Finish or Race?

by klassman

Many people train for the Ironman in order to finish.  It is a major accomplishment to cover 140.6 miles under your own power.  To do so under a time limit is a bit nutty.

I can only think of one race I’ve ever done in my life where I purposefully did not really race.  It was fun and a bit nutty in its own way.  It is atypical.  I’ve run with Esme in the Turkey Trot and for a fundraiser at her school, but even then we were racing at her pace.  She is a competitive little beast.

Much of the advice I see for first time Ironman competitors is along the lines of swim easy, ride slowly and at least a gear below your training, don’t run hard until the last 10k.

I get it.  No one wants to ruin the big day — after a year of preparation — with adrenalin fueled charges up the biggest climbs that leave nothing in your legs for a marathon.  I read a many more race reports that feature a blow up than regret that too much was left in the tank.

Yet, I haven’t yet got my head around the concept.  When I think about times or splits the assumption is that I may conserve on various segments, but that I’m pressing hard at every turn.  When I envision what it will be like on the course, I see myself running hard, pedaling smoothly — and fast.  When I tried to figure out caloric intake for the bike, I considered that I’d be working at least as hard as my training rides.

In short, I understand the need to carefully mete out energy and to conserve early on a long, long day.  I understand that someone cannot really appreciate the stresses of an Ironman day — on digestion, mental acuity and decisions, on muscles — without having done an ultra distance event.  I cannot understand the concept of “showing up” with the goal of survival.  Only a small fraction of participants are in the hunt for a podium position.  But aren’t all of the participants competitors?  Doesn’t everyone show up with the intent of competing against themselves?  The ideal of their own very best performance?

I want to race next July.  Certainly I will learn a lot and gain valuable experience.  But, I won’t treat a race day like a really long training day.  I’m not sure how many opportunities I’ll have to tackle something this big.