Sunday, June 22, 2014

I Quit, and it Feels Soooooooo Good!

I have a theory about life and exercise, proven over and over throughout the past 10 years as I cycled in and out of the normal ups and downs of life, and my theory is this: the better my life is going in general, the worse my training is going. When life is crappy, working out is an outlet for all the negative energy that I would otherwise just sit at home and wallow in. It generates endorphins that make the crap feel not so crappy. Training for a race gives me the feeling that I can control something and be successful at something even if I have no control over, for example, the decision of someone else to walk out of my life. Those are all good things. But the corollary to this truth is that when life is going good, working out assumes a much smaller role and becomes much less important when compared to the things that are making life good.

Maybe this is not true for someone who actually enjoys working out, but we all know that I don't. Nothing more needs to be said about how much I don't, because I have said it all already. What has always kept me going is that being an endurance athlete is part of my identity, and having the body of an endurance athlete is part of it as well. But I am coming to believe that maybe other things are more important than that. We all have limited time to be alive, and even more limited time to be alive, healthy, and able to do whatever we want as long as whatever we want falls within our financial means. When looked at that way, I am beginning to think I can't justify any longer doing what I dread doing and don't get any enjoyment out of, when that stuff uses time that I could be using to do what I love doing and believe I am meant to be doing. Does that make sense?

What happened with my training schedule was that dread of it began taking over my life. I went to bed at night dreading the next morning's workout, and as soon as I had completed the morning workout I started dreading the afternoon one. I figured that would pass because it usually does once I get acclimated to the schedule. This one just got worse and worse. People pointed out to me that I did not have to do this, that no one was making me do it. I thought about how much I want to be able to some day say I'm an Ironman. I mean, it's one of my life goals! I only have three; can't I knock that one off? But life goals are subject to revision like any other goals. This one needed revision. (Besides, the pursuit of this one made it virtually impossible to pursue the other two.)

Making that decision, and tearing up my training schedule, was one of the best feelings I can remember. The freedom was pure joy. The fact that I can be sitting here writing in my blog with all the windows open on a beautiful, cool morning, drinking coffee and listening to the birds sing, instead of torturing myself through another dreaded ride or swim, is amazing. The fact that I can say yes when invited out for a drink is a big deal. Knowing that I can roll over in bed at 3:30 a.m. and know I don't have to force myself to put my swim suit on and drag myself to the pool is sublime.

I'm not quitting working out all the way. I couldn't; I can't get any fatter than I am right now just because I would have to buy all new clothes. I'm still going to run and still going to do long runs on the weekends and still keep on lazily pursuing my 50 States goal. Marathon training I can do, without too much difficulty. But no more obsessing over it. Instead, I am going to spend time writing (like I have every single day since I gave up the idea of the race) and training my dogs and enjoying the amazingness of my life here right now.

I think that is the smart thing to do, don't you all?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Questioning My Sanity Again

WHY did I sign up for this stupid half-Ironman again? I swear, this training is ruining my life.

I live in a constant state of dread regarding the training schedule, which is entering its highest-volume weeks. It has totally taken over my life. Eleven workouts per week, some of them very, very long. I hate the pool. I still suck at swimming. Not only am I not getting better, I am actually getting WORSE if I look at my times for the same distance between March and now. I hate riding on Michigan roads (because they are dangerous), but not quite as much as I hate riding on the bike at the gym (which isn't the same as road riding anyway) and I also hate driving my bike anywhere to ride it. For those who know how I just love to run (said in a voice of deep sarcasm for those who don't know how much I hate to run), it should be very telling when I say that the run is the thing I dread the least. Well, that was true until I got a giant blister on the side of my foot and finally accepted the inevitable and switched to the men's version of my Mizunos. Now I dread running too.

Saturday was a great day involving canoeing, an island, a hammock, and a shady and flat 10-mile trail run on a surface of crushed leaves. Paradise. I would've loved a repeat of Saturday on Sunday. Instead I was supposed to ride 50 miles, but it was raining in the morning and in the afternoon I was going to go to a new puppy welcome party. I turned over in bed and went back to sleep when the alarm went off Sunday morning and I heard the steady rain outside. Then, wracked with guilt over skipping a 50-mile ride, I headed to the pool before the party, figuring I would punish myself by doing the 2250 swim on the books for next week since I hadn't done the ride. (The rain, by the way, disappeared and was replaced by sun and cool breeze exactly at the time when I knew it was too late to start a 50-mile ride and still make it to the party.) Anyway, the pool was cold. 74 degrees. I swam 100 and got out. Forget it! I went and bought my new running shoes instead.

The next morning I made it 500 yards before quitting. But they were 500 yards of misery. I couldn't get my breath -- had to stop and stand up in the lane a few times, which I pretty much never do -- and pause at the end of each length to catch my breath again. I have no idea why that was happening -- unless maybe my brain just hates swimming so much that it was like, screw you, I am just not going to regulate your breathing anymore. I will regulate it again when you get out of this water and back into bed with a book where you belong.

After that swim fail I was really ready to quit. Just say screw the whole thing, eat the cost of registration, and decide I do not have to have Ironman on my bucket list anyway. I mean, aren't life goals always subject to revision? I have totally backed out on races and training before when there was too much else going on in life, and never felt the least bit of shame or regret about it. I allowed myself the day to fantasize about it, about how good it would feel to just tear up that training schedule and throw it in the trash. Michigan summers are like sweet dreams, beautiful but fleeting. Why not enjoy this one while it lasts by hanging out with the dogs, sitting outside and reading and writing, actually saying yes to the nine out of ten invitations to social events I turn down now? You know, doing the things I enjoy rather than the things I don't enjoy. There's a swim cutoff time in the race that, in all honesty, I am probably not going to make, considering I have never made it in the pool. If I bail out now, who cares about the swim cutoff? I ordered a wetsuit but am intimidated at the thought of putting it on, let alone using it in a real lake. I mean, how will I see where I'm going, what if I swim at Stoney and bump into, like, a detached finger from that guy who drowned in there last weekend? How about just send the wetsuit back and forget the whole thing?

I was supposed to ride 35 miles after work yesterday and that almost, almost did not happen. I sat at my desk as the work day came to a close and thought about how much nicer it would be to take the dogs down to Clinton River and let them swim, or read a book till I fell asleep. But then the thought of my winter coat of fat sprang to mind. I have lost 9 lbs of it, and even though I still have 8 more lbs to go, I feel so much better than I did in March. That thought got me on the bike and out the door. And once I was out the door, things improved. I did the whole ride on the Macomb-Orchard Trail, which is a flat, shady, paved multi-use path that goes out into farm country. By the end of the ride, I had to admit that I had enjoyed it and that it is impossible to get the post-workout feeling from anything else. Nothing makes me feel as virtuous as I feel at the end of a day that started with getting up at 3:30 to go to the gym before work, then walking six to eight miles at work training my dogs, then busting out another workout after work. True, I am so tired when I get home that I have to race to eat dinner before I pass out, and in the morning it feels like the alarm goes off two minutes after I have gone to sleep. But still... I am tired because I am Virtuous Ironman Training Woman! (Okay, Virtuous HALF Ironman Training Woman.) I figure that even if I don't make the swim cutoff, I will at least have survived that horrible training schedule, and gotten rid of a little more fat, right?

Besides, one reason I have this blog is as proof that liking to work out is not at all required in order to do even hardcore endurance sports. I mean, is there ANYONE who hates exercise more than I do or who would rather be ass-to-couch all day long? No! I HATE this sh*t... but I do it anyway. So. No bailing on the race yet. I will continue to train for it and get myself to that start line, and if I don't make the swim cutoff then I will have to reevaluate just how important it is that I some day be able to call myself an Ironman. (I.e., is it worth committing to a winter of swim lessons and focused swim practice. Ugh. I hope I just make the cutoff and do not have to answer that question.)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I Didn't Like That!

I totally believe that, no matter what we're talking about -- dog training, food, sex, or, here, triathlon -- that you should always try something before proclaiming that you don't like it. (Except for sauerkraut... I will NEVER, EVER, EVER try that, and I KNOW I don't like it even without trying it! Sauerkraut is an exception to my rule.) So yesterday I tried an all women group ride.


Let me be clear that I am not saying anything bad about Fraser Bikes, the shop that hosted the ride. They did a great job with the ride, and they also have a great shop. They set up a food tent and a bike first aid station for us at the turnaround point, they fixed me up with new cleats for a good price and put them on for me, they even gave me a free Gatorade from the cooler because I had to wait while they put on the cleats. I am sure that for a lot of people on the ride, it was, like, an epic event. I totally accept that it was my mistake that I ever would have thought this type of event was something I would enjoy, and I would never say that Fraser Bike sucks or this event sucked.

It was advertised as a free, no-drop 25-mile ride (celebrating Women's Ride Day) from the shop to Metro Beach. The wording of the announcement was something along the lines of " drop (so you'll never have to ride alone!)". I assumed that what this meant was that there was someone who would commit to riding with the slowest people in the back, but that everyone else would kind of spread out and go at their own pace. I also thought since the food tent at Metro Beach would be open from 9-10 a.m. that we could just stop by, grab a snack, and move on. I was wrong on both counts.

We headed out at 8 a.m. The shop had orange juice and bagels and yogurt pre-ride, which was nice. There were probably about 25 women there. Let me just say that in general, the more women there are present in any group, the less happy I usually am in that group. (The only exceptions to this are [thankfully] my workplace, which is like 5:1 women: men but with the highest concentration of awesome women I have ever seen anywhere, well over 90% awesome, and the Women of WOG in Tucson.) I like individual women perfectly fine but there is something about being in a group of too many women that puts my hackles up. I get quiet and critical and don't want to talk to anyone, and it's like I start with a mindset that anything the group talks about is going to be silly and uninteresting. Obviously I am the bitch here, not them, but rather than work on it and try to improve my attitude, I just  try to hang out with groups where men outnumber women. Really I wouldn't have even gone on this ride at all except that I needed a 25-mile ride and I really, really wanted to know how to get to Metro Beach on the Metro Parkway bike path, because this is supposedly a bike path that I can actually access from my house with a minimum of Michigan road time on the bike. So I figured, perfect, I can learn the route, take advantage of the free bike support, and just go at my own pace.

Not two miles after leaving the shop, the cyclists in the back stopped for some reason. The rest of us stopped, too, but further ahead. We couldn't tell exactly what happened, whether they were out of energy or had a mechanical problem or what, but as the minutes dragged on I got more and more impatient and annoyed. This should have been AT MOST a 2-hour ride -- and that would be taking stop lights and traffic into account -- and here it was 8:30 already and we hadn't even hit two miles. Not only that, even though we had beautiful weather for a ride, just sitting there in full sun was pretty miserable. It seemed like whatever the problem was, those people should just gracefully bow out. I know I would. Hell, I could have a mechanical problem ten miles into the ride and I would tell everyone to leave without me and I would somehow get me and my bike back to my car by myself. Even if I had to walk the ten miles in bike shoes or call a cab. I totally think it is wrong to make the whole group wait for me.

We finally got going again. I never did figure out what happened to whoever was having the problem, or even whether the person (people?) with the problem dropped out or stayed in to bring up the rear. I was riding towards the back of the group because it had dawned on me as we set out that I had not actually ridden in any proximity to anyone else since El Tour, and that was, like, two years ago. So my group riding skills were not great and I didn't trust my reaction time. It turned out everything came back and I did not have to worry about riding too close, not paying attention, et cetera. Which brings me to another thing I don't like about group rides. Why is it necessary, when, say, another cyclist or a runner approaches from the other direction, for EVERY SINGLE PERSON in the line to say, "Cyclist up!" or "Runner up!"? It's like a giant game of Operator at full volume -- in other words, an un-fun game of Operator. My belief is that if you're riding on a wide bike path with great visibility, at most two abreast, is it too much to ask to just, I don't know, look at the freaking bike path in front of you so that you can see there's a cyclist coming? And shouldn't you just, like, stay on your side of the multi-use path rather than taking over the whole thing so you can ride three or four abreast and chatter non-stop while you cruise at adult tricycle speed? (Okay, I am cranky, I admit it. The training schedule for Steelhead is getting ridiculous and I resent every moment of wasted training time because that's time I can't spend reading, writing, napping, or hanging out with Frieda and Duncan, and I think that resentment is the source of this cranky, bitchy blog post.)

I don't think my heart rate ever topped or even nudged 100. I thought about just saying, "See ya," and taking off, but I couldn't quite bring myself to be the one to do that. I should have; I should have just invented some event that I had to be home for at a reasonable hour. Instead I just slogged along in cranky silence. We waited at every light for the second half to catch up. It wouldn't have done me any good to move up in the group -- the leader just wasn't going any faster. And, judging by her amazing body, her bike, her wheels, and the fact that I never even saw her pedal her bike -- it looked like she and her bike rolled along on awesomeness alone, no work required -- she could have dropped me in a second. She seemed to be enjoying this leisurely ride even though she appeared capable of doing the route three times before the group had even finished it once.

Once we arrived at Metro Beach, I felt a little better. It was a gorgeous, breezy, Pure Michigan day and Lake St. Clair was huge, sparkly in the sun, and absolutely amazing-looking. The food tent was set up in the parking lot and we rolled up to it and stopped. My watch said 10.5 and I was confused; this was supposed to be a 25-mile ride. The guy at the truck offered food and water to everyone and then said, "You've still got a half mile to the point, you can fuel up now or when you come back." I wanted to ask why we stopped at the truck -- and were still stopped there! Why not just go to the point, turn around, and come back and eat and drink THEN? I must be missing something. After several minutes of standing, we finally rode off to the point, where we all posed for endless group pictures and then rode back to the truck and proceeded to kill almost half an hour there. I appreciated the banana and the opportunity to fill my water bottle. But I did not appreciate the standing, standing, standing while the group talked about pregnancy, Lululemon, vacations, and all sorts of other stuff in which I had zero interest. I didn't even try to participate. I read Feedly on my phone and thought every second that NOW was the time to apologize and leave, saying I had to get home. But I didn't. I told myself to just suck it up, finish the ride, and never do another one.

Finally we took off again. To add insult to injury, I had stupidly forgotten to restart my Garmin when we left the point after taking pictures there, so I was now behind on miles. The ride back was better than the ride out. We had a tailwind and we went a little faster than the first time. Like, maybe 10 mph instead of 8. Someone got a flat tire a mile from the shop and they called the shop SAG wagon to come pick the bike up. The rest of us waited until that was done. (If it had been me who flatted, I would've ordered the group to go on and walked the bike back myself.) When we got close to the shop again, I excused myself from the group to get my Garmin to 25 exactly. The freedom of being alone was glorious! Those were my favorite 2.5 miles of the ride.

I feel like I can barely count that as any type of workout, but honestly with the schedule the way it is now, maybe it was good for my body to have a "workout" where absolutely nothing but staying upright was demanded of it. Also, some good did come out of the whole thing. I found a bike shop I liked much better than KLM (not only a bike shop -- it also sells tri supplies, and the owner is an Ironman), and I now know how to ride to Metro Beach and know I can do it from my house for a nice, long, safe ride. I am definitely not doing any more group rides. I pretty much always hate them because I'm either too slow for the group, or too fast. (Usually, almost always, the first one. Trust me, I have no illusions about my ability or lack thereof on the bike. Among people who do any type of racing at all, I suck on the bike and have no technical or mechanical bike skills at all.) It's just going to be me and my bike from now on.