Friday FITspiration: Becoming an IRONMAN
Here at runladylike.com, Fridays are all about sharing the inspiring stories of fit people who motivate all of us to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday. My Friday FITspiration series profiles runners, triathletes and casual exercisers who are making choices every day to be as healthy as they can be – in both huge ways and through simple, small victories. Their stories are about the journey of transforming from ordinary to extraordinary each and every day.
Today, I’m excited to introduce you to one of my favorite bloggers and inspiring athletes: Michele Gonzalez from NYC Running Mama. This former army intelligence officer, mom of 2 young boys, 3:21 marathon runner and running coach is a true inspiration. She juggles life, motherhood, coaching and training and has accomplished some truly amazing things.
As I train for my second half Ironman that is quickly approaching at the end of October, watching and reading about Michele train for and take on her first IRONMAN has been incredibly motivating. Prior to this year, she had never completed a triathlon, and now she is an IRONMAN. I wanted to know more about what it was like to train for IRONMAN while balancing all the demands of life and kids. Today, Michele is giving us a sneak peek behind the curtain of her experience.
What was it like to finish your first IRONMAN? Was it what you expected?
Finishing Ironman Lake Placid was one of the most emotional moments of my life. I remember the emotions I had when I was coming in to the finish of my first marathon (Philadelphia 2002) and was expecting a similar reaction. But it was 100 times more emotional. There were multiple moments throughout the day when I had to fight the tears (of excitement and happiness). Even though I was in pain, I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much during a marathon.
What was the best part?
I decided on Lake Placid for one major reason – it’s really the only Ironman that is within driving distance of my home. I knew I wanted my entire family there for support, and Lake Placid was the only option for a first IRONMAN for me. Having my family (sons, husband, parents, sisters, brother-in-law, niece/nephew) on the course cheering was the most incredible part of the race. Each time I was approaching where they were situated, I had this indescribable boost of adrenaline. Regardless of how tired I was and how lousy my stomach was feeling, I knew I wanted to be smiling and running when they saw me. During those periods, I felt like I was running with my heart and no longer with my body.
What was the worst/most challenging part?
My stomach began shutting down around mile 10 of the marathon. I was unable to eat or drink anything for a number of miles due to cramping and intense nausea. It got so bad at times that I would be on the side of the road, bent over in pain. After 6 miles of pain (and one mile of so much pain where I had to walk the entire mile), I asked a volunteer at a water stop what I should do. He recommended chicken broth (it’s extremely salty and I learned after the race that my body was in need of salt). It worked. For the last 10 miles, I would walk through the water stops (to drink a cup of chicken broth) and then run until the next water stop.
You’ve openly talked about the swim being the most challenging of the 3 sports for you. Many people just getting into triathlons feel the same way about the swim. As a new triathlete, what did you do to become a better swimmer?
Honestly, the biggest thing I did was spend time in the pool. I think the tendency is to focus on your strong sport. That is often the sport you love so you naturally gravitate toward spending more time doing that sport. I spent as little time running as I could and more time on the bike and swim since those were the 2 “new” sports for me. I was very open to asking for help/advice on social media when I had a question. You will become more comfortable as you spend more and more time doing that sport. Don’t be afraid to be outside of your comfort zone!
How did you balance all your intense training with your family and the demands of having two kids? Any tips on training/life balance you would offer to those taking the IRONMAN plunge? I think the biggest thing is to first ensure that your significant other (if you are married or in a relationship) is on board. There is NO way I could have trained without my husband’s support. They need to be aware of the training demands before you start training. During the week, I fit in as much as I could before my sons woke up. The mornings were early (some wakeups as early as 3:30 a.m.), but I was committed to being finished training by 7 or 8 a.m. as often as I could. The early mornings required early bedtimes, so I was in bed most nights by 9 p.m. If training for and completing an Ironman is that important to you, you will find a way to fit it all in. Just be aware that some aspects of your “normal” life will have to take a backseat. For me, that meant movie nights with my husband, watching TV shows after the kids went to bed and blogging on a consistent basis were not done as often as they had been.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you started this journey that you know now?
I wish I would have started training exclusively for the IRONMAN a few months before I did. Unfortunately, I decided to train for a marathon in the spring and didn’t completely turn my focus to the IRONMAN until 2 1/2 months before the race. I know I would have been stronger on race day had I dropped my marathon goal (until the fall) and just focused on the IRONMAN.
Did you learn anything new about yourself through your IRONMAN experience?
I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy triathlons, but I actually think IRONMANs are the sport for me. The longer, endurance-type events make me the happiest (as I’m crossing the finish line). I love putting in the work, day-after-day, and then seeing the results on race day.
What top 3 tips would you give to a new triathlete?
Surround yourself with other triathletes, practice fueling and practice makes perfect. I learned SO much information from other triathletes – more than just reading a Web site or book. At the last minute, I decided to do a half IRONMAN a few weeks before the IRONMAN as a tune-up race (no taper) to practice my fueling. Fueling was a totally new ballgame for me. I was used to taking a few gels during a marathon and maybe 1 to 2 during a half marathon. I was amazed at how much planning and practice went into what I ate and drank during half and full IRONMAN competitions. As it turns out, I should have been also taking a salt pill every hour or so during the IRONMAN (which is why practice makes perfect!).
Will you do another IRONMAN?
I plan to do one more next year before I take a break to try to have baby #3. After that, it will likely be a number of years before I have the time to train for an IRONMAN again. But the short answer is yes. There will be another IRONMAN soon in my future!
If you or someone you know has an inspiring fitness story and should be considered for Friday FITspiration, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you ever done an IRONMAN? If not, is this something that is on your racing bucket list?