Runner's Web

The Ironwoman in Me

Photos of Leanne  Exiting the Water at Ironman Lake Placid     Finishing the Ironman Lake Placid

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By Leanne Yohemas-Hayes, The Ottawa Citizen - Fri Aug 13, 1999

There's really no such thing as a weekend warrior when it comes to training for the Ironman triathlon. At least, I have yet to find someone who will 'fess up and tell me that the sport has absolutely no connection to the way they run the other areas of their life.

Training for the Ironman is addictive. If it's not, tell me why I'm up before 6 a.m. almost every morning and rarely eat dinner before 9 p.m.

I'm not alone. There are other junkies in this city. This weekend, about 30 athletes from Ottawa (myself and my husband Mike included) will be among 1,600 competing in the Lake Placid Ironman. A couple of dozen more will be competing in Ironman distance races held in Penticton, B.C., and Montreal two weeks later, in Hawaii in October and in Florida in November.

Their lives are probably as out of whack as mine is. Maybe more.

The Ironman is more than just a race. It starts with a 3.8-kilometre swim. Then you take a 180-kilometre bike ride. And then you run a marathon -- that's 42 kilometres of running. It's all done in that order, in a single day.

Why am I doing it? It's a question I sometimes ask myself at the end of a long and gruelling training session.

It used to be that when my tri friends asked me if I'd ever consider doing it, I'd laugh it off and say I'd do it when the name changed to Ironwoman. I knew that wouldn't happen.

Then my husband wanted to try to qualify for the Hawaii Ironman this year.

Although I thought it was too far away and too expensive, I didn't want to sit on the sidelines and simply watch.

Last September, we heard about Lake Placid race -- we didn't have to qualify and it was only three hours away.

We went for it. First, we went out and bought a book, The Triathlete's Training Bible, to help us design our program.

Of course, I needed to train to compete in Lake Placid. You just don't throw down the remote control, jump off your couch, and sign up to compete. Even if you are a seasoned athlete, you need to have an overall plan so you don't do too much and get injured. You can't go out an just ride eight hours, you have to build up to the distance.

After all, the race officially lasts 17 hours, though the top men do it in as little as eight hours and the top women in nine.

Once you start training, it takes over your life.

I got my first inkling of how invasive Ironman training can be when I met Rob Laderoute, a training buddy.

Early in the season, he tried to convince me that life isn't suppose to revolve around the race, that training should fit around everything else.

Later on, he revised his theory.

His life has changed and so has ours.

Quiet mornings with a couple cups of coffee and a leisurely breakfast have been replaced with a quick gulp of coffee and meal replacement bar masquerading as carrot cake before we head out to train.

Because my husband and I are both involved in the sport, there is very little time for household chores. We both have a different view of what needs to be done.

I have to deal with the fact our house isn't as tidy as I like it to be. I can't deal with workout clothes hanging to dry in every other room.

Mike doesn't seem to notice the house. He hates the fact that I rarely wash my bike (he says it's so dirty it squirts oil on people as they walk by). I couldn't care less. I'll wash it before the race.

We've learned that after we do a long workout, our hunger make us cranky. Before we start sniping at each other we'll have a snack even before we start making dinner.

It's even harder where only one half of a couple is involved.

Mr. Laderoute, a father of two, often rides from his home in Carp to Brookfield High School in Ottawa where he teaches -- it's a 70-kilometre round trip. On the days he isn't riding, he swims laps.

``You realize that three-quarters of your thought process is about training, trying to get that ride in or get that run in someplace,'' says the 40-year-old, whose previous passions include mountaineering and bodybuilding.

``You're thinking about it at work, you're thinking about it at home and when you're with your family, so it becomes a stressor.''

His wife Oriana, also a teacher, says that the enthusiasm she had when her husband signed up last fall to train for the Ironman has transformed into bitterness.

``You don't want the person not to be prepared, but it takes over their thinking,'' she says. ``I'm fed up and I don't want to see it again.''

While Mr. Laderoute's putting in the kilometres swimming, cycling and running, she drives their children to their activities and does nearly all of the domestic chores.

She says to me, ``Two people can't do it if you have children.''

She's got a point. My husband and I (ages 31 and 30, respectively) work full-time and train between 15 and 25 hours a week -- we can't get to the bottom of the laundry pile and the last movie we've seen together was Titanic. There's no way we could do this if we had children.

But after paying $500 entry fee for the Lake Placid event we feel obliged to put in long hours in order to make it to the finish line.

Although I'm nowhere near Mike's level, we're still competitive with one another. But our battle is in terms of training hours. I don't like it when Mike trains more hours than I do and I think he feels the same way about me.

I also find it frustrating that he's a much faster swimmer than me. When we first met, I was faster than him.

``C'mon. Let's go! Let's get the show on the road,'' says Rudy Hollywood, a prime motivator for first-time ironfolk like us.

With a toned body and a speedy reputation, Mr. Hollywood, 53, turns yawns into action. A veteran iron-athlete, he's doing two Ironmans this year and the World Championship short-course race.

It's 6 a.m. on Friday morning, a couple of weeks before the race. But the same routine has been going on for months.

I'm at Meech Lake with the other people training for the race. We pull on our wetsuits about as easily as we might squeeze into jeans two sizes too small. To prevent chaffing, some spray cooking oil on their arms, neck and shoulders, while others roll on their bodies what looks like a stick of deodorant but is really a fancy cream called Bodyglide.

We'll swim four kilometres. The next time we'll swim this distance is in the race.

I've heard stories from every perspective, I still don't know what to expect.

I just want to finish.

Lynne Bermel, 38, a former world-ranked pro who has competed in 15 Ironmans, calls the race an emotional roller-coaster.

``You go through a lot of emotions and a lot pain,'' she says.

``You have your little plans, and then this and that goes out the window, you curse the wind and the hills. You really question yourself when you get tired and dehydrated.''

I've questioned myself throughout the year. My friends and family think I'm nuts.

I've had days when my rear end was so sore that I had to pedal the last few kilometres standing up. I had to stop running the last month because of a chronic hamstring injury. I tried to cycle harder to compensate. One day I was so upset about it, nearly in tears, that Mike had to lecture me.

``You're not doing this to win,'' he said. ``This is the first time you've tried this distance. Just take it as it comes.''

After a month of physio -- more than $200 in bills -- it's still not 100 per cent better. I'm pretty freaked out about it but I still plan to do the race.

One humid week, during a two-and-a-half-hour run, my running-bra top cut my chest, causing it to bleed. I have a three-centimetre-long scar.

The toughest part of all was having to do the majority of training alone because my ``weekend'' falls on Monday and Tuesday. (I work Wednesday to Sunday). I did the longest bicycle ride of my life -- 200 kilometres -- on one of the hottest days of the summer. I gulped down more than five litres of water and despite lathering myself with sunscreen, I still ended up sunburned.

I'm not complaining. I know these experiences aren't unique to me. And I don't think there is anything wrong or strange about spending my life this way.

But there's that nagging question again: Why am I doing this?

It's more of an inner struggle than an outer victory. I almost avoid telling people I'm doing it. I cringe when my friends introduce me as someone doing an Ironman. I know their intentions are well-meaning but I don't feel like a hero.

Despite what sounds like a lot of tough work, training makes me feel more alive. I set goals, monitor my times and improve. Even if I don't better my time during a race, I still feel like I've accomplished something because I'll feel stronger or went a distance I never thought I could. I know Mike feels the same way.

Even if I don't finish Lake Placid, I'll have learned something about my limits. And Mike? He's already talking about a three-day ski race in Greenland that he wants to train for next year.

20-Plus Years of the Ironman

The Ironman was born in 1978 after a debate among competitors at a running race about who was more fit -- swimmers, runners or other athletes.

A U.S. Navy commander, John Collins, dreamed up the Ironman to settle the argument. At the original Hawaii Ironman, held in Waikiki in February of that year, 15 men participated, with 12 of them finishing.

With the help of a 10-page spread in Sports Illustrated the following year, the number of participants grew. Now there are more than 20 Ironman races around the world, and in order to enter many of them, athletes have to qualify at another race or have their name drawn in a lottery.

Coming Races

Ironman USA, Lake Placid, New York -- Aug. 15

Esprit Long-Distance Triathlon, Montreal -- Aug. 28

Ironman Canada, Penticton, B.C. -- Aug. 29

Ironman World Championships, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii -- Oct. 23

Ironman Florida, Panama City Beach, Florida -- Nov. 6

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