Saturday, January 31, 2009

Party Animal

This is Tinki, one of MJ's min-pins, schooling us all in the art of rest and recovery. Feet up!

My IM Nightmare

No, I don’t mean Ironman. I mean IM as in those three pesky swim strokes besides freestyle. Those nasty strokes – fly, back and breast - that quickly separate the triathletes from the real swimmers in any pool.

Wednesday morning I jumped into the masters workout in El Cerrito, near where I live in Berkeley. Even though for several years I attended masters workouts on a regular basis when I lived in Santa Cruz, I still find it extremely intimidating to join a new program, and thus I’ve avoided it like the plague in the past 15 months since I moved. But having recently admitted to myself that not only am I a much slower swimmer than in the past, I truly do push myself harder when swimming in a group, I committed to adding a few coached workouts to my weekly routine.

Wouldn’t you know it, I landed smack in the hands of a completely IM-obsessed coach. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, nor precisely where to seed myself among this group of swimmers. The slow lane was wide open so I happily claimed it as my own, a chance to slowly assimilate into the pack. The workout started like this:

400: kick/drill/swim x 25’s, in IM order

8 x 100: odds kicking (no board) / evens swimming for time, in IM order

6 x 25: odds off the wall with 3 butterfly strokes, take one breath, remainder free without breathing / evens stroke of choice

And then, as if there were any breath left in me, we were treated to a freestyle respite:

4 x 100: breaths per length = 4, 3, 2, 1 x 25

There was more, but by that time I was in such severe oxygen debt that it’s too fuzzy to remember.

Afterward I spoke with the coach. “Are there particular days of the week with a specific focus for the workout? IM day, distance day, speed day…that type of thing?” He just smiled at me and said, “Not really. I generally give quite a bit of IM because I’m an IM guy.” In my mind I shouted, “What is WRONG with you?!!” but out loud I said, “Well, I’m a triathlete, but I’ll do my best,” knowing I would probably see him again soon for some more pre-dawn torture. He kindly encouraged me to try IM as much as possible, and even offered some great feedback on my feeble breaststroke; but he also empathized with the fact that I do want to get a solid workout (as opposed to an hour spent flailing about), and suggested that anytime I have my own lane he will be happy to custom-craft a swim set just for me. Whew!

I would love to be one of those powerful, graceful swimmers who glides through the water as perfectly as any dolphin, my butterfly stroke showcasing my incredibly toned back and shoulder muscles. In reality, while I can make it from one end of the pool to the other swimming fly, I rarely do so in the presence of other humans, sparing them what must be an awfully painful sight as well as the Good Samaritan urge to practice CPR.

I talked to MJ after my workout, proud on the one hand that I had mustered up the courage and discipline to make the 6am practice, but discouraged on the other by the IM-whooping I received. I couldn’t help but take solace in MJ’s description of her own IM strokes. “My backstroke looks a lot like my freestyle. My breaststroke looks a lot like my freestyle. In fact, my fly looks a lot like my freestyle,” she admitted. What a relief to know it’s not just me who resorts to freestyle when the coach isn’t looking!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Test vs. Truth – Week 4

Ahhhhh, what a relaxing week it was! Granted, I struggled to even walk for two days following the marathon. Then I headed to Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer trade show, which meant three days solid of standing. Armed with compression socks and instructions to rest and relax, I made it through with flying colors, my only hard training effort being a 2-hour tempo workout on my bike trainer once I returned home on Sunday.

I also managed to behave fairly well at the show, where the temptations to stay out late and drink exorbitant amounts of alcohol abound. There was the one night where I polished off an entire bottle of wine myself - but who, when presented with quality vino and excellent company, and void of the need to wake at 5am to train, would honestly resist?

The Test equaled the Truth once more, as evidenced by my limited training tally:

Swim workouts – 2k, 1.5k

Bike workouts (trainer and/or gym spin bike) – :20 EZ spin, :45 EZ spin, :30 EZ spin, 2:00 tempo intervals

Run workouts – 0

Weight training – 0

She Might Be Trying To Kill Me…

…or else just get me into killer shape! Now that the marathon has come and gone and I’ve enjoyed an easy recovery week, IM training is kicking into full swing. Yesterday I received my training schedule from MJ for the coming week, and I have to admit I’m a wee bit intimidated. Honestly, it’s a manageable amount and I’m truly looking forward to the workouts – though I kind of wish I didn’t have a day job! Oh how I wish I could focus on training, with plenty of napping and eating in between.

I also know that this week is likely only a teaser in regards to the bigger weeks that lie ahead. I’m ten weeks out from race day, and I know that the next two months will require extreme discipline on my part. And I’m ok with that – I welcome it even – it’s just that I need to make a few shifts in my routine. For example, no more blowing off workouts just because I’ve lingered too long over coffee or work and suddenly find myself short on time. No more lights out past 10pm, as I’ll be up each weekday morning at 5am. I’m a natural early riser, so a pre-dawn wakeup is my norm, but I do struggle with so-much-to-do/so-little-time syndrome and therefore rarely get to bed early enough. And yes, I will be in the pool FIVE times this week, which is at least twice as often as I’ve been swimming in recent history. MJ knows I need to step it up, and I certainly can’t argue with her.

MJ actually sent me a beautifully and thoroughly planned week’s worth of workouts – which I promptly flip-flopped around to accommodate a particularly jam-packed seven days combining work, vacation and personal appointments. I really do want to try and stick to her exact plan as often as possible, and in February and March I should be much more able to do so, as the only travel I have planned is this coming weekend. But for the next week I’ll remain a bit of a feisty rebel and cut & paste my workouts with abandon.

Speaking of this coming weekend, I’m actually headed down to MJ’s hood for the Competitor Endurance Sports Awards. I hope to have some fun reporting from the weekend’s wild events!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Test vs. Truth – Week 3

I feel a little bit like I’m cheating in regards to last week and the week ahead. Aside from running the actual marathon, I trained even less during my final taper week than I normally would. I’ve had a few nagging physical issues, most notably a sore Achilles tendon, so my instruction from coach MJ was to baby the heck out of it. I obeyed, and on race day it held up perfectly – it was simply the rest of my tendons and muscles that suffered!

Now that the marathon is over, I’m under strict orders to focus on recovering fully. The timing is perfect, as I’m headed to a trade show for work, always a challenging environment in which to maintain one’s fitness. I may spend a little time on a spin bike or in the hotel pool, but not if that requires sacrificing precious hours of sleep. I’m learning that I need to welcome rest & recovery as a fourth discipline in the sport of triathlon.

The Test equaled the Truth once again in Week 3, as I did my best to do very little:

Swim workouts – 2k

Bike workouts (trainer) – 1:45 w/intervals, :45 spin, :40 spin

Run workouts – :10 jog, :20 marathon race pace, :20 jog

Weight training – 0 (on hold until after the marathon)

And of course, there was that little 26.2 mile race.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Dreaded "C" Word

I must have boatloads of character - considering that the last several races I’ve done have been what you would call “character builders.”

I’m sure there are any number of reasons why my marathon race day did not go according to my dream plan. Quite likely, my leg strength (particularly in my quads) is not yet enough to counter 26.2 miles of relentless pancake-flat pavement pounding - without the benefit of varied terrain and the ensuing mixed muscle use. Perhaps all those miles on the bike trainer, while building a solid foundation for Ironman, detracted more than I had hoped from my run stamina. Or perhaps I’m just not as fast as I’d like to believe!

Then again, it could have just been an off day. One thing I love about MJ is her immediate ability to lift my spirits post-race. “The thing is,” she tells me, “You get what you get on race day. And sometimes it’s not what you want. But they can’t all be good. Don’t worry, your time will come.” I’ve seen her embrace this things-happen-for-a-reason type philosophy in the midst of some of her own worst race-day setbacks, and she means it – she doesn’t let the rough patches bring her too far down.

I know I have much to be thankful for: that I have the health and fitness to run a marathon in the first place; that I ran fast enough to secure a fourth Boston qualifier spot; that I never once walked during the 16.2 miles in which my legs screamed with pain.

I was fine for the first 10, though I never quite felt fantastic, which is by far how I prefer to feel at the beginning of a race. But then my quads began begging for sympathy – and they never stopped until I crossed the finish. I maintained my 3:30 goal pace until the halfway point, but each mile thereafter seemed to stretch for a few extra seconds, until I was weighed down with far too much time on the clock to reach my goal or even set a new personal best. I was left to settle for Plan C, salvaging a Boston spot by crossing in 3:48.

Just prior to the race start, MJ had given me a good luck hug and urged, “Enjoy every bit, even the hard parts.” Through those long latter miles, when every step was a hard part, her words kept popping into my head. So even though it hurt like hell, I turned up my smile and enjoyed the day.

And honestly, the race was merely a few rough hours out of a whole wonderful weekend. I traveled to Phoenix specifically to meet up with two of my boarding school gal pals, Nilda and Bebe. Our high school mini-reunions are becoming a regular occurrence now that many of us have gotten back in touch after long absences (Facebook is our friend - how we ever managed through high school without the internet is a miracle indeed!). MJ and HPP also joined in the Phoenix fun for the weekend, running the half marathon as a training race and having decidedly the best days of anyone in our group. And even MM made a guest appearance with his younger brother, swooping into town for less than 24 hours and running the full marathon on what amounts to zero training. Not a recommended approach, but I have to grant the guy points for spontaneity (as well as beating me).

We girls talked until the wee hours, laughed, napped, relaxed by the pool, discovered some fabulous Phoenix restaurants, played endless rounds of “tickle-tickle” and “eeewwwwww” with Kathryn (Bebe’s 2 ½ year old gem of a daughter) and on Sunday morning went for a seriously long run. Race weekends don’t get much better than that!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Taper, Schmaper

To borrow a phrase from Tina Fey, tapering can suck it!

I feel fat and out of shape. I’ve raced enough to know that this sluggishness is perfectly normal, and in fact desirable, during taper week. It’s how I always feel, a sign that I am properly resting my body and easing up considerably on the quantity and intensity of training in preparation for race day. But that doesn’t make me hate it any less. And I know I’m not alone. It’s a strange bond we endurance athletes share, a universal understanding based on our common experience, one that leads us to smile knowingly when a tapering comrade bitches about their fitness funk. It’s the same common bond that allows us to share in graphic detail the horrifying specifics of our bodily functions as if this were normal, everyday adult dialog. But that’s a topic for a separate post altogether.

I have to keep reminding myself how often I have had to reassure my own taper-tortured type-A athlete friends, when they’ve longed to over-exert themselves this close to a race. “Just remember,” I’ve quipped, “You’ll never hear anyone say, after the fact, that they tapered too much.”

I sent MJ a text this morning, knowing full well the response I would receive, but needing to hear it nonetheless.

HB: Taper week. I feel soft, fat, sluggish and out of shape. I suppose that means I’m doing something right?

MJ: Exactly.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Test vs. Truth – Week 2

I’m actually a bit surprised that I successfully stuck to my training plan this week, given the shock of re-entry into the regular work week, following the holiday break. Three cheers for me, and hopefully I can maintain the same level of motivation throughout the next few months, in particular when IM training ramps up more significantly.

Once again, the Test equals the Truth. Here’s the roundup:

Swim workouts – 3k, 2k, 2k, 3k (That’s right, I was in the pool a whopping 4 times!)

Bike workouts (again all on the trainer – I swear I’ll start riding for real again soon!) – 1:00 w/intervals, 1:00 w/intervals

Run workouts – 1:00 moderate, :45 w/intense intervals, :45 moderate, 1:30 moderate

Weight training (on hold until after the marathon) – 0

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bath Night

My legs did not feel fresh. I was hoping to have a brilliant run this morning, one of those workouts where my body perfectly clicks, every muscle firing with precision, a glow of invincibility surrounding me for the remainder of the day. But instead I felt fatigued and flat, with an oddly sore ankle adding a new and unwelcome twist. Thus, I knew it was time to call in the emergency first aid: the ice bath.

The recipe for an ice bath is simple: fill the tub with enough cold water and ice to completely cover your legs. Slide into the slush as fast as you can, let out one heck of a scream and then phone a friend. Trust me on this – frozen dialing serves as a perfect distraction from the million icy spears boring into your lower extremities. Call someone you can really chatter with, and before you know it 10-15 minutes will have passed and you’ll be free to climb out and thaw out.

So I dialed MM.

aboutmydayImeaneverydetailohGODisitcold,” and so on, for 15 minutes. By the time we hung up my legs looked like chicken skin, but the pain was successfully banished.

My dog, Viggo, previously sound asleep in the front room, must have been awakened by the tone of urgency and alarm in my voice (due to the fact that I was literally FREEZING MY ASS OFF!). He came to investigate, cocking his head in curiosity at my submersed body. He peered over the edge of the tub, bending his nose down to the water and taking a few tentative laps with his tongue. And then, in one swift move…

No, he didn’t jump in. In one swift move I got up before he had a chance. For a moment he looked like he would surely launch his entire 70 pounds of muscle and fur into the tub, directly onto my naked frozen lap. He is hardly bathtub shy. When he was a baby dog and I first brought him home, his separation anxiety was so extreme that if I so much as closed the shower curtain he would sit on the bath mat and cry. For the first few weeks I showered with the curtain open, unable to bear his puppy heartbreak, until he began to trust that the water wouldn’t wash away his adoptive mom. His curiosity would lead him to the edge of the tub and often compel him to hop in, slipping goofily around and shaking water everywhere. To this day I bathe him in my tub, and while he sometimes pulls a stubborn card on bath night, I know he enjoys the pampering treatment. So I wouldn’t put it past him to flop right in on top of my frozen gambs.

Rather than risk the shock of dog meeting ice water, the awkward discomfort of his full weight upon my legs and his ensuing scratching and scrambling to escape, I reacted as quickly as my numb limbs would allow. Then, with the tub emptied of humans and ice, it was bath time for Viggo.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Test vs. Truth - Week 1

Today marks 2 weeks out from the marathon and 13 weeks out from Ironman. That seems unnervingly soon, and though I feel nowhere near ready, a sadistic part of me says “bring it on!”

Although I’m not quite on MJ’s IM training plan due to my marathon diversion, I do need to start holding myself accountable to my training goals. In this, the final week prior to tapering for the marathon, I managed to accomplish each workout I had planned, save for today’s 3k swim. I purposely bumped that until tomorrow morning (in place of a complete day off), as I was exhausted after a night of poor sleep and this morning’s 2:00 run. Given the importance of rest & recovery in the overall scheme of training, I’m allowing myself that leeway.

This week, the Test equals the Truth. The tally:

Swim workouts - 2k

Bike workouts (all on trainer, due to weather, limited daylight and my desire to catch up on the entire first season of Californication) - :30 easy spin, :45 w/intervals, 1:30 increasing intensity, 1:30 w/intervals

Run workouts - :45 easy, :45 w/speed intervals, :45 moderate, 1:00 marathon pace, 2:00 moderate

Weight training – 2x

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Detour to Phoenix

Two weeks from tomorrow I’ll be running the Phoenix Rock & Roll Marathon – a bit of a twist on Ironman training, as well as my first blatant defiance of my coach. You see, I decided to do this race just prior to committing to IM OZ. When I asked MJ to be my coach, the first thing she said was that she’d prefer I only run the half, to avoid the marathon’s serious pounding and significant recovery time. The thing is, I really want to do the full, and I tend to be a bit stubborn once I get an idea in my head. MM calls it persistence, though I prefer to think of it as knowing what I want. Anyhow, I’ve had good luck in the past running a marathon a few months out from an Ironman. I like to believe it provides a strong running endurance base and then allows for backing off the miles a bit to focus more on cycling and swimming, along with shorter running speed. I know I’m not the expert here and I should abide by my coach’s direction; but after all, MJ has never run a solo marathon, so perhaps this is one area where I might be able to school her just a bit. Of course, I think every one of her Ironman marathons has handily beat every one of my seven stand-alone marathons - but who’s keeping track?

So I promised MJ that from here on out I would follow her every instruction, save for this one little 26.2 mile jaunt. She agreed to work my training plan around it, allowing for a two-week marathon taper infused with a few cycling and swimming workouts. Then she’ll kick me into Ironman high gear once the race and recovery are over. Then I’ll begin to pile on the miles, to develop my 3-sport endurance, fitness and speed. Then I’ll obey my coach one hundred percent. But for now I have a hall pass to focus on my marathon mini-mutiny. Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Beer Mile Madness

Me and DTM

MJ, HPP & Neily warming up pre-race

DTM in action

Team photo

HPP post 6-pack

Everyone should run a Beer Mile at least once in their life. Thank the stars my time was not last Sunday in Encinitas. I did pony up and run one leg on a relay team, but I weaseled my way out of the entire 4 beers & 4 laps.

Here’s the deal: a group of mature, rational adults gets together in an undisclosed location on a high school track to run a one-mile race. The kicker is that prior to each lap of the mile, the runner must fully consume one 12-oz can of beer. And it’s bad beer at that.

Among our group of revelers, the pressure was intense to race. DTM is one of the most talented beer-drinking pros around, and he wagered MJ an all-you-can-eat sushi dinner that he would beat her across the line. Given that his beer guzzling skill rivals her running speed, he may well have had a chance, if only she had toed the line. But MJ, not much of a drinker, opted for a cheerleading role on the sidelines and a hefty dinner tab. DTM and HPP both did us proud by finishing the entire race. HPP even managed a top-five finish, as well as winning some sort of twisted bonus points for consuming an additional beer both before and after running his mile. But the ultimate glory went to DTM, who took home the award for “Best Looker” with his glorious wig and track suit. Our pal Neily and I opted for relay teams, and thus only had to run one lap – and chug one beer – apiece. My teammates were Bob and Heidi Babbitt and Kristin Mayer, and Bob was surely a runner-up in the costume contest. Kristin and I are running marathons next month (more on this twist in my training later), so we had both completed our hardest and longest runs that morning. With the deep fatigue in my legs, I was honestly more nervous about making it around the track than finishing my beer. I did in fact chug down a Pabst Blue Ribbon with lightning-like speed, and then cruised a fairly easy lap. The strategy of drink fast, run slow served me well, as I never once experienced the gut-churning that I had been warned to expect. Of course, Neily did blow past me about halfway around the track, so the victory is hers in the relay competition. Someday she and I will have to square off as individual racers, as I’m confident that with enough training I could give her a run (or chug) for the money!