I have trained for three Ironman races and I get to the point somewhere around Week 20 or so when I declare myself ready. All it took for me to understand that I wasn’t was the Saturday long ride and run workout.
It started out okay, and it was a beautiful day – low 70’s, mostly sunny, light breeze if any. My only option for doing a long ride and not want to murder people on the bike trail is to head south from where I live to the more rural farmland of the far south Chicago suburbs. I live right on the cuff of urban and rural living. Harlem Avenue near where I live is a six lane motorway. South of Monee, it is two lanes with barely any shoulder or traffic. So I headed south with a plan to turn around at 2 hours and head back to complete the scheduled 4 hour ride.
I have a terrible sense of wind direction when I ride for some reason, but I was keeping an eye on the corn and plants and they weren’t moving at all. So I felt strong and kept pushing. I had built up an average pace of 18.6 mph before I turned around. Then I felt the wind. It was from the north, and I knew I was in trouble because 90% of the ride back would be back into the wind. So I ended up battling my way back home, watching my average ride pace slowly tick back down to a more realistic level for me. I pushed pretty hard, but it still took me an additional 11 minutes on the return trip. I ended with an average of 17.9 mph. Not only was I now super tired from the effort back, but I also had dropped below 18 mph average.
I ended the ride with a 5 mile run at a pretty good pace. But I could tell that I was spent. I showered up and went to Panera for some soup. Between the Southwest Chicken Tortilla Soup bowl (super salty and full of chicken/protein), and about a half dozen refills of sugary Lipton Brisk Raspberry Tea, I was able to turn myself around and feel good again. But after that 5 hour, 80 mile training day, I knew that I surely do need these remaining few weeks of training to be ready.
On Sunday, I ran the scheduled 1 hour 45 minute run not knowing what to expect. Turned out I felt pretty good. Ended the run covering 12 total miles. Maybe I am ready!
2 Swims – 5600 yards this week / 70050 yards total
I read a recent article in Triathlete magazine that covered the subject of mental preparedness in Ironman. I have always thought that training your mind to handle the effort in training and the races was almost as vital as the physical aspect of getting your body ready to spend the more than half a day swimming, biking and running. Some of it can be very mind numbing for sure.
I find the swimming to be the most boring of the three. You are either looking at a black line at the bottom of a swimming pool, the dark murkiness of a lake, or in my case a bunch of dead bugs lying at the bottom of my pool, a constant reminder that I also need to devote time to take care of things that get neglected during training.
Running can also be boring, but you can bring music if you are so inclined. I don’t, but I do let the beauty of the area in which I run to keep me distracted from any suffering that may be going on. I jogged behind a deer on Wednesday for about a minute until it finally took notice and bounded into the woods.
I find that I don’t have the luxury of being unfocused on the bike. It’s the one discipline of triathlon in which you are required to focus. You have to constantly monitor your surroundings, your effort level, and make sure that you don’t crash. Certainly there are times when I can zone out, but something always quickly renews your focus on the bike – a bump on the road, a bug to the face, a gust of wind, etc.
Often times when someone asks about the Ironman, they only think in terms of how long it is – 140.6 miles – and are impressed that the distance can be covered under your own power. But I find that your mind easily adapts to the distance if you break it down into manageable segments. My training is 30 weeks long. That’s a long time. But when it is broken into its individual weeks, and then into each day, it is much easier to mentally handle the task. The woman who inquired about my training this week asked me about the training, and I said for Wednesday’s workout I did 45 minutes on the bike followed by a 30 minute run. A total of 75 minutes of exercise. Lots of people can do that. Break it up and it is much more manageable.
At Ironman Wisconsin in 2013, I found that I couldn’t bear to look out at the water where the swim course was being held prior to race day. It looked enormous! But on race day morning, I got in the water for the start and broke the swim up into small segments. My plan was to swim from one orange buoy to the next. On the bike it was all about riding to the next aid station where I could refill my water bottle and take on some more nutrition, then it was on to the next one. Same thing with the run – one mile at a time, one aid station to the next.
So I guess the physical training for the race is the most important aspect of completing an Ironman. But if you can train your brain to manage the race, it can make the physical portion of it much less of a burden.
Swimming in Lake Minocqua.
I volunteered as a chaperone at this past couple of weeks at band camp. Fortunately for me I was able to take the 3-6pm slot, and was still able to get my workouts done midday. The weekend was spent in Minocqua with the family. I felt the need to be with the family and spend quality time that is no longer a given. My son has his own job and is living out of state. And my middle daughter will begin her sophomore year at college soon. So to have everyone together for two short days was a luxury that I couldn’t pass up. So I skipped the scheduled four hour bike ride. But I was able to get an open water lake swim in as well as the two hour Sunday run. That run nearly wiped me out physically and mentally. I’ve got some work to do in the next ten weeks.
2 Swims – 4400 yards this week / 64450 yards total
I’ve always been somewhat self-conscious about my body. As a kid my mom would take me to the “husky” section of Sears to buy my clothes. I always swam in a t-shirt to hide my chubbiness. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so noticeable for me if my two best buddies didn’t have bodies that would be suitable for modeling. (They still have those bodies.) Even in my high school and young adult years, I would always buy a shirt that was a size larger than I need.
I started running like most people do – to lose a few pounds. I did lose a few pounds, but my body shape stayed the same. Not sure why after almost 28 years of running that I would not be rail thin like most marathoners, but it never happened to me. I am a slightly slimmer version of the same body that I have had since I can remember.
But when I started triathlon, things changed. First of all, one of the reasons I stayed away from triathlon was that I didn’t think that I could wear that skin tight clothing and be comfortable with how I felt and looked. Especially in the early days when they wore bikini style shorts. I can remember buying my first tri suit at Endure It! in the western suburbs of Chicago. I tried a two piece and remember thinking I looked like the Michelin Man. After that I tried a one piece suit and thought that it wasn’t too bad. Often times I would throw a t-shirt over it just to make me feel a little better about myself. But after getting a few races under my belt, I looked around and realized that it wasn’t all that bad. I saw all shapes and sizes of people squeezed into Lycra, and in reality I wasn’t the shape that my mind imagined myself to be. Triathlon seems to be giving me more than I had bargained for. I’m getting less conscious about my image.
This weekend I did a sprint triathlon. I was thinking about how I looked in comparison to others at the event. Not sure why, but I did. I was admiring this one guy who looked like he was a former pro. Fortunately for me he was in the 55-59 age group and I didn’t have to worry about losing an age group spot to him (He finished 3rd overall). He had the look that I wanted but somehow can’t achieve. As somewhat of a car buff, I envisioned myself much like a souped up beater – a car that looks rough on the outside, but is all pro-stock under the hood. The term “sleeper” also comes to mind – a car that is so tame looking, but packs a wallop.
I took my time in the water, but once I got to the bike I let it rip. I ended up surprising myself with a 21.8 mph average over the 11 mile course. When I got to the run, I played my strategy right. I allowed myself to settle in and not go crazy that first mile. I ended up running a 20:46 5K, nearly matching my personal best for road raced 5K’s this year. That was surprising as well.
The biggest surprise was when I saw the results on the screen at the finish line – 1st place in the M50-54 age group, and 9th place overall. I wasn’t expecting that. But I guess nobody expects the beater to have a supercharged big block under the hood. Sometimes not even me.
3 Swims – 3300 yards this week / 60050 yards total
A couple of twists to this week of training. First, I looked at the training for Week 18 and saw that it was to be somewhat of an easy week ending in an Olympic distance triathlon. Usually I just do the Oly distances of the swim/bike/run at home on the weekend and skip the racing, as racing can sometimes pose the risk of injury (i.e. bike crash, drowning, etc.) that you can avoid by just doing the day at home. But I had my eye on a local sprint distance race in the area which occurs next weekend, and I wanted to give it a try. So I swapped Week 18 with Week 19. Hopefully I won’t gun it too hard next weekend.
The second aspect of this week occurred to me on my long bike ride on Saturday, as most of my thinking and the ideas for this weekly wrap up happen. The family and I decided to head to the Northwoods of Wisconsin to our lake home to enjoy the weekend, as school activities are starting to heat up and it may be a while before we get a chance to get up there again.
As I was riding I began to assess where I was fitness-wise, and started to think about creating a race day strategy for Ironman Louisville. I was feeling pretty good on the ride and I hoped to translate that into a harder effort for the race itself. The ride was a 4 hour scheduled out and back, and I had hit 30 miles when I turned around. I was riding my hybrid bike and riding on a crushed granite trail, but I was still pretty pleased with my effort to that point.
I turned around to head for home and found that my Camelback was getting low on water. I had seen a building off of a local road and decided to see if I could find some water. No one was around, but I did find a spigot with a hose attached to it. Just as I was getting ready to fill it, a truck pulls up and inquires as to what I was doing. Fortunately the guy was pretty cool, and didn’t mind that I filled up.
Then about 3 hours into the ride I started to bonk a little bit. I had plenty of nutrition and I was eating it up, but for some reason I was just not quite as energetic as usual. I made it home in 4 hours and 10 minutes, so the trip back took me a little longer than going out did. I was almost ready to skip the post-ride brick run, but I decided to down a couple glasses of sugary tea/lemonade drink and at least get my mile in for the day (thanks, stupid running streak). But as I headed out, my legs came back and I put in a solid 3.5 miles in 30 minutes. It should have been a 45 minute run, but I knew Kari was worried about me, and I didn’t want to push my luck. The rest of the afternoon I could tell that I was drained.
One thing I can learn from this ride was that I’m not ready to be thinking about gunning for a personal best at 140.6 miles. The other thing is I’m glad I knew when I had had enough for the day.
Lastly, the Sunday run went really well, as did the rest of the week of training. Very glad that I got up north and had an adventure to mix things up. Next week will be much easier volume-wise, and I will have to balance training with being a volunteer chaperone at band camp. Looking forward to an easier week and a race on the weekend.
2 Swims – 4200 yards this week / 56750 yards total
Jeff is a Gunner. I already knew that, but Saturday’s ride reminded me that any one of my Gunner teammates can turn on the gunning when they are in their element.
Jeff and Jill had planned a graduation party for their daughter Emma, and since it made sense that we would be coming to their downtown condo for the party, that we should get together for the Saturday long bike ride and short run brick. And I immediately tried to think of someway to get out of it.
To be honest, I wasn’t all that excited about riding along the lakeshore in Chicago. I’ve seen the trail and it’s users, so to me it is like the wild west down there. All sorts of walkers, skate boarders, roller bladers, hand holders, runners, swimmers carrying their wet suits to Oak Street beach, volley ballers at the beach, and of course Lance wannabes. And in addition to that, I just generally hate driving downtown, not knowing where I am going, thinking that I’ll get mugged, or nowadays shot. But my wife drives down there everyday for work, Jeff and Jill live right in the heart of everything good in downtown, and since Dave had already committed to it, I decided what the hell. So I packed up my bike and junk, got up a 5 am and drove into the city.
We met up and Jeff reminded us that since there was a rather large 1/2 marathon on Sunday downtown and a related 5K Saturday morning, that we should get going and try to head north on the path and hopefully miss the runners. So we started our Garmins, clipped into our pedals and hit the mean streets of Chicago to the lake front trail.
When we got there I was amazed at how busy it was. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but man, there were tons of runners and riders out at 7 am. Jeff led us north right into the craziness. There were large groups of runners, presumably running together doing marathon training, that were taking up most of the trail. You had to wait your turn to go around the traffic and hope that others would share the trail. It was very chaotic, but in a way it was very organized chaos. The runners all expected to get passed by cyclists and didn’t freak out about it. Other cyclists knew to give an oncoming rider a little extra room on his side of the trail. And after a few miles of being indoctrinated to this chaos, it started to become easier.
We made a pass north and turned around. An hour back into the return trip, we had expected that the 5K had already passed, but that wasn’t the case. So we turned around and made another loop north. Now, I wasn’t so excited about this, but it was certainly better than trying to fight through the race. The trip back north was actually much less of an adventure. Most of the large groups had finished up, and it was just your usual and standard crazy trail users. This is the moment that Jeff decided to attack.
Since I was riding in the middle with Dave riding right behind me acting as my sweeper, I knew that Jeff wouldn’t get too far ahead, but he certainly was in his element. Dave and I were still riding with our heads on a swivel, and Jeff was like Keanu in the movie Speed.
But it dawned on me that when I hosted a ride a few weeks ago, I led the entire way even though both of those guys are stronger riders. And when we rode out by Dave, he led us out on his route. Dave told me when we rode on my route that he would drop back through the twisty nature preserve that I like to canyon carve the hell out of. He just wasn’t as familiar with all the fast turns as I was. And the same thing was going on with Jeff. He was just good at riding in his element.
We made the turn around and headed back into the downtown area and found the path to be open. We sped ahead to the south, passing such iconic landmarks like the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and the Field Museum. As we continued to ride, not only did it become less crowded, it also became very scenic. The south portion of the trail through Burnham Park and down through the South Shore was quite an enjoyable ride. We made the turn around and headed back to the city, hammering away and really enjoying the miles and letting the time fly by. In reality, the 3.5 hours on the bike seemed like two. And I was somewhat surprised that it was over so quickly.
As we finished, I jokingly praised the gods above for allowing me to survive the ride. But really the thanks should go to Jeff for guiding us on such a memorable ride. This thirty weeks of Ironman training isn’t all about doing work to finish the race, it is also for enjoying good friends and making great memories.
I won’t hesitate to accept an offer to ride there again. Thanks for inviting us, Jeff!
The Other Notable Ride of the Week
I had another notable ride on Thursday night. I was riding the scheduled 75 minute ride when I blew out my rear tire after riding through what I thought was some innocuous gravel debris. I was mulling over my options, as I was about 10 miles from home, and I didn’t have my cellphone with me. So I decided to jog about a 1/4 mile back to a parking lot where I could have some room and be a little safer repairing my tire than along the trail. Upon examining my tire, I could see that it was blown out on the sidewall, which really surprised me. I had a spare tube, but I knew that a hole in the sidewall of my tire was not going to be good.
I had some small tube patches and placed one over the hole and installed and inflated the new tube. After using one CO2 cartridge, I could see the tube had pushed the patch out through the slit in the tire by about 1/4 inch. I decided that I would have to take it very gently riding back.
Since I have a running streak and that I hadn’t ran yet, I decided to finish off the mile and off I ran at about a 9 min/mile pace in my cycling shoes. After the mile was over, I saddled up and rode easily toward home. I was about two miles into that easy ride when I heard the tube let go. Fortunately for me, I was near my office. So I jogged another half mile and I was able to get inside and call my wife to come pick me up. Quite an experience. Glad I had the lesson in repairing a tube, and using a CO2 cartridge, which I had never done before. I should have used something a little more sturdy to cover the hole prior to inflation, like a business card or a dollar bill that I had in my tool kit. It might of made a difference in keeping the tube from inflating through the sidewall.
Quite a memorable week for riding.
2 Swims – 4300 yards this week / 52550 yards total
With the crazy schedules we tend to have, we finally got to have a vacation! Not a full week worth, mind you. No, that would be what regular people do. But it was almost a full week! July 4th fell on a Tuesday, and since Rebecca is in the marching band, we are required to be in town for the parade. But as soon as it was over, we jumped in the car and headed north to our new favorite spot, our lake home in Minocqua, Wisconsin.
I took a photo of my training plan from the book I follow and made sure I knew what I had to do for the week. Fortunately, the workouts were pretty easy this week, and I made sure to get them out of the way early so I could enjoy the family and the water while on vacation.
I was able to do an open water swim with my wetsuit in Lake Minocqua and it went well. Kari paddled along side me in a kayak, and I found myself swimming at a nice and easy pace. I made it down along the shoreline about 0.8 mile before turning around. The swim ended up being about 1.67 miles according to my Garmin 910XT watch, which is about 2950 yards. It took me an hour to do the swim. I felt like I was struggling strength-wise, fighting the wetsuit somewhat. After finishing, I was pretty sore. I complained about it later, because I tend to complain. Kari wisely pointed out that I had been water skiing the day before. That was an aha! moment.
The three hour long bike ride followed by a 30 minute run also went very well. I took to the Bearskin Trail and rode it farther south than I ever have. I really like the trail. Lots of greenery and beautiful things to see. I didn’t see any bears though. Or any bear skins for that matter.
I ended the weekend with a solid 1.5 hour run on the trail as well. Nice cool weather for training. Next week it will be back to the grind in good old Mokena.
2 Swims – 4350 yards this week / 48250 yards total
Week 15 is OVER! And we are officially halfway through the 30 week training plan for Ironman Louisville 2017!
Although you can divide the calendar in half, it really isn’t halfway done in my mind. The first half of training contained the base and build phases of training, weeks of training that weren’t as intensive as what is ahead of me. For instance, the longest ride of the previous 15 weeks was Saturday’s four hour ride. The four and a half, five, five and a half, and six hour rides are yet to come. If you are dividing up the hours or miles of the training, you would probably see the halfway point being somewhere near Week 18, maybe? I dunno, I overthink this stuff too much. Anyway, there is much more training ahead in the next 15 weeks than there was in the previous 15 weeks. But it is comforting to know that we have hit the halfway point, even if there’s tons of work yet to come.
Training this week went well. I did everything but the Friday swim. I’m hoping to do more swimming while we are on vacation at our lake home this next week. I think I will benefit from more open water swimming than pool swimming anyway. I need to dial in pace while in the open water. I always seem to go too hard right at the start. Thankfully in my two previous Ironman swims I was was able to recognize that and dial it back until I found my groove.
My running is going okay. I find my pace to be a little slow, but it doesn’t concern me. I’m trying not to further damage the left hamstring, which is still pretty sore. Probably as a result of the two 5K races and the sprint triathlon in which I gunned it hard. I can’t turn that off. Time to start stretching more, something I have been neglecting lately.
The bike is also going pretty good. I’m easily holding a 16-18 mph average on my rides, depending on the effort the plan calls for. Shorter rides I tend to hammer more. Saturday’s four hour ride got me about a half mile shy of 70 miles, but I rode a few extra minutes to put me over the 70 mile mark. I ended up with a 17.3 mph average for that ride. I got a little dehydrated after, so I will need to focus on that as well. I had two full bottles of Gatorade and my fuelselage filled with water. I also stopped with a half hour to go and refilled a water bottle. Still wasn’t enough.
All in all, a good ending to the first 15 weeks.
2 Swims – 4200 yards this week / 43900 yards total