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.

Coach time

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.

image

The 12-week plan begins tomorrow. Here goes nothin!

Triathlon #3!

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.

Pre-race

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.

Swim

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.

T1

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.

Bike

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.

T2

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.

Run

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.

Post-race

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.

What’s next?

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!

My first triathlon!

I finished my first sprint distance triathlon! Getting here was the culmination of 10 weeks of training, with a focus on changing my eating habits and trying to lose weight. It was a milestone I worked hard on, and I was proud to achieve it.

It took the week beforehand off almost entirely, doing only an easy swim where I tried out a couple of techniques I had seen online. Other than that, I didn’t exercise at all. I knew I was really stretching the definition of “taper” but considering my recent calf injury, which had only just begun to feel normal again, I thought it was best to go the route of complete recovery.  Certainly nothing I did in the week beforehand would make much a difference fitness-wise; it was up to the 10 weeks prior to see if that was up to snuff or not.

I spent the day before the race in something of a haze of nerves and intermittent preparation.  I ended up taking two separate naps by accident, and it took me probably 4-6 hours to actually get my kits together.  Mentally, I was in a fog. Eventually I did manage to get things laid out, though, and then packed them up into two reusable grocery store shopping bags, for T1 and T2.

image

On the left we’ve got tri suit, race-provided swim cap, sunscreen, goggles and earplugs, and race manual. In the middle is T1 – spare bike bottle, helmet, gloves, numbers, bike shoes and socks, 2 towels and large water bottle. T2 has running shoes, an energy snack, another large water bottle and a towel.

The race was about an hour from my house, so the wife and I were up early to get there. I had my usual breakfast of oatmeal, and hydrated on the drive.  The weather was perfect, so I was glad to see that wasn’t a factor I’d have to contend with.

The logistics of transition setup had me more nervous than almost anything else.  The two transitions were in two different spots, as opposed to being in one location, and I didn’t really know how most people would be traveling from one to the other. Everything seemed roped off, so parking at T2 didn’t seem to be an option. Parking at T1 wasn’t an option either, for that matter; we had to park at a 3rd location and then walk (or ride) to the Ts.  So we ended up walking pretty far, carrying my shopping bags, which almost immediately demonstrated how poorly chosen they were.  Why it didn’t occur to me to use a backpack, or at least a duffel with a shoulder strap, I have no idea.  The fog was pretty thick the day before, I guess.

I got my stuff set up at T2, then headed to the beach for T1.  After being handed my bike stake, I asked someone why people were leaving their bib numbers at T2 – because the race manual said you had to wear it on the bike.  Did they get two numbers somehow, did I miss something?  No, they said, they’re just not following the rules.  Cool.  At least I knew I wasn’t screwing something up.

image

T1 setup

I got my T1 spot set up, then headed to the overlook just above the beach to check out the swim course. It looked to be a long way, standing on shore. It was hard to tell how it measured up to the training I had been doing. Only one way to find out, though.

image

Swim course

Due to how the timing mats worked, they had us all line up in a crowded mass on a pathway before entering the beach area, and once we were there, we weren’t allowed to leave.  Due to the low water level, it was going to be a water start, so everyone waded out to a first set of buoys to await the start signal.

image

Getting set for the start

The start was in two waves, with the men going first and the women and teams going second. I positioned myself to the outside and toward the back of the pack, thinking that would be safest and easiest to manage.  I had never swum in a pack before so I had no idea what it was going to be like. I was just hoping I wouldn’t get panicky.

image

First wave start

The signal sounded and we were off. I took a few steps, plunged in, and almost immediately it was chaos.  People were thrashing and kicking all around me. I got kicked and whacked several times right from the start. Because it mostly happened underwater, it didn’t really hurt, but it was always unexpected and somewhat disorienting. It was hard to find a route forward that wasn’t full of arms and legs. The pack didn’t really thin out until we had rounded the second corner and were on the way back toward the beach, so I probably only had about 40% of the course when I could really swim comfortably and try to find my own pace. The rest of the time was spent primarily fighting my way through and trying to navigate. The water was terrible, too – almost uncomfortably warm, full of weeds and smelling like boat fuel. Not the most pleasant environment to swim in. 

I ended up working pretty hard on the swim.  By my watch, I was out of the water in about 10 minutes, not including the run up the beach, which was 3-5 minutes faster than I expected. I think I swam a lot faster than I had trained.

image

Out of the water (on the far right)

It was over soon enough, though, and I was back on the beach, heading up for T1. As I ran up the hill, I discovered that one of my earplugs had suction-locked into my ear, and I couldn’t for the life of me get it out. There was nothing I could do but leave it in and do the rest of the race with one ear plugged. I hoped it wouldn’t affect my balance.

image

Drying my feet and getting ready for the bike

I dried my feet and got my biking gear on, then jogged my bike out to the mount line and headed out on the bike course. I wasn’t really paying much attention to the transition times, since this was my first triathlon. I primarily wanted to get through them successfully, so I didn’t mind taking a little extra time.  As it turned out, I took a lot of extra time and had some of the slowest transitions of the entire field. 

image

Heading out on the bike

Cycling is definitely my strongest discipline, and the course was pretty flat, so I was eager to put down a good time. I realized right away that the effort I’d put out on the swim was definitely too much, because I was eating people up left and right in the first mile.  That meant I could have swum a bit slower and made up time on the bike.  Lesson learned.

As I rounded a corner to head up one of the only hills, passing another cyclist on my right, I learned another hard lesson – never forget to check your tire pressure.  Like, with a gauge.  And a pump. My tire seemed to roll out from under me and go soft, and I was sure I’d blown a flat.  I stopped at the top of the hill and got off my bike to check.  My rear tire was soft, but it wasn’t flat.  It was rideable, and I wasn’t about to take the time to pump air into it with my little hand pump.  I decided to keep riding as far as I could.  If it went flat on the course, so be it.  For the time being, it was low but usable.

image

The low tire definitely slowed me down.  I couldn’t corner very well, for fear of losing stability, and whenever I tried to stand and power over small rises, the back end of the bike went all wobbly.  It didn’t feel safe at all. I kept it conservative when maneuvering and put as much power in as I could when the road was straight. That got me to the end of the course with an average of about 19 mph.

image

Coming back in to T2

I found my transition spot easily enough and put my bike down. I basically ignored everything else there except for my running shoes. I carried one of my bike bottles with me for a short distance to douse myself with before tossing it to my wife, who was there cheering me on, then bricked on out to do the run.

The legs felt dead and weird for the first mile, as expected, but my pace was good and my calf felt great. I felt the exertion in my lungs but I still had legs, so I pushed it pretty much as hard as I had left.  The course wound through some residential areas and back along the lakeside, finishing up along a bike path.

image

I came into the finish with an overall time of 01:21:34. I didn’t have a fixed goal to shoot for going into this; I was aiming just for completion.  But under 1:30:00 seemed to be fairly respectable, and I was placed somewhere in the middle of the field, both in my age group and overall. The distances for the race were allegedly 500m in the water, 12 miles on the bike and 3 miles on the road (but I’m not sure I trust their measurements, either, particularly for the run).

I say somewhere because the timing for this event was completely messed up and none of the splits ended up being reliable.  The only time I trust from the official results is the overall.  When I got home, I checked the results and saw one set of split times and placing; the next day, they had completely changed. Neither of them made any sense, either, and didn’t align anywhere close to what I had on my devices during the race. 

Luckily, the times didn’t matter all that much to me.  This one was about learning how to do a triathlon, completing it and having a foundation for the next one.  In terms of those goals, it was a complete success.

The biggest racing takeaway I got was that I don’t need to go that hard on the swim. I’m not such a good swimmer that it will make much difference, except to tire me out. Meanwhile, I’m much better at biking so I can easily make up the time on wheels. Logistically, the biggest lesson was to pare down my transition gear, to put it in a backpack and to not take so much stuff!  I brought two giant water bottles I never even touched during the race, and I had way too many towels. I also didn’t need any food for such a relatively short race.

I didn’t walk away with any medals, but I got a cool training shirt, some free food and a whole bunch of knowledge. It was a good day.

Rebrick

Bike:

image
  • 11.49 mi Distance
  • 39:37 Moving Time
  • 647 ft Elevation
  • Avg Speed 17.4 mi/hr
  • Max Speed 40.5 mi/hr

Run:

image
  • 2.58 mi Distance
  • 26:13 Moving Time
  • 10:08/mi Pace
  • Elevation 169 ft 

It was time for another brick, the last opportunity before my first triathlon. I decided to try to closely simulate the upcoming event, as well as ride out on the same route that foiled me earlier in the season, with a broken chain and a calf injury. 

This was what I needed to be confident that I could complete the race.

The bike went according to plan.  I took it relatively easy, not working too hard and focusing on keeping myself to about an 80% effort. One of the things I’d been concerned about was outpacing myself on the bike and having nothing left for the run, so I wanted to work on actively preventing that.

The legs still felt terrible for the first mile of the run, but by this point I knew what to expect and it was easier to deal with. I felt no hint of a problem in my calf on the way out of the out-and-back route, but just after I looped around to head home, it seized up on me.  It was bad enough that I had to stop completely. I tried to relax and calmly stretch it out, but I was cursing inside. I was terrified that this was going to be a re-injury that would prevent me from racing.

Luckily, the stretching seemed to help quite a bit. I started running again, very slowly, to test it out.  It held up.  I continued and made it home ok, without further incident.

I hoped it was a fluke. My first tri was just a week away.