CAN CROSSFIT BUILD A LEVEL OF FITNESS GOOD ENOUGH TO FINISH AN IRONMAN 70.3?
It all started 2 months ago while planning for my birthday. Jenn, my fiancé, asked me what I wanted to do, "I want to go to Ocean City just like last year and lay on the beach for a weekend." I said.
She responded, "I kind of want to do a half ironman, do you want to do that with me?"
I want to lay on the beach. You can do that whenever you want though.
"Well, I'm gonna do a half ironman in Maine." She says.
A: "Ok, if you're going to do it anyway... On a scale of 1-10, how badly do you want me to do it with you?"
J: "Well, it's a 10 for coming with me........ And like a 6 for doing it."
A: "So I guess I'm doing it too then."
After getting off the phone my head did something like this. Dammit! What the hell am I getting myself into. Well, it's a bucket list item, might as well knock it off now. How the fuck am I going to prepare for this in less than two months. I can't freestyle swim more than 50 yards without dying. I don't want to do what I know I need to do to really prepare for this. I wonder, if I just learn how to freestyle swim properly and get through that part... can I get through the entire thing without actually training for it ??? How good is this CrossFit base that I've cultivated ??? Well shit... I own a CrossFit gym and it would be pretty sick to finish a half ironman off just the 5 hours a week we put in.
OK, let's make some rules:
1. Training more than normal is not allowed.
2. Transition training from swimming to biking and from biking to running is not allowed.
3. Find a coach and learn how to swim, get in the water at least twice per week to develop the skill.
Disclaimer: As a coach, I would never ask anyone to just go do a 70.3 without training more appropriately. This was me deciding to be "that guy" that says "I think it's possible so I'm going to test my fitness and do it."
Doing a 70.3 was a fairly scary endeavor for me. I believed I could get it done, but I had no idea what it would feel like or if this CrossFit base would actually carry me through. EEK!
I ruminated on the idea of it all weekend and got myself a swim coach before the following Monday. We met once a week on 5 occasions prior to the race plus one open water swim together. She helped me address a number of basic errors and got me to swimming about 800m freestyle before feeling like I was going to die. Of course that left about 1100m up for grabs. Good thing I have a strong side stroke to fall back on.
And that's exactly what I did on race day. It was beautiful when we got in the 60 degree water just after sunrise. Picturesque for sure. But also freezing !!!! The air was 50, even colder than the water. So we splashed around in the water at the suggestion of literally everyone prior to getting into the chute to start. That did help a lot with being prepared for jumping into the water for the actual swim. Nothing..... and I mean nothing could have prepared me for being in the water with 2300 other people outside of actually doing it. I moved to the outside, about 20-25 yards off of the buoys and tried to stay away from the field. I made it about 3 or 400 yards before I switched to side stroke and just tried to cruise. I had been warned about the swim by a lot of experienced triathletes but warnings and visualizations are nothing like the real thing. That was INTENSE! I don't think I ever really settled into the water, but I did finish the swim in 50 minutes. My feet were numb, my arms were numb ( no sleeves), and I was happy to be getting on the bike. But not before running 600m on the road in bare feet. Goodness gracious, that stunk.
So there I was in transition, super stoked I got through the swim and watching what other people around me are doing. Lots of really smart little details, like bringing a squirt bottle of water to get the sand off your feet - as I'm unsuccessfully scrubbing it off my feet with a towel. grrrrrr. Finished grabbing my gear and studying other people, and I was off.
The 50 minute swim already exceeds my normal activity threshold. Outside of warming up I'm typically done with working out in under 45 minutes. So the rest of this ballgame is up for grabs. Let's see how it goes. I don't actually have an endurance background at all. In my lifetime I've only completed 6 runs that exceed 6 miles, only 4 rides that have exceeded 30 miles and somehow today I'm meant to swim 1.2, bike 56, and then run 13.1 .... this is funny stuff for sure... but fuck it, let's go.
So I'm on my new bike ..... Broke another race day rule. ::giggles at self:: Jenn decided to buy me my first road bike for my birthday. We picked it up on our way up to Maine for the race.
My new baby, is this how I hold it?
So I'm on my new bike ... and I'm cruising. The course was delightful, scenic, and had its fair share of rolling hills but nothing too serious. Let's see... it's race day, I feel great, I've got a little adrenaline, I'm on a new bike and it just feels so comfortable - more comfortable than anything I've ever been on. So I pushed my speed a little bit and tried to maintain 20 mph... ultimately coming in just under that. But this was also a little dumb. I've never transitioned from biking to running and I had no idea what was going to happen.
I got off the bike, transitioned and headed out for the run. Oddly enough I felt great at the start of the run. There was a very small level of fatigue - it felt as though I were a 6 speed standard car and someone just removed the 6th gear... but all of the other gears were ready to rock. And then I felt it .... a quick flutter of the left quad and adductor. I was only at the 2.5 mile mark so I reached back for my salt.... missing. Oh shit... it had fallen out of my shirt. After a full hour of running both quads had locked up and both adductors were whining. They hadn't seized completely though, they were useable, just locked up and painful every time I struck the ground. I started putting down cliff blocks from the aid stations after having realized my salt was gone and I ran into a spearmint block. One bite of that sent my stomach over the edge. There I was at the side of the trail trying not to lose everything in my stomach. Having to deal with the cramps and the GI issues so early in the run definitely took away from the experience but I really enjoyed running on the trail... it was gorgeous out there and I couldn't have asked for better weather. My goal for the day was simply to finish, so I decided to put my pride aside and do what I had to do to finish the race without allowing the cramps to take over. I maintained a nice slow run and walked for a while through every aid station. I made sure to get some liquid and some blocks at each station and take a few moments for self massage. After we got off the trail and started hitting some hills again my quads started to feel better. I'm sick like that, I like hills. And then it happened. I bit into another cliff block and lost my shit on the side of the road. A short break to puke, regain my composure and continue on to the finish. I wished that had happened much earlier in the run. I felt so much better afterward and picked it up to finish the last couple miles fairly strong. It was also great to have the other athletes cheering me on as I'm letting it rip on the side of the road. "You're almost there" "Get it together, you've got plenty of time" And that's exactly what I did.
I finished in 6 hrs 20 min with a 50 minute swim, a 2:54 split on the bike, a 2:19 run and two very long transitions. And I actually enjoyed the experience very much.
Jenn & I at the finish.
More than anything else I learned a lot from this event. I learned that the fitness base provided by good CrossFit training is absolutely ridiculous in its adaptability. That I can basically run an entire half marathon without quads. LOL. And I learned a lot about the triathlon world specifically. Tips/tricks, craziness and the value of a good chafe cream.
RECOVERY: I was really really curious at how my body was going to recover. For sure I was sore the day after, but two days after I was back in the gym and killing it. Certainly not fully recovered but well enough to perform and put some work in. Mostly it feels great to get out there, do such a coveted event and then return to my normal routine so quickly.
This is only one of many big fitness goals I've knocked off the board trusting in good CrossFit training. Maybe I'll do another 70.3... it was just the right combination of challenge, fun, and crazy.
Next up: Qualifying for Masters Nationals in Olympic Weightlifting