Last year I signed up for the 2000 meter race at the Hagg Lake Open Water Swim. I wimped out and did the 800. This year I signed up for the 4000.
"Going for the long one," the woman at the reg counter said idly. (That's right: said. She didn't ask. These are swim geeks, these open-water swim people; 4000 was the long one today, sure, but there was a guy who did three 2000-meter loops before the races began, then jumped in for the 800, the 2000 and the 4000. He's getting ready to swim the Channel.)
"Yep," I replied. "At least, I hope so."
Well, she said, you can always get out after one loop.
Thus, the seed of doubt was planted. Would I actually swim the 4000—or would I haul out after one time around the 2000 meter circuit?
It was a gorgeous day for a swim. Last year was all shivery—chilly, windy and spitting rain. This year, nothing but blue skies with temps headed into the 80s and barely a peep of a breeze. Water temperature was reported to be 66, perfect for a sleeveless wetsuit. All of Oregon seemed to be at Hagg Lake, 40 minutes east of Portland, to enjoy the day: mountain bikers took to the adjacent trails, roadies and runners looped the lake, fishers cast from shore and boats towed skiers along the smooth lake surface.
Personally, I would rather have been on a bike, but I knew an open water swim, especially a long one, would be great for my Coeur d'Alene prep. Four-thousand meters is a pretty good facsimile of the Ironman distance. It's 2.485 miles, whereas the IM swim is 2.4 miles, a gap of 150 yards.
For the first 1000 to 1500 meters, 90 percent of my thoughts were about whether I'd go one or two loops. Though there was no good reason to cut the swim short, I worked hard to massage the bad reasons into something I could live with. But there was one big problem: The swim just wasn't that hard. It was long. It was boring. But about two-thirds of the way through the first loop I realized that my muscles weren't tired and I remained strong aerobically. Hell, my goggles hadn't even fogged up, and the high-in-the-sky sun wasn't creating a glare that made sighting the buoys impossible. Plus, there were still people behind me—not very many, but maybe 10-15 percent of the field. As long as I wasn't last, even self-consciousness couldn't stop me.
So I kept going and the second loop was as uneventful as the first. It did occur to me somewhere on the second loop that maybe I wasn't going as hard as I ought to be, that my freshness of limb and lung was largely a product of a half-assed effort. Watching the top 2000 meter swimmers finish before our race, I did notice their extraordinary arm turnover. They were swimming hard. Me? I was afraid to swim hard. It wasn't until we rounded the final buoy and had a straight line of maybe 500 meters to the finish that I had the confidence to turn up the intensity. Until then, I still feared the swim, feared falling apart in the middle of the big lake.
The shore was muddy and the footing sketchy getting out of the water, and I forgot to check the clock or stop my own watch. By the time I thought of it—20 or 30 seconds after finishing?—I had the swim at 1:27. That, as it happens, is what I swam at IMCDA last year. Of course, today's swim was 150 yards longer, so I'm calling it the equivalent of a 1:24 at CDA. That's cool, but just as importantly, the swim strongly suggested to me that I can safely go harder. Not crazy harder, but perhaps instead of a 2:10.5/100-meter pace, I can go 2:06? That would trim three more minutes off my swim and put me within shouting distance of 1:20. That's almost not pathetic.
The 19-hour week that was:
Here it is, nearly six hours after I embarked on my three-hour bike ride, and I'm finally ready to move on with my day. That's the reality of triathlon, baby. True, at the end of the week I total up my training time and post the hours and minutes spent running, biking and swimming. It's a useful number in tracking and assessing volume, but it hardly captures the enormous time suck that long-distance triathlon can be. Take today's bike ride.
I'm aiming to get going by 8 a.m., so by 7 I need to have my routine under way, beginning with the coffee consumption and subsequent visit to the bathroom. Then there's: getting the appropriate clothing on, then changing the clothes when you realize it's warmer than you thought; hauling the bike up from the basement and lubing the chain; gathering up the helmet, gloves and shoes; finding the sunglasses that should be with that gear but aren't....
Oh, yeah: water and food, got to pull that together.
It’s 10 after 8. Finally, the ride. I killed that ride! I powered it every pedal stroke, never letting up to be carried by the wind at a comfy 20.5 mph, no, I drove it to 23, 24, 25 mph. And into the wind, I worked hard to stay above 20 mph. I didn't feel like I was overextending myself. I just felt strong. It was great. All the riding work I’m doing this year really is making a difference. So the numbers on the ride are above, but what the numbers don’t say is that I was toasted pretty crisply afterward. I can’t just bounce into shopping or cleaning or doing yard work or whatever normal people do on a sunny Saturday.
I: wash my hands and face quickly, then strap an ice pack on my left ankle, then get a big bowl of leftover whole-wheat pasta and homemade spinach/basil pesto out of the fridge to refuel. I recline on the couch with the left ankle raised while eating the food and drinking water. Twenty minutes later—30 minutes after the ride—it's time to shower and, oh, yeah, shave the damn legs. Sure, I don't have to shave my legs but I tried it out five or six weeks ago and honestly, now, as a cyclist I don't think I'll ever be able to go back. So the whole showering, shaving in the bathtub (the only way for me to shave my legs without losing copious amounts of blood), then basically re-showering process is like another half hour.
Now I'm feeling dehydrated and very tired, so I drink a tall glass of water and plop down on my bed with some tunes still blasting from the iPod player in the bathroom. I'm exactly the right distance away; the music is quite audible but not loud. Even the rockers are soothing. I conk out for at least a half hour. Wake up feeling refreshed, put clothes on. It's nearly two hours after the ride ended. Six hours after the ride process started. Yeah, I'm finally ready to move on with my day—except, damn, I’m hungry. I need another 1,000 or so calories. To the kitchen I go…
While this was going on, I just kept riding, which can be a pretty effective strategy. And not only that, I rode with good intensity. Except for when I stopped at a light or stop sign, or to pee or refill my water bottles (or, OK, to grab a burger and fries at McDonald's), I pedaled. No coasting, drifting, gabbing, hanging out in front of the 7/11. None of that. Pedaling, pedaling, pedaling. I ended up doing the 100.2 miles in 5:25, all told. That's 20 minutes faster than my time on the same route three weeks ago, even though the effort felt about the same (remember, I ride sans Powertap, so perception is reality here). Perhaps a good sign.
That was the morning.
In the afternoon, I headed to the pool. Yeah, I headed to the pool—then turned back because I realized I'd forgotten my goggles. Argh. Finally in the water, I rolled right into 10x200 on the 4:30. In the heart of the workout I was touching the wall around 3:30-3:35. After completing the set I took a breather, then swam an easy 600 because there wasn't any reason not to. (More yards = better? One hopes. )
Hey, tomorrow temps are supposed to climb into the 80s. That's great, actually; I'm hoping to get an early start on a long ride. Then on Friday, we warm up even more, which should make it a perfect day for my first open-water swim, a morning paddle out at Klineline.
Little drama but no shortage of pain. Maybe I was hung over from yesterday's 20-mile run. Plus, I didn't get a great night of sleep. In any case, not until the fourth 100 did I feel as though I had a clue what I was doing. I clocked 1:40-1:42 on the next 10. Then it got really tough, and I became all deeply philosophical and introspective on the second of each two-lap interval. Luckily, in the lane next to me there was a fat girl wearing gigantic fins that allowed her to move nearly as fast as me despite her terrible technique, head all up high and out of the water continuously. God, she irked me. I wanted to tell her she was a crappy swimmer fooling herself into thinking she wasn't by wearing gigantic fins. I wanted to ask her why she didn't just strap on an outboard. What's the point, chick? Lose the gigantic fins. Anyway, I'm passing you. Ha!
I’ve run several marathons and done a couple of 50s. I have some doubts about the long-term safety of endurance training nagging at me. And yet it’s still exciting to head out for a long training run. Today it was 20 miles. I wanted to get one more 20 in before IMCDA and knew I didn’t want to do it inside three weeks before the race, so it had to be this week.
The Lad and I had a fine morning, eating some of the leftover pear-ginger crisp for breakfast, an only-slight variation on the classic pie for breakfast theme. Then later we hiked over to Mount Tabor for a picnic in the sunshine on the summit. By 2, I had made the delivery to the madre and by then I knew what I wanted to do with the last fleeting hours of the holiday weekend: Get that long run done.
Glendoveer, the soft 2-mile track that goes around a golf course on the far east side of Portland, was the spot, and I brought along a couple of icy Perpetuem water bottles, an Amazing Grass bar and a Larabar, determined to do a better job on the nutrition front. My thought was to run each of the first 10 miles over nine minutes and the second 10 each under nine minutes, working on familiarizing my body with the rather foreign concept of a negative split. My first mile was 7:32. OK, first mile excitement. I toned it down severely on the second mile (10:32) to even things out, then fell into a pretty good grove. Actually, I really fell into the groove after hitting four miles, which is when I left my handheld water bottle at the car. I can’t believe I did the entire Mount Hood PCT 50-miler holding that thing. Don't get me wrong, it's a beautifully designed piece of equipment. It's just, I hate holding anything while I’m running. Today, once I put down that bottle I immediately felt faster. The great charm of running is its simplicity. Unemcumbered is the only way to go.
With Mile 10—yeah, a mile early—I cranked the pace up to 8:35, and stayed well under nine minutes for each of the next 10 miles except for one, the 15th mile, when I stopped at the car for a final hit of Perpetuem and the Amazing Grass bar (the Lara bar after 12 miles went down well and gave me a nice lift).
There was a little left Achilles pain from time to time on the second half, but nothing too bad. That’s part of what makes a long run exciting: You know you’re going to have to deal with some stuff. I concentrated on relaxing my legs from my knees down, leaning forward a bit, keeping my hands high and back, all that chi shit. It worked great, and the pain would fade and I’d feel myself rolling along, turning in easy 8:11, 8:25, 8:15 and 8:27 miles to finish the run out in 2:57:32.
It took until about now—three hours and a lot of food and drink after finishing—to feel back to normal. Even though I drank 20 ounces of Perpetuem and had a big sip of water every two miles from a golf-course water fountain, I was sucked pretty dry. My before-weight with my shorts, shirt, socks, shoes and Garmin on was 170.2. After the run—and after drinking a bunch more water, and eating a banana—I was at 165.6. I could have used a good 24 ounces more of water during that run. (You think?)
By the way, that 165-170 pounds is carried on a frame just a hair over 5-feet and 8-inches long. Which is to say, I don't have a classic runner's body. Doing 20 may not be a big deal for a 130-pound dude, but when you're built like I am you do subject the muscles, limbs, joints—the whole system—to a good deal of abuse. So even after going pretty easily, it doesn't surprise me that it took three hours to stabilize.
Last thing: the graph at the top is my percentage of max heart rate over the course of the run. The big dips are when I stopped to pee or grab something to eat or drink from the car. What I noticed, and liked, is that I was generally under 70 percent for the first half, and even on the faster second half still below 80 percent most of the time. For me, that’s a controlled run. That’s what I wanted. I didn’t need to kill myself. Now I’m hopeful I’ll recover well and be able to hit the bike hard on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Big Week continues.
9 hours, 25 minutes
As with pretty much everything in triathlon, the value of brick workouts is debated. My first few years I’d do a brick every week. Last year, leading up to IMCDA, I did several. This year, before today, I’d done one, but it was so long ago and so piddly I hardly count it. It wasn’t so much that I’d come down on one side or the other in The Great Brick Debate. (Those sides are, generally speaking: that by practicing running off the bike you’ll be faster on the run in a race; and that to get faster on the run you need to do high-quality run workouts, which are unlikely if not impossible right off the bike.) Rather, it didn’t seem necessary to work on that aspect of my game because I’ve never had problems gearing up my run off the bike. I might feel awkward and slow at the start of the run, but then I’ll check my watch and see I’ve covered the first mile in 7:40 in an oly, 8:10 in a half or 8:35 in a full. Then after another mile I’ll feel totally comfortable. This I need to practice?
With Coeur d’Alene only about a month away, however, I was getting a little nervous about not doing any running off the bike. Plus, I was itching to run, having run just four times in the previous 11 days. So today I called an audible on my workout plan and changed a planned 80-mile bike ride into a 40-mile ride followed by a one-hour run. On the ride, I did 20 miles at a moderate effort, then threw in a long series of half-mile surges separated by half-miles of moderate spinning. In all, I averaged 18.4 miles per hour for the ride.
The run went just as my brick runs always go: felt awkward at first, but ran well. My first mile was around 8:40. I wasn’t trying to kill the run but I wanted just a little push to the pace. I got faster, but in small increments. In the end, I did 7 miles in 58:33, an 8:21 pace. My heart rate stayed under 80 percent of max for all but the last half-mile of the run, and even at that it only hit 81 percent. Most of the time I was cruising at 75 percent of max.
Was it the perfect workout for the day? I don’t know. But if I didn’t do the run then, right after the bike, I wouldn’t have run today. So I got in a run, and that counts. And I did away with any anxiety about being ready to run off the bike on June 21. That counts for something, too.
That wasn't fair. The Columbia was smooth as glass while I assumed the aero position and piloted the Cervelo east this morning on my 60-miler. Dead-calm air. On the way back, however, the river rippled as the westerly breezes picked up. My speed went from 21-22 mph to 18-19. Beyond cursing the unfairness of not getting the benefit of the wind one way but having to suffer its costs the other, this circumstance prompted me to think back to Ironman Coeur d'Alene last year. A strong wind was in our face for the final 10 miles of each of the two bike loops, the slightly descending and very straight stretch heading south into town. On the second loop especially, I gave not an inch to this wind. It was a fine and noble effort, but was it wise? Say I rode two miles an hour faster than I would have with a more moderate effort—19 mph instead of 17. That gained me three minutes and 42 seconds. A nice little chunk of time, for sure. If only the race ended with the bike.
You see, my marathon pace went from eight minutes per mile over the first third of the course to 10 minutes the second third and nearly 12 minutes by the end. Now, I'm not prepared to attribute all of that slowing to my enthusiastic approach to the final 10 miles of the bike ride—but I suspect the energy expenditure might have cost me 30 seconds per mile on the run. It's pretty easy to do that math from there: :30 per mile for 26 miles = 13 minutes.
So that's what I thought about on the heading-home portion of my ride today: race choices and trade-offs, being smart, being bold, leaving it all on the course, not giving up too much too soon, racing smart. Yep. It's easy to say "race smart," but even in hindsight it's hard to know the right call. So imagine the challenge that decision-making can be in real-time, on race day, at CDA. I guess that's why people turn to heart rate or power to guide them. Me, I have no power meter on my tri bike. And I really don't want to wear that damn strap around my chest all day. All I've got is experience to inform my decisions. It may not sound like much, but it is more than I had last year.
Less than five weeks. It's not exactly a novel sentiment, surprise that time can pass with such speed. Still, I'm aghast that this little project, begun five months ago, is in the home stretch, that so few days remain. Just one or two (maybe three) triple-figure-mile bike rides, a 20-mile run and a 4,000-meter open water swim—plus shorter workouts as buffers between those big ones—to go before I cruise into my modified three-week taper. Like all hobby athletes I'm peppered now and again by my own accusations that I could have done so much more (and eaten so much less that was not of highest nutritional value): more long rides; more swimming coaching; and, well, interestingly, nothing more in the running category. I do and will always do as much there as my body will allow, no less.
It's too early for a full-fledged assessment of where this training has taken me, but I felt a need to write something about the general state of affairs heading into the final month. I think that's because I am growing a little crazy to know whether I've gotten myself into shape to improve on last year's race. I suspect I have. There's a scattering of evidence. I had that half-marathon PR back in early April with no taper. I've been more focused on the cycling and my bike splits are faster. In the pool, well, maybe I've done enough to pick up a minute or two there. But everything is shrouded in the mystery of imperfect memory and imprecise self-understanding. I can't conjure exactly how I felt last year at this time and amid the tiredness and soreness of training, I don't really know how fit I am now. Today's eight-mile run at an 8:30 pace was more difficult than it ought to have been, but it was miles atop miles atop miles, not a race. It doesn't tell me anything. Neither did the 10x200 swim with improved by still-aching ribs this afternoon.
Tomorrow I'll ride 60 or 80, depending on how the day unfolds. More miles. Miles upon miles. I love the training but I'm eager to race because I love the racing more. The racing answers all the questions.
I'll swim a lot (10,000 yards or so), but I won't run much this week. Maybe three times in the 6-10 mile range. My running legs feel a bit tired and with the run base I've developed the last couple of years, I strongly believe this year a key priority is to arrive at Coeur d'Alene with fresh legs.
Bike? Oh, yeah, I'll be on the bike plenty this week, with four rides on the schedule—40, 40, 60 and 80 miles. I knocked off one of those 40s today (see above), doing my flat/straight Marine Drive ride and doing it with some gusto. The ride is a favorite because there's traffic to deal with only on the seven-plus miles to and from the river. The other 25 miles feature smooth, wide shoulders and pretty much no stoppages. On that 25 miles I averaged around 22 miles per hour, a good mile to mile and a half faster than what I was doing last year at this time.
All this, however, is mere precursor to next week. It's the fourth-to-last week before CDA and Niko will be at his mom's, so I've got no excuses for not going balls to the wall. Assuming the weather cooperates, I'll put in my biggest cycling week ever, by far, and do my last very long run of the CDA training. (Third-to-last week begins the taper on the run. Second-to-last week begins the taper on the bike. Last week I add in the swim taper.)
And in case you were wondering: I’m loving this Six Months to Coeur d'Alene.
I’d like to write a post about where I stand, five weeks before Coeur d’Alene, but I’m too toasted for such deep thinking. Sometime this week, perhaps. All I have, instead, is one of those insufferably self-absorbed blogger blow-by-blows of the day....
When I pulled out of Napa in the cool dark of 3:15 this morning I couldn’t help but think back to my childhood. Pretty much every summer we’d drive to Manitoba or British Columbia to visit relatives, and we’d always hit the road before sunup. The stated rationale, I believe, was to beat the Bay Area traffic out of town, but I think it was really about getting in a respectable day of driving, a day a man could be proud of—850 miles from San Jose to Evanston, Wyo., for instance. So we’d load up the Plymouth wagon with two parents, five kids, a metal Coleman cooler filled with sandwiches, and a rare treat, sodas (Cragmont or Shasta, the store brands, of course).
Me, today? I wanted to beat the record-breaking California heat and get back in time to put things on the homefront back in order before The Lad and work and who knows what arrive tomorrow. My plan was to be on the road by 5:30 a.m, but when I woke up at 2:30 and felt chipper, I just went with the flow right outta Dodge. Redding was in my rear-view mirror by 6:30 a.m., and the driving was cool and comfortable all the way. I contemplated stopping for a run in Eugene but I was sore after the hard work of the last several days, so I skipped it. I began the drive with a full tank and only had to fuel up once. I hit one rest stop for a nature break and another between Roseburg and Eugene because I suddenly found my ambition to push on in a serious battle with my body’s desire to sleep. Five minutes of jogging on the rest-area lawn woke me up. I stopped outside Portland for a Subway veggie sandwich because I was desperately hungry. I like the Subway veggie sandwich. I tell them to put every plant thing they have on it. Often they’ll skip an item or two, I don’t know why, but I watch and remind them I said everything. Got to Portland just after 1 p.m., even after stopping for gas around the corner from my house to fill up the rental car. I watered the parched garden, then quickly and easily unloaded the car, earning my payoff for doing a good job packing neatly in the morning.
Later in the afternoon I thought about going for a ride or a run or a swim. But I was so tired. I had the car on a weekly rental and it wasn’t due back until Monday night, but I decided to get the return out of the way today. That’s when I got the idea to walk back from the rental agency, out near the airport, four or five miles away. That would be a nice little antidote to the 610 miles of driving I’d put in.
That’s the walk, up above. Four and half miles, in an hour and five minutes, which is actually darn spry walking. After a shower I threw a tin of Trader Joe’s Spanakopita in the oven, made some hummus, pigged out while watching the Giants beat the Mets (finally) and then got to the blogging. It’s after 9 now, and I’ve been up for more than 18 hours. I think I’ll be getting some sleep soon.
Oh, the week doesn’t sound like much, but there was some intensity in there, and progress.
Bike: 3 rides, 125 miles, lots of hills, 7.5 hours
Run: 4 runs, 34 miles, 4.5 hours
Swim: 2 swims, 5700 yards, 2 hours
Total: 14 hours
Riding with a group isn't something I do much of, and today was a powerful reminder of what a radically different experience it is compared to going solo. I was in Napa and we had Kevin, a very fit guy in general and a damn strong cyclist, in the group, as well as Peter, a born climber, and those two provided a level of intensity at points along the ride that are hard to muster when riding alone.
We rode from Peter's house in the city of Napa up to Yountville, then east across the valley to the Silverado Trail, up through Sage Canyon and the beautiful winding Chiles-Pope Valley Road on the eastern edge of Napa County, then up to Pope Valley proper, then back over the hills (Ink Grade was our climb of choice), down into St. Helena and south along the Trail again to our starting point. Google has the route at 62.6, we had it closer to 65 on our GPSes. Not an overwhelming distance, but right from the get-go Kevin was throwing some intervals at us, then Peter killed on the climb up Ink Grade. By then, two-thirds of the way into the ride, my legs were pretty toasted. But we kept on pushing, Kevin and I, until dehydration got to us in the waning miles. Neither of us had brought enough to deal with what had turned into a 90+ degree day. We were wilting so badly, we stopped a mile before the finish to grab some drinks. I threw down half a big lime Gatorade in about three minutes and felt like if I had waited just a bit longer, I might have keeled over.
It's amazing to think that two weeks ago I rode 100 miles and it was way easier than today's 65 miler. But that's good. I need both kinds of rides in my training for Coeur d'Alene—steady, flat, cool and long aero rides, and hard, hilly, hot ones with some challenging intervals. Vive la difference.
Swimming at Healthquest in Napa for the first time in a couple of years, that was pretty trippy. Not time to go into too many details, however—battery is down to 42 minutes!—but I will say this: That was some horrid-looking swimming. The rib/chest injury did not like swimming. I was kind of a one-armed swimmer today, all awkward and out of balance as I struggled to get any pull on the right side. Slow and ugly, but at least I went pretty far, doing 16x200, and I got it done before work. That is, if you want to call hanging out at a winery while one of Napa's top winemakers and one of Australia's best vintners taste and talk about the 2007 vintage work. Forecast for 90 today in Napa, 98 tomorrow when the boys and I have a little bike riding planned. Yikes.
On my run today I wondered if perhaps I had been drugged the night before by evil-doers, then shoved in a clothes dryer set on Tumble Until Morning. All the soreness from Tuesday's run/climb in the Siskiyous and the fall that came along with that little outing reached a peak. Plus, I was pretty well wiped out from two straight nights of only five hours' sleep and then there was that 6000 feet of climbing on Wednesday that did a job on my quads. Everything hurt. But I ran anyway today, on the greenway (pictured above) that runs near and under the BART tracks through Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito and beyond. Went about seven miles, a little over an hour. It was horrible, but here's the amazing and beautiful thing: 11 hours later I feel much, much better. My legs are recovering and my battered chest and ribs don't hurt nearly as much when I breathe deeply or sneeze.
Tomorrow I swim. Gotta go—left the computer power cord at Dan & Kate's—doh!—and the batteries are running low!
The brilliant TV food guy Alton Brown has a bias against kitchen implements he calls unitaskers (need I explain the term?). If Alton were a cyclist he'd hate my Cervelo. This bike is great for riding really fast on straight or mildly curved smooth roads that don't have much in the way of decline. Which makes it not such a great bike for Berkeley, where none of the good riding is on such roads. Nevertheless, my friend Dan and I, on said Cervelo, got out for a little jaunt over the Berkeley Hills (about 600 feet above where we started) and down to the intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road and San Pablo Dam road, then back again (with another 600 feet of climbing). That's about 18 miles. I was OK on the climbing, though not quite as spry as on the ol' Lemond, but hopeless on the descents. True, I've always been a wimpy downhiller, but the Cervelo, combined with rough roads and tricky lighting through ever-changing splotches of shade and sun, had me taking things very conservatively. Nevertheless, it was great to ride with Dan. Too bad he's not unemployed like me, we could have gone longer. After he went to work, I got back out for more. I climbed up to the top of the hills again and then headed over to South Park Drive, which climbs from 930 feet elevation to 1660 feet in 1.4 miles. I did it once in about 12:36, then again in 12:45, a third time in 12:58 (sensing a trend?) and a final time in 13:07. I tried to stay seated for most of the climbing but plenty of standing was necessary. This was painful for all the reasons tackling an 11 percent grade is painful, with the at-no-extra-cost hurt of my aching chest/ribs from yesterday's tumble on the trail thrown into the package. Actually, for a few spells there the injury pain distracted me from the riding pain, so who's to say it wasn't a godsend? In all for the day: about 40 miles with 6,000 feet of climbing. Bonus points for doing it on the Cervelo.
When the school makes a rare call to home during the day, they always start by saying, "Niko's fine," so your parental imagination doesn't go racing toward crazy dire thoughts. Along those lines, I'll say right at the top here, "I'm fine." Yes, I had a fall on the trail today, running at Castle Crags, where I'd pulled off I-5 for a break on my long drive from Portland to Berkeley.
Like everyone always says, it unfolded in slow motion. Or maybe that's just how we view these things in hindsight, how we process the drama and the trauma. I had let my mind wander and it's natural and not incorrect to blame the fall on that, except I always let my mind wander while I run—that's why I run. Next thing you know, I'm horizontal to the ground, just about to hit. That's the moment that's etched into the memory. It's then that I realized there was no saving this one. I was going down. Hard. It feels like I pondered this thought, gave it full and rational consideration, but again, maybe that's just how it seems in the looking back. I also remember thinking: I hope nobody sees this pratfall.
Right after hitting came the attempt to assess the damage—not to understand all that had been scraped, jammed, shredded or sprained; no at this point it was simply a question of, "Have I seriously fucked myself up this time?" (Mabye.) "Am I going to be able to make it out of here?" (Yeah, think so.) "Not on a helicopter?" (On my own two feet.)
Once that adrenaline-fed routine was completed, the injuries felt free to announce their presence. Left knee shouted "Yo!" It was bleeding a little but I was more worried about possible structural damage that might interrupt my training. (Nope; the ache wore off within minutes.) Then the tip of my right pinky sang out and invited inspection. That nail might not survive but it's a pinky, so what. Then came the chest, so patient and yet so painful! There was blood showing through my white shirt on my right side. I seemed to have landed with the initial and greatest force just to the right of my nipple. There's bruising and scrapes and when I take a deep breath and fill up my lungs it hurts.
Ah, hell, I'll be all right. I fell on a trail. I ran four more miles afterward. I'll be fine. As Dan and Kate both said when I arrived at their house later, "Good thing you didn't hit your head." Yep.
I was running around like crazy today, squeezing workouts into the gaps that were always narrower than they had appeared to be the night before when the plan was laid out. The bike ride happened in two parts, an hour on the trainer at oh-dark, before The Lad woke up and I got him breakfast and to school, and an hour on the trainer after I got back from dropping him off. The swim came after that (and a couple more hours spent trying to rustle up some work). It was a good swim: 500 yard warmup; 5x100 <1:45 with :30 rest; 500 yards hard; 5x100 <1:45 with :25 rest; 500 hard. That’s 2500 total. Then it was off in a rush to a Claimant Orientation Seminar at the the employment office. Then a little last minute shopping. Now I’m packing crazily for my drive down to NorCal tomorrow. I’m planning a little run excursion along the way, in Siskiyou County. The story, tomorrow.
So I went 18 hours, then 7.5, then 18.5, then 10.5 in the week that finished today. (Last workout was at the pool, 20x100, with The Lad providing timing services. Nice not to have to think about hitting the lap button. Everything under 1:45, a few under 1:40. Good stuff.) Alternating heavy and light weeks might not be the recommended strategy, but it's my reality, and I'm very good with it.
This week will be interesting. I'm heading down to Northern California for some work and visiting for a couple of days. I haven't been down in more than six months, a preposterously long time. I'm looking forward to getting in a couple of good rides with some old friends (old but fast!). Swimming could be very light. Yep, it's going to be a bike week, with a couple of long runs also in there. Just what I need.
In other news: Signed up for the 4000 meter race at the Hagg Lake Open Water Swim on May 31. I am so excited to have this on the schedule. Great prep and status check for the CDA swim.
Before the Lad rose, I did 90 minutes on the trainer in the basement. Hadn't been down there in the early morning in several weeks. Maybe months? I know, I wasn't going to get lung cancer in that short time, but riding in the radon zone just seemed unsavory. They finished the mitigation project earlier this week—the crawl space is covered in plastic and fans pull what comes out of the ground out of the house. I finally set up a trainer down there today. It was great to do an early morning trainer ride with daylight streaming in the windows. That reminded me of what makes January the cruelest month for the triathlete doing an early season IM—rising when it's darkness, riding surrounded by darkness, darkness and cold all around.
After the ride and breakfast we went on a 4.6-mile roundtrip walk with a nice long stop at the farmers' market. We picked up the main ingredients for dinner: grassfed sirloin; spinach; and some purple potatoes. After lunch and some reading time, we were off to the bike path along the Columbia River. We busted The Lad's wheels out of their winter hibernation and I ran directly in front of him as he graciously insisted I set the pace. We went four miles one way, then back. It was good and easy in the sunshine. There were quite a few sailboats on the river, and people playing along the shore, and not hordes but a considerable scattering of walkers, bladders, bikers, scooterers and runners to be found. (This isn't Santa Monica, or even our own Eastbank Esplanade, on the Willamette downtown, where I'm sure it was hopping today.)
As I say, the run was very comfortable, between eight and nine minutes per mile pace—until the last mile, when we cranked it up. The Lad likes to finish strong, and he pulled out in front. I chased. I couldn't catch him, but gave it a hell of an effort, doing the last mile around 5:45. It wasn't easy but you now what? It wasn't that hard. I could have gone faster. That was cool. I've never had that kind of fitness, to be able to run a full mile well under six minutes after going seven miles. I wish I had a 10K coming up—maybe that goal of breaking 40 minutes isn't so crazy anymore?
Dinner was great. We made a potato salad, substituting low-fat yogurt for the mayo. We sauted the spinach as we always do in olive oil with garlic and drizzled it with lemon juice, that's all, nothing more to it; and we grilled the steak. People, if you eat beef, you've got to go grassfed. It's better for the bovine (OK, they're doomed anyway, but it's still better along the way), better for the planet, better for your own health (omega-3s) and has wonderful, complex beefy flavor that makes the industrially produced grain-fed stuff seem weird and synthetic.
Set aside the fact that we're now six weeks (and a few days) to Coeur d'Alene. The essential truth is I'm just a guy who has stayed commited to a fitness routine for a long time, and today serves as a good example of how it is I've done so.
Friday is a short day at school, so I had just a two and a half-hour window to get in a workout. I ran and swam yesterday and knew the weather would be good today, so the plan was to squeeze in a two-hour bike ride. When I arrived home from dropping off The Lad, however, I made the mistake of checking email. Sure I'm unemployed, but I've got this consulting thing cooking and before you know it that quick email check had eaten up an hour. This was profoundly depressing. "Now I barely have time to ride an hour!" I thought. This was the key moment. The two-hour ride was gone; a one-hour ride? Major disappointment. Major, major disappointment. In my experience, this is when many people say, "Aw, screw it," and they bag the ride and end up with a no-workout day. Maybe they'll get back at it the next day, but maybe they won't. And if they don't, then it will be two days in a row missed. You see where this is going?
I rode my hour. I pounded that sucker. Twenty point seven-four miles in an hour. It might or might not have advanced my fitness, but for sure it kept my no-workout days streak right where I like it to be: at zero.
A purpose for every workout—that's something that took awhile to digest, but I get it now. I especially get how important it is with running. I used to go hard to very hard nearly every time out. This kind of training will improve your fitness, but it increases the risk of injury. Plus, it won't improve your fitness as much or as quickly as a thoughtful mix of track repeats, tempo runs and long runs—and doing a lot of miles that don't hurt. That's what today's run was, a run that didn't hurt. Ten miles in around 90 minutes, that's my the one that puts miles in the bank and allows me to come back the next day with no soreness and ready to take on the most sinister of intervals on the bike, in the pool or even on the road. Typical Portland May day: cloudy and rainy as I get some work done in the home office. Suddenly, there's sun shining in the window. I get ready to go and like a curtain being drawn, it grows dark. Rain comes. What the hell, I'm out the door in it. Ten minutes later, the sun is out, and it stays out for the rest of the run. I'm a little overdressed for sunshine, but at least the alleged raingear I'm wearing is a vest, not long-sleeved. It's fine. It's beautiful.
Later, I hit the pool. My 10x100 set is a little different than usual. I give myself more rest, going on the 2:30, but also try to go faster. I start at 1:45 and work my way down to 1:35. Then I do 10x50 on the 1:15, bringing each one in around :45-:47. My heart is really pounding late in that set. I swim a couple of easy 250s, concentrating on my form, to round out the 2000-yard workout.
I'm too distracted to write about triathlon tonight. I just had an encounter with the neighbor behind our house. I'd never met the guy before—he's the owner of the house but it's a rental, on Glisan, the busy street parallel to and south of ours. For the second night in a row he was running his leaf blower at 9:30 p.m. The Lad's room is upstairs and to the rear of the house and he's a good sleeper, but this was keeping him up. Understandably. There's something especially obnoxious about the sound a leaf blower makes. I asked the guy nicely—I swear—if he could please do his yard work at a more reasonable hour. He asked my name and where I lived. I told him. Why not? I was being neighborly. He says, with a bit of a smirk, "Well, Pete, technically I can run this thing until 11 p.m." I reply, "Technically, too, I bet you could shove that thing up your ass." With that, he turned on the leaf blower. What an idiot. (In fact, the city noise ordinance prohibits use of leaf blowers after 7 p.m. But seriously, why is it even a question? I mean, leaf blowing at 9:30 in a residential area?)
Well, OK, a little triathlon (it's 10 p.m.; he's stopped, it appears)… It was rainy today: trainer. I'd taken the Cervelo off the Computrainer and wasn't going to put it back on. It's just too much of a hassle taking it off and on, with all the cables and shit. Plus, I'm counting on lots of good weather the rest of May. (What an idiot.) Anyway, I could have put the old Lemond on the Computrainer, but I like to have that bike at the ready to just hop on and off at any time. So I retired the Computrainer for the season and hauled out my old CycleOps trainer and set the Lemond up on that (takes about 15 seconds). I rode for an hour and 45 minutes, mixing in some hammering with some mellow spinning while watching Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. What an idiot. (Wolf, I mean.)
The house had warmed up and even with a fan blowing I sweat buckets.
I don't know if it will work for you. Actually, I don't know for sure what it's done for me. But I think running on uneven surfaces has served me well. This was another aspect of my wacky podiatrist's prescription for solving my Achilles problem: there was the thing about wearing shoes with little in the way of raised heel or toe lift, very little padding and plenty of room for your toes to wiggle, and he suggested I run as much as I can on soft but not necessarily smooth surfaces to strengthen my feet and all the muscles, tendons and ligaments that connect to them. So I've been doing that and my Achilles feels great, as does everything else. And even when I go over to the hard stuff, which I do run on occasionally because, after all, that's what I'll encounter in races, I feel plenty strong and comfortable. OK. I don't have scientific evidence. I understand the danger of drawing casual cause-effect linkage. Yet I think this program has worked. I will certainly say this: six months ago I would not have been able to pull off a workout like the one I did today. I warmed up for a couple of miles with some slow jogging and a little striding. Then I alternated hard one kilometers at under 5K pace with jogged one kilometers. Five hards, five easies. The last couple of hard ones hurt but that's always the case with repeats. What was unusual here was that these weren't done on a smooth track with gentle curves and long straights; no, these were done on the grounds at Normandale, a well used public park with grass that is hardly golf-course quality and these wet days is rather slippery and sloshy to boot, and dirt that in addition to the usual rocks and tree roots now features more than a little mud. Plus, there are six tight, right-angle turns to negotiate on around the course. This is active, alive, engaged running. Running around a track, you lock in and go almost as though you're working a machine, like you're pedaling a bike: there's a steady rhythm, a constancy to it. You don't even have to think about your steps. Normandale is all about constancy, too—constantly adjusting. You've got to be mindful of so many of your steps and your brain has to make a million more little calculations about how to work the muscles to keep you upright and moving along safely, and your muscles have to do that extra work. It's challenging, but great fun. I was doing these kilometers in 4 minutes but I'd guess the effort was equal to a 3:45s on the track, maybe even faster.
An hour or so after I finished running it was time to get to the pool. I was exhausted. I plopped down on the couch and in five minutes was dozing. Rest. It was what my body wanted, what it needed. But this swim workout had an expiration date—in about 90 minutes, I'd need to be at school to fetch The Lad. So I dragged my drooping ass to the pool. Along the way, I kept wondering if this was the right decision. Maybe rest would be better for me? Maybe I’m pushing too hard? I did offer my body a compromise: I'll make you swim, but I won't make you swim hard. We'll enjoy the water, how about that? Stupid body fell for the gambit and after 10 minutes of sleep-swimming, I actually began to feel pretty good in the water. I kept my promise and didn't swim hard, but I got in 2000 yards, yards that felt like they actually did something good for me, if only by continuing my swimming momentum. And now, several hours later, I feel fine, like it was a good day, a day of continued progress.
Today was strange. At times my mind drifted back to yesterday's fairly inconsequential but joyous—yep, that's the right word, joyous—trio of workouts and for a moment triathlon was the bestest thing in the whole wide world. Mostly, however, I muddled through the first half of the day toting a vague sense of letdown, which wasn't unloaded until I got The Lad at school. A natural thing, I suppose. The days can't all by transcendent, during these six months to Coeur d'Alene; otherwise they wouldn't be transcendent. Outside: cool and drippy, then downright soaking. I bet if the sun were out I would have hopped on my bike, rode 30 or 40, and been sky high again. Boy have I been surprised how much fun it's been to get out on the Cervelo and ride. You know, I really didn't ride that bike very much last year. I didn't get it until May. Sure I rode it several times before CDA, but not much afterward, when running pretty much gobbled up my athletic life. It takes a while to get to know a bike and though I didn't realize it until now, the Cervelo and I seemed to develop a bit of a connection over the winter, attached to each other and tethered to the Computrainer. So now, when we get out and ride I feel comfortable, confident and actually kind of fast. I wish I could ride every day.
But, as I say, not today. Today, just a swim, a 2500-yard swim highlighted by a 10x50 set on 1:05, working my way down to a :43 50, my best ever, I think. Still slow, but not as!
After coffee and the newspaper and NPR, the days starts with an hour of loping around the damp freshly mowed Normandale grass, going for seven easy miles while the clouds and sun duke it out overhead. Then straight to the pool for 10x100 on 2:05, working my way gradually down from 1:50 to 1:40 through the set, followed by a lazy 1000 in 20 minutes just to relax and swim. Arrive home. Noon. Air is cool but not at all cold, sun is out, some puffy unthreatening clouds are scattered around. That forecasted rain? Not here, not yet. In May, in Portland, this is an opportunity only a fool or a fraud passes up. Within 10 minutes I’m on the bike for 33 miles in 1:45, averaging solidly over 20 mph when I’m not stopped at lights or otherwise dealing with traffic. I push it a little on this ride, but gently. You know what I mean? Not hammering, but definitely not slacking. I’m wearing a short-sleeve technical shirt with my electric lime vest over it. I didn’t bring anything to eat but I’m feeding off the fresh spring air, the brilliance of this slice of the day. It occurs to me that one of the side benefits of doing periodic really long workouts is this: Everything else becomes short and sweet.
A few hours later now and the clouds have thickened, it's dark and gloomy, rain is spitting. I’m gonna grab a beer and watch a movie.
The week that was (and what a week it was)....
Monday: 1 hour swim (3000 yds); 1 hour run (8 miles)
Tuesday: 3 hour bike (53 miles)
Wednesday: 3 hour trail run (20 miles)
Thursday: 1:25 swim (4000 yds)
Friday: 5:45 bike (100 miles)
Sunday: 1 hour run (7 miles); 0:40 swim (2000 yards); 1:45 bike (33 miles)
Run: 5 hours, 35 miles
Bike: 10.5 hours, 186 miles
Swim: 3 hours, 9000 yards
Total: 18.5 hours
Unless the plan blows up, I won’t do any walking in Coeur d’Alene on June 21. Not even from the lake exit to the wetsuit strippers, or from the changing tent to the bike. I’ll jog those intervals, like I’m Macca at Kona or Potts at Wildflower, like it matters, those 6.7 seconds I might gain. No walking. And yet walking is a key part of my training for Ironman. I’m not prepared to argue strenuously that it does a lot for me physically, although I will note that I’ve read more than once that recovery runs are too often done too fast. “Go as slow as you can stand,” I’ve heard people say. Well, for me, that’s walking. Sometimes I’ll walk as much as 10 miles in a spell; usually, it’s three to five miles. Sometimes I walk to get something done, a rare trip to the bank or, more frequently, to get groceries (I almost never drive for groceries). I walk the third of a mile (one way) to Fred Meyer when I need a quick item or something from the hardware department; the half-mile to QFC when I want fish; or the mile and a half to Trader Joe’s to load up on organic baby spinach, apples, lowfat plain yogurt, almond milk, nuts, oatmeal and other staples. Often, though, I’ll walk only because I want to be outside and I want to move, and I want to do so without stressing my body. It’s how I take a day off. Hell, I don’t think I’d take a day off if I couldn’t at least walk. So it was today, after three hours of running on Wednesday, an hour and 20 minutes of swimming on Thursday and nearly six hours of cycling yesterday. Today, I walked.
Call this ride the Aero Special. I did a course that was, yes, repetitive, but had the significant virtue of offering literally hours of riding uninterrupted by impediments to getting in a Levi-like tuck (oh, sure) and becoming a stupid pedaling machine. Impediments like hills, as this course profile reveals:
But it was more than the lack of hills that made this course perfect for trainer-like riding continuity: Once I got out to Marine Drive—where the yellow line above meets the Columbia River west of the Airport—I could ride unmolested for 12.5 miles to where Marine ends at I-84 in Troutdale. Zero traffic signals or stop signs. So I did that back and forth three times, basically, and that with the miles it took to get to the river added up to 100.44 on my Garmin. (An extra 44, as in Willie Mac, it occurred to me.)
What made the ride interesting was that there was a killer Gorge wind blowing today. Afterward I checked the data for PDX, which I rode by six times. While I was out there, sustained winds ranged from 20 to 25 mph with gusts up to 35 mph. So when I was going east, I was struggling to maintain 15 or 16 mph. Then on the way back, I’d zoom well up into the 20s, occasionally topping 30. The whole texture of the ride was defined by the wind. Heading east, the only sounds were the wind. Even when a giant plane would take off and pass seemingly just a few hundred yards above me, the sound of the wind won out. It was a roar, and I need to emphasize that while heading east, it never let up, that roar.
One thing the wind sure did was motivate me to stay as aero as possible. I was amused to see a couple of guys with aero bars riding into the wind totally upright. If you’re not going to go aero when you’re taking on a 25 mph wind, I say yank those suckers off your bike and use ‘em to stake your baby tomato vines. Me, I was aero for at least 98 of the 100 miles, pulling up only when I was heading to and from the river and dealing with traffic. Also, I did not stop pedaling. I never coasted. My average speed was 17.4 mph, but that includes the aforementioned riding through traffic as well as three stops, one of about 10 minutes for food, another of about five minutes to refill my water bottle and one of about five minutes to pee and stretch a bit. So my riding pace was probably around 19 mph, which I’m abundantly pleased about given what a challenge it can be to maintain intensity on a long solo ride.
Lastly, the nutrition report: I set out with one full water bottle, a PowerBar and two Hammer gels. I consumed all that by Mile 65, where, at Blue Lake Park, I refilled the water bottle, drank half of it, then refilled it again. At Mile 75 I hit the McDonald’s for a dollar McDouble. I finished off the water bottle by the time I got home. Immediately used the last of the Hammer Revitalize (or whatever they call it) powders I got in a race goodie back somewhere along the way.
By the way, did I forgot to say explicitly that I was bagging My Wildflower? My Wildflower was a private half-iron race—1.2 miles at the Dish, a 56-mile bike ride around town and 13.1-mile run on Mount Tabor—I got a notion to do after recoiling at the expense, in time and cash, of heading down to California for Wildflower. My Wildflower was set for today, but to make a long story short I figured going hard at shorter distances wasn't going to do anything but wear me out. So instead I decided to do three consecutive days each featuring a single very long effort. So Wednesday I ran 20 on the trails; yesterday I swam 2.25 in the pool; and today was century time.
Of these three, the 100-mile ride was the workout most likely to be trimmed (with extensive and well-crafted rationalizations, of course). So while I’m pleased that I rode it aero and rode it at a good pace, I’m mostly pleased that I rode it all.