Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I hate the swimsuit issue.

I look forward to my Triathlete and Inside Triathlon (the former being the superior mag, you ask me) being in my mailbox every month. Like in a, "oh hey, Lost is on tonight" sort of way - something that isn't precedent in my head, but then when I discover it there it's always a happy surprise. And I read them both slowly - first scanning for the highlights when I have a second here and there, later reading a few articles before bed, a few days later going back for still more. It's a fun thing for me.

Today I audibly groaned when I reached in and saw it was the stupid swimsuit edition. Like in a "ah crap, Lost is a rerun, guess I'll find something else to do" kind of way. I think the swimsuit edition (of both Triathlete and Inside Triathlon) is such a dumb, desperate, obvious ploy to sell a few more at newsstands that it sort of insults my intelligence as a triathlete.

My objections have nothing to do with the nearly naked women in swimsuits, because I rather enjoy nearly naked women in swimsuits...just, not in context of triathlon. It's nothing to do with "the objectification of women", because I've probably objectified a woman or two in my life (though, have a daughter - that'll shake your idea of things right up). None of that. I just think it's a waste of time. It's not why I subscribe to triathlon magazines. It's like having a special episode all about wildlife in this month's issue of Popular Mechanics. Who cares?

But - such is life. So there's one issue that isn't my thing. No big deal. But I think it's the ruse that compounds my irritation. First, they act like it's a gear review. This month's Editorial is about how last month they featured bikes or something, so this month is swim gear. And they think if they throw a page up with the latest goggles, they're really providing a comprehensive collection of swim-related-thoughts to the readers. Come on now. Could be I'm just missing out, but I have never - not once - seen a triathlete racing or training in a camouflage bikini. At least plainly call it what it is if you're going to do it.

Or they provide the stupid logic of "a celebration of triathletes' bodies". That's dumb. I don't need to celebrate anybody's body. If I did...um, there are more celebratory mags out there than Triathlete. Just - seriously. Give me gear reviews, race reports, training ideas. The stuff I enjoy. This month's issue of page after page first of the swimsuits (oh, by the way - I also love how they throw in the occasional trisuit, or dude in a wetsuit, to keep it real), then a whole other section about shooting the people in swimsuits - how boring.

Also annoying to me is that now we have to hear about it for the next 6 months. Now everybody with a moral ax to grind writes letters (which is another section of the mag I generally read and find interesting) canceling subscriptions for all the sluttiness they can't stand, or showering the editors with huzzahs about how fantastic it is that there's swimsuits everywhere. And then those letter-writers start arguing with each other. Everybody loses perspective, the party gets awkward, and it becomes another part of the mag that I just skip to get to the stuff that matters. (Note to inner voice who keeps chirping up that aren't I, but writing a blog post about it, just contributing to the very thing that irks me, to which I say shut it inner voice, I'm talking here.)

Finally - there's just something...silly about it. Every issue is packed with athletes in swimwear, or racing gear. If I want to look at women wearing tight-fighting or barely there swimwear, I just turn the page. But there's nothing sexual about that. And maybe that the last bit of irritation for me - it's maybe a little bit insulting. I had a friend ask me once what I thought was a really dumb question - he asked me if I checked out the girls at races. Because, y'know, we're all wearing skin-tight spandex. The answer is a huge and profound NO. That kind of thing is so far off my radar when it comes to triathlon that I don't even have conclusions about whether a certain athlete is attractive or not. I'm just not seeing it that way. Maybe others are, I don't know, but not me. Something about "checking girls out" at races or when training feels really troublesome to me. Because I know what it takes to get to the starting line. I know what it takes to work your ass off to achieve a goal, or reach that time, or just finish the race. And it's not like I ever had to have some internal conversation about it to decide note to self, not cool to check triathlete women out - but to do that would, I think, spit in the face of that athlete. I maybe take some issue that, all of the sudden for the sake of some sales, my triathlon magazines seem willing to suspend that ideal. Not that I'm holier-than-thou or something - cuz I ain't - but honestly. Is this really necessary?

But - when I came in the house and plopped the mail down on the table with these things briefly rattling around in my head, I noticed that the cover has Amanda Beard on the damn cover, who's not even a triathlete. Case closed, I guess.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Race Report: J-Hawk Early Bird Triathlon (In Which Our Hero Makes Triathlon Look Like A Sitcom)

Well, it's been quite a week. I had a solid swim workout on Monday, then was looking forward to Tuesday and Wednesday off after a string of straight workout days. My speed work was paying off, my run and bike endurance were in good places for this time of the season, and I thought if I could take a couple days off, then work in another speed workout and a 20-25 miler on the bike before week's end, I'd be in good shape for a strong "speed workout" on race day.

Then I got sick Wednesday night, and the rest of the week was derailed. I was out of the fever by Friday morning, but was really weak - climbing the stairs left me breathless. I had no appetite at all, and was forcing calories in. Thursday night Dakota got a fever, which has made for many more high-maintenance nights than usual. Last night I got 4 hours of sleep or so. So it could be said that missing all workouts, getting sick, and getting no sleep the week before a race - even a short, early season, indoor swim race - would be less-than-ideal. I call it tapering with style.

So I had no idea what to expect this morning - either I'd feel great and strong, my body energized and ready to pull itself out of this funk and see what all this rest would do, or I'd be that post-sick fatigue, where everything is a chore and leaves you tired and weary. I was excited to race, excited for the first race of the year. I enjoyed all my usual rituals of getting my transition bag ready to go (including the astronaut hat!), the machine ready to fly. I told myself I was fired up and ready to go. In reality, I was probably at about 80%, maybe 85% strength when I started the 45 minute drive to Whitewater this morning.

I choked down a PB&J about an hour before my wave started - it was my first indication for the kind of day I probably had in store. Still just zero appetite, and it was all I could do to eat the entire thing. Also, though I packed for all kind of dismal weather events, the day that's been banner-broadcast as cloudy, cold, and possibly snowy turned out to be sunny and cool, in a crisp sort of way, and not a cold sort of way. Weather forecasters are idiots.

The swim was 500 yards in an indoor pool. I shared a lane with 2 women, and each of them started before me in 10-second intervals. All of this was prearranged, so I don't know by what mathematic wizardry these decisions came to pass. The whistle blew, and the first woman took off...10 seconds later the next...and then I was engaged in my first race of the season.

Within 75 yards I had passed them both, and felt pretty good. I felt like I had gone out at the right pace, that I wasn't burning matches too early. The second woman, though, hung on my feet and I could feel her in my draft. That was weird - I actually felt her, like I was pulling her. It was actually kind of a pain in the ass, because I felt like it was slowing me down. The 3rd swimmer (who was the first to start) fell farther behind, but She and Me stayed tandem for the entire swim. That is, until about 375 yards in or so, when I started to pay for the week I've had. I could feel my energy tank, just like that. I suddenly felt fingers on my heels where there hadn't been, and it provoked me for another 75 yards or so. But at 450 yards - with just 50 to go - the water suddenly turned to mud. I might as well have been walking. She catapulted right past me, and I couldn't even get into her draft. I was totally spent, just like that.

I finally reached the wall to finish the swim, and was surprised to glance at my watch and see 8:30-ish; my goal had been 9:00. With several seconds to get out the door and call my number to the first check-in guy (no timing chips here, it's old school shouting "Three Thirty Six!"), my swim time was 8:46. I'll take it!

I cruised down the bike racks until I finally found mine - and was surprised and so happy to see Amy and Dakota cheering me on! It was touch & go whether they'd make it at all, with the unpredictable weather and D's cold she's fighting, and I didn't really expect they would. I left it to Amy, and she made the trip. My daughter's first race. I mostly just wanted to stop and pick her up and cuddle for awhile. "How's it going babe!" Amy shouted. "Ugh!" I replied while I strapped on my astronaut hat, "Just so weak!" She called back that she was afraid of that, and to have a safe bike, and I said something about how nice it was to see them, and then I was headed out of transition. Really, though, the whole time I felt kind of delirious, in a sick kind of way. Like the world was going by faster than my brain could process it.

I had put arm-warmers on my aero bars to put on once on the bike, but never had to - there was an almost-vicious wind from the north, but the sun was warm and it was actually a really great day to race. Right away, though, my systems were out of sync. I tried to settle down, and just couldn't - my heart rate was high, I was out of breath, and just had nothing in me. I kept waiting for my rhythm to come, for things to sort out like they should, but it was just a battle with myself the whole time. About 3 miles into the ride I puked. Super good times, puking on the bike. I was not able to fire the pistons like I wanted to, and the whole puking thing was slowing me right down - some dude on a red Trek passed me with a smug "on your left" that, underneath, was Nelson's laugh, pointing "Ha ha." I thought, for the second time, I should maybe just pull over and sit this one out. If it weren't for this stubborn hardwired finish what you start thing, I probably would have. I spent the next few miles trying to push - not content to just "finish this thing out", and in a few miles reeled Nelson back in and seriously blew by him, in devastating fashion, like he was standing still. "On your left" I handed back to him, and the word vapor entered my head, and - just like that - the new Machine has a name. Vapor.

The entire 7 miles out was mostly straight into the wind, and I tried to push a hard cadence to go fast. After dry-heaving another few miles I puked again. These weren't "I got the flu" episodes, they were demanding-more-than-I-should pukefests. I kept waiting to feel better afterwards, and never did. If you never have - and I hope you never do - I reiterate: puking on the bike is not cool.

At about mile 6 another guy passed me - disc wheel, the whole nine - and he was serious about it. It pissed me off a little - I don't know why, I think it was just the day getting to me a bit. I felt like if I had anything in the tank I could be shredding this course - it was mostly flat, and I didn't mind the headwind, even for it slowing me down a little. I swore out loud.

By the time the turnaround came, Disc Wheel was a speck ahead. At least half a mile. I felt vengeful, and me & V laid chase. I decided the day was going to be about small victories, whatever they were. Just staying in the race was one.

I finally stopped feeling like my guts were going to fall out by about mile 9, and while I had considered it really unlikely when I started chasing him, Disc Wheel was getting bigger in the distance. At mile 12 I launched by him, like he was a statue. Liberated, I headed into the final stretch happy that nobody had passed me, and I'd passed a few.

I turned left - knowing I was close to T2 - and was surprised by how close. I quickly tried to get out of my shoes to dismount. I succeeded with the right one, but was having to brake on my approach while still negotiating my left shoe. Shit!. I finally actually passed the dismount line, and had to just unclip my left shoe. While I was finally coming to a stop, my right shoe came off its pedal. So there I am in the middle of the dismount area hopping on one foot, trying to bend down and retrieve my fallen shoe. Look at the moron with the ass-hat who can't get his feet out of his shoes! Ha ha hee! I finally pick up my damn shoe and start running into T2 - one shoe on, one shoe off. Oh for the love of., so I stop and take off my stupid left shoe so I can run like a normal person, and for some reason put my right shoe in my mouth at the same time. Look at 'im now! He's eating his shoes! What a boob! So now I'm finally running into transition, carrying one shoe in my mouth and holstering the other between my arm and chest with one arm while I push my bike with my other. Then I turn into the wrong bike rack. Oh shit sandwich you have got to be kidding me. Turn around, retreat around the wrong rack, finally make it to the right one, and plop my belongings into my space with total exhaustion. Best. Transition. Ever.

Amy shouted encouragement, and that she'd probably go while I was on the run - D was getting restless. I thanked her while I got my running gear on, and in no time was on my way out of T2. My bike split was far slower than I'd hoped, than I know I'm capable of, but it's certainly the best I had this day. 13 miles and change in 42:32, at 19.8mph.

Once on the run, I wondered what Further Adventures In Vomit awaited me, but after about half a mile I finally started to settle down. It was a trail-run, though, which I'm not terribly good at (read: miserable). Right away I nearly walked - I just felt so damn weak. I didn't though, and just tried to find a comfortable pace - my thoughts about anything particularly fast for the day were obviously shot, and with a trail run in store, I just wanted to run strong.

About a mile in, some dude fell in stride right behind me - I could hear his footfalls and heavy breathing. I figured he'd pass right by me, but he just stayed there. When it occurred to me that he wasn't going to blow right by me, I decided to race him, and tried to keep my pace strong so he'd at least have to work to get by me. We ran through natural terrain, avoiding the washed out path here and there, ducking under branches, enjoying a stretch on a boardwalk built over some marsh. I figured at the next hill I was done - he'd fly by me - but I think some of my hill workouts are paying off a bit, as I'm not nearly so weak as I used to be on hills, and I require less time to recover at the crest. Darth Vader (he with heavy breathing) hung right behind me, almost stride for stride, for a solid mile before he finally cracked, his breathing moving farther away behind me. Another small victory.

As I finally approached 3 miles I imagined Vader behind me trying to sprint it out (I'm not sure if he was, but that's what I imagined), so I didn't let up. The course appears to have been measured a little long, so my split was...well actually I'm not sure. The Garmin has me going 3.21 miles in 25:41, for an 8:00/mile pace. The race results, though, slow that way down, going 3.1 miles in 27:20, for an 8:28 pace. Of course my watch isn't 2+ minutes behind - but the official results (oddly) don't consider transition times at all - so I don't know if they tack them onto the run or what...but whatever. (UPDATE: Robet informs on his blog that the splits for each leg begin at the end of the previous - so the bike split includes time in T1, and run split includes time in T2. Explains the discrepancies.) My finishing time on the watch and the official results are consistent - 1:18:36. 7th in my Age Group (out of 17).

All in all, a pretty tough day, but I did really enjoy myself, despite it all. Maybe a smarter me would have quit - I don't know. I feel fine this afternoon - though I do think I just need some decent rest for a day or two, lest this thing, whatever it is, really derails me. Glad for a day of small victories - sticking it out, chasing down a few gunners, not getting caught on the run, a faster swim than expected, sensing progress in a few places. It would have been fun to go faster, to have a really strong day - but that's okay. Sometimes you chase the dog, sometimes the dog chases you. Mostly, and above all, it was cool to have a person who didn't even exist the last time I suited up there with me. As I tell her very frequently - she won't remember any of this, but I will remember it all.

Next up - a 5k next weekend! If I can get my health on point, I'll be shooting for a P.R. (There, I said it out loud - Fates, do your worst...)

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Have you ever noticed how some pros have their names on their bikes? Like, Chris McDonald has "Macca" on his top tube (look closely next time you're reading Triathlete or Inside Triathlon.) I always thought this was cool - like how fighter pilots have their name and call sign underneath their position in the cockpit: "Maverick". That's cool. So I hit up ebay and found a few companies that provide custom bike decals, and picked one that gave me a few options as far as size and especially font. They arrived yesterday, and I put them on today.

See it? Look underneath the saddle. Here's a closeup -

How dope is that!?!? It actually is one of those things that looks much cooler in person. So I installed the two on the machine...and had, like, 10 left over. They come in sheets 12" long - most people put a whole name on there, I guess, and stretch it across the top tube or something. Since I only had a 1" x 2" graphic, they just repeated it several times on the 12" sheet. So I started looking around for other stuff to put it on. Because I'm just that kind of dork. Because my ego is just that inflated. Here it is on my helmet!

Sweet! Then I took after my astronaut hat - removing the big old "GIRO" decals from the sides (which, once I looked at it, were a bit obnoxious anyway for their size) and replaced them with these:

Tasty! Man, it's a regular pimp extravaganza over here. And - I still have a bunch of these left! I'm looking to xt4 everything around here. The toaster! The back of the toilet! How about on all the phone handsets? Let's put one on the baby's crib! Hey, where's the basset hound, they'd look smashing on her! JoJo! Hey, JoJo!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Me and my big plans

Well, I had big ideas for the race this weekend. It all hinged on the bike - if I could cruise, I mean really cruise, then I could maybe - just maybe put myself in position for a sub-1:10 finish. Things would have to go nearly perfectly - I'd have to be out of the water in under 9:00. Transitions would have to be perfectly executed. I'd have to be off the bike in just under 40:00. And if both of those things occurred, and I started the run with anywhere under 50:00 of total racetime, then I'd have to have the 5k of my life. It did not, at any point, seem a terribly realistic plan, but it seemed like a really aggressive goal that I could have fun chasing at each of the 3 disciplines.

Then I got sick on Wednesday night, and yesterday ingested maybe 800 calories all day because I had no appetite, had a fever, and was weak as hell. Last night I didn't feel much better, and was seriously wondering if I'd DNS this race. Happily, I'm feeling better today - if not full strength. I've just been trying to eat today and get things back - I'll maybe try a run this afternoon and see how fatigued I feel.

Then the asstastic weather forecast came in. The temps - mid-40's - I can live with, but if it's raining, that'll suck and make it a lot colder, and if it's really windy, then all bets are off. Then I got an email from the race director telling us that with the recent rains (read: wrath of Zeus thunderbolts all night last night, sheesh) the nature preserve the run is held on is "like an Adventure race" - ha! So I'm thinking super-fast 5k times are out the window. Oh well, such is life. Slogging through ankle-deep water in 40 degree weather is fun too. Just...a different kind of fun.

Meanwhile, I'll be joining Steve (in a chicken suit) and Pharmie and RobbyB (and who else?) at the Twin Cities Marathon in October - the first time back since '05. Woot!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sorry, my bad.

To the good people doing the J-Hawk triathlon this weekend:


I know we've enjoyed a couple straight weeks of glorious weather. 70's and lots of sunshine. Even the rainy days have been warm and pretty pleasant. And after the world's crappiest winter, we're deserving of a decent springtime.

But, as you know, the forecast for the weekend suddenly turns to crap, with highs on race day in the upper 40's. There may or may not be rain. There may or may not be wind.

This turn of meteorological events has to do with some kind of elaborate curse I carry around. I can't think of of when or where or why or how it happened, but some jerk hexed me, and now whenever I race, the weather that day sucks. There was this time in '06 when it was so hot that they shortened the course before the race. And this other time, there was this race called Ironman, and the weather was insanely awful. Last year I was hurt most of the season, so race days were pretty perfect. Then when I did race, the temps that morning were in the 30's. These are only a few examples - it's actually pretty consistent. Like, 99% consistent. If I'm racing, expect shit weather. It's a wonder any of my friends or family come to watch me at all. At least they know now to come prepared with blankets and rain jackets.

So, sorry about that everybody. Good luck anyway. Oh, and on the bright side, if I don't shake this flu that's presently kicking my ass, I won't be racing anybody this weekend, which will mean sunny skies for all. Cross your fingers!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Swim. Bike. Run. Also - Race Week: J-Hawk Early Bird Triathlon

What a weekend. Finally, springtime broke through free and clear. Saturday was a pleasant lower 60's with hardly any wind and a mix of clouds and sun, and Sunday was a bonafide summer day, with highs in the low 70's and an 8-10mph breeze out of the north. I even did some work in the yard and got a bit sunburned.

But I digress. Let's discuss the weekend's activities:

Friday I headed to the pool - which meant I got 2 swims in last week (Monday and Friday), which I'm happy about. I started out my workout with an all-out 100 yard sprint, to get some sense of my speed after the handful of serious swim workouts I've mustered in the last few weeks. Interestingly, I swam that 100 in 1:18. This would be a personal record (but I don't count P.R.'s in training, so let's just say "it's as fast as I've ever swam. Swum? Swimmed? Whatever.) which was totally unexpected. That's the good news. Then I did 5 sets of 200 yards, alternating 50 hard, 50 easy. When I was all finished up, I swam that 100 sprint again. 1:34. That's a drop of 16 seconds. Sheesh. Clearly my endurance in the water is, at present, for shit.

A few things are bothering me about how difficult it is for me to get to the pool (though sidenote: the reason being is that I'm daddy-daycare full time...and also enterprising business owner fulltime...and - in that order - both of those things are without a doubt more satisfying than any time I'd be spending in the water) - one is, my upper body muscle tone (and strength) is really behind schedule. Two is, it's hard for me to get consistent improvement in the water on only 2 swims a week. And three is, I have a hard time getting any brick workouts in at all. Anyway, like I've said - I may just take what I can get in the water this year.

Saturday I headed out for a 13.1 mile run - the farthest yet of training, and in fact really the only time I'll run the distance before May 25th's Half Marathon race, where I'm really hoping to P.R. The plan Saturday was to run 3 miles easy, with a heart rate below zone 3, then 7 at race pace (about 8:30), then 3 miles easy. The last 3 miles were actually not easy, as my running route had at least one serious hill, and a gradually uphill 1.5 mile stretch, all crammed into those last 3 miles that kicked my ass.

Anyway, I finished the run with a 9:01 pace overall, which would be respectable for race day (and barely a P.R., though I'm hoping to go faster), and my 7 mile race-pace chunk was at 8:34, which is perfect. Still, I really faded those last 3 miles on those hills - which kind of tells me that's a really good training mechanism - hard work when already fatigued. My P.R. at the half marathon is 1:58:14 - a 9:02 pace. I'd like to run the race at an 8:45 pace or better. I *think* I have the training to make it happen. We'll see.

I spent some time on Saturday afternoon, then, on the machine - finally getting the stickers off, and getting my computers mounted. I also got my iBike power meter out of hibernation - I used this a bit the summer of '06, but not at all last year. iBike is a power meter - like a Powertap or SRM, but it uses different physics to get consistent results. (Here's a post I wrote about it in '06 if you're interested). Anyway, I had kind of sketchy experience with it then, but after getting everything back in order with it, it was ready to go for Sunday's ride.

Sunday, then, was a ride on the Ironman loop - just over 42 miles. As I was getting the machine ready, the guys next to me were chatting - turns out one of them works for Trek. I thanked him for the bike. Pretty cool that I live in a place where the bikes are built, and can bump into people like that once in awhile.

Anyway, it was a great ride. There was a headwind from the north that was just strong enough to be annoying for several stretches of the ride, but the sun was out and it just felt great to be out. It's also the first time since Ironman that I've been to all the major landmarks, and it's funny the things that suddenly come back - my Team at the edge of the roundabout in Mt. Horeb, CznE screaming for me just outside of Verona, the wind and rain in Cross Plains. I finished with a 17.5mph average, which is about 1mph faster than I usually rode it in '06. My average watts was 202.9 which, I have to go back and check, but I think was stronger than '06 as well.

And, it's race week! Woot! My first race of the year, consisting of a 500 yard swim, 13.7 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run. I don't have any big goals for the race, except to get some good baseline metrics for heart rate and power training, as I'll be pushing my max all the time. I hope to get out of the water sometime around 9 or 9.5 minutes, and just do the rest fast and strong. I don't know what to expect from the race at all (anybody done this one?), so whether it's a fast course or slow course or what, I don't know. Just looking forward to getting out there again, doing my thing, playing the game.

So. That's what's new with me. What's new with you?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I love the smell of carbon in the morning...

This morning my email inbox had a note from my man Brazo wondering if I'd like to hit up a 9:00am 30-mile ride. I headed over to his house, and we took off on a favorite training route of his. It was a really great ride - the roads were in good condition and the scenery was spectacular, and there was hardly any traffic. I'll definitely be repeating the route. The only blemish on the day was the crazy ass squirrel who came flying out from across the road, hell-bent on colliding with my rear wheel. I apparently ran over his (Brazo witnessed the whole thing - all I could do was stupidly shout "Ah!" when I saw the wee beastie flitting directly my way). It was a non-event, but was a first for me - roadkill by bicycle (I assume he died, anyway - he continued running into the woods). Could've been a lot worse - I had visions of my first real ride on the new machine being my last.

Anyway - by day's end it was a 35.5 mile ride for me (including the miles from my house to Brazo's). My first report from the new machine is a very positive one. It was extremely comfortable - my legs felt fresh all day long. I consistently was climbing hills in higher gears - often surprised to find I had one more to drop down to if I needed it. I'm more aero in the new bike - the frame, and so my position, is more compact. I didn't know if this would create havoc for me to physically have to get used to it or not, but it felt familiar at once. Most interestingly, I averaged 18 mph over the course of the ride, which included a 9 mile stretch into a headwind at 17mph (by the way, I did not wear the aero hat today), and quite a few hills - one or two pretty significant. My heart rate averaged below 130 - I never felt like I was working hard at all, or that I was pushing the bike. It was just a nice, smooth, comfortable ride, and I was consistently going faster than I would've thought - assuming I was going 16 or 17mph, then glancing to see 19 or 20mph. Best of all is that my legs felt very fresh after the ride.

So - there were discernible differences for me on this machine as far as comfort and efficiency. A side effect of that might have been more speed than usual. This weekend I intend to ride the Ironman loop, and that should give me a better sense of what, if any, real differences in performance I might be experiencing, as I have some idea of a baseline for general speed on the loop (between high 16's, low 17's mph...provided the day isn't in the 50's with wind and rain...)

Oh, and next weekend is my first race already! Woot!

Shout out to Brazo for the great ride - thanks dude, let's do it again soon!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You Must Be 21 or Older to Read This Blog Post (Not Really, Mom)

The following is Not Safe For Work due to its excessive sexiness.

Pretty major thing everybody: I got a new Machine.

Some of you know that I've been coveting this very machine for quite a long time, and debating its measures and asking the what-ifs and stating the yeah-buts. Well, yesterday was my birthday, and since it's my last year in this age group, I decided it was as good a time as any.

It's a Trek TTX. It's ridiculous in every way. Except for the stem, it's carbon fiber pretty much from top to bottom. I upgraded the aero bars and handlebars and brake levers to carbon fiber and had them installed when I bought the bike. Yes, you read that right. Carbon fiber brake levers. A new level of absurd sexiness has been achieved.

This bike is so sexy, when I ride by dudes question their sexuality. Girls peel their shirts off and throw them at me. The FCC is probably going to fine me just for posting these pictures. Google will likely ban me for misuse of Blogger.

I got it at Machinery Row Bicycles in Madison. They were good to me, and gave me a good deal. Part of that good deal - and here's where there is genuine heartache - was in trading in Ol' Blue. That was sincerely tough. We've been through a lot together. But, the crankshaft (which I bought season-before last), pedals and saddle were imported from 'Blue, so I like to think some of its soul lives on in the new machine. And, it was time. 'Blue was an entry level tri-bike, and just wasn't really made for the miles I put on it. The wheels were shredded. The body was creaking. The drivetrain was rattling. It was either time for a significant overhaul, or a new ride. Ultimately, for my long-term peace of mind and goals, it was time. But I don't mind telling you that Amy cried about losing 'Blue, and so did I, and I kissed him in the store like I did at Ironman when he saw me through the wind and the rain. I hope they shine him up and get it retail-ready, and somebody new will continue the adventure with 'Blue.

But now, it's time for a new legend to be born. What a significant, serious thing to get a new bike! What will we do together? See, and accomplish, and overcome? I can't wait. I've only taken it out yet for a single 15 mile ride. I want to not fall into the whole placebo thing where when people get a new bike they swear they go 2 mph faster just be being atop it. And, after only 15 miles on a really windy day, I don't have much useful to report yet. I can share that the ride should be compared to a luxury automobile. It's very stiff, and so responsive. It seems to insist on thrusting up hills. All the carbon fiber soaks up road vibration so I'm more comfortable than I've ever been. And the ride is very stable - descending steep hills was a bonafide joy, rather than a scare, because the bike felt so sure underneath me. I'm very excited to create a new relationship, see what's possible between us, Become Ironman together.

But wait - there's more. Since I bought a new bike, they gave me a deal on a new helmet. You won't believe what I got. Check it out.

See it? Look from another angle...

Yup, that's right. An aero helmet. Ha! So heads up everybody - I am officially that guy. I'm that guy with a bike beyond his abilities. I'm a middle-of-the-pack age-group hack with an aero helmet. I'm that guy that other people will write blog posts about how great it felt to be cruising up hills on their 1972 Schwinn made of cobalt or something and "passing guys on rocketships with aero helmets".

In seriousness, it wasn't just a random purchase - at the Half-Iron and Iron distance, an aero helmet can save you minutes per hour, and it's the cheapest "speed for the dollar" you can really get, just ahead of racing wheels. So, it does serve purpose beyond my efforts to totally dork out. But really - who knows what to expect. It's one of the admitted trappings that sometimes makes this game fun for me, and so there you have it. I should be easy to spot on race day at least!

Finally, to business: I ran 10 miles this weekend faster than I've ever ran 10 miles before (1:27 or something like that, but only 6 of those miles were speed-intentional, so it's encouraging). I'm also improving my interval times pretty significantly, and almost clocked 3 sub-7:00 minute miles today (with a .25 mile walk-break in-between), with only my last mile going 7:04 (Mile 1 was 6:57, Mile 2 was 6:52.) I was also in the pool for the first time all season (Brazo, I was 2 lanes away from you, but you were busy swimming so I never said hello) - that didn't go terribly well, but it gave me some sense of where I am anyway. I think pool time will be the hardest for me to come by this season, so I'm not sure what the water will be like this season. If I can get 2-3 swims in a week, I'll be very happy.

Lastly, we've had an interesting ongoing conversation in the comments of the post before this one, "On Fear". I'll be summing that conversation up in a post of its own at some point, but check out the many things people are saying, it's really interesting.

Really lastly, my man Bubba took 4th place in a ONE HUNDRED MILE TRAIL RACE !!!!!! That's utterly unbelievable. Way to go dude!

Really really lastly, my favorite birthday gift of all was this Ironman stroller that Amy, my mother, my mother-in-law, and my buddy Mike went in on together for me and D. We had our inaugural 3-mile run in it today - it went well, she seems to dig it! The very best part of Becoming Ironman again will be my new training partner, no doubt.

Oh, and really really really lastly, I couldn't stop myself on one last purchase at the bike shop. It fits her, believe it or not, but it'll be awhile before it's of any real use. Still, here we are together in our shiny hats. Extreme Cuteness alert ahead.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

On Fear

Alili has an interesting post on her blog about "Fear", where she talks about her nearly crippling fear of being on the bike. I.M. Able commented on that post that she's terrified of hills on the bike.

This got me to thinking about my own fears in the game - both to uncover anything worth exploring inside myself, but also in case I had anything useful to share with Alili (who mentions in her post that she's not looking for advice along the lines of "just get out there and do it" - which is understandably too easy to say...even where there can be truth in its simplicity.) I've mentioned before a truly watershed moment not just in triathlon for me but in my life - my first open water swim in 2005. I'd positioned myself at the front of the pack - because I didn't know any better - and, totally lacking the skills to actually hold my own there, was promptly run over by the masses. I'd never experienced such raw, troubling fear; so that my body took action with a nearly full-blown anxiety attack right there in the water. I'd never experienced anything really like anxiety (I'm the least anxious person I know), so the whole experience was just really terrifying. I nearly quit the race then and there.

But I didn't, and the question is why not. If it's not enough to say, "I just told myself I had to do this," then what's underneath that answer in itself? I don't absolutely know...I think it gets under the skin who we are. I have a general attitude in life that "I can do this." I don't fear fight. If we want to really get melodramatic, I've faced head-on the deepest, darkest places of myself and lived to tell about it. Scarred, but alive. So maybe it's just perspective - "I've been through worse." That sounds...unfair and inaccurate. But I'm not finding a simple phrase or an answer to satisfy the why, and the how, to overcome the things that make me afraid.

In '06, while training for Ironman, I was descending a hill on the roller-coasters near Garfoot, when suddenly my front wheel started wobbling horribly at 40mph. I screamed involuntarily as it happened, because I was losing control of my bike and could feel what was about to happen, as my bike prepared to buckle underneath me. I had just enough sensibility to try and move to the side of the road, so as to hit the ditch if possible, instead of impacting with the asphalt. At the precise moment when my mathematics said, "this is it", my bike slowed just enough for the wobble to subside and everything was fine. But I got off my bike shaking. It was like when you're in a car accident, and the last thing you feel equipped to do after that is drive - I could think of no way I could finish this ride, I was just too shaken up. So I sat there for 15 or 20 minutes and tried to collect myself. Scoured the bike for some mechanical failure to explain this thing that had never happened before. I found none, and that was more unsettling - what happened? How and why? And will it happen again? I did eventually get on the bike and finish the ride, but even the slightest descent was spent riding the brakes and sitting up high. It was weeks before I was really "over" that, and to this day I have to go through some mental warfare when descending not to get anxious about the possibility of "what if".

Early in the season I lack courage for fast descents. I develop it over my riding by picturing myself as an eagle, gliding on the wind. I try and relax completely, I let the road and the breeze move the bike gently around, instead of white-knuckling the handlebars with rigidity. I try and think about relaxing my fingertips, my forearms, my face. I push scary thoughts out of my head and just picture that eagle. It does help me. But sometimes, still, I'll quickly sit up in the saddle, or push the brakes a bit. And y'know -that's okay.

After that horrible first open water swim, I experienced the strangest phenomenon when I got back in the pool for training. My body just froze, paralyzed, unwilling to swim. I had to spend a full training session just kind of "starting over", with easy swimming back and forth with my head out of the water, then just slowly swimming through my strokes, to get the feel of the water. But I didn't really "get over it" until I put a blue rubberband around my wrist, as an object I could focus on and see underwater. I used it as a sort of hypnosis - look for the rubberband...look for the rubberband...look for the rubberband. With a single thing to focus on, I was able to push out whatever intrusive thoughts were keeping me from swimming naturally. It worked, and my workouts resumed to normalcy. As my life as a triathlete continued, I grew more and more comfortable with the washing machine in open water, and I don't fear it now at all. So maybe that's another piece of learning to overcome fear - maybe the most essential piece: experience. The more you do it, the more you'll understand yourself within it, and the less you'll have to fear.

Anyway, I'm wondering what you guys have been through. What scares you in this game, and why, and how do you deal with it? Probably we might all learn a bit about each other, and hopefully ourselves.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Becoming Ironman: Now I Remember

Yesterday I headed back out to the Ironman bike course. It's the first time since that cold day in September 2006, when I became Ironman, that I'd been on the course. I'd intentionally avoided it until...something. Until it was right. The thing that comes into my head is "until I felt worthy", but that sounds so cheesy. But it's a special place for me; a very important place. My pseudo-training last year wasn't the right time, or emotional climate, to just pick up and get back on the Ironman course for the sake of having done it. It wouldn't have been serious enough. It would have seemed...disrespectful. And I didn't live here before, when I'd train on the course - it was always a pilgrimage of sorts just to come here, put my wheels on its earth, and ride. That mystique was part of Ironman for me. I don't want for its proximity now to dilute its significance for me.

I rode with my friends Erin and Chief of Stuff. I've never really ridden with other people before, but it was fun - we'd separate during our ride, then stop every 7 or 10 miles or so and reconnect, getting a drink, chatting about whatever for a few minutes. It's a good time in the season to do that - go slow, take it easy, let the fitness come, and mostly enjoy the company of friends.

But I misspeak if I say "take it easy". It wasn't an easy ride at all. The wind was horrific - at least 20mph, and on our way out it was a direct headwind. Our first 30 minutes, we averaged less than 12mph. I was in the small chain ring for a long time, plodding away at 9, 10, 12 mph. We went out and back for 24 miles, then they left and I tacked on another 11, going back into the wind (which by now was really grueling), and then enjoying the tailwind on the turnaround that would shoot me up hills as 22, 23mph. My 35 miles had taken me well over 2 hours of ride time, and with that treacherous wind (and my not attending to any kind of power meter, etc.) I felt like I'd put forth the effort of at least a 50 mile "normal" ride. When I finished, my legs were just shredded.

There's this hill, just outside of Verona, which is a really fast, short descent. Coming back the opposite way (which, obviously, we don't do during the race), however, it's an insane climb. I was in my smallest, easiest gear, and was still standing up, mashing on the pedals just to get up. It was so hard, in fact, that I stopped at the top to check and see if my rear tire was flat - there had to be a mechanical reason why this hill took so much effort. Nope - it was just that tough. My second time around, after hours of facing the wind and the normal rolling hills, it was a serious personal victory that I did not, for the first time in my life, get off my bike and walk uphill (which I felt so close to doing).

Today was a 12 mile run. I'm still not working on pacing at all - I set my watch for time and heart-rate, and I stay below zone 3. Strictly base training, strictly long and slow. My legs felt totally alien for the few couple of miles after yesterday's ride, but then I started to get the spring in my step and get some consistency. I finished with almost exactly a 10:00/mile pace, with about a 20 second/mile negative split. Now, Steve in a Speedo I'm not, but I was encouraged with the consistency and negative split at this point in my season, especially since I'm not doing any speed work yet at all or anything. Certainly after how my legs felt yesterday. Very early signs of encouragement.

It's been awhile since I've felt this way. Physically exhausted. In moments of surreality when climbing a hill on my bike. Thinking about nutrition, and calories. Running through mile 12 and thinking, very seriously, that it defies any kind of logic I can wrap my head around that I'd have to go 14 more miles on these legs. Sitting and sweating in my car after just 35 tough miles on my bike and thinking - seriously? 75 more miles of that and then a marathon? You're kidding me.

What I'm remembering in these early, glorious days of reconstructing the machine of me that is (once and still) made of Iron, is that Ironman is hard. And I'm not even in Ironman season yet! This is all for the Racine Half-Iron and the fall marathon that are stepping stones to getting there next year. But the demands on the mind, and spirit, and body are huge and expensive. And I think somehow that's easy to forget, post-Ironman. We somehow become anesthetized to it - so that the pain and weariness and fatigue that got us there are like looking at old photographs. You appreciate that it happened, and have anecdotal memories that "yeah, geez, I had this one workout that was really tough" - but it lacks context when removed from it. Something that was, rather than something that is. Or even Ironman race-day itself, which is always so difficult but was absurd in '06 - I don't remember the feeling of being so cold that I was in early hypothermia, so that my fingers wouldn't work and I couldn't change clothes in T2 without help. I mean - I know that it happened, but I can't feel that today. It's become part of the lore, but its grip on reality, like all memories, I suppose, is blurry at best.

So these days begin not just the physical reconstructions, but the mental as well. Re-engaging in things that the body memorized a few years ago, but had no reason to be called upon for real purpose since. Things are happening. Speeds are naturally improving. Heart rate is naturally getting more consistent. The weight is inevitably coming off. And more subtle things - the taste of Clif bars every 15 minutes. Reaching down to scratch my leg and finding it harder and more muscular than it was even a few weeks ago. But what's interesting is that, the fact that I've done this before, that I have some familiarity with this process - doesn't bear much relevance. 12 miles today still kicked my ass. A ride around the Ironman loop in a few weeks won't be any easier just because I know the terrain. And that's the game, isn't it. The discoveries, the small victories, the personal battles, the self revelations, the strides in physical achievement and accomplishment - they have resumed, but anew - not simply picking up from the Ironman finish line as some kind of continuation. The stopping at gas stations for Gatorade, and standing up in the pedals to stretch my legs, and promising to not glance at my watch until I run past that light pole. The hours and hours and miles and miles alone, just me and my breath and my footfalls. This is how it starts, and this is Becoming Ironman.