Fear and Loathing

Dear Reader, having just read the title of this article, I assume you may believe the following

about myself: I am insane, and I am a diehard superhuman athlete.

While you may be right about the former, I would disagree with the latter. Before I delve deeper into that, let’s get some information out of the way.

Triathlons are races involving a swimming portion, then a road-cycling portion, then a run, all in a row, with no breaks. They vary in distances, with the Ironman Triathlon being considered an “ultra” distance: 3.8km swim/180km bike/42km run.

The original Ironman race was the ridiculous idea of some naval officer in Hawaii, who, in 1978, decided to combine the three toughest endurance races on the Waikiki island into one mega death-race (I have taken the artistic liberty of inserting “death” here).

It is widely cited as one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.

As I write these words, I have not yet completed the event. First I wish to communicate my feelings pre-race, in order to contrast them with my post-race feelings (assuming I don’t just collapse into an irreversible coma).

I am not a diehard triathlon athlete. I have run only one official triathlon event, and it was a half Ironman. To say the least, I look at triathlons like most people look at really big difficult books: they would rather have read them than actually putting the work into reading them.

First of all, triathlons are expensive. An article I found on www.squawkfox.com that tallied up the various sums one would reasonably be expected to pay in the lead-up to an Ironman, both for someone on a budget, and for someone hemorrhaging money.

The author found that someone on a budget will spend close to $8,000, which includes all of the necessary items (bike, running shoes, wetsuit, gym membership, etc.), and race costs.

Someone with a little more moola can pay upwards of $35,000. I have attempted to cut every conceivable corner when it comes to spending money on this race. My bike is a custom-made, carbon-fibre, 1-pound, $10,000 road-eating-machine [read: 35-year-old steel-frame 20-pound found-in-a-park fixer-upper].

I literally found the frame in a park in Toronto, and fixed it up with the higher-end cheap parts I could find from online retailers. It has a brass bell.

Next, there is the training. Try as I might, I never could log the distances the Ironman website suggests: 48 kilometres running, 11 kilometres swimming, and 320 kilometres biking – per week.

Training is boring. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I loathed every minute I had to log in the swimming pool, mindlessly counting laps (“wait, how many laps am I on? I lost count… ARGH”). When I swam my last 1km training leg, I may have shed several joyful tears as I exited the pool.

The question you are probably asking yourself is: so why are you even bothering? I’m sure the answer to that question is legion, but I will try to sort them out.

The humble part of me wants to say that I like a challenge, that I am maddeningly attracted to things that at first seem impossible, but slowly come into focus as doable with the miracle of baby steps.

The Ironman, at one point, seemed like it was only doable by superhuman people (with large wallets) that are in a completely separate category from me. But now, after lots and lots of boring training, I see that it is possible (but not enviable).

On the other hand, I’m sure there are some less-than-divine reasons subconsciously driving me to do this. Maybe it is the ability to lord it over the heads of other non-Ironmen: of doing something hard, so that I can be better than others.

In short, the accolades.

The question I am asking myself is: am I ready for this? I am three days away from race-day, and I am terrified. I have had several dreams, none of which were good, in which I envisioned THE day.

My worries include: will I cramp up? Will I fail completely? Will I get an embarrassing time (whatever that is)? Will my woefully underwhelming bike completely fall apart several kilometres in? Will everyone laugh at me?

Some of these will seem childish. But, I have noticed, it is generally under extreme conditions that childlike irrational fears hold their strongest sway.

Luckily, some of these fears are tempered by other, more hopeful thoughts: maybe I’ll do good! After the race, I get to eat ALL OF THE ICE CREAM! And CAKE! Anything, really. I get to lounge around, without guilt, for as long as I want afterwards. I never have to do something like this again; pain is temporary, so shut-up and get it over with.

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