Monday, October 21, 2013

Observations in Idleness

I have made a few key observations since my last race.  This is the first time in close to three years that I am not actively training for some race, even just a 5k, and aside from the mental issues (that sounds weird, right?) I am dealing with, there are the physical issues that have arisen that have taken me completely by surprise.  I made a conscious decision to back off training and to not race anymore this year; not to be completely idle, but to just give myself a little rest after a tough year of races, injury, and general bad crap that has happened in my life.  I expected to feel fatigue as an after-effect of the months of heavy training I did for Augusta, but wow, am I surprised to see and feel my body's reaction to well, inactivity.

I am TIRED.  Like physically exhausted.  All the time.  Saturday night I fell asleep at 7:30 p.m., and did not wake up until almost 7 the next morning (which, for someone like me, might as well be lunchtime).  And my normal afternoon lull is more like a walking coma.

I am SORE.  My everything hurts.  My knees are achy, my shoulders hurt, my back is acting up.  When I have done a workout, I notice that my stamina is already beginning to wane.  It seems that the LACK of activity makes me hurt more than any punishment of hard training ever did.

I am HUNGRY.  ALL. THE. TIME.  You'd think the decrease in training would equate to a decrease in appetite. Listen closely to the sounds of the diet gods slapping their knees and guffawing wildly at the presumption!!  My tummy still thinks it's feeding a person engaged in 8-10 hours of training per week.  My hips are fully aware that the exact opposite is true, and have laid out the welcome mat for the excess calories that are being consumed.  I know, I know, I need to put the kibosh on the carbs.  I don't need a lecture.

I am SQUIRRELY.  One minute I want to sign up for every race within 100 miles of my house.  The next minute I want to get a bowl of ice cream.  When I do get out for a workout, I feel good, but sitting on the couch feels pretty amazing, too.  There are two distinct personalities waging a little battle within me right now: the Type A triathlete who is dying to race again and the lazy slacker who wants you to pass the Chips Ahoy.

My MIGRAINES have returned.  I used to get migraines pretty regularly.  As a teen, I was on copious amounts of meds for them.  They subsided greatly when I was pregnant and nursing, but returned with a vengeance in my mid-30's. When I began running and racing, I noticed that they only came around a few times a year, and didn't hang around for as long.  In the last three weeks since I raced at Augusta, I have gotten three doozies, two of them in the past seven days alone.  Migraines make me MUCH less pleasant than I am now which, unless I am driving, is pretty darned pleasant.

I thought taking a break from training would be exactly what I needed.  And it is.  The problem that I am faced with, though, is that I don't know how to just go for a run, or take my bike out for a ride.  I think with all the training that I've been doing over the last few years, I never learned how to just enjoy a workout that has no real purpose but to release stress, burn calories, and clear my head.

My body is sending me a loud and clear message.  That message being, "Get off your butt, or I am going to go into full-on attack mode."  So, obviously, it is time for action.

My goal for the next two weeks is to head out my front door, and just run.  NO intervals, NO tempo, NO time or distance goal.  I want to see if I can find a happy running place, because goodness knows that has been an issue in the short history that is this fitness lifestyle of mine.  Then maybe my bike and I can kiss and make up.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Triathlon Life For Me

Sunday, I got to play a brand new role: I was a sherpa/cheerleader/triathlon groupie at the Ameliaman/Atlantic Coast Triathlon in Fernandina Beach, Florida.  Having just come off Ironman Augusta 70.3, I was in no shape to "race", so I got to be a spectator at a triathlon for the very first time.

My husband was racing his very first 70.3 distance, and since he was patient/generous/gracious/wonderful enough to play the role of MY sherpa/cheerleader/triathlon groupie in Augusta, I thought it only fair that I do the very same thing for him.  That way, the kids could whine and complain cheer for their dad and their dad would have a reluctant enthusiastic cheering squad!

I was also fortunate enough to be able to cheer on and photograph many members of my tri club, who were competing in both the sprint and Olympic distance races.  And while in the wee hours of the pre-race dawn I was feeling edgy and weird that I wasn't zipping up my own wetsuit to race, I soon came to relish my opportunity to see my friends and fellow triathletes do what they do best, and see into their souls just a little bit.

It became obvious to me just why I have fallen so fast and hard for this triathlon life.  Yes, the training can get long and arduous.  Yes, the early morning wake-ups for races can be less than thrilling.  Yes, the hassle of hotels and travel can get old.  But, everything else makes up for those little things and then some.

Besides, how can anything be wrong with having the opportunity to witness this?

Or this?

I don't know that I usually take the time to appreciate the colors of sunrise when I am racing.  But I did yesterday, and I made a mental note to take a picture with my eyes of each and every sky before each and every race I do henceforth.

Watching my friends and teammates race yesterday gave me a little glimpse into their cores, and I came to love and appreciate them so much more.  Seeing their joy, their struggle, and their triumph made me appreciate the journey - both theirs and my own.  I mean, how can you NOT love triathlon when you know someone who can't stop smiling when she races?

Or these two bright and beautiful people who don't spend their days gardening or golfing, but who race and win at triathlon and life?

And sometimes, you have to turn the world upside down to really appreciate it:

Training for Augusta completely exhausted my body and my mind.  It took everything out of me, churned it up, and threw it into oncoming traffic.  Spending yesterday with my triathlon family was just the therapy I need to jolt me back to life.  Now, I can't wait to race again.

And the greatest payoff of all yesterday, for me, was seeing this guy cross his finish line:

Real men do triathlon!

My husband didn't think he could do a 70.3.  Even after watching me finish my race, he felt less prepared and less able.  But, as with everything else he puts his mind to, he showed himself that he WAS prepared and the he WAS MORE than able, and he showed that race who the boss was yesterday.  And I was happy to be a blissful observer.

The triathlon life.  It is SO for me.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Post Ironman Blues

Yeah, I know I didn't do a FULL 140.6. Tell that to my legs, though.  Eleven days later, and I am now feeling like I have been steamrolled.

Since Augusta, I have worked out exactly 4 times: 2 swims and 2 runs - well, if you want to call them runs.  They were slow, frustrating, and eye-opening.  It became painfully clear that I am a 40-year-old broad who's athletic career only began 3 1/2 short years ago.  My body is pooped.  I know I need to rest and recover, yes, I know that.  It's hard, though, to think that it wasn't two weeks ago that I was in the shape of my life, participating in a Half Ironman.  Where did that chick go?

In the days following the race, I was high.  I had the Iron High.  I felt invincible, like I could climb any mountain with my bare hands.  It reminds me a lot of how I felt after I delivered my two kids.  I felt like Superwoman because I had delivered life forth into the world from my womb!  And much like those experiences, my bliss was short-lived.  For the honeymoon always ends, and reality sets in, and we are back to the drawing board.

**And much like after I gave birth, my body at this very moment feels flabby, blubbery, slow, and uncooperative.  It's a bummer, man.

I have been doing a little reading on what's going on inside my noggin these last few days and, as it turns out, I am not alone.  Post Ironman Blues strikes athletes of every shape, size, and ability.  It makes sense.  You spend months preparing your body to go through the punishment of 5-8 hours of constant energy output (8-17 if you are training for a 140.6), and when it is all said and done, your body is sort of a shell of its former self.  It's like you leave yourself on the course, and have to endure a long wait to regenerate.  I'd reckon that I left a bit of myself somewhere in South Carolina on the bike course, as well as a tad on Broad Street in Augusta.

What's left is a battle in your brain.  A battle between common sense telling you to STOP ALREADY AND TAKE A BREAK and that ADHD/Type A compulsive triathlete person on the other shoulder desperately begging you to chase another finish line like, yesterday.  It's a lonely and aimless kind of feeling, being without a training plan to stick to, longing for some guidance because, just going for a run seems to have no purpose right now.  I've done big races before, and felt antsy to move on to the next goal.  But I wasn't really prepared for this.

I know I am not alone.  Right?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Now what?

I knew it was coming.

That inevitable withdrawal that happens after a big race, after the dust has settled, and the excitement has worn off.  Although, I still haven't quite come down from my Ironman high just yet.  I catch myself silently gloating, inside my head, "I did a Half Ironman!" and I'll a little bit, because I just never thought I would do anything like this in my life. Ever.  I never thought I would be a runner.  I never thought I would be a triathlete.  I never thought I would be an Ironman, even HALF an Ironman.  So, this is a big deal.  And I am enjoying my accomplishment.  But I am feeling a tiny bit lost.

I promised myself I would take the week off from any training.  My body and my mind needed the break.  I broke down on Thursday and went to the pool for a swim.  I thought it would be a good way to ease into some light training after the race, maybe do 3000 yards or so before picking my daughter up from school.  Ha!  About 1000 yards into my workout, and in the middle of a backstroke set, my legs said, "Uh, whatcha doin?"  I was definitely still feeling fatigue, even though my muscle aches had subsided the day before.  So I eked out 2300 yards and called it a day.  Tomorrow I might try some light running, 3 or so miles.  Because I have to do something, or I will go crazy!

To go from training 6 days a week and 7-8 workouts to basically not doing anything but a swim workout and some yoga has got me all cagey.  I got so used to being a slave to a training program, and I realize now that I really do function well when I have a plan (please do remind me that of this statement when I am in the middle of the next training program and I am moaning and groaning about being burned out from training, I can take the verbal spanking).  So, I have started thinking about the next few months, and the next year.  What do I want to accomplish, and how much do I want to punish my body again?

The more I cross the finish line, the more I crave it again.  For the rest of 2013, I am dialing way back.  I might do a 5k and the annual Turkey Trot 10k on Thanksgiving, but that is about it.  But for next year, I want more.

No, I'm not talking a full 140.6.  I'm not ready for that, and the training time that a race of that magnitude requires is unreal.  Hubby and I have already decided that if we are going to slay that dragon, it will be when at least one of our kids is in college.  And that's about 4 years off.  Training for a 70.3 was very time consuming, but we were able to make it work well enough, so I am thinking of tackling that distance again next year.  Maybe Augusta - that damned bike course is my nemesis - or maybe a different course.  I love having options!

It's funny.  For months, I was all big talk and "I am NEVER going to do another 70.3 again, this is killing me!" and "This is a one and done deal." Never, though, in any space in my brain did I ever make room for the possibility that completing a long course triathlon would make me feel so GOOD.  I feel good physically, I feel good mentally, I feel good old-fashioned HAPPY for the first time in a long while.  It certainly is one good natural high.

Ridiculously happy triathlete!

Everyone should try the drug called triathlon.  The high is unbeatable, and you can get it again and again and again.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Race Report: Ironman 70.3 Augusta, 9/29/13

Where to begin, where to begin...

In the days leading up to this race, I went from terror to doubt to resignation.  I figured I had done the best I could in terms of training, and the only way to see that was to just get out there and do it.  Being my first long distance triathlon, I know that my fear stemmed from the uncertainties: what would my body do, what would my mind do, would I drown, wreck, or cramp up?

Driving to Augusta, I was a ball of nerves.  My heart raced, my stomach fluttered, but it was all in a very good way.  I was excited to get there and I was finally excited to race.  As we drove through town toward the convention center (am I the only one that thinks that Augusta just might be the Detroit of the South?  I mean, there were dozens of abandoned buildings and store fronts!), I practically wanted to jump out of the car and run toward the expo.  The closer we got, the more bikes and Ironman bumper stickers I saw, and I wanted to sing, “I am actually doing this!”, but I kept my composure, lest I look like some kind of triathlon dork.  It was, after all, a race expo, not Comic Con.

I went to athlete check-in (it still makes me giggle to think that I am an ATHLETE), signed my life away to WTC, and got my beautiful blue wristband.  Talk about a badge of honor!  It was like being let into some very exclusive club, and I was giddy like I had just been handed a free puppy.  Then, on to collect my swag bag which, in my humble opinion was sort of pitiful.  The bag that our “swag” came in is beautiful and great and all, but where were the Gu samples, the Clif bars, even coupons for a free beer at the local pub after the race?  But, I digress.  I didn’t come for the free samples of Biofreeze, I had come to do an Ironman race!

Getting the wristband, no turning back now!
I dragged my husband and kids through the expo, including the Ironman store, where I emptied our bank account on a Finisher t-shirt, a water bottle, an Ironman visor, and cowbells for my kids/cheering section.  I also got to see some old triathlon friends from home, which helped to ease my nerves just a bit.

As the hours ticked away, and after I made the pilgrimage to transition to check my bike in (which involved a 1.2 mile hike from the swim start with my son...ant bites and sliding down hillsides were featured prominently, along with some good memories made with my favorite teenaged boy in the world) and we got checked in at the hotel, we went to dinner, and I began feeling oddly at peace with everything that was happening.  I was relaxed, feeling good, and had arrived at the point of just wanting to be in the race.

I slept like a baby, and at 4:15, the alarm sounded, and it was time to get it done.  I ate - half a peanut butter sandwich, a cup of Greek yogurt, and half a cup of coffee, along with a bottle of water and banana in the car on the way to transition - got myself dressed, and got my bleary-eyed children out of bed and to the car.  My husband dropped me off at transition so that I could unload my gear by my bike, and then I took the shuttle (actually a school bus) back to the swim start, where I met up with my family.  All before 6 a.m.  You gotta love living on triathlete time!

Then came the wait.  My swim wave was #14, and it left at 8:24.  The first wave - the pro men - left at 7:30.  We watched the pros leave from a bridge overlooking the Savannah River, and I tell you, watching those pros swim is impressive (and pretty intimidating).  After that, I had time to use the bathroom one last time, wriggle into my wet suit, eat a Huma Gel, and take a few photos with the family.  By that point, it was only a few minutes before shove-off.  Thankfully, I had run into a friend who was in my swim wave, and we were able to chat as they queued us up to pile on to the dock before the race start.  It really eased my nerves to have someone to talk to in those last moments!

Do I look like a triathlete to you?
It was finally time for our wave to approach the start line (the dock)!  We were not allowed to dive in, so rather than standing and taking a feet-first plunge, I decided to sit on the edge of the dock so that I could get my feet used to the water.  The water was 69 degrees, a little chilly, but not that bad at all.  Suddenly, our gun went off, and it was go time!
Wave 14 swim start
I hadn’t had any real warm-up time, so I decided to start slow and let my shoulders loosen up a bit.  I knew the swim would be faster than in other races, because we were swimming with the notoriously strong current of the Savannah River.  Within about 200-300 meters, I felt good enough to dial it up, and I was able to swim a good, strong stroke.  We all had a good amount of room to swim, and I only bumped into a few people along the way.  It was much less chaotic than any other race I have ever done.
My husband says I'm in there somewhere!
As I swam, I tried to sight the buoys to my left.  When I hit buoy number 8, I knew that I was almost done, and I felt like I had only just gotten in the water!  As I made the slight right turn toward the final buoy at the boat ramp, I realized that I felt really darned good.  I made my way up the boat ramp, and began the long jog to transition.  The transition area at this race was kind of labyrinthian, in that you had to snake up one side, then enter the area, then find your row, then find your bike.  I am happy to say that I did not get lost in transition once during the day!

In T1, I took time to dry my feet well, throw my wetsuit, goggles, and cap in a bag, and then I was off!  My family was waiting for me at the bike start to cheer for me, and it was beyond amazing to see my kids’ smiling faces. 

**I purposely did not try to rush through either T1 or T2, because I wanted to do everything to guarantee my comfort and nutrition.  My T-times were ok, around 6 and 8 minutes respectively, but I definitely know where I could trim seconds in the future.

Now came what I knew would be my ultimate test of the day: the bike ride.  I really don’t enjoy sitting on a bike from more than about an hour, so this was not only going to test my fitness, but it was also going to test my mental and emotional strength.  And it proved to be so much more than I had ever anticipated.  Weatherwise, it felt great.  Except for the requisite headwind that seemed to be present for about 70% of the ride.  Then there were the hills.  The damn hills.  What seemed like dozens of them, spread out over 56 long and arduous miles.  Long, slow inclines that never seemed to end.  Rapid descents that were actually fun and relieving.  And sharp points that felt like actual mountains rather than hills.  My top speed of the day was 37 miles per hour, which I hit briefly on a descent.  My slowest speed? An embarrassing 5.2 mph on this one short but brutal hill toward the end of the bike course.  We had just come down a good descent, took a corner, and this hill smacked us in the face.  Nobody that I was riding around saw it coming.  One poor woman and her bike tipped over because she couldn’t spin her pedals fast enough to keep climbing.
Pretty much the only time you would catch me smiling on the entire bike ride!
With each passing hill, from about 20 miles into the ride, I could feel my back getting a little worse.  Then my left hip.  Then my left IT band, which NEVER bothers me.  There was a point on one particularly long incline that I actually considered dismounting and walking my bike up the hill.  Of course, I realized how silly that was, and just soldiered on.  As much as I was hating the bike ride, I never EVER wanted to quit.  I wanted to be done, and I even told myself that it was the LAST time I would ever ride a bike, but I never even thought of throwing in the towel.

Aside from the hills, there were the bumps in the road to contend with.  I thought the roads here in Florida were in pitiful condition, but they are nothing compared to the roads in South Carolina.  It was bad enough having to dodge other racers’ litter - water bottles, bento boxes, power bars, gels, etc. - but the bumps were just awful.  I know that is what contributed to my back pain during the race.  I would say that about 30-35 miles of the roads were so bad that I thought for sure that I was about to blow a tire at any moment.  Thankfully, I didn’t, but I saw plenty of people who did.  And there were plenty of sections, especially close to Augusta, that had had recent road repairs, so at least there was something to be thankful for.  Rapport among the athletes on the bike course was ok.  I briefly chatted with several nice folks, mostly commiserating about the hills and bumps.  I got passed A LOT, and I knew I would.  Most everyone did the right thing, announcing “on your left” as they approached.  But there were a few occasions when I nearly got run down by some meathead who couldn’t be bothered to have manners.  On the rare occasion that I passed another cyclist, I looked over my shoulder 2 or 3 times before passing, and almost always there was a cluster of bikes coming up behind me.  The course was crowded in a few spots, especially at the aid stations, so you really had to be alert the entire time.  There was no room in my plan for a bike wreck.

One thing that I was successful with during the bike ride was my nutrition.  Two bottles of electrolyte drink in my aerobottle, and a strawberry Huma Gel every hour helped keep me going.  Though, I did begin to feel actual hunger toward the end of the bike ride, which scared me a bit for the run.  I was ok, though, and made sure to take the Coke that was offered at the last few aid stations of the run course.  You wanna know what tastes better than just about anything on this planet?  Warm, flat Coke after having been working out for 6+ hours.  Don't believe me?  Try it.

As the bike ride blessedly came to an end, I knew from my bike computer that I had gone about 3 hours, 40 minutes, which is about what I had expected.  Slower than I should be, but considering I’d never biked any of the course, it was ok with me.  The most important thing was that it was OVER, and it was time to run a half marathon.

I racked my bike, changed my socks, put on my running shoes, race belt, and visor, and headed off to the maze toward the run start.  I stopped at the sunscreen tent and let them lube me up, which likely contributed to my longer T2 time, but I was glad I did.  The run course had lots of shade, but it also had lots of spots in the open sun, and I tell you, it was one gorgeous day out.  

I did my 60 second walk out of transition, like I had trained for, before beginning to run.  I went slow, which was ok with me.  In order to finish in 7 hours, I knew I had to run between a 2:45 and 3:00 half marathon.  This killed me, because my slowest half to date was Iron Girl back in April, and I did that in 2:23 while suffering from debilitating calf cramps.  But, I was more focused on finishing this race than setting any sort of land speed record.

I felt pretty good as the run began.  I was 2/3 done with the race, and most importantly, I had survived the bike ride!  I walked through the first water station, drank some electrolytes and some water, and moved along.  About 2 1/2 miles into the run, we were into downtown Augusta, and the crowds picked up.  The course support all day long was incredible, from the volunteers to the local folks who had come out, sporting funny hats and hilarious signs to keep the athletes moving, motivated, and smiling.  It was at this point that I looked up, and standing on one corner were my kids, screaming and smiling for me, shaking their cowbells at me.  In that moment, I was so overcome with emotion, and I could feel the tears welling up, and I wanted to just break down right there.  I knew right then and there that I was going to finish the race!  The emotions were powerful, powerful beyond words.  For my kids to see me pushing through the pain and exhaustion to reach a goal was humbling.  There was no way I wouldn’t cross that finish line.
Are we having fun yet?
I felt great for about 7 miles of the run.  Then fatigue really began to set in.  I started walking more and for longer periods of time.  I never wanted to quit AT ALL, I just wanted to be finished.  As I made the second loop downtown, I had noticed the crowds were a lot smaller than they had been, so the encouragement began to come from us athletes.  We were in the final stages of this journey together, and we lifted each other up.  We talked about how much food we were going to eat, how we couldn’t wait to have a beer, whether this was our first Ironman 70.3.  I congratulated a fellow 40-year-old woman, who promptly answered back with, “you go girl!”.  I watched as runners began to lose hope, and their physical strength, but never their spirits.  I was inspired by those around me, some much younger and some much older, who were out there doing it for their own personal reasons, reasons as important and huge as mine or anyone else's.  To be surrounded by that kind of  emotion makes you feel super human.  In the midst of the pain and the exhaustion (and the extreme hunger!), I had never felt more alive in my entire life.

Turning the corner at 11 miles, I could hear the finish line commotion, and I knew that it was inevitable.  I was going to finish the race, wow!  As I turned the final corner, a lady standing there shouted, “one more corner and you can SEE the finish line!” I picked it up.  All of the aches and twinges I was feeling were suddenly gone!  I rounded that last corner, and there it was: the finish chute!  Lined with people, and the gray Ironman carpet, it was a sight to behold.  I tore down the chute, and as I crossed the line I pumped my fists in victory.  It was an unbelievable feeling.

They know their mom is one tough old lady now!

All of the training.  All of the pain.  All of the time.  It had all led to that moment.  And it was so worth it.

I was ready all along.  

Ironman 70.3 Augusta 
Swim: 29:48
Bike: 3:40:32
Run: 2:31:44
Finish Time: 6:57:48

**My race wasn’t perfect.  I beat my goal time of 7 hours, but I know I could have done better, especially on the run, and probably shaved off at least 10 minutes.  But I hadn’t felt that kind of jubilation in a race since my very first triathlon two years ago.  So, after all of that talk about “one and done”, I think I want to go again.