Oh well…I guess it’s time.
I kept on thinking about what, how, or, more important, why should I write about this.
Even if more than two weeks have passed since the XMan Romania event (the Romanian version of the IronMan, 3.800m swimming, 180km biking, and 42.2 km running) it affects me more than any event so far.
At the beginning of this year, I ran a lot and, after quitting the job I had, I figured out that I have enough time on my plate to work on some side projects while training more often, and try doing the IM, probably the toughest triathlon in Romania.
I started asking around, I put my hands on a 20-week training schedule, it was already week 5 or 6, but I hoped that all the running I did would compensate. In March I started focusing on the swimming, both volume, and technique, 3-4 times per week at an indoor pool and started biking as well. In April I planned to run even more to work on the marathon part. My thinking was that in summer is more complicated to train the running part. There were a bunch of nice events I targeted, traveled a bit as well, and I managed to run three marathons and one marathon.
I was so happy to see my running time improving. Three marathons, weekend after weekend, and I got 3:36, 3:41, 3:45, and, three weeks later, my fastest half marathon at 1:35.
But I knew running wasn’t enough for an IronMan. When I decided that I want to try the IronMan, I knew I was way behind with my swimming, and I had to work on the bike as well. Seeing that I can keep up the pace with the training schedule helped me. Even if many times I was feeling tired, I noticed that I can do the same action for longer times with less effort. Running was the easy part now. Even if the bricks hurt in the beginning. After hours of biking, jumping in the running shoes felt alright, but when it felt as if I forgot how to run completely. That’s how I felt my first serious brick. But that passed too.
Week, after week, training after training, I knew something big is coming. The figures were saying it, and my body had to work it through. 160 km endurance bike + 1-hour transition run. That’s on a Saturday. The day after, 4000 m endurance swim + 30 km endurance run. The most intense weekend I ever had, from a sports point of view. and the critical point of the training. After this, the distances decreased until the main event day.
There were days when I felt slightly bipolar. Now I was thinking that it won’t be that bad and that I can totally do this. Minutes later I was finding myself saying that I have no chance to complete this. A funny mixture of confidence and fear, warm and cold, something like an iced caffe latte. That’s what I was.
These 4 months were the most intense I ever had. But it felt good training 6 days per week. Not only that I felt the improvements, but I learned a lot as well. About swimming, running, biking, nutrition, and, more importantly, about myself.
The most important thing I learned, though was the day before and during the competition. I am afraid to swim in open waters. I panic, lose control of my breath, pulse, and motion. The day before the event, I entered the lake and wanted to take a lap around the beacons. All went smooth for 200m, right after the second beacon, when I felt my pulse accelerating for no reason. I stopped for a second to catch my breath, and I wanted to check the water. Because of recent floods, the water was muddy, and because of the heat on the surface it was very hot, and colder couples of inches deeper. But what was concerning me was the depth, and I couldn’t reach the lakes bottom. That made things worse, but I knew that the shore is not that far. When I felt calm again, I give it one more try. And another one. I tried several times, but it was useless. I had a blockage somewhere. All the physical training was failing due to something I couldn’t understand.
I hoped that the next day, when all the swimmers would be in the water, and with lifeguards around, I will feel more confident and take the 8 laps around the beacons. Also, I hoped that if I find somehow the guts to make one full lap, I will convince myself that I am able to complete it. I put all my hope into that, and I managed to go around the beacons one full lap. Not without panicking, though. The distance between the last and the first beacon was going through the middle of the lake. No shores nearby. Nowhere to run if I got scared again. When I got scared, I tried not to freeze. I took deep breaths, tried not to think about the far shore, nor the depth of the water. I tried to remember that I can do it. I did it in a pool. Thousands of meters in the pool. It’s just water. It’s just water. I tried repeating myself this. Evey now and then I kept my eyes closed, and then I saw that the shore is closer and closer. I did it. It felt like forever, but I managed to take one lap.
7 more to go. So far in my life, few things sounded as scary as this. But there was no turning back. I kept on thinking about the training and how I should swim in order to save energy. I entered the second lap. Every now and then my pulse was hitting the ceiling, but I kept on swimming. And then it happened again.
I entered the last length of the second lap. While swimming crawl, I felt my pulse getting faster again. I stopped to calm down, but I noticed that I was swimming in a wrong direction towards the middle of the lake. It was fight or flight.When I saw the shore being that far again, I panicked. Trying to be calm wasn’t working anymore. Thinking about the training. Nothing. I even tried to shift on my back and float. Couldn’t do it. It took me a couple of minutes, longest ever, but I managed to complete the 2nd lap.
The lake won in the end, and I didn’t manage to complete the 3rd lap. All it took was for me to panic one more time and I signaled one of the lifeguards. I grabbed his boat and asked him to take me to the shore. Soon after, I could hear in the speakers how the organizers announced the first abandon. Mine.
34 minutes. That’s how long I lasted in the IM competition, where people are struggling up to 16 hours to complete it. A funny way to put it is that I got to be the first one to finish, kind of.
So far I’ve been thinking about it daily. I wonder if I was really physically ready to complete it. Or, if I had continued after calming down. Or if I would grab each beacon for a couple of seconds to catch my breath before each length. Many ifs, but mentally, it seems that I have a lot of work to do, many battles to fight, before trying this IM again. I’ve never trained so hard before, and, to be honest, I never prepared for anything as intense as I did for this event.
But I probably should remind myself that I never was a sports guy. As all of my friends ar trying to tell me, this whole training was not in vain, and there’s always a next time.
I spent all the rest of the day observing. Seeing people doing their best. Fighting with themselves. Just seeing people doing this kind of things is so motivating.
This is one of those times when I feel so glad that I keep this blog. (Even if I neglected it lately because I had a lot of work to do, and I still have) Cheaper than therapy, and it lacks the empathy that you usually find at friends. After all, it is what it is. A failure. Even though, I gained so much reaching to this failure. But what’s most important is what I’m doing next. And, I must admit, I do miss a marathon so bad.