So...apparently how it works is, I have really limited time for blogging anymore. This means the updates are more scarce, and a bit more intentional - but apparently pretty damn long once I finally get an opportunity to post. So, sorry about the length, it is what it is. Oh, and apparently I also lack time for prudent grammar and speeling attention, which is a peeve of mine, so apologies for the reckless blathering as well.
Last weekend marked my ramp up of "Peak Weak", and will a few key workouts ended the build, fitness phase of training for Ironman, and began the taper. It was an interesting week and weekend, with some solid workouts and cool experiences.
The weekend of training "officially" started with a 1000 yard open water swim and 5k run in the last of the local aquathon summer series races here in Madison. I intended this swim to be an assessment of a few hard weeks of pool work, trying to improve my stroke. I had hoped to improve my times from the previous two races and 17:xx and 18:xx - but instead it became an exercise in mental toughness. The water conditions were insane. Here's a video of what faced us that evening:
Heading out to the first turn buoy was especially crazy. I have to acknowledge that, as I stood there on the beach waiting for the start, I had some trepidation - which is unlike me. Earlier that week a woman about my age died while training for Ironman in Lake Monona. She was wetsuited up, she was with a few other swimmers. I'm sure you've read as much as I have lately about triathletes dying in the water - I was at a race a few years ago where it happened. It's a statistical blip, really, for how many of us there are swimming each day and each weekend, but no less tragic. I can usually, with more information, attribute this tragedies to swimmer inexperience, or an existing condition of some kind, or some other extenuating circumstance beyond just "swimming". But not so with this woman (her name is Mary, and I did not know her). It's a sad, sad thing, and for whatever reason it really struck me and stayed with me. Not necessarily in an enlightening kind of way, were it causes me to reevaluate what I'm doing or its inherent risks or anything like that - just for its raw sadness, how unexpected it was. So in any water conditions, I think I would have found myself standing on the beach feeling a little thoughtful about this stuff. As it is, the water was crazy, so I suppose it makes one pause.
In any case, the swim was as nuts as I figured it would be, the waves compounding with the usual washing machine of bodies to make the first several hundred yards out to the turn buoy total chaos. But all in all, it was a lot of fun more than anything else. Like running in a crazy rainstorm or something, where how fast you're going becomes irrelevant because you're just at the whims of nature and you can either fight that or go with it. I tend to go with it, so I enjoyed myself. I finished in 20:xx, but it wasn't the kind of day to hold times up against other times, and that's okay. I ran the 5k easy, not racing, and just enjoyed the evening run.
Friday "Long" Ride
I was scheduled for my last 100 mile race rehearsal on Friday, so I headed out early, about 6am, to beat the "showers" that were due in the afternoon, and instead hope for the best with the "some showers" that were forecast with 30% likelihood that morning. I brought a rain jacket with me just in case and hit the road.
Not much to report. I rode the first 15 miles according to plan - stupid easy - but somewhere just after Mt. Horeb it started to rain. And rain. And rain. It was windy and rainy, and wow did it feel a lot like Ironman 2006. It wasn't as cold - which was a good thing - but seriously, the weird flashbacks of hearing wet tires slosh by on the road, the reflections of headlights on the road for the darkened day, the constant drizzle from the top of my helmet - kind of eerie. By the tail-end of the loop I had long since stopped riding according to "strategy" - it was too wet and slippery. Everything was just slow down and ride it out. I decided at the end of the loop (I had tacked 10 miles onto Whalen at the beginning of the loop, rather than the end) that I'd stop after 50 miles. Certainly I wanted to go those other 50 miles - but there was just nothing to be gained from it, and more risks than any limited rewards were worth; I had no fitness to develop, I couldn't execute my strategy, and believe me I don't require riding 100+ in the rain while training to know I can do it. So, I closed up shop for the day and headed home. I felt good about the decision - which was an indicator that I was training right, and prepared for taper; there was no panic that I left some miles out there, or my whole life would be screwed up now since I didn't get that race rehearsal in, or whatever. Part of the game is being flexible and improvising, and that's how it goes.
I will say, though, that it'll suck if it rains on race day. I'll do it, of course, and I'll do it willingly and cheerfully and with a positive attitude, and I'll feel bad for my Team (of impressive numbers, more on that another time) for having to slog through another day of rain, but mostly it'll suck because all this work, all this time and energy spent on the course devising a race-day strategy that allows me to excel, rather than just experience, will kind of be out the window. Certainly not to say it's all for nothing or anything like that, but I want to reach mile 50 ready to push play on my plan. If it's raining like that - there's no more plan, really. Just survival. Just hunker in, slow down, and be safe. I'm not afraid of it or obsessed with the weather or anything, but just saying...I'm hoping it doesn't rain all day. Like everybody else.
Saturday Swim Race, Bike, Run
Saturday morning broke bright and crisp, with temperatures in the low 50's. I headed to Monona Terrace for a 2.4 mile open water swim race put on by a local swim club. It was my longest swim workout before race day, and my best opportunity to practice, get in some good work, feel out some race-day positioning, and enjoy a good swim. The water was beautiful and still, and it was fun to be back at Monona Terrace for something akin to racing.
The course was designed to be very similar to the Ironman course - 2 loops of 1.2 miles. The entire course was a bit closer to shore than the true IM course (the ski ramp pretty much marked one turn buoy, for instance, whereas at Ironman it's kind of in the middle of the lane). It seemed most of the other 200 (?) or so swimmers there were also doing Ironman and using this as a training race, so it was fun and interesting to be among that crowd. I had some friends doing the race too, but didn't end up seeing any of them. I headed out to the turn buoy, about where I started at '06, tried to manage the usual nervous energy, and at the gun took off with the rest of 'em.
It was an okay swim. Much of it was experimental - it's not often you get an opportunity to swim 2.4 miles in a race environment that doesn't involve the full Iron distance - so I tried a few things. I practiced drafting when I could. I tried hard to be mindful of my technique, which I've been working on. At the end of the first loop I tried kicking into another gear, pushing my kick harder than usual. I kept that up for the next full length, until the turn buoy, and then went back to my normal pacing. I got clocked in the eye pretty good and thought for sure I'd end up with a black eye (I didn't), so had to stop and adjust my goggles at one point. All in all it went fine - but near the end I got to thinking about how damn far 2.4 miles is - a sign of some mental fatigue - and I was feeling a little wiped out. I hit the beach ready for a bagel and some Gatorade. I finished at 1:32:xx; I've mentally budgeted about 1:30 for Ironman, and I finished in 1:37:xx in '06 (in tough water conditions), so I suppose the 1:32 is an improvement, and about where I expected to be. I have some ideas to manage effort better, but I'll take it more easy than this on race day, which could slow down my time - I don't know. I'm certainly not going to push that kick for half a mile like I did, or do anything at all that might wear me out. The swim will take care of itself on race day, and my goal will be to take it easy and let it come. I wish I were faster, though. But, it's fair; I've spent the least time working on my swim (which, I know I know - it's a limiter, I should dedicate some serious off-season work to it sometime, but it's also my least favorite of the 3 disciplines and I don't do this for a living, thusly it should be fun, no?, and so you see the mental conundrum I suffer...) so I can expect my time there to be slow. I have, it appears, zero natural ability in the water, so I have to work hard to take what I can. In any case, I accomplished my goal for the race, which was really just to have a safe, productive swim, get the miles in, test the waters a bit (literally and metaphorically), and see what came of it.
After regrouping a bit on shore and downing a bagel and some Gatorade, I headed up to the Terrace parking garage to get my bike and ready for an easy ride. There were a lot of swimmers heading out for a long bike - many of them the full 100 or 112 miles. I was just heading out for 30, aiming to ride the stretch from Madison to Verona at "race effort", which meant "stupid easy". The wind was pretty wicked, most of it a headwind on Whalen, and I felt a little bad for all the riders heading out for a long day having to face that wind. But, it was sunny and cool, so all in all a pretty nice day for a ride. I took it easy going out to Verona for about the first 10 miles, then decided to increase effort a bit since I had legs from my abbreviated ride the day before, and only had 30 on the docket. It was useful to be on course with so many other riders - if only because it helped to mentally acclimate. I'm the kind of guy that can sort of unintentionally lay chase if I see a rider in front of me, or at least get into a mental game where I'm constantly considering my position relative to theirs (am I getting closer? Farther away?), and none of that is on my schedule for race day. So, it was good to just let everybody and their brother pass me by those first 10 miles, sit up in my saddle, out for a joy ride. On the way back I had a considerable tailwind, which was fun, and it was useful to refamiliarize myself with some of those roads coming in and out of Madison (by the way, city of Madison and state of Wisconsin: repave McCoy. Stop patching the damn thing up, repave it already. It's obnoxious. Chief of Stuff, make some calls.)
Back at the Terrace I got situated for a short 3 mile run, taking it easy as I had 15 miles scheduled for the next day. Nothing much to report. It was fun to run around Lake Monona. There were lots of people. I didn't know people fished so much off the Terrace. I wrapped it up with a pace of about 8:26/mi (this seems my "effortless" pace - I think I could run 3-5 miles in exactly 8:26 in my sleep), and called it a day. I'd had a great morning of workouts, enjoyed the day tremendously, and felt prepared to say goodbye to the Terrace for the next 3 weeks.
Sunday Long Run
Sunday morning was my last long run until Ironman - well, longer than 12 miles, anyway. 15 miles, and I headed out to dense fog and temps in the upper '50's - perfect running weather. I executed race effort and pacing, and again ran loops between my house and my Grandparents' house, where I had Gatorade, gel, and water at each station. It amounted to 3 loops of about 5 miles. I ran according to plan; the first 3 miles at around a 10:00/mi pace, the next 3 miles at around 9:30/mi, and the next 10 miles at 9:00/mi pace. The first 10k were pretty foggy, and made for a very cool atmosphere for my last long run.
After that the fog broke as the temperature increased to the low 70's, and the sun broke through for a bright, beautiful day. I had zero drama - it's actually a huge testament to how well the weekend went that I can say "not much to report". I ran in my Nike Lunar Trainers, and they gave me no troubles - I'm undecided on those or the Newtons for race day, so I'll let the weather and conditions dictate that decision (the Lunar Trainers are bad in wet, so any rain or heat where I'd be dumping water on myself puts them out of contention. They have a bit better support, though, so otherwise they might be just the thing.) I finished with a 9:23/mi average, and was right on schedule. If I can reach mile 16 of the marathon in about 2:30, I'll be ready to rock and roll, I think. I spent the last mile in an unexpected bit of nostalgia, which again I'll intend to hold back until later, after Ironman, but considered a bit the long road it has been, and its many bends and winding stretches, to reach this last long run in Becoming Ironman. Stuff like running around my hometown the day my Grandpa died. Seeing my mom, my only cheerleader that day, on the side of the rainy road last year at the Twin Cities marathon. Gravel roads in North Dakota with Jackson faithfully at my side. Each of those runs leading inevitably to this run, so that this run can lead me strongly to the one that matters on 9/13. The stuff of life that happens to me when putting one foot in front of the other.
My iPod was dead when I readied for my run that morning, so I ended up running with my (bulky, awkward) iPhone, so happened to have a camera with me. Snapped this shot just after stopping on the run.
Monday "Long Ride" Continued
For much of the season I was riding on a Koobi saddle, which was giving me all kinds of issues that aren't good times, like numbness and it-sucks-to-pee stuff. So I've been trying out an Adamo saddle, which is some kind of technological wizardry, and it's been awesome in relieving all of those issues - but by nature of intending to relieve those issues, the saddle is a bit wider in the nose. This, then, has caused a whole storm of chafing issues that has really, really sucked. Only for some reason it was only late last week that I put together that those issues started the same time as the new saddle; I'd been thinking it was my cycling shorts or something. So after doing some research, I realized I'd been sitting on the Adamo incorrectly, so I repositioned the saddle as it should be. Now my thighs weren't hitting the saddle, which was a good thing, but I was much less comfortable - I am just not the kind of rider who can live on the tip of the saddle nose. So I did some more research, and went and picked up a Specialized Toupe. This is all a winding way of saying that I had some new gear to check out only 3 weeks before race day, which is not at all ideal, and were I not so uncomfortable with the Adamo, with that discomfort having some clear ramifications on the run (funny story - after a ride a few weeks ago, I had a long run, and so I slathered up with some chamois cream. The run went well, but I had a foamy, gooey mess of chamois cream seeping out of the pores of my running shorts. It was as awesome as it sounds. And reminded me of that Friends episode where Ross has the leather pants), I certainly wouldn't be tinkering with something as critical as the saddle this late in the game. So, with that in mind and considering that I had left 50 miles on the course from Friday that, I felt, were to my discretion if I picked them up, I headed out for one last ride on the Ironman loop (no Whalen this time), to test out the new saddle and ride as "lap 2" effort, which is still easy, but a bit increased.
First off, the new saddle was blissful. I had to stop and adjust it a few times, but I'd honestly forgotten what it felt like to be comfortable on the bike. Huge difference. Life is good. I'll be especially attentive to its comfort in the next few rides as well, but it would appear, problem solved. Whew.
Otherwise, it was a great ride. A little bit breezy, but not bad. I ticked past 40mph twice (both on descents), which is fun. The roller coaster on Witte, which to this point has been wrought with loose gravel for the past several weeks, is mostly cleaned up and I was able to open it up without brakes and tucked in on that section. The only "event" of the day was that somewhere I lost my tool bag, which really does quite suck. Luckily I didn't need it, but it was a pretty nice little collection of tubes, CO2, tire levers, even a chain tool. Bummer. It popped off the back sometime, no doubt too loosely attached to the new saddle. So, something to remedy before race day. Oh, and during one of my saddle/saddle height adjustments I'd apparently not tighted the seat post up quite enough, so just before Timber Lane I noticed my knees were hitting my elbows, and I felt all wonky on the bike, and lo and behold my seat was all the way down. So that was weird. Anyway, all glitches that didn't much affect my day, and it was a good, strong last ride on course.
Taper officially begins.
• I am not only ready for Ironman, I am ready to have a ridiculous day. There are a lot of x-factors at Ironman, though, and I know that. And I'm not planning to any certain time, or chasing any crazy goals beyond just finishing with a smile. But I believe my training has me prepared for a great race. Can I execute? Isn't that always the question. I've worked hard, and to great success, learning to execute my races for the last few years, crushing a sub 2:00 goal at a half marathon last year (coming in 1:46:xx), crushing a sub 6-hour goal at half Iron (5:35:xx), crushing a sub 3:00 goal at the Olympic distance (2:37:xx). None of this is self-congratulatory, it's just facts - if I can trust in my training and stay out of my own way, race my race and not worry about speed or finishing times or any of that, and just concentrate on execution, I think I've put in the work to have a great Ironman. Will my finishing time reflect that? Who knows. I need a half-decent weather day. No tech drama on the bike. No unexpected injury or malfunction. But - I can't do anything about that stuff, so no sense thinking around it. What I can control has been my training, and I'm pleased with how it's gone and where it's brought me.
• That said, I'm taking nothing for granted. I'm not confident, per se, just ready. I'm going with whatever current the day of Ironman provides for me, that is all. Not fighting it, not going against it, and not for one second believing I'm in charge of it.
• I'm more excited for this Ironman than I was in '06. That's a surprise to me, because you'd think after your first, anything else would slightly pale. But at this point in '06, I was nervous more than excited. My excitement was a nervous excitement. I was sleeping horribly for all the unfinished business in my head. I was emotionally exhausted by it, I know now. I'd been through, and put myself through, a lot in preparation for '06, much of that having nothing to do with time in the water, or on the road. This time around, I'm much more clear-headed. I'm having a lot more fun - and I had a lot of fun last time. I'm excited and looking forward to it. I have good thoughts around it. Good energy.
• I have a plan. In '06, I had a plan just to finish. That was it. Everything was just about enduring the distance. I had no strategy in mind for approaching the bike, or approaching the run from the bike, beyond vague "save something in the legs so you can run". This revealed itself plainly in some of the tough times I had on the run - just mentally and physically wasted from the bike. Granted, it was an awful weather day, and maybe there was no helping this - but I had no real awareness of it in the first place, or proactive approach to it. This time I have a plan. I even have a plan for the plan. I know how I'm approaching the bike, and approaching one section of the bike compared to another. I know what to expect from the run, and what I hope to accomplish on this mile as well as that mile. That's exciting.
• From here - taper. Which doesn't mean all work has stopped, or get fat and lazy. I still have lots to do, and this week especially is still a bit considerable - lots of pool time, a 3 hour ride this weekend, a 12 mile run. But all easy-does-it. Just stay sharp and stay out of trouble. But mostly now, enjoy it. Enjoy this time, this build up. I fought it last time - letting the nervous energy get pervasive. This time, I want to celebrate it. Use some of the lesser volume to pay back some lost time, when I'd be on my bike for 7 hours earlier this summer, to family. See the forest for the trees a bit. Life is good. You're doing Ironman. Hell yes.
Bits & Pieces
• Team Lionhearted is growing, and we've almost TRIPLED the original goal!!!! There is much more to say about this, and I hope to dedicate some time to a post about this later this week, so stay tuned.
• I saw a lot of people pushing way too hard on the way out to Verona on my ride on Saturday. Now, as usual, what the hell do I know, and I'm not wanting to be critical of anybody's training, approach, strategy, whatever. But I think if you're pushing a big gear at 75-80rpm in the first 5 miles of the Ironman, you'll regret it later. Just saying.
• Please take care of your machines. I also saw a lot of people with black, gunky chains and drivetrains that had never been cleaned. I saw (or rather, heard) machines - some $4000 rocket ships - come clattering by me with a noisy drivetrain from a front derailleur just crying for some adjustments. Or shifting that sounded like a dinosaur eating metal. Ugh. If I can hear you coming up behind me before I can see you, or can't hear you breathing for the rattle of your components, then a tune up is in order (though that said, if I can hear you before I can see you, it means you're about to pass me on your bucket of bolts, so again - clearly - what the hell do I know?). Not trying to be a bike snob or anything here, but some easy, basic maintenance - cleaning your chain, learning to tune your barrel adjusters on your derailleurs, a regular wipe-down of the bike - this stuff will put your bike in such better working order, but also give you an opportunity to get really familiar with your bike - so if something's going amiss, you'll be more likely to catch it before it leaves you stranded on the road. So please, for the sake of your very awesome raceday that you've worked so hard for, make sure you give your machine some love.
• While I'm dishing out unsolicited $.02, make sure you can change a tire! Practice! Practice with CO2 cartridges! Did you know they get super freaking cold when you inflate a tire with them - so you can't hold them with a bare hand? That you get one shot to fill up your tire with a cartridge, so if it's seated wrong somehow on the stem you could waste a precious cartridge? Work this stuff out now, during taper, so you can handle anything unexpected that might come your way race day. Here's a great video on some basics for how to change a flat:
Okay, all for now. More to come as race day approaches, so stay tuned. Getting closer everybody! Whahoo!