Rookie Mistakes

I’m no stranger to heavy training schedules.  I’ve been racing multisport events (some of them quite long) for the past several years, and have now trained for and completed two marathons.  But, it is one of the most tragic aspects of the human condition that experience does not necessarily lead to wisdom.  I’ve read the books (re-reading Friel and Byrn’s Going Long at the moment, which I first bought for Mary when she had just started triathlons.  She laughed in my face and said there was no way she was ever going to do something like an Ironman.  Now, I don’t want to suggest that I could foretell the future or anything. . .but I foretold the future!).  I’ve read the blogs.  I’ve followed Coach Ed’s advice to the aspiring Ironmen over the last year and talked to many of them.   All that has made me more informed.

To judge from the evidence of the last week, however, it has not made me any smarter.

This week’s lesson: you cannot train for an Ironman, even in the early stages, and expect your life to function the way it did before you started.  Pretty obvious, huh?  However, knowing is not doing.

Last week was heavy.  It started off with a weekend where I basically did two races.  There was a short (4K) trail race at Potomac Overlook Park.  The event was being held to benefit the Branch Nature Center which is in danger of closing due to Arlington County’s budget woes.  A lot of Zers were participating, and Ed was also grilling up a storm and donating the proceeds to the cause.  There was an 8K event also but since I’d never done any trail racing before I opted for the shorter, safer (so I thought) option.  Even the 4K was bloody hard work.  It had been raining constantly for two days, was drizzling during the race, and the trails were muddy and covered with leaves (plus all the usual off-road hazards of tree roots, rocks, steps).  The name of the park should have clued me in to the nature of the terrain in advance: where there is an overlook there will also be a what . . .underlook?  uplook?  At any rate, it was steep uphills, steep downhills, stream crossings. . .  Once the race was over, I loved it.  At the time, I thought I was going to die.  And die less than a mile into the race.  However, I loved the fact that you couldn’t switch your mind off, you had to be thinking all the time.  I really loved the downhills.  I found that if I just relaxed and reacted rather than trying to over-think things I just flowed down the hills, catching and passing several people (who then passed me smoothly on the uphills as I gasped and wheezed in their wake).  I was pretty pleased with the result: time of 23:07, sixth overall (out of 37), second in my age group (and yes, there were more than two people, there were a whopping 5, in fact!), and I didn’t have a seizure.  I did, however, feel as if I had been sat on by an elephant.  I said sat on, although the other would work just as well.

Another reason why I only ran the 4K is that we had a bike time trial the following day: 23.6 miles across rolling terrain with a couple of short, moderate climbs.  This was an organized team event and it was great to see so many people giving it a go.  This kind of event, particularly if it is repeated several times (and that is the plan) can give you some valuable indication of changes in your form and fitness as they result of training.  Plus, the fact that so much of the training that multisport athletes do is long and slow means that the rare opportunity to get your fast on can be a welcome break from the normal training routine.

There is, however, a good reason that you don’t do time trials every day of the week.  They destroy you.  This is supposed to be a test of how fast you can go leaving absolutely nothing in reserve.  It is balls to the wall and beyond.  It is also a test, however, of your mental discipline, your consistency, and your pacing.  You can’t blow it out of the water in the first ten miles or you will have nothing left for the last part of it.  I was pretty pleased with the way it went for me.  My plan was to start out in high zone 3 and try and keep it there for a few miles, but that pretty much went by the wayside and I settled in to low zone 4.  Except for the climb I kept it there, and then pushed it toward the end (aided by the fact that it was mostly uphill) so that I was in zone 5 (which, typically, is very hard for me to reach on a bike) for most of the last three miles.  Final time: 1:13:58.  I was also happy that I was only 50 seconds slower on the second half than on the first half.  Ideally I’d want to be faster on the second half, but I felt that I was a lot slower than I obviously was.

However, that weekend left me pretty much wrecked for the rest of the week, and just trying to get by.  Typically my week looks like this:

  • Monday and Wednesday: biking to and from work, with the bike home transitioning immediately into a short session of strength training at home (since I am warmed up);
  • Tuesday: track workout in the morning, and swimming in the evening;
  • Thursday: track in the morning, spin class and swimming in the evening;
  • Friday: Off.
  • Saturday: Long Run
  • Sunday: Long ride and, ideally, swimming in the evening.

A time trial or a race typically leaves me feeling pretty buzzed the day after the event, one of the after-effects of having your body drenched in adrenaline.  It is two days after that it really hits me. . .and it did.  Felt like complete shite on Tuesday for both the run and the swim.  Things began to look up a little on Wednesday, and by Thursday I managed to get through the day, although I was pretty happy to be doing nothing on Friday.  Long run went well on Saturday.  However, after the long bike I was exhausted, so much so that I couldn’t even contemplate swimming.  I felt completely fatigued and my legs ached.

So, yes, the race/trial weekend had a lot of lingering effects.  But I compounded this with two huge mistakes.

1) By all that is holy, turn off the TV, put away the computer and haul your exhausted arse to bed!  I’ve been trying to stick to my usual routine, which typically involves staying up pretty late.  I am used to about 6-7 hours of sleep max.  I find it harder to sleep longer than that, normally.  However, when training for an Ironman you have definitively entered into the realm of the non-normal.  You need sleep.  Lots of sleep.  More sleep than you think you need.  I know this, so why I haven’t been doing it is a little mysterious.  There is, perhaps, a large part of me that is still in denial about the Ironman and trying to pretend that I’m just training for some short race.

1) You are not 133t, you will never be 133t, so stop trying to pretend that you are 133t.  Made a big mistake on this weekend’s ride.  Well, a couple really.  I keep forgetting how hilly some of the parts around Poolesville are.  As usual, I was so glad to be on the bike that I jumped all over it from the get go as if I was doing another time trial instead of a slower ride in heart rate zone 2.  But I also for a while tried to keep up with the lead group.  I have to face the fact that I am never going to have a zone 2 ride trying to keep up with the likes of Sebastian, Damon, and Chris.  I obviously have this mental picture of myself as a cyclist which bears only a passing resemblance to reality.  Whether or not those guys are really riding zone 2 on these rides is not an issue.  The point is, everyone needs to be riding their own ride, working their own zones.  This, I think, is going to be the hardest part of the entire training for me.  I love the bike.  I love going fast on the bike.  I love long rides on the bike.  But the bike in the Ironman has one goal and one goal only: to ensure that you get off the bike in reasonable shape to complete an additional 26.2 miles.

Waking up this morning too fatigued to be bothered biking to work has made me see that I need a change in game plan.  Some of this will get easier.  Picking up the swimming on a regular basis is a huge change both in training style and overall workout volume for me and it will take a while for my body to adapt.  So there will be a few more weeks of tiredness, no doubt.  But normal training tiredness is a different thing from being completely wiped.

Well, look at the time, it’s almost 3pm.  If you’ll excuse me, I need to be getting to bed.

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