... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Monday, October 7, 2013

Glimpsing Greatness

Yesterday was cycling and swimming day. I got up fairly early and was out riding by 8:30, tackling the 34.7 miles from Hawi to Kawaihae and back again. My legs, from the moment I got on the bike, were completely shot. Whether it was from the long run the day before or some other factor I don't know, but I did know that I was in trouble. I fought my way through the entire ride down, managing not to get passed by any of the numerous Ironman superhumans on the route. Each hill fought me back with impressive effort.

At the bottom I ate a protein bar (Nature Valley Protein granola bar--best thing ever when you're working out hard) and drank a--you guessed it--Grape Gatorade, feeling like the awkward friend who somehow ended up at a party they weren't invited to as the professional athletes gathered in a swarm in the convenience store parking lot talking and laughing. Everyone I encountered was extremely nice, but I couldn't help but feel self-conscious and clumsy. (The clumsy feeling may or may not have been related to almost crashing in front of all of them when I failed shift correctly, lost my momentum, and barely had time to clip out before tipping over while pulling up at the convenience store.)

Testing a triathlon top from DeSoto Sports
The ride back up was tough. Every time I felt like I was doing okay I got passed by someone going at least twice my speed, and before long my legs felt like huge, heavy blocks of cement. I knew long before I hit the 7-mile hill that it was going to be horrible, and horrible it was. I was in the very lowest gear for 80% of the time, intent only on making it back to my car. After 6 miles of hell, however, something wonderful happened.

After over an hour of watching athletes fly by me, their pedaling revolutions mind-blowingly fast even on the toughest portions, my legs came free. I don't know how to describe it, but I suddenly went from my slow, tortured 1--2--1--2 pattern of pedaling and breathing to a quick, light 1--2--3--4 pattern. It was as if my feet were percussive, tapping hard onto the down stroke and pulling up with twice the momentum. Each stroke felt easier, the pedals less resistant. 

Similar to the moment in which my legs became light and independent from the rest of my body while running, I wondered: is this how it feels for really fast athletes? Is this how they do it?

These strange discoveries give me hope, because while I cannot yet find that feeling on demand, I now know that it exists and that there is a different level of technique that is far less painful than the skills I use now. I can keep seeking the key to be able to unlock the feeling of light, strong, independent legs whenever I want to. 

I made it back to the car quickly after that, and had managed to maintain the exact same pace as the last time Sean and I did the ride despite my weary legs. I would rather see improvement, but given how little I've been able to ride and how tired my body was from the beginning of the trek, I was happy. 

The swim went well. I switched back to my old goggles and after two adjustments, had no problems with leakage. The water was a little rough and I had a couple of close calls in which I almost took a mouthful of water, but somehow managed to avoid that fate. 

There were, however, tons of little no-see-ums that were stinging both Sean and I all over. At first I thought I was imagining it because I never saw the source of the stings, but as we got out he commented on it and I knew it wasn't my imagination. I have no idea what on earth they were... stinging mystery beasts aside, we swam a mile in fairly decent time, my stroke felt good and smooth, and my goggles behaved themselves. All in all a good workout. 

I did rediscover the importance of not opening my mouth too wide for breaths. For whatever reason, gasping for air with an open mouth throws my entire stroke off balance and makes it choppy, slow, and uncomfortable. Reminding myself to relax, take calm, slow breaths with a low head and my mouth barely open does wonders for my speed and grace. Strange correlation, but hey, whatever works. 

It was a good weekend. I feel accomplished and successful and my slightly sore muscles remind me how good it feels to push through some long, difficult training sessions. This coming weekend is Ironman Kona Championships and I can't wait to get even more inspired!

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