With a top 10 age group finish at the Ironman World Championships, I wrapped up 18 straight months of swimming-biking-running. When the German Sage ordered a month-long off-season, I figured something had been lost in translation.
Don’t do any tri-specific training for three-to-four weeks, he told me.
Like many other (compulsive) endurance athletes, I feared a loss of fitness and form. I also feared the post-Ironman blues, but the German sage held firm:
Do yoga, ride a mountain bike, or just do what you always want to do but never have time to do since triathlon tends to take over your life.
How about climbing volcanoes? I asked.
Within 3 weeks, I hopped a flight to Ecuador for a training camp in the Andes.
Though I did not swim-bike-or-run during my entire South American adventure, I returned a better triathlete.
Here’s are four reasons why:
1. Embrace the Brrrrr
I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador from 2005-2007. This trip afforded me the opportunity to return to the village that had prepared me in so many unique ways to be an Ironman. This picture captures one of those ways:
Living in the Ecuadorian campo means bathing by cooooold bucket bath. It’s violent. It’s painful. And it takes an hour for the feeling to return to my fingers and toes. But it turned out to be the perfect way to prepare for a 2013 racing calendar that includes plenty of cold water races.
2. Eat for sustenance; not for taste.
In a competition that lasts 10+ hours, an Ironman must constantly refuel and rehydrate. I rely on a steady intake of energy gels and sports drinks. While the first few shots carry a tolerable flavor, my taste buds begin to revolt during the fifth or sixth hour. A similar revolution happens on a multiple-day backpacking adventure when canned tuna, oatmeal, eggs, and cookies are the only foods for sale in the local tienda. This trip gave me plenty of practice in pushing aside my dietary preferences to eat for sustenance.
3. When the end feels too far away, focus on your rhythm instead.
After catching just a few hours of zzzzzzzzzzs at 16000 feet, I departed the Jose F. Ribas Refuge at 1am (yes, a.m.!!!) and set out in the dark to conquer the Cotopaxi Summit. Five hours of ice climbing, freezing temperatures, and wide crevasses loomed large in the light of my headlamp. Find a rhythm, Juanito-the-guide said as he secured a rope through my harness. Instead of focusing on a finish line that felt so far out of reach some 19,400 feet above sea level, I found a rhythm that carried me there. May I find that rhythm, albeit a little faster, in every long training ride of my 2013 season.
4. If at first you don’t succeed…
This wasn’t my first attempt to climb Cotopaxi. In 2006, I ran out of “suck it up pills” at 17,500 feet and returned to base camp defeated. The dream to summit Cotopaxi lay dormant for 6 years. But it never completely faded.
So last month I returned to the Other-Motherland to conquer my high altitude demon.
In triathlon, as in life, I have big dreams. Some of them are too big for next year alone. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t start chasing them today. And when I fail the first time, and the next few times as well, I’ll remember how incredible failure-turned-victory feels. So incredible, in fact, I cartwheeled in crampons to celebrate.
Some say, if at first you don’t succeed, try again. I say, keep failing until you’ve sufficiently sweetened the victory that awaits.
Congratulations on wrapping up 2012. May 2013 bring even greater adventures!
For now, some endurance musings with global and cultural connections:
7. What I’ve Got (Ecuadorian Bean Farmers and Triathlon)