October 23, 2012

Return to Ironman: Whistler 2013

"I thought you never wanted to do one of those again?" my dad said on the phone.

Well, that's not quite true; I had thought more of it as, you know, maybe, possibly, one day.

Since finishing my fifth Ironman in New Zealand in March 2005, I decided to focus on running, never looking back as I slowly and surely improved; earlier this year, at the age of 41, I ran personal records for the 10K, half marathon and -- most importantly -- the marathon at 3:00:29 (on a course that was later declared up to 400 metres long for the top finishers including me).

What's more, I knew I could run faster.

On a high from these results and greedy for more speed, I began a 10-week high intensity program with a coach 2-1/2 weeks after the Vancouver marathon in early May. Bad move. Disaster struck within a month, though it has taken me four months and counting to to realize the extent of it.

In my 16 years of running (and including six years of triathlon) I have only suffered one previous major injury, an ITB problem in 2003. In the nine years since that injury, I have done three Ironmans, 12 marathons including 11 in 3:15 and faster, and completed five ultras without any issues that couldn't be fixed with a couple of treatments.

So this mysterious pain that prevents me from running, even walking at times, and doesn't seem to handle driving well either, has been tough to deal with. While the symptoms are clear, it has proven hard to pinpoint and I still don't have a diagnosis.

I do know that it hasn't responded to the Active Release Technique, Trigger Point massage and IMS (Intramuscular Stimulation) treatments I have received in the past four months; all were done by qualified and experienced professionals whom I'd recommend highly without hesitation.

This week I am seeing a physician who specializes in sports medicine, in particular field hockey, football and running, and I am scheduled for an MRI on November 6 (it will be eight weeks since that request was made).

The last few months have been challenging, and I've had to keep my mind in check. By and large, I remain optimistic though have found it hard to motivate myself for cross training, with swimming and cycling high on the list of recommended activities.

I am a runner, I love to run. But I can't at the moment and have no idea when I'll be able to run again.

Finally last week I got on my bike because I wanted -- needed -- to doing something. I realized that the last time my Argon 18 had been used was in Ironman New Zealand 7-1/2 years ago. Wow.

I did my first triathlon, an Olympic distance in June 1999, and my last in March 2005. I now have been away from the sport for a longer period of time than I was in it.

In 2005, I simply stopped riding my bike and gave up swimming without too much regret to focus on running. As my passion for running grew it erased any interest I had in a return to triathlon, though I have remained closely involved in the sport through Tim's training and racing, friends, and my work as a writer and editor.

While I certainly wasn't compelled to swim or ride, I have kept all my triathlon gear (bike, wetsuit, clothing) except for my Zipp race wheels; Tim discouraged me from selling the carbon bike used only in preparation for and racing at IM NZ, even as it simply sat there gathering dust.

"It's unlikely you'd ever buy a bike of that quality again," he'd say. "Besides, you'll never get your money back in selling it."
"But what if I never ride it again?"
"Don't sell it."

Then Ironman Whistler was announced. An Ironman around the corner. With 100 Kona slots. Of course Tim signed up on Tuesday, as did a neighbour and other friends both locally and overseas who had registered for priority entry. The thought of signing up had crossed my mind, though I dismissed the idea very quickly. Or so I thought.

When general online registration opened Thursday at noon, I found myself filling out the entry form; my fingers were typing even as my brain was thinking, No, absolutely not, NO WAY.

Fear is powerful. Fear can be paralyzing. It also can propel you into action, and disappear when you challenge it. I couldn't deny the excitement I felt; the familiar thrill of wild abandon in committing to a clear goal that is as electrifying as it is terrifying. Giddiness that trumps all reason and rationale; a gut feeling that something is completely logical in its inherent craziness and that, despite trying very hard, is impossible to ignore.

I paid my $736.31 accepting that I may discover over the next few months that I am no longer cut out for triathlon, that the desire and excitement for Ironman training and racing remains overshadowed by the fear of mass swim starts and riding big downhills, fears that I dealt with in each of the five Ironmans I did between 2002 and 2005. Or, as I hope and expect, I may find myself a triathlete again, loving the feeling of supreme fitness that comes with training in three disciplines.

IM Whistler is here, now. And so am I. So why wait? What would I be waiting for? Turning 45, 50, 55 or 60? If I don't want do Ironman now, why would I want to do it later? Let's do it now. At least I'll finally have some powerful motivation to get back on my bike (the windtrainer until next spring) and into the pool; if nothing else, there will be good crosstraining ahead while I search for the answer to my running injury. 

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