It wasn't the plan, exactly, but I ended up doing a time trial today, as part of a longer ride. After a 15-minute warm-up the ride was two hours, but the big effort was the first hour. I had constructed a course that featured about 20 miles in which the grade went up in one-tenth increments approximately each mile. The pacer was set to crank at 195 watts. I went out ahead of him and settled in around 205 watts, feeling quite comfortable. I had music playing, Helio Sequence, old Wilco and Uncle Tupelo, TV on the Radio What an aid that is; it's so easy to sink into the tunes and just go, go, go. About 20 minutes into the ride I picked up the effort to around 220 watts and felt good there. So then I jacked it up a little more and, well, before you know it, I had decided that I'd like to average 230 watts for the climb, which looked like it would take around an hour. To reach 230, I knew I'd need to average around 250 for the last half hour of the ride. I did it by staying above 230 pretty much constantly, and by throwing in some big-gear, out-of-the-saddle hammering, where the wattage would inch toward 300 and sometimes above. It was interesting to watch my heart rate climb along with my effort—but slowly, ticking up from 125 to 140, spiking above 150 when I got out of the saddle, and then settling back toward 140 when I sat back down for some good hard pedaling in the aero position. Yeah, I was aero for 95 percent of the ride. When the hour was up I was right at 230 watts average output. For the second hour, I had a mild descent for a few miles, a perfect recovery, then another climb like the previous one, but a little shorter. This time, I worked hard but stayed comfortable. I didn't care what kind of watts I was putting out.
After the workout, I washed up a little and still in my cycling shorts Niko and I made lunch—ham sandwiches, leftover hummus with veggies, and tangelos for dessert. Then a quick shower and we were off to Ethos for Niko's Saturday afternoon clarinet lesson. I really like this half hour. Niko goes upstairs for his lesson and I sit in the cafe below. It's closing down, with a little cleaning going on here and there, and mostly empty and quiet. I sit by a window looking out onto Killingsworth, watching the cars and bikes pass by. I read a few pages. I listen to a tune on my Nano. Mostly, though, I bask in the glow of a fine workout, one that showed me something about my fitness while also pushing it forward.
Pictured: "Time Trial" by Daren Greenhow.
Too late and too tired to delve into things deeply tonight. It was a long day of work and kid-watching but I got in a solid 90 minutes on the bike. Kept a keen focus on cadence, always above 80, usually above 90 and sometimes above 100. I think I can maintain a higher power output for longer if I spin in lower gearing with higher cadence. I also did some very short intervals, about 30 seconds, going all-out at high power and in the biggest gear. Supposedly and (to me) mysteriously, these can yield metabolic adaptations that can vastly increase the length of time that intense aerobic exercise can be maintained. Hey, Lance does 'em.
The ability to sustain 6.7 watts of power for each kilogram of body weight: That's what Lance Armstrong's training guru, Dr. Michele Ferrari, said The Great Man was aiming for in his training leading up to the Tour de France in 2004, when Daniel Coyle tagged along and then wrote a book called Lance Armstrong's War.
I have no idea how many watts/kg I'll need to sustain to have the kind of ride I seek at Ironman Coeur d'Alene; that's not really the point. The point is that cycling in the end is about power and mass (yeah, aerodynamics and some other stuff, too, but we're keeping it simple here), so I need to think about how I can improve that ratio—whatever it "needs" to be—for IMCDA.
I weigh 79 kg (about 174 lbs.) and can sustain maybe 235 watts. Now, the watts figure will go up. Five or six rides a week for the next four months makes that a virtual certainty. But there's that other side of the equation—that big other side, known as my ass.
Actually, by everyday measure, my weight is perfectly fine. It's pretty stable; in pounds, the first two numbers are almost always a 1 and then a 7. I am a bit heavy for my height, strictly speaking, but I'm thickly muscled, especially in the legs, and only by the standards of endurance athletics would I be considered flabby. But of course, endurance athletics is what we're talking about here. The goal here is not to be "healthy"; the goal is to be fast.
So: An obvious route to fast(er) for me is Highway 160. As in, 160 pounds. Getting my weight down to that level, alone, at my current output, would boost my watt/kg by 7 percent.
I'd like to have my CDA weight established by June 1, three weeks before the race. That gives me February, March, April and May to do the job. OK, let's give me a break. Let's make the goal 162 pounds—a reduction of 12 pounds, which divides out to three pounds per month. How hard can that be? Brutally, horribly, ridiculously hard, I'm sure.
[Today: 75 minutes on the bike in the morning, steady, high-cadence, climbing watts, good ride; then at least 1,500 yards in the pool, feeling much more comfortable than last week.]
More running today. Just five miles, at a pace around 9:10. Intellectually, it's more than a little strange to be running such minuscule distances, and so slowly. And yet this is what feels right, right now, and I was gratified to find that simply having it feel right is a key element of Danny Dreyer's ChiRunning. I found the book after its mysterious absence, buried under a couple sweaters on a dresser, and while I haven't systematically read it I have bounced through it enough to find welcome confirmation of much of what I've been doing. Dreyer says to run not with time or pace foremost but with the goal of being pain-free and feeling good. It's amazing how new this idea is. I constantly have to remind myself: relax and feel good. Even more amazing is that it works. When I gently lean, when I bend the knees a little, when I swing the arms, when I stay in alignment, when I maintain a short, high-cadence stride, when I let everything below the knee just dangle—it all feels better. I'm not sure if this is the way to become the fastest runner possible. However, it may be a way for me to become a lifetime runner, and that is a thrilling prospect.
Just as in triathlon training there are easy days—I rode today for an hour strictly using the handlebar controller, staying at 185 watts and a steady 85-90 rpms—so must there be in triathlon blogging. Thus, just one quick note is offered, related only because it involves an athlete.
Steve Friedman takes on the challenge, in the March 2009 Bicycling, of writing sensitively about Jock Boyer. How do you write about a heroic cyclist now living an interesting life mostly for the betterment of those less fortunate than him, but who, oh, by the way, was not long ago convicted of "lewd and lascivious acts upon a child"? Friedman asks that question himself several times in the course of the long piece, to the point where he seems to be practically begging you to understand his hopeless predicament, or to forgive him his deed. It's pathetic, but weirdly appropriate and I think in the end he pulls off the piece.
This, by the way, was the one article in Bicycling—there's always one, seldom more—that I really go into. Well, I also enjoyed the big four-page foldout guide to the Tour of California. And I may come back to the piece on bike shops. So maybe the magazine isn't as dispensable as I was going to suggest. But I do find myself flipping quickly past the fitness, nutrition and gear stuff, so much of which strikes me as stale or regurgitated. Runner's World, another Rodale publication, is even worse in this regard, and I dropped that subscription many months ago.
I hooked up with an IMCDA Facebook group put together by an outfit that offers online coaching. They posted a video yesterday where the head coach guy mostly talked about the Coeur d'Alene course (he said the bike was the third-hardest of the Ironman bikes, after Wisconsin and Lake Placid). But more interesting for me was his advice on how we should be approaching our training five months before the race.
Before I tell you his advice, if the very fact of this blog doesn't give it away I'll say point-blank that my complete and utter focus today, as it has been from December 21 on, is on Coeur d'Alene. What will get me to CDA in shape to have the race I want to have, that's where I'm at. I'm working my ass off to avoid becoming sidetracked by some seductive, muddy 25K in February (Hagg Lake) or a thrilling big-city marathon in April (Boston).
So here's the funny thing: The coach says I should be doing exactly the opposite. He says I should be thinking about a race in March or April, anything to keep my mind off CDA. He says it's too soon to think about CDA, that I'll be "burned out" in three months when the real training has to get going.
Talk about not being on the same page.
But I think I know why we have such divergent takes on things. He figures he's feeding two types of people when he ladles out his advice: nervous first-timers who, if they think about CDA now, will freak out and overtrain; and crazy young agro-tri freaks who if they think about CDA now, will overtrain. Me, I fall into neither camp. I'm your basic kinda lazy middle-aged veteran who understands what needs to be done five months before the race: slow and steady progress on the volume. No intensity on the run, just a little bit on the bike. (The pool? I dunno; it's swimming.)
I'm not going to burn myself out by approaching all my training in the context of CDA. Quite the opposite: If I put a race on the schedule in March or April, that's what would screw me up. I could call it a C race, but that would be a meaningless designation; I'd still go all out. (You think I got all those PRs last year by racing easy?) No, what I need to do is not race, and just train, just put in the miles, slow and steady.
Oh, also, the coach basically said that getting your training revved up in April, giving you eight or nine weeks, would be plenty of time. Chalk up one more disconnect between me and the coach! True, mid-April to mid-May is the time to bring it all together for some super-intense training. But you're going to need a solid platform upon which to base that effort, right? I don't know. This guy coaches tons of people and he usually seems like he knows what he's talking about, but these two aspects of his approach to IMCDA sure don't seem to fit for me.
Out on my run today, I realized I am now more than one month into the six months to Coeur d'Alene. Less than five months to go! On came the voices of doom that lurk in my subconscious. Or something....
Holy anaerobic threshold, Batman, we're running out of time!
Like a kite cut from the string, lightly the soul of my youth has taken flight.
That's beautiful, Batman. A quote?
The Japanese poet Takuboku. He knew something of the passing of the sands through life's hourglass, Robin: tragically, he perished at 26.
So he never did Ironman?
No, Robin. Never did he know the glory.
Honestly, though, I feel good about the month. I set up the Computrainer and rode the bike a lot, averaging five or six days a week. I began running again in the past 10 days and am starting to believe my Achilles injury won't sideline me (though I literally still have occasional nightmares about it). And I started swimming, well over a month earlier than last year. But more than all that, I'm enjoying this early season. True, it ain't always easy to get the workouts going. But once under way, I love as much as ever the physical and mental engagement that triathlon brings. And I'm looking forward to more weekends like the one that's ending now (but with the volumne cranked up x2 or 3, woo-hoo):
- Two long walks (10 miles total)
- 63 miles on the bike (47 with hills and a steady 16)
- 9.5 miles of running (a standalone 6 and a 3.5 after the long ride)
- A 1,500-yard workout in the pool (13x1000), plus drills
I contemplated getting out on the bike today. For about two seconds. That’s how long it took to imagine spending three hours in 36 degree, breezy, cloudy and maybe even raining conditions. No, ma’am.
That meant a long stretch on the trainer. I cued up the Ironman CDA Real Video ride but after 15 minutes of looking at the course and watching every tenth of a mile click by, it began to occur to me that this was going to be a long ride. I was already looking for amusement. So I turned on the TV and watched a little CNN and Fox News: repetitive, barely rearranged crap from earlier in the week. Then I found that Comcast, for five bucks, was offering Tropic of Thunder, Ben Stiller’s war-movie spoof (well, spoof of a lot of things).
It occurs to me now that every movie reviewer ought to have to do his job on a bike trainer. There are many ways to judge whether a movie succeeds or not, but the ultimate measure is how well it engages the viewer. And there’s one sure way to know that on a trainer: If the miles speed by, thumbs up.
Tropic of Thunder went by very quickly. Stiller set out on a pretty dangerous mission with this movie and he didn’t succeed at every turn (there were points where the movie didn’t seem to know where it wanted to go next, so it just did something ridiculous). But he did a lot of good things, and I sure laughed a lot. What about the controversial and disrespectful use of black-face and the depictions of retardation? Pshaw. Downey was brilliant, and isn’t it obvious that Stiller was portraying not a mentally disabled person, but a bad actor depicting someone with disabilities?
But back to triathlon: I rode for exactly three hours, covering 47 pretty-hilly miles, then immediately headed out for a 30-minute run (3.5 miles). I didn’t have a pace in mind on the run. Again, the goal was just to be comfortable, so I was pretty pleased to find the pace well under 9 minutes/mile. I keep reminding myself that the Ironman marathon is completely different from a standalone. Forget about 7:30 pace. My goal at Coeur d’Alene is to run a 9:30 pace, and all my running in the six months leading up to the race will be done with that in mind.
One last thing: Check out the heart rates. On the bike, I was between 115 and 130 nearly the whole ride.
On the run, I was over 140 most of the way.
Today was a recovery day. Not that I did anything spectacular yesterday from which I needed to recover. So I guess we should call it a precovery day, because tomorrow I’ll hit it hard. Today, just a couple of vaguely triathlonistic activities to mention:
1) You could say I went for a five-mile walk this evening. Or you could say I fled the house, escaped like a prisoner, my first desperate gasps of freedom and fresh air coming 10 hours after waking up (each and every one of those hours spent shackled to my chair save for the servicing of the necessary bodily functions). Correction: There was one foray to the out of doors, a reach for the morning paper. Freaking awesome Oregonian delivery grunt puts the thing right against the door nearly every time; only one foot makes it out. The neighborhood thus rarely if ever gets to see me in my underpants as I skip sprightly down the porch steps in the predawn chill, bent on retrieval. That's right, bent. Anyway, you’d think someone would get up early to slide the O down the walk a bit, for thrills.
2) In the morning, I did ride. It was something a little different. I didn’t hook the Computrainer to the computer; instead, I just set the ergometer to 150 watts and began pedaling. After a while, I moved it up to 165, then to 180. I left it there for the rest of the ride.
The idea was that I didn’t want to race Pacer Guy up and down hills because I can never lose to him must never lose to him refuse to lose to him so I always hammer it. I just wanted to maintain good cadence (around 80), keep the heart rate in line, and ride a bit. Precovery. Up top, that’s the heart-rate chart. The big dip came when I stopped to remove my shirt. But you can see that I was between 115 and 120 for most the ride, once I got going. That’s about 65 percent of max. That’s a good place to be once in a while. Of course, you could say it would be better if I was there for a three of four hour stint, rather than one lousy hour. Don’t think I don’t know that.
I worked my way up to 1,000 yards in the pool, as promised, doing 10x100. I started out resting for 15 seconds between each two-minute 100, but found my stroke beginning to fall apart after 500 yards. So I extended the rest to 30 seconds and was able to keep things together surprisingly well until the "workout" was done. I've got a long, long way to go, but for the 22nd of Enero, and my third swim in five months, I'm pretty OK with where things stand. The only problem is that, as usual, the return to the pool has brought on sinus distress. My schnoz is all itchy and I'm sneezy and feel like I always need to blow my nose but nothing comes out when I do. This is what happens when I swim. It's not the end of the world, but it's a bit of a pain. The things we endure for triathlon!
Later: 5.5 miles on the grass at Normandale in 50 minutes. That's precisely 9 minutes per mile, though I didn't think about pace at all during the run. I just wanted to stay comfortable. And I did.
The day was bright, but by 4:30 the sun was low and weak and stood no chance against the wind. My home weather station said 36 degrees. Sustained winds were around 30 miles per hour. That added up to a wind chill in the low 20s. I put on shorts and two old long-sleeved technical shirts with a short-sleeve over them. I should have worn gloves! I lasted 40 minutes in it, my eyes watering when I went into the wind. I ran 4.5 miles. This is not-far, slow running, but it's what I should do now, building up after the long layoff. It was a beautiful run, a bunch of 1/3-mile laps around Normandale Park, all of it on grass or dirt. I worked on landing under myself instead of reaching. I'm not trying to remake my stride and suddenly become a midfoot or forefoot striker; I don't think there's any evidence that intentionally doing that is a ticket to fast, injury-free running. But I am convinced that getting my hips forward a bit, and striking under them, is where I want to be. Here's why: I did it and it felt good. My Achilles did not hurt. I don't claim to understand what "Chi" running is, exactly—I read some of the book, and then it disappeared. But I remember there was a tremendous emphasis on relaxing, so I tried to let me legs just sort of dangle down there as I leaned every so slightly forward and felt myself moving forward almost without trying. It felt, oddly enough, natural and easy. Just one run. We'll see how it goes.
Climbing out of bed is never too difficult when I know the upcoming order of events will go something like this:
1) Put on clothes
2) Turn on furnace
4) Wash hands and face, brush teeth
5) Get coffee going
6) Fire up computer
7) Drink coffee
I don't mind 1-6 too much, but it's No. 7 that drives the process. It's stupid how much I want, need, no love that cup of coffee in the morning. I'd roll over on the floor if the reward were the morning cup of coffee. I'd balance a rawhide bone on my nose and spin around (saw that on Dave once) for the morning cup of coffee. It's very important.
But some mornings, it has to go like this:
1) Put on clothes
5) Make coffee
6) Fire up computer
7) Drink coffee
8) Get on the bike
These are the hard mornings. Like this morning. I woke up a little bit before the alarm, around 5:10. My intention was to be up by 5:20 and on the bike no later than 5:30. From 5:10 until 5:20 I stayed under the covers, the oh-so-warm covers, and a battle raged in my mind: It's So Nice Here vs. You'll Hate Yourself If You Don't Ride. It was like Gaza, with It's So Nice Here playing the part of the Israelis, running roughshod, having their way with an overmatched foe. And yet: I made it out of bed just in time, much in the manner of a guy finally jumping in the pool. Suddenly, I just leapt.
The muscles aren't ever very cooperative for these straight-out-of-the-sack rides. Coffee before getting on the bike would undoubtedly help fire me up—but in all likelihood it would derail the whole morning. Coffee at 5:30, into the bathroom for business at 5:50, and next thing you know it's 6 a.m. or so, and with work closing in, thoughts of crossing the ride off the list begin to creep into my mind. No, I've got to get on the bike quickly, without delay, before the forces of sloth can make me their slave
The Computrainer requires calibration before each workout, which turns out to be a good thing: it forces me to do an easy 15-minute warm-up. My mind is all foggy. The legs are covered in a layer of frost. Steve Inskeep is bothering me on NPR. I'm yawning. I pedal. Damn! I'm irked that I have to stop and get off the bike to fetch the water bottle I left in the kitchen. I get back on and resume pedaling.
Eventually, the fog begins to lift. The legs thaw. Time to ride.
Today, the plan was to accumulate 15 minutes at or above 90 percent of maximum heart rate—that's 170 on a max of 185—in pursuit of the Haldeman-prescribed one hour per week, the key to wintertime fitness, the elixir. I found a five-mile Computrainer course with four steep climbs interrupted by brief flat intervals. That ought to make for some good blood pumping, thought I.
I rode that five mile course three times. I got my heart rate to 170 five times. I held it at 170 for three minutes. Only 57 more minutes of 90+ to go this week!
Clearly, I've got work to do.
But that's OK. Pursuing the Haldeman Rule (while also doing some long, steady rides, of course) will if nothing else provide a way to gauge the progress of my bike fitness over the next few months.
Later, in the afternoon, I ventured out into the blasted Gorge wind which has been roaring since late last week. More on that breezy run—call it "Adventures in Stride-Tinkering"—tomorrow.
I came across a tidbit in a running magazine, of all places, that I'm planning to work into my bike training in the days ahead. It was an allusion to Lon Haldeman's "90% rule." Ninety percent rule? The only detail offered was that during the indoor season, the great long-distance cyclist recommended one hour of training at over 90 percent heart rate per week.
Even before seeing this, my interest in using heart rate in my bike training had been growing. The Computrainer tracks that info and puts it right on the screen in front of me, so while mainly focused on power, I had also begun watching the rising and falling of my heart rate.
This was new for me. At various points in my life I have used heart rate with running—but never with cycling. When I started watching my heart rate on the Computrainer this month, I was reminded of something I vaguely remembered noting the few times I had checked it on rides several years ago: I could easily drive my HR to 90 percent—near 180—for run intervals, but on the bike, where 185 seemed to be my max, getting to 170 (90%) was possible but I could hold it there for only very short periods of time.
This made me think the Haldeman Rule was perhaps out of my reach. Maybe there was something about my body that made getting my cycling HR up and holding it there just not possible?
Then I found Dan Empfield writing on the topic on Slowtwitch, setting me straight:
[I]t isn't set in stone that your heart rate must be 10 or 15 beats lower while on the bike versus running. If you can't get your heart rate up while cycling, it's simply because you're a better runner than a cyclist. The idea is not to attempt to raise your heart rate for the heck of it, but to raise the level of your cycling ability so that your well-trained cardiovascular system can get off he bench and into the game.That sound OK to me; I'd already decided that this year my prime—even overwhelming—focus would be on improving my cycling.
Haldeman does some interesting stuff to force himself to ride with intensity. "I replaced the handlebar with chrome high-rise bars from a kid’s String Ray," he writes. "Then I took off the seat so I have to stand for entire workouts. The handlebar is high enough so I can’t lean on it and cheat the weight off the pedals. I push a big gear at about 60 rpm."
Lon didn't have a Computrainer, but I do. So it's obvious what I need to do. Find myself a course with a long, steep climb. Set the pacer for about 240 watts. And work like a maniac to try to stay with him.
Tomorrow: Shooting for 90% on the trainer.
My pool—at the Matt Dishman Community Center in Northeast Portland—was described by one (we assume former) user as "filthy," "dirty," "atrocious," "vile," "murky" and "disgusting." Be that as it may, I haven't stayed away from Dishman because I fear it. I just have a hard time getting to the pool, which is a whopping three miles from home, when there's no race requiring swimming in my immediate future. Why schlep to the pool, where I have to check in, get dressed and shower before swimming, when I can just lace 'em up and be running the second I close the front door? The eternal question.
But they do call it triathlon, and Part I takes place in the water. And my bathtub, it's not really made for laps.
So today I visited Dishman, the ol' toilet bowl. I don't think it's that bad, although once we did have to wait 15 minutes to get in because of reports of a floater. Yeah, that kind of floater. "We didn't find anything," the pimply kid lifeguard told me, shrugging his shoulders, when they gave the all-clear signal. In we dove. (Dove metaphorically, in my case; I actually kind of, I don't know, find my way in, employing something between a slink and a plop.)
I swam all of 500 yards today, 10 laps of Dishman's 25-yard length, a length being there, a lap being there and back. It wasn't bad. I thought about these things as I swam: long; reach; head down; slow and steady; Christ my shoulder hurts. (Are there tales of Christ swimming in the Bible? Did people swim in ancient times? To the Google! Yes, Julius Caeser swam. Later, Beowulf. And still later, and hardly ancient, Benjamin Franklin nearly became a swimming coach!)
I could have cranked out 1,000 yards, but all that would have done is made me more sore than I need to be tomorrow. This is a process, and it has begun. Today, 500. Tomorrow, 750. By the end of the week I'll be at 1,000 yards, in two weeks 1,500, and by the end of February my regular workouts will be 3,000 yards.
Yes, this is a process, and it is a monumentally ridiculous one. Around lap No. 7 today I encountered—like ramming my head into the tiled sidewall—the truth: I'm going to work my ass off in the pool again and I won't get any faster than I was last year or the year before or the year before that. I'll have my strange good days when I feel comfortable and sleek in the water, but they'll be fleeting. Mostly, I'll swim and swim and swim, and then the race will come, and when I get to my bike in T1 three-quarters of my age group will already be pedaling.
I've never had anyone coach me on how to ride a bike. Or how to run. Not being coached—that's been central to my self-identity as a triathlete. Not only does it save me money, it also saves me from expecting myself to reach my full potential. And that's important because if you don't expect it, you can't be disappointed if you don't achieve it.
Enough of that. I got in the pool today. I swam as expected. Next move: finding some coaching.
Early wakeup call tomorrow; the plan is to ride before Niko rises, and it's almost 11 already. Yikes. So real quickly: Great ride this morning. Did a rolling course and worked hard to keep my speed up through the ups and downs. It was 90 minutes of riding, which may not sound like much, but on the Computrainer, every second you are working. No traffic lights. No stopping for someone to pick up a lost water bottle. No aimless spinning. No coasting down the grades. And I'll tell you, I'm stunned at the difference in my condition as a result of three weeks with this silly machine. I feel strong, very strong, and am really excited about the coming weeks and months.
Later, Niko and I walked in the sunshine and cold breezes around the Willamette, crossing the Steel and Hawthorne bridges.
(Tomorrow: The early ride, then a visit to the pool for the first time in five months. Yow!)
I'm paying $500 for the pleasure—if you want to call it that—of competing in Ironman Coeur d'Alene. That strikes me as hefty. Sure it costs money to put on an event. Insurance, security, that mediocre medal that now sits in a drawer, somewhere: the expenses add up. And then there's the profit line on the organizer's budget. Official I-dot-M Ironman events are owned by North American Sports, a private company, and they aren't in it for the sport of it. It's bidness.
There are alternatives, and next time I do an iron-distance triathlon, if there is a next time, it won't be an NAS event. I'll do Full Vineman, which costs $175 less and remains wide open for entries seven months before the race. Plus, if you decide six weeks before the big day that you've got to back out, they return all but $100 of your race fee. With Ironman, you have to sign up a year in advance, and the cancellation policy can be summed up as: Refund?
But it's not just the Ironman races that are out of hand. Several weeks ago I announced my snub of the Wildflower half-iron tri and its $220 fee (remarkably, the event will go on as planned). Then today I jumped online to sign up for the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon. This is a little jaunt I'd often thought about doing when I lived in those favored parts, and after reading an article about the race in Running Times last night, decided to finally go for it. I noted how well it fit in into my '09 schedule, coming one month after IMCDA. And I knew that after all the complication and whohaw of Ironman, a simple, pure half-marathon would really hit the spot.
For a lousy half-marathon run!
Boston this year is $110, but Boston is world famous, the greatest marathon in history. You've got to qualify for it. It's a thrill-of-a-lifetime kind of thing. Napa-to-Sonoma is a nice little run, but, I'm sorry, it's not $75 nice. Hell, I could almost buy a whole bottle of Napa wine for that kind of money. So I said no. Just as I'll make up my own half-iron tri to take the place of Wildflower, I'll do my own half-marathon. Cancellation policy: Very relaxed. Plus! Results available the moment the race ends.
Are you aware of sleep? I ask after having stumbled upon the existence of National Sleep Awareness Week, coming March 1-8.
Now I suppose in some sense it would be shocking if there weren't a National Sleep Awareness Week. There's a week for everything, you know. In fact, directly preceding sleep's big week? National Invasive Weed Awareness Week. Brain Awareness Week follows just a week after sleep, by the way.
But back to sleep: They say it's the new sex. (Really. ABC News reported, "Sleep is the new sex, according to a new investigation by Forbes magazine.") It's the thing everyone wants and can't get enough of. Why? We're too busy. Why? We need to watch the new episodes and the reruns of Two and a Half Men. The burden.
So if sleep is a challenge for the average lard-assed American, what does that make it for endurance athletes? Granted, we watch less TV, and spend very little time vexed by those God damned hard to open Cheetos bags. But we are putting in long hours swimming, biking and running. If Joe Blow is longing for more sleep, how does Joe Endurance see sweet slumber? As the Holy Grail?
Yeah, pretty much.
I know I dream—metaphorically speaking—all the time about getting more sleep. And all I'm asking for is seven hours a night. Because the truth is if I averaged seven a night, that would be a big improvement over the current state of affairs.
One problem is that it's very difficult to fully appreciate the link between sleep and athletic performance, despite all the stories that say poor sleep leads to more colds, more heat attacks, dental decay and follicullitis. (I made that last one up.) Heck, if I could PR Boston after just two or three hours of sleep, how vital is it, really? And yet it seems that people with serious money invested in athletic outcomes are jumping aboard the sleep train. I was impressed the other day by a story in the Portland Trail Blazer News, I mean the Oregonian, about the team's new approach to sleep. They've hired an expert from Harvard to advise them on how best to schedule their travel and practices in order to allow their multimillion-dollar hands to get the shuteye they need to be deadeyes on the court. The sleep doc says getting better sleep can improve athletic performance by up to 20 percent. For the Blazers, the guys are into it and the team's road record is improved.
Accepting the importance of sleep is a great first step; but how to get it? For me, the tendency has always been to try to find specific activities to drop from my life, pleasures to jettison. But the more I think about it, the more I think that's a trap. Something theoretical and off in the vague future, like the benefit of good sleep, doesn't stand a chance against things you love to do now. So getting more sleep can't be about saying blogging has to go, or about banning reading tri blogs in the evening. Getting more sleep is simply about saying, I’m getting up at 5:15 tomorrow morning for a bike ride. It's 9:56 p.m. Dang, it's time to hit the hay. And then following through. Yep, as with everything tri-related, it's all about following through.
And some point during the day today I had an idea for what I wanted to write about tonight. But I didn't jot it down and then the day got away from me. Now it's 11:37 p.m. and I've just finished editing some work stuff. I was planning to get up at 5:30 and be on the bike at 5:40, but lordy that's less than six hours from now. Make it an evening ride? Something. Need to sleep. I did bike this morning before work, and snuck in a short run during the lunch-hour. Wish things could slow down a bit. Fantasizing again about spending a week somewhere warm in late March or early April. Southeastern Arizona/southwestern New Mexico. Silver City, or the Chiracahua Mountains. Riding every day, 60, 80, 130 miles. Chances: slim. But I'll keep a tight hold on the fantasy, for a while longer anyway....
Today was just some spinning on the bike early in the morning, followed by some light weights during lunchtime. More importantly, I vowed today that swimming officially starts next week. Why not sooner, if I'm so determined to get it going? Well, I've got Niko this week and work continues to be very busy. And one of the most important things I've learned in many years of consistent training is not to make unreasonable demands of yourself. That just leads to disappointment and despair, and then things really fall apart. On the other hand, if you only ask youself to do what is truly possible—if you don't give yourself good excuses for not keeping at it—you're more likely to stay committed.
I'm looking forward to getting back to balanced workouts. To, you know, being a triathlete.
After a long period of abstaining I ran yesterday. It was just a little one. No big deal. Didn't mean I was back running regularly or anything. Far from it. I could stop any time I wanted to. And I definitely wouldn't touch the stuff today. No way.
Today I ran three miles (at a rousing 9:30/mile pace; pretty crazy to think that at this time last year, I was closing in on a 1:30 half-marathon). I ran because, well, there wasn't enough time during another stupid-busy workday to ride the bike. So I squeezed in a half-hour run. Is that so bad? If that makes me some kind of criminal or animal or addict, well FTS. Like I said, I can stop any time I want to.
My Achilles, it was OK. Not great. I wouldn't call it painful, but I would say it still feels wonky. It feels as wonky as it did a few months ago on a good day. I wore the recommended shoes, the ones with virtually no padding. The ground felt so hard when I was on the street or sidewalk. Finally I made my way to a nearby park (Normandale, for you locals), where I could run on grass and dirt. That was much better, so I decided that henceforth all my running will be on soft surfaces: Normandale when I'm running flat, Tabor when I want hills.
Normandale will be a bit of a grind as my mileage increases. It's about 3/10ths of a mile around the park. Thirty-six or 45 laps around that joint sounds mind-numbing, but if there's a soccer game going on that might provide pleasant diversion. It's always a scene, a little south-of-the-border vibe in a part of town where you don't see so much of that.
All of this assumes, of course, that I will be able to continue to run. And I'm getting the idea that I will. Or maybe it's just blind hope. Whatever, I'm going for it. Carefully. Slowly building the mileage. The Achilles may hurt. I will have to ice it. But the docs say there's really no damage there, so maybe I just need to suck it up and run.
Yeah, maybe I just need to run. Not that I, you know, need too.
I didn't do everything I should have in preparing for Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2008, but I did do one very smart thing: ride the bike course the fall before the race.
My buddy Dan and I drove up from Portland in October 2007. The day we rode was cold and raw, and even a lot of classy Larry Craig wide-stance quips—this was six weeks after the scandal broke and we were traveling in Idaho, often relying on public restrooms, after all—couldn't take the edge off the weather. I had it in mind to do two loops, a real Ironman bike, but after one, we were done.
It was pretty funny: All winter and spring after that ride with Dan I saw posts in the tri forums from people looking for insight into the CDA bike course. There were maps and profiles available, but those abstractions can only get you so far. The 3-1/2 chilly hours Dan and I spent out there showed me exactly what that early climb was like, and how those hills in the middle can make it difficult to get in a rhythm, and what a tedious stretch it is back into town to finish the loop. But more important than all that, doing the course beforehand removed the fear-inducing mystery of it. I was busy getting all irrational and flustered about the lake swim; that was enough.
What brings all this to mind is that this morning I was back out on the CDA course—on the Computrainer, using the newly arrived Real Bike Course video. I didn't do the whole loop, just 35 miles of it, but that got me through the early out-and-back along Lake Coeur d'Alene, then up to Hayden Lake and the biggest climb of the race, along with a few of the rollers that follow. It was fun seeing the course again and that definitely made the ride go quicker. Also, riding a "real" course (instead of the simulated 3D one) somehow pulled me deeper into the real-time data. For instance, I noticed I give up too much power early on a climb, and need to stay strong at the end of my descents and maintain cadence going into the ascent. I also tend to take it easy on long, mild declines where maintaining power wouldn't cost me much but could give my average speed a boost. Cool insights. Plus, I rode for two hours, and that's always a good thing.
Then, right after the ride, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to do my first run in six weeks. It was just 1.3 miles to see how the Achilles would feel—during the run, immediately afterward and a day later. Tomorrow, more about that.
I was lassoed yesterday by an entry on a blog called Runbikeswim. (Really it should just be called Bike, as she doesn’t seem to do a lot of running or swimming, but, hey, I know how that goes; I had a blog for a long time called Whine Country because wine was going to be a major focus of it, but it didn’t turn out that way at all.) This girl sounded so desperate I felt I should comment. Just to try to help, you know? But everything I came up with was so banal I thought there was a small chance reading it would drive her further into misery, and a large chance she’d be quite bored. So I didn’t comment.
* * *
One of the things we do as endurance athletes is think about what we do—why we put so much time and energy into it, whether we're getting the rewards we hope for, if we're neglecting other important things (or people). It's unavoidable; we’re out there for a long time and the mind wanders. On my 12-mile walk around Portland today, while standing on the Steel Bridge watching timber drift downriver in the high, churning brown water, Really a Biker’s sad post popped into my mind. As I pondered it again, I recalled an essay I had read called "A Runner’s Pain," by a philosophy professor named Chris Kelly. It begins like this:
My Madrileñan girlfriend and I had bickered the whole four-hour drive down to the sea; and, so, as we pulled onto her parents’ macadam driveway, I immediately shoehorned on my Asics with a popsicle stick. A lonely mountain peak (named La Concha or The shell) loomed over the seaside town, and I was going to run up it. “Be back in a bit,” I snapped, and ran off, the same silly arguments repeating under my breath in a loop. I was in what one might call mental pain. Running is much better than Advil for this kind of suffering, and so I hurried toward the mountain above Marbella.After an ecstatic, angst-purging, painful (in a good way) ascent, our hero must make his way down the mountain. But by now the sun has set. Blindly negotiating a scree slope strewn with boulders, he becomes battered and bruised. He grows dehydrated, suffers chills and nausea. He sharply injures a knee. The combination of factors—there's dense vegetation, too—makes going on impossible. He stops on the one small patch of bare dirt he can find. “I was worried: mental pain again.” How does he find his way out?
In the end, I was sitting there in the dark wishing the moon were out or I had a flashlight. My knee was feeling a bit better, but I really couldn’t see anything. Then a little miracle happened. The mountainside was awash in light, as if someone had flicked on the moon. The beach town had opened for business, and all at once, the neon lights, the street lamps, the carousel, the boardwalk lit up as if in response to my wishing. It was a wholly unlooked for revelation. And what did the light reveal, but that I was sitting on a path! One moment, I was lost on a mountainside, sitting among the bushes and brambles, civilization unaccessible. A moment later, with a little light and a new perspective, I was on my way home. And this is the key to happiness: turn the lights on and look around. Or rather wait for the lights to come on. With a little patience and then a little light, you will discover where you really are, what your status really is. Give your experience as much meaning as it can take, which is as much as it deserves, and savor it, even if that experience happens to be the one we call pain.
I'm becoming obsessed with that number, and the weird thing is for a long time I didn't even know the number. I had it in my head as "around four and a half hours" and along with the vague time were all kinds of vague rationalizations for why it wasn't a complete embarrassment.
So now it's over there in the left-hand column. Every day when I check to see if the post went up OK, zing! Like a laser-guided missile, my mind finds 4:34:11.
Man, that is such a weak marathon time.
* * *
A while ago, before Couer d'Alene last year, I read a tri blogger go off about someone asking her what her Ironman time was. It did sound like the person who asked the question was a bit of an asshole, but this riled-up triathlete didn't attack only her inquisitor. She had a broader point to make: that being concerned about even your own time was ridiculous and obnoxious and evidence of a lack of understanding of the true meaning of triathlon.
It's a familiar argument: Since 99 percent of us have no shot at winning, and 95 percent aren't even in the running for a Kona slot, our times don't matter. Well, no shit, Sherlock (man, that was an edgy phrase when I first heard it in fifth grade). And you know what, nothing matters, because, as Keynes said, in the long run, we're all dead. The guy who wins, he probably knows this better than anyone, because in the long run, yep, he's compost, too.
It's all just amusement. And the thing about it that amuses the hell out of me is trying to get faster. It's all I want to do. It brings me great, ridiculous satisfaction. Getting faster. Or, more accurately, trying to get faster.
4:34:11. Well, at least I have an easy target to shoot for, there.
Tonight’s very brisk walk—I’m talking close to five miles in an hour—took me past the 24 Hour Fitness next to the Hollywood Transit Center. Upstairs and on display, a roomful of people pedaled furiously in a spin class. A little post-work exercise; good on 'em. And maybe, too, a social scene like that offers the hope of crossing paths with a he or she who pleases. That's got to be part of the lure.
Onward: Houses all over the neighborhood not only remained festooned with Christmas lights, those lights continued to burn brightly. In Napa, we went that route for a few years. A garland of simple white lights framed the front porch. Thing was, they didn’t look exactly like Christmas lights. They were festive, yes, but there were no blues and greens among them—and especially there were no reds. Tonight I saw red lights galore and not only that, I saw giant Santa Clauses inflated and lit up. There was a red-ribboned snowman using a motorized arm to doff his black top hat. I’m not saying there should be a law against it, but that’s just wrong on January 8.
It was a good walk, never a dull moment. When I wasn’t seeing something strange, interesting or disagreeable, I had new tunes (Wilco, Blitzen Trapper, Starf-cker, Adele) and walking is the best way to engage new tunes. Mostly, though, it was good because the air was fresh and chilly and I was practically suffocating after an intense day of work. I had a three-plus hour conference call. Man. That’s without a speakerphone or headset, so for as long as it takes me to run a marathon, by hand I had my phone stuck to my left ear. Running a marathon would have been less painful. But that was just part of the day. Work was literally nonstop for nearly 10 hours, and moreover the tasks were often piled atop each other. Emailing about one topic while on the phone about another and so on and so forth. When at last it was all over, the plan was to ride my Ironman Coeur d’Alene Real Bike Course (which had arrived in the middle of another phone call earlier in the day).
Disaster: My computer could not find the CDRW/DVD drive. It was just gone.
I did a slow burn then plunged in. You’d sooner commit suicide than read the blow-by-blow of how I solved the problem, and yet when I did solve it—OK, I will say it involved tinkering with the Registry Editor—I was ecstatic. It was my geekiest feat ever. Also, it was two more hours of sitting on my ass. Now it was 7 p.m., and while there was still time to go downstairs and ride, I was desperate to escape the house for the first time since waking up 13 hours earlier. Thus the walk.
Ha, this was cool: Tonight I figured out that on the Computrainer, you can slip behind the "guy" you're riding against, stick on his wheel and save tons of energy. It's just like when I'd ride in Napa Valley with my friend Dan, and we'd be churning through the last 10 miles of a 60+ mile loop, heading down the Silverado Trail into the inevitable south wind. By myself, I'd have been working like a dog for de boss man to maintain 18 miles per hour. In Dan's slipstream I'd cruise at 20 mph at, I don't know, two-thirds the effort. Which brings to mind a nifty thing about these power-meter gizmos: You know exactly how much (less) effort you're putting out. My virtual opponent might be cranking at 175 watts, but on a flat I'm on his ass at 115 watts; on a climb, it might take me 140 to hang. Having this information in stark, numerical terms really brings home the value of a pull (and, thus, strategy and teamwork) in cycling.
Of course, I'm a triathlete, not a cyclist, so on race day, there is no drafting allowed. Which isn't to say drafting doesn't happen; it's shocking how many people are willing to engage in this form of cheating. You see it all the time, every race. Still, on my daily basement ride, it's fun to be able to get a blow every once in a while by doing so.
Meanwhile, holy cow, a wild weather night in the Northwest. The big rain is going north of us. Forty miles up I-5 from Portland, floodwaters are raging. Here, it's barely rained at all, though the wind is howling. I can literally feel the house shake from time to time. It's fun, as long as the power doesn't go out (especially with the Blazers locked in a tight one with the Pistons and only a minute to go).
I was taking the salmon skin out to the trash—you don't ever want to leave that stuff in the wastebasket inside. The night was blustery and a little damp but the temperature was edging into the mid-50s. After all the snow and ice, it felt almost tropical. I'd done my 90 minutes of high-quality riding in the basement, and that was good. But the air, the barely visible clouds racing across the night sky, the sound of the wind through the trees I couldn't help but imagine what it would feel like heading up to the top of Tabor on a forested path with only a small headlamp to help show the way. Man. I almost laced 'em up right then and there. But instead I came inside and assessed the Achilles. I squeezed the tendon gently: slight pain still there. No run. Not yet. Damn.
This is the third Monday of Six Months to Coeur d'Alene, but —thanks to the holidays—it's the first one in which I dropped my son off at school in the morning but didn't pick him up in the afternoon.
That's the school-year routine—my routine, his mom's routine, his routine: He spends alternating weeks at each parent's house and the switchover comes Monday at school.
It's always wrenching for me, but today was especially difficult because he woke up with sniffles and a slight cough and quiet temperament—sure signs of a cold coming on. Yet he was well enough to go to school. How did the day go? How is he now, 12 hours later? I haven't a clue. He's surviving, no doubt, but all things considered I'd like to be there to take his temp, hand him a box of tissues, get him some chicken soup and crackers, listen to his breathing as he falls asleep. I hate it when he's away.
And yet it's also true that when Niko goes to his mother's, I know I'll have oodles more time for running, biking and swimming.
Many triathletes have families and most if not all are struggling to balance their desire to put in long hours of training with other obligations, restrictions, needs everything that makes up what some people call Real Life. (It's all real to me.) But here's the distinction: In the married guy or gal's world, it comes down to the willingness of the triathlete to ask of the partner and the partner's willingness to give; for the single parent with a routine like mine, it's all on the triathlete.
Every other week, I don't have any choice: Training always loses to Niko, and I wouldn't have it any other way. And then when he's gone, training must win over everything else. Other than working and sleeping, I've got to be training. It's got to be two-a-days, even in January, with Coeur d'Alene so far away. It's got to be focused, solid, base-building, moving-me-forward, long and good. Next Saturday and Sunday? Big days, GIANT days, followed by a workout commencing a good hour or so before the butt crack of dawn Monday. Because later that day, I'll pick up the lad from school. And then, for a week, I become Dad again.
After riding easily for about a half hour this morning, I did a 20-minute time trial to determine my functional threshold power. My average watts were 250, and the multiplier of .95 yielded an FTP of 237.5. But that might be on the high side. I was whipped at the end of the trial and doubt I could have kept up 95 percent of that effort for a full hour, which is what the formula implies. I think I'll try a half-hour effort later this week and see what happens.
Afterward, Niko and I walked over to the Daily Market Cafe, our favorite place for brunch. I love being out in the brisk fresh air after a hard ride in the basement. The world seems especially alive and vivid, and my legs appreciate moving easily in a manner wholly different than riding. I strolled while Niko burst forward, stopped to play in the snow, then burst forward again, stopped to play in the snow like that.
When we got to the cafe, the lad ordered the banana pancakes. I got the scramble—eggs with spinach, tomatoes and chicken—with potatoes and a biscuit. When the meal arrived, I paused to think about how it fit with my goal of improving my nutrition during the Six Months to Coeur d'Alene. I rated the plate one-third very good (the scamble), one-third fair (the potatoes) and one-third sinful (the biscuit: white flour, butter, just awful).
We're all pretty adept at excusing our food choices, and we endurance athletes are no different. In fact, many of us train for the very reason that it gives us permission to eat whatever we want and in ungodly portions, too. I call this "training to eat." Think of it this way: You run 15 miles. You get home and have a perfectly nutritious recovery meal. Afterward, you notice a hunk of leftover Peppermint Cheesecake Brownies in the fridge. Tell me you aren't going to eat it, all the while telling yourself it's your reward for running 15.
This is fine if your training goal is to maintain poor eating habits without gaining weight. But if improvement in your fitness is what you're after—if, say, you want to take your Ironman Coeur d'Alene time from 12:26:07 to 11:59:59 or better—then you've got to do better. You need to eat to train. You don't have to be perfect—a biscuit here or there is OK—but you can't cash in every workout for cake, or an extra glass of wine (one is always OK in my world).
Which is why I really shouldn't have scarfed that last half of pancake that Niko had left uneaten on his plate.
Finally, a month after I paid for it, I have a working Computrainer. There are a million things about it that I need to learn, but right now, I love it.
I did several short rides today, keeping my power around 200 watts. That was a number pulled out of my rear end; I’ll need to establish my functional threshold power in order to make smart decisions about the kind of power I want to be aiming for in my rides. Functional threshold power? Oh, that’s the wattage you can maintain for an hour. To find it, you ride like crazy for 20 minutes, then multiply your average wattage by 95 percent. It's also known as FTP, which is just one of many power-related cycling acronyms I’m learning. There’s also NP (normalized power: the power you held for a rise without counting the stops and coasting); AP (average power: same thing, but counting the coasting, stops, etc.); VI (variability index: the difference between NP and AP); and IF (intensity factor: NP divided by FTP).
If it sounds like a lot of soulless technobabble, far removed from what got us into cycling—the beauty of spinning down a rural road on a warm spring day, taking in the countryside, feeling the soft breeze, smelling the pear blossoms and all that—well, it is. But this is wintertime. It’s cold, dark and wet out. In the bleakness that is my basement, these numbers flashing on the screen will guide and inspire me. And come April—well into my Six Months to Coeur d’Alene—I will be in the best cycling shape of my life.
That was tantalizing but ultimately frustrating. Or maybe the other way around.
I got the Computrainer set up, finally, and off I went … only to have the computer crash. Again and again. Windows was having a problem that it reduced to this: ialmrnt5. Uh, right. Using another computer, we investigated and found that probably means that we've got a driver issue. Joy.
I did ride for 20 minute or so to calibrate the tension of the trainer against the tire. And I did manage to do one 3-mile race. That was the tantalizing part. Compared to spinning away while straining to hear Countdown or Sportscenter over the trainer and fan noise, this is great stuff. My race buddy and I came to a hill and holy cow, suddenly it was much harder to pedal. I had to downshift, then get out of the saddle. As I was figuring all this out, Race Buddy got ahead of me, but I ratcheted up my cadence, pulled him back and beat him to the line. Then the computer went black, then blue. "Physical memory dump …"
More research just now suggests a couple of painless possible solutions. If those fail, then I'll have to dig deeper into the driver issue, a task ever so close—but not quite—to being too far removed from triathlon to be worth doing. I just want to ride.
OK, so that three-hour bike ride planned for New Year's Day? That'll have to happen later. Thank goodness there will be many opportunities before the race rolls around.
Today got started a little late, on account of some New Year's Eve festivities, and before you knew it, it was time to head out to my sister's for a dinner featuring ham and many desserts—crème brule, cinnamon buns and an assortment of chocolate truffles from Belgium, France and Oregon. It was great. But Coeur d'Alene wasn't completely forgotten! No, that's because in the evening we headed out to watch my nephew Chris and the River City Jaguars take on the Coeur d'Alene Lakers in Northern Pacific Hockey League action. We couldn’t stay for the whole thing, but felt pretty confident with the good guys up 3-0 when we left. That's got to bode well for me come June in CDA, right?