The Long Swim

No matter how far I swim, it’s not like a long run. My mind doesn’t wander. Well, it does, but I can’t let it. In the pool, I can’t allow myself to do deep thinking about life, love or work. Or even triathlon. Swimming demands my attention. If I’m not thinking about what I’m doing, I’m doing it badly. Today I did a straight swim of two and a quarter miles. Being careful not to give up too much early, I swam smooth and easy 1:55 100s for the first 2500 yards, concentrating on my form. Then I began to drift out of the zone. The stroke became short and sloppy and my splits slowed. Just as I began to get things back on track, at 3500 yards a mean cramp in my right toe forced me to pause to stretch. The cramp didn’t totally resolve but I was hell-bent on finishing off the 4000 yards I had set out to do. It was a good swim, the sort of swim I need on the schedule every couple of weeks to get ready for the 2.4 miles of Ironman. And it was interesting, trying to muster the discipline required. It wasn’t, however, fun in the way of long runs, which always seem to end with new insights or ideas, or at least a sense of calm. This swim ended with a crampy toe, tired arms and the need to moisturize my skin.


Performance-Enhancing Jerry

Are the Dead on the list of banned substances? WADA, if it doesn't already, needs to know about these guys.

I don’t listen to the boys very often anymore, but on my three-hour run today, man, a red-hot Franklin’s Tower gave me a jolt. I can see why they don’t allow MP3 players in most competitions. But maybe I could hire someone to trundle alongside me, at a key moment during the CDA run, blasting the Greek 9/11/81 Franklin’s that features crackling, lightning-bolt Jerry riffs alternating with delicious meanderings all powered along at a freaky double-time pace by Phil? (The China-Rider from the following May—a sunny Sunday afternoon back at the Greek—would be a fine mid-race accompaniment.)

So, yeah, a three-hour run. Not in the plan. “Tomorrow, I'm in the pool for 3500 yards and then out for a 10-12 run with some marathon-pace intervals,” I wrote fewer than 24 hours ago. Well, you see, what happened was, I started running, the sun came out, the Tabor trails were soft, the music was sweet (see above) ... so I just kept going. Actually, the other thing that happened was that I realized that I do 10-12 mile runs all the time, and a long run every 10 days to two weeks really ought to be part of the program. Next time I’ll plan better for it. Today, six or seven miles in I remembered that it was nearly May and by then the Portland sun, even with the temps in the low 60s, packs a punch. So about midway through I headed home and grabbed a cap—and a PowerBar, about 8 oz. of water and some body glide for that region where chafing might occur.

I ran the first half at about 10 minutes to the mile, which sounds slow, and is slow, but is not as slow as it sounds. This was a hilly run. In fact, according to my Garmin it featured 6,500 feet of climbing and descending. The second half I consciously picked up the pace to around 9 minutes per mile, which brought me to 20 miles in 3:05. I immediately downed a gel and a Hammer powdered recovery concoction. I felt great. Man, my long run is very solid. Tomorrow, I’ll see how the long swim is faring (so he says).


Doing Hard Time

So several weeks ago I made some rash remarks about not minding riding the trainer. I might have even suggested that in some ways, I found the trainer preferable to outside. That was before I got out on a couple of nice days for some good, long riding. Damn those sweet warm springtime rides along the Columbia. Now any trainer ride over 90 minutes is excruciating. Today—a cool, wet day in Portland—I put in three hours on the torture machine. I watched some TV, listened to radio, plugged in the Ipod. Read a bit. Checked voicemail. Still the clock ticked slowly. I got it all in, though, so good for me. Tomorrow, I'm in the pool for 3500 yards and then out for a 10-12 run with some marathon-pace intervals. A pretty big day, but that's OK. As long as I'm not on the trainer.



There were a couple of interesting developments in the past week.

First, I discovered that I am Canadian. This is because Canada said that even though my parents had left Canada before I was born, and even though I was born in the United States, due to the fact my parents were still Canadian citizens when I was born I am eligible for Canadian citizenship. Truly, my heart swells with Canuck pride, although I hasten to add I am fond of the Flames, Oilers, Senators, Canadiens and Maple Leafs as well.

This is related to triathlon because now that I am Canadian, I can easily nab a spot on the Canadian triathlon team. One assumes that with their (our!) lakes frozen year-round, the present bunch representing the Homeland is pretty motley. I gather it’s something like the Jamaican bobsled team. They’ll probably be pretty jazzed to have a solid top-third in his age group at CDA 46-year-old in the fold. I do worry a bit, however: Some of the fellows are likely to lean quite heavily on me for coaching insight. I'm all for helping a guy struggling to stay in the game, but I'll have to be sure I don't neglect my own goals. I want to make the Queen proud.

The other interesting thing that happened of late was that my legs became smooth as a baby’s bottom. Or maybe, “as smooth as the top of my head” would be a better way to describe it. Yes, I shaved them. No, I am not going to do one of those endless posts about the whole glorious process, complete with photos, like you see from a lot of tri-bloggers. You’ll just have to catch me at Dishman in the water, running the trails of Tabor or on Marine Drive, speeding alongside the Columbia River in an aero tuck with aero gams. With a maple-leaf tattoo on my right calf.

Today: 3,000 in the pool, including 10x100 under 1:40 on the 2:00, a first for me! Also, a very nice, gentle 8-mile run at 8-minute pace.


Maintaining Flexibility

My 18 hour week was followed by 7.5 hours this week (today: another 90 minutes on the trainer as The Lad continued his slow recuperation; riding with the Ipod blasting, I did ride hard at least). Yeah, I wanted to go lighter this week, but I didn't want to take a friggin' vacation. Well, the thing is, it's over, so we move on, embracing the opportunities the lie ahead and making a new plan.

Solid runs, bikes and swims in the Monday-Wednesday period; back off slightly on Thursday; hit My Wildflower hard on Friday; follow that up with a 100-mile bike ride on Sunday. Then we're in business, rolling into May.


Just a Week Away

As The Lad showed considerable improvement (thank you, miraculous antibiotics), I hopped on the trainer for 90 minutes of maintainence this afternoon. The trainer was in the bedroom, where there's no TV, so I bounced around on the radio, listening to some Prairie Home Companion; an interview with that blowhard Mike Barnicle on the "progressive" talk station in town; and the beer talk show that mercifully takes the place of a wing-nut on one of the many wing-nut stations. It was all pretty damn boring until I remembered My Wildflower is coming up next week and I got excited about planning for that.

Newcomers and frequently stoned readers might need to be reminded that My Wildflower is not the Wildflower; I rejected the idea of spending so much money, time and effort to get down to the Central Coast for the race—no, this has nothing to do with the fact that Wildflower kicked my ass in '04—and am instead staging a personal half-iron distance triathlon. I had planned to do it next Saturday, the very day the masses will be hitting it hard down south. But Saturday is opening day of the Hollywood Farmers' Market, Hollywood being the neighborhood adjoining my North Tabor 'hood, and a walk to the market on Saturday being one of those things that makes life here good. So I'm doing My Wildflower on Friday, assuming good weather. This highlights the true beauty of My Wildflower, an even more appealing aspect than the race fee of $0.00: the race director is totally flexible. (He's also a little scattered, and won't have race maps and course profiles available for a few more days. But he knows you'll come back.)


Let Tomorrow Come

My poor little guy. This cough just won't let him get to sleep. The cold, whatever it is, and the Zithromax to fight it (whatever it is), and the thousands of coughs one after the other every five seconds or ten seconds without fail a cascade of coughs wracking his body ... and the hundreds of blows of the nose ... it's all worn him down. He's been a trooper all day, not complaining, not whining, just trying to get through it, happy to laugh at the Penguins despite the misery. I thought about getting on the trainer this afternoon when he was indulging in a little SpongeBob, but I just couldn't muster the enthusiasm. It seemed wrong to be working out when he was so sick. Oh, and he's been sick before. We've dealt with 104 temps, with barfing, with all manner of virus and bacteria. But this sucker, with the nonstop coughing: when I said thousands of coughs I didn't mean that metaphorically, I meant that literally, and the number is probably several thousand. They thought it was pneumonia, that's why they gave him the Zithromax. But the chest x-ray came up negative, which I guess is good, but now we don't know what it is. Of course, I read about a study that said 21 percent of pneumonia cases don't show up in a chest x-ray. Well. Time, the great healer. Tomorrow a new day. (In the distance, a cough, drats.)



Dad OK, kid sick. Today's planned swim was shelved. I did get on the trainer for 90 minutes for a blah workout that I'm sure did nothing to advance my fitness but (I hope) did keep me from falling back. Looks like more of the same for the next few days. I've held off taking The Lad to the doctor; nine times out of ten it's just a cold and time is the great healer. But this cough is now more than a week old and has become progressively worse; he's literally coughing every 20 or 30 seconds, with a little congestion, no fever, good spirits and decent energy. Allergies? Who knows. Maybe the doc will have some piercing insight into the cause and a magic medicine that will make it all better. Meanwhile, I'll rework the schedule for lots of long stuff next week.

By the way: That Slowtwitch thread featuring the legendary Tim Noakes of Lore of Running fame taking on all comers on his theories regarding race hydration and salt consumption has now gone over 150 posts and amazingly hasn't gone completely off the rails.


First Cold of the Year?

Niko's got a dastardly cough that's keeping him up (and me fretting). And my own throat is beginning to feel scratchy. Plus, my "easy" seven-mile run was hardly easy, and my swim was poor too. Funny, I got sick the Wednesday or Thursday after running Boston last year. And now this, a couple days after the 2009 race. I guess even watching that classic can take its toll.

Update: Woke up today (Thursday) feeling fine. Niko still hacking away. Hang in there, kiddo!


Am I a Swimmer?

My top five Slowtwitch threads tonight:
  • Beer and recovery
  • Hotties
  • Why can't "experts" agree on anything
  • I love Kara Goucher !
  • Why does a swimmer ever want to lead out of the water?
Meanwhile, is it possible I'm becoming a swimmer? No. Well, maybe. Depends on how you define "swimmer." A Slowtwitcher the other day answered a well-meaning request for advice about swimming by telling the poster that her 1:50-1:55 times in 100-yard intervals were "not swimming." Apparently the guy was in possession of the FINA book that lays out the criteria. Unfortunately—or maybe it was fortunate—he did not say what moving too slowly through water is called.

Until this year—until a few weeks ago—I couldn't have told you my 100-yard interval times, because I didn't do intervals. I didn't swim hard. I got in the pool and swam back and forth for 40-60 minutes, damn near every time. This year in the early going I began to mix in a few sets, but not enough to make a difference. Then came Big Swim Week at the start of April: five consecutive days in the water, during which the evolution toward swimming hard began to unfold. Bored enough with all that swimming to try something different, and inspired by the declaration that at my speed I was not swimming, I did a lot of hard intervals. Slowly, by most standards, but as hard as I could do them.

Fast-forward to today. I arrived at the pool late and didn't have much time before I had to pick up The Lad from school. After swimming four easy laps it occurred to me that I should do a 1000-yard time trial. A month or so ago I swam the distance in 19 minutes. Today, I had given up some time by swimming easy the first 200 yards, but then got into a faster, steady groove. I was holding back a bit to make sure I didn't run out of gas—next time I do the 1000, I'll definitely go a little harder. Despite all that, I still dropped my time to 18:05, a 55-second improvement. I'm sure if I had set out to do a TT and had known I had the endurance to go harder I could have been around 17:45. That's getting me under 1:50 per lap. Does that make me a swimmer? I don't know, but I will say this: I'm going to improve a lot more in the next two months.

Also today, on the bike: Hill repeats on Tabor. I was aiming to do 10 on a 0.3-mile, 100-foot vertical-gain hill (that's a 6 percent grade), but apparently lost track and did 11. It was the last day of the outbreak of spring, all sunny and mild. Tomorrow the high falls by about 20 degrees and the rest of the week we're cloudy, possibly drippy, and probably not cracking 60 degrees. Portland. Anyway, here's the data, showing the heart rate bumping up near 165 with each hill, then falling below 100. Each climb was within two or three seconds of 1 minute and 20 seconds.


Nine Weeks to Go

After high-effort swimming, lots of long runs and several solid bike rides in recent days, it was time to absorb some of the training. And to heal, too, as with nine weeks to go there will certainly be heaps of hard stuff ahead. Plus, c'mon, I'm 46 years old. Hardly ancient, but after 40 years of sports, much of it pursued without regard for life or limb, the body is a little creaky here and there. So it was a rest day. (It was also 83 degrees and beautiful in Portland. So I guess you could say my most strenuous activity was hauling the little Weber out of the shed and firing it up.)


You Are What You Don't Upchuck

“Nutrition” is what triathletes call food and drink consumed during workouts. I don’t go for a lot of nutrition during my workouts, mostly because I hate to carry stuff. Nutrition during yesterday’s 16-mile run: three sips of water from the fountain in the trees just off one of the front-nine greens on Glendoveer’s West Course. Nutrition during today’s 60-mile bike ride: About 6 oz. of Accelerade, 6 oz. of water and one PowerBar (Cookies and Cream). Perhaps making up for that, I always set out well fed. Some people can’t eat much before a workout, especially a run. Not so me. The sports nutritionists generally say you have about two hours of glycogen stored in your body, and if I’ve also pounded 500 calories in the hour before heading out, I figure I should be good to go for three hours. Also, I have a theory that by denying my body just a bit, I’m teaching it to burn the energy sources it has stored up from all the eating I do when I’m not working out. I’ve bonked just twice in my life. The first time was during the Flint Hills Death Ride, a 70-mile mountain bike race in Kansas. Seventy miles on dirt is a long-ass way. Plus, the ride is in August. The heat and humidity were something I’d never experienced and by mile 50 I was empty, bleary, nauseated (you think maybe a little heat exhaustion?). The real beauty of the bonk, however, isn’t simply that you are depleted. No, it’s that you also have great difficulty taking in calories or fluids. Your electrolyte balance is all screwy and what goes into your stomach tends to slosh around in there for awhile then get stamped Return to Sender. In Kansas, when I hit this wall I stopped at an aid station (such as they were; the Marine who put on this race subscribed to the HTFU philosophy so water and a few snack-type foods were all you got, if I remember correctly). Out on the prairie in the rolling tall-grass hills, a little creek, a clump of trees for shade.... I sat in the creek with my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands. I fell asleep. After some time, who knows how long, it was maybe just 20 minutes but felt like two hours, I awoke. Coming to, I saw a graybeard on some piece of shit 50-pound Schwinn rolling by. I got up. I tried to drink some water. It was quite satisfying and did not induce my tummy to behave like a washing machine. I ate something, cookies, I think. Mmm, tasty. And suddenly, as though an unseen wizard had intoned a magic word and announced, “Weary Golden Stater, be renewed and on your smart way!” the great fog in my mind cleared, my stomach calmed completely and my energy returned. I finished the last 15 miles strong, blowing by the graybeard. I hope I said, “Thanks, pops,” but who knows? The other bonk? That was on a 90-degree day doing Wildflower Long Course, but who hasn’t bonked doing Wildflower Long Course on a hot day?

Totals for the week (my week ends on Sunday):
Swim: 8700 yards (3 hours)
Bike: 135 miles (8 hours)
Run: 47 miles (7 hours)



It was supposed to be all about the bike—and I will end up getting in close to 10 hours in the saddle—but running is defining this week. What can I say? I go with the flow. The running was feeling good, so I went 11 on Monday, 10 on Wednesday, 10 on Friday and then 16 today.

Actually, it was 10.1 on Friday and 16.1 today. Let see: 10.1 + 16.1 = yep, that's right, 26.2. I've been thinking about that number a lot recently, with the Boston Marathon set to go off on Monday. Last year's race was a personal thrill and I ran well enough to qualify to return, but Boston and Ironman Coeur d'Alene don't get along very well, timing-wise, so I passed on making the trip to the East Coast. Anyway, I'll enjoy this year's race as a mere webcast spectator. On the men's side, Ryan Hall appears to be prepped and focused, which means his chances of winning are decent—maybe even as good as a half-dozen or so Kenyans. On the women's side, Kara Goucher's New York performance and the intensity of her desire and commitment makes her a threat. But I'll also be tracking #35 among the women, Devon Crosby-Helms. I first heard of Devon when she won the Napa Valley Marathon a few years ago (the same day I qualified for Boston). It's been interesting checking in on her blog from time to time to see what she's up to—ultras, mostly—and I was surprised to find her running in Boston. But like Goucher and Hall, she has a real appreciation for Boston's uniqueness in the world of distance running. Good luck to her and all the racers on their amazing journey from Hopkinton to Boylston Street.


Three Parks

Sometimes I’m not sure what all I have in Portland, but I do have my parks to run in. There are three within a mile or so of my house. Today I ran all three. First Normandale, nice and flat and grassy. Most people know Normandale for its dog-play area, fenced-in and dusty under the trees. There are always dogs and their people coming and going, and I sometimes have to weave to avoid them as I go past the entrance on my 0.68-mile loop. A few times around the park then onto Laurelhurst, with its grim green pond (though the ducks and turtles seem to do OK) and its wide-open grassy area in the middle where the dogs and hipsters run around. I stay on the margins, in the trees, mostly. My Laurelhurst loop is 0.9 miles. It’s got a few little rises and falls and maybe a third of the way I’m on dirt. What’s really great about Laurelhurst is the clean bathroom that’s actually open in the winter and comes in handy once in a while, and the working water faucet that I hit quickly every couple of loops. From Laurelhurst, it’s east toward the rise of green trees in the distance: Mount Tabor. I often head straight to Tabor from home but it’s not a good idea. Boom, right up the hill practically out my door, from 200 feet elevation to over 650. Better to get loose on some flat terrain, as I did today. By the way, when I began today the morning rain had blown away and the sun was shining. I wore shorts and a short-sleeved technical shirt. When I got to Tabor an hour-plus later great gray and black clouds were overhead and random huge raindrops plopped onto the ground and my bald head. Soon the raindrops were plentiful, then they became hail, then it all ended, and I was down the hill and home.


Road Food

Post workout(s) brain dump, minimal editing, just getting it down: Here's something that never happened these past few months of riding on the trainer: getting off the bike at the 25-mile mark and buying a McDouble at McDonald's. That's what happened today. I set out on my first outdoor ride in ages not even thinking about the fact that it was nearly lunchtime. Everything was pretty discombobulated at home, with a couple of plumbers taking out all the old, leaky pipe and replacing it with new stuff. Anyway, after an hour and a half on the road I was falling-over starving. Now Niko and I do eat fast food every six weeks or so, but our preference is for the Northwest chain Burgerville, whose well-earned motto is Fresh, Local, Sustainable. It had been years since I was in a McDonald's. But a burger, even a McDonald's burger, suddenly seemed vital to me making it home on this ride. So for a buck I got the McDouble. A buck! That's a lot of food for a buck. Why isn't there healthy food available at that price? (Oh, yeah, there is: It's called an apple.) Well it hit the spot and I did the last 15 miles of this 40-miler with vigor. Then it was to the pool, not because I really wanted to swim but because they have showers and I needed to take a shower and the water was still several hours from being back on at home. I thought I might just do an easy, relaxed 1500 yards or something, since it really was supposed to be a day off from swimming. But I ended up doing 100 yards of warm-up, 10x200, and 100 yards of cool-down. The 10x200 was surprising. Coming off back-to-back swim days of 3500 and 3000 yards, I thought I'd have nothing. But after a few around 3:40, by my sixth 100 I was cranking them out in 3:30, downright spry for me. I began to run out of gas on the last two, but was pleased with myself for gutting them out. Man, swimming hard intervals can suck. Your muscles are not at all pleased and there's this voice in you saying, "Just stop, you'll feel so much better." But you push through and holy cow progress is made. This dedication to hard intervals the last couple of weeks has dramatically improved my swimming. True, my swimming sucked, and now it's just the thinnest margin better than sucking. But the change that is happening is real, I can feel it, and I love it. I may swim again tomorrow.

The week so far...
Monday: 11 mile run
Tuesday: 3500 swim, 40-mile ride (trainer)
Wednesday: 3000 swim, 10-mile run
Thursday: 40-mile ride (road), 2200 swim


Feeling the Effects

I’m whipped. In a span of 48 hours I did:
  • An 11-mile run
  • A 3500-yard swim workout
  • 40 miles on the bike
  • A 3000-yard swim workout
  • A 10-mile run
Not much for Crackhead, perhaps, but definitely a lot for me. And there’s more of the same on tap for tomorrow, so I’m hitting the hay.


Finding Time for a Swim

Probably 90 percent of my swimming over the years has been squeezed into the workday. In Napa back in the day and then here in Portland, I usually hit the pool around 1:30. It's a good time, after the lunchtime crowd clears out and before the after-school or work folks roll in. But there was a drawback: Between getting to the pool and getting back to the office, I had just 45 minutes or so to swim. That meant I rarely swam more than a couple thousand yards, which wasn't a big deal for a half-iron tri, with its swim of around 2100 yards. I would have benefited from bigger volume, no doubt, but I was able to remain a tolerably poor swimmer with my 45-minute sessions two to four times a week. Ironman, with twice the swim, did put the pressure on me to find a way to do longer sessions, but even in the run-up to last year's race I probably did just two or three swims over 2500 yards.

So today when I hit 2000 yards I kept going. And I didn't stop when I hit 2500, either. I swam right on up to 3500 yards, which is almost the kind of distance that serious triathletes regularly swim. I can't say I enjoyed the last 500 to 750 yards; my arms were pretty whipped, especially after a 15x100 set, all in <1:45 with 20 seconds rest, plunked down in the middle of the swim. But what could I do? There was nothing tugging me back to the office. No fear that the boss or a winery owner had called, or that a writer needed a high-resolution jpeg of a bottle shot by the end of the day to make deadline. Whatever might be awaiting upon my return, it wasn't that overwhelming obligation called The Job. So I swam long. And I will again, and again, and again.

Later, I did a ride on the trainer, warming up for 15 minutes, then spending 40 minutes at 160 watts, 40 minutes at 175 and 40 minutes at 190, followed by a 15 minute cool-down. That's two or so of the 10+ hours I'll put in on the bike this week.


Triathlon Crime Mystery

That was awful. Eleven miles and not until the last one did I feel any kind of good. There was no pep in my step, no go to my flow. What the hell? I’m the guy who ran 1:30 and change in the half marathon a week ago and today I barely manage 10-minute miles? Really, I could not have gone any slower. Nor faster.

I don’t mind a bad workout, actually, as long as I can figure out what caused it. Or who. If you’re like me, you’ve got to solve the mystery, got to track down every lead and grill the suspects until one of them cracks and says: “It was me, Speed Workout. Two days ago I fried your legs and you know it always takes you four days to recover. I never meant to hurt you. I only wanted to make you faster. If you’d only take the time to recover properly!” Or maybe it’s our brash old friend Bad Sleep, reveling in his power to take us down: “Hell, yes, I screwed up your workout! You hang out with me for six hours a night, night after night, you’re not exactly going to glide through all these hellacious sessions, pal. Now, c’mon. It’s only 10 p.m. Let’s watch some of those Netflix movies that arrived today.”

Speed Workout, Bad Sleep, Possible Cold, Recent Race ... the list goes on. What’s scary, though, is when there’s not enough evidence to indict anyone. This is when I begin to imagine it’s all random, a crap shoot, mere luck o’ the draw: I begin to think that on average, every 23rd time I go out to swim, bike or run (or do all three), I'm going to suck completely. But because it’s on average I can’t prepare for it and I don’t know if it might strike on race day. (Cue ominous sound effect.)

Could it happen? Could race day arrive and for whatever mysterious reason the body just does not respond? It’s a horrific, distressing thought, one to be banished from the consciousness with all due haste. And banish it we do, holding firm to the idea that we are in control. So we taper, we gobble melatonin and/or Advil PM, we apply Purell before, during and after every visit to the grocery store and we save our A race for our A race. And we hope.


Ten Weeks

Down to 10 weeks until Ironman Coeur D'Alene. Lop off a couple of weeks for tapering, and that leaves eight solid weeks to make a great leap forward. I think I'm ready to do it. The 16 weeks in the books were hardly perfectly executed, but I did do a few things right. Overall, I'm calling myself pleased. Let's not even get into the misses; hits only:

First, I got the Computrainer and that transformed my winter cycling. It's barely mid-April and I am in excellent half-iron distance cycling shape. Yeah, right, it's iron I'm racing on June 21. So I'm halfway there. Work to be done. Bring it on.

Second, I got my run back. My 1:30:19 open half-marathon last week—with no injuries popping up afterward—was so gratifying. Now, as with the bike, it's just about stretching out the endurance.

Third, I'm ahead of last year on my swim, and not just because my swim last year was practically nowhere and I got in the pool a month earlier this time around. I now understand the value of intervals and am full of hope that with smarter training I can knock a few minutes off my IMCDA swim split. That's bonus time for a hack like me, baby.

Another busy day with The Lad and family so I just managed to squeeze in a couple of hours on the trainer. Now comes a big week—probably my biggest week of training ever, if all goes well. Ten, 9, 8, 7....


Digging Deep

There was wheelbarrow filling and moving and there was weeding, too, on the docket this morning. The Lad and I spent three hour in Z1 and Z2 (those shovelfuls were flying pretty quickly for a while) at the Oregon Food Bank, helping out in the garden. It was one of those workouts where, at first, it seemed like it wouldn't amount to much. It got started slightly late and the focus early on was a bit fuzzy. But by the end, you could tell a pretty sizeable transformation had taken place. This time, barren beds were covered with a thick layer of compost, and weedy ones were cleared. Mulch atop newspapers created pathways that would serve gardeners well throughout the growing season. Peas were planted. And the chicken didn't get out. Later, I rode 25 on the bike, a spin that featured a series of freaking hammer-hard one-mile intervals (each one a half-mile at 100 rpm, then a half-mile cranking in my biggest gear) separated by one minute of rest. Good stuff, though mere precursor to next week's Bike Bonanza.


Mission Accomplished

I've been spending a lot of time with The Lad this week, so training has been on the light side. I did get to the pool again today—five days in a row, as promised. This was a weekday morning swim, which I never do, so it was an altogether different scene. I arrived around 8:45 and the last of the serious swimmers were wrapping up and the rotund elderly ladies were gathering for their aqua exercise class (more power to 'em). We still had six lanes, and I was solo, a rarity. Right from the start it was clear that, even with my wimpy mileage, the frequency of my swims was taking a toll. My arms felt a little rubbery. But after a thousand to loosen up I got in a decent 10x100 set, not quite as sharp as yesterday, 1:45s instead of 1:40s, but not bad. Then 500 easy and 5x100 to finish. The last 1000 yards were done in a lane with 14 other people, three zoo animals and a tugboat. OK, three other people. Felt crowded. At 9:30, the aqua class was getting going so four lanes had been eliminated. It was hectic, but so is the mass start at Ironman Coeur d'Alene, so you may slap me around if I complain.

Next Monday, when I get back into the pool, I'll have a report on whether my five-day focus on swimming has led to any great gains or if the whole thing was a giant stinking allergy-inducing waste of time.

Later today: Got on the trainer for a smooth, steady, gentle climb over 20 miles. Did it in an hour. (Actually, 59:27.) Legs felt good. Oh, just so you know: Next week is officially Big Cycling Week. No fewer than 10 hours on the bike, ideally 12 or more. Uh-huh!


More with the H2O

Despite being among the gazillion jobless, I found myself short of time this afternoon, and ended up jamming the swim through a narrow window of opportunity. I wanted to go at least 3000 yards and managed 2700. The particulars of the workout in a second, but what was interesting was that I enjoyed this swim. In the water for the fourth day in a row, swimming didn’t seem like a chore. I started to feel at home in the 800-times-denser-than-air splishy-splashy stuff. Yikes.

So I swam 500 nice and easy. Then did 10x100 in <1:45, with a 20-second rest between each 100. Then 5x50 at 1:00, each 50 <:50. Then a cool-down of a couple hundred. Great stuff. I am now totally grasping the benefit of intervals. I used the think you had to be a good swimmer to do them. Now I understand you need to do them to become a good swimmer. More tomorrow (plus, back on the bike).


It Tolls for Thee

I kept my swimming streak alive, barely. I snuck in an 1800-yard unfocused effort between a deluge of phone calls and retrieval of The Lad from school. I had a mere half-hour to swim. I would have had 10 minutes more if I hadn't mindlessly first driven to school instead of the pool as I had intended. That's what happens—or worse!—when you talk on the phone while driving. I almost never talk on the phone while driving but today, well, everything was screwy.

It started first thing in the morning when I got a call from a colleague at the home office letting me know that another colleague of ours had been let go in a second round of layoffs. Bummer! He's a good guy, hard worker, what is he going to do, what are we going to do? Then I noticed that during that first conversation, my boss, who's on vacation all week, had called. Hmm, that's weird. So I called him back and after about 10 seconds of him not really saying much it was pretty obvious: It was my turn. Never send to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. And all that. And suddenly I have a lot more time for Ironman Coeur d'Alene training. That's one way of looking at it, right?


Water, Water, Water

Ironic, isn't it, that after my post yesterday bashing swimming, I'm off on a swimming bender. Yep, this week for the first time in my life I will swim for five (5) consecutive days. This is something I've been wanting to do (though obviously not badly enough to actually do it) since I read Dan Empfield's article advocating a big swim week. I kind of hate the idea of swimming 13,000-15,000 yards this week (twice my norm and about half what a real triathlete does), but with the promise of a sweet payoff, I'm giving it a go.
It is quite acceptable to not see immediate results during this week. You may not get much faster, or any faster, during the mega-week of swimming. You will almost certainly have days in which you swim slower than before you started the week. But after the week is over, and when your arms have had an opportunity to absorb the work, and to recover from it, you'll certainly see that you've made a demonstrable, significant leap in your swim abilities.
Today was Day 2. I got it rolling with a thousand yards at a steady and fairly slow pace (1:58/100 yards). Then I did my 200-150-100-50 set hard, going on 4 minutes, 3 minutes and 2 minutes. Then I did 5x100 at <1:50 going on 2:10, 2:05, 2:00 and 1:55. Then a couple hundred mellow yards to cool down. Tomorrow I need to stretch things out a little bit on the yardage.

Image: Travelling Still, Infinity Pool, Sardinia, 2007, by Rob Carter


It's the One

There was a Slowtwitch thread that I didn't read titled something along the lines of, "Swim, Bike, Run, what's your fav?" I went past it, because I assumed it wouldn't take long for a cyclist to say something perverse about a swimmer. Or vice-versa. And then the fur would fly. Also, I thought: So what? It's triathlon. It's all three. That's what we do.

But today I'm wondering about that question. Yesterday's run is what got me started. It wasn't that I PR'd. (Hell, my PR list proves the point that no matter how slow you are, if you race you will get PRs.) It was what the run felt like. The way I felt running that race yesterday, I've never felt on a bike or in a pool.

So, playing the game: Let's eliminate swimming first. There's just no contest there. I've had swims that are much better than usual, and that can be a shocking and pretty darn fun experience. But it's kind of like when you go bowling every three or four years and you get a couple of strikes. You're happy. You know you happened upon the magic formula for success for a second there, and you even have an idea—squishy, perhaps—what it might be. But you can't ever quite seize that idea, hold it squarely in front of you and turn it around and upside down and examine it and really know it. Because you don't connect to bowling in a primal way. At your best, your mystified by it. You're just not a bowler. You're a guy bowling.

So it is with swimming. Just not a swimmer. Just a guy swimming.

Cycling, hmm, that's tough. I've had religious experiences on the bicycle, though it must be said that they have come on the mountain bike, not the road bike. When I was young and fearless (we're talking approximately when Michael Dukakis was sweeping his way to the Democratic nomination) I'd go up and down stupid hard shit, and I'd climb and climb and climb for hours, and glide over stuff, hop over it or just plain over do it. Then, I felt like the bike, the dirt and I were in it together, connected, on our own happy mountain-biking plane. Moab. Boggs Mountain. The Headlands. Henry Coe. Sycamore Canyon down in Riverside. In Alaska that one time. But that was mountain biking and that was a long time ago (whatever happened to Mike Dukakis?). Now it's all about the road. I've said it before: riding on the road with good buddies on a great day in a fine rural or semi-rural locale is joy. Helping a friend out one minute, grinding him into the road the next, then jumping on his wheel when the road bends into the wind. Yakking away. (And there is a way in which the mind contrasts bike speed with car speed and you realize quite consciously that you are seeing, smelling, feeling and overall just engaging so much more of your surroundings than you usually do. Very cool.

But it's not running. That's my fav. I guess I should explain why, but it's 11:47 and I need to sleep, and I need to say a word or two about today's workout.

I was pretty sore after yesterday's race. That was a hefty effort on the road, in racing flats, and I felt a little beaten up, although—and this is huge—the Achilles was perfect, not even the hint of a suggestion of a whisper of a problem. Just some DOMS centered in the quads. So I did a couple thousand at the pool, the heart of the swim was a set, done twice, in which I go 200 yards in 3:25, rest until the 4:00; then 150 yards in 2:35, rest until 3:00; 100 in 1:40, rest until 2:00; and 50 in 45. Felt great. Quite enjoyable.


Did I Pull a Fargo?

Really, sandbagging is not my thing. I’m never one to preface my races with dissertations on why I’m unlikely to go fast. Well, never except for this time, in yesterday’s post, for today’s Race for the Roses. But I still believe my analysis was sound. I still say it was reasonable to expect a 1:34 or 1:35 from me. Really! Everything pointed to that kind of run. Sometimes, though, it all comes together perfectly and things go happily awry.

The first suggestion of good tidings came when I stepped onto the front porch at 5 a.m. and felt a mild easterly, giving us a morning low about 20 degrees up from Saturday morning's. Blue skies, fresh breezes and a race-time temp in the low 50s: That can't be beat. And as it was last year, the sprawling Convention Center was the ideal race hive, with coffee and snacks, plenty of real, clean bathrooms and a well-run gear drop.

Plus: The start line is right outside the hall, and I headed out there about a half-hour before the appointed hour of 7 a.m. I jogged for five minutes and did a few strides. My legs felt fresh and strong, ready to go hard—but there was a sense, too, that going hard, they might wilt. Or maybe that was just fear talking.

There's something about the Race for the Roses start line that engenders conversation. It's weirdly uncrowded—my theory is that the Convention Center is so commodious and close, people are comfortable waiting until just before the race starts to get out there. Anyway, standing by myself at one point, a young guy approached me and explained that it was only his second race and, well, he was wondering: "Just how tight should I tie my shoelaces?" For a split-second I thought I was being punked, but the kid was too earnest and anyway, I believe a key aspect of punking is that the victim be worthy of humiliation. I told the kid the laces should be so tight they leave welts in the skin of the top of your feet for days if not weeks. I hope he had a good run.

Finally, around 10-till I wandered up to the area designated for those believing they might run at a seven-minute per mile pace. I was a fraud there, I suppose, since I didn't think I'd manage that for the whole 13.1, but I didn't want to get stuck behind a clump of slower people. Anyway, it was a good move. I soon was surprised to find a young woman holding a sign announcing herself as the "7:00/mi Pace Leader." I asked her whether she would maintain that pace consistently, despite the long, gradual climb beginning at Mile 3 and the subsequent and similarly mild descent beginning just after the Mile 4 marker. She said she'd try and we proceeded to talk right up until it was time to start racing. By then I'd figured, what the hell, I'll try to stay with her and the other 7:00/mi runners for a while.

I didn't.

I got out ahead.

I didn't look at my Garmin for the first mile as we crossed over to the west side of the Willamette on the Broadway Bridge and headed south. I didn't know my pace, but I figured the 7:00/mi pace wizard was doing her job, and thusly assumed I was faster than that. That worried me a little, but I felt great, very comfortable. The running was easy. And so we went up to the hill, where Pacer Girl and her sign slid past me by 10 yards or so. I tried not to work too hard as I stayed within hailing distance. On the descent I caught up with Pacer Phenom, who actually has a name: Kim. Until we hit the Mile 11 marker, I stayed with Kim. And she did not run seven-minute miles. Well, she ran one or two, I guess. But mostly she was under and as she was under, so was I.

Now, I don't know if I would have run as fast as I did if it weren't for Kim. I tend to think not. It's so easy to slip off a hard pace in a long race—not consciously, even; you just lose your edge, give up a few seconds per mile, then another few seconds per mile, and the next thing you know, well, you aren't going so fast. But with Kim rolling along, I rolled along. Generally, it felt easy. The few times I grabbed a gulp of something to drink threw me off a stride or two, but I recovered quickly.

I was pretty tired in the late stages, and Kim and other of her acolytes pulled in front of me, but I stuck near the seven-minute pace right up to the Steel Bridge approach, that mutha ucker, a 75-foot or so climb in the last tenth or two of the race. The way down was nice. A guy kind of mindlessly blocked me off, and I got pissed off and surged past him on the turn into the final 30 yards. So I finished hard, finished good, finished in 1 hour, 30 minutes and 19 seconds. That's a PR, beating last year's official 1:31:47.

Yeah, I thought about how close that is to beating 1:30. I engaged in a short bout of, "I wonder if," and "Maybe if I'd" thinking. But honestly, I ran hard to get that 1:30:19. I ran well. Kim helped. The weather helped. The volunteers helped. It was a gas.

2...… 6:46......13:38
3...… 7:00......20:38
4...… 7:24......28:02
5...… 6:54......34:56
6...… 6:34......41:30
7...… 6:45......48:15
8...… 6:53......55:08
9...… 6:48....1:01:55
10..… 7:01....1:08:56
11..… 6:54....1:15:50
0.1... 0:41....1:30:19


In My Head

There's a lot of weird thinking that goes on before a race, even if you know that you're a middle-aged, middle-of-the-pack sort. For a long time, heading into a race I thought my result would largely be determined by my effort. Wait—that's not quite what I mean. What I mean is, heading into a race, about the only think I'd think about was giving a hard effort. Wait! Again that's not it. Not a hard effort—a courageous effort, a monstrous effort that threw off the shackles of pain and misery—utterly ignored them!—and delivered me the triumph I needed. This mindset revealed my tendency to be irrational in pursuit of validating success, na├»ve regarding the limitations of fitness and just generally not nearly as rigorous as I like to believe I am in looking at the world.

Well I'm over all that. It's been a long process, a gradual one, and now I get it. And what that means is I have no illusions that I'll bust an hour and a half in the half marathon tomorrow. Someday I might. But three months into six months of training for a completely different sort of race, with no taper, and being just two months removed from a long break from running to let my body heal? Uh, no. There will be no stunning breakthrough tomorrow. I cannot make it happen by being a superman. I cannot make everything great by trying impossibly hard (if that makes sense). In Year 8 of Doing This Stuff—not as seriously as many but pretty steadfastly—I'm not letting myself slide into that thinking.

Instead, rational and studied and careful analysis says that I'll run around 1:35 tomorrow, well off my result (and PR) from last year of 1:31:49, and an eternity off the magic 90-minute mark I dream about. I know this because while I am rounding into shape, I just haven't put in the required miles in the last four or five months. Not enough tempo runs, not enough long runs. Hey, I've been swimming and cycling, and raising a son, and holding down a job (and eating too much crap, and drinking too much wine, and sometimes just being a slacker).

This isn't to say I won't run my guts out tomorrow. See, that's the irony of the whole deal. I pretty much always run my guts out. So whatever my finishing time is, you can trust that will be true. And so can I.


Eyeing CDA

This continues to be fun. I was hardly certain it would be. I approached the enterprise with considerable trepidation. Yet here we are, 104 days in, and Ironman Coeur d'Alene is proving to be a journey well worth the effort. With more than two months to go, I'm already getting excited to race that course. One thing that has been vital to maintaining the energy and commitment is the knowledge that it is all right to go easy. I have said this before and I reckon I will say it again; it might be the great insight of triathlon: not every workout need be punishing. Quite the contrary. This is especially true for a big guy like me, as Gordo points out today. His own experience: "At the beginning of my triathlon career, my 'fast' training was holding me back. It was completely counterintuitive to me that I had to slow down to speed up." In a similar vein, Gordo advises that to lose weight, "eat more (good food)." Tricky stuff. Just one more thing to love about triathlon.

Today: 2500 yards in the pool, mainly 3x500 getting a little faster with each one, plus 5x100, etc. Then later, an easy five-mile run. Race for the Roses half mary less than 36 hours away ... giving the legs a break.


Training Partner

I was accompanied on my 35-mile Computrainer ride this evening by Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Service Committee. To a mostly empty chamber, the chairman delivered remarks at length related to Washington's history in dealing with regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. A gentleman from New Jersey and another gentleman from Iowa piped up occasionally. The gentleman from New Jersey looked like he might still know how to ride a bike. The Iowan looked like he hadn't completely lost touch with the form he held back in his high school wrestling days 45 years ago. Barney was funny, eloquent and sharp, but I wouldn't have been surprised if a heart attack felled him in mid-diatribe.

Not a bad ride. The only real problem with riding later in the day vs. in the early morning is that the house has warmed up a bit and even with the furnace off, the temp down to 64 degrees and a fan blowing a gale at me, I sweat like a big fat Congressman holding the floor. It doesn't take long for a puddle to form under me and my bike shorts to become soaked through. This can lead to rash issues. And with that, I believe I will adjourn.


Breaking News: Stumptown Triathlete Runs in Rain

Well if the indestructible and indefatigable Livermore can complain about the weather (on Facebook this afternoon) then surely I can too. Actually, it was a typical mid-January day in Portland—April 1? Huh?—chilly and raining lightly but steadily. When I got out for a run at 6 a.m., it was still down in the 30s. Springtime, my ass. But while I’ll never ride in cold wet weather, running in it doesn’t bother me so much. You don’t get as wet—there’s not all that water spraying up on you—and at seven or eight miles per hour there’s not nearly the wind that beats on you at 20 mph. I went for 10 this morning and what really bothered me about the run was that my legs felt dead. Not exactly shocking considering I had been sleeping 20 minutes before the run began, and that I somehow got out the door without plunging the caffeine IV into my vein yet. I can sort of pull off a decent ride without coffee, but running is another story. It was a slog, but that’s OK, I wanted to run at a slow pace, clicking off nine-minute miles, and that’s what I did. Later, it was swim time. First 1000 yards at a steady pace. Then a couple of hard 500s. That was it. More miles, more yards, another day closer to Ironman Coeur d’Alene. As predictable as a rainy spring day in Portland.