Sunday, September 30, 2018

Ironman Training Journal, Third Month

Start with the good news, or the bad? The good:

*I finished my swim lessons, and joined U.S. Master's Swimming, which will allow me access to coached group swims as many days per week as I can get myself up in the morning to get to them.

*I got my bike fit and bought aerobars for my bike.

*I made hotel reservations.

*I ordered the rental wetsuit.

*I've done the full Ironman distance swim once and well over the full distance another time, and would have made the time cutoff in both. (That second one was on accident -- I was swimming in a 25-meter pool and didn't realize it was meters, not yards, so I swam an extra 400 yards. Oops. But good to know I could do it without stopping.)

*My running off the bike is pretty good. Even after a very long ride, I can still do around 9:00 pace. I don't know for how long, but I know I can finish the marathon if I make the swim and bike cutoffs.

Now the bad news:

*I still have at best a 50/50 chance of making the cutoff in the swim. The swim cutoff is 2:20, and when I swam the full distance I did it in a pool and didn't stop for anything and finished in 1:54 after my first swim lesson. I should be faster after a month of swim lessons and master's swimming; I should be faster because I'm always faster in the ocean than in the pool; I should be faster because I will be wearing a wetsuit which gives a lot of extra buoyancy. But there are any number of things that could slow me down in the swim. I could panic in the mass start. Unlikely because the swim is self-seeding and I will start in the back, but it's my first open water swim race, so there is an element of the unknown. I could panic in the ocean just because of nerves and because I've never swam that far in the ocean before. Again, unlikely, because I have never even felt close to panicking in the ocean -- I've always felt amazingly at home in the ocean, but there's that unknown factor. I would not do well in a rough ocean if that's the kind of weather we get on race day. I've swam in light chop once and was fine and even kind of enjoyed the "washing machine" feeling, but it threw my pace way off. I could end up swimming a few hundred extra yards due to poor sighting -- totally possible. I'm not good at sighting and haven't been able to practice because of the nasty red tide. All in all, there's a decent chance my race could be over before it's hardly even started.

*I HAVE aerobars; that doesn't mean I can USE aerobars. I tried them for the first time on my almost-100-mile ride last weekend. The best I could do was one arm in one aerobar and the other hand in a drop. Even then, I wobbled all over the place and was very erratic. I have a month to get used to them, and if I can't get used to them, they're not going to help me at all.

*I'm not fast on the bike at all. It's hard to know what my real speed is because everywhere I ride I have to slow or stop for so many street crossings that I always average out to 14-15 mph. On the few rides I've done at 3:00 a.m. with no vehicle traffic and thus no need to slow or stop, I've been comfortably around 17 mph. The bike and the swim (and the transition between the two) have to be completed in under ten hours. Say the swim takes two hours and the transition takes ten minutes. That leaves me 7:50 to do the bike. If I ride at 15 mph, that leaves me with a bike time of about 7:30. Is it doable? Maybe, maybe not. I will probably have to stop to pee at some point. (Some people pee on the bike. I seriously think I would be physically unable to. I may or may not have tried this on some of my long rides.) I will have to stop at aid stations. I'm not good at math, so this trying to predict time is starting to make me insane. Also, if I have any type of mechanical issue, my race is over. There is support for mechanical problems on the bike course, but my margin is going to be so slim that by the time they come up and help me, I would be missing the cutoff. I will not learn to repair my bike myself, so I have accepted that mechanical = out of the race.

*The black demon of Ironman training visited me over the last couple weeks, and I skipped several workouts after not skipping any at all for the first two months. It's the demon I remember from previous attempts at Ironman training. It comes when I realize how much fun I'm NOT having training for this stupid thing, and how many fun things I'm not doing because I'm doing this instead. It was also at least partly due to my new job. I love the new job, but there are so many things I want to do in it that I'm spending a lot more time on work than I used to. Let me be clear that I'm not complaining about the new job! I love it, and wish I could spend even more time on it.

A few days ago I was very seriously contemplating dropping the whole thing. I thought, I'm not ready for this, why not practice swimming for another year, do the 70.3 in Chattanooga in May then the full in Chattanooga in September (down-current river swim!), focus on my job now, do NaNoWriMo in November because I know I won't be able to do it if I miss the first three days of November due to traveling to and starting the race, study Spanish and sit out on the lanai with coffee and read in the mornings instead of doing pre-work workouts? Yeah I know I spent the money, but that money is gone no matter what. I seriously had that conversation with myself and with Will. In the end I decided to try anyway, forget about my skipped workouts (probably not that big a deal considering how overall consistent I've been with my training), and do the best I can. Hey, maybe the stars will align and I will have smooth ocean and no mechanical problems on the bike, and then I won't have to spend the money and subject myself to this torture again next year. And even if I don't make the swim or bike cutoff, I will still have a good story! And next year the story would be "I failed the first time so I came back and tried harder!" And that's always a good story to tell.

So for now I'm going to do it, unless nature saves me by way of causing a red tide bloom at Panama City Beach that causes the swim to be called off. I will remain silent on whether or not I'm hoping that happens.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Ironman Training Journal, Second Month

I am a little late in updating my Ironman training journal, and that is because I've been so busy training for Ironman that I have not had any time to write about it.

So how is it going? Well, it's going well, and it's sucking, both. It's going well in the sense that I have just finished the first week of my peak training month and I completed all the workouts and did reasonably well in all of them. This was my week last week:

Sunday: 11-mile run in the morning, where I was FINALLY under 9:00/mile pace for the first time on a "long" run in Florida, followed by a 2700-yard swim. Total time: just under three hours.

Monday: OK, I didn't do anything on Monday. I embarked on a two-hour bike ride in the morning, since it was Labor Day and I didn't have to work, but I rode over a piece of metal three miles in that shredded the sidewall of my tire. Luckily I was on my old bike and was wearing running shoes, so I left the bike hidden in the bushes outside a bank and ran the three miles back to my car. Then I drove me and the bike back home and went to Kanapaha Botanical Gardens with Will instead of working out. Total time: about ten minutes.

Tuesday: I now had the previous day's two-hour ride PLUS a 1.5-hour run to do. I planned to do them after work, back-to-back, in the heat, but Florida's reliable afternoon thunderstorm, complete with lightning, forced me inside. I gritted out two hours on a crappy spin bike in the crappy Parrish YMCA's crappy (and empty) spin studio, forced myself upstairs for 45 minutes on the treadmill, then raced back to my neighborhood in time for the 6:30 brewery run where I finished the other 45 minutes of running. My legs were completely trashed but I still managed to be under 9:00 pace the whole time. Total time: 3.5 hours.

Wednesday: an hour swim at the YMCA, followed by another 1.5-hour run. The swim went well but the run was terrible due to my amateur mistake of drinking like two swallows of water after the swim and then going out for a run where there were no water fountains and not carrying any cash to stop and buy something. That was stupid, and I had a lousy time to prove it. Total time: 2.5 hours.

Thursday: an hour and a half ride before work, which meant I had to get up at 2:45 a.m. Luckily Will gets up and follows me on his scooter when I do these rides, so at least I had company, increased visibility, and a rescue plan in case of a flat. I was exhausted all day at work and completely relieved when lightning cancelled my planned swim lesson after work. Total time: 1.5 hours.

Friday: My schedule called for a 45-minute swim followed by a one-hour ride followed by a two-hour run. I showed up at the Y only to find the pool full of high school swim team. I decided to do the ride first, but once again, the lightning started in force and so it was back to the spin bike. Fortunately this was at the nice Y in Lakewood Ranch, and they have a beautiful spin studio although it was also empty. The pool was closed for lightning by the time I got off the bike, and the violent thunderstorm was still happening outside, so it was back on the treadmill again. I told myself I would do an hour and then go outside and finish the rest if possible. After an hour, the storm was still going strong, and the radar showed waves of red and yellow sweeping through for the next couple hours. I finished the second hour of the run on the treadmill and the pool was still closed. There was literally no way I could do the swim, no open pool within an hour drive from me, lightning and red tide at the beaches. I moved the swim to Sunday, not ideal but the best I could do. Total time: three hours.

Saturday: the first of my REALLY LONG RIDES -- six to seven hours, the schedule says. I did six hours, 92 miles, on the Pinellas Trail in St. Pete, followed by a 10-minute run. The first three hours were great! The air was cool and fresh, there was plenty of shade, my legs felt powerful. I was totally confident that I would be able to finish the bike portion of the Ironman, no problem. When I got to the turn-around, I ate a PB&J sandwich and then set off for home, and then realized that I had had a tailwind the whole way out, which meant I had a headwind the whole back. Not strong, but strong enough, especially when combined with the fact that the sun was out, my water was now warm, and my iPhone died so no more audiobook to help the miles pass. The first five miles were okay and the remainder sucked. Still, I finished, and I managed to get off the bike after six hours and run a mile in under 9:00 pace, even though it felt terrible and my breathing was so ragged it drew concerned stares from passersby. Total time: six hours and ten minutes, making a total time for the week of nineteen hours and 20 minutes.

The other good news is that I did get a swim coach, although between the Mexico City Marathon and the damnable afternoon lightning storms I have only had one lesson. That one lesson made me feel a lot better about my swimming, and I expect it should only continue to improve with more lessons. Also, I scheduled a bike fit, which should give me a tiny bit more efficiency on the bike. We'll see.

The best thing about Ironman training is the feeling of power I get from being able to force myself to do things that suck. Basically everything except ocean swims, group runs in Tampa in the (relatively) cool mornings, and brewery runs sucks. Things that definitely suck: long bike rides (whether on a spin bike or on the road), treadmill runs, pool swims (especially now that I'm forced to do intervals, which I hate because it's hard). There's a feeling of determination and resolve that comes from deliberately saying NO to what I want to do with my free time (read, study Spanish, hang out with Will) and taking the first step into something I know I will not enjoy (sliding into the pool, climbing onto the spin bike, hitting "Start" on the treadmill). Strengthening this "resolve muscle" is a worthy goal.

The second best thing about Ironman training is what it's doing to my body. All those grinding hours of doing things that suck is giving me the body of an Amazon warrior. It's not that I have no fat anywhere, it's that I have the exact right amounts of fat and muscle. No matter how unpleasant the process of getting this body is, the result is pretty amazing. The feeling of marveling at your own body in the mirror is, I think most people will agree, pretty close to priceless.

Now, on to the negatives. Brace yourself!

First of all, I am tired of this schedule dictating my life. No one but a person who has absolutely no life at all when they sign up for an Ironman would enjoy the training schedule, whether they enjoy individual workouts or not. I have lots of interests, of which endurance sports is only one, but it's completely dominating everything else right now. If you asked me what I would like to spend my free time doing, I would say reading, studying Spanish, exploring Florida with Will, and writing in my blogs. (And wasting time on the Internet, if we're being honest.) I can do small amounts of those things, but not nearly as much as I want to, because there's always a workout looming. And if I skip today's workout, I know there will be TWO workouts looming tomorrow. I don't want to STOP working out -- I want to be fit, and I love to eat too much to do that -- I just want to be able to do the workouts I feel like doing, when I feel like doing them.

Second, as I mentioned in my last Ironman training journal, Ironman training has made me into a terrible girlfriend. It is selfish, selfish, selfish. My weekends revolve around my training schedule and, therefore, so do Will's. Yesterday I was out of the house before he woke up, and I didn't drag myself back into the house till mid-afternoon, too tired to do anything other than stumble into the shower and then lay around moaning about how sore and sunburned I was. Oh, and also my cell phone battery died mid-ride. Not only could he not track me on my ride, but also it just happened to die when I was crossing over a giant intersection. So on the map on his phone, it showed me in the middle of a giant intersection not moving for two and a half hours. Would you worry if that was your partner? I would, but also there was nothing I could do about it other than try to ride faster (yeah right) and text him as soon as I could plug in my phone back at the car. Today I had to do an ocean swim, and because of red tide I had to drive all the way up to Clearwater, almost an hour north, to find swimmable water. He came with me for this one, and swam and I hope had a good time, but once again, by the time we swam and ate brunch and stopped at Costco on the way home, much of the day was gone. I really don't see how people with partners less patient and supportive and accommodating than mine train for Ironman, and I REALLY don't understand how anyone with kids manages to do it.

Third, everything costs a lot and everything requires planning. My swim coach costs $60 for a one-hour lesson (and is worth it if I continue to improve like I have after just one lesson), and I need at least three or four lessons. After that I'll join Masters Swimming, which costs, I don't know, $30-$40 a month or something like that, on top of the $33 a month I already pay for YMCA membership. My bike fit is going to cost $150; if I buy aerobars those will be another $100+ or so (I really don't know how much, but everything seems to be over $100). I need a tri suit (clothing that I can wear under my wet suit and on the bike and the run), and that is also in the $100-$200 range or possibly more. I decided not to buy a wet suit because I found a place that rents them -- thank goodness! -- but even renting one will be another $100. I need new running shoes -- $130 or so. And that doesn't even count things like bike repairs, gels and salt tabs, and gas to drive to Clearwater or whatever other faraway destination I'm swimming or running or biking in because I happen to live in a triathlon dead zone. And the planning that is required! I feel like I never leave the house without an overstuffed gym bag full of towels, swim gear (fins, paddles, buoy), bike shoes, two frozen water bottles (which then have to be transferred into another freezer when I get to work so they will stay cold for my run or ride), snacks for during the workout, snacks for after the workout, a hat in case it rains on my run, an armband and ear buds for my phone, clean clothes and shower stuff for after the workout if it's a gym workout. Hardly a day goes by that I'm not pumping up my tires and moving my bike lights and Garmin from charger to bike. Also, it seems like I hardly ever pack for just one workout. I always bring stuff for two workouts, sometimes because I have two planned and sometimes because there's a chance weather will cancel one. Running was so simple -- put on your shoes and go. I miss that.

Fourth, I just don't like triathlon. I like individual triathletes, but overall I feel like triathlon as a sport takes itself too seriously. Things like heart rate training, intervals, obsessing over numbers of calories needed per hour and what form to take them in, telling other triathletes that they shouldn't -- you name it -- listen to music while running/riding, swim/ride/run alone, ride/run after dark, sign up for a long race without first having proven themselves in multiple short races, train without a coach, bike only on a trainer because it doesn't allow them to get used to the road, bike on the road because it's dangerous, ride without having had a bike fit, train without a heart rate monitor, rely on other people to fix mechanical issues on the bike, you name it, someone is telling you not to do it. Did runners do this when I was "just" a runner? I don't remember, but I don't think so. Running seems to attract people who shrug and say, "You do you!" where triathlon seems to attract people who say, "Do this! Don't do that!" whether you ask them or not. That is a huge reason why I don't belong to a tri club. (Also because I hate group rides and will never go on another one.) I may BE a triathlete, but I don't really think of myself as a triathlete, the name of this blog notwithstanding.

So, overall, a mixed bag, but the bottom line is swimming is improving, running is getting back to good, bike's going okay. I have reached the point in my training schedule where I really believe if I was going to quit, I would have done it. That would have been right after the Mexico City Marathon. I took a week off from everything but the pool and remembered how fun it was to do what I wanted with my free time instead of what I felt like I had to do. I thought about writing and studying Spanish and volunteering to teach English to Spanish-speaking immigrants. I did not get up for one pre-work workout. But in the end I can't stop thinking about how much I want to be able to call myself an Ironman, and how much I've already invested in it, and how much I do not want to do this ever again, so I might as well finish it now.

One of the four worst weeks is done, three more to go. I can do this!