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!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Ironman Training Journal, First Month

Here we go again. In the time since I last posted, I officially decided not to do Ironman Texas, and officially registered for Ironman Chattanooga. It was for the reasons I mentioned in my last blog post -- I didn't like the swim in Texas or that part of Texas in general, and I especially didn't like the thought of driving to and from Texas again, ever. Let alone driving back tired and sore from an Ironman with my car full of dirty, smelly gear, especially if I missed a cutoff and didn't finish! That sounded like the most depressing thing in the world. It sounded more depressing than kissing my registration fee goodbye and coughing up another one. So that's what I did. I do not want to think about how much money I threw away for literally nothing, so I'm not going to. La la la la la, what money?

Chattanooga is a better race for me. It's still a drive, but not nearly as far as Texas. Will has friends there that we can stay with for free. Best of all, it has a downcurrent swim. I will need that. I haven't gotten any better at swimming and likely won't, now that I decided I'm not going to masters swimming at 5:30 a.m. I'm completely devoted to coffee and books and the cat in my lap at 5:30 a.m., and also to the sun beating down on me in a bathtub-temperature pool at noon. I haven't really given much thought to the fact that Chattanooga has a hilly bike and there aren't really a lot of hills here to train on, unless you like bridge repeats. (Anyone want to guess whether I like those or not?) I probably need to do something to make my legs stronger, but leg day at the gym is in the same category as masters swimming, in that it's something I've been talking about doing for a long time but made no steps toward actually doing.

In the meantime, I've done the first month of my six-month training plan (MY GOD, 6 MONTHS SOUNDS LIKE A LONG TIME!) and not missed any workouts. Even though it's just the first month, my shortest workouts are an hour and my longest are two hours, and that's six days a week. I'm doing OK in all three disciplines, stellar in none.

Swim: I'm doing the workouts, but haven't been in my wetsuit or in the ocean for quite a while. I bought a bunch of cold-water swim stuff -- the mask, the sleeves, the boots -- and then returned them because I don't want to swim in the ocean when it's cold, period. (And now that I'm training for a September race, I don't have to!) I'm doing swim drills regularly for the first time in my life. I suck at most of them and have made no real progress over a month. I watch the drill videos on YouTube and feel like I am doing exactly what the swimmers in those videos are doing, but somehow I do not look like those swimmers. This swim program has lots of intervals, which I guess is good, but now when I have to swim more than 200 yards straight I feel like I'm dying. I guess I will fix that when I get back to ocean swimming. I have arbitrarily set the acceptable ocean temperature at 75. It's 70 right now but should be warming up soon, I hope.

Bike: I still need a new bike seat, but haven't bought one yet. Buying a new bike seat is actually really complicated, at least it is if the bike shop doesn't have any of the seats I'm actually interested in available for demo. It's not like you can just buy one and return it if you don't like it, which is sort of ridiculous, because they're around $200. Everyone has their favorite bike seat to recommend, but individuals are so different that there really is no "best bike seat," kind of like there is no "best guide dog." There's only the best match, whether we're talking about the match between bike seat and ass or the match between person who is blind and guide dog. The bike seat I currently have is acceptable though I certainly wouldn't go so far as to call it comfortable. Oh, and I can ride in aerobars! That is the most exciting news on the bike front. I was afraid for months and then suddenly I was not afraid. Let me edit that to add I am not afraid as long as there's no wind, the road is perfectly straight, and there's no traffic in sight, bike or vehicle. Hey, I'm pretty proud of myself for that because I was pretty sure that I was going to be the one person who could not learn how to ride in aerobars.

Run: I'm running. I still can't seem to get back to the speed I used to have, even with watching calories and sugar and eating mostly healthy. I don't understand why I have lost hardly any weight. Always in the past, weight loss just happened as workout load increased, even if I was eating garbage, which I am not right now. Every bit of extra weight slows you down on the run, so I may need to explore more radical solutions soon. (And yes, I know I'm not FAT fat -- in fact I think I am extremely fit and healthy -- but I am too fat to run as fast as I want to, something I know runners will understand.) I'm actually running more than my training plan calls for because I'm still hoping to find an early summer marathon somewhere, just to prove to myself that I can still do one. We have had months of perfect running weather. Yesterday was the first run I did this year that was over 90 degrees. I did 12 miles in Tampa in the afternoon. Yes I should have joined Run Tampa in the morning for the group run, which would have been nice and cool, but I was busy. OK, I was reading and having coffee and then going back to sleep and then going to Sage Biscuit with Will for breakfast. My self-imposed punishment was 12 miles in the afternoon heat. I can't complain too much though, because humidity was under 50% and I saw more dolphins along Bayshore than I ever have. I live in a gorgeous place for running, there's no doubt about that!


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Ironman Training Update

I am so thoroughly sick of this subject. I feel like Ironman training is the most boring thing in the world, to hear about, to read about, and to write about. Nevertheless, in the interest of chronicling the Ironman journey, just in case I some day look back and find it fascinating instead of tedious, I'm going to keep on writing about it.

January 1 I officially started training for Ironman Texas, which happens on 4/27 in The Woodlands, Texas. I switched training plans, from an old free one I found online to the Intermediate program in Be Iron Fit. I thought this would be an improvement because it included interval swim sessions instead of just straight swimming, and because the run and ride sessions were based on time, not distance, so it made workout planning easier. I also thought it would be easier to train than it was last summer for two reasons: 1) I wouldn't be training in the heat of a Florida summer, 2) I make my own schedule at work, so if I want to do all my workouts in the morning (knowing that I will work several evenings each week), it's easy to just put them into my schedule like I would anything else, and 3) I borrowed an indoor trainer from one of my neighbors and set it up in the garage, so I don't have to worry about riding on dangerous Moccasin Wallow Road and I can still ride even if it's cold (cold, for purposes of outdoor cycling for me, being anything below 70 degrees). However, there are two big things that were different this training cycle than last. The first is Pip. Having to leave Pip alone for any extended period of time, especially on a day when I've already been out of the house for several hours, makes me feel terribly guilty. It did help that I could get Pip set up in the pain cave and that she, being a very patient and mature puppy, is tolerant of long periods of inactivity:


But I still feel guilty for not spending as much time as possible working with her and hanging out with her. The second thing that was different this training cycle was the very fact that I can make my schedule. Instead of a strength, it became a weakness. What happened was this: Pip could only make it about 4-5 hours at night without having to go out. She must have the tiniest bladder in the world. But once she got me up at 3:00 or so (which used to be my normal wakeup time when I went to the gym every morning in Michigan!), I felt awake, so I wanted to stay up and read for a while. "A while" = "until I got sleepy," at which point I wanted to go back to sleep for a couple of hours, until I had to get up to get ready for work. I have become completely addicted to this routine, to the point where I can't even imagine forgoing it to work out in the mornings. And I can't really blame this on my schedule when mental weakness is obviously the true culprit.

Even with those two things going on, though, I was following my schedule and not skipping workouts. I even bought my wetsuit and swam in it a couple of times, until the ocean water got so cold that I refuse to swim in it till it gets back to at least 70. I learned to tolerate the trainer with the help of Netflix. My performance was lousy for some reason. I had gotten faster at swimming and biking while training for Florida, but my speed both in the pool and on the bike has decreased and is now almost as bad as it's ever been. For the swim, I blame the fact that I seem to be unable to get up and go to Masters Swimming at 5:30 a.m., which is usually about the time I'm going back to bed. For the bike, I blame the fact that it really needs a tune-up and that something is wrong with the brakes. Twice after long rides where it was all I could do to maintain 14 mph, I have gotten home and found that the brake pads were rubbing on the rims. For 40 or 50 miles. I didn't know how to fix that, so it just kept happening. My bike also developed a squeak that was so bad I had to blast music on my earbuds. Netflix and audiobooks weren't loud enough; I could hear the squeak through them. Clearly, my bike needed some attention.

Nevertheless, when I started my two-week work trip to Texas, I brought all my workout gear including my bike and trainer with the thought of skipping as few workouts as possible. I knew I would skip a few, probably mostly swim workouts, because I didn't want to leave Pip alone in my hotel room. But I didn't see any reason why I couldn't bring Pip with me to the treadmill in the hotel fitness room, and ride my bike on the trainer in my hotel room. Sound plan -- it just didn't happen. First, I forgot how tiring work travel is. I love my job and I had a blast in Texas working with puppies and puppy raisers. But when I got back to my hotel at night, I had energy to shower and maybe read a book, and nothing else. I did try the trainer once. But 1000 miles in the car had not magically fixed the squeak. Instead, it was even louder, more like a squeal than a squeak. It was so dispiriting I knew that even if I had the energy, I wouldn't ride it. And as for the treadmill, the one in the first hotel was non-functional, and by the time I got to Week 2 in the second hotel, there was no way I was getting on that treadmill even if it was functioning. I did manage one swim in Dallas and one individual standard-distance tri in a Lifetime in Houston on a weekend pass. That went absolutely terrible -- my slowest swim in months and what felt like prolonged death on a spin bike, although I have to admit my 10K treadmill run felt unbelievably good. (One thing I have strong faith in is my ability to run after biking. I'm just good at that. If I make it through the swim and bike, I know I will make it through the marathon.)

Then, on my second-to-last day in Texas, I had a few spare hours and went to look at The Woodlands, the community just north of Houston where Ironman Texas is held. I didn't care about the run and bike courses, but I wanted to get a look at the swim, which starts in a lake and finishes, for the last half-mile or so, in a canal. I did not like the sound of "canal." That did not sound like a nice place to swim at all. But I suspended judgment and went to look.


As soon as I saw it, the first thing I thought was, "No." The canal is pretty enough to walk along if you don't look too close. It's in a nicely landscaped park, and lined with trees. But the water was a dark-green color and completely stagnant, with an oily sheen on top. The only time I saw any moving water in the canal was when ducks paddled by and disturbed the water. There were plenty of ducks. Maybe that's why the water was so green -- because it was full of duck poop? I walked the canal, and walked and walked, looking for the place where it joined the lake where the swim started. I couldn't find it. My shirt was completely soaked through with sweat, and it was 69 degrees and cloudy. I didn't know what the temperature would be in late April, but I was pretty sure it would be warmer than early February, and I was also pretty sure that the humidity would be higher, although it felt like it was already over 100%.



As I drove back to Houston from the Woodlands, I was thinking that I did not want to do this race. Not only did I think the swim was disgusting, I was worried about possibly not being able to wear a wetsuit. If the water temperature is warm enough -- somewhere around 84 degrees, I think -- no one is allowed to wear a wetsuit. With my lousy swim, I NEED the help from the wetsuit to make the time cutoff. But I also know that I would be very hot in a wetsuit if the water temperature was, say, 82 degrees. Starting a very hot bike ride already hot from the swim sounds like a terrible idea.

Then there is also the drive. I've always known I don't want to bother flying and shipping my bike. The Woodlands is about a 16-hour drive from where I live, so that means either two 8-hour driving days each way, or else busting it out in one day. I did the one-day version on my way home from Texas, and I do not want to ever do that again. I especially don't want to do it tired and sore after a 17-hour race, OR depressed and mad after not making the swim or bike cutoff. But I also don't want to use up vacation days recovering in Houston, or in any city between Houston and Palmetto, to be honest.

I do not want to do Ironman Texas. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to forfeit my registration fee and pay again to register for either Chattanooga or else Florida again. I am really torn between these two. Advantages of Chattanooga: downstream swim, happens in September instead of December so I can get it over with sooner. Advantages of Florida: swim is in the ocean and I can practice in the ocean, shorter drive (5 hours vs 10 hours), flat bike course compared to Chattanooga's hilly one. I really can't decide between these two -- any advice from anyone knowledgeable is appreciated! -- but I am pretty sure that Texas is out.