Running on a Cliff (or Why I Hired a Coach)

Training for an Ironman is a lot like trying to run along the edge of a cliff without falling off. You try to run as close as possible, getting closer and then backing off as you make it through periodization cycles, but all the while trying to stay as close as you can. Getting closer means making more progress…but if you stumble and fall then it’s a long climb back up.

For my first Ironman, I didn’t really worry about the cliff too much. I kept my distance and just put in the time to increase my endurance so I could at least finish, without the pressure of a time goal to make me take risks in training. Then when I was ready I gathered all my courage, ran as fast as I could, and leapt off the cliff with all my might, finishing Ironman Canada in about fourteen and a half hours.

I spent the next month slowly climbing back up the cliff. After a couple months I thought I was near the top and started running again, but tripped and fell back into the abyss of overtraining after trying to race a half Ironman.

It takes a long time to climb out after a leap like Ironman.

Photo by Andy Spearing

When I finally decided what my next goal would be, I knew that getting to Kona in two years would require running so close to that cliff that I would almost be able to see sky under my feet. After a year of training I’m starting to feel a bit more like a mountain goat – overtraining is always just around the corner, but my feet are getting more nimble and I’ve been able to avoid the snags and undercuts that can trip up other athletes.

But every once in a while I stop noticing the cliff and I can feel my feet slipping a little… But that kinda feels normal because Ironman training is exhausting. Sometimes I miss a step or two and get close to falling…

Which is why I hired a coach.

Because my coach shows me the good footholds that let me get closer to the edge, and pulls me back a little when I get too close to falling. I never get too far from the edge – because I’m a mountain goat, and mountain goats need air on one side and ground on the other – but I’m also reminded that mountain goats don’t have wings.

Once I’m steady on my feet again, I’m off running right along the edge in that uncomfortable place that means I’m kinda scared but going somewhere great. That’s where I find new limits every day, and where I realize that wings don’t have to be real to do great things.

Photo by akunamatata

Big goals often mean running along the side of a cliff, trying not to fall off into nothingness. The bigger the goal, the closer you have to run…and the more help you need to keep you from falling over. This week I almost fell: I had a huge week of training over the holidays, and felt extremely fatigued two days in a row. I’m taking the next day and a half off so I can get back on track for my weekend training.

When I’m ready to gather my strength and take that third wild leap off the cliff at Ironman Texas in May, I know I’m leaping from the very top of the mountain…wings be damned.


  1 comment for “Running on a Cliff (or Why I Hired a Coach)

  1. Susan Viereck
    January 6, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    Hi Kim, I liked your anology of being on the edge of a cliff. I myself being just a wannabe athlete have no reference point for your situation, but I’m sure it must be a valid issue. The only thing I’ve overtrained for was eating, lol. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen off that cliff. I really don’t over eat but I knowingly make poor choices. I am so rooting for you. And so glad you have people around you to support your goal. Will be watching for you in the Texas Ironman. Keep at it.

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