Monday, July 24, 2006

I love it when a plan comes together...

So Saturday was a long ride - scheduled for 6 hours. As it turned out I could only do 5, and my OCD was certainly displeased with that, but I'm just trying to let it go. But I digress. Back to the workout.

I have a friend who's getting married in a few weeks, so the afternoon had golf and other activity in store as sort of not-too-crazy bachelor party day. Homebase for the day was my buddy's house which is well south of the Twin Cities, so I arranged, via Google Earth, for an 85 mile roundabout that took me around the cities from my northern-most suburb to his southern-most suburb house.

You know you're a lunatic triathlete when you ride your bike to a friggin' bachelor party.

This would be a good time for a status check. Things are getting very, very serious now my friends. This thing that has been a spectre for so long, that seemed so far away and intangible, is literally right there, around the corner. Not only can I not afford to miss a single key workout, but I can't afford to have those key workouts go badly. I have until August 19th to continue to develop fitness and strategy. That is, including Saturday's long ride, 5 long rides left. 5 long swims, 5 long runs. More to the point, and I don't know if I can describe this well, is how quickly the world seems to suddenly be spinning. Ironman is not approaching, it is screaming and hurtling towards me. And I check the blogosphere for my fellow Taconite, and the energy simmering beneath the posts is the same. If you could sum the feeling right now into a phrase that would capture the excitement, energy, fear, unknown, mysterious, hysteria, and general BEING of Becoming Ironman right now, I think it would have to be Holy Shit.

So Friday I had a 1.5 hour long swim. Thanks to the thunder and lightning, I was relegated to the hamster wheel for this, and so went back and forth and back and forth in the pool. Thank God for my Swimp3 player because I would've seriously gone mad. The swim went well enough - fatigued by the end, of course, but not seriously so, and it's so difficult to gauge anything in the pool for that long in training because raceday energy, in open water, is so totally its own thing. But as important as the swim itself was the fatigue it creates for me to get on the bike the next day.

So I head into Saturday morning's ride looking forward to a new route, to a hopefully strong 6 hours, and a 30 minute run immediately after the ride. I have no idea what the roads I'm about to be on are like or really what to expect at all. But it was raceday emulation, and with my new toys onboard I had a plan. The first 15 miles - which essentially took me to the little town of Hugo - were in the small chain ring. The game was to see how little I could work and how low I could keep my heart rate. For the day, I never wanted to exceed 128bpm for very long. The day was about perfect - low 70's in the morning (increasing to high 80's by the time I got off the bike...), and virtually no wind until my last 20 miles or so. It would be a good indicator of true performance, not influenced by headwind or tailwind. This was the first time I had such a pure strategy for the bike - I knew from my Power Meter that I wanted to keep my watts below 222 along with my low heart rate.

It's funny how hard I think I've been fighting my bike. Now that I had actual information in front of me, I could see how hard I tend to push. I'd get into some kind of zone, look down, and be pushing 280 watts. So I'd back off, and ultimately I found myself able to keep a consistent and comfortable pace without having to work so hard for it. It's easy to see, with that kind of information, why my last hour of a long ride will sometimes tend to be so hard, and why I'll have such a hard time transitioning to a run - I'd just be pushing too hard too early, and even if it didn't seem fast to me, it was at a pace unsustainable for 6 hours plus a marathon. So I happily finished my first 15 mile warm up with a 17mph pace - totally satisfactory - and a stupid low heart rate of 112bpm. That means zero nutritional issues. No extra work I'm asking my body to do as a result of high heart rate.

Now I ride easy, but in the big chain ring, for the next 25 miles - to mile 40 - before I make tactical effort to ride at a sustainable pace. This meant that I watched my heart rate, and tried to keep my watts somewhere in the 200 range or lower. I figure anything lower is gravy. I was keeping to my nutrition schedule perfectly, and was taking in an electrolyte tablet every 20 minutes - this was something new I was trying, and I think it did huge things for me. I think the sodium absorbed some of the water that might sometime give me GI issues, while also providing me with electrolytes to keep my legs cramp free. There were gas stations dotted every 15 miles at least, so I was able to keep fresh stores on board all day. The only unexpected glitch in the day was thanks to the crazy Google Earth directions - south and east of Hugo I was stopping at pretty much every single intersection because my directions and theirs were not reading the same. This caused for my delay, and in having to keep to a schedule for the day, is why I lost an hour. But no matter, I was able to figure it out my damn self anyway.

Note to the good people of Washington County: Fix your damn roads. Man, some of these roads were so torn up that my teeth were rattling. I thought for sure I'd blow a tire, and I did launch 2 bottles on the day, never to be seen again - good thing gas stations were as plentiful as they were. It also made for precarious descents - I was always having to ride the brakes, because an unexpected pothole at 30mph will change your life. But I headed down just west of Stillwater as I approached my 40th mile, and continued to wind my way a bit further southeat to the St. Croix river, which I'd follow south for some 16 miles around the eastern edge of the Twin Cities.

I stopped to refuel and grabbed and orange and assessed. Man, I was feeling great. I was well hydrated and my legs were fresh. The sun was out, but thanks to it NOT being 100 degrees I wasn't having to work doubletime keeping my core temp low. I got back on the bike and started down the river, and that's when the hills started.

Wow. For awhile I was mostly flat or downhill, and I was clipping along at a comfortable 24mph without having to push my power or heart rate. I had delusions of it being like this for the next 20 miles, but what goes down must apparently go up, and holy moly did they go up. I left one little town to find the road winding out of view to my right and up a hill. No worries - I downshifted as I went, found my easy gear, and climbed. I wound around...and thought "huh. no landing here." Now the road wound left out of view, and still I climbed. And I kept expecting it to level off at some sensible point, and it just never did. I checked my Power Meter, which has an inclimeter on it, and saw that I was at about a 4.5% incline. Low Ironman levels, but nothing at Ironman is this freaking long.. It would not stop, and I felt like I was on the Tour in the Alps. Finally, after 2 miles, it crested. It was a tough hill for its length, but all things considered I felt pretty good. I figured that was about it, now I'd be in for some downhill and we'd flatten out. I have no idea why I'd figure that, because in no time I was climbing again. And again. And again. And finally I was climbing a 10% grade hill. Are you kidding me? Now that surpasses even anything at Ironman. And that hill was the toughest by far - even in my easiest gear I was relegated to a low cadence and really low speed. But if I was going to cramp up, it would have been then. I approached mile 56 at the top of a hill, stopped to unstrap my PB&J (on toast!) for a halfway snack, and finished it on the bike. I would have expected at this point for my heart rate to be really high and my legs, after a series of hills like that, to be pretty seriously fatigued. But my plan was now starting to bear its fruit - I had fresh legs even now, and that's certainly one reason why I was able to climb without any drama - I'd taken it easy to that point. I was totally nutritionally sound - I'd been taking in 315 or more calories each hour like clockwork and was having no GI issues at all. I'd even stopped twice for bio breaks, so I was hydrating really well. I couldn't believe how well things were going.

The road leveled off, finally, and I was out of the crazy Alps. It was freakshow Minnesota beautiful, I was feeling great, and was in the middle of my best long ride ever.

I finally arrived in Hastings, just southeast of the Cities, after having to jump onto 2 seriously busy highways that were not good times. In Hastings I refreshed one last time for the home stretch of about 17 or 18 long hot miles. The road was flat but totally unshaded, the heat was up a bit, and there was a headwind right in my face. If there was to be a meltdown after the day's great going so far, it would be here.

But there was none. What can I say? I pedaled. I ate. I drank. I pedaled. I stayed aero and never hurt. I was never required to do any long stand-up-and-stretch sessions. I might've been on mile 20. I felt stupid good. I arrived at my buddy's house just shy of 5 hours and just shy of 85 miles. I rode at a 17.7mph and kept my heart rate at an absurd 121bpm. I felt so fresh when I got off my bike that one of the most ridiculous things ever crossed my mind as I was putting on my running shoes for a quick 3 miler - 85 miles isn't really that long anymore.

Anyway, the proof was in the run. I set out for an easy pace, no regard for my watch, just something comfortable and upright to emulate the transition, and where I could envision getting comfortable for a marathon. I looked down at my watch after 2 miles and was clock an 8:38 pace. What? No leg fatigue. No mental fatigue. No dehydration. I finished a 3.25 mile run with about a 9:00 pace, effortless and easily able to do more. When I finally weighed myself at the end of the workout I'd only lost 1.5 pounds of water weight - meaning I stayed well hydrated.

It was, at a key time in the training, a killer workout. It could not have gone better. If I can put anything remotely similar to that together at Ironman, I will be able to have the race I know I'm capable of. Exciting stuff.

So now I look ahead. I'll be remote again this week - heading back to the homeland of Western North Dakota for some family time with Amy's family. I'll have to cut back on the swimming a bit this week (not much water out there...), but it's a recovery week anyway, so I'll have a 1:45 run on Wednesday and a 5:30 ride that I'll actually try to bump to Friday morning. The forecast is stupid hot - 102 degrees or something by the weekend - so it'll be another crucial test in facing the heat. And out there, the wind can be nasty, the sun is hot, and the roads are rolling. We'll see what's in store, but I plan to keep perfecting what went so well on Saturday. I may try one more nutritional thing or two, though I think if I can keep my body organized I may be dialing in on that at last.

Shout out to Floyd Landis, winner of the Tour de France with his freakshow ride up the mountains last week. Allez!


Pharmie said...

Congrats on a great ride! Where did you find the big hills? Just curious...

Todd said...

Well done my friend, glad to hear you had safe travels out on the metro roads. Have fun in NoDak!


Derek said...

Nice ride Chris! Keep pluggin...enjoy reading your comments on the upcoming race...and you're right, it's right there, just a bit over 6 weeks!
T is doing a tri in Bemidji this Saturday...I'll ride to I Falls that afternoon...113 miles...hope the roads are better than in Washington Co.!

Derek said...

...oh yea, I voted for blue!

FeGirl said...

Great ride Chris! Keep it up, Your day is just around the corner and I can't wait 'til it is here.

MMMM PB&J yummy...

Hope the party was a good one too.


FeGirl said...

oops, I forgot, I voted for metalic blue also, but I was not sure that I was in time or if you were looking at that post's comments anymore :) Kathi

FeGirl said...

Hey Todd -- What is the Castaway race? I know that it is a Tri, but is it a sprint? Glad that you are hooked!! (I hope I remembered that right!) btw you should create your own blog!! That would be cool... :) Kathi

Todd said...

Hi Kathy,

Yep, the Castaway one I'm doing is another sprint. And yes, definitely hooked! Thinking of giving the Olympic distance one a shot at some point next summer, we will see. And possibly a blog. Although I'm really boring so you'd basically be reading the same thing over and over!