Injury recovery week

The week of workouts after injuring my calf on my first brick was full of trepidation.  My first sprint triathlon event was just two weeks away, and I really had no idea whether I’d be able to recover enough in order to do it.

I started the week with an open water swim at a local lake, my second time swimming there.  I had a rough estimate of the distance I was covering from Google Maps, and corroborated that with the time I spent in the water.  It was good practice for figuring out sight-lines and navigation in the water.  My calf felt okay, but I didn’t expect that swimming would tax it particularly.  The real test would be running.

Next up was a ride, which I did as a relatively low-key mountain bike ride for just under an hour.  No serious effects there either, but I did feel a couple of tweaks.  It was mainly feeling painful during my everyday routine, preventing me from walking normally and feeling really tight and stiff.  I felt like stiff was something I could deal with and potentially stretch out, but if it connected with pain, that was a problem.

I took my first run of the week on the treadmill, keeping it flat and easy, for only about 20 minutes.  It again didn’t seem to hurt it, but it wasn’t getting any better.

Another easy swim, and then I decided to try it out on the road.  I did an extremely careful, extremely slow run, with a couple of hills in it, one of which I walked.  I didn’t want to take any chances with making it worse, but I did feel like something needed to be worked out for it to get better.

That seemed to go okay, so the next day I did a decent ride, about 20 miles with about 1,300 ft of elevation, all in one go.  It felt pretty good.  I got my running shoes on immediately and went out for a short run, to complete my second brick.  I didn’t feel normal, but I didn’t feel bad, and overall it was successful.  I was optimistic for the coming week.

Tri suit woes

I’m not a small person.

Even if I was at my goal weight, which I’m definitely not, I would still be a large person.  I’m 6′4″ and my weight, if I’m in shape and eating right, is naturally around 230 lbs.  It’s tough to find things that fit me, particularly athletic clothes.

After doing my first brick, in which I changed my clothes from a biking kit to a running kit, it became clear that I needed to get a tri suit.  I already knew this was going to be part of the plan, but actually going through a transition really demonstrated it.  It was pretty annoying to strip off sweaty, tight-fitting clothes and put on other clothes, not to mention the modesty aspects. And that wasn’t even after a swim.  I definitely needed a kit I could wear for the entire race.  

I started with Amazon, because I for one welcome our benevolent retail overlords.  My first attempt: the 

Spotti Men’s Triathlon Tri Suit in size XXL. Had good reviews and seemed like a bargain.  Unfortunately, it was a wedgie-fest. There was no way I could run or bike in something that was driving so far up my nether regions.  I returned it.

Next, I went for the Sparx X Triathlon Suit, which came in a XXXL size, no less.  Surely that would have to fit me!  …Nope.  The same problem; all the extra X’s seemed to mean width, not height, and it just wasn’t going to work.  Back went that tri suit too.

I did some research.  I knew there were lots of tall triathletes out there, professionals even, and they were getting their gear somewhere.  I just had to find out where.  (Local stores for trying things on isn’t really an option where I live). 

I came across a post on https://beginnertriathlete.com which pointed me to one particular manufacturer: De Soto. Some folks with my similar body type had had good luck with them.  I checked them out.  Their gear was more expensive, but definitely seemed high quality and if it fit, it seemed worth it.  Plus, they had some tri shorts on sale.  I went for it. I ordered directly from De Soto because their selection on Amazon was limited.  

I also decided to try a two-piece suit instead of a one-piece, on the advice I found in the Beginner Triathlete forum.  Presumably that would help alleviate the wedgie issues.  

When it finally arrived, I apprehensively tried it on.  The shorts were tight, but from what I had read, that was the way they were supposed to fit.  They definitely gave me enough coverage.  And the top was long enough that it went all the way down to my lower hips when I stood straight up.  Looked like a winner at last!

I was excited to try it out on my next brick.

A painful brick

Bike:

  • 9.98 mi Distance
  • 33:38 Moving Time
  • 565 ft Elevation
  • Avg Speed 17.8 mi/h
  • Max Speed 39.1 mi/h
  • Avg Heart Rate 149 bpm
  • Max Heart Rate 173 bpm

Run:

  • 2.58 mi Distance
  • 25:49 Moving Time
  • 10:00/mi Pace
  • Elevation 170ft
  • Avg Heart Rate 166 bpm
  • Max Heart Rate 182 bpm

A key component of triathlon training is doing combination workouts, or “bricks” as they are called in the sport.  These are training sessions where you essentially simulate one or more transitions, doing a ride and then immediately going for a run, for example, just as you would in an event.

This was my first attempt at doing such a thing.  I really wasn’t sure how it would go, since I’d never done it before, so I decided to keep both the bike and the run relatively easy.  I’d shoot for around 10-12 miles on the bike and about 2.5 miles on the run, as flat as I could manage from my house.

I felt really good on the bike, putting down the miles with relative ease and moving fairly comfortably.  Things took a turn when I was close to the end, though.  I came to an intersection in the middle of a hill and had to stop for traffic.  Then as I started up again, preparing to tackle the rest of the hill ahead of me, my chain snapped.

Like, literally just broke in two.

I heard a snap, my legs started freewheeling and I looked down to see it just dangling off my chain ring.  

I was only a mile from home, so a rescue mission didn’t take long to reach me.  It was frustrating, though, and dropped me out of the zone hard.  I hurriedly changed into my running gear (no tri suit yet) and headed out on my run, eager to regain the momentum I had had going before the mechanical failure.

My legs felt awful. I had never experienced anything like it.  I’ve been tired on a run plenty of times, and having finished two marathons in the past, I know what it’s like to feel nearly 100% fatigue in your legs.  But this was different.  This was like my legs belonged to someone else and I was controlling them remotely, or something.  It was really weird.  They felt almost numb, even though I could feel them.  It was clear very quickly why people practice this sort of thing.

After about a mile, the weirdness started to clear up and I felt more like myself again.  I crested a hill and started down the other side, when a car appeared heading toward me.  I moved to the side of the gravel road, into the shoulder.  And felt a twinge in my calf. Different than a cramp, it was like a very specific section of my calf contracted as hard as it could.  

I should have stopped immediately to stretch and rest, but I was determined to see this through and was locked into a mental race mode.  The leg hurt for the rest of the run but I finished it out and limped up my driveway.

I wasn’t sure how that was going to play out, but it didn’t look or feel good.

Strawberry Festival Ride

On a gorgeous summer day recently, I joined a group ride for a trek on class-4 roads, rail trails and asphalt, journeying to a local strawberry festival at a farm up in the hills of a nearby town.  I rode my MTB for this one.

This was an eventful ride right from the start, and not at all in a good way.  On the way out of town, we passed by a house that was situated close to the road.  A dog came sprinting out of nowhere, barking at one of our group.  Suddenly, from up ahead around a blind corner, a car appeared.  The result was a collision that ended in the dog’s death, right in front of us.  

The owners were understandably shaken and mortified.  A few of our group helped move the dog’s body off the road.  I stood up ahead to signal cars while they did that and did their best to console the heartbroken owners.  Eventually, we moved on.  A couple of our riders returned the next day with flowers.

It took a while to shake that off, but exercise is good for such things.  We journeyed onward, putting miles behind us and looking forward. 

The pace of the group was pretty slow, overall, with a lot of stops.  At one point we hit asphalt and I couldn’t help myself; I had to drop the hammer and stretch out for a bit.  One other guy came with me.  We burned up a couple of miles and then pulled off to wait for the rest, next to a morbidly appropriate roadside cemetery.

That effort would eventually catch up with me, as the ride finished on a legit Category 4 climb, which I ultimately had very little left in the tank for.  I did eventually make it up, but it was brutal.

Luckily there were strawberries, hamburgers and live music waiting for us at the festival.  A pleasant end to a tumultuous ride.

It ain’t flat

  • 20.88mi Distance
  • 1:08:10 Moving Time
  • 724ft Elevation
  • Avg Speed 18.4mi/h
  • Max Speed 36.2mi/h

Where I live, it’s not easy finding places to ride that are not mountainous.  Especially in the early stages of getting myself back in cycling shape, this makes things even more difficult than they already are.  I have always liked climbing, but it’s very difficult to do when you’re out of shape, so being surrounded by endless hills becomes another obstacle to getting out on the bike or run in order to do a workout.  Because it’s just so hard.

On this day, I found a flat ride.  It was one of the first times I really put Strava’s route creator to use, and looked at the elevation on a road that I knew would be comfortable to ride on.  I had to drive a few minutes to get there but it was worth it to go out on a ride that didn’t feature an ominous, looming mountain climb for once.

Ultimately, I think climbing is a great training tool because it packs a lot more effort into the same amount of distance, which makes it more efficient.  And I’m learning that efficiency is what it’s all about when it comes to triathlon training.

But once in a while, I just want to cruise.

MTB for Strength and Fun

  • 7.85mi Distance
  • 58:59 Moving Time
  • 834ft Elevation
  • 181W Estimated Avg Power
  • 639kJ Energy Output
  • Speed 8.0mi/h avg, 32.2mi/h max

The training plan I’m (vaguely) following, from Your First Triathlon by Joel Friel, puts all of its strength training days as optional, on days that are otherwise rest days.  So on Mondays, it’s either take a rest day, or do some strength if you’re feeling up to it.  

So far I’ve felt up to it exactly one time.

I find weights pretty boring and uncomfortable, and would much rather be outside.  Rest days have also proved to be pretty important, so there’s not much motivation for me to pump any iron so far.

That said, I recognize the need to improve strength in order to be able to achieve the fitness required for triathlons.  For me personally, I need strength in my core to balance out a genetically poor back, and upper body strength for swimming.

Instead of weights, I have combined a bunch of things into one by focusing on mountain biking for about half of my bike workouts.  I happen to live very close to an epic MTB trail system, so I can get out there very easily.  It’s not something I have a lot of experience with, but the experience of training in different modes is proving to be pretty enjoyable.  

Mountain biking is a much different workout than road biking for me, particularly as I’m new to it so I’m still fighting to stay smooth.  That results in a lot of muscular activity in places that I wouldn’t normally experience while hammering it out on the asphalt, like in the arms and abs.  At the same time, it gets my heart rate up consistently and works on explosive power in the legs, so it’s kind of the best of all worlds.  It’s not exactly the same as a dedicated strength workout, of course, but at this point it’s covering what I need for sure.

The downside is that it’s rougher on my body.  I come home from an MTB sore in places that I didn’t even know existed.  I scrape my shoulders on trees and rocks, jam my feet, cramp my hands, get covered in dirt and grease and all kinds of things, not to mention the bugs.  But it’s great muddy fun.

22-mile ride

  • 22.25mi Distance
  • 1:23:07 Moving Time
  • 1,591ft Elevation
  • 199W Estimated Avg Power
  • 992kJ Energy Output
  • Speed 16.1mi/h avg, 45.6mi/h max
  • Heart Rate 147bpm avg, 182bpm max

This ride was a milestone in my triathlon training adventure.  Not a huge milestone, maybe more like a milepebble.  But it was something that I felt proud of.

When my parents moved a couple of years ago to live closer to us, I jokingly suggested that I could start training for triathlons now, because they were close enough to bike to, and owned an Endless Pool.  At the time it was just a lark.  I was probably 50 pounds overweight and it would be at least a year before they even thought about installing the pool again, after dismantling it from their old house. Not to mention that the route between my house and theirs “ain’t flat” (to use a common expression around these parts).

Still, the idea never completely left my brain.  It sort of percolated.  And eventually, after a series of particular life events, I found myself training again.  And the triathlon plan was a viable possibility.

This ride really solidified the reality of what I was trying to do.  It wasn’t just that I had thought about doing this ride, and then eventually did it.  It was that I could do it.  It took weeks of training and reacquainting myself with my road bike to reach the point where I could ride 20 miles on my own without blowing up, much less on a route like this. But I did it, and that was a thing I did that I was proud of.

The ride was pretty much a steady climb for the first five miles, and included three Category 4 climbs, and my climbing muscles felt it.  I learned a lot about my own personal riding on this ride, paying attention to how I positioned myself on the bike in order to focus on different muscles and relieve the pain of the persistent climb.  I figured out that I could shift that pain around a lot by changing how I was sitting and leaning, and trade the effort off between different parts of my legs.

The payoff was a sweet extended downhill cruise to the flats, topping out at around 46 mph at one point, followed by watching a World Cup game with my Dad.  

It was a good day, and one of the first days since starting this plan that exercise felt really, honestly good.  It was great to have that feeling back again.

Me, doing my first open water training swim

As it usually goes with me, I’ve lost track of blogging here recently, so I’m writing after the fact.  The good news is that I’ve been racking up the training entries so I have a lot to catch up on.  I’ve kept it going.

Before the weather got warm enough to swim outside, I had been training in an Endless Pool at my parents’ house.  It’s great for convenience (if you’re near it) but I knew it would be a different thing to try to swim any distance in open water, like I will be doing in an actual triathlon.  

I’ve swum in lakes my entire life, but never for exercise before now, so this was a first.  I was pretty sure I could do it, though, because by this point I’d swum enough times in the pool that I knew I could swim for at least 15 minutes without stopping.  Judging from past finish times of the triathlons I’m signed up for, that should be more than enough time to cover the requisite distance.

So I fired up Google Maps and had a look at the lake where we were camping.  As it turned out, our site was directly across from a beach, and the distance appeared to be about 500m, give or take – the distance of the swim leg in my first upcoming sprint triathlon.  It was perfect.

I had my wife drive me around the lake to the beach, told her where the binoculars were and to watch for me waving my arms in case I got in trouble, and walked down to the edge of the water.

It was evening, so the sun was low on the horizon.  That turned out to be a very good thing, because the

Aegend Swim Goggles

I was using were tinted.  I had never really noticed it before, because I had only been swimming in a well-lit pool.  But they were very dark.  So dark, in fact, that I couldn’t see the shoreline at all, particularly also because they fogged up like crazy.  They also have curved lenses, which means they are somewhat blurry in water even if they aren’t fogged up.  Really, the only redeeming factor about them is that they have a great head strap.  They seemed great in the pool, but in open water it was suddenly a different story.  All of that quickly became a problem, because I couldn’t see the campsite I was headed for and had no idea where I was going.  

To compound matters, after I got a ways out into the lake, I found myself noticing how dark the water was below me, and feeling the immense depth and cold of the expanse I was swimming over.  I started to get panicky and anxious.  It was made worse by not being able to see anything.

I took a break and floated on my back for a while, catching my breath and trying to calm down.  After some moments of thought I realized that the sun was bright enough to see through my goggles, so if I lifted them temporarily to figure out where it was on the horizon relative to the campsite, I could use that as a sort of compass bearing, keeping it just off my right shoulder.  This kept me headed in approximately the right direction without having to actually see anything clearly. I started closing my eyes when my face was in the water, to avoid seeing the enormous darkness below me, and after that I was okay.  I crawled on.

After about fifteen minutes I smelled wood smoke, and eventually saw my family sitting on a rock, waiting for me.  I had made it, but had definitely learned a few things.

One of the first things I did after that swim was order new goggles.  This time I got the Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 Swim Goggle, which has proved to be enormously better.  They are clear, have flat lenses and don’t fog up. They just work. 

I also won’t be crossing any lakes anytime soon without a kayak escort. Luckily triathlons are always supported and along shorelines, so this particular situation shouldn’t arise again.

Challenges

Training continues to chug along.  So far I haven’t missed a day since the Toronto debacle, and I managed to do a couple of the “optional” workouts to boot.  I am starting to get over the “I haven’t exercised in forever and it’s horrible” hump.  It doesn’t feel quite as awful to get out there, particularly to ride my bike(s).  I’m really starting to get into mountain biking, which is an interesting diversion from road biking and a completely different challenge.  It’s a good strength workout for me currently, and always makes my body feel destroyed all over – mostly in a good way.  As an added bonus, when I get back on my road bike, it feels like a rocket ship by comparison.

My biggest challenges right now remain my foot, and my weight.

My foot (specifically my right one) suffers from plantar fasciitis, which is literally a big pain.  It started about a year ago, and when it first hit, it was so bad that it was difficult to walk at times.  Running was definitely out of the question.  I got through what seems to have been the worst of it, but it still rears its head occasionally and makes running an extra challenge.  I think I would be a lot further along in my running progression than I am if I didn’t feel like I was getting shot in the heel every step.  When it’s bad enough, it cramps up my whole right side, all the way to my upper back.  It’s not a fun time.  

Besides therapeutic doses of ibuprofen, the one thing that seems to really help it is this ridiculous boot that I wear at night.  It’s a splint, pretty much like this one, that immobilizes my foot and performs kind of a passive stretch.  It works wonders; when I wake up in the morning, I often no longer even feel the pain, whereas before I sometimes couldn’t stand on my foot because it hurt so badly.  It doesn’t stop it from reacting to runs, particularly on hills, but it helps a lot.

The other thing going on is my weight.  It’s not changing.  At all.  And I don’t really get it.  I’m not eating more; I’m pretty sure I’m eating less.  I’ve made some changes like no stand-alone cheese snacks or added cheese on anything, and I’ve given up cereal for breakfast and I’m only eating oatmeal or eggs.  Nothing drastic, but after 3+ weeks of regular exercise, compared to virtually nothing before that, I thought I would have lost something by now.  My only real theory is that all the cycling I’m doing is building muscle, which weighs more than fat, so I might be dropping some fat but adding muscle.  

To make matters sort of worse, I got this smart scale and it immediately told me I had gained five pounds compared to my previous scale.  It seems accurate relative to itself, so I guess that’s all that really matters, but it was a bit discouraging.  I am liking the features, though, and the ease with which it logs my weight over time, integrates with Apple Health and Fitbit, and even provides me with all sorts of other crazy stats just by apparently smelling my feet.  I don’t put a lot of stock in the secondary stats but it’s interesting.  

We are going camping this weekend as a family so it’ll be another challenge to get my workouts done, but we will be on a lake so I can try my first open water training swim, and we’re bringing the bikes.  We’ll have to see if the weather cooperates, is all.

Bad food and baseball

I went to great lengths last week to ensure that my training would stay intact despite a planned trip to Toronto for the weekend. I rearranged training days so that all of my swimming would be over the weekend, and made sure that the hotel we stayed in would have a pool. I packed light, carrying just a backpack, but made sure it contained my swim gear. I was ready to stick to the plan.

Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. For one thing, it turned out that the pool at the hotel was out of service for some reason. They hadn’t bothered to tell us before arrival. I guess it’s normally just an amenity, but to me it felt like I had gone to a fair amount of effort focused around that pool in particular, only to find out it wasn’t available. I was annoyed.

However, it didn’t take more than a few blocks of walking after leaving the airport to realize that I had also made a fatal undergarments error. What is comfortable on an airplane is not comfortable for walking, especially after being cooped up in stuffy cabins and terminals all day. I was severely chafed by the time I got to the room.

What was worse, though, was a bug I seemed to have picked up just before leaving. Gastrointestinally speaking, things were not good. And they would stay not good for the entire trip. Swimming was definitely not happening.

I salvaged what I could. I got a lot of walking in, as one inevitably does in a city, and managed to keep the chafing under control. I was extremely uncomfortable at times, but luckily it didn’t progress much beyond frequent bathroom visits and awkward walks.

We got to see a lot of baseball, and the Jays swept the series. We went up the CN Tower, an overpriced tourist trap that at least afforded some nice views.

On Monday I had a rest day, and I took it. Since picking things back up this week, I feel pretty good overall. I think the few days of extra rest may have been better for me than I realized.

Frustratingly, my weight remains immobile. I haven’t made any significant diet changes, so I knew weight loss would be slower than I’ve done it in the past, but I really thought I’d see some kind of shift by now.

All Tri’d Up

I’m probably going to stop trying to keep track of the specific training days I’m on according to my schedule here, because it’s kind of a pain and things are getting switched around a lot.  Besides, it’s all on Strava anyway, so this blog serves a different purpose.

Last night I registered for three triathlons.  They are each at least two weeks apart from each other, and happen toward the end of the summer.  After all, that’s what triathlon refers to, right?  Doing three of them?

I have no idea whether I can even do one, at this point.  I’m able to complete distances equivalent to each of the individual legs of a sprint triathlon, so I know I could do them in isolation.  Hopefully I’ve got enough time for training to put them all together.

I also don’t know what kind of recovery time I’ll need in between events, so that’s kind of a gamble.  However, I’ve run a couple of marathons in the past and I know that after two weeks I could have gone for another good long run again, and I think marathons are much harder than sprint triathlons, at least at the speed I’ll be going (slow).

One of the triathlons I registered for has a “Clydesdale” category for men 220 lbs+.  I decided to go for that category rather than the age group I’d be in.  Might as well embrace it.

Training is starting to improve slightly.  I’m less exhausted every day, and the workouts don’t hurt quite so much. Stil a long way to go before I’m at a weight I feel comfortable with and before I can do a workout that feels sufficient to me, but I feel like I’m starting to get over the initial hump of awful.