Thursday, March 16, 2006

To The Edge

What an interesting experience last night. I was reviewing my training schedule, and I had - as I usually do - built in a week extra for injury or sickness. At this point in the training for the race on the 15th - which marks the end of my base training - injury or sickness isn't going to matter; that extra week I built in won't be worth much, because I won't be healed anyway.

I have in my training a handful of scheduled Breakthrough workouts. These are workouts/weekends that are designed to push me farther than my training has up to that point - if I've been running 2 miles, then 3, then 4, my Breakthrough might suddenly shoot up to 7 before returning to 5 the next week. It's purposes are several; it's meant to be a kind of catalyst for fitness, taking me from point A to point C more quickly, so that when I return to B, it's an easier road. It's also meant to build some mental toughness - Ironman is going to hurt. There are going to be some low, low points in the race where I feel horrible, where I'm mentally exhausted, and where all I'll want to do is lie by the side of the road and throw up and sleep. Breakthrough workouts like this push the limits of some of that discomfort, helping to build toughness and confidence. This is an area I need work on - not the discomfort part, particularly, but the mental part - when I get tired, I tend to mentally drift, and the second I do I start to slow down and demonstrate poor form, and when I snap out of it I have to spend that much more energy correcting myself. This has been a problem for me on the bike last season, too, so it will be a point of concern all season. Lastly, I don't know if this is true of everybody - maybe some of the other runners out there can chime in, but if I know I'm running 10 miles that day, my whole system is conditioned for it, so that by mile 9.7, if you said "oh wait, go another 2 miles", I think you'd notice a steep decline in my performance those last 2 miles. Mentally I have expectations, and I impose those on my body, and there is usually a calculable sum to that equation for me. This is another area of work for me - flexibility, to handle whatever situations happen to me at IM with grace and efficiency, and not suffer any mental breakdowns that translate to or influence physical ones along the way.

So yesterday, I was scheduled for a 15k run - about 9.3 miles, just shy of the 10 I did last week, before I bump back up to 11 next week. This was a perfect time, then, to input a breakthrough workout, bumping to next week the 9.3 mile run and this week, which is naturally a recovery week in my training schedule, to recover from this BT workout. Since I'll soon stop running according to mileage and run according to length of time, I decided on a 2 hour run. When I'm in full on IM training, the most I'll ever run is 2.5 to 3 hours, so this length serves as a good benchmark, as well as a good bump to the end of my base training (by the way, I did a lot of research before making this decision, I didn't just make it up out of thin air or something). My goal for the run was simple; don't slow down. Find a pace that's manageable and stay there. If anything, speed up a bit. But if I slow down, then my pace was too hot to begin with, and I haven't been paying attention the last 12 weeks.

My longest run to this point, the 10 mile, took me about 1:27:00. So this would be more than 30 minutes longer than that, which should translate to something over 3 miles if I'm doing things right. Remembering how quickly I faded on mile 10 last time (this goes back to the mental expectations governing physical performance), I knew this would be a significant workout for me. I was also interested in further testing my new nutritional strategies for this, now a significant length of time.

I decided to keep "laps" at 30 minute intervals - so instead of keeping track of my pace mile to mile, I'd keep big chunks of information every 30 minutes. That would give me a more general, and so useful portrayal of my performance.

The last several workouts I've been really attentive to my form, and working on making some dramatic changes feel more natural. The most significant of these is landing with my footfall on the ball of my foot, rather than with a hard heel strike. I can get into all the boring science why if you want another time, but it's a more efficient and faster way to run. It utilizes the highly elastic calf muscles in ways totally unfamiliar to my body, so my calves have been really, really sore the last week or so - not injured, but sore like how a muscle is sore after lifting weights for the first time. A lot of lactic acid build up, and a general soreness and sensitivity to using new muscles, or using muscles in unfamiliar ways. Until the calf muscles get stronger, I'm just going to have to deal with that, and I can't just stop running because it's a little uncomfortable.

So I start my run, and I struggle to find my pace. I kept wanting to go faster - 8:30 or so, and I knew I couldn't sustain that and not slow down later. So I'd intentionally slow down, and inevitably slow too much, until I'd be around 9:30 or something. Finally I settled in around 9:00 or 9:15, sometimes spiking faster, sometimes a bit slower. I figured something around a 9:00 pace would be sustainable for me for the duration. My nutrition strategy was simple - I loaded up with a Clif bar and PB&J (God's nectar) about an hour before the run, sipped on Gatorade on the way to my run, and once on the run took a shot of water every 10 minutes for the first hour. After that I'd take a shot of my InfinIT mix every 10 minutes. I had a gel with me for emergencies. So I trotted happily along, looking forward to my 10 minute intervals.

By about mile 1.5, not 15 minutes into my 2 hour run, my calves started screaming at me. Every footfall was sinister. I found myself becoming occupied with them. Are they in danger? Should I stop? Will I pull or tear a muscle? Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. This was my first of several Come To Jesus meetings, as my sister would say, that I had with myself. I had to tell myself to relax. That those muscles are highly elastic, that they are by nature freakishly strong, and that they aren't going to tear. They're just sore, but it's not a stop the car sore. I had to tell myself to get over it, stop obsessing about it, and run. I had to be especially mindful that I wasn't altering my form to compensate for the pain, putting myself at risk for some kind of secondary injury.

So through my first lap, I was at exactly a 9:00/mile pace. From the knee up, my legs felt great. I felt strong and well fueled, and my heart rate was really low. All ingredients for success. I can't help but wonder, were it not for my really painful calves, how things would have been going. I'm sure they slowed me down some, at least mentally.

About a mile into my second lap (second half hour), I decided to stop by a tree and stretch my calves. Each felt like they had a charley horse in them, and there was nothing I could do to massage or stretch them away. I decided to let my watch run during this 45 seconds or minute - I stop the watch at traffic lights, but this kind of thing is part of the deal. Not counting it isn't fair. I continued, and finally found a rhythm about 5 miles in or so. I found that shortening my stride and increasing my cadence - my leg turnover - put less stress on my calves in my footfall. Every once in awhile I digressed to my "old" form, to see if there was any relief, and to compare the old and new ways - flat foot directly underneath me instead of on the ball of my foot, and immediately I was sensitive to how lurching it felt, how hard on my knees it felt, and how quickly I slowed down, even with the same cadence I had before. So I'd jump back to correct form and cope.

My second lap clocked me at around a 9:15/mile pace, which isn't entirely accurate because of the time I spent stretching, but it counts. Now my effort was more intentional. It was a little more work to have to keep my 9:00 pace. Not a lot - my heart rate didn't climb past 160 at all, but I was no longer in danger of the spikes to 8:30/min or so. My calves were electric. I found myself not picking my foot up enough - kind of running INTO my footfall, instead of running on top of my footfall. This is poor form and horribly inefficient - in essence it's go - stop - go - stop with every stride. My mind was starting to wander. I'd check my pace, see it was strong, and start to daydream. When I'd snap out of it I'd be a full 20 or 30 seconds slower than I was a moment ago. I started having to focus on focusing. Intentionally attending to my form; short strides, quick footfall, leaning slightly forward at the feet, not at the waist. Head up high. Arms pumping, knee driving forward. Then I'd get sloppy again and my head would fall, I'd no longer be leaning forward, my arms would just kind of move with my body, instead of my own volition. Snap out of it, back to form. This was my constant battle through my second lap. The mental energy spent on my calves was fatiguing me, and it was still early in the run, and it was pissing me off.

Into my third lap, and I'm now more than an hour into the run, and past the halfway pint. If my calves were going to blow, they would have by now, so I stopped obsessing about what might be. At about mile 9.5, my system called for a meeting and my body made the motion that it's getting dark, and are those snowflakes?, and one thing nobody's mentioned today is that it's ASS cold outside right now, and 1.5 hours is nothing to sneeze at and that will get us to 10 miles, and let's just call it a day. We'll still have done more than the schedule said today, and nobody can say we didn't have a hard, strong run. My calves, in shrieking unison, seconded the motion. A vote was called, and then my mind made an impassioned speech about how this is Ironman, dammit, and nobody said it was going to be easy, and it's not SUPPOSED to be easy, and you jerks better buck up and deal because We. Are. Not. Stopping. In fact, we're going faster. So shut the hell up. So while my mind gave the order to the engine room to finish strong, my calves whispered bad things to each other about how my mind thinks it knows everything and who put it in charge anyway and one heard it has ADD and the other said it wouldn't be surprised at all and I took another swig from my flask and headed into my last half hour.

I passed my 10 without knowing it, and with no fanfare. Back to the mental game - if my goal isn't 10 miles, then 10 miles isn't too important. My first mile into my final 30 minutes went really well. I comfortably clocked along at around an 8:40 pace or so. My leg turnover was high, and my calves could go to hell. Now things seems attainable; I passed the hour and 40 minute mark and thought - 20 more minutes is nothing. No problem. Then I checked my watch and somehow had slowed dramatically, more than a minute or more. I had reached that place, familiar from the marathon, where my body's response mechanisms were no longer accurate; I felt fast when I wasn't. I found myself landing gingerly on my calves, somehow trying to get around having to use my feet while running. Alas, I didn't find a way. I found a landmark up the road, focused on it in the dim street lights - it has been dark more than a half hour now - and kept it in sight while I corrected my form. My goal from here on out would be perfect form, and I'd use these landmarks as my goal posts. I wouldn't check my pace or time until I hit the landmark, and would spend the space in between focused on form.

Finally I finished. In fact, I went about 30 seconds long, because that's where the next landmark took me. I ran about 13.5 miles. My finishing pace was exactly 9:00/mile.

When I slowed to cool down and walk back to the car, I could hardly walk my calves were so painful and tight. My legs felt alien, and every subtle movement was sensitive and new. The snowy sleety stuff started to fall harder, like it was just waiting for me to finish my run and then it would start up hard. And as I cooled down, no longer warmed by activity or perspiration, I was really, really cold. Not outer cold, like wind on my face, but inner cold.

By the time I got home, I was shaking like I had some kind of palsy. Violent, dramatic shaky, like I'm on tv or something. My legs hurt so bad I could hardly climb the stairs. I got into the bathroom and had to remove these layers of lycra, no easy task under the circumstances. My teeth were rattling. I turned the shower on hot, made it in, and sat right down. I let the water warm me up, and continued to tell myself to settle down, settle down, settle down.

It was a weird night. Amy got me some warm clothes and brought me some warm dinner while I wrapped myself under the covers in bed. I felt feverish without being sick. I asked her to bring up a rolling pin, which she thought was weird, but I needed to, as quickly as I could, massage my calves then and there, and a rolling pin is a great way to isolate and massage the strands of muscles. After I ate I massaged and iced my legs as much as I could and drank as much water as I could, trying to break up and flush out all this lactic acid that was making me so miserable. When I had to get up to walk, I could hardly move. It was all I could do to not just stomp around on my heels, but instead slowly and carefully walk normally. Stairs were nearly impossible. I wondered without trying to worry about when they'd be okay to run again. Right then I could hardly walk. Still, I wasn't worried - I hadn't injured myself. I might have slightly overdone it, but I think there are times when overdoing it is the best thing. It's not like I pulled a muscle or put myself at some greater risk, dramatic as this whole episode sounds and was. It will pass. My core temperature was weird all night. I was freezing but sweating. We took my temperature once and it was 99.8 or something, though I wasn't sick and didn't have a fever. It was 3 am or so before things finally returned to normal. I told Amy - we'll remember this night in September, when the title of Ironman is hopefully successfully rewarded. That this night was an important night. Hard as it was, and miserable as I was afterwards, everything I would have hoped for in my run came to be. I didn't slow down - each of my 30 minute "laps" was consistent with or faster than the last. I had a respectable pace while being comfortable. More importantly, I hurt. I hurt bad. I hurt so bad I wanted to quit, but I didn't. I hurt so bad there was no sense to keep going, but I did. There's tremendous value in that. I made a large deposit last night into my IM bank account, and it's earmarked for withdrawal in September.

Happily, my efforts last night I think paid off some, because I'm much better this morning. Still pretty tender, but nothing like last night. Today at some point (provided the walkways are plowed...couldn't be more sick of winter...) I might take a walk, and maybe swim later. Maybe I'll even be okay for a 3 mile run tomorrow. Hope so, anyway.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

Great to read about your run. It sounds like it was a hard day, but I am glad to hear that you kept going!! :) That is the mental toughness that will take you through IM. I know you said that you were sick of winter, but it is a good thing and makes you stronger. Where I am winter really does not exist.

I know that you said that when your mind wanders, that you begin to lose form and slow down. I find sometimes though that when riding or running, you get into a zone and and end up ticking away a lot of miles before you realize what has happened. I am really not a runner and I am going to do a run/walk in the IM. I know that some people have turned in their best marathons this way.

I am really not tapering before the race, because there has been too much this year (2 surgeries, one major the other minor) that have cut into my training. I am just looking at the race as another training day and just shooting for that 17 hour mark, make it or not, I will not let them remove me from the course until I reach the finish. :)... If I do not make the cut, I will not have the title of Ironman, but I still did it and that is what matters, I did not quit.

Yesterday my sister and I did a 51 mile bike ride and then my boyfriend picked up our bikes in the middle of town and we ran/walked home from there. We ended up going 13 miles, so all in all it was a good day.

Thanks for the inspiration!

Have a great day and enjoy the snow.



When you spoke of just holding your pace in your post it made me think of this quote that I saw on a website which was:

"If you can't build your effort, just hold it where it is... if you can't hold it- just hold on!!"

Some other quotes to think of while training or when you feel like quiting :) !!

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."
-Eleanor Roosevelt

"If you're going through hell, keep going."
-Winston Churchill

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
-- TS Elliot

xt4 said...

So great to get your perspective, Kathi. The thoughts of another IMer are really appreciated. And you're right about the snow...I suppose it does make one stronger. Though considering it'll probably be some 90 degrees on race day, who knows?

I tend to find that "zone" better on the bike than on the run - I don't think I'm a strong enough runner to go on autopilot. It's a constant struggle with me.

How are you managing without a taper? Does your training change at all? Is IMAZ your ultimate goal, or do you have plans for another IM later this year that AZ are part of? Good luck as you get into this home stretch. What's your bib number? I'll be sure to keep track at Ironman Live, and hope you'll check in afterwards for how it all went.

Thanks for the quotes and perspective. I really appreciate it.

Michael Anderson said...

Well done on the 9 minute miles.
Excellently done on the not-quitting.
And I am impressed with your courage, my friend.
Godspeed as you go on.


P.S. Those were great quotes, Kathi, thanks for sharing. Best of luck in IMAZ. I hope you'll continue to share your insights and experience in this community as it gets closer.

Libor said...

Chris, You are doing everything right. Just hold on and don't hurt yourself. I have been where you are last year in my training before IMC a nuber of time. I remember the days I would come back from a 5hr bike ride then a 30min brick and I wold fall asleep on the lawn in the backyard for 2hrs. It's all part of the IM journey. Just listen to the body and do things at a pace that is holdable. You have the mental for IM which is 90% I think. Keep up the good work dude. You are strong. A very inspiring training story BTW.

xt4 said...

Thanks so much Libor - I follow your progress a bit as well through Trifuel, so your thoughts and words are especially significant to me. Thanks for the encouragement and status check - hard sometimes not to just shake my head and wonder what the hell I'm doing. Helpful to me to have a veteran's input. I really, really appreciate you stopping by!

xt4 said...

Probably a fine line between courage and foolishness, M...but how can you make the definition without practical application of a little of both??? (enter smiley emoticon here). Thanks dude, glad you're along for the ride...

Anonymous said...

I thought that I posted this last night, but I do not see it :( so I am reposting it.

How are you managing without a taper? Don't know just am :)

Does your training change at all? If anything it seems to be getting longer.

Is IMAZ your ultimate goal, or do you have plans for another IM later this year that AZ are part of? The ultimate goal for me is an IM I have wanted to do this since I was 12. I have done sprints, internationals and a 1/2. IMAZ is the goal for right now. I will do another one later, but I have other obligations that I have to attend to before I do the next one!!

I was at a race once and Sister Madonna Buder was there and she is just incredible. I had her sign my hat and I thought to my self, if she can do it, so can I!! I am not sure if you knnow who she is, but here is a site with a few facts

What's your bib number? I have not received my bib number, I think that I will receive it at check in. I will post it for you later :) . I will be some where in the back of the pack hehehehe, but at least I willbe there...

When all is said and done I will definitely let you knnow how it all goes.

Your training is way more extensive and prepared (a very good thing) then mine. Awesome job. And keep up the great work!!