While you cannot judge a book by the cover, the cover might be enough to get you to pull it off the shelf. In the case of Swim, Bike, Bonk: Confessions of a Reluctant Triathlete, it was the title that had me hooked before the first page. I have been a runner for over a decade now. I learned how to bike (barely) and was on swim team in high school. But I’ve never been interested in a triathlon that combines all three sports. Let alone an Ironman: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.
Thanks, but no thanks. EVER.
Reading about someone else taking that journey is a whole different situation. That I am all in for. Especially when the author shares early on that they are jumping into this adventure with just 109 days to train for Ironman Arizona. Will McGough is a travel writer and self describes as generally active with surfing and swimming in Hawaii. The book opens with a story from the race, so you know he gets there, and then starts you back at 109 days before the race. With the first section called “Don’t do it,” you get a good impression of how his friends and family reacted to the race planning.
The author decides to create his own training plan after finding all online plans expected participants to be preparing for six months to a year in advance. Instead our “hero” has just over three months. McGough balances travel for work, a girlfriend, training, recovery, and lots of shopping trips to get everything he needs. The length of time it took him to find a wetsuit had me worrying he’d be at the starting line in a Speedo.
The training schedule McGough created included a few experiences with the structured racing world. He participated in one swimming race, to check his past skills and learn how to avoid elbows in the face. And his work also provided a chance to see the start of the Kona Ironman. A few rather informal conversations and interviews with Ironman athletes are scattered throughout the text. Most of the book is like McGough’s training plan: informal and in progress.
The quote below highlights the reflective nature of McGough’s book / journal / training log.
“It’s hard to ignore the conflict in this behavior. Imagine basing your life around a hobby you need to distract yourself from. You’ve voluntarily taken up an activity—the Ironman—for which you need to practice. But practicing is something you deem boring, so you distract yourself—you watch TV—while you practice. You’re trying to black out much of the journey—the practicing—to get to the endpoint of being in competitive shape. That’s all I’ve been doing—trying to find something that will make me happy while I do something that makes me suffer. It turns the old adage on its head. In the case of the Ironman, it’s the destination that matters, not the journey.” (p. 94)
I enjoyed going along for McGough’s training and race experience. It brought up a few flashbacks to when I was a new runner, and some gratitude for not signing up for a 140.2-mile race with 109 days training. That bonk would have been beyond epic.