Finish Line 70.3

Finish Line 70.3
Finish Line 70.3

70.3 Finisher!

70.3 Finisher!
70.3 Finisher

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

From sea to shining sea

It's getting later in the year and it's time for me to buck it up and do one more open water swim before the water turns to, well, semi chilled (this IS Texas). Sometime in October I've got to wrestle into the wetsuit and go paddle around the lake to prove to myself that fresh lake water is NOT scary.

What is it about open water swims that freaks us all out (okay, most of us)? I mean, I grew up swimming in either the Gulf of Mexico or the bays behind my house in Baytown. The community pool was fun, sure, but you couldn't sail or water ski or have dock diving competitions (for people, not dogs, although my friend Keith's black lab was constantly jumping off with us). I spent literally thousands of hours in the open water, and never had one minute of worry or problem. I experienced a jellyfish sting or two (uncomfortable but not a major deal), and hundreds of encounters with slimey undergrowth, fish, shells, rocks, sticks and nasty dirty dark water.

So why is it when I suit up for an open water swim that my heart races, my mouth goes dry, and I pray to the Water Gods that I just make it through so I can screw up the race on my bike? Even the little short pool swims that I do for some sprint tris get me more nervous than any other element in the race.

And I do know how to swim. I swim pretty well--okay, I swim pretty SLOW, but I am not going to drown, not even if three thousand Macedonians in full battle gear jump on top of me. I'm more likely to lay down the bike or to trip during the run than I am to go to Davy Jone's locker (or even his attic) during a swim.

Of course, most of it's mental. We know, in the deepest recesses of our minds, that we can swim 400-1500-2100-3000 yards out in the bounding blue. We know we won't drown, or get eaten by a shark, or attacked by piranha. We know we won't choke on water and sink (just trying sinking in a wetsuit, it's next to impossible), and if we get a bad cramp or become exhausted, a resuce kayak is right there for us, and we can float nicely on our backs while waiting for one. WE KNOW.

Still, we manage to go into panic mode on the open water swim. I'm sure seasoned and hardened triathletes with hundreds of races under their fuel belts get the same flutterbies as we novices do, peering out at that impossibly far first buoy on the horizon. They just are too smart to say so.

So, I have come up with some things that have helped me quiet the open water dragons in my head.

1. Practice swimming in open water. D-oh. Of course, the more you do it, the less weird it's going to feel. It's not convenient, because you have to have a buddy along, and you need to wear your wetsuit (if you are going to race in one) and putting THAT on takes a herculean effort, and you have to get in the car and drive to a lake or ocean that has a reasonable place for people to get in and out of, and you are subject to the weather and wind and speedboats full of people drinking. I know all about those things. Do it anyway.

2. Realize your wetsuit is going to feel tight and learn to live with it. Of course, tight doesn't mean literally choking you to death, but it's going to feel quite snug under your arms, on your chest, and around your neck. You will initially think you can't breathe or move in the thing. You will be wrong, so you need to get used to it. The suit will loosen up slightly once you get in the water. If it's too loose, though, it will cause drag and keep you from being warm, which is the opposite purpose of a wetsuit. Don't put on your wetsuit for the first time the morning of your race!

3. Learn to sight and practice it often. Start in the pool. The best way IMO is to "Tarzan swim" for a few strokes--poke your head 2/3 of the way out of the water (I keep my mouth underneath it, because if I lift up further than that I start to flail, but my eyes and nose are dry) and keep on stroking, turning and breathing but use the time when your eyes are face forward to see where you are. I do a four to six stroke Tarzan after about every 10-12 strokes. The more you practice this, the more natural it will feel. I found out that switching to a breast stroke or a dog paddle in order to sight is a huge energy and time waster.

4. Break the swim into segments. Swim from buoy to buoy. I look at a swim map and mark out the approximate distances to each buoy. Surely you can swim 400 yards to the first buoy. After that, let each segment take care of itself. This isn't as easy with an out and back as it is with a three legged course, but it will still work.

5. Do NOT look behind you, or at the shore for any reason until you are headed back to it. No reason to freak your little mind out about how far away you are from terra firma. Focus on the next buoy and nothing else.

6. Start slow and behind, but not TOO far behind. It's good advice to let the fast pack start ahead of you, but don't dawdle on the shore forever because then you will never, ever catch up and you will feel very alone out there. There is comfort in numbers, even though they may be trying to kick you in the head. Start to one side and count to three when the gun goes off and then start swimming. You will let the wild fast people get out there past you, but still feel like you are not the last of the Mohicans.

7. Learn to protect your space. Even if you start out at the end, chances are you may end up with a group washing machine anyway, especially if you are not in the last wave to start. I learned quickly to be prepared to kick and flail my arms in a crowd and I swear, people stay away when you do that. Maybe you create enough bubbles for them to steer away from. You gotta get a bit territorial in your head to make this work. Don't let anyone bully you by running into you. I landed a good kick to the upper arm of a young man who didn't think he needed to watch where he was going. He immediately gave me a wide berth. Meow!

8. HAVE FUN. Channel that inner child during the swim. Sing, hum, blow bubbles, enjoy the feeling of moving easily through soft water. The rest of the race is going to be a lot of pounding. Here you can enjoy a bit of relaxation!

Get out there before the weather changes--and be a fish!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Well, the earth still turns on its axis (despite the Cowboys' loss to the Redskins) so that means the days are getting shorter, even here in steamy Texas where the temps are still in the mid 90's and the ACs are still in full blast (September is such a teaser month for us).

This also means daylight savings time, a boon for us worker bee worker outters, is getting ready to come to an end. And thus will end weekday training outside in the light, except for some early morning quickies (short runs mostly).

Of course, most swimming is done inside, so that's not going to be affected other than I don't like looking up at the skylights in the gym pool and seeing black...but that's my own SAD issue.

Spin class, treadmills, indoor tracks, indoor bikes, computrainers---gag. But at least I promise myself I won't be wheezing in the 104 heat index.

Since I simply hate working out inside, sometimes I choose to run in the dark. It's not the safest thing you can choose to do (it falls somewhere between eating raw eggs and accidentally using the "reply to all" button on a sensitive e mail). If you have a choice, run in the light. But if you don't, and you follow some careful tips and plans, you may find running in the dark to be an amazing, uplifting experience.

First of all, if you have sidewalks and they are in reasonable shape, use them. You must check out these sidewalks in advance to ensure there are no potholes, cracks, or step ups or downs that you aren't ready for. Even with a full checkout, people sometimes park strange things on sidewalks--toys, cars, hoses, Grandma--so you have to be diligent on your run and be ready for a quick stop or sideways leap out of the way. But at least most moving vehicles won't be sharing them with you (there are exceptions. I realize that. I myself in my younger and wilder days have been known to put a couple of wheels on the sidewalk).

And if you have streetlights nearby, of course, run there. Nothing like a lighted path to help you with unseen obstacles and safety. If you have a lighted track at a local high school or college, even better, although IMO track workouts are no more fun than a treadmill.

I live where there are no sidewalks or streetlights (yes, I have a flush toilet, thanksverymuch). No schools nearby allow strangers on their tracks. The local nature preserve is too dark and scary for me to run there alone (I would do it with someone else though). So I hit the local streets in the dark, and I go out there well prepared to be seen, and to see.

First, I have a reflective vest. They are PIAs to wear, as they do flop a bit, but they really do make you A1 visible to any light that shines on you. Second, I wear a flashing light on a hat--this is an easy thing, as I just fasten my bike light on my hat and turn it on. Third, I carry a small flashlight. Fourth, I wear white shorts and a white hat. I look like one of the Village People at a garage sale.

Then I go on the defensive. Every car IMO is filled with a 21 year old who is texting while drinking Diet Coke and trying to change the radio station. I never, ever presume they see me even though I am flashing and reflecting like a Vegas sign. I run facing the traffic (left side of the road) and when a car is coming, I immediately track into the ditch area (carefully) and keep a sharp eye out to make sure they don't do the same. I'm fortunate to live in a less populated neighborhood so the cars are few and far between.

I also worry, as a female, a bit about safety, even in my 'hood. Therefore my night runs are usually done before 9 p.m. (don't ask me why I think that is safer, other than my mother always told me nothing good happens after 10 p.m.). If I feel uncomfortable, I can carry pepper spray. And I always, always carry my cell phone in a lightweight fuel belt on night runs (or any run over 4 miles). I realize throwing my cell phone at a would be rapist is not the best idea I've ever had, but I also know that I can probably outsprint half the male population, and if I get a head start I can outlast about 60 percent of them at a distance race. You had better be ready to catch me first, that is all I'm sayin'.

The flashlight I carry is primarily to light my way and shine on things I don't want to trip over, like branches, bottles, car parts and snakes.

With rare expection, my night runs are always special. Some have been magical--with a full moon rising over the trees or blazing pinprick stars lighting my path. You can't see your heart rate monitor or your GPS so you have to simply run. Sometimes, that is the best kind of training you can do.

Be careful out there.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How Bad Do You Want It?

This coulda been subtitled "And sometimes you have to vomit." But that is not a great headline for a Tuesday.

When I was a wee sprout back in a small town Texas high school (1971-1975), girls who wanted to do anything athletic had two choices: you could play on the tennis team or you could join the swim team. Otherwise, Friday night lights ruled the universe, with boys' basketball, track and baseball filling the gaps in between.

In order to be on the tennis team, you had to know how to play tennis well. I didn't.

In order to be on the swim team, you had to agree to wear an embarrasingly thin red and white striped thing and not drown too noisily during practice. You really didn't even have to know how to swim well, at least to be on the JV team. Swim team practice consisted of a bunch of drills written on a blackboard that we all were supposed to complete, but there was no one available who taught us the rudiments of how to swim, stroke, breathe, kick--you either already knew it or you faked it, and our coach spent her entire time with the 4-5 ringers on the varsity. I'm not sure I ever even saw her except at meets.

Still, I joined for two years and faked it, never managing to get past the JV freestyle relay team, as my swimming skills were mostly self and friend taught. After two years I quit, tired of seeing my hair turn green for no real reason. Since I was in the marching band, I was exempt from PE anyway.

Fortunately for me, I was an active teenager, doing a lot of water skiing, walking, biking, swimming (for fun), and sailing. I watched very little TV and of course, the first video game (Pong) was about 2 years away. Otherwise I would have been the size of a small mountain because I was a rabid junk foodie with a serious love crush on Ding Dongs, snowballs and Nehi Grape Soda.

So, what I am getting at here (finally) is that I never had the opportunity to learn how to train or compete at any level when I was young--no youth soccer or softball leagues, no volleyball summer teams, and no one had ever heard of lacrosse. Boys had summer leagues and teams, but us girls were supposed to either try out for cheerleader (I was not cute enough) or lie in the sun by the pool. I had no one to tell me to rub it out, buck it up, push harder, or do just one more.

My first foray into personal competition (I had competed at dog shows and field trials since 1985, but that is not personal, although a lot of people unfortunately feel otherwise) was in 2006, when I trained for and ran my very first 5K event. Up until then, any working out was sporadic, accidental and without form or function. I wasn't overweight at the time--in fact I was borderline thin, which ain't the case any more--but my law firm had a discount at a local gym and on a whim I joined. Once I paid money, I got a bit determined. I started going 2-4 days a week and even took a six week coaching clinic on how to use the weights. Then I found the upstair indoor track and tried a little running (on shoes that were 3 years old and were probably Target specials). One quarter mile and I was completely and fully exhausted, but I decided it was fun, kinda.

The rest, as they say, is all boring history. However, remember, I had no experience in training for ANYTHING.

What I had, and apparently still have, is a lot of dumb determination. And when the question How Bad Do You Want It arises, well, my answer is generally, pretty bad.

Dumb determination is what keeps people like me up at 2 a.m. swearing at the stubborn screw on the back door that won't turn like it's supposed to, rather than giving up, going to bed, and calling a contractor the next day. It's what makes me finish a stupid idiotic trip to the grocery store at 9 p.m. when I could just as easily go the next day, because I said I would get it done that night, dadgummit. I didn't say dumb determination was always a good trait.

Last night, I started on swim drills after a week off. One of the drills was 6 X 50s at about 90 percent effort (I have a hard time figuring the difference between 90 and 100 percent, but I guessed that 100 percent would have my eyes falling out). After number 5 (I get 30 seconds of rest in between) I collapsed against the side of the pool, seriously wondering if I was going to toss cookies into the pristine water.

Now, no one was standing over me with a whip or a watch. In fact, no one was there at all other than an older dude wearing a face mask and snorkel in the next lane. I could have turned those 6 50s into 5 and there would not have been a sword that came down and sliced off my toes.

But, dadgummit, I was determined to do this. I want to get faster and better. I want to do this 70.3 in May without quitting. So I heaved off the wall and did number six (no, I didn't vomit. In fact, I haven't vomited yet in training or racing, although I have come close a few times).

When you train alone, as I do, you have to have some of that dumb determination to get through the hard parts. Otherwise, it's way too easy to listen to that voice that says STOP NOW THIS ISN'T FUN ANYMORE. It's way too simple to run 50 minutes instead of 60, or bike 20 miles instead of 28. After all, who's to know? Who's to care?

The answer is: you do. If you want it bad enough, you won't short yourself (there are exceptions, what I call the Bad Days, when you are permitted to call it quits, but those should be very few and far between, maybe two or three a year). You'll gut it out. You'll make it happen, even if it makes you feel like yurking on your shoes. And after it's over, you will feel a lot of pride in your accomplishments.

So for those of us that missed the youthful athletic boat and the joy of hearing an overweight coach yell at us to run one more lap, it's not too late to get on board. How bad do you want it?

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Downtime for any amateur athlete is critical. Essential. Required. And oh, so very difficult.

This is not the same as "rest days"--those one to two days a week you take off and do NO working out so your body can rest, recover, and benefit from the previous poundings. No, this is DOWNTIME--a week or more of doing nothing workout-y at all.

Downtime happens for various reasons. If you get injured, obviously, you will need time to recover from the injury, and the time taken depends on the seriousness and nature of the injury. Many of us choose to blindly "fight through" minor injuries as if they will simply heal themselves if we pound them hard enough. It's a foolish theory, but I've subscribed to it myself at times. If you are sick (with the flu or a bad virus), you should take time off until you feel human again, especially if you have a bronchial issue or fever. Sometimes family or work or travel forces you to take downtime, whether you want it or not. (This can often lead to contorted facial expressions and bad attitudes, by the way, so you can explain to your family why you have to get up and go for a run before you can enter the hallowed gates of Disneyworld).

I chose to take this entire week off as downtime after my Labor Day sprint tri. No working out. No running, no biking, no swimming, no weights, no yoga (I would permit myself to walk the dogs around the block, if it hadn't been raining 10 inches in the last 3 days). The reason for the voluntary downtime is trifold: (a) I want all my aches and pains that I have ignored (see the "blindly fight through" idea above), such as my hamstring, to completely heal and be ready for the next big push (b) I have a lot going on this week anyway, and I need some extra time, and besides, it's raining and muggy as all get out, and (c) most importantly--I want to mentally decompress and get fresh for my next training onslaught--which will entail getting ready for a half marathon in December AND a 70.3 in May--that is going to involve serious and dedicated training. I want to be ready for it every single way.

Working out definitely keeps me sane, but sometimes even I get tired of the whole process--my personal Haiku poem goes like this:

"Friday is a swim
Saturday is a long run
Sunday is a brick."

After a while, after week after week of swim-bike-run-weights-yoga, even my mind starts to get annoyed with the routine and I just want to go home after work and watch Ice Truckers. So by taking a full week off of doing anything of this nature, I want to start up again next week ready and eager to hit the pavement or pool without any whining. One week off is not going to make any real difference in my conditioning or training levels (I've read that after 2 weeks off, you will see deterioration, but I suspect that time frame is going to vary by individual).

And it's not been easy! I had no issues on Tuesday, but yesterday, my mind started to say "how about a nice easy run? 3 miles, no more?" This morning I actually looked hard at my running shorts and shoes before shaking my head NO and going on with my routine. I promised myself a full week, and a full week it will be. When your mind and body are conditioned to push their limits 5-6 days a week, taking a full week off really does make you antsy. I suspect by Sunday I will be in that unique state of mind where your spouse simply demands you go run or else.

So I'm taking a Time Out from working out.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First Race Done!

Well, we finished the first tri of the season yesterday--a sprint-and the weather wasn't too brutal, between 87-92 degrees but there was a 20 mph stiff headwind blowing that really knocked some speed off the bike ride. I managed to shave 10 minutes off my 2009 time in this same race so I was very pleased. I really didn't have the swim I wanted or expected, but I did very well on the 15 mile bike and smoked the run (for me, anyway).

Finished in 1:45 and was 4th in my age group (7 minutes out of the podium--watch out for me next year) and 265 out of 500 overall, which isn't too shabby for unathletic me. The Patient Spouse managed to finish a minute faster than last year at 1:43 and the winds knocked his bike time down seriously. It also is making him think about a new bike. He is salivating over mine, which is fortunately too short for him.

We started the day at 6:15 a.m. (this was a late start sprint as they have a kid's tri at 7 a.m.--the adult sprint doesn't start until 8:45 a.m.) I woke up without the alarm after a partially restless night's sleep (always visualizing all the things I think I forgot or will forget). We dressed, fed the dogs, and I ate my pre race breakfast of a full bagel with peanut butter and some water and about a quarter cup of Diet Dr Pepper (certain tests show caffiene improves performance. I don't want to drink so much that I dehydrate myself, but just enough for a boost). We grabbed our backpacks and hydration and got in the car and drove the five minutes to the race site and arrived at 7:30 a.m.

After pumping the tires and checking the gear, we greeted some friends who had elected to do this tri as their first one after hearing about it from us. Jim's friend Doug thanked him profusely for introducing him to the sport, his whole family got invovled and Doug lost 40 pounds training! Jim said that if nothing else good happened in our race, he was happy that he put Doug in touch with the sport and that it led to such good things. Turns out that Doug beat both of us with a time of 1:38 in the Clydesdale division! His son Scott finished with 1:47 and his wife, a first timer as well, who has arthritis and can't run, finished in 2:10 with a 15 minute per mile fast walk pace on the run portion--that speed is a VERY fast walk! We are very proud of all of them and they deserve recognition for their first time doing so very well.

Nothing went wrong or badly in this race other than my swim time of 9 minutes which for 300 meters was not what I had been posting lately in practice (I'm swimming about a 2:40 100 yard at a fairly relaxed pace; around a 2:30 at a moderate pace). I have tried to figure out why I had such a slow swim time, because I thought I was swimming well, but there are maybe three factors that led to that: (a) the start--I didn't want to jump in as I was afraid of dislodging my goggles (last year's mistake) so when the timer said "GO" I sat on the pool edged and eased in, and then pushed off--probably lost 10-20 seconds here (b) the finish--I actually overshot the exit ladder by mistake (I was pushing fairly hard on the last 50 meters) and had to swim back to it--there's another 10-20 seconds (c) my southern girl politness at each wall. At all but one wall there were swimmers coming toward me, and rather than just ignorning them and pushing off and letting them pass me--there was plenty of room and I am good about staying to the right, except when I am passing someone myself-- I did the polite thing and waited for each of them to go around me before I went on. All together that probably cost me about 30 seconds. I was expecting around a 7:30 swim time so I am guessing these little things cost me that extra 1.5 minute, since my stroke seemed strong and I wasn't fooling around while swimming.

The swim was easy and as I said, I was pleased that I had a strong stroke and pushed moderately through the entire swim, remembering I still had a long day in front of me. After overshooting the ladder and finally making my way up, I checked my watch and frowned at the time, but there was no point in worrying about it. I ran the long way out of the pool building and up the hill to transition, yanking off my swim cap and goggles and headed for my bike, visualizing my transition and the start of the bike.

My T1 time was 2:54, not as fast as I want, but it is a long way from the pool to the bike and it's uphill, so it wasn't all that slow. On with the bike shoes, on with the sweat band, helmet and sunglasses, grab the bike and go, clomping along to the mount line which seemed an awfully long way away from my rack spot (so long that I asked one volunteer "is this the run portion?"). Onto the bike, which I had fortuantely remembered to put in a low gear, and out the driveway to the road and the upcoming Killer Hills, which now had a 20 mph headwind built into them. I chanted out loud "BRING IT ON" and tried to ignore that other little voice that said "Killer Hills and 20 mph headwind--you are gonna die out there."

I also passed the first runners out on the course. Fast people. Not even in my type of zip code.

The first 2 miles of the bike is mostly downhill and downwind so I grabbed a sip from the Gatorade, geared up and pedaled hard, sustaining around 18-19 mph and around the turn into the wind and facing the first Killer Hill (the one I call the Long Hill). I had practiced this in my mind several times so as I came within 100 yards of the first incline, I changed to my little ring and stood up and pumped the pedals for about the first 20 yards of the hill, and was then forced to sit down and spin it out, gearing down rapidly but passing 2-3 people on my way up. I got down to about 8.3 mph near the top but managed to push through and thought, okay, only 3 more Killer Hills to do (although the rest of the course has some Injurious Hills, none are as serious as the 2 Killer Hills). Catch my breath a bit, go back down on the bars and try to speed down the one big hill where without a headwind I can often get up to 34 mph (with this wind, I managed 22 mph), hanging on for dear life as the wind buffeted my tiny carbon perch and praying I didn't end up upside down. Then here was Killer Hill 2 (the one I dub the Steep Hill), I could see a passle of riders creeping up it in front of me, did my 20 yard up and pump and sat down and geared down until the bike cried mercy and managed to heave my way to the top aroun 7.9 mph. Halfway done with Killer Hills!

The next leg was to be a recovery leg, it's a very flat area where I normally can pick up a lot of speed but with the huge headwind it was a tough leg. I managed to drink some more and gear back into my big chain, soon I turned off the wind and picked up more speed, up and down a few minor hills (one was a major-minor hill), passed some people and others passed me, turned back toward the event center and started the second 7.5 mile loop. Back to the Killer Hills I zoomed, this time they went a wee bit slower and a lot bit harder (especially the last one) but then they were done and I knew I was going to make good time as I was looking to be under an hour for the 15 mile bike. I got down on my areobars and pedaled hard, passing as much as I could and keeping aggressive without killing myself, and suddenly I was done and had averaged 15.5 mph even with that headwind, which was awesome for me, as last year was 14.7 and we didn't have this kind of wind.

Into T2 I clomped, put the bike up on the brake levers, off with the shoes, on with the shoes, on with the Garmin, turn and oops! off with the helmet!--grab the race belt and jog towards the exit, had to turn the belt around to fasten it properly but never stopped moving; T1 was 2 minutes flat, pretty good, and now it's just 3.1 miles before the finish line.

It was getting warmish, around 90 degrees, but the stiff wind helped keep me cool and I settled into an easy pace, forcing myself at times to go slower for that first mile, trying to keep around 11:15 min pace. Passed several people and encouraged them. Also got passed by several (no one encouraged me!). Suddenly I was at a mile and I grabbed a cup of Hammer and walked for one minute while I drank it; my first mile had been 10:50 pace and that was a bit fast, so I started up again trying to concentrate on going easy for the next mile, which was a bit uphill. Started to get a little hot but not too bad, and then I saw Patient Spouse coming toward me about 1-2 minutes ahead of me and we waved at each other and I kept on running. Now it was downhill, although into the wind, and I was picking up the pace to about a 9:45 mile until 2.1 miles at the water stop where I grabbed a water and walked one more minute. Then back to running, still mostly downhill, to the turnaround which seemed forever, seeing Patient Spouse again and slapping hands, then the turnaround, wind at my back now but uphill for most of the way, stopped to grab a final water at 2.6 miles and walked another minute to drink, then ran it out picking up pace as best I could on the uphill, NOW I'm getting pretty hot, but there was the 3 mile sign and the last tenth of the race was sweet downhill so I could sprint it out across the line with a big grin and into the arms of (sweaty) Patient Spouse. My watch showed 1:45 which was a great time for me.

We grabbed post race snacks and drinks and waited for results, but they never got completely posted, so we left and went home and spent the rest of the day doing chores around the house like a normal weekend. Turns out I was fourth in my age group and Patient Spouse was fifth. I was 7 minutes behind third place, and I know I can shave those minutes off by next year, by being more aggressive on the swim, pushing a bit harder on the bike, and running a faster negative split. So watch out next year--I am looking at a podium placement at the top of the age group (54) before I move up.

It was a great race, good weather, and much better organized than last year's race, so although it's a hot weekend, we'll do it again next year.

Next event is Oct 31--the Monster Sprint Triathlon in Keller. In the meantime, I'm taking a couple days off to rest and then back to training!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Only the Lonely

IMO there are two kinds of workout/training people: those that like to train with others, and those that like to go it alone.

I'm in the latter category and I think that makes me weird.

Most people I talk to or read about like to train with others, or a group. They like the company, the go-team mentality, the push that comes only from knowing someone else is waiting for you to get your lazy rear out of bed for a run. I get all that, and appreciate it. And I can't say I didn't have a kick time riding with my friend Elizabeth at the Collin Classic and belting out 60's songs together.

But primarily, I'm a solo artist when it comes to training. I like the peace and serenity that comes from an early morning run alone through the still streets--like last week when the moon was setting on my right and the sun was rising on my left (one of those "this is why I run" days). I like listening to my tunes (my iPod has fried and died on me, leaving me in agony until I buy another one--I'm so dependant on it that Patient Spouse calls it my iPendage), I like setting my own pace, I like not worrying about whether I am too fast or too slow or too chatty. I like not worrying about crashing into the back of someone's bike or having someone pass me just when I'm thinking about moving over.

Part of the reason I think I like the solo routine is that my career--jaded lawyer--keeps me in constant communication with the world from early in the morning until late (with the advent of today's technology, you and your blackberry never part ways until you go to sleep), and my workout time is my time to regain sanity and harmony, both with myself and the outside world. I'm tired of talking, listening, thinking, strategizing, etc., and I just wanna go for a bike ride and listen to the wind blow for a little while. Perhaps if I were in a job that was less people intensive, I would feel the opposite way and enjoy the group settings.

I pass giant packs of bikers and runners all the time (or more likely, they pass me). I got a case of the giggles last night when a large bike group came toward me and each one hollered back to the others about the small puddle of water on the path ("water....water...water...." echoed down the line, like a bunch of lost hikers in a desert). Of course it's smart and very polite to do this but it just struck me as funny listening to them repeat themselves. I also had the puddle to deal with, but I saw it in plenty of time. Although I am not the only solo rider out there, I am in the minority (there are more solo runners than riders, and of course swimming doesn't lead itself to pack behavior too well unless you are planning to use a kickboard the whole time).

I enjoy biking with my spouse, but he is faster than I am, and I know he gets impatient riding behind me. Where we ride, we can't ride abreast, so we can't even talk except at stoplights, so it's not like it's a shared experience most of the time. I send him ahead of me a lot, and we catch up at certain points, at which time he has rested a bit and I'm panting and out of breath, so our conversation tends to go something like "go (gasp) on" or "that (wheeze) hill killed me" before we are off again. Still, I like having him with me, but it's still sort of a solo ride.

I've not found anyone who runs my pace to run with, and even if I did, my pace changes so much on any given day or workout that I'm not sure how well it would go. I'm not a good enough runner to hit a standard pace and keep it there for several miles. Maybe some day.

And as I mentioned, I enjoy being with myself while working it. It's my own decompression time. I love to join others for dinner or parties or drinks or lunch but my workout time is MY time. I am pretty self motivated, which I think helps, and I'm also good at talking to myself a lot ("you are not gonna crash this turn; take it aggressively" or -- one of my favorites -- "my GRANDMOTHER could run this final 2 miles").

I enjoy the company of others during a race and love the rush I get from being told "good job" and from telling the same to others. Still, in a race, it's me against myself (as a back of the packer, that is how it's gotta be for me). My husband had someone tell him the other day: "you don't have to be better than anyone except you."

Three days to race day! Last night I did a short (1 hour) brick with a 45 min ride on the new wheels--I averaged 15.4 mph and didn't even think I was going fast; I LOVE these new wheels--plus a 15 min run at 10:43 pace (probably too fast). Today a north wind blew in and the temp was 69 degrees this morning and simply awesome! So I'm headed out for an easy 1.5 hour bike tonight and then tomorrow is an easy swim. Sunday I will probably bike 3 miles and run 5 mins easy just to keep my legs awake, and Monday is show time. It's gonna be warm--about 95 for the high--but not horrible (which would be 100 degrees) and a bit breezy, but those are perfect conditions and I'm going to have a lot of fun on this race.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dreading the Tread

I don't know about anyone else, but I have a hate affair with the treadmill.

There's nothing about running on a treadmill that I can even think about liking. It's so booorrring, it's monotonous (okay, maybe that is the same as boring, but to me it's not), there's a stupid bar that slams you in the middle if you decide spontaneously to speed up, there's blinking numbers that show you how slow you really are as a runner, you can't just blithely speed up or slow down without punching buttons with your sweaty hands, and if you lose concentration you are apt to moonwalk right off the back of the thing.

Plus, no matter what I try, I ALWAYS run slower on a tread than anywhere else--I realize that makes me the minority, but something about it causes me to gasp for breath when I try to hit my normal outside pace. Don't know if it's the mental aspect of having a bar and machinery in my way or what. But it's constant. I can run a 3 mile 10 minute mile outside and put me on the tread and it's an 11:20 mile for 3 miles IF I'm feeling perky.

Yes, I know there are no hills, wind, cars, rain, bugs or smog with a tread. Give me those anyday versus pounding rubber in a sterile gym.

However. There are times when all of us must run indoors. Heat, lightning, darkness, extreme cold, hail, Hurricane Earl. I get it.

There is an indoor track at my local community gym that I much prefer over the tread if I have to run indoors, but sometimes that too can get rather obnoxious--15 laps to the mile and it's crowded with walkers, strollers, and young children who dash in your way from the side--I had a bad fall there once when a cute little toddler decided to leave the weight areas where his mom was and run pell mell into the track the wrong way--and I wasn't totally paying attention--and you get the picture. To avoid squashing the child into melted butter I did the watusi upside down and landed hard on both knees, causing copious amounts of skin to be left behind to mark my territory (NB: did the mom apologize? Well, no. And it certainly wasn't a 3 year old's fault. Another subject for another day).

So sometimes I choose the tread at the Big People gym, although I know I will hate it.

On Sunday I had a 70 minute run and it was 99 degrees outside with a heat index of 105. Last night I had a 45 minute run and it was 99 degrees outside again, same heat index (Texas can get its own kind of monotonous in August). I chose the tread. Both days, my iPod managed to lose its charge (I forget to turn that stupid lock button on, and something usually bangs against it and plays it for hours to no one). It looked pretty grim.

Still, I managed to get through both runs without clawing out my eyes. Here's some of my tricks on how to survive a treadmill run:

1. Pick one in front of the TV with closed captioning. I never listen to the TV, but sometimes I will watch it. Last night I watched all of Obama's speech regarding troop withdrawal while pounding away on the tread. There's some philosophy in that, but I just can't decide what kind.

2. Pick one where you can see the front door, or the pool, or the basketball court. This gives you an opportunity to watch people do things, sometimes very funny things. Weight rooms are not necessarily as funny as the pool or the basketball court.

3. Carve up your run into segments and reward after each one. I carved my 70 minute run into 5 segments--4 of 15 minutes each and one last one of 10. As I completed each one, I allowed myself a swig of water (I'm learning to drink while running finally, with only the occasional choke and gag), a wipe down with the towel, and an above arm reach and stretch (still while running). It's so much easier to count down 14 minutes than 69!

4. Run intervals--yesterday was an interval run and I was so busy waiting for each 2 2 minute easy segment to pass before I hit the "up" button that I lost track of how hard I was breathing and how boring it was (and I REALLY was eager to hit the "down" button after the one minute interval). You will be so concerned with watching when the times change for each interval that you will forget to count how many minutes are left on the run.

5. Play the counting game. Remember when you were a kid and were so bored on a car drive you'd play "spot the Bug (VW)" or "license plate of states" or even "count the green cars?" OK, when you are really beyond redemption pick a category and start looking for the people who fit it--people with tattoos, people with stupid sayings on their shirts, people with hats (why work out with a hat?), you get the picture here. Give yourself X points for each one that meets your criteria and if you hit a certain number of points, you get a prize (a massage, an extra slice of whole wheat bread, not doing the laundry--you pick).

So, basically, survive the indoor workouts as best you can. Cooler weather here soon which will mean fantastic outdoor running!