Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Seven-Hour Ride and an Awkward Trip to the Bike Shop

Yesterday was the infamous really, really big ride four (sometimes three) weeks before the Ironman.  Since joining QT2 Systems in 2008 I have not had to do this ride by myself because we usually had some organized training weekend.  Not this time.  So yesterday morning I decided to hit the road really early and do my nice loop up and over the Kanc.  This was the same route I rode last year in preparation for Ironman Utah except that time it was 40 degrees and raining and three of the six of us opted to go back and ride the trainers after about the first hour while Jesse, Cait and I continued on, though not without a stop at a ski shop for them to buy some extra clothes. 

Fortunately, for my solo ride the weather was a bit more cooperative, though still not quite as nice as I might have liked.  It seems like any time I choose to do this particular ride I never get a clear view from the top.  But it was nice to be in shorts and not spend a moment of that ride shivering.  Although once I approached the top there was an annoying and persistent drizzle that was just enough to put a damper on the ride.  As far as long rides go, while physically demanding, in all honesty, it was fairly painless.  And the fact that it was a loop and I didn't have to constantly check the run time and wonder when I had to turn around made it seem to go by quite fast.  No crazy wildlife encounters this time although towards the very end of my ride when I had the pleasure of going up a hill about 3/4 of a mile with a 13% grade I happened to come across someone coming down... on a skateboard.  I did not have the opportunity to see him reach the bottom but I swear I felt as though I was watching a 14 or 15-year old boy just moments before his death.  But from what I saw of him, he did remain upright..... 

This afternoon I decided it was finally time to bring Dad's bike into the bike shop.  First, considering how he turned out, you'd be surprised at how little damage there was to the bike.  The front wheel is a bit off and I don't know yet if it even needs to be replaced or if it can just be fixed as it is.  The left shifter was bent in but that fix is also apparently pretty simple.  As far as I could tell, that's it.  There's nothing else wrong with it.  A couple of weeks ago I also finally went and rode down the hill he crashed on, just to see if it made any more sense.  Well, I was going a little over 30mph, so that will do it.  But also at the peak of speed the road didn't really curve as much as I thought it did, so then it made a little less sense.  And then when I put the chain back on the bike today it was in the small ring, which also doesn't make sense if he was speeding down a hill, but I should probably just stop trying to figure it out because of course we'll never know. 

Anyway, the bike shop up here which is also the one he got his bikes from I also use sometimes and one of the mechanics knows us pretty well.  I honestly had no idea if he knew or not, though I suspected he did.  Unfortunately he was not the one who greeted me.  So I showed the guy the damage and I had been kind of dreading this part for, well, the nearly nine months it's been since it was apparent that I was now responsible for this bike.  "Did you crash?"  "Uh, no, my father did."  "Is he okay?"  "No."  Poor guy, it's not his fault he didn't know that.  Well, a few minutes later the other mechanic came out to assess the damage and he's not the kind of guy who would come out and offer condolences or anything, he just told me what would need to be fixed and then when I went to grab a new bottle cage that I needed for my own bike he told me to just take it. 

So at least that part is over and done with.  Aside from the picking it up, but that won't require any explanations on my part.  I think I'm going to keep the bike.  He'd only had it for a few weeks, anyway.  Maybe sell my old road bike that I haven't ridden in a very, very long time.  Two tri bikes and two road bikes might be pushing it in the stable for me.  I always felt like my LeMond was too big for me, anyway.  Anybody want it?  2004 Zurich, components are in great shape, you can have the clip-on aero bars if you want.  I only rode it as my main bike for 1 season and then as a back-up, though it has been in an Ironman.  It's a 59 so you have to be tall!  If you don't want it, you can at least suggest to me how much I should charge for it.  I spent about $3500 on it way back when and it's been sitting safely in the garage for a very long time with some very occasional rides...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

First Open Water Swim.... Probably a Bit Premature

I am not a fan of swimming and I suspect it has more to do with not liking the pool and constantly turning around and swimming back and forth than it has to do with the actual act of swimming.  I can say this with some authority because when it finally comes time that I can do some open water swimming I don't mind it nearly as much or even not at all.  No lane sharing, no flip turns, no chlorine smell or post-swim sniffles, and when I'm up at the lake I don't even have to drive anywhere.  Just walk down to the dock, get in and get going.

So it goes without saying that I love to get in the open water swimming at the first available opportunity.  This doesn't work for all swims, though.  If I've got a workout of 20x100 (which I feel as though I've done 20 times by now) then I'm pretty much stuck in the pool.  But especially perfect for open water is the recovery swims, so I love doing those in open water.

When I'm not up at Squam there are a few groups of people locally who sometimes meet to swim.  And most of them are just as crazy if not crazier than I am when it comes to willingness to swim in cold water, so I can almost always count on at least a few of them to be by water's edge at 6am.  They'd been swimming there for a few weeks and only yesterday did I finally head over to meet them.  I had planned on it a couple of weeks ago, but that morning I woke up and saw it was 32 degrees and decided that maybe the pool was still the better choice.  It's the same lesser of two evils thing I have with the trainer and riding outside in the cold.  There just comes a point where the indoor, boring version is actually better if only because you're not risking hypothermia.

But yesterday I decided the time had come.  So when I woke up I donned my wetsuit (I'm weird like that and on cold mornings will drive in my wetsuit and drive home in it and wear it directly into the shower!) and headed for the lake in the rain.  I met three other brave souls to head into the water and we set up our little route and would stop about every 800 yards or so and regroup.  As I stepped into the water my first thought was, "Oh, this isn't so bad."  And my next thought, probably only about ten seconds later was, "Oh, maybe it is actually worse than I thought."  And after a couple of minutes of chatting and stalling, it was time to take the plunge and submerge more than just the wetsuit-clad lower half of my body.

Holy $&%^ that's cold!  My breath caught in my throat and my face burned from the icy water.  I instantly regretted my decision to drive to the lake instead of the pool, but I was already there and there was no turning back now.  Often times when I swim at say Oceanside or Mooseman I'll get that initial face-freeze, but eventually it subsides.  Oh, this was not going away.  Normally in an easy open water swim I will breathe every three strokes, but I needed to breathe every other just to get my face out of that freezing water and catch my breath as I tried to swim probably faster than ZR just so that I might warm up a bit.

I think I might have felt a bit warmer at times, but anytime we'd stop and regroup I'd have to almost immediately start swimming again so as not to let the cold set in.  This was tougher since I was the fastest and therefore stopped the longest!  Early on I decided that it was not quite the coldest water I'd ever swum in.  I still think that title belongs to our Ironman St. George practice swim.  I have decided that for a couple of reasons.  First, during the race, as I swam as fast as I could starting with about halfway through my entire body started to feel cold, not just the parts exposed to the water.  And I think it was actually warmer race day than on the day we did our practice swim.  Second, when we swam out to some rock and then stopped to regroup, after only having been in the water for maybe five minutes, when I came up and looked around the entire world was spinning.  I felt queasy and sick any time we stopped and for a few minutes after we got out of the water.  I had a bit of that feeling yesterday when we stopped, but definitely not to the degree that I had it in Utah.

I do, however, think it was colder than my first time in California only because I don't remember the face freeze lasting that long there.  If I had to guess, I'm thinking somewhere around 54 degrees.  Definitely not the kind of water you want to be swimming in by choice.  But again, already there, already in, gotta get the workout done!

We lost one of our swimmers on one pass to the exit and three of us continued on.  Of course, it was the three women.  As we continued on, the novelty was definitely wearing off and when we'd stop and regroup it seemed that everyone else's lips were starting to turn purple.  But all in all, we survived, if only to not be able to articulate words to each other when chatting before we raced to our cars to blast the heat.

This time last year I had been swimming open water for weeks and the water was even nice.  It doesn't work that way when the sun disappears for a week and the day before it topped out at 50 degrees and drizzled most of the day.  Come on, warmth!  I have to do some open water swimming this weekend at Squam which is likely even colder and I'd also like to not exit the swim at Mooseman without the ability to work my fingers!

Needless to say, either way, the pool is on tap until the weekend.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Florida 70.3

I promised a race report, so that's what I'll give you.  Last weekend was my first time participating in the Florida 70.3 that takes place at Disney World.  Coincidentally, two years ago I was there on a family vacation at the same time the race was taking place though I didn't watch or participate.  I did, however, ride my bike down toward where it started at about 4am as part of my ridiculously early workouts that week so as not to disrupt the family portion of the vacation, so I saw people headed down to set up.  I really didn't have much interest in doing the race. 

I arrived in Florida a little after 9am after yet another perfectly smooth, early arrival, $50 charge for the bike box flight on Southwest.  If you're traveling with a bike, it's almost the only way to go.  Apparently JetBlue is the same way but they don't fly from the airport that is less than ten minutes from my house.  I ran into Cait at the car rental pick-up area, but she had a bike ride to do and we couldn't get into our house until 4:00, so we went our separate ways.  I had no workouts to do, and at first settled into a Starbucks for some tea and a bit of e-mailing. 

By 11:00 I thought to myself, am I really going to spend the next five hours here just killing time until I can get into the house?  I was about five miles from Disney World.  It was only Thursday.  Hmmm.... why not?  So off I drove to Disney's Hollywood Studios where I spent three hours walking on just about any ride I wanted to go on, including five trips on the Aerosmith rollercoaster and four times on the Tower of Terror.  If you ever come to Disney World with me, you should know that I instantly return to being ten years old.  I guess I don't act much older than that in real life, but it really becomes apparent when I am in Orlando. 

Once I had had enough of the rides I headed back to our house and reconstructed my bike.  Cait and I were the only ones there really that night as teammates Michele and Ron were arriving quite late that night and Jesse, Chrissie, Colin and Tim weren't due to arrive until the next day.  I slept until after 7:00 which for me sometimes feels like noon.  But it was needed.  I headed out to do my bike and run and returned to find Cait swimming very short laps in the pool behind the house.  We had spent some time on the internet the night before trying to find somewhere to do our last swim but everything seemed pretty far and like an awful lot of trouble just to keep the arms moving basically for twenty minutes to get ready for the race.  I don't think you should spend twice as much time driving to and from a pool than you're going to spend swimming in it.  I took my turn after that and while it was the longest twenty minutes of swimming ever and probably two hundred 4-stroke laps, it served its purpose.  And more importantly, I was done with the pre-race workouts nice and early. 

I resisted the urge to go back to Disney World as it was getting a bit too close to the race and one day at the park by myself was okay but I think the novelty of a second would've worn off quickly.  Although you should know that there are serious advantages in line-cutting involved with being a lone rider.  I think I was typically back on that rollercoaster about seven minutes after getting off thanks to the single rider line.  The rest of the day was pretty quiet and uneventful and while Cait went to get everyone else at the airport I went out to dinner with Michele and Ron during a really great thunderstorm. 

The following morning it was time to do nothing but eat.  Unfortunately that eating would start at Denny's.  Denny's and I do not get along very well.  In a very uncharacteristic move, I didn't even finish my pancakes.  I mean, well, have you had their pancakes?  But at least the rest of the team was there and the conversation was good.  I still had to register and drop off my bike which I decided to do all at once to as to save myself from having to make more than one trip. 

I had incredibly good timing on a lot of things over the weekend.  First, registration.  Bike drop off was at 1:00 and I got in line I think around 12:30 and had no problem getting through.  By the time I came out the other side the line was incredibly long.  I felt bad for the poor girl who had to type everyone's name into the computer which was surely why the whole ordeal was taking so long.  Why do they not have more than one line for things like that? 

Anyway, I was in and out of bike drop-off nice and quick which was good since now they seem to prefer the first come, first served kind of bike racks rather than giving everyone a specific place.  There is a range of numbers on each rack and I was close to the end.  The problem with this is that the bikes are squeezed ridiculously close together.  And my seat post is literally like 5' high and I can never rack by the saddle, which seems to annoy people, but nothing I can do about it! 

After that I headed over to the Wildnerness Lodge to meet up with some friends from home, one who was racing, the other watching, and I got there just before it started pouring rain.  Another stroke of good luck in timing, missing standing around in the rain to drop off the bike.  Gotta love leaving the bike in the rain all night long.  My favorite was the line in the race information that said that we were not allowed to cover our entire bikes "for the safety of the volunteers."  Will someone please explain to me how it would be unsafe to a volunteer if we covered our bikes from the rain?  Would it leave them unable to tell the difference between a covered bike and a concealed ninja? 

Anyway, I got myself a really good turkey sandwich at the hotel and sat and chatted for a while before heading back to my own place for a nice, early night in which we were all in bed before the sun went down.  As far as nights before races go, I slept pretty well.  With the exception of the last hour in which I had several anxiety dreams about waking up at 6:30 and knowing there was no way I could make it in time for the start of the race.  I got up just after 4:00 and was shoveling down the applesauce while Tim stood looking out the window and declared that we were not going to have a swim that morning.  A few strikes of lightning later, I couldn't really argue.  They left a bit earlier since the pro wave went off at 6:20 and I hit the road at about 4:30 with Michele and Ron leaving not long after me. 

The entire drive involved watching the sky light up and me wondering about more than just the swim.  I really thought I wouldn't mind if the swim was canceled.  I pulled into the parking lot without incident and not surrounded by many cars but couldn't help but notice an incredible line of cars behind me in the rear-view mirror.  As I parked, I noticed Jesse, Chrissie and Colin (who is an 8-month old baby, in case you were not aware) and we walked over and got right on the shuttle bus.  In yet another stroke of good timing, as we settled in and looked out the window, suddenly there was a huge line of people waiting to get on the shuttle and already a line of cars backed up to get in and park.  This line had transpired literally less than two minutes after we made our way through. 

It was an odd morning.  When I walked in there were people just standing under awnings and trying to stay out of the rain.  It felt oddly chilly for Florida.  Upon arrival I realized immediately that my hydration plan was sitting in the fridge back at the house.  They always have plenty of water hanging around before races, but never the Powerbar drink.  Thanks to my teammate Rob Gilfeather for helping me out!  Normally I take my time in transition and don't leave it until much later.  But this time I decided there was no reason to wait.  It was a no wetsuit swim, so it's not like I'd have to stand around in my wetsuit all morning.  I got everything ready, tucked my backpack off to the side and let it sit in the pouring rain and walked around barefoot with my goggles around my neck for a while.  For some reason transition at that race closed at 6am even though the race didn't start until 6:20.  They tend to say things like that, but not really mean it.  This time, they definitely meant it.  I was out of there by 5:30, but later on I saw them literally turning people away.  That would've sucked. 

Oh, I had also run into Michele and Ron coming into transition after just having arrived.  They left five minutes after I did.  I must've seen then forty-five minutes after I had arrived.  Again, timing is everything and they said the parking lot was a mess.  I used the real bathroom, somehow without a line, and came out to find a huge line waiting to go in after me.  The race announcers kept insisting that the race would start on time and it just kept raining harder with plenty of lightning and thunder.  I went and sat at some tables inside a building that normally is home to the infamous Hoop-Dee-Doo-Revue, a silly dinner show I remember attending with my family when I was seven.  While chairs and shelter were a good thing, it was actually colder in there than it was outside which made it not the best place to hide out. 

Heading back out into the rain to see what was going on, it appeared that the race might actually be starting soon and miraculously the sky was clearing up.  I found Jesse, Chrissie and Colin and sat down to await my swim wave that was set to go off forty-six minutes after the start of the race.  I wasn't nervous or excited or much else in between.  Just kind of waiting to get things going.  Jesse went to watch the start which I did not know had actually been delayed twenty minutes so I wound up taking in my pre-race gel way too early.  But eventually it was time to make my way to the start. 

The swim was in the lagoon behind the lodge.  You know, those man-made ones behind certain Disney hotels that they don't let people swim in?  That did not sound appealing to me.  I spend most of my time in New Hampshire swimming in crystal clear lakes that I could probably drink from if I got thirsty out there, so I was more than a bit nervous that this water was going to seem a bit, um, disgusting.  The sky was clear but the sun wasn't glaring at us so the course looked like it was going to be incredibly easy to sight which was nice.  I had obtained a nice, legal Blue Seventy suit to wear over my brand new QT2 team uniform so I at least looked like I was ready to go. 

We had to start on the beach with one foot in the water and one foot on dry land and I started to the left in the front.  Watching other waves go off in front of us it seemed that it stayed quite shallow for quite a ways out, so I knew not to dive in and start swimming for much longer than I'd normally wait.  Finally, we were off and into the water I went.  I'll admit my approach was slow, but this had a lot more to do with the fact that (graphic detail) I really, really had to pee and without a wetsuit or an in-water start I was not afforded the opportunity to do so, and I had to move slow in order to relax enough to do what I needed to do.  Sorry people behind me!  I know you were doing it too anyway. 

There was a bit of seaweed when we first got in and the water felt warm but not too hot, which was nice.  Once I started swimming I was actually pleasantly surprised at the fact that the water actually didn't seem disgusting at all.  I couldn't really see very far under water, but it didn't taste weird, either, which is a good sign.  To be honest, for some reason I felt really comfortable during that swim.  I tend to swim a lot better with a wetsuit but I actually felt a whole lot better swimming in just a skinsuit.  Maybe it was because unlike in California I wasn't really, really cold. 

There was very little contact and Jesse had told me that if nothing else I was to get on someone's feet and let them lead the way through the masses of the seventeen swim waves that had gone before us.  I finally did manage to find someone's feet and did just that.  But by the time we hit the turn buoy all the way out, I wasn't sure if she was going fast enough, so I branched out on my own.  The only problem now was that I couldn't find a single other gold cap of someone in my age group.  There were people everywhere from the waves in front of us, but none from mine and therefore no more feet worth following.  Oh, well.  It wasn't very difficult to dodge people as I felt like I was swimming right on the buoy line while everyone else was wide to the right.  I had no clue how I was doing as I didn't wear a watch in the swim, but I actually enjoyed most of that swim and felt good, which is quite unusual for me. 

I came out of the water and saw 1:21 on the clock, which I thought meant that I had swum thirty-five minutes, which for me is a really good swim without a wetsuit.  I was quite happy with that.  I found out later that the timing mat was not until we entered transition after quite a run from the water, which I was not happy about!  I felt like I was going to throw up for some reason as I ran up from the water, literally until I found my bike.  That task was difficult because we came into transition from the back and I was completely disoriented and kind of amazed I was able to find my bike at all since I expected to come in from the water from the other end.  I saw a whole lot of bikes still on the rack near mine, which I took as a good start.  But I got into the bike gear and headed for the extremely crowded corridor that took racers and their bikes out to the course. 

The sun was out and already the dreary morning was long forgotten.  The course was quite crowded and I felt somewhat obligated to get away from as many people as I could early in the race.  It was very flat and with a little wind so mostly I was able to keep up a good pace.  Amazingly, I didn't see a whole lot of drafting going on.  Some for sure, but not as much as I would've expected given the flat course and so many participants. 

There's not a whole lot to say about the bike.  There were a lot of 180-degree turns and out and backs and no way to tell how far in front or behind you those people were who were coming back the other way.  Sometimes they were a mile ahead, sometimes it could've been ten.  I really had no idea where I was going, I just followed everyone else.  My biggest worry was drinking enough.  I'd been given a target of six bottles on the bike.  Yeah, that's a lot of fluid, but I sweat a whole lot.  I missed a bottle at the first aid station and was only able to grab one.  I've said this before but it needs to be said again: please, do NOT let young children do bottle hand-ups on the bike!  It's just not a good idea!  They can be great at picking up stuff we toss or handing out drinks on the run but I just think it's dangerous to let a nine-year old stand there and try and give a bottle of water to a biker coming by at 22mph.  I personally slow down more than that, but many others don't. 

The course was pretty well closed to traffic and I felt very safe.  I don't know why, but I had this preconceived notion that this race couldn't possibly be well organized just because it was held at Disney.  I suppose I might've felt differently if I hadn't gotten on the shuttle bus when I did, but it all went very smoothly and I would do it again, definitely. 

After facing what felt like a perpetual headwind in spite of a lot of turns towards the end, I finally made it back to transition.  Oh, but first I took my feet out of my bike shoes way too early.  Oh, well.  I got down my six bottles... well, maybe five-and-a-half, and changed the shoes and headed out on the run course.  Ah, the run.  Why do I even bother anymore?  I should probably seek out aqua bikes, but I seem to love beating my head up against the wall. 

To be honest, we got lucky as far as weather is concerned.  It didn't feel nearly as humid as the days before.  And instead of being 95 degrees like the days before, it was only about 85.  Believe me, that does make a big difference.  So for me it meant that I could do some approximation of running between aid stations instead of just walking most of it.  My legs were telling me I might've ridden just a bit too hard.  I can't really help it at this point.  When you know your run isn't going to bail you out either way, it's hard to justify holding back on the bike.  I had heard that the run was on a lot of grass with not a lot of shade, but this year they changed it a bit so it wasn't as bad.  Although one thing I did notice was that the aid stations seemed really far apart.  There was one right out of transition and then not another one for at least a mile and a half.  In that kind of race in that kind of heat, to me, that's just way too far.  By the time I got to it I had to walk and drink a whole lot of... everything.  Also, this is the first half ironman I think I've ever done where there weren't sponges available at the aid stations.  Really?  In Florida?  I've done races when it was 55 degrees that still offered sponges.  Nobody took them, but still.  At least I was still able to dump ice into my jersey. 

The rest of the race was me getting from aid station to aid station, which always seemed too far away.  I walked a lot at each aid station to drink as much as possible and always arrived at the next one with a dry throat.  But I guess the good news is that after every little walk/drink break I was able to get back to some approximation of a running motion, no matter how slow it was.  I seem to have found myself in this sort of position a lot lately, and last season it was generally upsetting and demoralizing.  I don't know if I'm used to it or if it's some sort of attitude shifting but in this case it was more of just a feeling of ok, this is just all I can do today and I just have to keep going and I'll get through it, but it's just all I've got right now.  I wasn't upset.  I didn't feel physically terrible.  By the third lap I was definitely getting tired of it, but I had no doubt I'd make it through.

I noticed that the crowds of racers had thinned significantly as I made my way through the convoluted course.  I continued to drink and drink and dump water over my head and ice in my jersey.  I had seen Cait and Tim doing a cooldown run much earlier and asked Cait how her race went, "Pretty well" she said.  She won.  Most everyone else on the team had run by me at one time or another and just looked incredibly good.  Lots of good races on the day. 

Finally, somehow, I made it to the end of yet another half ironman.  It was nice to do a different race, I just wish I could've been in a better position to do well.  But I found my teammates soon after and pretty quickly gathered my stuff to head back to the house and shower and lie down for a bit.  Michele and Ron had stayed for the rolldown just in case, and apparently this scene has turned into something very similar to the Kona rolldown with screams of joy and sometimes even tears.  In 2006 when I was at the very first qualifying race for Clearwater in California they literally couldn't give away all of the slots.  They might have twenty slots left for, say, men 35-39 and it would be asked who was there who finished the race and wanted a slot and people would raise their hands and they were counted.  "Okay, you're all in!"  Definitely not the case anymore. 

Jesse and Chrissie had to bring Cait and Tim to the airport since they were flying out that night and I wound up sitting at the house for quite a while wondering if anyone was ever coming back.  Finally Michele and Ron made it back, McDonalds in hand, and a while later Jesse and Chrissie returned.  We had talked about maybe going to Disney that night, but it was probably 6:00 by the time everyone came back and I had really lost all hope of that happening until Ron came and said they were going and I could come if I wanted to.  I knew the park didn't close until 11 that night and for about 30 seconds I thought maybe I shouldn't bother, but then once again I thought, well, why not?  Jesse's mother was visiting and he had some work to do and Colin had probably had way more excitement than a baby could be expected to endure in one day, so unfortunately they stayed behind, but me and Michele and Ron headed over to Disney for an evening of fun. 

I don't think we got there until just before 8:00 but we did pretty much everything I could possibly want to do there in only three hours thanks to no lines.  This included sitting down and having something to eat.  Pirates of the Caribbean, skipping Splash Mountain in favor of not being wet for the rest of the evening, which was a sacrifice I was willing to make and the only ride I would've gone on had there been more time or at least some sun, Thunder Mountain twice while there were fireworks going on, the Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World which I hadn't been on in twenty years because that's how long it took to get the song out of my head, and then a couple of trips on Space Mountain.  We even did a bit of shopping on the way out and somehow my legs felt fine the entire time.  I don't know if that was the reason I wasn't upset about yet another bad half ironman, but a trip to Disney World post-race is definitely great to lift the spirits. 

We got home after midnight and I had to get up at 4:30 in order to make a 7:30 flight.  This was actually sleeping in compared to the day before.  But once again the flight was simple and we landed early.  The only bad news was that when I arrived and walked outside it was 50 degrees and raining.  The sun only just came out yesterday for the first time since I've been back.  And it's gone again today.  It's warmer at least, but still.  I even rode the trainer this week.  The only good news was that it made it a great time to bring my bike in to get all fixed up.  New cables, headset, bottom bracket, spacers... lots of stuff just a corroded mess. 

But of course yesterday when I set out for my long ride there was a persistent drizzle that just made me and my bike a mess for the first couple of hours.  I also managed to hit an incredibly awful pothole that I'm amazed didn't destroy my wheels or give me a flat but propelled all of my bottles off my bike, and my sponge, and loosened my handlebars.  An allen wrench will be accompanying me on all further rides.  I'm actually surprised that I wasn't propelled off my bike, either.  I was 27 miles from home and my resourcefulness found me at a forest ranger station where a nice old man helped me tighten the bolts and head on my way.  Of course I spent the rest of the ride with that phantom feeling of the handlebars continually slipping downward.  But all remained intact the rest of the ride, just with a layer of sand and road debris even though the sun did eventually come out.  It was good to see it. 

So now there are five weeks left to go until my Ironman.  Normally by now I'd be feeling good, fast and ready.  I don't feel any of those things, but I do keep going every day somehow.  It's like I said in my last post, staying motivated gets tougher when the results aren't reflecting the time you're putting in.  Maybe sometime soon it will be time to say forget it, but I don't know what else I'd do if I wasn't training every day or traveling around to these cool places to race.  I just have to earn my right to be able to do that.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Motivation to Train

I raced the Florida 70.3 this weekend and I promise that I will write a race report, but I just felt the need to address this topic first since I've got a lot to say on it.

A lot of times people will hear about how much I train or have trained in the past and say, "I don't know how you do it."  What they don't realize is that most of them could do the same thing if they wanted to.  It's totally fine if you don't, and I certainly sometimes wonder what the heck I'm doing to myself when I get up at 5am on a Saturday to go ride my bike and have already done at least fifty miles by the time I can smell bacon and waffles cooking in people's houses as I ride by.

How well our training goes is greatly influenced by our motivation to be out there in the first place.  The source of this motivation tends to change as you progress from year to year.  At first my "training" was more just "working out" and the motivation was mostly just weight loss.  It was the first time I'd really committed to eating right and exercising outside of basketball season and was finally seeing results.  In the past I'd maybe try eating just salads for three days, get annoyed that I hadn't already lots ten pounds, and go right back to a steady diet of Doritos and Pepsi.  But suddenly I was lighter than I'd been literally since I was probably twelve years old and I figured out that running doesn't actually have to suck if you just keep at it and eventually it gets so much easier.

Then suddenly I got the itch to try a running race and a triathlon.  So that became my new motivation: training to finish those races.  Notice I didn't say do well at those races, but simply finish them.  I got all of my information from books and the internet and trained diligently every day, and almost always by myself.  The exception to this was riding my bike with my dad, where we would routinely go out and ride probably 30-35 miles and take turns trying to destroy each other by pushing the pace and making the drafter really work to keep up.  It is absolutely because of him that I got so strong on the bike so fast.

I had fun at my first sprint and then moved on to my first half ironman where the race nearly destroyed me.  Timberman was about 95 degrees with 95% humidity and I spent most of the race wanting to curl up under a tree in the shade and just go to sleep.  I crossed the finish line and told my parents that that was by far the most difficult thing I had ever done.  They took me out for ice cream and I think it only took until I went to bed that night for me to think to myself, "I bet I could do better next time."

That was my motivation mostly from then on.  I always wanted to do better.  It worked really well for a few years until suddenly I reached a bit of a plateau and I allowed some disappointments to really get me down.  For a long time.  It's harder to stay motivated when suddenly you have a race where you trained like crazy and actually started expecting a certain result and you didn't get there.  The race was far from a disaster, and if it had been my result merely a year earlier I would've been more than thrilled, but suddenly the expectations got way higher.

Each subsequent race suffered because of it.  I stopped being excited about training because once again, what if I train really hard and still don't get the result I want?  I didn't know how to deal with that.  I did the work but my heart wasn't in it and I lost that desire to push through.  Race results got way more disappointing the next year when I was faced with a real injury for the first time and it kept me from running for six weeks.  That was three years ago and I feel like I'm still trying to come back from that one little setback.  I don't do well with setbacks, but I'm working on it.

I had a brief taste of the athlete I used to be in 2009 when I joined up with QT2 Systems, got a new coach and a new outlook.  Things went well.  I won my age group in Lake Placid.  I was happy... for a couple of days.  It was still more than twenty minutes slower than my best race there.  My swim and bike were about the same but I'd lost it a little on the run.  The motivation waned a bit, and the race results followed suit.  Well, a stress fracture that prevented me from finishing the race in Kona surely didn't help, but the motivation wasn't really there before that, either.  It only exacerbated a problem that was already there.

2010 was a rough year in more ways than one.  As far as racing went, it was like the spark was gone.  I suffered through a painful winter on the trainer and running in snowstorms and the lack of sunlight and time outdoors nearly destroyed me.  My races went horribly.  I started doing things I'd never done before like putting off training to much later in the day and merely slogging through it.  Then I had that major real life problem that put the whole triathlon thing by the wayside for a bit and quite possibly threatened to keep me from training and racing indefinitely.  I mean, would you want to get right back on your bike?  I feared I wouldn't, but then I did, and it wasn't so bad.  I'm not afraid.  I could get killed walking into the grocery store, so I might as well keep doing what I love.

Going to Tucson for the winter definitely helped me some.  It broke me out of a rut and brought back some of the motivation.  But towards the end the excessive amounts of alone time really started getting to me and I stopped being excited about the workouts again.  So I've been thinking about some of the things I used to think about to motivate myself; some little tricks that usually got me going.  Granted, it gets a lot more difficult to stay motivated when you're training just as much but going way slower than before, but I'm learning to accept it for what it is and worry about moving forward rather than thinking about how much faster I used to be.  I think my friend Mary Eggers has experienced some of the same ups and downs as I have, and in a recent race report she mentioned that she no longer "grieves for the loss of past performances" and I think that is a great way to put it.  I'm still working on letting it go, and I think I'm a lot closer now.

So in that same effort, if I can't be the same athlete in the races, I can at least be the same one I used to be in training.  And if I do this consistently, it should mean that I can get back to competing at a high level, right?  I guess there's only one way to find out.  So as far as getting the training done, some things I used to always think about in training:

-Aside from finally crossing the finish line, there is no better feeling than showing up to the start line being as prepared as you can be and knowing it.  I don't think anyone ever feels truly ready, but you can at least know that you've done everything you can.  Lately I've experienced a lot more of showing up to start lines feeling like a kid showing up to class without my homework.  It's not fun, and the results speak for themselves.  I've had disappointing races when I was prepared, but the true disasters have only happened when I hadn't worked nearly as hard as before.

-Everyone remembers the incredible enthusiasm of when you first started training and were excited about everything.  It was cool to go swim forty laps in the pool and go home smelling like chlorine for the first time since you took those swim lessons at the Y when you were nine.  The idea of riding a hundred miles on your bike was great because you'd never ridden that far before and the whole concept just seemed crazy not that long ago.  (I used to be amazed when my dad would come home and tell us he'd ridden 35 miles, it might as well have been a hundred)  Then suddenly you're riding that far every single weekend and it's not nearly as much fun anymore.  It's just that thing you have to get through on Saturdays before you can take a nap.  Sure, some rides are fun, but other times sitting on your bike saddle for six hours is about the last place you want to be.  I don't think there's any way to get that initial enthusiasm back, but it is good to keep the big goal in mind when you don't want to be out training.

-If I was in the middle of a run and felt like I wanted to walk, I'd think about specifically why I wanted to walk.  Does something hurt?  Usually no.  Are my legs tired?  Eh, kind of, but not really enough to actually warrant walking.  Am I going too hard?  Nah, my breathing is pretty steady.  Thirsty?  Hungry?  Would rather be asleep?  It might be one of those or any combination or something entirely different.  But usually the reason was never good enough to actually start walking.  I'd remind myself that surely in the marathon there was going to be a time that I'd start to feel like this.  What would I do then?  If I got used to giving up and walking now, then it'd be easy to do it in the race.  So I would tell myself that if I just pushed through now maybe getting through that marathon would be even easier.

-Some mornings you are going to wake up and absolutely not want to get out of bed and train.  It happens to everyone.  Again, the first thing to do is to assess why this is the case.  Sometimes it is a legitimate reason.  Like you've only slept for four hours the past couple of nights or there is some work or family stress going on or you're sick or that weird back twinge you've been having is acting up again.  If going out to train is actually going to make things worse for you, then of course you shouldn't do it.  But I'd guess that for most of us, the reason is more like, "My bed is way more appealing than another 4000 yards in the pool right now."  And yeah, it usually is.  But is staying in bed going to make help you reach your goal?  Again, in some circumstances, yes.  But usually, no.  My usual mantra on this is to think to myself, when I go to bed tonight I'm either going to have done the training, or I won't.  Which one is going to make me happier and help me sleep better?  The answer is obvious, and before you know it, you're done the workout anyway and feel a lot better than you would if you got to work and by 9:30 thought to yourself, "Why didn't I just get up?"  Skipping workouts has a nasty way of suddenly becoming habit, so try not to let yourself out of it without a legitimate excuse.

-Do your workouts in the morning, almost right when you get out of bed.  Now, for some people, this might not be the right approach.  I do know people who train at night and have no trouble getting it all in.  So if it works for you, that's fine.  I find I do much better if I just get up and train right away.  It feels great for it to be only 7:30 in the morning and you might already have a two-hour workout under your belt.  If you get into the habit of simply getting out of bed and immediately training, you don't even think about it.  You just do it.  If you start putting stuff off then it gets easier and easier to come up with excuses not to or to have things come up and get in the way.  I'm in a fairly unique position where my "day job" is coaching, so I can do it whenever and wherever I need to, so there's no need really to get up at the crack of dawn to work out because I no longer have to show up to the office by 8am.  I get asked by friends why I get up so early to train when I don't really have to.  I experimented with just waking up whenever and getting to the training whenever this past summer and the end result was sometimes not training until like 6:00 at night for no other reason than I just kept putting it off.  It became a habit.  In the past, if my workouts went past 3:00 I was not happy.  Suddenly it was the norm.  I didn't enjoy the day leading up to it either because it was like this thing looming over my head that I still had to do in order to have had a productive day.  Your day is a lot more relaxed if by noon you can sit back, all clean and dry and finished with the last shower of the day and know that you don't have any other workouts to do until the next morning.  I know people think I'm crazy for starting my long bike rides at 5am when there's sufficient daylight, but if you saw me at 12:30 in the afternoon sitting out in the sun with my feet up and a book in my hands and nothing else to worry about the rest of the day, it might not seem so crazy after all.

-Realize that if you are consistent, the results will pay off eventually.  Now, this does mean different things for different people.  Some people can work really, really hard and have a twelve hour Ironman, which is definitely not too shabby.  And some people can work really, really hard and go 9:30.  Some people are just gifted that way and it is a rare few who have the desire, patience and work ethic to get there without the natural talent.  But you have to understand that either way, you can still do all you can to reach your potential, whatever that is.  And it can vary from year to year.  Maybe you're coming back from having a baby or you've had an injury or had to take off last season because work was too crazy.  It's okay to adjust your expectations and probably a good idea to do so rather than thinking you can just automatically pick up where you left off.  The key is knowing that the consistent effort will result in improvement if you keep at it.  The first time I discovered this was when I finally started eating better for more than, say, a couple of days.  Weight came off, started working out, more weight came off.  You mean diet and exercise really does work if you stick with it?  Amazing!  The same is true for training.  Work hard every day and don't skip workouts without a legitimate reason and you will get faster... as long as you are following a decent plan, but that is an entirely different issue.

-Treat the training as though it's not optional.  Don't think that maybe I'll get to it, maybe I won't.  Just get up and do it.  You'll feel better and again, when race day rolls around, you will know that you've done the work and are ready.

-Just deal with the bad weather.  Bad weather sucks.  It really does a lot of damage on the motivation to train.  It's a lot easier to convince yourself to head out the door for a two-hour ride when it's 75 degrees and sunny than it is when it's 45 degrees and rainy.  Either way, you still have to get that ride in.  And again, just think to yourself that three hours from now, whether you ride or not, you'll be clean and warm and dry.  And you know which is going to make you feel better at the end of the day.  It doesn't mean that cold, wet ride will be all that enjoyable, but at least you'll have gotten it done.  And if you live in the northeast, it is entirely possible that you could face those conditions on race day, so you might as well practice it.  And if you don't, you can at least tell yourself during the race, "This is much easier than riding in those awful conditions on some of those training rides."  Buy some good cold weather gear and face the weather.  Hose off and lube your bike after.  You don't have to do it every time and the trainer is certainly a viable option, especially when the sun just won't come out and you just can't stand the idea of being cold and wet the entire time, but try it sometime.  I'd admit my threshold for this seems to have adjusted since I spent so much time in that-land-where-it-never-rains, but I do tend to think of riding on a cold and rainy day as the lesser of two evils when compared to riding the trainer.  We all have a different temperature cutoff.  Mine changed when I realized that water bottles do eventually freeze if it's too cold.  I also find your mental attitude on these rides can help.  If you spend the whole time thinking about how miserable and cold you are, it's going to be an awful experience.  If you just ignore the weather, ride like normal and let your mind wander to other things or even just think, "Race day will never be this bad and it'll seem easier because of this," then it will be a much more pleasant experience.  But again, clothing makes a huge difference.  I've had rides in the same conditions where on one I've been fine and the other I found myself shivering like crazy in a McDonalds waiting for my dad to pick me up because I stopped to use the bathroom at a gas station and couldn't turn the key in the door because my fingers didn't work.  That's gonna be miserable no matter what, especially when you can't shift or use your brakes.

Those are just some of the things I think about to keep me going.  I also used to adapt the "do whatever it takes" to get the workouts in.  This has meant getting on the trainer at 4 to be done before some family event or maybe to get a ride in before catching an early flight.  Maybe getting up to train somewhere between 3:30-4 every morning while on vacation with the family at Disney world to squeeze in a 26-hour workout week while still being able to enjoy the entire day with everyone at the parks.  Maybe being at the pool at 5am to swim before driving up to go skiing with Dad before coming home and still getting in that trainer ride and transition run before falling into an exhausted sleep.  It it always fun?  No.  But you do what you have to do in order to get the results you want to have.  Don't treat the training as optional.  Get it in however you can.  Could I get up at 3:30 on a regular basis?  No way.  But for a temporary situation it was what I needed to do, so I did it.

I feel almost like a hypocrite for writing this because at the moment I'm not really following my own rules.  But today I was thinking about all of these things I used to do in training and how I'd get myself through it and figured maybe by writing it all down it might help me start adapting that attitude again.  Or at least help some of you.  It's definitely not always easy, even for the best athletes.  But it helps to know that the hard work does pay off, not just physically, but mentally.  You're going to show up at that starting line either knowing you did all you could or wishing you hadn't skipped those workouts and maybe you'd eaten better and lost those last few pounds coming into race day.  Which would you rather be thinking?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Training on my old routes

It's good to be back and training on my old training routes.  New Hampshire takes way better care of their road surfaces than Arizona.  Or even Massachusetts really, since one of my rides has me looping down there for a bit before coming back and right at the state line the pavement changes and is noticeably better in NH than in MA.  Now if only the weather were as perfect as Tucson then it would be amazing.  On Tuesday last week I made the mistake of braving the conditions for four hours.  The "conditions" consisted of drizzle and temperatures in the upper 40's to low 50's. 

Normally I'm pretty good about dressing for the conditions and I've been out in weather like that plenty of times and been fine.  Well, it seems I forgot how to dress for it, because after only an hour I could barely shift because my fingers had stopped working.  And sometimes drizzle is worse than rain because by the time I was done I was so caked in dirt that I had to hose off the bike and then myself.  Nothing like icy hose water when you're already freezing.  By the time I was finished with everything and had finally showered I spent the rest of the afternoon wearing two pairs of pants, a long underwear base layer, a long sleeved shirt, two sweatshirts and ski socks.  How long did I spend in Tucson?  Apparently too long. 

On Saturday I headed out for my long ride and got to see some snow.  But don't worry, it's only because I rode by a ski area that still had some patches hanging on.  I really did miss riding around here.  You know, like trees and stuff instead of vast desert.  It makes the time go by so much faster.  I spent a lot of the ride thinking about my dad.  My mom told me that the boat is in the water at the lake and I couldn't help but think about how normally he'd be up there taking it out for a spin, one of the only boats out there on the freezing water aside from the fishermen, just as happy as can be. 

This is also when he would really start taking his bike out.  Dad was a fair weather rider, although I can't say I blame him.  Why would anyone ride their bike when it was raining if they weren't training for some event?  So he would be very excited this time of year when the sun would come out and it would be warm enough to go out and ride.  I think a lot of us get to a point in our training where we wake up in the morning and think, oh, I have to ride my bike today.  For him, it was always I get to ride my bike today.  He loved it.  He loved it so much that in August when his titanium bike frame cracked and was going to be replaced because it had a lifetime warranty, he decided he didn't want to wait the two weeks for the replacement to come in so he bought a new one to ride in the meantime.  I offered him my road bike that I hardly ever ride, but he didn't care.  So for the last two weeks of his life he was alternating between two brand new carbon Trek Madones.  I still have to take the one he was riding in to get fixed.  I just hope they don't ask me any questions about how it got banged up.  Although considering what happened to him the bike is in amazingly good shape. 

There he is in his favorite spot.  If you look closely he's wearing a Mooseman hat.  He loved that hat so much that when it blew off his head one day and he lost it, I had to contact Keith Jordan to see if he had any others left, which thankfully, he did.  He wore it almost anytime he drove the boat.

Anyway, I'll just have to try and think of him whenever I don't really want to get on my bike.  And sometime soon I'll have to take his boat out on the lake for him because it seems wrong to just let it float there at the dock. 

Speaking of docks and lakes, it seems some of my crazier triathlon friends have already started open water swimming around here.  They even said the water wasn't that bad, and I tend to trust them because when the water is that bad, they'll still tell you that even though it doesn't stop them from going in.  I actually had my wetsuit laid out and ready to go and meet them this morning, but when I woke up and went to check the back yard thermometer while I was brushing my teeth, as is my morning routine, and saw that it was thirty-four degrees out, well, I decided that it might not be such a bad idea to go to the pool instead.  While I do not like the post-chlorine thing and am convinced that I am allergic to my pool here on some level because anytime I spend more than an hour in it, I spend the rest of the day sniffling and sneezing, I think I made the right choice. 

I guess that's about it.  Headed back to Florida next week, which seems unbelievable because haven't I done enough traveling?  But at least this time there is a plane involved.