Number 9 – MI Titanium
Last weekend I completed my ninth Iron Distance race at MI Titanium in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The race was great. It was wonderfully managed, a fun course, and great weather. I had a good performance and managed to take the win with a rather large margin. Instead of running on about how another race went step by step, I figured I’d just write a bit about some differences in regards to racing my ninth Ironman compared to my first.
First and foremost – ignorance is bliss.
Sometimes not knowing what’s ahead is a pretty dang nice experience. At my first Ironman, during the earlier stages of the race I was feeling fit, fresh, and loving every minute. I wasn’t thinking about the feelings to come in two or four hours because I didn’t know. Now, the knowledge of the pain and fatigue that will inevitably set in is always looming over me and I frequently think about it while in the element of racing. That makes it tougher to just enjoy being in the moment of the competition.
Another aspect that has changed significantly is nerves. I remember my first race. I was so amped up the night before that I hardly slept. That anxiety carried over into race day and made the time before the gun went off quite stressful. I still get pre-race anxiety but it has significantly diminished. I usually get 6 or so hours of sleep before an event and I’m much more relaxed the days, hours, and minutes before. A lot of this has to do with experience. Knowing how much time I need, what things I need done, what to eat for breakfast, etc. Those all reduce the stress load. There’s a flip side though – that can all lead to complacency. And we all know complacency is a killer.
I used to make a list of what I need, now I just throw what I think I need into a pile. I used to set 3 alarms, now its two. I used to wake up 2.5 hours before, now 1.5. Now I always find myself forgetting something, as I more frequently pressed for time in the morning. It is probably only a matter of time before I forget something important like a helmet or miss the early morning wakeup call.
A third major difference is drive and the finish line feeling. What creates drive? That’s an individual thing and for me it is complicated and would take a page to dive into. What I do know is that while I’d hate to admit it, I’m probably less driven today than five years ago when I first dove into the Ironman scene. I probably still train with the same vigor, but during competition I find it harder and harder to get motivated to bury myself mentally and physically. I think that plays into the finish line feeling. You’ll never be as proud of your accomplishment as you are the first time. I still love crossing the finish line, but the first time I saw the chute and the spectators cheering me on was definitely the best. I had achieved something that I worked years at and wasn’t even sure I could accomplish.
The final major difference is pacing. My first Ironman was a continuous decline in speed on the bike and pace on the run. While I still lose speed on both the bike and run, it happens much later now in each and much less dramatic. That is just something that needs to be learned over thousands of miles on the bike and on foot and not something most people can dial in during their first or third race.
Overall, more has stayed the same than has changed and looking back I’m impressed with my ability to race well when I was so new to the sport. I still have loads of fun at every event and I hope another nine Ironman’s are in my future.