Friday, November 27, 2009

Let the indoor riding begin

I suppose it had to happen sometime. The weather had held out as unseasonably warm and dry for far too long to last, especially this time of year. For the past few days we've been stuck in a haze of drizzle that doesn't seem to want to go away. Sun? What sun? It hasn't been that cold yet, but that part is coming. However, they seem to keep getting the forecast slightly wrong. While today has certainly been just as windy as predicted, I was pretty sure I was going to be dealing with at least rain, and possibly even some snow. Right now there is neither. If I'd been willing to deal with the wind, I would've been able to do my long ride outside. But with snow predicted, I woke up early and got on the trainer in the dark. I haven't yet settled on a TV series to get into for my long winter of training rides, so for some reason I decided that today I'd finally watch the movie Gone With the Wind. I had 4 hours to kill, and that just about fit the bill and was offered up On Demand. Obviously it is just one of those movies that you always hear about but have never actually seen. I even went to film school and didn't see it. We did watch Citizen Kane in class, but not this one. Far better though was when we got much later in the film history time line and watched Terminator, but anyway...

The ride passed by faster than you'd think 4 hours would take, and now I've finally seen Gone With the Wind. Would you like a movie review? The CGI was incredible. Okay, just kidding. Well, I'd say it was pretty decent for about 2 hours. Then I just kind of got tired of what a bitch Scarlett is. From a purely technical standpoint, it's pretty incredible what they could do in the 30's. But seriously, give me a main character I can actually get behind. I mean - spoiler alert! - her daughter dies when you get close to the end. I didn't really feel sorry for her loss. But hey, it got me through my morning ride and now I can go back to my normal routine of watching mostly movies that would have no chance of ever being nominated for an Academy Award.

And after that, I was outside to the not rain or snow, but lots and lots of wind. I actually got a little nervous running near the trees, but the fact that I'm typing this now shows that obviously I survived the outing. Again, barely more than a walk so it seemed, but done anyway.

You know, I'd been so looking forward to all of these long workouts and really being in training again. I was just about to jump out of my skin towards the end of my break, but now that I actually am training, my motivation has completely disappeared. I don't know what it is, but it's not fun. I'm doing it all anyway, but with the season still so far away it just feels like going through the motions more than anything. We'll see if it changes at all.

So completely unrelated, but the other night I was watching the show The Biggest Loser. I'm always fascinated by these weight loss shows, and I've been watching this one from the beginning. Admittedly, now that they stretch the whole thing out into 2-hour episodes each week, while filling in the time with roughly 20 minutes worth of actual content, you don't so much have to watch it as just have it on in the background and get the results of the weigh-ins. Honestly, it's the same thing every week. They work out, somebody blurts out some astonishingly personal baggage in an emotional breakdown during a hard workout, there is some stupid challenge that is never worth watching, the weigh-in takes up about 40 minutes of the whole show and then the voting off someone at the end takes care of another 20 minutes. But really it's all about how much weight they lose in the end. When the show first started, the heaviest contestant by far was just over 400 pounds. I mean, one of the women, although short, was a whopping 167. Now the lighter people seem to be in the lower 300's, while most of the contestants are over 400 pounds. This year they have the all-time heaviest contestant, who also happens to be a woman, who started the show at 476.

Anyway, like I said, it's really all about how much they lose in the end, which can be pretty incredible. But the night before Thanksgiving they had a "where are they now?" show and featured a bunch of past contestants. Most are doing pretty well, although all seem to be at least a little bit heavier than they showed up to the final weigh-in. But they showed one guy who did the Beach to Battleship iron-distance race just a few weeks ago, and then they showed Matt Hoover, who competed in Kona through a celebrity spot. Unfortunately, he missed the cut-off by a little over 3 minutes. This feature also brought back my own painful memory on the day, as they showed him standing on the shore waiting to get in the water on race day, and I heard Mike Reilly's voice in the background saying, "Who's going to be an Ironman today?" Oh yeah, I remember that exact moment. Not me. Not that day. I hoped that might spark some motivation, but not so much so far. It will get easier, right?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The post-swim sniffles

I have been trying to figure out exactly what swimming yardage line you need to cross before you get stuck with a runny nose for the rest of the day. 2500 yards? Nope, free and clear. 3500 yards? Not sure, haven't swum that distance in a while. 4200 yards? You're in trouble. For some reason, in spite of otherwise moderate swim yardage totals, today I found myself staring at a 2.4 mile swim workout, 10 days into training and months and months removed from my races. I wasn't so thrilled about it. I think I have this workout since I get to avoid the pool on Thanksgiving morning, which now makes it worthwhile. The pool is open tomorrow, but I'm glad that I won't have to worry about fighting for a lane between the regular swimmers and the swim team practice which for some reason will be in there tomorrow morning. I hate crowded pools. Fortunately, I don't often have to deal with them. Except today, but I had a feeling it might be crowded so I made sure to get in the water at 5am, when I was sure to get my pick of lanes. Only when I was done was it crowded.

Anyway, after that 4200 yards of drills, some breath control sets and some painfully slow 800's since I was finishing up about twice the distance I've been swimming lately, I was out of the water and into the shower to rid myself of the chlorine as best I could. The sniffling was almost immediate. Why does that happen? I can't stand it. And there is nothing that can be done. It won't be gone until I wake up tomorrow morning. It is also accompanied by excessive sneezing. I once tried using nasal spray to remedy the issue, but I only succeeded in watering things down enough that my nose was just running uncontrollably. As if I need anything to make me less attractive. I've heard rumors of salt water pools that are quite nice on the skin. Too bad mine isn't one of them.

Anyway, that was enough pointless rambling for today, don't you think? And please, nobody suggest that I get myself some nose plugs for my swim workouts.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Week 2 begins

Week 2 has begun. Mondays are always the easiest, and today was just a swim with some drills and some lifting. I happened to run into an old friend of mine who taught me an ab workout I am pretty sure I'll be feeling tomorrow and probably even a couple of days after that, but it was good. This particular friend I've known since we were probably 3 or 4, so it's fun to run into people like that. Also funny that the two girls beating themselves up in the weight room used to be the same 2 girls who used to sit around eating Doritos. But hey, we also played outside a lot and rode our bikes all over town back before it was too scary to let kids leave the driveway on their bikes. When I think about sending my 7-year old niece to ride across town on her bike, sans helmet, I can't even imagine such a thing. And yet when I was her age I would routinely ride through the center of town to get to a nearby friend's house. Darn traffic ruins everything.

I had also forgotten to mention that yesterday when I was out on my bike, which was fairly late in the afternoon, I seemed to have picked a time where everyone in town was out for a walk. I guess I can't blame them, given the fact that we've been particularly lucky with the weather lately, but it's just unusual for me to come across so many other people out and about when I'm doing my training. And not only was everyone walking their dogs, but I actually saw someone out walking their miniature horse. Or maybe it was a pony. I'm not really sure. I just know that the only thing stranger than that I've seen as far as walking animals was years ago when I saw someone out walking their monkey (why does that sound dirty?) It was less than a mile from my house and I only saw it that one time.

Also on the agenda for this week is Thanksgiving. How did that happen already? But who can think about Thanksgiving when it seems the whole world just wants us to skip straight ahead from Halloween to Christmas? Seriously, why does it all have to start so early? Do you start celebrating Halloween the minute Labor Day ends? Let's just get right into 4th of July the minute Memorial Day is over. Really, it's just getting a little out of hand. But anyway... Thanksgiving will be spent where it always has been, at my grandmother's house. Oh, I guess way back when my dad's parents were still alive we had Thanksgiving with them a couple of times, but mostly it has always been at Nana's. Oh, and also except for that one that I spent at Denny's with my cousins when I lived in Los Angeles. I was 21 years old, I wasn't going to cook a turkey. I'm not sure how many of us there are going to be this year, but it should be plenty, as usual. Either way there will be lots of turkey, which is all I really care about.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

One week down... many left to go? Let's not count right now. Week #1 is in the books. I swam, I rode outside and on the trainer, I ran, I even lifted weights. It's like I'm actually training for a triathlon. There wasn't much soreness to speak of, amazingly enough. I think I'm doing a fairly good job of hanging back and not trying to go too hard too soon. The first couple of days it was just nice to be back out and doing anything. Already that has somewhat deteriorated into, holy crap, how am I going to be able to do all of the things I want to do this season when I'm this slow!?!?!

You tend to forget how that happens every year. I think it's one of those aspects to the whole thing that you block out. Sort of like how for almost every single year of my entire life (at least the ones in which I've lived in the Northeast) the clocks change, it's November and suddenly it's just about dark by 4:00 in the afternoon. Like I said, I've experienced this phenomenon at least 25 years of my life, and yet every time it starts happening, I have to think to myself, "Does the sun seriously always set this early in November?" Yes. Yes it does. And just like that, after you take a long break from training, you come back slower. Wait, I'm seriously this slow after every off-season? Yes. Seriously. In fact, sometimes even worse. Wait, and I still can finish an Ironman with a pretty good time months later? Yes. It happens every year, but it still seems surprising. But being patient really sucks sometimes.

There wasn't too much exciting about my training this week. Running continues to be 100% pain-free, albeit 100% embarrassingly slow. I've done some swim drills to remind me how frustrating that aspect of my training can be. I've gone on some outrageously slow bike rides. I've had to figure out how to dress for sort of cold weather on the bike again, and so far I've managed to both over- and under-dress, but haven't quite nailed it just yet. I've actually enjoyed being in the weight room again, probably because right now the weights get to be really light.

But I guess now I should talk about my experimenting with Powercranks. So far it has basically just been an exercise in futility, as it is without a doubt the most frustrating thing I've tried to do probably since I was first taught how to swim fly. In both instances I just feel like my limbs are completely out of control and I can't seem to make them move the way they're supposed to. The plan is to start my rides on the Powercranks until I can't do it anymore and then move on to the regular cranks. This means that currently I have my old tri bike set up on the old trainer with the Powercranks with the pedals and saddle of my road bike while my regular tri bike sits and waits for me to be done with the ridiculous circus act. I don't know how anyone can ride those things outside. I think I'd kill myself. Supposedly eventually I'll even be able to handle my long rides on them, but of course the skeptic in me doesn't see that happening. So far I've topped out at close to 5 minutes on the crazy contraptions, and it certainly wasn't entirely spent pedaling like a normal person. But anyway, we'll see how that goes.

Yesterday was also my first long ride in what feels like an eternity. I was out on the road pretty early and got to ride one of my favorite loops. The only bad part was that it seems to get harder every time I ride it. That was followed up by a transition run in which I couldn't even walk slow enough to keep my heart rate down in the appropriate zone, but hey, at least I was out there. I've been quite lucky with the weather lately. It's been unseasonably sunny and with above average temperatures. Why those words never seem to cross the lips of the weather man in May and June I don't know, but I guess I'll take it while I can get it. Because once again, I'm thinking it's going to be a long winter.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day 1: anticipating the soreness

Today was the first day of "real" training for the season. Honestly though, it didn't really feel like it. For starters, my swim, while more difficult than what I've been doing, was actually less yardage than I've done in the last few workouts. We're literally talking about 150 yards less, but less is still less. It also involved a time trial effort, which went quite well for about the first 100 until I just had nothing to push with. Apparently that's just what's going to happen on my first attempt at a hard effort in anything in 5 weeks. But all in all, not a bad little workout and at least it felt like it had a purpose.

After that it was time to head to the weight room. I actually kind of missed lifting since it's been so long. I had 12 weeks of it to start last season, then I think maybe 2 weeks back at it in August, so this is not something that has been part of the normal rotation for a long time. I didn't feel like doing it, but once I got in there I actually kind of enjoyed it. It was all light and easy, so perhaps that's why. I even did some core work, which made me very aware that I hadn't done that in a long time, either. I feel nothing yet, but I am already dreading the soreness that awaits me when I wake up tomorrow morning and then get to bike and run. It's going to be great, though. I can't wait.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Last day of being a slug

The vacation is nearly over, and it was certainly a long one. I have never taken such a long stretch off with nearly no training probably since I started training in the first place. Even way back after my first tri season when I thought I was going to work in the movies, lived in Los Angeles and worked on sets for 12-18 hours a day I was still training for the Los Angeles Marathon (never ran it, moved home a few weeks before and didn't go back) and rode my bike down the Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu on the weekends. That was 7 years ago, and I'm just now taking a real, serious break. Even in 2008 when I hurt myself and couldn't run for over a month, as soon as everything else was okay I wound up overcompensating by biking and swimming like crazy.

Last season it was 2 weeks totally off, then 1 week of barely anything. Last season I was not coming off of a huge build-up to Kona, but rather a season that completely fizzled out after some personal worst performances and one final sprint race that wound up getting canceled due to a hurricane. This time? 3 weeks totally off. 2 weeks with so little training it might as well have been totally off. Sometimes when you have a "vacation" coming up you fear that it will go by too fast. This one felt like it was never going to end. Don't get me wrong, that first week in Hawaii wasn't too bad. Breakfasts at Lava Java followed by pool or beach sunning, even time for an afternoon of surfing. The following week was spent in a fog while recovering from the time difference. Then it was just more like, ok, can I start training now?

I spend some days in the midst of heavy training wishing that I could just have 1 morning where I could wake up whenever and not have to worry about getting a workout in. After so many days of that in a row I've found that it's really not all that exciting. Although to be honest, I found myself trying to savor these last few days of it. In fact, yesterday I actually never even left the house and the pouring rain outside my window didn't make me unhappy not to have a long bike ride like I might on most Saturdays. But I'm sure I'll be better off when I start back up tomorrow. The volume won't be huge to start, but it will at least feel like something. I'll start eating right again (remember fruit?) actually going to bed and getting up early, my nostrils filled with chlorine, my hamper filled with workout clothes, 14 showers a week.... it'll all be there.

And I'm excited for it. I want it. I went on another run today and already my heart rate has dropped considerably and the pace is faster than my recovery runs before the stress fracture. I'm rested. I'm ready. It's only too bad it's probably about to get really cold out around here. It's ok though, because after getting incredibly sick of watching movies on the trainer I'm actually looking forward to it. I will surely regret that statement quite soon, but it is inevitable anyway.

This is it, 2010 starts tomorrow for me. I was excited about last year starting because I wanted to fix things, but I am way more excited for this season to start. I'm not scared about it like last year. It's going to be a good one.

One last, totally unrelated note: one of my car radio pre-sets has already started on the Christmas music. Why do they do this? I am not a Scrooge, but seriously, there are only so many Christmas songs. Why do you want to make me sick of them 2 weeks before we even get through Thanksgiving!?!?!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Cartoons lose weight easily"

One of my favorite things is the disclaimer that usually sits at the bottom of any ad for some sort of quick-fix weight loss product. You know those products: take this magical pill and lose 20 pounds in 1 month! This particular ad had a before and after of a woman who was, like in all of these things, quite chubby in the before picture, and quite a lot thinner in the after. The only thing was, she was a cartoon drawing. So the fine print at the bottom of the page read: "Results not typical. Cartoons lose weight easily. Real people need diet and exercise to lose weight." Really? I never knew that before. I just found it hysterical that they were quite so blunt with it.

Yes, real people do need to diet and exercise in order to lose weight. The thing is, you actually have to be diligent about it. It is actually almost maddening when you realize that you had the power to do it all along, you were just unwilling. I say maddening because it would be nice if there actually was some kind of quick fix or pill you could take, but there just isn't. Needless to say, I will not be purchasing myself any Slimquick. Unless I wake up sometime in the near future and find that I've turned into a cartoon. But I suspect that would first require my taking an entirely different kind of pill...

What else? Oh, just the usual lately, training only enough to keep me partially sane. I'm swimming very slowly, still taking out my mountain bike because it's so darn fun even if I'm on a really old bike I've had since 7th grade, and finding running to be amazingly not the out-of-body experience I usually find it to be when coming back from a running lay-off. And this is especially amazing because honestly, usually even after 6 days of not running I feel like I'm a mess trying to run, and yet after over 7 weeks straight of no running (unless you count floating around in an aqua-jogging belt while kicking my legs madly in the water) it actually feels... fine. I'm not even that slow - for me, anyway. On Monday things kick off for real and I can't wait to get started!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The meeting: 2010 plan of attack

Exactly 1 year from my first meeting with coach Jesse, it was time for the 2010 version. I remember how I felt when I was driving down there last year. I was so convinced that he was going to change his mind about taking me on after he realized how truly fat and out of shape I was that I had to call my friend Leslie to help me feel better. I honestly don't recall another occasion in my life where I called a friend for that specific purpose (as in, generally I've been pretty lucky). Although I'm pretty sure realized that we had more work to do than he might have anticipated, but he actually made it sound possible to come back from the damage I had done. He showed me race goals that I almost laughed at. I think any normal person who took me in at that point in time would only need to look at me to say, hmmm.... maybe an 11:30 for Lake Placid. Nope, we were going to bring me back.

So we did. Maybe not all the way back, but we're close. We hit a few stumbling blocks along the way with a few minor soft tissue things that kept me off running for maybe a week at a time, my own errors in race execution in Lake Placid - as in, don't start the marathon at a 7:25 pace when you have no business running a 3:15 marathon - and finally the stress fracture that put the nail in the coffin. I suppose that some might consider that to be an unsuccessful season, being 25 minutes slow on my Ironman PR, 8 minutes slow on the half, and not even being able to finish the race in Kona. But while it wasn't a complete success, or the season I've been waiting to have for years, it's a whole lot closer than I was a year ago, and that is something I'm grateful for.

Anyway, the meeting began with the most fun part: the threshold test. I put my tri bike on the computrainer - the bike that still has the race number on it because I haven't ridden it since October 10th - and began warming up. I also noted that it might not have been such a bad thing that I hadn't had enough to drink in Kona and never peed on my bike or in my shoes. In fact, I don't think I peed on my bike all season. I guess that might seem like a good thing, but from a hydration standpoint, that's actually not a good thing at all. So now that I think about it, one of my goals for 2010 needs to be urine-soaked tri shoes. Nice.

Anyway, the test began. These tests are sort of sneaky in that it is pretty much totally fine for quite a while, then without warning you finally hit that one, 10-watt increase that starts to put you over the edge. My legs were burning, my lungs were burning even worse, and with a heart rate of 192 and the hearing of the words, "20 more seconds," I was pretty sure that if I had to ride for 22 more seconds, I'd be throwing up all over the floor. But it was over before it came to that, and aside from a slight cough that stuck with me for the rest of the day from the heavy breathing, 5 minutes later I was fine. The verdict? Same threshold watts and heart rate as the same test on 1/31 of this year, that one coming after 12 weeks of training. Maxed out 10 watts higher than that day though, also highest recorded in all 3 of my tests in the past year (though still 30 watts lower than the best test I did back in 2006, though testing protocol was slightly different) Body fat is about the same as 1/31, thanks to an 8% gain since Kona (nicely done) although weight is lower than it was then. In short, I'm essentially 12 weeks ahead of where I was a year ago, without having started training really at all yet. Good news, especially since my Ironman this year is 12 weeks earlier. Although I'm still hopeful that more progress will be made this year, just by the simple fact that I've only got to lose 20 pounds now instead of 40. Race weight will be lower this year, assuming I can get there. But I will get there.

Beyond that, we went over the season plan. First of all, I will be training on Powercranks. Not for my biking, but for my running. We are also taking away my key bike workouts and I will have 2 key run workouts every week. It seems that all I really have to do is have a bike to be able to ride it well, so taking those key workouts away doesn't really bother me too much. Biking has always come easily for me, I don't really know why. I just wish that running or swimming came as naturally as biking does. So basically we're pulling out everything from what Jesse calls the "bag of tricks" to get the running to come around.

We also went over the long-term goals. Back in June he set these up for me. He initially said we were going to go out 5 years, but wound up stopping at 3 because things had gotten pretty good by then, so no need to go further. Again, I nearly laughed. He knew I didn't believe him, but he seems to be pretty good at what he does. After the nosedive my season went on after July, I was pretty sure that those goals would be gone again. He recalculated based on where we are now. They came up the same. He hadn't looked at what he wrote down 5 months ago, it just came up the same. Let me tell you, if I can hit these goals he has set up I will be one happy triathlete. I'm going to do everything I can to get there. Well, not everything. I once sent Jesse an e-mail that said, "if it will make me faster and it doesn't involve drugs or elective surgery, I'll do it."

Injuries are done. New orthotics should prevent further damage, maybe even fix my ridiculous looking run form. I've seen video of me running my 3:30 marathon in Lake Placid and was amazed that someone looking like that while running could actually finish in such a time. And maybe we can get me to be more aggressive on the swim so I don't let slower people get in front of me just because they are willing to fight for their position and I'm not. It feels good to be in such a different position heading into this coming season. While things could've turned out better and ended on a higher note, it has only left me that much more eager to go out and have another chance. For now, I get the rest of the week to do some shorter, easier workouts and then things kick into full gear starting Monday. I can't wait!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

20 minutes today - progress

Today I ventured out on run #2. It is still odd to wake up on Saturday morning... at 8am, no less (I had awakened at 6 actually, but forced myself to go back to sleep since this is just about the last time I can enjoy such an opportunity) and not have hours and hours of training staring me in the face. Soon enough, though. Anyway, after a few hours of extended pajama time, I put on some running tights and headed out on a crisp, sunny, 40-degree morning to run 2 miles or so.

I opted to run on the road this time, since this is where 99% of my training and so far 100% of my racing takes place. I was pleased to discover that it didn't feel that bad. First, there was no pain at all from my foot. So as far as injuries go - not that I'd like another one for say, 10 years or so - the stress fracture I guess isn't so bad. First, it is a definitive diagnosis. It's either broken or it's not. And it is easy to tell when it is healed. Did the bone fuse back together? Yes, go run. No? Wait longer. It's not the same kind of guessing game as, say, a strained hamstring or something of that nature. You don't go out and run on it only to have it creep up on you again, always wondering if it will go away or if it will bother you for an eternity. It broke. It healed. All done.

I overdressed for the occasion because I have completely forgotten how to dress for running in general, let alone running in temps in the 40's. Before Wednesday's run, the last run workout I had done was the one when "the incident" occurred, September 13th. It was a lot warmer then. Anyway, since it was only for 20 minutes, it didn't make much of a difference anyway. I headed out on the shortest actual loop I can do from home. I spent some time attempting to find my heart rate monitor strap, but instead of spending more time looking for the stupid thing than it would take to actually do the workout, I decided to go on without it.

I'm familiar enough with this loop that I know where the first mile marker is. I know, everyone else I know trains with a Garmin and always knows their exact pace at any given moment. I think given my running "ability" I might actually wind up quitting running entirely if I was too aware of my pace at every moment of a run. And also maybe someday I'll have enough spare cash to justify spending $200 or so on what I consider to be a non-essential toy for racing, especially given the fact that now I'll have to buy a new wetsuit for next season. Did you see that 2XU is coming out with a new wetsuit that costs $900? Does it seem startling to anyone else that the cost of wetsuits has seemingly doubled in the past few years? Are they motorized? Kayaks are cheaper than that, and they come with paddles. But anyway...

Where was I? Oh yeah, the first mile. I hit it in 9:05. I know, wicked fast, right? Actually, to be honest, I was expecting something more in the 10:30 range. I'm not kidding about that, either. It seems like in the past 18 months, whenever I have come back to running after some layoff due to one injury or another, or time off, even my worst-case scenario isn't as bad as what things turn out to be. I've learned to set my expectations low. So after not just taking 3 weeks nearly completely off, but not running a step in over 7 weeks and managing to adequately fatten up due to inactivity and simple sugar and carb consumption, I figured 10:30 was a reasonable guess. For most, that's not even running. Even for me it hardly feels like running. Truthfully, that's about the pace I started at last fall after the season of rock bottom. So to look down at the watch and see 9:05, I actually thought that maybe this time things would be different. Only time will tell, but it's not a bad start.

I finished out the run likely slightly slower than that, but not by too much. 20 minutes of running. Does that even count? At this point it sure as heck does. My throat burned and my joints are aching already, which is both annoying and wonderful all at the same time. Annoying because it seems ridiculous that I've gotten to the point where a 20-minute run can make me tired and sore and make my throat burn. Wonderful because at least I am out there running. And again, my foot didn't hurt, and that's about all I'm looking for right now.

For other workouts this week, one of the days I actually dusted off my old mountain bike. Ok, I didn't dust it off, but I did take off the race number that was still on it from the only off-road tri I've ever done, also the last time I rode that bike... a little over 5 years ago. So if you can't tell, I'm not an avid mountain biker. The bike got plenty of use for the first several years I had it. I got the thing in 1992, when I was in 7th grade, about 10 years before I even considered attempting a triathlon and just wanted something to ride around town. But once the road biking began, the mountain bike was pretty under-utilized, until that off-road race, and it has been sitting in the garage ever since.

Until this week. I don't know why I suddenly decided to ride it, I just felt like doing something different. It was only going to be a 30-minute ride, and there is a nice little trail less than a mile from home, and what difference did it make what bike I was on? I went to the garage and picked up the old Specialized Hard Rock, tore off the old number and checked the tires - the same tires that have been on the bike for 17-and-a-half years (wow, that makes me feel old!) - and found that yep, they needed some air. I used that other hole on my bike pump and checked to make sure that the brakes worked. They were unbelievably squeaky, but they still worked. Ok, I guess it's time to ride.

It felt a little weird to be on a bike other than my tri bike. Although it felt even weirder last week when I went out on my road bike. It also felt weird not to have my feet attached to the pedals. I just wore sneakers and used the regular old pedals like the 12-year old kid I was when I got it. I felt a little silly, like my bike clothes were more like a Halloween costume on a person pretending to be a biker. After a brief ride on the road, I was happy to turn onto the trail and get away from the cars. Initially, I was a little nervous as my off-road skills haven't exactly been tested in a while. That, and the shifting on the bike wasn't exactly working perfectly. Hey, when the chain and cables on a bike haven't been oiled, well, possibly ever, you can't expect much in that area.

After a few minutes of cautious, nervous riding, I quickly remembered how fun it was and just relaxed and let go and didn't worry about every little root or what obstacles might be hiding under the piles of leaves on the trail. It was a fun way to spend my 30-minute bike ride, and I enjoyed the change of pace. My only regret was that I went out pretty much exactly 30 minutes before the sun was going to set (sadly, darkness begins to fall not long after 4pm these days) which left me no room to stay out and play any longer. I'd love to get a real mountain bike and ride it more often. Maybe someday. But for now, I guess I'll settle for a short ride here and there on the old bike I got in junior high. Come on, I already mentioned earlier I wouldn't shell out the money for a Garmin, no way I'm going to do it for a mountain bike that might get ridden a couple of times a month, if that. Fun anyway.

One last thing I feel I must share is my little encounter yesterday on a walking workout I was doing. Yes, I said walking workout. I'll be doing some extra walking to help strengthen the weakened soft tissue in my foot. The bone will be fine now that it's healed, it's just the soft tissue we have to be careful with while I come back. Anyway, I was finishing up the walk coming back through the parking lot of a shopping plaza near home. At the end of the lot near the Dunkin' Donuts I spotted a woman holding up her camera to take a picture. Posing for the picture was what appeared to be her husband and 2 kids. Ok, fine, not often you see someone taking family pictures in a parking lot outside Dunkin' Donuts, but no big deal. Oh, except then I noticed behind them the giant dead deer head sticking out of the trunk of their white sedan with blood apparently intentionally smeared on the side of the car. The deer was so huge it didn't fit in the trunk. Upon closer inspection, they were dressed for hunting, so this was not a road kill find. My stomach immediately started to feel queasy. People hunt around here, that's not unusual. I guess I just never really considered what happens when someone actually kills a deer. I didn't realize that you had to haul its carcass to your car, stuff it in the trunk and drive around with its giant head poking out while the drivers of other cars on the highway try not to puke up their breakfast. And really? A family photo? Look, momma, daddy dun' killed a deer! Take my picture! Let's smear its blood on the paint! I think I just found the image I will conjure up anytime I am feeling tempted to cheat on the core diet while I try to lose my off-season weight.

However, not long after this incident, I finally hit that feeling. The eagerness to really get back into training. Honestly, I had gotten kind of used to not training like crazy every day. I've been sleeping great, not anxious to get to bed at 8pm, and not exhausted walking up a flight of stairs. However, I finally hit that point where I felt like I was ready to jump out of my skin I wanted to train so badly. By the time I got the stress fracture, all I wanted was to stop training. I wanted to start over with a clean slate after a break. Well, I got my break a little earlier than intended and I missed out on the biggest race of the year, causing my season to fizzle out without every really hitting that high point. But the result is the same. I've got that clean slate. I'm anxious to get out there and train again. Presumably I'm healed and at the moment injury-free. We just have to see where things will take me this time around.

Tomorrow I have my meeting with coach Jesse. We will plan out the whole season and go over my goals. I'm excited and scared all at the same time. A year ago we did the same thing. I was pretty much hopeless at that point, but I was giving it one last shot. I had a threshold test that resulted in numbers that were embarrassingly low for wattage, and way too high as far as heart rate was concerned. He laid out my year goals with numbers I didn't believe were possible even if somewhere inside I wanted to believe they could be achieved, I just didn't think it was going to happen. Truthfully, after shattering my initial goal for California back in April, I failed to meet any of the other long-term goals. I'm not quite sure what happened between April and the rest of the season, but I just couldn't quite come around to where I needed to be. Lake Placid was probably more my own fault, not the optimal race execution on my part, but I'm not really sure what happened in the other races. Well, I suppose we can blame St. Croix on spending most of the day before the race sitting in the airport hoping my bike would arrive and not eating or drinking or lying with my feet up. So anyway, that's what makes me nervous about setting out the goals for this year. On one hand, I don't want to once again set up goals that I don't quite wind up reaching. On the other hand, I don't want to see goals that don't excite me to get out and train. I want to know I'm capable of doing something great. Only time will tell.

All I can say is that I'm ready to do everything perfect to make this season the great one. I feel like a broken record and I've been saying that every year since 2006, the actual great season before every race result became disappointing. But hey, now that I'm in my 30's maybe I've matured enough to actually make it happen. One more week of super easy ridiculously short stuff, and then it's time to get back at it!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I ran today

I ran for 15 minutes today. There is not another time during the season that 15 minutes would even count as a run, but today it does because it is the first time I have run in 7-and-a-half weeks. I decided that I would go run on a trail. I don't often run on trails, but I felt like doing it today, first, so that nobody would see me when they drove by and how slow and awkward I looked. Second, so that maybe the impact would be a little softer on my weakened joints and soft tissue. Third, for the nice scenery and so that I could follow it up with some light hiking to make it seem a bit more like a real workout. And fourth, so I would be clueless about my pace and could just focus on being happy that I was out running rather than panicking about how slow it was.

I dug some run clothes out of the very neglected run clothes drawer and drove off to the trail entrance. I'm not normally a fan of driving somewhere just to run, but I was ok with it in this case. There really isn't a whole lot to say about it since it was so short. 15 minutes goes by awfully fast, and given the fact that I was trail running and had to be careful with the footing, I didn't really get a chance to go fast enough that I tired myself out. I felt like I could've gone on for much longer, which is a good sign. An even better sign is the complete absence of pain of any kind coming from the site of my stress fracture. That's really the only important thing that can come of this. I can't wait to do it again. The only problem is that now I feel like I'm starting from scratch again. I wanted to be starting from a much better spot this year than I did last year, but I keep on sliding backwards. I'll just try to keep the progress in the forward direction from here on out.

I also had my first early morning swim workout today in, I don't know, 6 weeks maybe? Remember, pre-Kona my last few swims were open water to avoid wall pushes on the broken foot. It was far too cold in the early mornings to be getting in open water around here! I had to drop my friend Trent off at the airport for his trip to North Carolina to race B2B half this weekend (good luck, Trent!) and the airport is way too close to my pool for me to not swing by. So after a 5:15am drop-off I was in the water by 5:30, done by 6 and home again by 6:30. I forgot how nice it can be to get workouts in nice and early. Swimming doesn't feel as hard as I thought it would (with the exception of doing the first 100 at race pace and then realizing that was not the way to complete my easy, aerobic 30 minutes) but I sure am slow! Ugh, again, it feels so strange to actually get out of shape on purpose. I just hope I can get it back quick.

The other strange thing after the break is that there was no ease into this cold weather. I started tapering just when it started to cool off, then spent 11 days in Hawaii, then came home and didn't train for nearly 3 weeks, then had to step back outside into noticeably cooler weather. My fingers don't work well and I need very hot showers afterward to warm me up. Again, I'm not quite ready for this yet, especially knowing that this kind of weather will be with me literally until I race IM Utah in May. It's going to be a long winter.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I'm healed!

Today was the big day: follow-up appointment with the podiatrist to make sure that everything had grown back together the way it was supposed to. I made it to the office for my 10am appointment and he almost immediately had me in for another x-ray. Nothing to see here, folks, the bone had healed. According to him that bone has now lost some length, but I sincerely doubt I'll notice. My feet are practically the length of canoes (though strangely this hasn't at all helped me with swimming) so maybe that's not even such a bad thing.

After hearing that bit of good news, I told him about the barrage of issues I've had over the past 18 months or so. SI joint, knee, cuboid bone, stress fracture... he had me walk in bare feet for him. It didn't take him very long before he decided that my right side is "significantly" longer than my left. He said side, not leg. I don't know where the extra length comes from, but he guesses about a quarter-inch. I realize that this is the kind of thing that people can often be told when it has more to do with things being out of alignment than anything actually being physically longer or shorter, but then again I've also read stories of people who had chiropractors adjusting them to even out leg length discrepancies only to knock hip joints out of alignment because these people did in fact have actual bones in their legs that were different lengths. Given that this particular podiatrist is literally world-renowned in his field, I'm going to go ahead and trust him.

He fitted me with some orthotics to even me out a bit and I'll go see him again in 6 weeks to see how things are going. But things are looking good. I'm going to add a bit of walking into the mix to help with the soft tissue, which has been weakened due to lack of use, but my first run - all 15 minutes of it - will be on Wednesday. This should be interesting. I think I'm going to have to find a trail so that nobody can see how ridiculously slow I am. Even on my short little bike rides so far I get that pain in the back of my throat from minimal exertion - that strange taste I always remember from my first basketball practice after an off-season in which I once again had forgotten to do anything to stay in shape - so I can only imagine how it's going to feel when I finally go out and try to run. I'll just try to be happy that I am actually able to do it, and maybe in another month I can panic again at how slow I am and how hard it is.

I can't wait for the routine of normal training again. Not doing any of my normal stuff puts everything else out of whack. What time should I go to bed? Why have I still not motivated myself to put my tri bike back together? Surely it is not because I really missed riding my old road bike, although this has at least justified having kept it instead of selling it. Just because I don't have a bunch of smelly workout clothes doesn't mean I don't have to keep up with laundry. See, the system just gets thrown out of wack. But anyway, soon enough.

At least I am no longer fractured and broken. Now I just have to try and stay that way.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Race spectating - Manchester Marathon

Today was the third annual Manchester City Marathon and half marathon. The start and finish is about 5 miles from my house, yet given the timing I have not participated, and given my focus on other, specific races, I probably never will. However, the timing does usually work out for me to casually go and watch without having to work around a huge weekend of training.

I had a lot of extra time before heading downtown for the 8:50am start because in spite of my newfound ability to sleep in, with the clocks moving back an hour last night, I was wide awake by 6am. I appreciate the extra hour and the extra daylight in the morning, but not such a fan of it getting dark at about 4:30. Anyway, I made it just in time for the start of the race and watched the masses run by and head off on their 13.1 or 26.2-mile journeys. After walking around aimlessly for a while, I found myself a good spot on Hanover Street, where I'd see the half marathoners coming up towards the finish and the marathoners approaching their halfway point. In the interest of my random observations from my last post, here are some random observations from this race:

-The race officials offered an early start for those marathoners who were going to be out on the course for an extra long time. I believe they were given a 90-minute head start, so these people started coming through halfway long before the other racers, usually completely by themselves and without much fanfare. It must be odd to run a marathon almost entirely alone. Anyway, these people took their time at the aid station and seemed afraid to just chuck their Gatorade cups on the ground like the rest of us do. One of these guys actually asked the aid station volunteer what place he was in. Um, well, at the time he was I guess about the 15th person to come through, but not sure it really counts when there are several hundred people who only happened to start 90 minutes after you did but time-wise will be far ahead.

-Apparently, among 11-year old girls, the super-high side ponytail is no entirely dead. (spectator, not runner)

-When the race first started, I noticed that among the lead pack of elite runners was this guy with a long ponytail. That made him easy to identify when he came through 13 miles at about 1:45. What exactly was he doing going out with the lead pack?

-There are always going to be people who run really fast but don't at all look like they are running fast.

-I'm getting really sick of watching races and not running them. I haven't crossed a finish line in almost 2 months and it sucks. I feel like Kona was 3 months ago, not 3 weeks ago.

-That said, it's still cool to see the look of accomplishment on people's faces when they approach and cross the finish line.

-Even if there is a big sign right in front of people telling them to go left to finish and right to continue for the second half of the marathon, a surprising amount of people still have to ask the volunteers where to go.

-On the drive home, there was a truck in front of me with a set of fake balls hanging off the trailer hitch. What kind of a person, under what circumstances, thinks that might be a good idea?

-An amazing amount of people still wear iPods during races even though rules state not to.

-I wonder if the guy who wore the entire Canadiens hockey uniform, including wool hat, shin guards and mini hockey stick, regretted his decision?

-I made the executive decision a few days ago to start wearing my right shoes again. I'm quite happy with my decision and it makes it a lot easier to walk around. Also, my foot isn't so cold.

-I saw a guy running with a Newtons visor and Asics shoes. Is that allowed?

-I miss running terribly. Watching other people do it on an amazingly gorgeous day doesn't help.

-Tomorrow is my follow-up x-ray. Let's hope for good news! And you know, not the good news I got after the first x-ray that turned into bad news on the second. Basically, I'm hoping last x-ray for a very, very long time.