Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 4: Paranoia

Ah yes, I remember this phase well. I have officially entered the Ironman Paranoia Zone. That's where you worry about every little thing that could possibly go disastrously wrong, thus wrecking your chances of appearing on the starting line of the Ironman. Witness my continuing battle with the Poison Oak From Hell - it's been three weeks since I contracted this current case. Some people get poison oak like an irritatingly itchy rash. On me, it's more like a deep chemical burn. This is all that's left, but it's still mighty painful, and has landed me in the hospital before. If I got another bad dose, especially someplace like a foot or on my torso, that could literally take me out of the running.

This weekend, moving rocks for our landscaping project (correction: moving boulders), I had repeating visions of a boulder getting loose and coming to land on my foot. There are so many things in this world that could stop you from being able to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112, and run 26.2. You really have to be fairly intact to even attempt such a thing. Here's hoping I stay that way for 3.7 more weeks!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 5: Why I've Been Avoiding My Doctor

I have been running for 30 years, and I have never had knee problems, even during these years when I've trained for marathon or Ironman distance races. So frankly, I'm a little pissed off that my knee has turned traitor on me. I shouldn't blame it though, it's not my knee's fault. Nor is it really my fault. Chalk it up to an accident.

It all started a few weeks ago when I went for a bike ride just after getting my new bike. An hour or so out, my back started hurting. Then really hurting. Well, I thought, of course it's hurting. It's a new bike. Although I set it up very similar to my old position, it's going to be slightly different. Then my back hurt worse, and worse, and worse. So I did the sensible thing (for once), I turned around and cut my ride short, heading home. When I got home, I discovered that my seat (which I had adjusted and, I thought, tightened down) had slid backwards on its rails until it was all the way back. Not good. But I still didn't think much of it.

The next day, I went for a two hour run.

An hour later, I was in knee hell, and I haven't gotten out of it since. My best guess is that for an hour or so on that bike ride, while my seat was slid all the way back, I was hyper-extending my knee ninety times a minute. That's usually not a good thing. Now my knee is pissed off at me, and every time I push it, it gets mad.

This is not good when you're five weeks out from an Ironman.

The best thing would be to go to a doctor. But then the doctor might tell you something you don't want to hear. Something like "Don't keep training for an Ironman, stupid. Spend the next five weeks resting your knee instead." Surely, ignorance is better than that. Except that the knee didn't stop hurting.

So today I went to the doctor. He took some X-rays.

And thankfully told me that nothing is seriously wrong with my knee. I haven't torn any meniscus, haven't blown any bursa, haven't decimated any cartilage. In fact, my knees, and the nice thick bones and cartilage surrounding them look quite robust and healthy, especially considering the 30 years of running I've put on them. I have just irritated some tendon/ligament attachment points. Of course, the doctor did say that training really really hard for an Ironman right now is probably not the best thing I could be doing.

But he didn't tell me I had to stop.

I'll count that as permission. Basically, he said "let your pain and discomfort be your guide". If I had gotten in to see my regular doctor, he'd probably know better than to say that. Because what's a little pain when you've got an Ironman to finish? But seriously, I am going to take it easier, going to throw a light training week in this week and do my best to rest, ice, stretch, massage, and baby my knee so it stops being mad at me and cooperates, at least through 140.6. Then it can have a nice vacation!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 6: Race Rehearsal

This post is a bit late in coming (it's a miracle I get on my computer at all, between training, eating, sleeping, and oh yeah taking care of the kids, house, and animals...). Last weekend I did my first "race rehearsal" where I practiced my pacing and nutrition strategies, as well as tried out clothing and gear that I'll be using on race day. If you're doing a longer race, this is absolutely essential, since that drink mix that you like so well on one-hour rides might make you gag at five hours in, and those shorts that seem just perfect have this seam that makes your life miserable after a hundred miles have gone by.

In this race rehearsal, I biked 104 miles in 6 hours, and then ran for an hour. I used the Infinit and Bonk Breaker Bars that I'm planning on using on the course, and wore my favorite pair of thin-chamois tri shorts to see how I'd hold out in them. It was a gorgeous day to be out in the Willamette Valley on a bike, as you can see from tbjs photo from my phone!

I started off the night before with a 4200 yard swim. For Ironman Coeur d'Alene, my swim strategy is going to be (for the first time ever) to put myself up front with the big dogs and go for it. So in my rehearsal swims, I'm trying to go out hard, then back down and find my distance pace and settle in after the first 500 yards or so. That strategy played out in this swim with 1000 yard splits as 13:51, 14:05, 14:17, 14:14. Last 200 was a 2:42. Total: 59:09. My goal for IMCdA is sub-1:00, so this was perfect.

The next morning I was out on the road for the 104 mile ride. Though I didn't have quite as much climbing in this course as there will be in Coeur d'Alene (2700 feet as opposed to 4600), otherwise the terrain was similar, with rolling hills and a couple of big climbs. I made sure to put in a thousand foot climb in the last few miles, just like the real race will have. That was definitely a booger to do at the end of the ride! Overall average was 17 mph, including the starts and stops through town. Probably closer to 17.5 outside of town. Since I'm shooting for somewhere between 6:20 - 7:00 on race day, 17 mph would put me at 6:35 or right in my ballpark. Granted, there are more hills at CdA. However, I'll also have race wheels and aero helmet and my legs will (hopefully!) be fresh. And no stoplights. So hopefully that will all balance out.

For nutrition on the ride, I mixed up two 3-hour bottles of Infinit, plus I ate two Bonk Breaker bars. My calories averaged out to 265 an hour, probably a little high. I'm going to aim for slightly lower to make sure I don't get sidelined by gastric distress.

After the ride, it was time for some work on my run pacing, so I ran six miles at the pace I'm shooting for in the race. My predicted IM pace is 10:22 (if all the stars align and it isn't smoking hot outside), which means I'm aiming to add 30 seconds per mile for the first six miles, making a 10:52 pace. I have to say, it's hard to run that slow, so I'm adding some walking breaks to make sure I don't overamp those early miles. This is all part of the Endurance Nation pacing strategy that I'm following.

My first mile was 10:07 - Eeep! Way too fast. After that I brought them back down to 10:35, 10:50, 10:44, 10:49, 10:48. You can see that even though I thought I was running WAY slow, I was still faster than my pace should've been. And one look at a heat calculator for running paces shows that if it's at all warm on race day, I'll be running wayyyyy slower than that!

Still, all things considered, I'd say the day was a success. If everything goes absolutely perfectly, I could be looking at a 1:00 swim, 6:30 bike and 4:30 run, or right around 12:10 - 12:15 with transitions. If there's wind, heat, mechanical, or other problems, I'll probably be closer to 13:00 or over. In any case, I'm starting to have a good estimate of where my ballpark is at. Maybe not as fast as I hoped I'd be this year, but still feeling strong and ready to go.

Monday, May 14, 2012

It's a Mother of a Day

I will spare you photos of the gory head wound that I started off Mother's Day weekend with (courtesy of the new bike rack on my trunk) - did you know that the best way to clear a path through a grocery store parking lot is to walk around with a gushing head wound? It looked like something from the black knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail. And the whole time, the song It's Going Down in the Whole Foods Parking Lot is running through my head...

The head wound combined with a nasty case of poison oak (which on me tends to look more like a bad chemical burn than a mere itchy rash) conspired to keep me from my usual Mother's Day swim, which kicks off my open water season. But Asa and I did a Mother-Daughter 5k Run together. It was her first 5k, so a big PR for her on the course! And the run was set up as a way to empower girls and women in sports, and was also a memorial to Jane Higdon, a local amazing triathlete and friend who was killed 6 years ago on her bike at the age of 47. So many people there were friends of Jane, or were touched by her drive, enthusiasm, and energy. Her memory is as powerful as the woman herself was when she was with us.

When I look at this photo of Asa running, it looks so much like me it's scary. When I look at her face, I see my hubby, but everything about her body and the way she moves and carries herself is like mini-me. On the course, she discovered that 5k is a long way to run for a 12 year old, and she had to dig deep to finish it. We had a good conversation about what it means to hang in there when the going gets tough. One of the best gifts we can give our kids is the ability to persevere, and running teaches that skill and allows us to learn that when we feel like giving up we can always go further. Or as I told her "You're much stronger than you think you are" and she was! She out-sprinted me at the finish with a big burst of energy and a smile. Next up on her docket is a kid's triathlon this summer!

For me, Mother's Day is not tied to flowers, gifts, chocolate, or brunch. It's a day to be grateful for the amazing lives that I brought into this world, for my body which held and nourished them, and for the gifts that we give each other on a daily basis. I can think of no one else I would rather spend a day with than my kids. Even my son, as crazy as he can be (who else would model a Greek helmet and a Roman sword, while wearing a Hawaiin shirt??)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Incredible Power of Belief: Most Inspirational Video Ever

Watch this one from start to finish. It's amazing, it's mind-blowing, it's inspirational. There is no reason that, wherever we are in our journey today, we can't keep getting up and getting stronger.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 7: Riding the new IMCdA Bike Course!

As Ironman Coeur d'Alene creeps ever closer, I was hoping I would get a chance to take a look at the new bike course before seeing it on race day. Fortunately, my step-sons both live in Spokane, a hop-skip-jump from Coeur d'Alene, and so we combined a family weekend of BBQs and fun with family with some time for me to take Pinkalicious out on the course and see first-hand what was in store for us.

The day I chose to ride the course, Saturday, was not especially promising, weather-wise. It dropped to 35 degrees that night, and was still a chilly 42 when I set off in the morning. On top of that, the big wind storm that wreaked havoc on the poor Ironman St. George participants seemed to be blowing up through Idaho as well. The winds were howling, the lake had 1 - 2 foot whitecaps, and I was very glad that I wasn't actually racing, but just checking out the course.

First I rode down the Lake Drive that constitutes the first part of the course. I had already seen this on the Computrainer Ironman course, but it was far prettier first-hand. I tried to picture my ride through town on this quiet Saturday morning the way it will look on race day, streets lined with cheering mobs. A thrill of excitement and goosebumps, not to mention a little lurch of the stomach shot through me as a small echo of the race day nerves to come. Then, after moseying along the small roller hills of the lakeshore drive, I headed back through town and out onto the newly added course on Hwy 95. I had no idea of what to expect here, and to be honest I was not thrilled about riding on a highway with all of those cars whizzing past.

As it turned out, the ride is quite scenic, and I think on race day when we'll get a couple of lanes of traffic all to ourselves, it will be very beautiful. To ride the course right now, you have to stay on the shoulder, which means contending with a serious rumble strip. These are very hazardous to cyclists, especially those of us on thin tires with squirrely aerobars to contend with. Throw in some wickedly gusting winds, and you have a bit of a nerve-wracking ride on your hands. Still, in most places the shoulder was very wide, leaving me lots of room to avoid the dangerous strip. And the good news was that motorists were not likely to casually venture onto the shoulder and strike me, since the rumble strip would quickly alert them to any detours from their lane into mine.

So, on to the question that's probably on everyone's mind who will be riding the new course: What about the hills? To be honest, the first one is pretty intimidating when you look at it, especially if you look UP and see the road winding way above where you are now (later on, you'll get to look DOWN into this amazing valley below you and wonder that you managed to pedal your way so high). The good news is that because you're on a highway, the grade is very gentle. It probably tops out at about 6%. On race day, this could make these hills seem deceptively easy. I rarely got into my lowest gear, and I don't currently have a compact crank on my bike. So it would be easy to overbake these hills on race day by a few watts here and there, and enter T2 with considerably less gas in your tank than you counted on. I filed this away in my mental notebook for race day: stay within my zones on the hills and you'll be fine. For me, riding the hills put my mind at ease. There's nothing here that I don't ride a thousand times in the hills behind my house. I can tell myself  "It's just another hilly ride, take it easy and enjoy the scenery."

And on this particular ride, the hills took a big backseat to the wind. I literally would be winding my way up a hill, reach the flat part at the crest and get hit by a wall of wind so stiff that it made me gear DOWN from the gear I was climbing the hill in. I had to pedal harder on the flats and even the downhills than I did on the uphills. This had the effect of making the whole first half of the Hwy 95 portion into an effective 20 mile uphill grind. Somehow I think on race day it might feel a whole lot easier (if we don't get an IMSG-style windstorm, that is).

All in all, my take on the new course is:

Hills: not too terrible.

Technical: None. All of the sharp turns of the old course are gone. You'll want to be comfortable with screaming down a couple miles of 6% grade at 45 mph+ though.

Highway: Rideable for people who want to check it out before race day

Scenery: Top Notch. Green valleys, horse pastures, rolling hills, big clouds scudding across an impossibly blue sky. Glimpses of the lake in the distance. What's not to love?

Old Part of the course: Fun, with cheering sections in the city, and beautiful lakeshore views outside of town. A couple of rollers will warm you up in the first 15 miles.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 8: Goin' Long

It's get-down-to-business time here in Ironman training world and the open road beckons. Which explains why, despite the fact that I have a million great blog posts running around in my mind (including one on kicking in the swim and some other stuff), I haven't written a thing since last week. That, my friends, is what an 18 hour training week will do to you. Coupled with eight or more hours of sleep a night (mandatory) and more time with eating and food prep (can't avoid that!), means that I hardly see my good friend the computer anymore. Facebook, what's that? Tweeting, is that what the birds are doing outside my bedroom window when I'm trying to sleep in? Posts, aren't those what holds your bike seat up?

But for anyone who is keeping score at home, the training is going well. I got a nice four hour ride on Pinkalicious on a sunny day this weekend, and today I knocked off a two-hour long run where I worked solely on pacing for the Ironman run. You know what? It feels REALLY stupid to go jogging along at my s-l-o-w Ironman pace here on Eugene's running trails, meanwhile world class athletes getting ready for the Olympic trials are blowing past me right and left. Where's a good "I'M TRAINING FOR AN IRONMAN" shirt when you need it? At least they'd know I was purposefully shuffling along for a good reason.

This weekend we will be heading off to Spokane and Coeur d'Alene to visit my step-sons and on Sunday I will get a chance to ride at least some of the Ironman course. Then I'll really know what I've signed up for.