The other night I had a dream about triathlon. It was an anxiety-saturated, confusing mess of brain processing.
I was in the middle of doing Ironman Boston (a race which, I’m pretty sure, doesn’t exist). I think I had just gotten out of the swim, but I’m not sure. I was on top of a hill, and looking for the transition area. I guess it was T1 because I didn’t have a bike with me.
There were a few cones or flags or something , but then the route sort of devolved into an indistinct urban landscape, and I had no idea where to go. There were people everywhere, but strangely no other athletes. I was befuddled and rapidly becoming frustrated.
I made my way down the hill and then across an asphalt playground. I went inside a building, which seemed to be a school of some kind. I went through a series of rooms, trying to find any kind of information or help.
Eventually I managed to find the race director, of all people. He was in a small, cramped office and seemed more like a school administrator than an Ironman race organizer.
I made my frustrations known and he showed me on a map where I had to go – a long, meandering route, miles through the city, along railroad tracks and alleyways, just to reach the transition area.
There was nothing to do but move forward. I found the railroad line eventually, but realized I didn’t know which direction to follow them.
Luckily, I saw another athlete for the first time that day. It was a relay participant (apparently there was a relay in this Ironman, lol) and he was waiting for his team member to arrive to tag him. He was crouched down, legs coiled, ready to take off at a sprint…even though there was no other athlete in sight. Citizens walked down the street, side-stepping around him.
By the direction he was pointed, I deduced which way I had to go. And I was off again.
This was meant to be a 1 hr workout with 30 minutes of ‘big gear’ in zone 3 or so, but I was hungry for a couple of climbs and was pretty amped up about being on my new bike. I followed the first couple of intervals but it quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to do that for the whole ride; not because I couldn’t hit the zones, but because I was in zone 3 for most of the ride. Slowing down on purpose on a climb isn’t normally in my nature and was even more unthinkable today.
The bike feels very light (because it is) and it’s really motivating to crank it up the hills. There’s a climb right near my house that I have been using as kind of a benchmark of strength progress. In May of this year, it took me about 6 minutes to do the segment. Today, I smashed my most recent PR by 9 seconds, making the climb in just over 4 minutes. That felt really good.
I know that for the long term, I need to learn to slow down — not just in terms of relative speed, but mentally. I’ll never finish a 70.3 riding amped up like this. But on a day when the point is to build strength, it’s pretty fun to hammer. Especially on a shiny new bike.
My trusty steed of 17 years was acting funny in the shifters the other day so I took it into the shop. I was on my way to my swim workout when my mechanic sent me a message:
The front derailleur mount tab thing had split and was about ready to let the derailleur just fall off my bike. That explained why I was having trouble shifting into my big ring all of a sudden.
There was some consideration of whether it could be welded somehow or ground down and replaced by a clamp style derailleur, but at the end of the day it was just another step in a downward spiral that had been going on for a while. The bike was showing its age. It was getting less and less worth it to invest repair money in. I had been planning on getting a new ride next year; this just moved up the timetable.
I talked over options and was eventually convinced to test ride an Orbea Terra, which is technically a cross bike kind of, but has road bike geometry. So it’s a road bike you can put wider tires on. Which is a big advantage where I live because the roads aren’t great, and being able to ride on gravel opens up a lot more options.
I was concerned that it might be a slower solution. I am not objectively that concerned with speed but I didn’t want to feel like I was downgrading my ride, or riding a mountain bike.
I took the bike out for a spin of about 20 miles, with about 1600 ft of elevation, and was pleasantly surprised by the results. My average was great, easily comparable to my old road bike, if not faster, and I hit a max speed of 47 mph, which was perhaps my fastest descent all year — and I barely noticed.
The wide tires make for a really comfortable, stable ride, but don’t seem to sacrifice much speed at all, surprisingly. And it’s a carbon frame, so climbing felt light and strong. The gearing is different and will take some getting used to but I already like it a lot. I felt fast on the hills, both up and down.
Best of all, come race time I can put 25mm tires on it and I’ll be good to go.
I had been feeling pretty sad about losing my old friend. But things are looking up. And bonus points: I think my old ride should still be useful as an indoor trainer bike.
I’ve started an experiment of recording training journal diaries for each day of my current training plan. I don’t know yet whether I’m going to do anything with them. But it’s a quick way to get a certain kind of thought out, often much more easily than typing. Right now I’m thinking I’ll stick to it for a week and then get a second opinion on whether they should go public.
We have started looking ahead to summer planning for next year already, and that is bringing my mind around to figuring out a race schedule. This year was learning about triathlon and doing 3 sprints, to see if I liked it. Next year is going to be something more. Whether that means Olympic or bigger challenges, I’m not yet sure. I’m hoping it’s something that coaching can help me figure out in the coming weeks.
My main concern is avoiding burnout. I want to find the right trajectory that will keep me interested and motivated over the long term, and won’t leave me susceptible to massive post-event backsliding like I’ve experienced in the future.
Today I rode on wet roads and my bike looked like I went trail riding by the time I was finished.
After a few weeks of mental floundering following my third triathlon, I decided to check out the help that a qualified coach could provide me. I don’t know how to get from where I am to where I want to be, without doing a ton of research and workout planning. I’d rather spend it training, and learn from someone as I go.
I recently discovered the Crushing Iron podcast and have been addicted ever since, so I decided to sign up with Coach Robbie to get his Q4 training plan and an add-on trial period of coaching. If it’s ultimately not for me, I know I will at least gain a ton of knowledge from the experience.
The 12-week plan begins tomorrow. Here goes nothin!
After falling behind on posting, I have been attempting to write two posts every time I write a post and to catch up to the present day. It’s clear that it’s never going to happen, though, so I need to revise my strategy. I don’t need the extraneous, self-generated pressure of feeling like I need to archive every significant workout I do in written words. So I’m going to jump straight ahead in time to my third triathlon, which took place on September 1st, and then just start posting in the present tense again. And if I feel like going back to recount an experience I can, but I’m not going to try to catch them all up. Just keep moving forward.
So, without further ado, here’s my race report for triathlon #3!
I sort of built my season targeting this as my ‘big race,’ even though it wasn’t all that different from the first two I did in all practical terms. I traveled to Ottawa to do this race (had friends to stay with) so it felt like a more exotic and exciting way to do a race. So it was a goal race for me in terms of being a culminating event of my season.
I haven’t done many triathlons yet, so I wasn’t entirely sure if my judgment was off or not, but my first impression of the transition routes was that they were terrible. They seemed to be really far to go, particularly for a sprint, and through some ungainly terrain. I wasn’t looking forward to running up a sizable hill from the beach, barefoot, on an unswept asphalt bike path. I also wasn’t looking forward to running super far in bike cleats — including up and down some small hills, across a football field and along a dirt footpath into a gully (I bike in socks, so I couldn’t do the shoes-clipped-in-already method; might be something for me to work on in the off season) But maybe I had just been spoiled at my other events and this was normal. I didn’t really have the experience to know. And anyway, there was nothing to be done but make the best of it. The transition area was in the middle of an Olympic-sized running track, which was fenced all around. Athletes could only enter from one end, so I had to walk halfway around to get in. Security was tight on seeing numbers and matching bike tags. God help you if you forgot anything. I appreciated the care taken to ensure people’s bikes were protected but I think the entrance could have been closer to the other side of things. I ended up having to sprint from the transition area to the beach in order to make the race announcements. My fault for not arriving early enough I guess, but I didn’t realize how long it would take to get everywhere.
The swim was pretty similar to the other two I had done, which is to say I don’t think there was anything too exceptional about it. It was in the Rideau Canal, which technically has a current, but I didn’t notice much. The water was a comfortable temperature, but quite weedy and murky. I was aiming to simply stay relaxed and find my own rhythm, and I was able to do that for the most part. Only got kicked a couple of times, which was an improvement over my other races so far. The guy who did the race announcements high-fived everyone as they got out of the water.
I left the beach and ran for the track. As expected, it turned out to be an effort. I started on the asphalt but then started running on the grass, as my feet were hurting. I was a little nervous about what might be hiding in the grass to poke my bare feet (rocks? snakes? tiny Canadian leprechauns?) but I didn’t end up stepping on anything. I felt more winded by the time I got to my bike than I had when I exited the water. I got my stuff on without trouble and headed out with my bike. First out of the track area, then across a football field, down a forest path, down and up a gully, across a road and finally to the mount line.
Cycling is my strongest discipline and the one I look forward to the most. I knew my biggest challenge here would be pacing. The course was virtually flat, which was a disadvantage for me because I’m a Clydesdale and I get a lot of benefit from the downhills. With no hills to speak of, it was entirely up to my legs without much of a gravity assist. I paid attention to my heart and breathing, trying to keep things steady and not going overboard, while aiming for my mph average. I thought it went pretty well. I wasn’t breathing very hard for most of the 3 loops, and only really started to feel it at the end of the 3rd. I also caught a bunch of people, some even from the first swim wave that went out 5 minutes before mine, so I felt I was doing ok. I had been nervous about losing count of my laps, but they had people announcing your name and what lap you were on, which was awesome. It was also cool to see all the different racers on the same course, because it was a looped route. The iron distance folks were doing 9 laps to my 3. I nailed my average speed goal. Once I hit the dismount line, things got awful.
Running after the bike is not comfortable, as we all know. For me, this was way worse because I had to traverse the same off-road route back to the track, in cleats, with jelly legs. I tried to run, but I mostly couldn’t and had to walk. My calves started seizing when I tried to run on elevation in my biking shoes, and having had a calf injury earlier in the season, I wasn’t willing to risk hurting myself. So I walked it in.
My watch failed on the run – just wouldn’t work for me at all, so I had no idea of my current pace. That was frustrating. I felt pretty awful, which I have come to expect for the first mile or so. Usually it evens out and I find my stride, and things feel better after that. Not so today. I kept it going but I was riding the struggle bus the whole way. I felt underhydrated, especially in the sunny sections. The last mile was a mental battle. I ended up only about :15 off my goal pace, so it turned out it wasn’t as bad as it felt.
I had passed a couple of other Clydesdales (I could tell from body marking) and none had passed me, and I didn’t see anyone my age pass me, so I had suspicions that I did relatively well in the rankings. When the results were posted, I saw that I had won the Clydesdale category! I checked to see where I would be in my age group, had I picked that option, and I would have been second! I was the 17th male, and 20th overall out of 115. They were by far my best results, so it turned out it felt hard for a good reason. I got a ‘gold champion’ lanyard to add to my finisher’s medal and other race swag.
The race was organized pretty professionally and seemed to be run well; my only complaints were that the transitions were so challenging. It seemed like they were expecting more people – there were lots of empty racks and a ton of space on the field. Maybe a low year for them.
I’m not doing any more triathlons this season, but I’m excited to continue training and to work toward Olympic distance next year. I don’t really have any idea how to make that leap, but I’m motivated to find out!
This only barely qualifies as a brick, but I did technically ride a bike and then go for a run, so I’m counting it.
The family and I loaded up the car with all of our bikes, all four of ‘em, and headed to a nearby bike path. Our kids are still learning how to ride, so the flat, protected area was perfect for them.
We saw some amusing sights along the way, including a goat corral where goats were being used to help eliminate some poison ivy. Apparently they love the stuff.
As it turns out, their names are Ruth, Bader and Ginsburg. Not even kidding.
After we got home, I went out for a longer run, even longer than my run earlier in the week. I had already begun to think past my third triathlon to next season. I knew I would have to start extending the time I spent on the roads, both in my shoes and on the wheels. No time like the present to start that process, I figured. I had a couple of weeks until triathlon #3 so I wasn’t too worried that I would affect that performance.
A frustrating thing was that my Fitbit Ionic crashed on me during this run, so I wasn’t able to record the GPS data or heart rate, and had to manually calculate my pace after the fact based on the times that I left and returned, and by knowing the distance of the route using Strava.
5.20 mi Distance
That was really a bummer because the stats help motivate me, and this was the longest run I’d done so far in this training program. I wanted the numbers and the route, as a milestone entry in my log. But I had to settle for a manual entry.
I don’t quite have enough evidence yet to fully substantiate this with data, but anecdotally I feel like I always have a really good training week after I do a race. This week, for certain, was pretty huge.
I took the day after the race off, then swam for 18 minutes the next day, which was a longer swim time for me at that point. Then the next day I ran 4 miles, much farther than I had been doing on most of my other runs. I hadn’t run that far in about 9 weeks. When I finished, I felt like it wasn’t enough.
The next day I still felt fired up, so I went out to tackle a ride I’d been eyeing for a long time, wondering if I’d actually be able to do it with any measure of performance. It was about 32 miles, and according to Strava included 3 category 4 climbs and one category 3 climb. I was feeling really good about my climbing legs, particularly after the second triathlon, so I decided to give it a go.
The biggest climb came early, starting at about mile 4. I cranked my way up, feeling the heat and sun but not getting beaten down by it. I wasn’t going fast but I wasn’t slowing down, either.
I was grinding it out about a mile from the summit when I realized that I was in my middle ring on the front, despite thinking for a long time at that point that I was in my small ring. That was frustrating. I could have been spinning a lot easier and using a lot less energy for nearly the same speed, had I only been paying attention to my riding. On the other hand, it was also a relief. I had gears I didn’t know I still had, and the rest of the climb was made significantly easier.
The extra effort I put in by grinding the bigger gears ended up taking a lot out of me. When I got to the final set of climbs near the end of the ride, I was pretty pooped. I wasn’t down for the count, though, and finished out the ride feeling pretty good about it overall.
There’s nothing quite like a good climb to teach you some lessons.
It was a day to learn a lesson about mental focus, and also a day to learn about my own capabilities on a climb. I really hadn’t had a lot of confidence I could do the climb at all; as it turned out, I could do it with more effort than was even necessary.