Sunday, June 10, 2012

Better By Half

Last week I decided to enter the Muskoka 70.3 triathlon, which is being held in Huntsville this September. I need a fitness goal to handle the stubborn winter flab I am still carrying around, and this will be it. I also want to find a focus for my training this summer to help shake off some of the lethargy that has worked its way into my athletic life.

The idea of training seriously for a distance that is half as long as an Ironman appeals to me. It’s not that I feel terrible about my race at Ironman Canada last summer—although finishing in 2,437th place was hardly the pinnacle of my racing career— but for a time I want to contract my expectations in hopes of restoring my body and my confidence. This year the effort will be the same, but the training sessions will be more manageable and the race will—one hopes—take half as long.

Naming this very popular series of races “70.3” (after the total miles travelled: 1.2 mile swim+ 56 mile bike+ 13.1 mile run) was not only a stroke of marketing genius, it also gave the distance a legitimacy that was long overdue. Back in the day, we referred to such a race as a “Half-Ironman”, as if it were meant for people who couldn’t muster up the wherewithal do the whole distance. Or as if it were merely a training vehicle for people getting ready to do a full Ironman. I suppose I have done as many races at this distance as I have Ironmans and I can honestly say that the 70.3 is not half of anything; it is a full challenge, a full commitment, and a full effort.

The Muskoka course is very familiar to me in several ways. We have a family cottage close by and I have swum in the lakes and cycled and run on the local roads for much of my life. The first year of the race, I volunteered on the run course, standing in the pouring rain for six delightful hours, directing the waterlogged runners on their way. Many of my family members have already done this race. In addition, I have a score to settle with a hill on the bike course.

It Feels So Good When You Stop
In August 2010 I was preparing for Ironman Canada and had decided to ride two loops of the Muskoka 70.3 bike course as a final training century before the race. Coming down a hill south of Huntsville, something made me tumble over my handlebars and I hit the road hard. It wasn’t much of a hill and I wasn‘t even going that fast, but the fall broke my collarbone and ended my season. I feel a need to revisit that hill.

It’s a terrific course, but for me at least, not one on which to try for a Personal Best. Not only is the bike route relentlessly tough, with scores of steep, choppy hills, but the distance is four kilometres longer than the standard half-Ironman length. The weather, which has been mostly fine the past few years, can be a factor in Huntsville in mid-September: cold, windy, and rainy; or hot and sunny. Patience, stamina, and strength will trump fast twitching in this race. This suits me, as I don’t believe I have a fast twitch muscle left in my body anyway.

The challenge for me has always been holding it together for the whole event. Looking back all the way to my very first Half-Ironman event in July 2001, I always have survived the swim and the bike only to fade badly in the half-marathon. With all due respect to Mr. Meatloaf, in triathlon two out of three IS bad. My goal, therefore, will be to finish all three events in a stronger, more deliberate style than in previous outings.

There is no need to be more specific than that at the moment. This year it is a push toward one of those results that might not be reflected in Sportstats as much as it will in my mind. I will know.