Sunday, September 22, 2019

Ironman in One Week

One week from today, I will be standing on the banks of the Tennessee River (or more likely standing in a bathroom line), ready to start what is going to be a very long day of suffering. (Unless I don't make a time cutoff, in which it will be a shorter but still too-long day of suffering.)

Am I ready? This question has a complicated answer. Yes and no. I have done almost all of the training -- 95+% of it. I did skip a few workouts in the last week, but although I have a tendency to get paranoid about missed workouts, even I can't worry too much about missing these. Ever since March I have trained consistently and completed every single swim and every single long workout with the exception of one two-hour run I was supposed to do last weekend and did not. My training plan didn't call for any 100+-mile rides, but I did one anyway. My training plan also didn't call for any runs after my very long rides, but I did one of those anyway too -- just two miles after my 105 miles on the bike, but still, enough to prove my legs worked. (My legs were fine that day, but my "run" was still more of a run-walk due to extreme heat and the feeling that I was about to spontaneously combust from that heat.) I have done the training, although I think most people worry that they haven't done "enough" training no matter how much they've done.

I have had so little time for anything besides training and working that I haven't updated this blog in ages, so here's a quick summary of what happened since the beginning of August when I wrote last:

*I took my bike to Chattanooga the second week of August and rode one loop of the course. The hills kicked my ass. I have not ridden hills since I lived in Tucson. Uphills were no problem -- downhills are terrifying. I ride the brakes the whole way down. That's a problem because Chattanooga bike course is almost ALL hills, rollers of the type that good cyclists refer to as "fun" and I refer to as "torture." Based on my ride that day, I was not going to make bike cutoff in the race.

*There ARE hills in Florida -- I just have to drive over an hour north to get to them. Fortunately I discovered that I suck at hills with seven weeks of training time left -- and I have ridden hills every single weekend since then, including 105 miles of them on that one miserable occasion.

*I also bought a new bike. While a new bike doesn't make anyone a better cyclist, carbon frame compared to aluminum frame improves my physical comfort substantially, which means I will be less likely to quit when the suffering gets extreme, which it will because -- here is a truth I have discovered -- I just don't really like cycling that much, at least not when I'm trying to go fast. Also, I bought a road bike, not a tri bike. I never learned to ride comfortably and efficiently in aero bars if any of the following were present: vehicle traffic, curves, rough road surface, other bikes, hills, or wind. While I might have kept trying if I was doing IM Florida, which is straight and flat, I figured it was smarter just to get a road bike I liked for the hills of Chattanooga since there is no way I would be confident enough in aero bars to use them while descending all those hills.

*On Labor Day weekend, I attended an event put on by the Chattanooga triathlon club called TriNooga. It was a FREE event designed to familiarize race participants with the course, and included a swim, bike, and run. That was overall a positive event for me. The highlight was the swim. Longtime readers of this blog know that I have dreaded the swim for as long as I have been dabbling in triathlon. I worked so hard on the swim this time around. I have been swimming 3500 yards three times a week since June, with emphasis on intervals and drills. Still, I have only improved my time in the pool a little bit, so I was expecting a two-hour swim in the race. (Cutoff time is 2:20.) I was still planning on using a wetsuit until TriNooga. We swam almost the full swim (full swim is 4224 yards; my Garmin read 4056 yards), and my time was exactly one hour. This was the fastest swim of my life by over 40 seconds/100 yards, and I was in my tri suit, no wet suit. Talk about a confidence builder. Even better, I enjoyed the Tennessee River. It was pretty, the water was clear and clean, there was plenty of room for lots of people, and I knew approximately where I was on the course because of landmarks -- the island and the three bridges. The run course was also not so scary as people make it out to be. Yes it's hilly, with one particular hill -- the notorious Barton Hill -- that you have to do four times on the double-loop course, but I am not afraid of hills when running. And this particular hill is only 3/10 of a mile one way and half a mile the other way, so although it's a grind, it's not really that long. I have historically done well on hilly marathons (most people don't BQ in Atlanta, especially after training all winter in flat Michigan, but I did), so I am not too worried about the run. The bike is another story. Even on my new bike, I still suffered horribly on the downhills. I just hate them! I ride the brakes on every single downhill. I also do this when driving a car, and for the same reason -- fear of losing control. I still would've made the bike cutoff, but barely, and I only did one loop instead of the two loops I'll have to do in the race. That was the one bad thing about an otherwise confidence-boosting weekend.

All in all, though, I was feeling pretty optimistic about completing the race and meeting cutoff times. And then we got close enough to race day that we started to believe that the long-range forecast might actually be accurate. What's happening is that race day temperature just keeps creeping up and up. It was 96, then 97, now 98. Full sun (and that bike course is VERY sunny). Am I worried? YES. I'm good in the heat compared to other people. But even though I have done virtually all of my training in heat, I have never biked or run in anything over 94 degrees, let alone biked longer than I ever have in my life, let alone followed that with a marathon. I have always told myself after a bad training day (of which I have had several), "At least it will be cooler in Chattanooga." But now -- HOTTER? How is this even possible?

I know that I don't have a very good handle on my fluid/electrolyte intake. This becomes really important in a long, hot event. Not enough fluids and you get dehydrated, obviously. Too much fluids without enough electrolytes and you get hyponatremia. Either one can put you in the hospital or kill you. I have always just guessed at amounts and always survived, but often in pretty rough shape. I guess I'll be guessing again next Sunday.

There is also the possibility of the course being shortened or cancelled. There is precedent for this in all types of endurance events from marathons to Ironman to shorter triathlons. If the race directors feel that they aren't equipped to provide a safe experience for athletes, they can cancel the race. (I don't think shortening the course in this case would help. That would just put more runners out in the sun during the hottest part of the day. It's never really too hot to bike, but it is definitely sometimes too hot to run.)

So what is my plan? Keep going as long as possible on Sunday. What if I miss a cutoff? Undecided. I can't get it clear in my head whether, if I complete the course with an official DNF, I can convince myself that I "did" an Ironman or not. I'm not worried about whether I'm "allowed" to continue or not. It's on public roads and they can't stop me. I can just get Sherpa to bring me my wallet and I'll make my own aid stations along the way. Of course, if I get pulled off the course and forced into an ambulance, I guess I'm done for the day. So if I DNF for a medical reason, what then? Do I sign up for Ironman Florida? I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. The Ironman itch will not go away until it's scratched. For now I am just planning on starting Chattanooga and going till I can't anymore.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Tampa 70.3

I have been registered for a 70.3 race -- 1/2 Ironman distance -- before. I backed out because I was afraid of the swim and because, deep down, I was afraid of the distance. That doesn't really make any sense -- I've done an Ironman-distance ride, plus added 8 miles onto it by biking to and from the start line, because 112 miles vs 120, what's the difference really? I've swum more than twice as far, I've "run" for 15 hours+ in ultras. But for some reason 70.3 combining all three sports was fearsome to contemplate. Nevertheless, it was a beast that must be slain before I could think I was worthy of taking on 140.6, AND it was on my training plan for this week, so I did it.

There are no official 70.3 races in Florida or anywhere in the Southeast, as far as I know, in August. Why? Well, duh, because this is weather that can kill people. Also because an 8-hour block in any day has a huge possibility of race-ending thunderstorms. Both of these were factors I had to take into consideration when planning my own personal 70.3. The location was a small beach off of the Courtney Campbell Causeway. The causeway has an 8-mile long bike path running between Tampa and Clearwater. The bike path is almost entirely unobstructed, with only a few parking lot entrances to be careful of, so it's a perfect place to just get miles without thinking too much. While the swim was definitely not going to be ideal -- bay water rather than ocean -- the other logistical advantages made it the best choice for a 70.3. The plan was to start my swim around 2:00 pm on Saturday IF the radar looked decent. If there were thunderstorms, I would reluctantly move it to Sunday morning. Why such a late start? Because if I started at the crack of dawn, I would be heading out on my run at midday, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle the heat.

There were a few big, dark clouds in the sky during the drive to the beach, but the skies were clear once we got a little farther west. I was running late, naturally, having worked that morning and also dropped off dogs at various places because Will isn't home and I knew it would be a long day. So I didn't actually get in the water till 2:30. It was a bright, sunny afternoon and the water felt like a hot tub. Also, this beach is apparently a popular place for jet skis. There were lots of them. The warm water was full of seaweed, jet ski fuel, and, probably, flesh-eating bacteria and brain-eating amoebas. (I feel fine today and none of my various Florida skin inflammations look infected, Mom, so please do not worry.) Nevertheless, I started my 1.2-mile swim. My plan was to go out parallel to the shore .6 miles, or 1075 yards, and then turn back and finish. After 300 yards, I swam out of the public beach area, dodging jet skis and rednecks on floaties drinking beers, and right into a huge seaweed forest. I had been swimming through seaweed the whole time, but the density of this was just too much. Also, I saw a large black swimming thing off to my right. I'm sure it was not a shark, but despite the fact that I had just bragged, "I'm not afraid of no sharks," as we parked in the parking lot, I realized that I was, in fact, afraid of sharks. So I turned around and swam back and resigned myself to the idea of making this an out-and-back, out-and-back, out-and-back swim, and that is what I did. Over and over again through the seaweed and jet skis and rednecks. You would not believe how hot ocean water can feel under direct sun. It felt like I was boiling. I felt like it was going quick, but actually it was 58 minutes. Longer than I wanted, but I knew all the obstacles and the disgusting water had slowed me down. I also knew that a wetsuit and a downstream current would be two huge helps in Chattanooga. So I was overall OK with my swim and just happy to be able to get started on the bike.

I ate a PB&J sandwich and sprayed myself with Tri Glide where I thought I felt a chafe under my arm. Then I put on bike shoes, helmet, and gloves and headed out. My T1 time was an unimpressive 7:25. I wasn't hurrying, but neither was I purposely dawdling. One thing I realized was that there were a lot of decisions I should have made BEFORE T1. Like, what do I need in my pockets? (Answer: a Gu, BASE salt, chapstick. I got the GU but not the other two, and was desperately wishing for the other two by the time I hit my first turn-around.) Also, it's really not a good idea to be hunting through your food bag in T1 deciding what to eat. I should have known that beforehand. But today was designed to be a trial prep day for race day, so I'm not getting mad at myself; I will just take that information and use it to do better on race day.

I set out on the bike at 3:33 p.m., and it was HOT. I knew it would be hot, but I did not know it would be this hot. Probably being boiled alive in the ocean previously was a contributing factor, but there were other contributing factors: 1) the causeway is in full sun, no shade at all, 2) it's August in Florida on an almost cloudless day, 3) I was starting dehydrated. Although I had eaten a sandwich, I just plain forgot to drink anything at all. That was stupid, and another mistake I hope not to make again next month. Nevertheless, I had a tailwind riding east, the views were new and gorgeous, there was just one climb -- a nice little bridge right in the middle of the 8-mile stretch -- and my legs felt totally fine. As soon as I hit the turn-around, though, it started to suck. I was now riding into the wind and into the ball of fire that was the sun. I was feeling chafing starting in both my other armpit, the one I hadn't sprayed, and both inner thighs, where my sleek wet trisuit was bunching up somehow. Ouch. Also, I had totally and completely underestimated how much hydration I would need. Normally on my long rides of around four hours, I can get by with one bottle per hour. Sometimes it takes me two hours to drink the first bottle if I start when it's dark and cool. This time I got through almost all of both bottles on the first 16-mile out-and-back. (One bottle of Tailwind, one of water.) I was dragging and burning up when I finished the first out-and-back. I probably lost 5 minutes refilling bottles, spraying Tri Glide everywhere, unzipping my trisuit and rolling it down so my upper body was uncovered except for sports bra, picking through the food bag looking for BASE salt and chapstick, and kicking beach sand out of my cleats so I could clip in again.

The tailwind on the way out, the relief from the TriGlide, and a little BASE salt revived me for the second out. But when I turned around, it was back into the blazing sun and headwind. I was very hot again, and again drinking almost non-stop. I tried riding in aerobars for a while, but I could not get up my speed even though I felt pretty comfortable using them. I thought you're supposed to be FASTER in aerobars, but I was not. So I gave them up. My speed on the first out-and-back was 16 mph, exactly one hour. The second time it was 15.3, so I was losing time. My legs really felt fine; I was losing motivation. I look at this picture and feel like I can see the redness emanating from my burning skin. (Another thing I forgot? Sunscreen -- leading to an extremely messed-up tan line on my back, ruining the perfection I've been cultivating this whole summer.)

Out-and-back number three. This time I was cheered by two things: 1) the sun was starting to go down, and it was slightly cooler, and 2) this was my last full out-and-back; my last one would only be a partial. The turn-around is just past the "better" Courtney Campbell beach, Ben T. Davis, and there were a thousand people out there drinking, blasting music, and generally having more fun than I was. I didn't know whether I should envy them or they should envy me for doing something badass and difficult. I never did make up my mind about that.

For my last out-and-back, I only had to go out four miles. I dropped two bottles of Tailwind at Mile 2 and a bottle of ice water at Mile 4. I was hoping it would motivate me to get through the run if I knew I only had to go 2, then 2, then 2.5, then turn around. That's how I break up distances in my head when it's a very long distance. I can't think 70.3 or even 13.1 or I will shrivel up with fear and drive to a movie theater instead.

I finished the bike in 3:43 with an average speed of 15.1 mph. I really wish I would've been faster than that. While it's still within the time limit, I had NO excuse for a slow ride today other than the heat. My legs weren't tired, my chafing was an annoyance rather than actual pain, I didn't have any street crossings or vehicle traffic to worry about, the course was flat other than the bridge, and I could use my aerobars relatively comfortably. I felt like I was in the right gear and everything. I really do not know why I am such a relatively crappy cyclist. Swimming I understand, but biking shouldn't be this hard. IS it my bike? Do I need a new bike?

I changed into running shoes, ate another PB&J and had a Dr. Pepper. I had no idea if I would regret that later, but the fizz and sugar were amazing right at that moment. Also, I had had to pee since T1. Amazingly, even after drinking almost 6 full bottles, I still only sort of had to pee, which tells you how much fluid I needed for this workout. There were two outhouses on this beach and both of them were occupied. I waited... and waited. Banging and thumping sounds were coming from the inside of one of them. Finally, after 5 minutes, the door opened and a guy came out. He wasn't carrying anything to give me any idea what all the noise was caused by. Because of the long outhouse wait, my T2 time was pretty terrible too -- nine minutes and three seconds. I comforted myself by thinking that if it wasn't for the line, I would have been under five minutes.

You know what you most likely DON'T want to do after an almost five-hour-long workout? Run 13.1 miles. There was some good news, though. The sun was fully setting and it was much, much cooler. Also, my legs still felt almost perfectly fine. My breathing was a little ragged and my heart rate was higher than it should've been, and I don't think I'll drink a soda on the start line of the marathon in Chattanooga (I'll save that for Mile 18 or so), but I did feel basically fine other than the usual "I don't want to be here doing this" feeling, which is present in all endurance events for me. So I set out knowing I only had to go 2, 2, and 2.5, then turn around and be done with all this. I kept 10:00 pace/mile till the turnaround, at which point I lost a lot mentally and was like, "I don't care if I run or walk. All I need to do is get back to the car." And although I had long stretches of decent running in the last 6.5 miles, by which time it was full dark and there were fireworks going off in Clearwater, I walked a lot and my performance was pretty unimpressive. I finished in 2:19 with a 10:40 pace which is not great but I guess is acceptable for my first stab at the half-Iron distance.

I felt really, really good after. No nausea, although I wasn't hungry either. Very little soreness. Not exhausted. No ill effects from the heat other than a nasty heat rash on my upper thighs that is still there today. No queasiness from jet ski fuel/Gulf bacteria. Best of all, I know the answer to the question, "Could you have kept going if you had to? Could you have run that distance twice?" Yes, I could. Nothing but my mind was stopping me. And although I wish my mind wouldn't stop me, and that I wouldn't let it, I also know that my mind is much more focused in the real event than in any training, no matter how "real-life" the training is meant to be.

So, was this event a success? Yes. I learned some great lessons for the real deal, and I added a layer of mental toughness just knowing I can finish within the time limits. Also, I got a medal so I know I did something. (This wasn't an official event; there is no 70.3 Tampa -- but I can tell you, if you're ever helping a friend with a really, really long training day in preparation for a big event in the future, and you see fit to make up a medal for them, they will think it is the coolest thing ever and you are the coolest person ever.)

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Ironman Training Journal, Fourth Month

I'm actually well into the fifth month, because this was a 30-week training schedule. In my head it's always been a six-month schedule, but six months would only be 24 weeks. Well, math was never my strong point.

Things are going... not too bad! I've made it into the third ten-week training phase, the peak phase, with two previous ten-week phases completed. This is when the workouts get longer. Still, I think I am in good enough shape to handle them. I have mostly good news to report on the training front:

THE SWIM: I'm getting better, slowly but surely. I started off at almost three minutes per 100 yards, which is a terrible pace and just barely under the cutoff pace for the Ironman swim. Yesterday, in my longest workout of this training cycle so far (3500 yards), my pace was 2:24 per 100. It had just recently dropped into the low 2:40's, but to have it drop to 2:24 on my longest workout yet was nothing short of amazing. (And I REALLY didn't want to go to the pool yesterday. I woke up dreading it, almost bailed on leaving the house, almost turned around and went home when I got to the Y at 5:30 a.m. -- but I stayed and had an awesome swim instead.) I've been watching YouTube videos, doing 600-700 yards of drills every time I swim, and even finally posted a video of myself swimming in the Pathetic Triathletes Facebook group. I got lots of helpful feedback, some of which I concentrated on implementing yesterday and some of which I have to go back and review a few more times. But I'm now feeling pretty confident about the swim. I will be swimming 3500 three times a week, and the Ironman swim is 4200, and it's downstream, and I'll have a wetsuit. So, can I do it? I think I can!

THE BIKE: No real improvement in speed, and I still can't ride comfortably in aerobars. But -- I CAN CHANGE A FLAT NOW!! I know people will find this hard to believe. I still need more practice before I can change it fast. But I have practiced quite a few times and now believe I could actually do it if I had to. Big and sincere thank you to the person who finally was the right combination of teaching me and pushing me to do it myself. As for improving my speed, one thing I will say is that all of my long rides so far have involved riding through places like downtown Bradenton, Tampa, and Palmetto, usually twice (out and back), and the traffic lights and stop signs inevitably slow me down quite a bit. Even so, I'm usually around 14-15 mph. A fast ride is 16-17 mph. I have promised myself that when my long rides get up over four hours, which is starting this week, I will go to more fun and bike-friendly places, like back to the Pinellas Trail and the Legacy Trail and Longboat Key. Hopefully I will be able to be just a little bit faster in those places, and hopefully I can get some decent practice with aero bars without having to worry about traffic.

THE RUN: Nothing really to report here. I'm anywhere between 9:00 and 10:00 miles depending on how hot it is. I'm still running well off the bike. I hope that continues. I mean, it's not like 10:00 miles is an awesome pace, but neither is it horrible in heat and humidity. Let me just say one more time -- it's easier to run well when you run in beautiful places. I think everyone has seen enough of my sunrises and sunsets and dolphins and palm trees and sea birds and beautiful, vacation-blue Florida skies to know that I live and run in a beautiful place!

My biggest accomplishments this past month:
*Buying a trisuit. It fits me so perfectly it's like someone painted it on me, and like it isn't even there at all. Yes it was expensive, but what is it worth to find something that comfortable to work out in?
*Finishing my solo Olympic tri in reasonably good shape.
*Posting my video for critique. I know I suck, but it's never fun to find out specifically how and how much you suck. Still, everyone was really nice about it, and I got some good tips.
*Learning how to fix a flat -- an accomplishment ten years in the making.
*180 workouts done, 90 to go. Still haven't missed one and I'm still ahead of schedule by 3-4 days.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Olympic Distance Triathlon -- Solo

Today I had a new, fun adventure. I did an Olympic-distance triathlon by myself, before work.

My training plan calls for an Olympic distance race-- 1500-yard swim, 25-mile bike, 10K run -- this weekend. And I had originally planned to do one at Fort DeSoto. I thought I had registered already, but it turned out I accidentally didn't. Once I realized that I hadn't registered, I didn't want to spend the $150 to do a race when I could do it for free on my own. (Especially when I had just spent almost $300 at the triathlon store on a tri suit, a sleek new sports bra to wear under the tri suit, and a new swimsuit.)

I am not a planner, but I planned this out pretty thoroughly. While I still consider this a relatively short-distance triathlon, it would still take me at least three hours, so I had to start as soon as the pool opened, at 5:30 a.m. It had to be on a Tuesday or Thursday because on Monday, Wednesday and Friday a master's swimming group swims there at 5:30 and takes all the lanes. I couldn't do it on the weekend because the pool opens so late on the weekends that I would be doing my run in the midday heat. And Tuesday had bad thunderstorms in the morning. So Thursday it was. I measured bike mileage and planned my run route around water fountains in Lakewood Ranch. I was ready! I was out of my house at 4:50 a.m. At 5:15 a.m., I was in the parking lot of the Lakewood Ranch Y, finishing my coffee and relaxing. I went in at 5:25... and the woman at the counter told me the pool was closed. "They're rebalancing the water," she explained when she saw the look on my face. "Because of all the storms."

I was kind of a jerk. I turned around and walked out without saying anything further. All my planning... this was the only day I could do it... should I go back to bed? No. I was wide awake from coffee and dread and anticipation. There was only one thing to do -- drive all the way to the Bradenton Y, almost half an hour west. I don't like the Bradenton pool; there's no bike lane on the road the Y is on; there are water fountains but they aren't ice cold like the ones in Lakewood Ranch. Oh well. Part of Ironman training is being adaptable, right? So across town I went.

As I shoved my bag in a locker and rushed to the pool, half an hour past my scheduled start time, I thought vaguely, "Maybe I should pee?" followed immediately by, "Nah, only 1500, I can wait." Every time I've made that decision in any race, it's been the wrong one. Every time! From the time I started my swim till the time I got to 300 yards, all I could think was "Oh my God I love this trisuit so much and I'm the fastest one in the pool right now and I look like a triathlete and it was totally worth all that money." Then from 300 yards on all I could think of was, "I have to pee." I should have just done it in the pool like apparently everyone else in the Pathetic Triathletes Facebook group does with no shame, but deep down I still believe what I was told as a kid -- that if you pee in the pool a red ring will form around you and the lifeguard will know. I have never peed in the pool and probably never will. Instead I had a miserable -- but relatively fast -- swim.

This time around I had googled how to use my fancy triathlon watch for triathlon (unlike last time when I didn't bother). So I knew which button to hit to start and stop transitions. Walking into the locker room, I thought how great it was that I didn't have to change out of a swimsuit like I usually do, but quickly realized that getting a wet one-piece trisuit unzipped in the bathroom to pee was about as much fun as putting on a sports bra immediately after a shower when your skin is wet. 10-minute T1 -- shameful. And all because I couldn't pee in the pool.

I ate most of a Clif bar while putting on my bike shoes at the car. I had decided to ride out to Anna Maria Island and back for my ride. I was flying on the way out with a sweet tailwind. Something was rattling big time on my bike and I could not figure out what it was. I stopped riding and tapped on various parts of the bike and everything seemed tight. Oh well; I kept going and stopped worrying about the rattling. I had also been worried because the padding on the trisuit was so light and I have such a history of bike seat problems, but I had NO problem today. Everything felt exactly right. My ride was perfect until I got to my turnaround point on Anna Maria. Suddenly the tailwind was a headwind and I was staring into very dark clouds to the south. Uh-oh. The radar had been basically clear this morning except for a few very tiny dots of green. Those tiny dots of green are totally fine UNLESS YOU ARE RIDING THROUGH ONE OF THEM!

I made it over two of the three bridges leading back to Bradenton before it started sprinkling. Everything to the south and east was an angry dark grey, and the headwind was bending the trees and grasses in half. I kept riding; what other choice did I have? It sprinkled, then it dumped, a torrential downpour that soaked me in seconds. I rode through it and came out on the other side with 5 miles left to ride back to my car at the Y. At least there was no thunder and lightning!

Back at the Y, I put my bike in my car and was changing shoes when the downpour started again. I sat on my tailgate chugging Tailwind and looking at the rain. To run in it, or to go inside and do 6.2 on the treadmill? What the hell. I was already soaked. Besides, at least it wasn't hot, with all these clouds. I headed out with a T2 time of four minutes (would've been two-something if I hadn't sat there hoping for the rain to end for an extra two minutes)

I ended up having a pretty amazing run, 8:30 pace for the first couple miles and just a little slower after that but still well under 9:00 miles. The rain stopped and the sun came out and the humidity cranked up several notches for the last mile, but by then I was so close to being done I could taste victory and didn't care. My legs felt surprisingly springy. The trisuit was great -- the most comfortable piece of athletic apparel I've ever owned, like a second skin. I was happy with just about every aspect of my solo Olympic:

*I was able to change plans at the last minute and pull it together.
*I rode and ran in the rain without too much bitching.
*My trisuit fits!
*My bike seat doesn't hurt anymore!
*Despite burping coffee for my whole swim and almost peeing in the pool, I still had an OK (for me) swim time.
*My legs off the bike felt way better than I could have expected.
*I could use my fancy watch.

The ONLY thing I wasn't happy with was my T1 time -- but I will have no problem peeing in the river at my Ironman, so that should get better.

Up next -- my solo 70.3 in August.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Ironman Training Journal, Third Month

At the end of this coming week, I will be 50% through the 30-week training schedule for Ironman Chattanooga. The hardest training is yet to come -- those 5/6/7-hour bike rides that I learned to dread so much -- but I am happy to report that as of today, I still have not missed any workouts. In fact, I'm still ahead on workouts. I skipped a few rest days last month with the assumption that I would have to miss some workouts while on my 9-day Texas work trip. But what actually happened was that I worked out every day but one in Texas, and double workouts on some days. This is proof that saying "I don't have time to work out on work trips" is a lie. I DO have time, as long as I get an early start and prioritize workouts rather than doing touristy things or napping during the time in each work day that I'm not actively working. I still have one more Texas trip and one more Savannah trip before Chattanooga, but I am now confident that I can manage my time well enough to get workouts in. (As long as I have a sitter for Pip like I did this time. If I had Pip, I do not think I'd be able to get it done because I think I would feel too guilty leaving her alone in her crate in a hotel room.)

Things are going mostly the same in all three disciplines, with a couple of very small improvements.

SWIM: No improvement here. In fact my times are actually getting worse even though I am faithfully doing the 3000-yard workouts my training plan prescribes, three times a week, plus usually a bonus ocean swim on Sunday. The workouts are loaded with intervals and drills, which should be making me better, but instead my recent swims have all been at least 10 seconds per 100 yards worse than before. This is a little concerning when a GOOD 100 yard time for me is 2:35. Still, I've more or less decided that I'm not going to work that hard on improving my swim. I'm sure that with the down current swim in Chattanooga and with the wetsuit, I will be able to make the swim cutoff. I can't afford a coach and I still don't want to go to 5:30 a.m. master's swim class. The one thing I have left to do is get Will to video me swimming and post it in the triathlete group for feedback. Other than that, I will do the workouts but not obsess over whether I'm getting faster or not.

BIKE: I have really been trying to get a new seat. I've tried two loaner seats from Endurance House, but I absolutely can't get the right combination of perfect-sized cutout (big) and seat width (narrow). I tried both of the loaners on two short rides and one longish ride of 3-3.5 hours, and both of them were definite nos. I do wonder why I was able to ride on my regular bike seat for 7-8 hours last training cycle with no major discomfort. What has changed between now and then? Nothing that I can think of. It is totally a mystery. I'm really not sure what to do now. Endurance House is out of seats that might be comfortable for me. I guess I will either try a different bike shop or else order one of those crazy seats online -- the Infinity Saddle or the Bisaddle. The Infinity Saddle is basically just an outline of a seat -- it's practically all cutout. The Bisaddle is fully adjustable in front and back. The problem with both of these is that I would have to figure out how to adjust them myself, and as everyone knows, I suck at that. It's totally possible that I would think they weren't comfortable when actually they would have been if I had been able to adjust them properly.

Changing a tire... as of tonight, I have changed a tire, mostly by myself. It is the hardest thing in the world for me to learn, and I can still smell rubber on my fingers while I'm typing this even though I scrubbed my hands as soon as I was done to get all the mechanical ick off. It looks so easy on You Tube videos and when I watch someone else do it, but I am all thumbs with tire levers and tire beads. (Seriously. I am a person who never really learned how to cut things with a knife and fork. I'm pretty convinced there's a tiny hole in my brain where mechanical/spatial connections are supposed to be.) Nevertheless, I left for Texas with the wheel off the bike and the tire and the tube next to each other on the floor, and the wheel is now back on the bike and -- I think -- ready to ride. True, there is one little tiny piece of something that I couldn't remember how to put back on. I'm sure it's important, so I didn't throw it away. That's good, right? Anyone working on helping me learn to change a tire deserves a medal, that's all I have to say.

I have still not completely given up the idea of buying a different bike. Will it help me make the cutoff? Who knows? Part of me thinks I'm not a good enough cyclist to get my money's worth out of a better bike. The other part of me thinks that there has to be a difference between a 10-year-old bike that cost $800 new and a brand new bike that costs $2000 new. But do I have $2000? I don't know. Define "have." Could I come up with it? Sure, as long as I don't mind depleting emergency savings. Is a new bike an emergency? Maybe. What would I even buy? Tri bike or better road bike? Since Chattanooga has hills, would I be better off with a better road bike? These are the kinds of things that keep me up at night. (Not really. I work and work out for so many hours that NOTHING keeps me awake at night. It's great.)

RUN: Nothing new here other than that summer heat and humidity descended on me in Houston and I had a couple of slow, crappy runs. I had been at Zone 2 heart rate at 8:45 miles and suddenly 10:00 miles were Zone 2. I know that is just a thing that happens with extreme heat and humidity and I should just accept it. For the most part I am. I am still good at running off the bike, thank goodness. Considering all the things I suck at, I'm very glad to have one important thing that I'm good at.

One other piece of progress: I registered for an Olympic distance triathlon at Fort DeSoto on July 13. Olympic distance is 1/2 mile swim, 20-mile ride, and 10K run. This is a big step up from sprint distance, but still not big enough to be intimidating although I'm sure it will be plenty hot on the run. My goal is to have the bike seat, as well as the question of "should I buy a new bike," settled before that race, and also to buy a tri suit. I really need to get on that business of buying a tri suit. If I achieve no other goal before the race, I want to achieve the goal of buying a suit.

That's what's new in triathlon training land. Race report to come in 3 weeks.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

OMG, I Did an Actual Triathlon -- Dunedin Rotary Triathlon Race Report

It was a beautiful, perfect morning for my first actual triathlon since 2011 -- the Dunedin Rotary Triathlon at Honeymoon Island State Park. I mean business this training cycle. I am going to finish that stupid Ironman in September or die trying, and therefore I am going to have to do some actual shorter triathlons in the name of getting ready. This was one I could drive to and looked really pretty in the pictures on the race website, so I signed up. It's a sprint distance -- 1/4 mile swim, 12-mile bike, 5K run, so nothing challenging distance-wise, but still a good opportunity to practice transitions.

Everything about the start line was well-organized. I picked up my packet, got body marked, put race number stickers on my bike and helmet, racked my bike in the transition area, and laid out my stuff on a towel for post-swim and post-bike. The day started with the realization that I had forgotten my bike shoes. Seriously? I have NEVER forgotten my bike shoes when taking my bike somewhere for a ride. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I didn't pack stuff up until 10:00 the night before. And did I make a list? No, of course not, because I was cocky, and the thought that I might forget something never crossed my mind. Lesson learned. For today I would be doing the 12-mile ride in running shoes.

I don't have a tri suit yet, and the water is way too warm for a wetsuit, so I was swimming in a regular swimsuit. I spent a lot of time debating whether I would need to change into a sports bra before the run. I decided I would not. One advantage of having a chest like mine is that I can run with hardly any support at all. I'm pretty sure I have actually run completely braless at least once, and I didn't die. I decided to try it again today. Just the swim suit, plus bike shorts for the ride. The shorts are necessary. That cursed bike seat and I are not on speaking terms. Oh, how I wish a new bike seat would descend from the sky and install itself on my bike!

I watched the swim waves before my wave go off, every 3 minutes. Each wave had a different color swim cap; we were purple. The swim was very simple -- swim straight out to a giant buoy, turn left, swim to another buoy, turn left, and swim straight in to shore. As the purple cap wave was standing in the water waiting to take off, we saw a silver cap from the wave before us coming back in from the ocean. The guy had a big grin on his face, and also a really muscular body. He did not look like someone who should have turned around so quickly. I still don't know what the story was with him. Scared of a first ocean swim? I guess that's a possibility. But the siren went off before I could see what happened with him, and I started swimming.

For being as lousy a swimmer as I am, I have remarkably little fear of open-water swimming or of mass-swim starts, of which this was my first one. I did get feet in my face, and I also swam on top of people accidentally. I swallowed a little bit of ocean water during the chaos, but that didn't bother me either. It took less than a minute for the swim to start feeling good. Water temp was perfect, the buoy was so huge it was easy to see so sighting wasn't even an issue, and best of all, I wasn't the last person in my wave. Every time I looked behind me, I saw plenty of people back there, and some were clearly less prepared than me because they were dog-paddling or even going inside the buoys to rest. As I always say, nothing makes me feel better in a race than seeing other people doing worse than I am. If that makes me a jerk, oh well. I finished the swim in just under 10 minutes and ran up the mat back to the transition area.

In transition, I found my bike, pulled on my bike shorts over my swimsuit, put on socks and shoes, buckled my helmet, and thought one more time that it would have been nice to have my bike shoes. Oh well. I decided I did not need my gloves for just 12 miles, and left them in transition. Then I ran with my bike to the mount line, with a T1 (first transition) time of 2:55. ("Mount line" sounds dirty, but it just refers to the designated line you have to reach coming out of transition area before you can get on your bike. If everyone got on their bikes at the places where they were racked, there would be collisions right and left, so it's mount line for safety.)

This would be a good place to say that my second big error of the day -- forgetting bike shoes being the first -- was that I never reviewed the "Triathlon" function of my Garmin. I assumed I would remember how to do it. I thought you just start it when you enter the swim, pause it when you leave the swim, start it again when you start the bike, et cetera. First of all, I forgot to pause it when I came out of the water. I remembered when I was running with the bike out of transition. I started it again when I got on the bike, but for some reason it was making the lap sound every 15 seconds. I had no idea why. I stopped it completely just because the lap sound was so annoying. Homework: learn how to use the Triathlon function.

The bike course was two loops of an out-and-back down the causeway, with gorgeous sparkling ocean on both sides. Although I was doing better on the bike than I usually do, I was still sucking compared to most people. I was being passed right and left -- sometimes by people with much nicer bikes than mine, but not always. There were two bridges on each out-and-back, so four bridges total on each loop, and even though they were very small, I was still sucking wind climbing them. Most people slowed on them, even the fast people. I have decided that Floridians just are not good at hills of any type. I have no complaints about the bike course. It was easy and beautiful. My only complaint is myself ON the bike. It took me 42 minutes to go 12 miles, not terrible but I definitely need to improve before September. The lack of bike shoes was annoying but I can't blame my slow speed on that, much as I would like to.

Back in transition for T2, all I had to do was rack my bike again and swap helmet for cap. Oh, and suck down a gel. I shouldn't really have needed any fuel for this short of a workout, especially considering I had McDonalds on the drive up, and a Clif bar at the start line, but for some reason I was hungry. I drank half my water and then ran out of transition and onto the run course with a T2 time of 1:26, not too bad. I did think one more time that I hoped I wasn't making a mistake by not putting on the sports bra.

Most of the run course was on trails, but the first part was on a section of beach. I HATE running in sand. It is my least favorite run surface. I was already out of breath, and the sand just made that worse. Still, everyone else was suffering equally. The sun was out, and it was, of course, hot, although not too bad for May. Everyone seemed to be gasping for breath. While breathing never got easier during the three miles, I was in better shape than most people around me. I tried to relax and enjoy what I knew to be one of the best parts of the race for me -- picking off people in front of me. I am a slow swimmer and a slow-to-mediocre cyclist, but I am a relatively good runner. I started counting the number of people I passed -- 41 total, in a race with 316 people. Not too bad! (Full disclosure, I was also passed by ONE person. Well, really two because one of the women I passed in the first mile kicked past me in the finish chute, darn it! And she was in my age group too -- double darn.) The lack of a bra was never an issue. My suit worked just fine. I was too busy watching out for roots and rocks to ever think about what I was wearing. I finished the run in 25 minutes. I think I would have been a tiny bit faster on pavement, but I'm OK with 25 minutes.

I finished with an official time of 1:20:55, 10th in my age group out of 22, 190th overall out of 316. I am overall pretty happy about the whole thing. I mean, that is not a great result but it could have been so, so much worse.

Things I'm happy about:
*I have no fear of the mass swim start, even when someone else kicks me or swims on top of me.
*It was easy to see the buoys.
*I was pretty fast in transitions.
*I still have my superpower of being able to run well off the bike.
*My friend Nick took awesome pictures that make me look more or less like an athlete. I know my mom will appreciate those!

Things I need to improve: BIKE, BIKE, BIKE
*I need to replace that seat. NEED to, cost/inconvenience notwithstanding.
*Aerobars don't do me any good if I'm too nervous to use them in a race setting. Just because I can creep along in them when nothing else is on the road doesn't mean I actually know how to use them.
*I might want to clean my bike some time. It has mud on there from a dirty ride a couple months ago. I've never cleaned the chain.
*I need to do strength training for my legs. Chattanooga has HILLS -- not just causeway bridges.
*Will someone just tell me to buy a new bike?
*A tri suit is going on my to-buy list, sooner rather than later.

Overall, this was an excellent day and I enjoyed every moment of it. I am so lucky to live in such a beautiful place! Just look at the blue skies, palm trees, and ocean in the pictures! I don't think I would ever have been in such a good mood at any triathlon in Michigan. I'm happy to be excited about triathlon. That's sort of a novel feeling. I just assumed I would always hate it. Oh, and one more thing. When I first looked at the race shirt, I thought, "Meh." But then when I put it on when I got home, I realized that it has one very important, very rare, very valuable quality that ensures I will keep it and wear it often. This quality is very hard to find in race shirts. Because of the design... I DON'T HAVE TO WEAR A BRA UNDER IT. Yessssssssssssss.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Ironman Training Journal, Second Month

This morning I got the first half of my long ride done before the sun came up. My reward for that was that the rest of my ride was filled with sunrise over the Manatee River, song birds in the trees, pelicans soaring over the water, and, yes, even a dolphin. Lesson to me: get up early and get the long ride done, and do it somewhere pretty. It was so much better than my last long ride, which was 40-something miles of full midday sun on Highway 41 and a jersey splattered with dead love bugs, just like my car windshield.

I'm 10 weeks into the 30-week training schedule for Ironman Chattanooga. The thing I'm the most happy about is that I still haven't skipped or cut short a single workout. In fact, I'm actually ahead on my schedule and have put a few extra workouts in the bank. I did this because I assumed I would skip some workout days on vacation in Arizona and on my work trip to Savannah. Actually I ran every single day in both of those places, so I still have workouts in the bank! It's a great feeling to know that I'm at 100%, although I do worry a little about the psychological impact when life causes me to miss a workout. Oh well, cross that bridge when I come to it.

Overall, things are going... well. I'm afraid to be too optimistic. I've had this feeling before, where I was like, Ironman training is awesome and I never have trouble motivating myself to do workouts and I'm in perfect shape, et cetera, and then had it all tank to the point where I hated life, spent most of my time dreading workouts, and was miserable to live with. So that could happen again. At the moment, though, everything is good and I'm not complaining. Could it be better? Yes, and there are still some things I could do to make it better, which maybe I will do before the Third Month Update and maybe I will not.

SWIM -- There is one good thing about swimming and one crappy thing. The good thing is that, mentally, I don't really hate it. Partly I'm sure that's because the pool is back to feeling like a giant warm bathtub, just how I like it. I don't spend my whole workout dreading the next part of the workout and wanting to get out. All my swim workouts for the first stage of training have been 2500 yards; next week they go up to 3000 yards. The actual Ironman swim is 4200 yards, so I know I will be able to do the distance, and I SHOULD be able to do it in the time limit. The crappy thing is that I'm still a lousy swimmer. Not only am I not improving, I'm actually getting worse, despite religiously following the intervals and drills in the training program I'm using, and actually watching lots of swim videos on YouTube for the first time in my life. I have slid from 67 minutes for 2500 yards to 70 or 71 minutes, and it has been a very steady and consistent slide, where I literally watched my time going from 67 to 68 to 69 to 70 minutes over the weeks. I do not know the reason for this. I watch the swim videos and I swear I am focusing on every single element of the stroke and doing my best to make it look like it's supposed to. Full extension of arms, check. Rotate body, check. Keep head down, check. Keep one goggle in the water when breathing, check. Make sure angle of hand entry is correct, check. Bend wrist and arm the right way to pull, check. Pull all the way through, check. I mean, I know I have no kick, but lots of fast swimmers have hardly any kick. I'm not getting tired; my endurance feels limitless right now. So what the heck?

Somehow, my catch is bad. I know that's where the problem is, but I don't know why. You know how swimmers always say, "Feel the water"? I don't feel the water. I don't feel like I'm moving myself forward through the water at all. Is this because my upper body strength in general is so bad? Maybe. I mean, I can't even do a push up without using my knees, and I can't do a pull-up at all. Supposedly we use lats in swimming, but I am pretty sure I don't have those muscles. At least I have no awareness of them working, when I'm swimming or at any other time. I'm not really sure how to fix that, except... noooooooo... strength training. Which I SO do not want to do, and don't know where I would find time to do anyway. Maybe the answer is to reconsider my hard NO to 5:30 masters swimming classes? I'm now starting my swims at 6:45 a.m.; can't I just get up a little earlier? I don't know. Maybe.

One other good thing is that it's warm enough to get back to ocean swimming, even though I'm still wearing a wetsuit and will probably continue to until water temperature gets to 80, even if I'm the only person out there wearing one in those temps. Who cares? Comfort first!

BIKE -- As always, my biking is mediocre. But I do have a system that's working for me. I have three rides a week -- one long, one short (a little over an hour) following a swim, one brick (bike followed by run). I do my long one on the road, my short one in spin class, and my brick on the trainer in the garage. My mph on the road is never that great because there's really nowhere I can ride here without lots of stop signs and traffic lights, but I figure time in the saddle is most important. Some people think you should not train for an Ironman on a spin bike, but I disagree. One thing spin class is GREAT for is strength training for my legs. With loud pumping music, black lights, and an instructor going around the room checking your watts and yelling to ADD MORE LOAD if she thinks we're not working hard enough, my legs get a very good workout in spin class. They are usually shaking when I'm done, but boy are the big leg muscles getting BIG. On the road I listen to audiobooks and have a tendency to cruise along in Zone 1 heart rate; in spin class that is impossible. The trainer in my garage sounds depressing, considering the high heat and humidity with the door closed and the love bugs with the door open, but when I crank up the music I find I am able to enjoy the punishment. Plus it is rewarding to see the giant slippery puddles of sweat accumulating on the floor, and to watch the looks on my neighbors' faces when they walk by and look in.

There are two things that must be addressed with the bike in this next month. The first one is going to shock anyone who's been reading my blog for a while: I'm going to learn how to change a flat tire. I know, I know, I have always sworn I would not do this. But I truly believe I am going to be in shape to do this Ironman in September. And I do not ever want to do this training schedule again -- this will be my ONLY Ironman. And I just can't have my race end because I can't change a flat. I don't know exactly how I'm going to go about learning -- having guys at the bike shop show me once doesn't work (I go home and can't remember what they said); YouTube videos don't work (I need feedback if I have a question). Anyone who thinks they can teach me how to change a flat -- I'll take you out to dinner anywhere you want if I can actually change the flat after you teach me. Multiple times, if you also nag me to practice it afterwards.

The other thing is that damn bike seat. While it is tolerable in that it doesn't quite create open sores, it is a nagging discomfort that is definitely stopping me from getting anything like my best effort on the bike. As 50-mile+ rides start to become an every-weekend thing, I know I need to address this problem, no matter how expensive or inconvenient. In fact, wouldn't TODAY be a good day to look for a new bike seat? Why yes, it would.

RUN -- I am happy to say that I'm the fastest I've been since moving to Florida. I'm still not fast like I used to be. I remember when my marathons were always under four hours, and my pace on regular runs was always under 8:00/mile. Not anymore, but I am happy to say that unless I'm running in midday sun, I'm reliably under 9:00 pace. And the other day, on brick day, I ran my first sub-8:00 mile in Florida. It was on a very hot, humid afternoon AND right after 45 minutes of pounding my legs on the trainer. I am happiest of all with my running right now, and especially that I can run well off the bike, which has always been something I was relatively good at.

My last update for this month is that I finally registered for an actual triathlon -- a sprint next Sunday. I can hardly believe it myself, but I did. I am simultaneously looking forward to it, and dreading the inconvenience of packing up all that gear for a race that (hopefully) won't last more than an hour and a half. Stay tuned for a race report next weekend!