This is a light week, a Niko week (every other week). He's a little shy of 100 percent with the slightest touch of a cold, so we're taking it pretty easy. While he fiddled around with HTML on the Mac today, I rode for an hour on the trainer, using the Continental Hometrainer Tire for the first time. Only took me about six weeks to put that on. It made a difference. The tension against the tire was cranked down a bit yet I was still getting better traction than before. Quieter, too. Good stuff.
We also walked a mile or two on the riverfront in Lake Oswego, where we had gone to sign me up for tomorrow's race. Sign-up accomplished, as well as check-in, so it should be a comfortable morning getting there for the 10 a.m. start. Rain in the forecast. Five miles, hard, in the rain. The little guy waiting for me under a big umbrella when I'm done. Breakfast at the New Deal afterward. That's the plan.
The Rocky is gone. It was never "My Rocky," which is the way they recently marketed the newspaper, I hear. But I once spent some time with a woman who had lived in the Denver area and she made reference more than once to "the Rocky" in a way that suggested a depth to the connection between the people and the paper. This was back in my mountain-bike racing days (there; this is related to athletics, you see). She was a newspaper person then—maybe still is—and I was too. But so many of us have moved on.
My dad spent, I don't know, 40 years I guess it was, printing newspapers. It was always morning papers, so he worked an overnight shift that would end around four in the morning. I remember being awaken by his arrival home from time to time, and getting up eagerly to check the baseball scores. I'm no old fogey, right? I do Ironman triathlons, give me a break. And yet in the relatively short time since then, since the newspaper was the only way to know, the idea of needing to grab the newspaper to find out the scores from last night's games has become so absurd as to be comical.
It's all changed so fast. There are things replacing newspapers as sources of information. Sort of. We hope. But are there things replacing newspapers as stitching in the binding that holds communities together? I wonder.
This, more or less, was the soundtrack today to my hour heading up to Tabor, running its trails, and coming home, on a sunny chilly day in Portland, where I subscribe to the Oregonian.
Several weeks ago I stumbled upon the fact that our zip code—along with several others in Northeast Portland—is a high risk area for radon. I had never before thought about radon. We didn't have radon in California, or at least not where I lived, or maybe we were just ignorant. Anyway, I picked up a little DIY test, set it down in the basement for a couple of days, sent it off to the lab, got the results back three weeks later and yikes, we're off the charts down there. The basement, that's where I ride my trainer. Oh, yeah, those intervals, pulling that air deep into the lungs. Shiite muslim. The good news is that I actually do most of my indoor rides upstairs, especially the longer ones, and presumably the radon levels are lower up here. Still. So tomorrow morning I'm calling an outfit to arrange for a professional test and based on the results there, we'll look into the mitigation options. It's not crazy expensive, a couple grand in the worst-case scenarios. More economic stimulation! Replaced my busted washing machine earlier in the week, and now this; I think I deserve a medal for aiding the recovery. And speaking of recovery, been reading a lot about that concept in endurance training. Recovery and adaptation. Key, key concepts. The ideas are still fuzzy in my brain but I feel like I'm getting there. I'm starting to understand why I do those 30-second sprints, and why intervals on the bike can be so valuable. And why giving my body a chance to adapt to the work is so necessary.
Well. Today, I just swam (the thing about swimming, as opposed to running and to some extent cycling, is that you can go hard almost every day). Five-hundred yards to warm up, then 5x100, 10x50, 2x200 and 100 yards to cool down. It's going well, but I'm actually very close to pulling the trigger on paying for some coaching. More economic stimulation!
I swear, every week when I do my run interval set, I'm going to blog about what a hellish workout it is. It's 10 30-second all-out sprints, separated by 1-minute rest periods. It's the same every week. So how can it seem so freshly hellish each week? How do I forget the pain that came before? What explains this short-term memory loss? I haven't smoked pot since the previous Democratic administration. And yet I waltz out to ol' Normandale for my running, enjoying a sunny interlude on an otherwise blustry, spittin'-rain day, saunter around the pitch a few times to loosen up, I'm happy, life is good. As though what lies ahead isn't going to tear my guts out and Cuisinart my quads. As though my lungs won't weep.
The first few are fine, the middle few grow a bit difficult, by seven it really hurts, oh, you know the story, I told it before. Still, and here's where the masochistic side of triathlon training is revealed, it was fun. OK, maybe not fun. But way, way satisfying: To stand there after finishing No. 10, heaving and gasping for breath, nausea and exultation washing over you, the wet grass shining bright under the sun, towering dark clouds off to the east—is a rainbow about to show?—and in a deep-down mysterious primitive place connecting to the ability to power across a plain, to do it again and again as if life itself hung in the balance. Whew.
Photo: Exhaustion, by Roger Ballen
People doing breaststroke need to realize that their arms extend a long way out. They need to account for this fact when they swim close to a lane line. If they don't, they are likely to hit the person in the next lane. Every time they go by him. Nevertheless, swimming is getting better each day as I continue to work on going fairly fast, over and over again. Today it was 5x200, 10x100 and 10x50. I tried to swim 10 to 15 percent faster than my 1000-yard pace, generally taking 15-second rests for recovery. I had planned to go 20x50 on that last set but I was whipped, my stroke was falling apart, and I simply could not go fast anymore. But now I have something to work up to.
Also today: The predawn bike. I say predawn but I did notice today that light was starting to come in through the basement window well before 7, indicating the solar system is still functioning as it is supposed to and the days are getting longer. Good to know there's one thing Obama won't have to fix. Anyway, the ride was an hour. Fifteen minutes warming up then the rest of the way at low wattage (150) but high RPMs (90). That felt good.
Dull ride in the predawn hours this morning. Not much to say about it. Around 20 miles, in a bit over an hour. Got it done. I did notice afterward that my thighs are beginning to look a little different. Definition, and some bulk. Less like a runner's, more like a cyclist's. Maybe. I don't know. One doesn't want to spend too much time ogling oneself, does one?
Feeling a little stale. I think I need a race or three. Maybe the Red Lizard 5 Miler this weekend. And the Race for the Roses Half Marathon on April 5. I'll do those, plus the Hagg Lake Swim the Geckos put on at the end of May, and maybe the Blue Lake oly the week before CDA, just to get in tri racing mode. All those should provide inspiration and excitement during these six months to Coeur d'Alene, without knocking the training off course. Not the way Boston did last year! But I'll tell you, there was an article in the new Running Times about how to train for Boston and boy did that leave me wishing I was headed for Beantown again this year. I love that race. What a day that was.
Yesterday I almost decided to move my Sunday run up a day and sneak it in after my long bike ride. I didn’t want to. I wanted to have good fresh legs for the run, but all the forecasters said there would be rain this morning and without even thinking I was ready to rewrite the schedule to avoid getting out in it. Then I remembered—almost with a cartoon-like palm slap to the forehead—that I don’t mind running in the rain! In Napa it never stopped me and last winter I had tons of fun tramping up and down muddy Tabor trails as the wind howled through the firs and waves of rain washed over the hill.
So I stuck with the schedule and this morning woke up ready to take on the elements. And let me tell you, they were, uh, well, they were not fierce. Nope. A little breezy, yes. Not exactly balmy, either, at around 40. But rain? No, sir. As usual this winter, the rain didn’t come. We started this calendar year with a bang, totaling 5.04 inches in the first eight days of January here at our home weather station. But in the 44 days since then, we’ve had measurable precipitation on just nine days, for a total of 1.12 inches. I always remember Steven saying, “If you don't run in the rain in Oregon then you don't run. Period.” But this winter, that hasn’t been the case.
Well, it it was a fine run, anyway, disappointing only in that it wasn’t longer. I was up on Tabor for the first time in months, having avoided it while nursing the Achilles back to fine fettle. I took it real easy heading up to the park, mindful that bursting out of the gate uphill at 8:30 a.m. probably wouldn’t be a good idea. By the time I reached the dirt I was nice and loose and the run just flowed from there. No heart rate monitor or GPS today. The only measure I had of how long I was running was my one-hour Nano playlist.* I was limiting myself to an hour because I wanted to get to the pool right when it opened. Usually, it’s pretty empty then, but within an hour the crowds descend.
The run, though—it was so sweet. I toyed with doubling it, going for two joyous hours, and dumping the swim. But I’m proud to say I resisted the urge. To go faster at Coeur d’Alene this year I need to improve my swim and my bike. Extending runs and dumping swims isn’t going to get me there.
So I headed back home. My hourlong playlist played through about five minutes before I got home, so I was slightly behind schedule getting to the pool. And as it happened, this was the day the entire population of Portland decided to swim right when the pool opened. Most Sunday mornings I have a lane to myself, at least for a good part of the swim. Today, we were circle swimming in all six lanes. Still, it went well. The Slowtwitchers who call themselves swimmers pretty much unanimously believe a key element of becoming faster is swimming lots of hard intervals. So that’s what I did: couple hundred yards warmup, then 15x100, then a couple of hundred yards cool-down.
That was a good day of training—and look, it’s raining out now.
*Wake Up (Arcade Fire)
Golden Age (TV On the Radio)
Acuff-Rose (Uncle Tupelo)
Rehab (Amy Winehouse)
Keep the Car Running (Arcade Fire)
Wolf Like Me (TV On the Radio)
Shattered (Rolling Stones)
Mr. Jones (Counting Crows)
Gamma Ray (Beck)
California Stars (Billy Bragg & Wilco)
Human Behaviour (Bjork)
Go On, Say It (Blind Pilot)
Don't Go (Hothouse Flowers)
Black Dog (Led Zeppelin)
It could be I merely need somebody to throw an HTFU at me. Then again, maybe I ought to just wait until June to ride outside. Or at least not jump on the bike so early in the morning.
I planned on riding four hours today but cut things slightly short – to 3:16, during which I covered 58.7 miles, an average speed of 18 miles per hour. That's decent riding and I think I would have been stronger if it weren't for the aggravation and discomfort of cold, numb toes. This is a problem I've always battled. Obviously, cold weather is the chief issue. But I'm really set up for problems when I wake up in a chilly house and get on the bike before my feet have warmed up and my circulation has gotten going. All things being equal, afternoon rides go better. So why not just wait and ride in the afternoon? Easy: I'm afraid I won't do the workout. Things might happen. A movie, some chores, noodling on the computer—and suddenly it's 3 p.m. and that big ride is sliding toward oblivion. So on the weekends, I always tackle workouts early. Plus, then I get the rest of the day to laze around and eat, all the while feeling virtuous. And that's triathlete psychology on display.
Meanwhile, yes, I've ordered some of those toe warmers.
The sun was shining through the big windows, warming the air in Dishman, reminding me of the days when I swam inside at Exertec. This was when I began triathlon, January 2002. I was biking. I was running. I guess somehow, someway I was going to get my ass into a pool, some day, since I was telling myself I was training to do a triathlon, but that Christmas gift certificate to the gym from Rebecca made it easier. It was for a massage at the gym, but I needed to swim more than I needed to get a massage, and I needed to use the gift certificate—it would have been ungracious not to, and I wanted to—so off to the gym I went. I could barely swim a 50-yard lap. It took a few weeks to get to 500 yards. That was way back at the beginning.
But what I wanted to talk about was the air at Exertec. The pool had a low ceiling and apparently poor ventilation. All those pool chemical fumes volatilizing into the warm air, just waiting for hard-working swimmers to draw them deeply into their lungs. Whatever health enhancement came from the swimming surely was canceled out by breathing that toxic air. I can hardly believe I did it, but the place was literally around the corner from where I worked and lunchtime quite easily became swim time. I progressed.
Then I heard about Healthquest. (This is very tangential, but history should know I heard about Healthquest first from the vine geneticist Carole Meredith. We were discussing delivery of my annual shipment of Lagier Meredith Syrah, and Carole, who lived up at the vineyard on Mount Veeder, said something about coming into town to go to Healthquest. Healthquest? I had no clue, so I looked it up afterward and found they had a pool. An outdoor pool.) Healthquest required a drive of a mile and a half, which compared to a walk of a block or two struck me then as a real pain. It's amazing how spoiled we can be sometimes. But from the first time I swam there I loved the fresh air. And even the water seemed cleaner. There were two challenges with this pool. First the winter rains. I rather liked swimming in the rain, but that part involving getting from the locker room to the pool, God I hated that. But after a few laps, generally, the blood would be flowing again and the cool rain falling on me, in the warm water, was wonderful and invigorating.
The other challenge? That would involve the pool heater. Generally the pool was just a little too warm, but a little-too-anything I could deal with. Problems arose when the thing went haywire and the temp fell to the mid-60s. This I could handle in the summer. On a blazing hot day it was quite refreshing, actually. But in the winter? I remember one swim where I felt like I was suppressing a scream of agony for at least a thousand yards. I kept waiting to warm up, to acclimate, but it wouldn't happen. But more frequently than that—seemingly and cruelly always in the summer—the heater would go wacky and the temperature would shoot well into the 80s. This might have been worse than the cold. No, this was worse than the cold. It was OK for the old ladies in the plastic shower caps, floating around, but not for a bad swimmer like me, plundering the water for a couple thousand yards and sweating like a pig. Usually, though, there'd be one—rarely more than that—hot chick around to take my mind of the misery.
Now Dishman. Today: A couple thousand yards, hard 200s, easy other stuff. Felt pretty good. Later, on what allegedly will be our last nice day for weeks, I ran in a short-sleeve shirt for five miles. Tomorrow: four-hour bike ride.
All last winter my thing on the bike was to set up in front of the tube and watch the presidential nomination race unfold, spinning easily at 17 miles per hour or thereabouts. Even doing that for two or three hours at a time, that'll get you only so far. I just wasn't working hard enough on the bike. This year? Working harder. Tonight, I rode 30 miles in 90 minutes, with 25 of the miles a slight but persistent incline. That was a hell of a workout. I can't ride like that every time, but I need to do one bike workout like that every week—in addition to an interval session, and a long ride. Bike, bike, bike. It's all about the bike.
I've done track work and felt that pain, but nothing compares to these 30-second sprints. Man. Back at it today out on the Normandale Park pitch. Maybe doing these intervals after doing bike intervals in the morning wasn't the best idea. And yet, I had to get out for a run, what with the sun burning bright and the air carrying, well, OK, not a hint of spring, but a hint of a suggestion of spring. So I moved tomorrow's planned right-out-of-bed sprint session to this afternoon. (Afternoon sunshine vs. morning chill? That wasn't a tough call, and it was so nice. I wore just one layer, my Boston Marathon tech shirt. My first one-layer run of the year!)
Start with a 30-minute warm-up, some loping around the park, the dog people and the their dogs coming and going. Then onto the 10 sprints. This time I had my Garmin. I didn't think to hit the lap button for each sprint until the last two, but it was mostly the heart-rate data that I was interested in anyway. With each sprint, my heart rate hit a higher peak—and didn't come down as far—until flattening out at No. 6, in the low 170s. My speed was pretty consistent throughout, generally peaking around 13.5 mph, although on the second-to-last run I kind of dogged it. But I fired it up for the last one, running hard all the way through the 30 seconds and finishing gasping and heaving for a minute or two before winding down with 15 minutes of very slow jogging. Killer workout, but these are the ones that convince me (fool me?) that I'm doing something big, crazy, worthwhile, and that progress is being made.
(And, yeah, if you study the chart above, you'll see I did nine sprints, not 10. I miscounted. Really—I could have done one more!)
Ah, back in the pool: Dishwater. I mean Dishman. It was great, when it was over. That’s the thing about swimming. It shows the most dramatic gap when comparing anticipation and reflection. When it’s time to head to the pool, a trip to the oral surgeon who presides as the president of the local chapter of the Society for the Promotion of Sadism strikes me as more attractive. Afterward, I’m atop the world. Actually, the transformation begins late in the swim. For the first 1,000 yards, the swim is endless and torturous. Around 1,500 yards, a gathering sense of accomplishment builds. At 2,000 yards, I am one studly dude, swimming like a tiger (little known fact: the tiger swims well).
Today I did a bunch of sets with mostly slow 25s but also three 200s that were supposed to be all out. I didn’t do those 200s all out. I didn’t have the courage. I was afraid I’d collapse after 150 or 175 yards. But I did them hard, which for me is around 3:30. And, yeah, afterward I only wished I could do more.
Niko and I took a little walk around Normandale today after eggs (me) and pancakes (him) at the New Deal Café. As we walked I thought about the long run I had planned for later in the day. The idea of doing 10+ miles on this same .68-mile course wasn't really exciting me. So when it came time to get out and shuffle 'em, late in the afternoon with the sun peeking in and out front behind the clouds and temps in the mid-40s, I headed in a different direction. I went down Glisan, a boulevard that to the west of my neighborhood (toward downtown) is crowded with Providence Hospital's sprawl of buildings and the traffic that goes with that, then becomes increasingly gritty as it heads out into the far east side, Portland's annexed wastelands, where the streets have names but often not sidewalks and sometimes not even pavement. That's where I headed: past 82nd Avenue, the city's prostitution hotspot, past Interstate 205 and just on and on until I hit Glendoveer Golf Course around 140th Avenue. It was 4.13 miles of sidewalks, stoplights, stupid drivers, dive bars, Vietnamese pool halls, strip joints and, I shit you not, in the middle of all this crap, a Ferrari/Maserati dealership. Glendoveer: There's a two-mile soft path around the golf course, through some trees, with a few ups and downs—very nice. I picked up the pace a bit really only because it was so nice to be on dirt and away from Glisan’s four lanes of noise and its red lights. One loop led to another, then it was time to head home. The wind that was in my face on the way out was now at my back and I felt faster. Plus, it kept happening that with a surge of a block or two I could make the green lights at the major intersections. So even though I intended to do this long run at a 9 minutes/mile pace, I ended up around 8:30. For the last four miles, right around 8. But it felt good, a good 12.3-miler. (You'd have to be some kind of weirdo to say you enjoyed running four miles down Glisan in east Portland, but it was an interesting change for me. The Glendoveer loop is certainly cool, but probably not cool enough to fire up the car and drive to; I hate driving to runs. I think with the Achilles holding up well, I'm ready to get back to running my old haunts again—the hills at Tabor and the loop at Laurelhurst.)
The plan from here forward on the run: Add a couple of miles to the long run every other week, to the 18-20 range, do a couple at that distance, add in the shorter interval stuff that comes with the plan, and that's it. It's not complicated. I don't need to get better at the run. I just need to get back into shape. (Remember, the key to an improved run at CDA will be getting off the bike in condition to make a good effort.)
What a ridiculous day. First I notice a bogus $200 debit-card charge on my BofA account, and it takes an hour to straighten that out, but of course it's not really straightened out, it's just part of a long process that includes canceling the card and reissuing a new one that won't arrive for several days. Then I go to the washing machine to move a load to the dryer and, whoa, the thing is full of water. Long story short, it ain't working. Nothing agitating, except me. But the sun came out in huge fashion and Niko and I enjoyed our walk over to Laurelhurst Park to look at the ducks and gulls swimming in the electric green pond and the people standing in front of the DO NOT FEED THE DUCKS sign throwing bread to the ducks. Later, I got on the bike and raced against Pacer Guy. We were riding a homemade 5.22-mile loop that had a long, mellow grade for the first four miles, then a decline to the finish. PG was set at 200 watts and the first two loops I got out in front by a bit on the climb and then hung on to beat him (he's terrific on the descents). Then I guess I had some anger or something to work out, because I proceeded to toy with PG. I drafted off him for 4.9 miles. There he was, working at 200 watts and I was staying right on his ass at 130-150. Ha. Sap. Then as we neared the finish I stood up in my biggest gear and raced away like he was standing still. The fourth and final loop I just hammered it from start to finish. Averaged 255 watts and 22.1 miles per hour. PG was a minute arrears. I was wiped out, but flush with victory had a nice quiet, uneventful evening, eating spinach pie and roasted bell peppers and watching 60 Minutes and The Simpsons with the boy.
I don't subscribe to a particular diet, though I did once make a go at the paleo thing. It still makes a lot of sense to me, except for the part about beans. That just wouldn't fly around here, where we make a bowl of hummus probably once a week, and it doesn't stick around for long. Triathlon guru and paleo booster Joe Friel frowns at chickpeas, as he does all legumes; after all, paleo man ate what he could find. But just because our millennia-ago antecedents weren't smart enough to cultivate chickpeas doesn't mean they aren't healthy. (And tahini, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil surely are.) We're talking low glycemic index, decent protein and fiber to spare. Plus, the way we transport the hummus from the bowl to our mouths surely makes this dish a winner: we scoop it up with chopped raw bell peppers, diced cucumbers and baby carrots. That's what I enjoyed today, after a mean 90 minutes on the bike with a whole bunch of one-minute, 375-watt intervals.
The swim fell through (work). The bike fell through (kid). The good news, however, is that my vegging has extended to my diet. I've had a lousy workout week, but my diet has improved considerably. I've cut back on cheese and wine and virtually eliminated bread, replacing all that with lots of vegetables and fruit. So despite less exercise, I've lost three pounds. How about that?
Now I'm fired up for a couple of good workouts this weekend, and a huge week next week.
Last week I was overflowing with energy. I was ripping through the full-session workouts, scoffing at their ease, sniffing for more. I began to believe I could roll straight to June like this, no detours, no construction zones, no problems. I was reassessing my goal, wondering if merely breaking 12 hours did not befit the indomitable triathlon god I was becoming.
As we know, it's in giddy moments exactly like this that life reminds you it is the boss, man. And so it did. Now, for sure, nothing even remotely tragic unfolded. Nobody died and no houses burned to the ground; no cancers were diagnosed, nor cars wrecked. These challenges were of the mundane domestic variety—but they were enough to require a good draw from my perhaps shallow reservoirs of composure and emotional strength. In the process, the triathlon mojo flew far, far away. I haven't swum since Sunday. Since Monday I've done a workout each day, but just one, and they've all been half-assed and unfocussed. (Today's 45-minute jog around the park was classically of that genre.)
Still, I'm not bumming about all this. I kept a tether to my training, lame though it might have been. I know I'll be back, perhaps in a day, maybe two or three, certainly not much more than that. But right now? I want to crawl under the covers, read for five minutes until the magazine or book falls on my face, and then sleep for a very long time.
Good thing I added a non-plan bike ride in the early morning hours; I couldn't make the swim in the afternoon, for perfectly legitimate but still frustrating reasons. At least I got something in today.
The day taught me that I'm going to need to be flexible and, probably, make consistent adjustments to the plan to reflect how dramatically different my schedule is on alternating weeks. On the even weeks, when Niko's here, I'll be able to get in maybe 75 percent of my planned stuff. That means that on the odd weeks, when he's at his mom's, I'll have to add or lengthen workouts. This isn't perfect; I bought a plan because I wanted to have my schedule dictated to me. But I think there will still be enough structure in place to guide me. And, hey, it's life. You gotta roll with it.
Coffee. Coffee, coffee, coffee.
That's what was on my brain this morning as I did my bike ride. Or, more accurately, as I attempted to do my bike ride. It was a pathetic display. It took my nearly a half hour to crank it up to 20 mph. Blah.
So I'm thinking I may need to get up even earlier (like, 5 instead of 5:40) in order to have some coffee before the bike. You'll recall, dedicated reader that you are, that I eschew the brew because one cup leads to another and I end up sitting around reading the paper, listening to NPR, getting an early start on work, evacuating my bowels—everything except what I got up early to do: Ride the bike.
But riding first thing in the morning, when it's still dark outside, without the benefit of caffeine, sucks, especially if intervals are on the agenda. This morning the full-session workout required 20 power intervals—one minute all-out with huge resistance, 40-50 rpm, followed by a minute of easy recovery. But it took me so long to get warmed up, I had time to do just 10. Which is OK, because I'm only on Week 2 and have time to work up to the full session. But still.
Tomorrow: Back in the pool.
The way this plan works during the first four weeks is that each day of the week has one or two “full sessions” to do. But at the bottom of the page the workouts are tweaked, week by week, to give you a progression toward the full session. Today, for instance, the full-session run was 90 minutes broken down like this: 15 minutes warmup; 20 minutes at moderate pace; 20 minutes at .5 mph faster (about :30 seconds/mile); 20 minutes at an additional .5 mph faster; and 15 minutes cool-down. For Week 1, you’re given the option to reduce the workout to 40 minutes of easy running. Generally, though, I’ve been doing full sessions, based on the theory that I began my training six weeks before the 20-week plan commenced, so I ought to be ready to rock 'n roll now. Today I set out intending to run for 90 minutes.
The morning was less than inviting: 36 degrees with a mean wind blowing from the east. My legs were tight and sore as I started, courtesy that set of 10 all-out 30-second runs on Thursday (and maybe the 60 miles on the bike yesterday). I hoped the warmup would result in one of those magical, snap-of-the-fingers transformations that sometimes happen, but no go; the legs remained a little stiff. Given that, I should have done the first 20-minute segment at a 10-minute pace, but pride got the better of me. I wasn’t wearing my Garmin, but I knew that at Normandale three laps equal two miles, and after 20 minutes I had indeed gone a few hundred yards past three laps: 9 minute/mile pace. Onto the second segment. Aiming for a :30/mile improvement, I had an inkling I was going too fast, working too hard. I don’t know why I didn’t slow down but I didn’t and my next lap was under five minutes, around 7:20 pace. Well, what the hell. At that point I decided to maintain that pace for the rest of the segment. I knew it would leave me too wiped out to do an even-faster third 20-minute segment, and it did. I had nothing left, so I wrapped up the run with 25 minutes of easy jogging, giving me a total run of 80 minutes and nine miles.
I iced the Achilles for 15 minutes then drove to the pool, still wearing my running clothes. Damn, forgot to eat the PowerBar I’d left sitting on the the counter so I wouldn’t miss it! The full-session swim was 20x100 with 15 seconds rest. Oh, yeah: This workout was called “optional” for Week 1--but I didn’t notice that until I got home. Well, I’m glad I did it, even if I didn’t feel comfortable in the water. I know the key to improving my swimming is better technique, but I also need to just get some yards in. Today I did. And thus ended Week 1 of the plan.
The sun lured me and my bike out today and I rode 61 miles in three hours. It was basically flat, aero and easy, along Marine Drive by the airport and out to Troutdale and back a few times, but I’m still taking that 20 miles per hour average speed as a sign of excellent early-season fitness. I’d guess I'm six weeks ahead of last year. Woo-hoo. But I’ve got to add something: When I returned, a neighbor, chipper in the way a Portlander becomes on a sunny Saturday in the winter, said, “Great February day for a ride!” I nodded in agreement but in fact I did not agree. It was not a great day for a ride. A great February day for a ride would have started in the 50s (it was 39 when I hit the road at 9:15 a.m.) before quickly working its way into the 60s, possibly even nudging 70. Today, here, it was 46 on my home weather station when I returned. My toes were numb. My nose was running from the cold. Yes, there had been times during the ride when it was exhilarating to be zipping along under a bright blue sky. But the sun was too weak to cut through the wind that, at 20 mph, drives the chill into your bones. Maybe if I'd been out for an hour it would have been fine. But three hours? Cold. Sunny and cold: a cruel joke, a hoax, classic bait-and-switch. Now, some might say, “What a wimpy Californian!” an allusion to the fact that I called the bankrupt but toastier state to the south home for 37 of my 46 and counting years. Fine. If that is the way it works, if expressing a little displeasure at the fraud that a sunny Oregon winter day perpetrates on a cyclist makes me a wimp, I plead guilty. Still, not a bad ride.
I missed my window of opportunity to swim—a swim was what the plan called for—so I opted for a run. That’s when I realized that those 30-second sprints yesterday had brutalized my hamstrings. But I didn’t mind. It was nice, after a day cooped up, to just shuffle along in the late-afternoon fresh air. By the end, I felt a good deal better than when I started. Plus, going as slowly as I did—seriously, we’re talking 11-minute miles here—had a side benefit: All sorts of stuff that I had never noticed on my regular laps around Normandale Park jumped out at me. Like, man, there is tons of dog shit littering the grounds. I guess that’s not a surprise; the park has a fenced area for dogs to romp around, and it's very popular. Seems that on their way to and from that area, doggie things happen. Sure wish their owners would be decent about scooping up these offerings. Another thing I noticed is that right across the street from the park on the south side is Oregon Catholic Press, which supplies missal programs to two-thirds of the parishes in the United States, and does a whole lot of other publishing, too. And next door to the OCP is Inifinity Images, which does “digital graphics and fixturing solutions”—you know, things like big displays for conventions and stores and stuff. Never knew this stuff was right in my 'hood.
Those first couple of days on the plan were weirdly light. There was one good swim, but it was the only workout that day, and the other day featured merely an easy hour on the bike. But I suppose if I had embarked on this plan after a winter of sloth, I would have appreciated the chance to ease into the routine. Anyway, today was comforting, with two challenging sessions.
In the morning, as dawn’s first light was appearing, I hoofed it over to Normandale Park and jogged until my stopwatch showed 15 minutes. My next assignment was to do 10 30-second all-out sprints, each separated by a minute of rest. The plan actually gives you the option of easing into these intervals over the course of the first four weeks and doing just 30 minutes of easy running in Week 1. I did the full session.
Running hard for 30 seconds is a bit of a strange concept. We tend to think of sprints in distance terms. I didn’t realize that a 30-second all-out sprint would translate to 150 yards. The first few were great, tons of fun. Normandale is perfect for this kind of thing, flat and with a soft, straight trail running alongside about two acres of grass. One length of the pitch was perfect, just enough space for me to do my 30 seconds with a little extra track to slow the big train down. I planned to do all the sprints on the trail, a beautiful mix of dirt and bark mulch that sops up moisture and creates a cushiony yet just-firm-enough surface. But some gals were doing loops around the park and I didn’t want to freak them out by sprinting madly toward them, so I scooted over and did several of the sprints on the grass. I wasn’t pleased at this prospect, but it was absolutely fine.
By the seventh sprint my quads and hamstrings were beginning to feel it about halfway through. By the eighth, the shakiness came a quarter of the way through. The ninth and tenth were agonizing pretty much from start to finish. Still, I pushed it all the way, and in the end was gulping and gasping for air. After a minute of rest, I jogged for another 20 minutes or so, arriving back home 50 minutes after I left.
The afternoon brought swim time. Pretty simple: 50x50, at a hard but sustainable pace, with 5 seconds between each 50. I started doing 50s on 1:00, and since I was touching in :53-:55, that was cool. But it was a little quick, and the goal was to work the arms more than the lungs, so I backed off a bit and did the rest of the 50s on the 1:05. That 2500-yard swim was a good 500 more yards than I’d swum since getting back in the pool after my five-month layoff. I’m still dragging an anchor compared to most triathletes, but for me to have a nice feel for the water and a decent rhythm at this point in the season? That was great. Plus, I was really tired at the end, and combined with my legs being whipped from the sprints, I felt like I’d done some good work.
One week out, nothing about the experience is striking me as fun. I'm under-trained and over-worried. I'm consumed by dread. Every once in a while, the idea of just not doing it flickers in my mind, extinguished only by the fact that however bad the race might end up being, living a lifetime knowing I wimped out would be far worse.
There’s a long way to go, and descent into the pathetic crisis of confidence that engulfed me and led me to write that one week before IMCDA 2008 might lurk way out there on the unseeable horizon. But I’m starting to doubt that. So far, I’m just happy and loving this stuff. And I think I know why.
Start with the newly minted knowledge—received while I was spinning for 60 minutes today, per the plan—that physically, Ironman isn’t that hard. It’s not easy; it’s a stupid long day. Yet, it occurs to me that if you understand your fitness and race to that fitness, any reasonably conditioned athlete can meet with Ironman success. If you know you are going to be locked in a brutal battle to get it done before they disassemble the finish chute and turn out the lights, well then you also know you can dog-paddle the swim in more than two hours, take several restful breaks on the bike and get to T2 around the 10 1/2-hour mark, and then practically walk your way to a 6 1/2-hour marathon. Go even that slowly and you still get to hear the guy shout, at the end, “You are an Ironman!”
But you must understand the race you are capable of doing, whether it's merely finishing or earning a Kona slot, which isn't easy if you've never gone long before. And then you must have the courage and discipline to do that race, not more, not less. Which brings me to the image atop this post; it proclaims IMCDA a qualifier for the Ironman World Championships, and notes: "Anything Is Possible." Well, no, sorry, I'm here to tell you anything isn't possible. What is possible is knowing what you can do and then going out and doing it, whether that means hitting it harder than what's comfortable, or holding back. You just have to know. You gotta be honest.
My goal this year is to beat 12 hours. By a second, by 30 minutes—well, I won't say it doesn’t matter. The faster I go, the happier I’ll be. Winning, though, is about 11:59:59. And right now, I’m pretty damn sure I will get to sub-12 fitness. Thus, happiness and calm prevails. Whether I will remain happy and calm until June 21, that will come down to whether I continue to believe my fitness will allow me to go sub-12. It’s a pretty good motivator: Get fit, stay happy.
My printer is now out of ink. That’s what happens after you spend $145 for a 20-week Ironman “Experienced” Training Plan from Ironguides. Well what the hell, so what if you have to blow through a barrel of ink to print out a 70-page PDF? Word is it’s a good plan. I’m going to study it after I finish this post, but I did glance at this week’s schedule long enough to realize I needed to get my ass to the pool for a swim today.
I did 4x100 to warm up. Then 16x25 with the first three of four 25s easy and the last one all out, and with the 16x25 followed by a hard 200. And I did that whole 16x25 + 200 set twice. Then I did 4x100 to cool down. Maybe I was just feeling inspired by having a program, but holy hip flexor, that was a good swim. Last swim I was having a hard time managing 4:00 for a 200. Today, I had no problem doing 3:40s for 200. But that wasn’t the most exciting part. Better was that the entire workout of 2000 yards went by in a flash as, instead of just jumping in and swimming mindlessly and endlessly, I did sets. And not only were they sets, but they were varied, and they included easy swimming, and for those portions I actually swam as easy as I possibly could. I swam easy and it seems to have made me faster. Weird.
Tomorrow the plan tells me to do a bike ride. I will follow the plan.
In the old days—five or six months ago—it would have been an easy day. But today running 10 miles had real meaning: That I can run. The Achilles was only slightly sore afterward and after some ice and a shower and lots of leftover fajitas and guacamole I sat in the fading sunshine and felt so grateful for being able to hit double digits comfortably. Yeah, that’s right, I said sunshine: It was sunny today, with temps well into the 50s. Friggin’ awesome afternoon to run. That’s why I ran 10. Did I mention I ran 10? And that I’m pretty happy about it?
I’m doing all my running in New Balance 790s, a trail racing shoe, meaning it has hardly any heel and no cushioning or stabilizing. As a bit of a big guy, I was apprehensive about this shoe, but the idea behind using it was to get my feet more in touch with the ground. To feel the ground. To get my feet working, and stronger. To run naturally again. It takes me a half-mile of running on the street to get to the park where I can do 2/3-mile laps exclusively on grass. That pavement feels hard—but shouldn’t it? What’s been remarkable on the grass, beyond the fact that it’s just plain fun in a childlike way to run on grass, is that in nearly a month of running now I haven’t had a misstep or a twist, knock on wood. And this is not classy golf course stuff we’re talking about. Divots, roots, dog shit—there's plenty of stuff to throw you off stride at ol’ Normandale, but I roll through it, over it, around it.
Ten. I was mostly interested in heart rate, and it stayed almost entirely in the low- and mid-130s on the first half of the run, then the high-130s and low-140s on the second half. The pace was 8:42 and very steady (see the chart above).
Do I need a plan? I don't mean a vague idea, or even a carefully considered outline. I mean a blow-by-blow scheme. You know, workouts literally written in on the calendar every day for the final four-plus months to Coeur d'Alene. I'm thinking this might be a good idea—but not because I fear I need it in order to keep me on track. It's really more about giving my head a break. See, the way it is now, on Sunday night I sketch out what I'm going to do during a week in my head. Nothing gets written down. Then each day, I refer back to that, uh, plan, which of course is now, metaphorically speaking, a scrap of paper that's been left in a pocket and gone through the washer and the dryer. I mean, come on, we're talking about in my head. There is so much ridiculous stuff going on up there, there's no way a workout plan for the week is going to survive more than 10 minutes. There's the typical life stuff that comes with having a 9-year-old son 50 percent of the time, by myself. There's work, and I keep pretty much all of my plans and notes for work in my head, which is lunacy, but there you go. There's all those baseball statistics from the '70s. (Weirdly, there are far fewer from the '80s, barely any from the '90s, and none at all from this new century.)
Love life? Ha, that's entirely in my head. So you get the idea. It's too busy upstairs. Yet every day, I go to bed having to figure out what I'm going to do tomorrow. And every morning I wake up rethinking what I came up with the night before. It's so easy to rethink it, because the "plan" never had any solidity.
And yet I love triathlon, now more than ever, and every day I want to and need to keep making progress, moving forward, working hard. So, in my planless state, I worry and wonder if I'm doing the right things and enough of them or too much. I fear missing a workout, and yet I juggle workouts from today to tomorrow and tomorrow to today and sometime I drop one and it rolls under the couch and I don't see it for months. Oh, I can survive like this, I think—it's worked for work—but I'm starting to believe I might thrive if I had a solid plan. Yeah. Maybe, then, I could just follow the plan and in my head, there could be rest.
[Today: I was going to take the day off, but ended up riding 20 miles on the trainer, good solid miles, too. Then we went over to my sister's and ate way too much guacamole and fajitas while watching a lot of commercials and a very short Bruce Springsteen concert.]