Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 7 - Guest post by coach Keith


In case you missed it...
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 1 - Getting There
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 2 - Race Morning and Swim
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 3 - T1 and Bike
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 4 - T2 and Run
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 5 - Guest post by volunteer Sharon
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 6 - Finish Line & Beyond


Note from Michelle:  I invited my good friend, long time running buddy, swim coach, and Ironman himself....Keith to explain better than I can what is involved in the mental aspect of what is required to become an Ironman.  Take it away Keith...





Michelle asked me to do a guest blog about my IM experience and what was involved in coaching and supporting her progress towards IM. Considering I asked about other people’s feelings about their post-IM experiences, I suppose I can’t really say no. 

I almost don’t know where to begin. Normally the advice, “begin at the beginning and carry on” is good, but it’s hard to know where the beginning is. One could fairly argue that the beginning of my road started with my buddy Susi getting into triathlon, and eventually infecting, I mean, encouraging me. That loop closed when Susi sold her wetsuit to Michelle. I was so pleased to be able to introduce them and see the deal done. Funny, both of them rejected my offer of helping them into the suit, Susi to say farewell to it, and Michelle to see if it fit.

Michelle and I naturally fell into being run buddies once we met after a Harvest Half. She raced it, and I cheered. We live fairly close together, our usual run speeds are fairly close together, and we found we had lots to chat about during runs. 




Eventually the conversation came around to Ironman, and her inability to swim. I suppose I shouldn’t say this in public, but I offered to teach her, since I was going to the pool anyways. So I suppose it’s fair for Michelle’s husband to blame me for infecting her, I mean encouraging her to take up triathlon. Then again, I think that swimming is a life skill that everyone should have.

I’ve trained lots of adults to do various things, mainly related to software. I’ve given a few people tips on swimming along the way, so I was pretty confident I’d be able to help her learn to swim better. Except as I found out, she wasn’t kidding when she said she couldn’t swim. Over her objections I videoed her first “swim” mainly so she could see her progress. That “swim” was about 10 m tops. Talk about thrash and flail!  See it here:




Back to the basics. We spent some time in the teach pool, then back to the regular pool. We’d work on one thing at a time, and not worry about other stuff. Week after week, gradually improving. Not just getting the stroke to work, but getting the confidence that the stroke would work, and keep on working.


What was important about this process is not my teaching, but that she was willing to try. Even when she was dubious about something, she would try. Even when I was restating something differently, she would try it again, thinking about it differently. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn’t and I’d suggest something else. This is why I kept at it. As long as she was learning, was willing to try, I was willing to be there for her. And really, it’s not like I was going out of my way.

Once she put a stroke together and swam her first 500 m or so nonstop, she started thinking about actually doing a triathlon. She developed a very sensible plan, starting with the shorter distances and gradually building. She did a few relay teams to work into it, once with me swimming, and her doing the bike and run ending up with the best finisher photo ever! Then she did the swim and had other people doing the bike and run. 

The plan was to do do IM next year, but some other issues came up, so suddenly this year was it. I wasn’t quite sure what to say when she asked about doing the full distance this year. In previous years the swim cutoff was the concern, but I knew she could do that now. Her bike and run fitness had suffered a bit in the push to swim, but I’m pretty sure she was up for it physically.

The hard part is the mental fitness. I knew she was a determined athlete, with lots of tough races under her belt, but the full distance Ironman is a different beast. The level of physical fitness to complete the race before the cutoff isn’t that hard to get. I mean, as I like to say, it’s a swim, bike, and run, 3 things a child can do so how hard can it be? Except it goes on and on and on. Then on some more, and then you have to run a marathon.


Michelle and Keith at -25C

My own fitness was suffering this year with cranky hamstrings, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to go with her on the longer rides and runs. That’s for the best though. Each person has to do the race alone, so I think it’s best to train alone. 

I told her once that I hoped she suffered while training; that the training rides and runs would be brutal, tougher than race day. That happened. One ride out in the boonies she stopped for a break. The nonstop wind in her face, the smoke, the heat, being tired, feeling slow, needing a refill at the general store all combined for a tough moment. I was a jerk. I told her to sweet talk the clerk into giving her a big container of ice water, then wash her face with it, get her hair wet, pour it into her bra and shorts, and get back on the bike. It was her brain that was tired, her legs could keep going.

That’s what you need to do in IM. Keep going. Most people think the training is to improve your physical fitness for the long ride and run. That’s true to a point, but the real training is to convince your brain you can do it. That you can keep going when it gets tough, because it’s going to get tough somewhere, sometime. The more you train to keep going, to analyze what you need to do when things go pear shaped (nutrition, hydration, salt, sugar, coke, mental self talk, stop and stretch and start again, whatever) to keep going, the better you’ll be able to keep going on the big day. Because things will go pear shaped, and your choices are to cope or quit.

To be honest, I was a bit of a nervous wreck going into the race. In one sense I wanted to do so much for her, but in another sense, it was her race. She had to do the training, the prep, and the actual race herself. She made lists, she planned, she sought advice for her specific concerns, she got out there and did it. I told her she needed to be a selfish bitch about making time for what she needed, and doing what was right for her no matter what advice she heard. 

I didn’t tell her this, but I hoped she would have some difficult moments during the day, just enough to make her dig deep. The finish would be all the sweeter for it. Her previous triathlons had gone really well. She finished her first half IM as fresh as a daisy, practically. I worried that either she would sail through the full IM with no difficulties because she was playing it careful, smart, and conservative, and then she’d wonder what all the hullabaloo was about, or that the difficulties would mount up and overwhelm her on her one kick at the race.

As you’ve read, she hit the sweet spot. There was some tough sledding, she’s probably going to lose some toenails, and had some blisters, but nothing worse. It got tough in places, but not too tough. And now she is an Ironman!

What next? During much of her training the emphasis was on building the swim distance so I dialled back on the stroke improvement. Better to have a slow reliable stroke you trust, than to put too much effort into a stroke that is faster but might fall apart completely. As we say, you can’t win IM with your swim, but you can certainly lose it.

Now we’re going to take her stroke apart completely and fix some bad habits. Those elbows! I have a plan. (Evil chuckle.) She will have heard much of it before, but I’ve got some new things. My goal is to have her swimming faster than I do, and I’m pretty sure we’ll get there by spring. My stretch goal is to have her keeping up with Katie. Let’s see how it goes. It’s going to be fun!

--Keith 
http://keithsodyssey.blogspot.ca 

Note from Michelle:  
Thank you Keith.  I can't wait!  

Ironman Arizona Series:
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 1 - Getting There
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 2 - Race Morning and Swim
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 3 - T1 and Bike
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 4 - T2 and Run
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 5 - Guest post by volunteer Sharon
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 6 - Finish Line & Beyond
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 7 - Guest post by coach Keith 
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 8 - IMAZ2017 epic trailer (1 min video)
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 9 - Ironman Arizona 2017 - Michelle's Day (6 min video)

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