My first Ironman was all about firsts. First time running over 15 miles, first time riding 100 miles, etc. I spent much of my time thinking that my coach was trying to kill me, wondering where I was going to get these long rides done and how I was going to manage to do big back-to-back days. I spent most of my training by myself (I had just moved back to Denver). Mostly, my experience was fueled by fear and questions.
This time around has been completely different. If I had to put it into words, I'd say that my mind and my heart were much more "open". It wasn't that I wasn't willing to put in the work last time, it was just that I had many other emotions overshadowing the work. This time, life is calmer, and I know that a) I can finish the race because I've done it before and b) I know what the work feels like. This takes out a lot of the noise and allows me to focus on getting the work done.
My workouts, especially cycling, have been so much harder than last time. The first time I saw Deer Creek on my trainig plan, I was pretty freaked out, but I realized that all I needed to do was to try it and see what happens. I can take my time. If its hard, I can go as far as I'm able and turn around. The training isn't the race - its what gets me ready to race. My muscles didn't care if I had to take 3 breathing breaks on High Grade - it was making it to the top that mattered. My run paces have been faster than ever as well. I've approached them with a "just try it" attitude as well. So what if I do my first repeat too fast? Try and hit that pace for repeats 2-4 and I may suprise myself. Essentially, I tried my best to take out the negative talk and be open to hurting and to seeing what I could do. And I'm pretty damn impressed with what I was able to do. I've never been able to run mile repeats sub-9:00. But two weeks ago (on very tired legs), I did that 3 times.
I've moved from saying "I'm terrible climbing hills" to seeking hills out and trying them out. I'm still not very fast, but I can climb pretty well without feeling like I'm going to die. And more importantly, I don't look at hills with dread. Like during Elephant Rock a few weeks back, I just shook my head and laughed, and rode up the hill without drama, no big deal, its just a hill.
Another difference is that I've had people around me this whole time. I've had training friends for all of my long bike rides. I have a swim team that understands and supports me. My tri club is awesome. My network of friends don't respond to my race as "you're insane", but instead they say "you're awesome". Mentally, this process has been incredibly positive.
And here I am, race week, and I am calm. I've had only one set of butterflies - that was last Friday when I set up my race paces. I can theoretically take 2.5 HOURS off of my IMTX time, and I'm not even proposing crazy fast paces. 1:12 for the swim, 7 hrs for the bike, 5 hrs for the run. Not unreal or unrealistic paces. If I was doing these as stand-alone events (and not even really pushing that hard), these times are completely realistic. I've been doing these paces in training. Honestly, what scares me is that, to hit that time, I really need to force myself into my pain cave for the run and get it done. I have to balance hurting against that goal time and wanting it. How bad do I want it? I pride myself on being tough, but it is a bit scary to look a time (and a huge race) in the eye and say "do I want it and by how much?" How much am I willing to hurt? So much of this race is mental and it all depends with how "open" my heart and mind are.
These are questions that will be answered in 6 days. It should be a good ride.