Sunday, October 25, 2009

Comments on Chuckie V's Post

I liked the recent post of Chuckie V's blog( because I have found out the hard way that his comments on ironman training are true.

  • "Train for your worst possible day, the one you hope to have". My first ironman attempt was the worst possible day. I wasn't prepared for a twenty five m.p.h. head wind nor ninety plus degree heat. Usually I can do much better in racing than training, but ironman is an exception. My long bike sessions weren't fast enough in training to beat the bike cut-offs and my bike speed was worse in the race. You can't fake quality of training in an ironman race.
  • "Train to overcome self-doubt and to slay your inner demons." It takes a lot of faith to attempt an ironman-faith in yourself and confidence that events will work out. When you get to dark spots in your training or the race itself, the self-doubt creeps in and it tells you that you should quit, that the pain is too much or that you are not talented or trained enough to get through the race. If you mentally train yourself to resist the voice of self-doubt and weakness that you know will come in a race, you are better equiped to deal with it. You do what you mind tells you to.
  • "Train for adversity, as adversity is omnipresent on Ironman day". Things go wrong on race day that you can't predict. Your tire goes flat, you get sick to your stomach. You get a 20 m.p.h. headwind on the bike. You get dehydrated and overheated. If you keep your cool have the will and stubborness to go on, you will.
  • "Train to want to be done". Train to want to be done at the finish line, not in the middle of the bike or during the run. Resist the urge to quit.
  • "Train to suffer". In shorter races you know that the pain won't last too long, even if you are slow. An ironman race has or seems to have vast amounts of time that you linger in pain especially if you are thinking about how long the race is instead of what you need to do at the moment. You have to tell yourself that the pain is temporary and deliberately focus on the moment.
  • "Train for lock-up, as excessive eccentric loading is the name of the Ironman game". When your muscles seize up after racing for twelve hours, you have to know how to deal with it.
  • "Train to gut it out". Ironman isn't for pussies. Your mind has to be in it for the long haul. You have to really want it.
  • "Train the gut". You have to eat in training the way you will eat in the race or else you will get some unpleasant surprises. Even so a nutrition plan may fail anyway. You have a 30% chance of your nutrition going wrong. Not practicing nutrition will make that percentage higher.
  • "Train to resist fatigue". Fatigue is a given. Proper training can help, but if you don't have the mental grit to resist it, you quit.
  • "Train for pain". Pain is your friend. It teaches you to be strong. Pain is inevitable in a race. You get cold in the swim; your butt, legs and back hurt in the bike; your feet and legs hurt in the run; you get tired, thirsty and hungry.

I have become well acquainted with pain. In my two year journey to actually finish an ironman, the swim and the bike have been my obstacles. The swim is an obstacle because I am too slow and it doesn't leave enough cushion for my slow bike. The bike is a obstacle because it isn't fast enough to make up for the slow swim to beat the cut-offs. My coach's strategy to remedy this is training hard on the long bike sessions instead of staying in an aerobic zone most of the time, like most people. This strategy has resulted in me having some truly miserable bike training. Riding hard and "fast" is not my normal state on a bike. I have really fight to ride like this. My muscles do not like riding hard. They like moseying along. Hence pain has been my unwelcome companion. It appears on a god-forsaken barren ugly stretch of the Bee Line highway, which is the bike race route. It appears when I am fighting to maintain speed against a headwind. It appears in the fourth hour of a six hour bike ride. My legs scream to stop and my feet hurt and I can't find a bearable way to sit on the bike seat.

Yet I know this pain will be useful. The race may or may not as bad as the training. I remember the last race, where I fell behind on the bike time-wise and I knew that I wouldn't finish the race after the first of three laps. I remember the frustration of not having the power to maintain the speed that I needed to against the wind and the heat. If I train through the pain, at least I have a fighting chance against the elements and the time limits. I remember that frustration when pain comes to visit me. It gives me power or at least what I hope is power. Pain is temporary. Finishing is forever.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lake Pleasant Open Water Swim

Yesterday I did my first 4000 meter swim of the year. I haven't done any swim approaching this length in open water or the pool for eighteen months. There's a reason for that. I am slow. It takes me about two hours to do a swim of this length. It is tedious in a pool. Unless I am training for a ironman I have no motivation to swim this long. In open water unless you are trained for it, swimming this long can be an ordeal, because there is no faking an effort of this magnitude. Shorter swims you can get away with being undertrained, but if you are not comfortable in open water or if you lack good swim technique, getting tired in a long swim the middle of a body of water can be terrifying.

Last year I did a 2.4 mile swim, which is 200 yards shorter than 4000 meter, before Ironman Arizona and I hated every minute of it. I got tired, cold and it was pychologically totally uncomfortable for me. It was beneficial, however, because when it came time to do the ironman swim I was much more confident I could do it.

The swim this year, I was nervous, but once I started I felt in control. I kept up a steady effort and I didn't get the desperate tiredness that I did in the swims last year. The first two 1000 meter loops I did in about 30:30". At this point the swim was still enjoyable. The water was smooth and clearer than what I usually swim in. I could not only see my hands, but swimmers passing by me as well.

In the third loop, the wind was picking up. I saw a pack of swimmers bypassing the turn buoy. I thought to myself I guess I will be a dork and actually not cheat. The lake was getting choppy and I thought it was because of all of the cheating swimmers passing me, but it was like that in the fourth loop when everyone had finished and I was swimming mostly by myself. By this time, the swimming was just becoming a lot of work. I finished this loop in 33". I tried not to think about being the only swimmer out there when everyone else was finishing.

The fourth loop there were swells and chop. Who would have thought there would be swells in a lake cove? I was really tired of swimming by now, so I picked up my pace so I could get the swim over with. There were a few shadows darting by me, but not many. Finally I could see the end. You were supposed to swim up a small lane, but by now my brain was befuddled and I just went over the rope. It took me a minute to try to stand up because the bottom was rocky and my legs wouldn't work. This loop took 27". Total time 2:02". This is an improvement on my ironman swim time, because subtracting the time for the extra 200 yards, it would be a sub-two hour swim.

I thought I was last, but amazingly there were two people behind me. I get frustrated with swimming in general because I put a lot of time into improving technique, endurance and speed and I'm still slow. More efficiently slow, but still slow. People are by nature competitve and when you are always on the bottom you take it personally. I guess if I wasn't slow I wouldn't have as much motivation to improve. I have to be happy with cutting minutes off my time and no longer having the heebee jeebeeies everytime I am swimming in open water.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Birds Rule

I have always loved birds ever since childhood. My neighbors had a birdfeeder and a birdbath(heated in winter), that our family could see outside our kitchen window. We saw cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, robins, nuthatches, tufted titmouse and plenty of squirrels.

When I got married and got a house, our backyard had an amazing variety of birds visit. The midwest is a major flyway for birds migrating north and south. I first got into birding when I happened to look at some birds in my trees and I was amazed to see that they were bright yellow warblers. I have been hooked ever since. I saw all kinds of strange birds in that yard. Onetime I had a Woodcock visit for a few days. This is a really peculiar looking bird with a long beak.

Arizona has its own version of unique birds-roadrunners, hummingbirds, quail, burrowing owls, peach-faced lovebirds and one of the largest wrens in the world-the cactus wren. One of my favorites is the vermillion flycatcher, which a small brilliant red bird. My yard always has resident mockingbirds, Gila woodpeckers, Abert's towees, Anna's hummingbirds, cactus wrens, doves, thrashers, verdins, quail, occasional Lesser goldfinches, kestrels, and white-crowned sparrows, so I have learned to recognize birds by sight and/or sound.

I love the challenge of seeing a new bird and trying to figure out what it is. They never look like the picture in the bird guides. It makes my day to discover a bird I haven't ever seen. If you go out with hardcore birders they will stare at a bird for twenty minutes trying to figure out what it is. The more drab the bird, the harder it is to identify. Some types of birds are nearly identical, so the only way to distinguish it is figuring out its behavior, range, tail shape or some obsure marking on its body.

Most people probably do not share my fascination with birds, but I think they are missing a lot by not noticing what is around them. They are part of being in the moment. When I am doing something boring like driving, watching hawks soaring in the sky takes me out of the mundane world. When I am riding my bike or running, they amuse me with their behavior or their vocalizations. They add immensely to the richness of the world. If you are somewhere with many birds, the singing makes the place feel more alive. They chirp, twitter, croak, buzz and warble. Some are ugly and obnoxious, others breath-takingly beautiful. They hop, run, creep and soar. Watching and listening to them brings me joy. I don't know why more people don't notice birds. Birds rule.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dark Places

There sometimes comes a moment in long endurance training where you feel like utter crap. Your body is telling you to quit, but you know you have to keep going. Usually it is deep in the session when you still have a long way to go and you are in pain and running out of energy.

I started out my 91 mile ride feeling good. I knew I had to ride hard for six hours, but I blocked that out of my mind. My plan was to ride the ironman route all the way up then do shorter loops so that I went up the hill three times. Again it was windy like last week, but the wind was more out of the east and a little lighter, so it wasn't as bad. It got worse as the day went on and I was still fighting it riding downhill.

By the time I hit mile 60, my feet hurt, my rear end hurt, my neck was still and my thighs were burning. I would stare down at the road in a trace trying not to think about how boring the road was, how tired I was or how many miles I had to go. My goal was to keep up a certain pace, but I was fighting to maintain it. By the time I was ascending the hill a third time, my mind was going to dark places. I told myself it's like a race-the good feelings and the bad feelings don't last long.

I recently was reading a book by Eckhart Tolle entitled "The Power of Now". He says that the "pain being" tries to assert itself over your spiritual side, which means that unhappy thoughts in your mind try to keep you from feeling at peace. Instead of living in the moment you are thinking negative thoughts. This "pain being" took over my mind because I was so physically uncomfortable. I felt like I had to resist it because it was going to visit again sometime in the race and I had to be ready for it.

As a defense, I finally told myself about mile 74 that I was going to fight the urge to slow down. I made a game of trying to maintain my average speed for every mile until I reached my goal. It distracted me somewhat and the fact that I was nearly home helped. I made my speed goal for the whole 91 miles.

I think getting through an ironman race is about pain tolerance through mental fortitude. The mental fortitude you get from yourself and from the people that support you. The mental fortitude you get from getting through a tough training session. The mental fortitude to keep going when you body is screaming for you to stop. Mind over matter so that you can defeat your demons.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Paying the Ironman Dues

There comes a time when the ironman training starts getting really tough, when you confidence falters and when you just wish the training was over with and you had your life back.

This week I started I started with heavy volume again after tapering off for my Duathlon race. All I want to do besides train is eat and nap. The rest of life I am just going through the motions. Work barely gets done, the house is a mess and the yard has had a hard summer.

It's the price you pay for doing an extreme endeavor. At this point in training six hour bike rides, three hour runs, 4000 yard swims are the norm. It's only about four to six weeks of the whole training cycle, but it leaves you energy for little else. You get really cranky because you are so tired. If you are lucky, you don't get sick or injured.

Sunday I rode the Bee Line race route for five and a half hours and it was miserable. I hadn't done a long bike in a month and my legs hurt. My bike rides have been going fairly well, but this day the wind was howling from the south west, the same direction that the highway goes as it goes south. Riding uphill was deceptively easy. Going downhill, I found out why. The wind was blowing straight up the highway and it was more effort riding down than up. Usually you can fly going downhill. Riding southwest and west was a real effort. I told myself that at least I am getting the training even though I am going slower than hell. It's the kind of riding experience where you curse the wind and you just want it to be over with. I was really tired and I hurt.

Tuesday I did a two and a half hour run on the IMAZ run course. I also had not run long in a month and it was surprisingly tiring. Each lap of the run goes over three bridges(one twice) and there is also a significant hill to run up. It was a lot of cement to hurt my feet and some areas are utterly monotonous. I can see that this run would be challenging, even without a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike before it.

Even this misery has an end. I only have three more six hour bike rides and two more two plus hours of running along with the shorter workouts. I have maybe four 4000 yard swim workouts. Then it's a taper and hope that I did enough. Forty-five days and counting.