... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

No Rest for the Weary - A Tough "Recovery" Week

I've said over and over again that triathlon has a way of building you up while reminding you in no uncertain terms that you still have a lot to learn. There is no room for ego, no room for complacency. We were reminded of that the hard way this past weekend during what were supposed to be our recovery workouts -- a 9-mile run on Saturday (along with a 1200m swim) and a 45-mile bike on Sunday.

I have been looking forward to this weekend for about 10 days, ever since my week-long "bonk" in which I felt dizzy, tired, and confused for several days due to lack sufficient nutrition. It is tough to stare down an 11-mile run while feeling like you might pass out, and one of the things that got me through was focusing on the "easy" week coming up. It was like a beacon of hope. The problem was that my "short" workouts weren't actually short. They were still pretty brutal lengths for someone at our level of training.

We woke up Saturday at 7am, luxuriously late for us, and took our time getting up, eating, and relaxing a little. By the time we ate and left the house, it was 8:30. We arrived at Hapuna, our starting point, at a little after 9am. I know that in some places April is still fairly cool, but on the Kohala coast such is not the case. The sun was already blazing and the temperatures were upward of 80-85 degrees. Armed with chews, rice cakes, my bottle of electrolyte drink, and two dollar bills in case I needed to stop to refill it, we set out.

The first mile and a half is very, very hilly. They are short hills, but they definitely get your heart pumping with steep ups and your knees aching with steep downs. The first time I tried to run this stretch I almost died. Now I look forward to it with a kind of sick enjoyment. It is pleasant and quiet, away from the main highway with an ocean view some of the way and devoid of cars except for a few tourists who look at you like you have completely lost your mind for choosing to run it, and a few locals who come flying around the corners causing you to scramble quickly off to the side. The road is rough, but there are Franklin grouse and turkey in the bushes, the smell of warm kiawe wood is strong, and there is something I just like about it. Plus, I finally ran all the way up the biggest, steepest hill without walking for the first time on Tuesday of last week, so I'm feeling pretty awesome about it.

Puako Beach Drive, our running route, from above
At the end of this road, we turned down the hill onto a bigger street which runs through the beachfront neighborhood called Puako. Puako is an odd mix of very wealthy mainland transplants and local holdouts who lived there before it became expensive and, wisely, held onto their land, creating a place in which humble homes and sometimes run-down shacks sit next to manicured 8-bedroom mansions. It is quiet, flat, and the road is bordered by plentiful and colorful flowers of all kinds. It's a great place to run, especially to work on pacing. Conveniently, there is also a small general store that can serve as a refueling stop if need be. I ran by it during my last 9-mile run, desperately angry that I hadn't thought to bring money to buy water, every cell in my body screaming for more hydration. This week, I went prepared, and thank goodness, because it was every bit as hot.

Wild turkey at Puako!
I ran all the way to the turnaround point (4 miles) and back another 3/4 mile without walking. In the heat, with the hills, I was pleased with that. It was the farthest I've made it on that particular route. Right before I walked, however, I got overtaken by the heat. My body started freaking out, including those weird shivers that happen even when you're boiling hot, and my heart rate started to rise. Instead of slowing down, I kept going. Mistake. When I did stop to walk, I felt woozy and strange. I knew I should eat something, but couldn't. I did manage to drink my electrolyte drink, and focused on relaxing and slowing my heart rate. I was irritated that I had to walk so far (probably a quarter mile), but it was definitely the right move, because once I did I could eat a little, my heart was better, and I felt ready to continue. I ran back to the store, jogged inside, bought my precious water, and kept running.

I made it another mile or so, at which point the road becomes an ugly, long hill. I ran the first quarter mile or so, then gave in (again, heart rate!) and walked for a while. Compared to two weeks before, however, it was a success, because I only walked for about 2 minutes before running the rest of the way up, around the corner, and onto the highway. Last time I had to walk the entire hill. My "run" was hardly more than a bouncy walk, but it whatever, I kept going.

Almost the entire remainder of the run was on the highway, which I generally hate because of the wind, the car noise, the exhaust smells, and guys who like to yell things at girls while they run. The wind was bearable, and I was determined not to stop again. I ran, and ran, and ran. It could only have been about 2 more miles, but it felt like years. I was hot and coated in grimy sweat, and my legs started to feel ungainly and strange, but I kept going. It was terribly painful and wonderfully validating. Again, I reminded myself that my desire to stop was more mental than physical. As I turned the corner I knew I was almost there and couldn't quit, and it truly felt great to know that I stuck it out through that last stretch once I made it to the car. Although the run itself felt very rough, I felt better afterward than I had for the past two long runs, and my recovery was significantly faster.

Sunday brought our recovery week long bike, clocking in at 45 miles. Not having learned our lesson the day before, we waited until 10am to get started. (It's playoff season for the NBA and in Hawaii the games start at 7am!) We figured it would be okay because it was our easy week. The first 18 miles, down from Hawi into Kawaihae, flew by. We felt good, there was very little wind, and I was reveling in my good fitness and how painless it felt. Pride goeth before the fall. Just after Kawaihae there is a hill. It is a sneaky hill, one that doesn't appear to be long nor steep when you drive it in a car. It doesn't even look too intimidating when you approach it on the bike, but beware -- it is a killer. It is just the right combination of steep and long to knock the wind out of your sails. The steepness alone isn't bad. The length by itself wouldn't phase you. But put the two together, and it just seems to cause problems for me.

I felt every pedal stroke, but didn't give up. When I finally made it to the top, I thought it was just that hill that would cause me problems given how great I'd felt up until then, but sadly I was mistaken. We rode to the turnaround point just a few miles farther along before heading back the way we came. Unfortunately, the way back means re-gaining the elevation difference between Kawaihae and Hawi, so it is significantly more difficult. To make matters worse, the wind picked up into a fair headwind and my legs appeared to have turned to lead.

The Akoni Pule Highway - dry side
The Akoni Pule Highway - the green part
Each hill felt like a mountain. I was in embarrassingly low gears on every single one, and still struggling. The scenery is nice along this ride, with the ocean on one side, blue as blue can be, and the Kohala mountains on the other. I tried to focus on that, but all I could see was the shimmering heat waves oscillating over the road in front of me. It felt like being cooked in a broiler. There were pockets of slightly cooler air coming off the ocean, but the relief was short-lived before we were plunged back into the oven-like heat. As is always the case, the first sign that I needed more calories and/or hydration was that I started to get mentally foggy and emotional. I felt negative and suddenly my focus turned on me, wrapped up in frustration. I tried to power through for a while before giving in and stopping for a few minutes. Just getting out of the aero position helped, and I stretched my legs, back, shoulders, and neck while downing a couple of energy chews and a few drops of my precious water.

I can't say that I felt much better when we restarted, and when Sean passed and dropped me on the beginning of the long hill to Hawi, I almost cried, but I kept going. I told myself that I could stop again if I needed to once we made the turn around the north edge of the island, where the surroundings become green and beautiful. I rewrote the negative script in my head into just two words: "Calm... strong... " and repeated them over and over, pushing all other thoughts away. Oddly enough, it worked. As I reached the beginnings of the fields of green grass that run to the ocean on the left and to the mountains on the right, the air seemed to cool, my mind seemed to clear, and I knew I could keep going. I can only guess that this was the effect of the chews I ate hitting my muscles.

Then, suddenly, my legs were light and strong.

I powered up the hill like it was nothing. I kept shifting into higher gears, amazed that I could keep up my cadence on this hill with more and more resistance. I rode the next 5 miles of hill faster than I ever have before, amazed the whole time at what my body was doing. As we neared Hawi, I caught up to Sean. When we finished, like the day before, I was so glad I hadn't stopped again. I would have missed out on the incredible turnaround that happened. I didn't feel nearly as wobbly and tired after the ride as I did in previous weeks, despite the "bonk" in the middle, so although a large chunk of it felt horrible, I still felt fairly positive overall. It did, however, leave me at a loss for what to do about nutrition during my rides in order to avoid reaching the point I did. More work to come there...

This weekend reminded me of all that triathlon training is and can be. There is the kind of training that is difficult but doesn't push the boundaries of your mental capabilities, and then there is the kind that takes your limits and, with mind-blowingly difficult steps, expands them beyond where they've gone before. It takes real pain and real fight to get through it, and it had been a long time since I'd felt so far past my comfort zone. Oddly enough, it left me feeling more confident despite my poor performance, because I remember once again how much I can handle, how much I can push, and the seemingly infinite feeling of possibility that opens up.

This coming weekend, I will be ready, mentally if nothing else.

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