For over a third of my life I have competed in short course triathlon. With my first triathlon a Sprint distance race and my third a leap to the Olympic distance, I never considered tackling the challenge of distance racing at such a young age. Ironman and Half-Ironman distance races have never been on the radar for me. In fact, up until three years ago, it was very evident that my performance at the Olympic distance was significantly weaker than at sprints. I was blessed with an abnormally high VO2 max which is simply the volume of oxygen I can absorb in a given time. In fact, it is one of the highest. My lactate threshold on the other hand, was something that needed to be trained. This left me behind in longer races but enabled me to suffer immensely at high speed, something I am still much better at than distance racing. But recently my dreams have teased me toward new goals.
I have always criticized people who I believe prematurely started racing longer races. While most people see my criticism of long distance triathlon as a criticism for the sport, it is more a criticism for the athletes. A lot of triathletes acknowledge that going slow in a short course triathlon is a lot less impressive than suffering for a longer race. In my opinion, almost anyone (especially people my age) can suffer through a Half-Ironman or Ironman triathlon for a day. But to actually put in the training hours in the weeks, months, and years leading up to a race of any distance is the more respectable challenge. To suffer for 12 hours is sort of cool but to dedicate yourself to suffering like it is your job, that is immensely respectable.
Since I began triathlon, I have won several of the top awards in short course in the state. However, I am nowhere near done with my desire to improve. Many people see me as being a pretty fast triathlete and some see it as impossibly fast. But these impressions are not how I see myself and not how others should see me. I see myself on a step in the middle of the staircase. Being one of the fastest in Virginia is exciting but nowhere close in achievement to what I want to earn. Compared to the best of all humans, I am slow. And if I am going to commit myself to something, like I have with triathlon, I want to be the best or at least the best I can command from my body.
I have always believed that short course triathletes make the best Ironman triathletes. If you look at the top guys right now, Chris McCormack, Andreas Raelert, Craig Alexander, they all had their start in short course triathlon. I think that experience in a fine tuned race and the versatile physiological adaptations that short course triathlon demands gives those athletes an advantage of their “slow and steady” counterparts.
So out of curiosity to see what my body can do, I may be making an attempt at a different distance this coming spring. With abilities in training that just last year I did not have and my collegiate triathlon career coming to a close, I am willing to give the half-Ironman distance a shot.
A lot of people have believed that I have avoided the distance because of hesitation or fear. I have witnessed a lot of egos shoot through the roof when they complete a long course triathlon and with those egos, I have received some criticism for my partaking solely in short course racing. A part of me wants to silence those bold statements and show that a finisher is not a winner.
But while those desires may be fueled by my own ego, my primary reasons for wanting the change hardly stem from my insecurities. About six weeks ago, the night of one of my endurance runs, with tired legs and an aching body, I had a dream. I was racing in the Kinetic Half triathlon, a venue that I have raced many times in the sprint the day after. I felt light and the speed felt manageable. There was no vomiting and there were no tears. The pain was subtle at first but amplified to aches unlike in short course racing. Muscles throbbed but did not burn. My heart did not beat out my chest but instead throbbed in rhythmic fashion with my efficient strides. I was minutes ahead of the next racer and gliding to a strong finish. There was no question about my win and there was no question about my capability. The pain was completely different at the finish line and more muscular than aerobic. I enjoyed it more. I managed it better. I have had similar dreams twice since then and they have teased me towards a foreign distance.
Another reason, and a much more powerful one than the frustration I have for cocky people, stems from other peoples encouragements. Several of my good friends have encouraged me to try the race because of their confidence in my ability. Some have seen what I can do over distance and some know my kind of pain tolerance. They are curious to see my capabilities are and their confidence penetrates deep within me. Before I doubted my ability to tackle such a long race. But now I look at my abilities and realize I am fully capable. I have wanted to wait till I was confident that I could stand on the podium in my first race. After getting accustomed to those steps in short course racing, I cannot imagine losing one of those spots. However, I would be lying if I told you I would be content with anything lower than the top step.