Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 21: Testing, Testing... 1...2..3.. Testing...

Yesterday I did an "FTP" test on the bike. Technically, that stands for Functional Power Threshold. But in reality it's more like Fallingdown Tired and Puking, which is how you feel when it's done. Basically, 40 minutes of hell on a bike trainer.

But the good news is that on October 31, my average power output for the test was 178 watts, and yesterday it was 208 watts, which means I'm pushing more power on the bike, and hopefully getting ready to kick some ass on the hills of Coeur d'Alene come June.

Tomorrow I'll hit the running track for the equally un-fun 5k running test and we will see what that holds. My start of the season test was 27:12, and in December I did 25:59, so I'm hoping that trend will continue downwards as well.

I also did my first 1000 yard swim test since breaking my arm, clocking in at 13:54, for a 1:23/100 yard average pace. Not as fast as before the injury last summer, but not as slow as I feared either.

All things considered, as I head into the last 20 weeks of training, things look pretty good. I've never been someone who has looked too much at numbers - heart rate, pace, watts, etc. but now I kind of wish I had some numbers from previous years to see where I'm at. Mostly because with my injuries in the last few years, I have no idea if I'm just barely getting back to previous levels of fitness, or if I'm truly in good form. Just going by feel, it seems pretty good. I guess the proof will be in the pudding.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Getting It Done

There's a run scheduled for the day: 65 minutes. Two half-mile repeats. Two one mile repeats. All at 5k pace. That's gonna suck, I know this much ahead of time. Yep, on some tired legs with hours of work on them already this week, a 5k pace is going to be no fun to hold. Then I look out my window: pouring rain. Dumping rain, buckets of rain. As it turns out, more rain than has ever fallen from the sky on that particular calendar day in recorded history.

But I didn't know that when I first looked out of my window. No, at that point I thought it might stop. But it didn't. And didn't. And didn't. How much #@!$%! water can fall from the sky? Eventually, it was either get out there in it or not run at all.

So this is really where the rubber (on the bottom of my Vibram Five Finger shoes) meets the road. How many times do people say things like "You're so lucky, you stay in great shape."

Lucky? LUCKY? No. I don't even want to be out here running on a day like this. There's no stinking luck involved. It's just putting in the hard work when you have to, and looking forward to race day, when the payoff will be... wait for it... more suffering! Lunatic thing to do, this Ironman stuff.

So here's my little corner of Hell on Earth today, but I got 'er done.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 22: Notes from the Pain Cave

It's not the winter of my discontent, but it may well be the Winter of Discomfort down here in the Pain Cave, otherwise known as the "exercise room". This is where the hard miles have to occur when you're training for an early season Ironman and the winter storms are blowing outside.

Sometimes my daughter captures me and forces me to watch horse movies with her while I'm riding the trainer. She's twelve, and she loves horses the as only a twelve-year-old girl can. It may be true that women never love anything more in life than they love horses when they're twelve. And while I had my share of horse-loving years (including summers at horse camp on Grayback mountain), I have to admit that one can only watch so many horse movies as an adult, since they all seem to be variations on the theme of: Young kid's messed up life is saved by horse who no one thought could (be tamed, win the race, be the best in show, pick one).

Sometimes instead, I watch my Sufferfest videos and suffer, comforting myself with the notion that I'm getting faster. Some times I watch movies in Spanish with subtitles so that my son can keep up his language learning. Sometimes I just go batshit crazy. Occasionally I escape to the triathlon store with their Computrainer setup and suffer there instead, in the company of fellow sufferees.

The Pain Cave is so very very un-fun that by comparison, running outside in the hideous winter weather seems almost joyful. Yesterday's run saw me pelted by rain, sleet, snow, and hail, while being buffeted by wind gusts up to 40 mph according to the weather reports, yet it seemed a bit of a lark when compared to the anticipation of yet another trainer ride. The rivers around here are in full flood, and in places the bike and running paths have been buried under swift-flowing waters over the banks. At least the flooded forests make for some interesting scenery to off-set the drenching rain.

The silver lining on all of these clouds is that my times are still getting faster. My run is returning, if not to an exactly speedy state, at least to my previous version of what passes for speed. And my biking legs are getting there too. So when the sunshine finally burns through and the spring weather arrives, I plan to exit my pain cave like a hungry bear from hibernation, ready to eat up the road.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Weeks 24 & 23: Where's the Magic?

I think when you do something as monumentally difficult as training for an Ironman, you should suddenly, magically look really buff and tough. You would imagine that with this much bodily effort, this many muscle contractions, this many calories burnt, this many miles, you would come out the other side looking like a cross between a fitness model and a Greek goddess, right? But the truth is, if you watch the finish line of an Ironman, you'll pretty much see that apart from the pros and the genetically blessed, most of us crossing it still look like mere mortals. It's enough to make even Aphrodite pull her hair in frustration.

In the middle of a training cycle, you often don't even feel very energetic. You don't benefit from this busload of training because you're too busy being exhausted from actually doing it. The idea of course, is that once you taper the training off, you'll suddenly have this incredible fitness level. But from inside the Thunderdome of Pain (also known as the basement where the bike trainer resides), it doesn't always feel like it's there. I mean, what's the point of being an exceptionally fit person when you have to stop in the middle of climbing a flight of stairs because your quads are screaming for mercy from yesterday's track workout?

At this point, in the Heart of the Training Darkness, you just have to trust in the process and know that you'll come out the other side with an incredible engine-  that after the fatigue of the race wears off, you'll be able to do anything you want to with ease. I remember that the year after my last Ironman, I set all kinds of PRs at shorter distances, just because I had this huge base of training that I was building on. I know it will feel like that this summer when the Ironman is done and I no longer have to train as long, but I can enjoy the results of all the work I'm doing right now.

I have to tell myself these things on a day like today: a day where it's cold and it's sleeting and I have to drag myself off of my warm couch and away from my cup of tea to go brave the elements and get my run workout done. It will all be worth it when I cross the finish line, and all the adversity I face today only makes me stronger.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Blah, said Toad

Frog and Toad was one of my favorite books as a child, and then again as a book to read to my own kids. There are so few books for small children that don't want to make me scream internally when reading them to my kids (Bite me, "I Love You Forever").  But Frog and Toad is different. I think every state of life can be summed up by one Frog and Toad story or another. When I'm feeling down in the dumps in the middle of winter, I think of the story where Toad is at home hibernating under the covers and Frog keeps trying to wake him up. Toad just says "Blah". That's how my January has gone so far.

I don't know if it's the short daylight hours, the fact that our "holiday" was filled with activity and house guests, the walls of the house closing in on me, or some other random thing, but I've felt just Blah these past couple of weeks. I have to say, it gives me a lot of empathy for people who struggle with depression on an ongoing basis. It's really not fun.

Luckily, my workouts have not been suffering, I've been "gettin her done" as they say. Punching the clock, putting in the miles. Not really enjoying a lot of it, but doing it anyways. When it's cold or windy or rainy, it would be easier to pull a Toad and just pull those covers back over my head.

Couple the "Blahs" with the usual anxiety of the Robotics season - will our team get their act together, can I help them make it through the season, is there something I'm forgetting that will cause them a setback? and you also get a recipe for insomnia. Which I'm sure doesn't help the blahs. There's nothing like that feeling of staring at the ceiling at 3:00 am with a million things running through your head to really make your next day unproductive.

So what can I say that's useful out of all of this? Maybe that when you're feeling like this, it's more important than ever to have routines in place. Routines that you set down in good times, in easy times, can carry you through the hard times. If you're already grocery shopping for healthy food on a weekly basis, then it's not that hard to just keep doing it. If you're already exercising, getting to bed at a decent hour, and taking care of yourself, then at least if you just keep on keeping on, you can make it through. If you don't have those routines in place and you fall into a dark time, it's very hard to start doing something good for yourself at that point.

So here I am, Toad-like, blinking at the light and plodding on with life. I know I'll make it through. I know in another couple of months when the weather is warmer and the schedule is easier, I'll be okay again. Just wake me when it's spring.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 25: Halfway There

It's really scaring me, but I started this whole countdown thing and now I'm more than halfway through the 52 weeks. Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that the final 25 will go by faster than the first 27?? Hah, because they will and before I know it the Ironman will be bearing down on me like a scary train full of trolls. With big clubs. Who are going to beat me senseless. Well, that's how the training will feel anyways, I remember that much from last time.

So, it's Halfway Point Assessment time. Considering that when I started The Countdown, I was busy recovering from a broken arm and not doing much of anything, I think I'm in a better place now. That's good. In fact, I'm feeling pretty darned okay about my training. I have not been shirking my bike workouts through the dark and rainy months like I usually do, getting religiously onto the trainer four times a week. I've been maintaining my swim through 2x a week technique and light intervals, although I did swim a record-breaking four times in the last four days! That's vacation for you though. And my running, while not quite back in tip-top form is closing in on it.

And as for the so-called "fourth discipline": nutrition? I'm tackling that next, re-booting my good eating habits with the same "Whole30" Paleo program I did last year, one whole month of very strict paleo eating to bump me out of my sugary holiday bliss, which come to think of it really wasn't very sugary this year. It seems like my year of living Paleo-ish has successfully removed many of my bad eating habits, and I've felt really great this year. The holidays didn't even offer up too many temptations, although I confess that after this mornings New Year's Masters swim of 112 x 50 on the :45 interval, I did eat two of the awesome cinnamon rolls that one of our members brings. I think I've only had gluten a couple of times this year, but I have to say those cinnamon rolls were worth it. Nom nom.

So here I go, launching into the back half of The Countdown with vigor and high spirits. Happy New Year and I hope your fitness journey this year takes you to where you want to be.