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.