The Most Intense Race I've Ever Signed Up For
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I don't remember when I first became aware of the Ironman Triathlon, but for years I've thought of it as the freaking awesomest accomplishment ever. I mean, a 2.4-mile swim followed by 112 miles on the bike and capped off with a marathon—in one day? That's the definition of badass. I watched videos of athletes crossing the finish line at the World Championship in Kona and imagined how exhilarating it must feel.

A few years ago, I finished my first triathlon—the Lake George Triathlon, an Olympic-distance course in upstate New York—and then the idea that I might do one of these super-intense races someday began to feel a little less insane. (Emphasis on "little.") I started thinking I might tackle one a decade or so down the road, once I had much more experience under my belt.

But when Ironman approached me a few months ago and asked if I'd be interested in doing a race, I said yes. Decade down the road be damned—I'm doing Ironman Florida this fall!

Then I told my mom about it. She practically screamed with shock and horror, and my stomach dropped. What the eff had I been thinking?! With each person who heard about the race and cried, "You're crazy!" I felt less and less certain of my decision. I started dreaming about the race every night—and waking up at 2 a.m., worried about drowning.

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I spoke with Kate Hays, Ph.D., a sports psychologist and director of the Performing Edge in Toronto, and told her about how these reactions had left me rattled. "The upside and the downside of being female is that we tend to put a lot of weight on other people's opinions," she said. "Keep in mind that you are the only person who actually knows your own capacity."

How can I know, though, if I'm actually ready to train for this crazy endurance race or if my self-doubt is justified and I should wait? "When people are taking on a new challenge, there are always a range of emotions—otherwise, it wouldn't feel like a challenge," says Hays. "Initially there's exhilaration at having made the decision to take on this new venture, but that can be followed quickly by concern and nervousness. It's important to assess the validity of that feeling with your rational side."

So before registering for a race or other tough event, Hays recommends asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have enough of a base (both endurance and skill) to build on for this new challenge?
  • Do I have a training plan that I'm committing myself to?
  • Do I have some sense of community to support me through this process?
  • If I had a best friend planning to do this event, how would I advise her?

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Well, I have an awesome coach (Nicole Boger, owner of Soul Sports) who's providing me with a training plan and guidance; a loving, encouraging family who'll be there to cheer me on; and the emotional support of my boyfriend (plus his company on long bike rides). So I'm fairly confident that I'll be ready come race day. I do still have moments of fear, but I know that part of the reason why I registered for the race is because it frightens me. It feels like such a bigger accomplishment to conquer a fitness challenge that seems scary, whether it's running a marathon or trying aerial yoga (hanging upside-down is a very unnatural sensation for me!). Generally speaking, I like confronting my fears and overcoming them. (Bungee jumping is where I draw the line.)

I've finished shorter tris and several marathons, but the prep for this race is going to be unlike anything I've done before. For the next 14 weeks, I'll be blogging about it all here. You can also follow my daily updates on Twitter (@laurelleicht) and Instagram. I'll cover it all: the ups and downs of training, my favorite gear finds, and my emotional state.

Today? I'm feeling strong.

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