other goodies to kill a horse.  Needless to say traveling to Miami, let alone racing was out of the question.

The Finisher's Medal would allude me this year

As athletes, our responsibility is to train and toe the line in our best possible performance.  Training is not sufficient if you can’t show up healthy at race start.  Recently, Chrissy Wellington, the reigning 3 times IRONMAN world champion was about to defend her title once again and was a large favorite to win by a healthy margin.  The morning of the race, everything changed when Chrissy announced she was sick and would not be able to defend her title.  While of course both cases are a bit different, they still highlight that whether to defend a title, participate in a race or set a PR, one has to be healthy enough to toe the line or nothing else matters.  A lesson I shall make sure to apply in my 2011 season.

For now I must remember the words of Rudyard Kipling from its poem “IF” which I have always drawn much from.

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;

So I am resting for now and allowing my body to heal while taking some time to spend with my family and enjoy the little things in life.  Though I did not meet my goal this season, I’ve enjoyed tremendous success in many areas of my life and I’ve learned a lot…including how to not train while sick!

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