Second time around
By Alison Colavecchia
6.28.04 (www.slowtwitch.com)

When I got to the finish line of my first Ironman I thought there could be nothing more straightforward than getting to the start line of my second. More miles, better head management, I assured myself, would get me a top ten spot in my age group and maybe even a Kona spot (if I wanted it). Was I wrong.

This has been the most all-over-the-map year I believe I have ever had. Now having being separated for about one-and-a-half years the to-do list is shrinking and the adjust-to-it list growing. I am between worlds—the old and the new. Make no mistake, I am not whining. I stand by my decision. In life you make choices and must be prepared to deal with the consequences.

As my life has been in flux so has my training. The road to my second Ironman has been anything but straightforward. Last year, I was signed up for, but didn’t make it to, Ironman Lake Placid. The signs suggested this was not a wise plan. This year, I began the New Year with 13 weeks of illness. I was not surprised, just frustrated. It was as though the kids and I declared ourselves over the worst of the life changes and now able to afford the luxury of being unwell. Indeed this confirmed for me the notion that our bodies are a part of us, not disconnected. Stress one part of the system and it will show in another. Several years of emotional stress were bound to show somewhere. I recovered from one thing only to get something else. I struggled on as best I could with my training. Two batches of sinus infection stuff, three batches of chest infection stuff and one bout of stomach flu later and I wasn’t so sure that I would make a starting line of any race, let alone an Ironman. I made the Burlington Chilly Half Marathon in February—barely—but had to bow out of the Around the Bay 30k in March.

In assessing things financially, I found I could no longer afford the personal coaching I had come to count on. I was determined to press on though, only to find that my new running partner's husband was a five-time Ironman (including Hawaii). Mike (Dobbyn) kindly offered to help me out gratis. Together we mapped out a plan to get me to Ironday. He has been incredibly patient, as it has been anything but clear sailing.

Why continue? I have asked myself this about 100 times as I have moved seemingly two steps forward and one step back over the course of the last year.

First, when I swim, bike and run I feel vibrantly alive. The kid in me again feels what it is like to take a risk without having to engage in reckless or irresponsible behaviour. On any given day I am given the opportunity to feel awake, to take a chance and see if I can go a little faster, a little further or handle something a little harder. This constant source of feedback has been so wonderful. Some days I have had it and some days I haven’t but I have been determined to give myself the opportunity.

Secondly, even though I am the only triathlete (outside of Mike and Meryl) in my immediate world, when I am out there doing my thing either training or racing, I know that I am a part of something. I belong somewhere. The importance of belonging that I thought had disappeared with my youth is alive and just as needy in my adulthood. I used to feel a tremendous sense of belonging at work but the new work culture of slash and burn (certainly in the Ontario Health Care industry) leaves me reluctant to get too attached here anymore.

I came to the conclusion in the early Spring that my mindset was not helping. I had been thinking that my second Ironman would represent a bookend to a difficult time. I found as I slogged through many a workout that it was impossible to "celebrate" the end of a marriage with a swim, bike or run. I woke up with a start one night to the realization that I needed to see the Ironman as a new beginning. Getting outside and clearing out the cobwebs became pleasant and joyful again. I made a promise to myself, literally facing myself in the mirror, to listen to my body with vigilance. I have required more rest this year than last in the past and taken it, guilt free. I have also intentionally done a few things differently. I have logged more long runs and long swims, used a Computrainer a few times when the spring weather just wouldn’t cooperate and, thanks to Mike’s urging, have already raced three cycling time trials.

The first week in June I opted out of my usual season opener (the Milton tri) in favour of a bigger mileage weekend. I was behind schedule. I rode for 5:30hrs on the Saturday and ran for 3:20 on the Sunday instead. I forged ahead with the Rideau Lakes Cycling Tour two weeks later, as I have found this to be a good indicator of my overall fitness. Most telling is the ironshuffle run that comes at the end of the ride on day one and the climb up the Westport hill near the start of day two. This year I rode up Westport, last year I nearly fell over and two years ago I danced up. So, using this day as a barometer, I am somewhere between my 02’ and 03’ fitness. I just completed the Tupper Lake _ Ironman and had a great swim, decent bike but blew on the run. Poor head management, I would say was mostly to blame. I had slept well, eaten I thought well enough but my legs just never went into flow mode on the run. Perhaps the windier conditions on the hilly course were in part to blame but I don’t think so. Consequently, I came in just over six hours this year where I was 5:35 two years ago. I have worked hard not to be disappointed.

I am less than thirty days out from Lake Placid. I have been asking myself over and over again whether I compare to where I was two years ago. Really, this is a dumb question. With the resources that I have had at my disposal—emotional, physical, financial—I have done what I could afford. The more appropriate question is, "Have I made the most of my resources in getting to this my second Ironman?" The honest answer is, in this last month of training I feel like I am stealing from everywhere to get all the miles in. I may appear to be preoccupied, selfish, crazy or driven right now but for the other eleven months of the year I am not. I give back every chance I get. Indeed with the luxury of time and maturity, I understand now that investing in myself for a little while permits me to invest in and support others during the other days and months of the year.

So I need to continue to "maintain aim" as Scott used to say and not get too caught up in comparing my performances or fitness from years past. The circumstances of this race make it unique and therefore unique expectations are in order. Whereas I would have liked to finish under my time from two years ago (13:07) the reality is that I may not have what it takes in the bank to do it. In the context of the events of the past year, I would be foolhardy to see this as a failure. Instead I must continue to work with Mike, listen to my body and not compromise in areas of my life that leave me feeling uncomfortable. I need to do my best and appreciate all those who have helped me to stay in the race at all—namely my children, my parents and the rest of my family and friends. I continue to be very blessed no matter the outcome of July 25, 2004.

Still Tri’n

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