I clawed myself awake on Monday morning and then immediately wished I hadn’t. My head felt as if there were a Frenchman living in it. My tongue felt like a Bolivian unicyclist’s jockstrap (this week’s similes brought to you by classic British comedy series). What kind of bender had I been on?
Oh, that’s right, an Ironman training weekend.
I’ve often felt as if there needs to be an AA for athletes. An Athlete’s Anonymous. For those of us addicted. . .er, I mean, committed to multisport, such a support group would enable us to break the cycle of self-inflicted pain and punishment that we seem unable to stop putting ourselves (and our loved ones) through. But where would the fun be in that?
Instead, the closest thing we get is recovery week. For my non-triathlete friends, recovery week will be known to you only as the half-mumbled, barely understood explanation for why I am only able to socialize with you during one week out of every three. I know that some of you may have the impression that I am some kind of stud that trains all the time. Well, both those things are actually true. But I don’t train hard all the time. You simply can’t. Instead, multisport athletes typically build and then recover, build and then recover, have-a-mental-breakdown and recover. . . With Team Z we follow a two week build, one week recovery. It is important to note that recovery weeks aren’t weeks where you do nothing (or at least ideally they shouldn’t be). Instead, it is typically where you ratchet back the length and intensity of your workouts a few notches. You are allowing the hammering your muscles take during the build portion to recover into a new level of fitness.
[Sidebar: Because this post was getting a little serious, I would just like to point out that I’ve tagged this post with “jockstrap” just so that you can click on it and see what other kinds of posts on WordPress the tag “jockstrap” features in. It should be edifying, no doubt.]
This week was the first time I’ve really felt as if I needed the recovery week. Two weekends ago we did a lengthy brick. Then this weekend we had the first of the really substantial run/ride combinations. I ran 14 on Friday, rode 90 hot rolling miles out at Culpeper, and then the next day I had to lead a Team ride out at Gainesville. There was supposed to be an open water swim in there as well but I fell really hard while I was running on Friday and wrenched some muscles in my chest that made it hard to extend my arm or rotate. Kinda sucked changing gears on the bike after a while too.
There’s a feeling of satisfaction that comes from getting through that kind of weekend, mixed with relief, and then a rush of joy that you are now into a recovery week. But from now on, pretty much all our build weeks are going to be like this. Next weekend culminates for me in the Gran Fondo which will be like Mountains of Misery only with more of both. Then the following week is a long schlep out to Cedar Point to check out the Ironman course which will mean lots of driving, a shit-load of running, a crapload of biking, and then more driving. From then to late August, with a brief “respite” to race a Half-Iron, we’re going to be in the territory of 100+ mile rides and 14+ mile runs every build weekend.
I did enjoy the weekend (in the perverse way you have to enjoy these things if you are a multisport athlete); the Culpeper ride is always a difficult one so it felt good to get through that one in a record time and with my disposition toward life (i.e. not wanting to end it) still intact. . .a big change from the last time I rode it. I also learned some valuable lessons. The most important? Keep your chamois butter in the cooler. We did this ride in one long 74 mile loop followed by a bonus 16 mile section. Coming back to the car, I grabbed a new bottle and also took the opportunity to head off to the loo with the tube of chamois cream for a bit of a maintenance application. Now, what do you think is going to happen when you take a tube of a greasy substance that has been sitting in a hot vehicle for four hours and squirt it down your shorts? I’m surprised there wasn’t smoke. My friend Jason, waiting outside, looked at me quizzically as I exited. “I heard screaming. . .” was all he said. On the plus side, ladies, I’ve found a cheap way to give yourself a Brazilian. And I can now undertake a career in porn if this whole teaching writing thing doesn’t work out..
I think my favorite moment of the weekend (apart from the Root Beer float at Moo Thru on the way home from the Culpeper ride) was actually my stint as ride leader. I’ve enjoyed the informal coaching work for Team Z this year because it has helped to keep m grounded when I’m in danger of disappearing up my own awesome Ironman-sized arse. I took out a group, all of whom are still relatively new to cycling and training. After a bit of instruction, they attacked the Hopewell climb out at Gainseville from the hard side, rode down the other side, then back up and down. I was reminded again of how much cycling in particular is all about the small victories that actually aren’t small at all, because each is a stepping stone to proving something to yourself about what you thought you couldn’t do but can. My proudest moment was watching two of the riders in particular as they did the hard climb ahead of me (I’d hung back to wait for another rider). I’d told them to start slow and low-geared, get a rhythm going, be patient, etc. About halfway up the climb they were passed by two fully kitted out guys on the uber-bikes. But in order to get up the climb these two big strong guys were doing the (really stupid) weaving back and forth across the road thing. They were riding faster than my group, sure. But they were expending a lot of energy. Meanwhile, my riders calmly, steadily spun their way up the climb, doing exactly what I’d told them to do and winning major style points in the process for getting up the climb without all the drama and testostogrunting of the two guys.
On that ride one woman climbed the hill without stopping, something she’d never been able to do before. Another woman biked further than she had ever biked before. Seeing the excitement, the sense of accomplishment on their faces when we got back to the parking lot made so much of the rest of the weekend–falling flat on my face, the hard rollers at Culpeper, the smell of burning hair–melt away.
Soon, however, I was easing my weary body into the car for the drive home and thanking all the gods that we were now in recovery week.
Hi, my name is Mark, and I’m a recovering athlete.