Saturday, August 07, 2010
Fitness and Lies
Physical competition is always healthy - by Nick van der Leek
I told a lie once, and was badly caught out. It was 2002 and I was in South Korea, having drinks and dinner, and somehow the conversation turned to Ironman. It may have been around talk of who was doing what over the weekend - I was going to watch an Ironman on the East Coast and knew South African Raynard Tissink was going to be there...and as it turned out, he won his first Ironman and I handed him a South African flag on the way to the finish line. So what was the lie about? I claimed that I had done an Ironman. And how I was caught out was one of my fellow teachers then quizzed me on what my time was. I had no clue but thought explaining the details would make it sound even worse, so to put the matter to bed, I just said 9 hours. This was met with wails of disbelief and whistles. I was then pressed on my individual times and I gave a credible swim time because I'd often swum 3-4km, guessed a reasonable cycle time because it's essentially 2x the Argus, but had no idea how long a marathon took as I had, at that point, never run one...I flushed a few shades beyond beetroot. And for good reason, I was sucking my thumb big time.
So why did I do it? Am I in the habit of lying. No. Which is why I am so embarrassed about this, even today, years later. I kind've got suckered into lying, because I did do a race in Vanderbijl that was called an Ironman, and it was a long race. It had a 3.8km swim, 105km cycle, and a marathon. Ironman has a 180km cycle. I was 4th when I pulled out, at 18km on the run with 24km to go. It was a hard and long race but it wasn't an Ironman and calling it one wasn't accurate. I was doing the race with an injury in preparation for a 3/4 Ironman in Durban, the Fatti's and Moni's 2.5km swim, 120km ride, and 30km run. Since I had ITB I decided before the "Ironman" race to pull out at around 5-10km. My seconder told me to keep going, but I finally pulled out after 18km, while my legs were still holding. In retrospect my seconder was right, I mean I was 4th at that point, and I ended around 30th in Durban [7th getting off the bike].
So saying I had done an Ironman wasn't true. What was true was that I had done a few abnormally long endurance events, and I had hopes of doing an Ironman. Subsequent to Raynard's win I was inspired to train like hell and try to get a slot for Hawaii which meant a solid finish in my Age Group. A credible time for such an ambitious first Ironman race is between 10 hours and 10 and a half hours. After paying the hefty entry fee, 6 months of training, finishing a 4:54 half Ironman weeks earlier I caught a cold and pulled out at 100km on the bike. I also had a bleeding right ear. The next year, 2004, I did a 150km ride in training on a sweltering day and cooked my goose. I couldn't recover from the exhaustion, but having paid the entry fee and hotel accommodation and despite travelling to the island of Jeju I did not feel fresh enough to start that race. Finally in 2005, despite strep throat 3 weeks before the PE Ironman, I somehow managed to recover and finished in 12:41. But throughout that period I was haunted by the lie. You said you did it, but can you or can't you?
My brother has since gone on to do the Ironman 3 times, with a best time of just over 11 hours.
My Ironman was 5 years ago, and I am about 10kg heavier now than I was then. I did a half Ironman in Australia earlier this year, in February, finishing in 5:34, 40 minutes slower than in my first half Ironman in Korea in 2004. It feels like another world and another life, because lately I am winded by just a 5km jaunt down the road. Yes, I've let my fitness slip. Once an Ironman not always an Ironman...and talk is cheap.
Just this morning, unusually, I got up and ran 5km. Being unfit it took a lot of willpower to get out of bed and drive to the race. I was hoping to run between 25 minutes and 30 minutes on erratic [aka low] levels of training. I came in behind a little blonde lightie also wearing black shorts, in 25 minutes 23 seconds. The experience of running, competing with others, does a lot to flush out all our personal bullshit. Out on the road it's simple - can you go any faster? If you can, go faster. If not, well deal with it, and do something about it if you're not satisfied.
Getting out there is a very simple way of seeing yourself in the context of others, and vice versa. There are risks involved. There is no guarantee that you'll always perform well. And when you're discouraged, by bad luck or a bad performance, can you turn yourself around? Just getting yourself out there is a personal victory. The experience of competing is always a healthy and energising experience. Now I'm going to try to get my time for 5km under 20 minutes. I swear.