Inside to Outside—My Journey to Ironman

A little backstory…

My love for riding a bike is no secret. When I say I love it, I mean it doesn’t matter if it’s in a dark room going nowhere or flying down a hill at 35 mph. I love the feel of the pedals and the work that goes with it. I admit I do love a little suffering from time to time.

Indoor cycling led me to outdoor cycling. My love of competing led me to triathlon. My love of cycling keeps me in triathlon—even though I “tolerate” those other two sports. Sometimes I can’t believe anyone would ruin a perfectly good bike race with swimming and running, but that’s another topic for another day…

Why Ironman?

“There is NO WAY I will EVER do an Ironman.” You could have asked any of my friends—they’d heard it for years. No way. No way was I running a MARATHON (because I’ve run four and they are hard enough!) after biking 112 miles! And forget swimming. I swim well enough to not drown. And quite frankly I felt that was just fine. Still do.

And weren’t Ironmen and -women these mythical superhumans? This club of elite athletes with their own tattoos?

But then a funny thing happened along the way…

“No way!” became a whisper of “What if?” And then regret chimed in and asked if you’ll be happy if you wake up at 60 saying, “I should have done that.” And if you are competitive by nature, well, these conversations in your head turn into goals real quick.

So to be honest, I decided to go for it basically to have no regrets. I still have decent knees. I have decent equipment. I would rather look back and say “Shouldn’t have done that” rather than always wonder “What if?”

The goals. And the process of reaching them.

I had three very simple goals.

  1. Finish.
  2. Have a great experience.
  3. Stay injury-free. Working in the fitness industry, I couldn’t afford an injury.

The first thing I did was hire an excellent coach named Doug Bush from Endurance Factor. He assured me, even with my non–love affair with swimming, that I would finish an Ironman. So the process began…

It took 283 days. Over 3,000 training miles. Hundreds of training hours. Sounds crazy, right? It is. But believe me when I say it’s totally DOABLE.

My first week of training in January 2015 I had 4–5 hours logged. My last big week before race taper I had almost 17 hours with 180 miles completed. It’s a process. Mere mortal Ironman finishers (like me!) are not born overnight—they are made with the correct mix of time and intensity.

We talk a lot at Stages Indoor Cycling about anchoring time and effort, and perhaps there is no greater example of that than in Ironman: 140.6 total miles, 16.5* hours to complete it. I had to do the homework, and I questioned it almost every week. If I felt too good, I had to be undertraining. If I felt beat down, I must be overtraining. It all came down to basically one thing: TRUST.

(*Due to this race being held late in the year with limited daylight, we were only allotted 16.5 hours instead of the normal amount of 17.)

Trust. Trust your equipment, your fitness, your training.

Standing at the starting line, I made a decision that I was going to enjoy the day. It took nine months of my life (not to mention the eight years of triathlon racing prior) to get me to that swim start line. Every mistake (a lesson!) and every podium (YAY!) brought me to this moment. I knew it wasn’t just about fitness. It was about execution. It was about anchoring time and effort, just how I had trained. Stay calm on the swim. Don’t “burn the toast” on the bike because you still have to run 26.2 miles. Stay hydrated and fed on the run. Pace. Smile. Smile on the inside. Smile when you don’t feel like it.

But here’s the funny thing—I couldn’t STOP smiling. It was 14 hours, 17 minutes, and 58 seconds of nonstop smiling. I think my cheeks were in more pain than my quads! (Not true—my quads were pretty sore.) Perfect weather. Perfect day.

Pam B at Ironman KY

What I know NOW that I wish I would have known when I started.

That folks who finish an Ironman aren’t mythological superhumans. They are regular people doing a super thing. They have silly questions, just like me. They worry about their training plans and missing workouts due to this thing called REAL LIFE. Just like me. They are teachers, moms and dads, accountants, and nurses. They question EVERYTHING (believe me, from Imodium intake to TSS scores).

You absolutely have to do the homework. You also have to have vision for yourself that you CAN do ANYTHING if you want to do it bad enough.

I finished. I had the BEST experience. I walked (OK, limped a little, too) away unscathed in the injury department.

You can do anything. Whether it is in your professional career or your personal life.

Dream it. Make a plan. Do it.

Always let your faith be greater than your fear.

Oh, and most importantly…have FUN!

Pam Benchley is a master educator for Stages Indoor Cycling, BOSU®, and Hedstrom Fitness Products. She is an avid cyclist and at best a mediocre swimmer and runner. Stay tuned for the next big adventure!

1 Comment

  1. Congrats Pam. I just signed up for my first Ironman as well and wonder how your classes you teach on a weekly basis were counted into your training plan? When we add on 10 to 20 additional hours of training how are you affected by your class load to ensure you were not overtraining.

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