Sunday, October 25, 2020

Pandemic Training Update

I knew it's been a very, very long time since I posted any kind of update, but I didn't know it's been a year. Even now, I don't really feel like writing in this blog, but for some reason I still want a record of the triathlon journey, no matter where it ends up. 

So last year, after doing a lot of thinking about what happened in Chattanooga, I decided I was going to make one more attempt, but not tell anyone about it and not bring anyone with me to the race. I know conventional wisdom says, "Tell everyone! That way you'll hold yourself accountable and do the training and get to the start line!" Well, making myself do the training is not an issue for me. I WILL do the training and I have at least gotten to one start line, so I presume I can get to another one. I actually felt all the people wishing me well were draining me psychologically and not helping me. Therefore, I would not tell anyone, except the very few people who need to know. And even those people weren't coming with me to the race. I don't really understand all of the tricks my mind plays on myself, but I think I may be more able to finish if I don't have what I seem to perceive as the pressure of someone watching me. 

So I signed up for Ironman Texas because it meets all my criteria: flat bike, non-scary swim, practically zero chance of cold weather, drivable. (Sort of, on that last one.) Maybe it's stupid to try again, but I'm already $10,000+ into this stupid pursuit so I might as well keep going. Also, no one is as stubborn as me, and that is not really a compliment to myself although it's true that stubbornness has helped me to achieve a lot of other stuff. When I "officially" make something a goal, I'm not going to give up on it unless I die. Or, I suppose, if I become disabled somehow and physically can't do it. But sane reasons for giving up an activity like, "spending my time and money doing stuff I love instead of stuff I don't like" and "being more available for my partner" are not, to me, acceptable reasons for changing course. I had already deferred to Texas once when the hurricane cancelled IMFL, and then decided I didn't want to do it after checking out the swim course while I was there on a work trip and seeing that it ended in a narrow, gross canal with stagnant, green water and lots of ducks. However, Chattanooga has rearranged my priorities and I decided gross water is a fair trade for a flat bike. 

So I was training for Texas, which was supposed to be in April, and training was going pretty well. Physically well, that is. Psychologically, I was still a mess because I STILL DIDN'T WANT TO DO IT. I couldn't shut off the voice in my head that said, "Ironman is dumb, triathlon is a stupid selfish hobby, I should be spending all this money making people's lives better somehow instead of on gear, I should be spending all this time training my dogs more or doing something Will likes for a change," et cetera et cetera. But I was still putting in the miles and turning out decent performance. I was hoping for some miraculous change in my attitude before April. 

Then came March, and the whole world shut down.

One reason I haven't written this whole year is because I feel like focusing on exercise is kind of a shallow and un-interesting thing to focus on while the world goes crazy. But an alternative and equally true viewpoint is that anything that keeps a person mentally healthy during the time of craziness is TOTALLY worth focusing on. Somehow, working out gradually shifted from being the thing I dreaded to the thing I wanted over the last several months. This was especially true in the beginning of lockdown.

Judging from the various triathlon and running Facebook groups I belong to, there were two general reactions to working out during the pandemic: "There's no point since everything is cancelled and I'm not motivated to do any training at all" and "The endorphins from exercise keep me sane so I will look forward to them every day." Thankfully, I was in the second category. It was never, at any time since March, difficult for me to motivate myself out the door to train. My April race was cancelled? Yay! I mean, I'm sorry for the reason, obviously, but they will reschedule it, and in the meantime, the part of Ironman that I dread -- the actual event -- was far down the road. If I could run 9:00 miles in 90 degrees and 100% humidity, then obviously I did not have the 'rona though in my imagination I had it almost every single day from March till about, I don't know, July? August? (My power to imagine sore throats, coughs, and fevers is really pretty impressive.) I stopped thinking about the actual event and just looked forward to having nothing to think about except keeping my heart rate in the right zone. 

I went months without swimming while the pools were closed, but then when they opened I really hadn't lost much swimming fitness at all, which is both impressive and sort of demoralizing (why spend all that time in the pool if I can take five months off with zero regression in my technique, such as it is?). I bought an indoor smart trainer and, of course, then had to get a huge TV to go with it. We have not had a TV the entire time Will and I have lived together, and I didn't have one for almost 10 years before that, but I wanted one for the trainer. For my non-triathlete friends, a smart trainer is a machine that you mount your bike on and then use an app to ride any kind of course you want. The trainer sets the resistance. I use an app called Rouvy which has hundreds of bike courses from all over the world. Literally, I can ride Tour de France stages in the Pyrenees, or I can ride through Mexico City or Kona or even the same bike course in Chattanooga that defeated me! And I do ride Chattanooga, often. I perversely enjoy it even though the immersive experience is so real that I feel every bit of the discomfort I felt when I was there for real. But it's a lot better in the air conditioning with the fan going than it was on the road in the actual Chattanooga, a cool town that sadly is sort of ruined for me now. I enjoy riding on the trainer far more than I enjoy riding on the road. My expensive, practically brand-new Pinarello is sitting in the garage on two flats; I haven't touched it in months. I HAD to have that bike because my old one wasn't comfortable but, guess what, my old one is on the trainer and I ride 100 miles a week on it and it's FINE. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn't the bike that was the problem in the first place? (To be fair to myself, I also bought the new bike because I thought the disc brakes would help with my fear of downhills. They did, sort of, but the biggest help for my fear of downhills was deciding I'm never going to sign up for a race that has them. Problem solved!) 

Right now there are still a lot of race cancellations, but there are other races, even big ones like Ironman Arizona, that are still going on. It's too early to say whether Texas will happen next year or not. I personally think it will, probably with some COVID-related changes that other races have had -- no big gatherings in the merchandise tent, no finish line crowds. Those things would be fine with me. The fewer people and the less spectacle there is, the more I will like it. I'm just going to train for it whether it happens or not, because one thing I'm beginning to understand is that I don't really hate the training. I hate thinking about the race. If the race doesn't happen, it's not the end of the world, it just means I can keep training longer with less pressure. Maybe what I really want is to spend 15 hours a week working out forever for a race that NEVER happens? Lots to think about.