“The beauty of sports is you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you earn”
Six concussions, a few stitches, some nicks to my labarums, and a blown AC joint or two were all relatively minor injuries after a 10 year rugby career. In a sport with a high traumatic injury rate it’s not often you get to leave a rugby season unharmed. While facing a collection of slightly inebriated, severely overweight collection of middle aged ‘So Cal Bulldogs’ I received the classic “career ender” (a chipped femur after getting side-swiped). Three doctors later I was able to find one who didn’t just want me to be able to walk without a limp, but thought I could find a way to play rugby competitively again. He even gave me hope that one day, if the stars aligned, I might play rugby professionally. Though I never vocalized a desire to turn pro, it always lived in the back of my mind. The sport was my defining characteristic for 10 years. It gave me a reason to get up early, gave me my social circle, and provided both physical and mental challenges I enjoyed solving. Rugby gave me purpose. However, after two knee surgeries, a lot of pain killers and losing about 15 pounds in two weeks, I was in the midst of ‘recovery’ and it was going poorly. From training for rugby religiously (sprints, passing drills, weights, film sessions) to suddenly doing nothing, I felt lost. Rehab was tedious and I felt empty. The words of my doctors and warnings about the mounting number of concussions kept leading me to the same conclusion; I would never be able to play rugby again. I felt adrift and in need of a goal. Wildly enough one of my first ides was “what if I do an Iron Man Triathlon?”
Rehab is unpleasant, especially when you are working hard for no real reason. Once I reframed ‘recovery’ to ‘training’ for a sport, I was motivated again. I was back in pursuit of something. After completing six months of rehab my doctor told me that if I could run a half marathon, I could sign up for an Ironman. Six weeks later I knocked out a painfully slow 2:11 minute half marathon and got the green light to register for an Ironman. I signed up for my first triathlon: Ironman Los Cabos. The IM consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a marathon run in succession. It’s known as an Ironman distance triathlon. I had a rugby coach who competed in Ironman races and he spoke of them like my team mates spoke about rugby. He called them brutal and rewarding, so of course I wanted to give it a go. I bought ‘Training for an Ironman’ from Amazon and got to it.
My first training plan was a little off. I ended up training 30-40+ hours a week with a lot of weights and way too much swimming, biking, and running. I overcompensated for mediocre training paces with over the top volume/miles. I was returning home from my bike commute between 6 and 7 PM, passing the gym I knew I would be walking into in about 8 hours. Knowing what I know now, I could have cut my training in half, spent the rest of my free time sleeping and hitting my head with a hammer and still been more successful in Los Cabos. But some lessons are best learned first hand. Despite an over the top training regime, six months later I crossed the finish line of my first Ironman. Along the way I fell in love with the sport. I was energized during the early mornings and late nights of training. The race cemented everything I love in sport. Work harder to do better, the ultimate meritocracy. For my efforts I was rewarded with a qualifying spot to Kona for the Ironman World Championships.
My first crack at Kona went pretty average. A moderate improvement from my first Ironman but nothing significant. It was the first sign for me that my training was lacking something. It was lacking science, logic and common sense. Continuing with a lot of volume and minimal quality was proving a fruitless endeavor. It did teach me that Kona like every other Ironman is just a race, 140 miles and change, train hard and you’ll earn your finish.
After crossing the Los Cabos finish line the goal became pretty obvious; I should try to earn a pro card. To race in the professional field of an Ironman you have to place top three on the amateur side of a race, at a race which includes a pro field. So far I have managed to secure a fourth and fifth place. I know I’m right there and I am going to push myself to get it. My training is the best it has ever been. It is nothing exceptional, no huge breakthroughs, but small improvements over time. It is all building together and focused on optimizing recovery so I can optimize my performance when it counts: a race. Next crack at the acorn is April 4th, Ironman Oceanside. April 4th I get my next opportunity to earn that card. Regardless of whether I earn it in Oceanside, or the next race, or ever I feel re-energized. Once again I’m waking up early to train and most importantly I’m excited to get up and for the opportunity to compete in this meritocracy and take my crack at a pro card.