Sunday, August 5, 2018

Ironman Training Journal, First Month

This was the scene a week ago. Tampa, 11:30 a.m., hot and steamy like the jungle. I was sitting in my car in the shady parking lot where the Upper Tampa Bay Trail -- 7-something miles of paved bike path -- starts. I had a minimum-3-hour bike ride looming, followed by a 2-mile run. I DID NOT WANT TO DO THIS, not at all. I had just come from the airport, a quick work trip to Kentucky. Before I left for the airport, I did something my pre-Ironman training self would not have done, and put my bike in my car so that just in case I felt like getting my long ride out of the way on Friday instead of doing it on the weekend, I would be ready. I changed into bike clothes in the airport and filled my water bottles with water from the airport faucets. Then I drove to this parking lot where I sat thinking about the temperature -- 89 -- and the humidity -- high -- and what both of those things would be like in three hours when I was ready to start my run -- worse. I have bailed on plenty of workouts in my life. Sometimes even when I left my house in Michigan at 3:30 am, I drove right past the gym to the donut shop and then slept on the couch at Leader until work started because I couldn't face the thought of getting into that cold pool. I sat in my car and thought about my 11-hour work day the day before, my 3:30 alarm to get to the airport earlier that day, my cool house and comfortable bed. Then I got on the bike and headed out. I told myself I could have a crappy slow ride or I could decide to enjoy it, but either way I would be on the bike for 3 hours and then I would run after that. And somehow my crankiness mostly evaporated and it turned into a pretty good ride and a pretty decent run, and that is what's happened for every single workout I've done so far.

I've registered for, and bailed on, two half-Ironman distance races in the last 10 years. One was the Soma 70.3 in Arizona, which I quit because I didn't want to work on my swim, and the other was the Steelhead 70.3 in Benton Harbor, Michigan, which I quit because I started to dread the training schedule so much that the dread took over my life. Plus, I didn't like the thought of swimming anywhere in Michigan. The Lifetime pool was always too cold, lakes are gross and also too cold (except for maybe a few minutes in July) to swim in without a wetsuit, and wetsuits are expensive. There was nowhere to ride my road bike except Stoney Creek and Kensington Metroparks, nothing pretty to look at, and for more than half the year I was freezing anywhere except the gym. I thought some of those things would be fixed by moving to Florida, but in all honesty I wasn't sure I wouldn't grow to hate the schedule just as much as I did in Michigan. Even if I did, though, I was pretty sure that the OVER $900 REGISTRATION FEE would keep me from bailing on the training.

I have now finished 7 weeks of the 20-week schedule. Although there is still a lot of time left for things to go south, I am happy to say that I haven't missed a single workout so far, and am thriving on the schedule. I'm not always dying to start every workout -- see above -- but it's never THAT hard to just do it. I've learned a few things along the way too.

*I can swim in the ocean! I have played in the ocean before, but swimming in it was a completely new experience. I really didn't know what to expect. A lot of bad swimmers are terrified of the open water swim (OWS), and some people even get nauseous in the waves. From the moment I started swimming in the ocean, I loved it. It is like a giant, bath-temperature swimming pool where you never have to worry about getting a lane and the lanes stretch out to infinite lengths. Some oceans might be cold and rough and intimidating, but MY ocean is warm, calm, and beautiful. (Okay, not so beautiful today with the algae toxins causing my lips and tongue to burn during and for a couple hours after my mile swim, but I'm sure -- I hope -- that will go away soon.)

*I MUST get swim lessons. Even though the thought of paying for one more expensive thing related to triathlon is one that I dread, it simply has to be done, and soon. The swim is my biggest weakness. Honestly, it has always been the possibility of not making the swim cutoff that has kept me from signing up for any triathlon other than a pool sprint. I am a slow swimmer, even though I can swim for a very long time without getting tired. I am pretty sure that a good coach would be able to help me speed up my swim just enough that I don't have to sweat making the swim cutoff in the race. The swim is 2.4 miles and the cutoff is 2 hours and 20 minutes, which is 3 minutes and 19 seconds per 100 yards. My swim pace right now is between 2:45/100 (ocean) and 2:55/100 (pool, probably because I'm so inefficient at turning at the wall that any momentum I gain from pushing off the wall is erased by the time it takes me to reverse direction and push off). While on paper it looks like I should make the swim cutoff, that does not allow for anything to go wrong, like choppy water or swimming extra yardage due to poor sighting in the water. If I could get it down to 2:20 or even 2:30, I would be happier. But just spending more time in the pool doesn't improve technique any. It just locks in poor technique. I will have to get a coach, and I sincerely hope that in my next Training Journal I will be able to report that I have one and am improving.

*I still hate everything to do with bike mechanics and maintenance. I still don't know how to change a tire, I still couldn't tell you how gear shifting works if someone offered me a million dollars to do so, I still freak out if I get a speck of grease on my hands, and I still have absolutely zero interest in getting better. BUT WHAT IF I GET A FLAT TIRE IN THE IRONMAN?!?! Well, then my race is over. I would rather lose $900+ than spend time learning to do something I hate when there is not even close to enough time in any day. Or, to put it another way, it is worth $900+ to me to give myself a pass on learning about bike maintenance. 

*I really need a professional bike fit. My bike does not fit me. My position on the seat feels wrong, the pedals feel too high, the seat itself sucks, and I should be going 1-2 mph faster than I am. I am going to pay for that too rather than continuing to suffer through very long bike rides in discomfort.

*Getting comfortable riding on the road with traffic is a hardening process. I used to ride everywhere in Tucson. I was hit by a car once and almost hit a handful of other times, but I was still very confident riding in traffic. When I started road riding here after a break of several years, I was terrified for the first week or so. Terrified as in my heart was up in my throat when I heard a car coming from behind, even when I was on a wide road with plenty of shoulder. I am happy to report that that has almost completely gone away. People here think that I am nuts for riding my bike on the road because the bike lane in a lot of places is really, really narrow. In some places it's nonexistent, and I have to share the lane with cars. (However, I don't ride roads like that unless they are A) very lightly trafficked and B) have great visibility so cars can see me from far off and pass me.) A thousand or so road bike miles have convinced me that riding on the road is, for the most part, safe. I have never felt like an accident almost happened because a driver didn't see me. I have had drivers be rude jerks, and ride up on my ass and honk at me because they had to wait two seconds to pass due to another oncoming car, but if they honk at me, they aren't going to hit me. Too much paperwork. Let 'em honk. Sure I could be hit by a drunk or inattentive driver at any time, but ANYONE COULD. That's part of the risk of going out on the road. True, the consequences would be worse for me on a bike, but that is the kind of risk I'm willing to take in exchange for being outside and getting legs of steel and feeling the wind in my face. Helmet, lights, smart choices about where to ride, and yielding to drivers if I have any doubt as to whether they see me or not make me as safe as I can possibly be on the bike.

*A bike ride immediately followed by a run is called a BRICK. I don't know why. Some people say it's because bike+run=ick, some say that it's because you're stacking workouts together like you're building something out of bricks. I don't know the real reason. Bricks notoriously suck. Somehow my bricks have always gone really well. Despite the initial shock to the legs as they switch from one grind to another, I have never had a bad (as in slow) brick run. On Friday I rode 60 miles and then got off the bike and ran three miles. OF COURSE it sucked a little bit -- how could it not? -- but on the other hand, I knew those three miles were the only thing standing between me and an evening of rest and snacks, so I was highly motivated to get them done.

*Training for an Ironman has a huge impact on your significant other. This is my schedule for this week:
Monday: 2-hour swim
Tuesday: 1.5 hour bike ride, 1 hour 15 minute-run
Wednesday: 1-hour swim (my easy day!)
Thursday: 2-hour ride, 1 hour run
Friday: long bike ride -- 4-5 hours, followed by 3-mile run
Saturday: 2-hour run, 1 hour ocean swim
Sunday: 2.5-hour ride (and I will probably add another swim, just because I suck so bad at it)

That is over 20 hours of training per week, like taking on a half-time job. And it's not like that is all the time it takes. I also have to drive to all these things, assemble gear for the bike and swim, and clean gear afterwards. Naturally I have to start all my weekend workouts very early before it gets hot. (Not that anything could make the long ride not-hot -- unless I did it at midnight.) So the answer to "What are we doing this weekend?" is always, "working out then sleeping." Ironman training is profoundly selfish. I am very, very lucky to have Will. When he's home, he helps me as much as possible. He will drop me off or pick me up somewhere so I don't have to ride a boring loop. He packs his Yeti cooler with fuel for me. He never complains about the fact that we never get to watch a sunrise together or have a lazy Sunday morning sleeping in. I'm always too tired to do anything fun when I'm not working, and I never have extra money because all of it goes into this insanely expensive and stupid hobby that I wish had never ended up on my bucket list. I feel very sorry for anyone whose partner decides to do an Ironman. In fact, if I were dating, someone training for an Ironman would probably be disqualified just for that reason! I really appreciate Will, is what I'm saying.

I'm eager to see how the next month of training goes. Hopefully I will open my next training journal with "I got a swim coach and I got a bike fit!"