I love running. Since beginning to train for my first marathon in 2013 the feeling of slipping into a pair of running shoes, knotting the laces, and trotting out the door has brought me endless joy. I run to relieve stress, to improve my health, and to compete with others (especially my twin brother) and myself over how long and fast I can go. I’ve ticked most of the important boxes – completing a marathon, qualifying for and running Boston and New York, and upping the distance to 50K, 50 miles and even 100 miles at the VT100 Endurance Race last summer. I love the purity and freedom of running – all you need is a pair of shoes and some willpower to start putting the miles in. But I hate cross-training. I have a difficult time convincing myself to stretch or do core work, never mind swimming, cycling, or (god forbid) running on an elliptical… So why on earth did I sign up for an Ironman?
Like many important life decisions, it started in a bar. Club sweetheart Cara Baskin, my brother Taylor, and I had just run the Lake Wawayanda Trail Ragnar Relay in New Jersey. Although the 120-mile race was meant for teams of 4 or 8, we failed to fill the 4th slot on our roster. Despite this setback, we won the Ultra division and finished 3rd overall among the 8-person teams. Inebriated with victory (and perhaps a few too many IPAs) we planned our next move. We had all run ultra-distance events already – in fact, Cara had completed the VT50 the weekend before – so we wanted a new challenge. “Let’s do an Ironman!” It seemed so simple. Taylor had cycled in college and Cara had completed a Half Ironman the year before. I had only a vague notion of the swim and bike distances and almost no experience with either sport, but had run for 23 hours straight in the VT 100, so figured a race that took about half that time would be no problem. The drinks wore off sometime the next morning and the lactic acid ebbed a few days later, but the Ironman idea caught hold.
Triathlon training would be the most intense cross-training I had ever done. I signed up for a winter spin class at the Dartmouth gym to see what cycling was like and started swimming once a week during lunch. My friend Robert Gill joined for spinning and decided to get in on the action. Our friend and UVRC club-mate Taylor Black had raced at Ironman Mont-Tremblant the year before and gave it rave reviews, so we all pulled the trigger and registered. The months that followed that decision seems like a blur of wetsuits, carbon time-trial bikes, and Clif Shot Bloks. My goal shifted from completing the event to racing it. I learned how to fix a flat tire and keep my goggles from fogging up. UVRC member and triathlete Jeff Reed introduced me to the Dartmouth Triathlon Club coaches Jim Anderson and Eliot Scymanski, who taught me to bike and swim correctly and what a “brick” workout was. I met my girlfriend, Vanessa, at an Upper Valley Triathlon Club event and she decided to race with us at Mont-Tremblant. I borrowed time from my running to give swimming, cycling, and even core work a fair share.
Before we knew it race day had arrived. We pumped up our tires and deposited our bikes and running shoes in the transition area. The Canadian Air Force jets flew over the beach at Lac Tremblant and the cannons went off to start the race. We charged into the water for 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles on the bike, and a full marathon. We all crossed the finish line. After drinking some water and shuffling to the hotel room for a shower, we met up at the bar to start planning our next adventure.
In the end, my season of cross-training comprised about 2500 miles of cycling and 100 miles of swimming in addition to 600 miles of running over the four months between the Boston Marathon in April and Ironman Mont-Tremblant on August 24th. I still find reasons to avoid core work and stretching, but I really enjoy swimming and cycling now and plan to continue cross-training to some extent through the winter in order to compete in another Ironman next year. With enough work, I think I have a chance of earning an age-group slot for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
On the other hand, I’m thrilled to focus on running for the rest of the season. It is my first and true endurance love. I don’t have to worry about tire tubes or goggles or goofy one-piece suits with padding in the shorts. From now until the end of the year I’ll just be knotting my laces and hitting the road, first to prepare for the VT 50 miler in September, then for the NYC Marathon in November.
I would encourage anyone who’s considering a crazy athletic dream to go for it. The biggest obstacle is usually just committing to your goal. Once it’s in sight, everything else will fall into place. Especially here in the Upper Valley, there are a lot of friendly, helpful people who will point you in the right direction and give you training advice. Ask for help. Whether it’s a 5k, charity bike ride, triathlon, or ultramarathon, someone in the UVRC, Upper Valley Triathlon Club, or Upper Valley Velo has done something similar and would love to talk to you about it. I’m honored to be a board member for our club and my mission as Vice President is to bring these resources together for our members.