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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is becoming clear that half the struggle of training for a triathlon is going to be the scheduling. So far I’ve managed to do every workout on the plan, but I’ve already had to rearrange it quite a bit to accommodate other things. It’s a fact of life, I suppose, being a working parent and having a modicum of an external life, too. I expected that just figuring out how to do the workouts would be a hard part. But it’s made even harder by the three disciplines. I need to be near water to swim on swim day. I can’t bike in a thunderstorm, or take my bike certain places. There are extra variables that make it more challenging.
11 days of workouts and I would say that progress is slow. The miles aren’t any easier, I’m exhausted every single day and I don’t feel like it’s getting any better. I know there’s always a hump to get over when you start up a training program. I’ve been here a thousand times, it seems, so I haven’t given up hope yet. I’ve gotten through this part before. Hopefully I can again.
This is my relationship with my weight, which closely corresponds to my relationship with exercise:
This is why the end goal of this current plan is to establish continuity. ‘Maintain,’ as they say.
It would be nice to have lost at least a pound by now, though. I’m a little mystified that my weight hasn’t changed at all, considering I went from basically zero activity to full-on endurance workouts every day. I am doing a lot of hills, though, and cycling for me at this point is essentially a strength workout, so maybe I’m losing a little fat and gaining some muscle and that’s equaling out.
I don’t think there’s any way that I continue exercising like this and don’t lose weight though, as long as I keep my eating in check.
And I’ve stopped eating cheese, for the love of god. That has to count for something or what is the point of living!?
My primary venue for swim training is going to be an Endless Pool, at least for the foreseeable future. In some ways, this is convenient. It’s at my parents’ house, so I can use it whenever I want. They keep it warm, so I can train at any time of year without a wetsuit. It’s free and easy – I just have to drive there and hop in.
It’s not going to be the same as open water, of course, which is where I’ll most likely be swimming in my first tri. It also doesn’t have a distance gauge on the current generator, so all I have to go on is my watch.
I’m using the Fitbit Ionic, which has a swim exercise function and tells me its estimate of how far I’ve gone. I don’t really know where that comes from, though. My height, and how many times I move my arm, I guess?
So I’ll call that a rough estimate, and focus on time. According to some past tri results I’ve looked at, it seems like I’ll need to be able to swim for 15-20 minutes without stopping to cover the distance of a sprint triathlon. If I can do that, I should be in a good place to compete with triathletes who are 30 years older than me.
Air squats, dumbbell row, bench press, calf raises, crunches – 25 min
Weight: 273 lbs
Day 1 of a 12 week training program for a triathlon, based on Your First Triathlon by Joe Friel. Strength training, using some rusty old free weights I think I purchased in 2001 and the kids’ play mats on the floor in the rec room. The guinea pigs squeaked at me when I started, the dominant one eyeing me from the hutch the whole time as if looking for faults in my form. I have no idea what I’m doing so I’m sure she found a few. She can critique all she wants though; I have opposable thumbs.
The last time I worked out seriously with weights was circa 1994, with my brother at the local gym. Not even after purchasing these weights did I ever really use them. They became just another unused relic of failed intentions along a timeline of inconsistency.
The triathlon is interesting because it’s three sports. Not just one. If you get bored running, no matter, tomorrow is a bike day. If your butt hurts, that’s ok, time for a swim. And on and on into unfailing novelty. That’s the theory anyway, but I don’t have a great deal of optimism if I’m honest. I’ve never been good at sticking to something, and though I’ve run two marathons and biked several 100+ mile bike rides, it has never failed that periods of athletic productivity are followed by inevitable slumps when I fatten up and stagnate utterly. Training for a tri may get the race done after 12 weeks, but then what? My hope is that the three modes will give me enough variety to stick to at least something. And that I’ll be in shape enough to move on to winter sports with some kind of regularity.
It all remains to be seen. For now, I’m just going to focus on meeting the goal of doing the workouts on schedule, despite never seeming to have the time to do much of anything besides parenting and working.
If I can do that, and lose a few pounds in the process, it’ll be something, at least. And these rusty weights will finally see some use.