Triathlon: 1 Year In

Today (ok not today, but the day I started actually writing this, about a week ago) marks 365 days since I started my training plan last year for my first sprint triathlon. A lot has happened since then.

I started with a strength day, of all things, and just based on that fact alone, I’m amazed that I stuck with it this long. It’s one of my least favorite types of exercise to do. Following a 12-week plan extracted from a book, I got myself together enough to complete my first sprint distance triathlon. One of the first things I learned was what stuff I needed to bring to the race and what I didn’t (look at all those towels! lol). I did my second sprint just two weeks later, which was a big help in maintaining consistency, I think. There’s a very real possibility that, had I needed to wait a month or two until my next race, I might have dropped the ball. But there wasn’t much time to do much of anything except recover, and it was off to my second race. That one was a lot of fun; I was solidly hooked by that point. September rolled around and it was time for my third race, which I had considered my “A” race for the season, even though it was also a sprint like the others. I swam, biked and ran my way to the Clydesdale podium, winning my division, with a time that also would have been in contention in my age group, had I gone that route.

With that, I had proved to myself that I liked this sport. I hadn’t yet felt bored, or struggled to continue training for mental/emotional reasons. I’d had a couple of minor injury hiccups along the way, which seemed enormous at the time, but were really just bumps in the road. It really looked good for my goals of consistency and, eventually, performance. I hired a coach. I bought a new bike. Things were moving.

Then I got hit by a car. And everything changed. I had a concussion that would take me five months to recover from. In the interim I managed to stay as active as was possible, mostly by walking on the treadmill, and eventually doing relatively short and easy indoor trainer rides. I applied my focus to producing video content, and went to Puerto Rico for a cycling adventure vacation (I’m just realizing I never really posted about that; I’m working on a larger video that will showcase the whole trip. It’s slow going but I hope to have it done soon).

At the five month mark, I really started to feel normal again. I was pushing hard on a lot of workouts, and finally suffering no ill effects. Looking back, I can see how I was really charging ahead when this happened, going a lot harder than I probably should have a lot of times. Which I think is understandable considering how long I had been under wraps. My training and fitness levels really started to climb at that point.

I’ve still got a ways to go on intelligently managing my IF,
but Concussion Valley is looking smaller every day

I rode outdoors in Vermont for the first time at the Muddy Onion, which was also my first outdoor ride with a power meter. Shortly afterward, I did my first FTP test. Now I have a baseline for understanding my efforts and training with real structure.

Consistency is there. Fitness is getting there. Performance remains to be seen. I’ve done a lot, learned a lot, and been through a lot. My weight is still not where it should be, but I’ve made progress:

26 pounds lost over 1 year, while building a fair amount of heavy cycling muscle.

Tomorrow I’m riding in the Whiteface Mountain Uphill Bike Race, which I consider my first performance challenge of the season. I’m not out to win it or anything (fat chance, literally, with a Clydesdale division that starts at 190 pounds), but I do hope to lay down some effort that I can be proud of. And then right around the corner is my first triathlon of 2019, a sprint-distance rust shaker in Nashua NH.

It’s been a good first year, overall. I’m grateful to have found this sport, even more grateful to be able to practice and compete in it, and hopeful and optimistic for what it means for my future.

Back in the zone

4 days down this week, with little to no hesitation or holding back, and things seem to be holding up well. I’ve had moments of tightness but no pain.

I’m trying to take lessons from this experience. It was a very minor injury, all things considered. It hasn’t taken long to get back to training how I want to be training. I missed a couple of runs and bikes but I was still able to swim, and swim pretty hard. My reaction was an emotional one, out of proportion and probably detrimental to other aspects of my life.

It’s yet another example of triathlon teaching life lessons. Find perspective. Things are rarely as bad as they seem. Above all, remember and learn, and apply next time.

This week has been a sudden preview of the coming onslaught of winter, and a test of my cold weather riding gear. My first ride was in 35 degree rain; today it was 28 degrees and snowing. I know I’m going to need an indoor trainer, but I’m putting it off as long as possible. Being outdoors is too important.

On the way home today I rode by my youngest daughter’s outdoor ECO class and stopped by for a visit and some tic tac toe with sticks and leaves. Definitely a highlight of a very cold ride.

Easy run

Today I went out for an easy run. It was on the schedule as an easy chill run anyway, but I took it extra slow, running near 11-minute miles and being really careful on the hills in particular. I stopped a couple of times to stretch also.

I felt the muscle pull but it didn’t hurt. I didn’t feel like it was slowing me down. A few times there were periods where I didn’t feel it at all.

Afterward, I felt it probably more than I had during the run itself. So I don’t think it’s completely better, and I’m not sure what will happen when I get back on the bike. But for now I’m glad to have been able to get out for a quick run at least, and get a green compliance day on TP. I’m trying not to be overconfident about it, but I’m very eager to put those red non-compliance days far behind me soon.

Injuries

Early in this year of training, I hurt my calf. Just running along, then all of a sudden whoops, my calf is busted. It was a bad pull if not a tear, and it was debilitating and discouraging and basically awful. When you’ve built so much into your training, not just as physical conditioning but also as an emotional and mental therapy, being prevented from doing it is close to nightmare.

Yesterday I went out for a run in the cold rain. I started on hills, which was nothing particularly new. At my turnaround point, I felt something in my upper inner thigh. And it wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t one of those normal running pains that come and go. It was flaring when my thigh went back and when I brought it forward, a sharp kind of pain that felt white and distinct. Before long, I was walking. The first time I’d had to walk since I hurt my calf. I walked for about a mile and then was able to jog home slowly. I knew I couldn’t do my scheduled strength workout though. My first scratched workout in this 12-week plan.

I didn’t pay enough attention to myself when my calf got hurt. That is, I didn’t take note of the process of what happened after. At least not in a way that I internalized as any kind of useful information. If I had, I wouldn’t be so devastated right now. I would have learned something. I would believe in temporary, not permanent things. I would feel the value in rest and recovery, even if it’s forced. I would be okay.

I don’t feel okay.

I was able to swim today, a strength workout of about 2,000 yards total. Just an hour. I did it with a pull buoy so there was very little load on my legs. Still, I felt it when I had to stabilize myself in the water. It was hard to force out of my mind.

In the parking lot, I jogged to the car. Just to see. I felt it. Sore and tight. I wouldn’t make my run feeling how it felt. Another scratch.

It’s not failure. It’s part of the process. It happens. Injury and recovery. Build up and taper. Still.

I don’t feel okay.

First ride on the new ride

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.

Old Bike 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.

Videos and Race Planning

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.

Family Brick

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
  • 51:00 Duration
  • 9:48/mi Pace

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.

Lessons Learned

  • 31.73 mi Distance
  • 2:05:03 Moving Time
  • 2,635 ft Elevation
  • Avg Speed 15.2 mi/hr
  • Max Speed 42.9 mi/hr
  • Avg Heart Rate 151 bpm
  • Max Heart Rate 189 bpm

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.

Triathlon #2!

My second sprint triathlon was a solo endeavor.  The family was tied up doing other things, and the race was about an hour and a half from home, so I didn’t have anyone coming out to see me race.

I was kind of okay with that, for this one. So much of triathlon training is done in isolation, and my plan was to look at this race as a hard training session for my 3rd race at the end of the summer. so it kind of fit. 

I prepped my gear at home, wandering about in the same fog that settled over me the day before the first race. I felt incredibly tired, as if my body knew what was coming and was trying to get all the rest it could beforehand.  It probably was.

The drive down was fantastic, taking me though the mountains on some roads I’d never seen before. The race was taking place at a state park with a campground, so I had reserved myself one of the very last tent sites and borrowed a backpacking tent from a friend (our family tent was too large for me to want to deal with). I planned to head down in the late afternoon, set up camp, drive the course, get some dinner and have a relaxing, solitary night camping outdoors.  When I woke up, I’d already be at the race site.

That’s pretty much how it went, too.  I set up camp without trouble, then was able to drive the bike course (which included the run course), pulling back into the campground just as it was getting dark. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found – it was a 14-mile loop that was downhill or flat for the first 75% of the ride. There was one significant climb, but it wasn’t anything I was afraid of, having done a lot of climbing in my training over the summer. Then a flat run into T2. The run was on the same course, with some slight rolling hills.  

I picked up dinner at the local store, as well as some fuel for the next morning, and after a small fire at my campsite and a few minutes reading, I went to bed.

The next morning I woke up feeling pretty good.  I had slept well, which was good considering the extra variables that camping can potentially throw at you. After my morning routine, I suited up, got my transition gear on my back (in a backpack this time!) and rolled over to check-in.

The scene for the swim was amazing.  I couldn’t imagine a much more beautiful place to do a swim.  

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After I got set up in the transition area, which was quite crowded, I wandered around the beach playing the “age game.” Everyone had their ages put on their calves at body marking, so I would look at a person and mentally guess their age, then look at their calf to see how close I was. It was awesome to see so many people, particularly older people, in amazing shape. And plenty of others working hard on it. That’s one thing I’ve found about going to these events – the atmosphere is pretty inspiring. It always feels like a pretty good crowd to be hanging out in.

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Swim

  • 600 yd Distance
  • 12:14 Duration
  • 2:02/100 yd

The swim was a wave start from the beach.  It proved to be a much better swim than my first race, in terms of the crowd.  The swimmers spread out quicker and I wasn’t really fighting anyone for space the whole way. There were people close enough to me that I could have drafted if I had that skill in my playbook, but as of this point I’m still learning how to just get the swim done, so I just focused on what I was doing and tried to keep my rhythm.  I came out of the water feeling less tired than I did during my first triathlon, and felt ready for the bike.

The transition run was short, just up the grassy lawn from the beach.  I had no trouble getting into the area and locating my machine.

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Bike

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  • 13.94 mi Distance
  • 39:50 Moving Time
  • 621 ft Elevation
  • Avg Speed 21.0 mi/hr
  • Max Speed 40.7 mi/hr

As expected, the ride was a blast. I was able to keep a pretty high speed up for most of it, especially down a couple of big hills where my weight went to work for me. I passed a bunch of people without even really trying, letting gravity and inertia do a lot of the effort, and at the halfway mark I still felt very fresh and prepared to attack the hill. 

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I kept it steady on the climb, focusing mostly on my cadence and trying to keep my spin rate up. I didn’t want to sprint it, but I didn’t want to go too easy, either. I felt like I hit the right mark, especially as I caught a couple of people in my age group on the way. One or two superstars with full aero gear passed me on their way to the second lap of the Olympic distance course. I did my best to remind my brain that they were not my competitors; nobody was, in fact.  Just myself.

I crested the hill and then cruised the last two or so miles on the flats around the back side of the lake back to the transition area. No troubles again on transition; just racked my bike, switched my shoes and headed out.

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Run

  • 3.10 mi Distance
  • 27:47 Duration
  • 8:58/mi Pace

I was able to shake the jelly legs at about a mile, and then felt like I had my feet back under me. I found that the small climbs and descents on the run course really helped; working against a little elevation seemed to clear out the dead feelings somehow. I did get passed by a few people I had caught on the bike, but I was expecting that, knowing that running is probably my weakest discipline. I kept at it and was able to finish feeling pretty strong. For my current state of training, my final pace was really fast.

Results were posted live on a screen next to the transition area, so it wasn’t long before I was able to see how I did. I was expecting to see something like my first race, but was pleasantly surprised to see my name considerably higher in the standings – with my overall time of

1:23:52.5, I finished 4th in my age group, and 26th overall out of 166!  Later, the results sheet was revised to remove the top 5 finishers out of their respective age categories, leaving me 2nd in my age group! My transition times improved over my first race, at 2:14 and 1:25.  The results also confirmed my internal convictions that the bike is my jam, especially when there are downhills: I had the 12th fastest bike ride of the day.

After picking up my race shirt and watching some more folks finish, I went back to pack up my campsite and drive home.  I felt satisfied and very happy with what I had accomplished.  I was already looking forward to the next one.