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When I tell people about my weekend workouts preparing for an Ironman, they just shake their heads. I am not sure that many people understand what it feels like to work out for six or seven plus hours on a warm Saturday. Most people probably think that when a workout ends I am just really tired. Maybe it would feel good to just sit on the couch, watch some TV and do nothing. I’ve tried that. It is a profoundly bad idea. Though it seems contrary, the worst thing to do after a long workout or a race is to sit or lie down and do nothing. Inactivity for even a short period of time, like driving home from a race for an hour, leaves me stiff and sore. It takes very little time for rigor mortis to set in. Better to stay up and moving, whether it is mowing the lawn, grocery shopping or walking around a lake – after a meal, that is.

It’s hard to get fired up about eating after a long workout or a race. I just don’t feel that good and am not hungry but it’s always a good idea to eat as soon as reasonably possible. I start with a recovery drink that has lots of protein (and tastes like chocolate!) then try to get to the kitchen counter or to a restaurant. Recently, however, we went to a favorite restaurant and it took a very long time to get our meals. During that wait, I could feel myself crashing, growing increasingly restive and irritable, my head getting light, just not wanting to interact. Very bad. (If “husband and/or father of the year” honors are to be conferred, don’t bet on me if the committee considers my Saturdays with delayed feedings.)

So how do I feel when I am running my delayed Saturday errands after getting something to eat? In a word, sick. I don’t feel extremely sick, just the kind of sick like on the day coming down with a mild flu or cold. My head aches, usually because I haven’t drunk enough during my bike or run. I feel run down like I should just go to bed. Sometimes this feeling of being sick is stronger than other times. Sometimes it is hard to get up out of the bathtub after getting hammered by a workout. Other times symptoms are pretty mild.

The idea of working out to prepare for an Ironman is not to exhaust yourself, to completely wear yourself down. The idea is to adapt. With repeated exposure to exercise stress, you develop all sorts of adaptations that will allow you to run an Ironman without extraordinary stress. The line, however, between working out to a point of stress that builds adaptation and working hard enough to be ill is very, very thin. After riding that line for years, I am never really sure when I have stayed on the right side of the line and when I have crossed over until it is too late.

Ironman Wisconsin is going on right now and I am thinking of the race non-stop. I wish that I were there and racing. At this very moment, I would be nearing the bike-to-run transition. Watching an Ironman is exhilarating. The feeling of finishing an Ironman is all but indescribable. But the price you pay to get to that finish line is not paid in its entirety on race day. Instead, it is many Saturdays of long workouts and wobbly grocery shopping trips.

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