Training for Ironman takes a heck of a lot of commitment. Obviously. Part of what helped me be successful in completing (most of) the training the last two times was that my early morning running habit had been part of my life since my oldest daughter was a baby. Early morning was the only time of day when I could reliably get out the door without disrupting anyone else's life. People talk about their workouts as being their "me" time. I guess that was kind of the reason I ran, but I think mostly is was so that I felt like I accomplished something every day. Being a mom is an amazing experience, of course, but a lot of the time I felt like I was in maintenance mode: cleaning up messes that would reappear, cooking food that would disappear, soothing emotions, educating and entertaining. All super important, and apparently I did a pretty good job at it because my kids appear to be happy, well-adjusted, and decently self-sufficient. I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment looking back, but running daily over the years always gave me a guaranteed checkmark in the "done" column of my mental to-do list.
Seventeen years have gone by. Give me a minute to collect myself.
More than a dozen marathons, a bunch of half-marathons, a 50K (one was enough), and two Ironman races have been trained for and completed in that time. I've run through all kinds of weather: when it comes to running, I've learned the only weather I won't tolerate is sleet. Tiny needles stabbing my face while the ground gets progressively more slick. Not a good time. A few years ago I was given a Noxgear Tracer360 running vest for dark winter mornings. I've worn through a pair of Yaktrax in a single season. I've learned how to stay comfortable by creating my own "dress the runner" charts to account for temperature, wind, precipitation, and surface conditions. It's surprisingly challenging to get the outfit right sometimes. And getting it right can mean the difference between contentment and misery.
All that work. All those early alarms. All that peace and quiet and breathing and sweating. All those days building the routine ended up building my identity too. I didn't really notice when my running morphed from what I did to part of who I am.
Over the past several months as "normal" evaporated I gradually let myself off the hook for getting up early to work out. Throughout the summer the only real reason to beat the sun out of bed was to beat the heat out the door. But since I had transitioned to primarily bike workouts, that wasn't such a big deal anymore. I started to notice how much better I felt with seven and a half hours of sleep versus six. I have workout friends and acquaintances who subscribe to the adage, "I'll sleep when I'm dead" and I used to tell myself the same thing. But after these months of actually getting the sleep my body needs, I realize that by spending a little more time snoozing in the morning, I feel less like the walking dead as I go through these amazing years of my life. Was it worth it to get up at 3:45am for months on end to get the workouts in? Sure...probably. It helped me reach the goals of those seasons. Though if I had been a bit more flexible with myself, maybe I would have performed a bit better when those goal races came around. This time it's a different story.
Right now, in the fall of pandemic 2020, I have time and space to be more flexible with myself. Maybe a blessing of the unpredictability of these times is that it is forcing me to make decisions on a week-by-week basis rather than carving my schedule in stone and sticking to it until I crash.
Case in point: This week, I added an additional swim session into my schedule. Instead of meeting my running friend for a single morning run, I met her twice, which we also did last week. My work schedule is filling up little by little and my middle school cross country team is going strong with practices nearly every day after school. This leaves less time for mid-day strength training, but that's okay. I can squeeze a few minutes in at practice with the team or while chilling with my kids in the evening. My old self would have freaked out that I couldn't count on this or that workout happening on a particular day. But now, with the long game in mind, I can relax and do what I can, when I can, and use intentional awareness to get the most out of each session.
In years past, I could count on one hand how many days I went to bed without setting an alarm. Certainly, during Ironman training I was conditioned to wake up at 3:44am or 4:09am, just a minute before the alarm, for the first
swim, bike, or run workout of the day. That doesn't mean I was rested and ready to go, I was just so used to functioning on little sleep. Since March, I can count on one hand how many times I set an alarm for the next morning. It has been wonderful to let myself rest and until I naturally am ready to rise. Don't get me wrong, I still get up between 4:45-5:30am every day, but the difference is that I'm ready and I want to, not pushing or guilting myself into it.
Routines and habits are critical in so many areas of life. But having the flexibility and awareness of how the routines are serving me is helping me make better long-term choices for how I spend my precious time and energy. I know that this flexibility and awareness is a blessing that comes with this stage of life I am in: teenage children and working from home give me way more time than I had before. I'm trying hard to take advantage of this situation I've created for myself, working on a goal that is nearly two years in the future. Taking cautious baby steps now will hopefully help me become the strongest and wisest version of myself yet.