Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ironman Training Is Hard

I'm writing this using the Blogger app on my forgive me now if I do something weird here. Haha.

I'm waiting in the parking lot of Solers in Helotes for Linda (she got held up at swim tryouts - I think I've mentioned once or twice that Linda is a high school swim coach and that I'm lucky enough to get her to critique my stroke too!) so that we can do our final bike/run brick workout of the "race prep" phase before we go into taper mode for Ironman Texas. We have a 20 mile run tomorrow and then we start scaling it back for 3 weeks before the race.

I can't believe it's here. Just like for the taper for Ironman Arizona in November, I'm ready to race NOW and I don't want to wait another 3 weeks. But I know the taper will make me stronger.

First though, this training breaks you down. I have to post this, not particularly for anyone reading it, but for myself to remember, that Ironman training is hard.

It builds and builds over months, you have highs and lows, but you train every day, and a lot of those sessions are really tough either mentally or physically. I'm fortunate to have a coach who pushes me to exceed my own expectations - I don't know how she knows what I can do, but almost every time I look at a workout and say "she's crazy, I can't hit those times" I get proven wrong. Each time that happens, I get a little more confidence.

Until... That breaking point where everything starts to hurt. You're cranky and mean and tired and spacy. And absent - your family starts to really miss you and can't help being annoyed about it. And then after a couple of 20 hour weeks in a row, you go out for a run one day and the adductor (inner thigh) that has been saying hello for weeks finally tells you NO. And then you panic a little bit, and Coachie tells you to shut it down and only swim for the rest of the week - let it rest and heal.

And while you're feeling like you're in this alone, you get on Facebook and see that everyone in your training group is feeling it too. "Anyone else falling apart?" Yes, all of us are. It's to be expected. And it's happening at exactly the right time.

One week of resting and a magical sports massage later (I climbed off the table and immediately recognized how my legs "should" feel, that is, no pain or discomfort of any kind, the first time I have felt this in at least 6 weeks), and I'm ready to hit the road with Linda and get in another strong session.

And what is the reward? Yesterday, a coworker asked Shelly, is it hard? "Yes, it hurts. A lot." How do you feel when you cross the finish line? With tears in her eyes, Shelly said, "it's the most amazing feeling in the world. There's nothing like it." I can't wait.

I typed all this from my phone with thumbs. Pretty impressive, right? :)

Monday, April 1, 2013


Camp is officially over. All that is left is a celebratory evening and then a long drive home. I'm tired, exhausted, smashed, and I am proud to say that I left everything out there; I gave it everything I had.

We had a huge day yesterday - a technique focused swim in the morning, followed by a 60 mile ride to the top of Mt. Lemmon and back down, then a 30 minute transition run, and then a dinner at Hillary and Maik's house that ended with us raiding the Smashfest Queen closet (awesome!!!!)

The day was amazing. I took some instruction from Hillary on my swim stroke (still completely star struck, I mean how completely cool is it to get swim instruction from one of the top pro swimmers in Ironman?!) and I can't wait to try swimming again when I get home to incorporate the tweaks to my technique.

Swim buddies - conquered a 10K swim together! - me, Taryn, and Aixa. 

For the ride, Hillary would lead me, Aixa, Linda, Taryn, and Kate up the mountain. As we rolled out, I immediately noticed how much hotter than it was last year. Throughout the ride, I remembered the scenery pretty clearly from the year before, and I was thrilled to see the first sag stop at a point that seemed to appear way earlier than it should have. I think I got a little overexcited by this and I took off from that stop, rushing ahead of everyone up the climb. I wanted to prove that I could do better than last year. However, I didn't know how to calculate that, because all I knew was that it took just under 5 hours to do the entire ride last year, ascent and descent combined.

Linda followed and then we reached the second stop at Windy Point, about halfway up. By that time, I was a mess. I had stopped drinking, I felt nauseated, and I couldn't eat anything. This has pretty much been a standard between workouts this week, but during workouts I have been able to continue fueling, until this time. I just couldn't stand the thought of eating or drinking anything. Gail forced me to drink an entire bottle of sports drink and water and then refilled them both. As we pulled away again, Linda took off ahead and I couldn't even try to keep up with her. I just drank from my bottles (managed to drop one in the road, and watch it roll away from me downhill in slow motion) and tried pull myself out of the hole. I was miserable for at least an hour. Then, magically, everything came together and I started to feel better. Hillary appeared on my wheel and provided encouragement and distraction, and before I knew it, I made it to the top! Hillary guessed that we arrived 45 minutes earlier than I had climbed the previous year.

Snacks and drinks at the Cookie Cabin with the whole crew (we headed up in waves this year instead of starting all at the same time) and we headed back down. Just like last year, I asked Hillary if I could sit behind her and watch her descend, and I screamed at Linda to come up and get the same instruction. We are both chickens in descending and we both learned so much from Hillary in the hour+ that it took to get down the mountain. I hit 41 miles per hour without feeling like I was going to crash off my bike! When we returned to the car, I determined that I took over 30 minutes off my time from last year. So incredibly cool.

Then we ran. Again I felt shaky and terrible. But I said "I can do anything for 30 minutes" - the old mantra Shelly and I have always had. As I was finishing up the run and starting to feel better, Maik was running up the road the other way to check on everyone. He ran beside me for a moment or two, long enough to give me some instruction on my technique (loosen up those shoulders) and to tell me, and I quote, "You have improved so much from last year. It's amazing to watch you." (Again - completely star struck. One of the top pros in Ironman is telling me that it's amazing to watch me. I didn't even think that he even saw me at all last year, he was very busy leading the fast group, and did not spend much time with me and Shelly.) At that point I started to get emotional and I told him that he couldn't make me cry while I was running. He laughed and ran off to the next person and I was left alone to hyperventilate and try to breathe, run, and stop crying at the same time. I think this was my proudest moment of this whole experience.

From high highs to low lows - today's trail run on the Starr Pass trails was something else entirely. I had no more energy left. I couldn't eat another peanut butter and honey sandwich for breakfast, so I tried cheerios and I couldn't do it. So I showed up unfueled and unhappy to the run. I was distressed to hear that I'd be running with Hillary today and that Herb would not. The entire time that we've been signed up for camp, I've been looking forward to seeing Herb in his element and to have him teach me a thing or two (he had an awesome run today!). But I was not going to argue with Grand Coachie. Instead I tried to toughen up and figure out how I'd keep up with her on this run.

Well, I didn't. Within an hour, Linda had fallen and cut up her hands pretty well, and suffered a mini-meltdown in the process. I tried to talk her out of it but did a terrible job because I was a mess myself. Aixa cleaned Linda up at the car and we were off again for another hour...that turned into 2 and a half. Three and a half total hours on the trail, 11 something miles, and Linda and I walked/stumbled/jogged/grumbled most of it together, with Hillary running back to check on us every so often. We fantasized about being eaten by bears, dreamed about being rescued by helicopters, and joked about thowing hissy fits. Then we all ran out of water because it was taking so long to get back. This run was a total beatdown for the two of us, but Aixa kept up with Hillary and looked strong and steady every time we saw her - I was impressed!

Dr. Alvarez at work.

Linda and I in the 7th circle of hell.

Dawn is going to ask what I've learned from camp and I think it's this - I finally understand what people are talking about when they say that you can go through high highs and low lows within the same day. They're usually talking about the day of an Ironman race, but I experienced this on the bike yesterday and the run today. These things come and go, and I need to remember that when race day arrives.

Maybe after I've had some time to reflect, I'll have more to say about this experience. For the moment, I'll say I'm so glad I came back a second time to see what I can do compared to just a year ago. It's completely awesome. Now it's time to get home, get some sleep (AND SOME WHATABURGER) and get focused on the race prep phase for IMTX.