... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Hardest Week of My Training Life

I have so much to write that I don't know where to start!

This week has been tough, no getting around it. We did a swim and an 11.4-mile run on Saturday, a 60-mile bike ride on Sunday, I swam 1.2 miles in the ocean on Monday, ran 6 miles Tuesday, and this morning I swam 1.6 miles and biked for an hour. Tomorrow I run another 6 miles before my rest day on Friday. If it sounds like more than I've done before, that's because it is. I realized yesterday that this week is the hardest training I've ever done. In my entire life.

This realization actually made me feel better, because it reminded me that it's only natural to be tired. As I write today I am actually feeling pretty good, but such was not the case for a large portion of last week. After my previous post, which was bursting with energy and good vibes, my energy took a nose dive. Wednesday and Thursday I felt tired and mentally foggy, so much so that it was really freaking me out. I was so tired coming home from work on Thursday night that I drove in the wrong lane for about 200 yards before realizing my mistake. Luckily I live in a tiny town and there was no oncoming traffic. Once I got home, I proceeded to ask Sean the same question several times, not remembering that he'd already answered it.

Because I was so woozy, I got nervous. Was I messing myself up permanently? Despite being exhausted, I got so anxious that on Thursday and Friday nights I couldn't sleep, instead lying awake in bed with my dazed brain running in worried circles. I did not feel at all prepared for the 11.4 mile run on Saturday, but I just told myself to do my best and push through.

Our route went from Waikoloa to the Mauna Lani hotel and back, winding through both resort properties. It was a nice run -- challenging winds on the highway, a few hills here and there, and pretty scenery most of the way. It also allowed me to refill my water part way through, which was great given the distance. I was surprised and pleased that I ran the first nearly 6 miles without stopping to walk. I actually felt surprisingly strong. I could have gone on longer except that I wanted to refill my water, after which I ran another 3 miles without walking. My breathing and lungs stayed strong, and my heart stayed under control, which is completely new for me at such long distances.
Our 11.4-mile run course
I was amazed that what finally slowed me down was actually my legs! I don't know that my lungs have ever outlasted my legs before! This is a big step, because it means that my fitness is taking big steps forward.

Unfortunately, my digestive system was not as cooperative, and I started getting abdominal cramps around mile 9. They only happened if I walked, so in theory if I can just keep running I may be able to hold them off until the finish, at which point I melt into a moaning, cramping blob. I'm not sure what set this off, given that I haven't had that issue since the Great Aloha Run in 2011. The only thing I can think of is the during-run fueling, which consisted of saltine crackers, chews, and HEED energy drink with chia seeds. Maybe the saltines and chia seeds are to blame? I'll have to keep experimenting before Honu, but the bottom line is that if abdominal cramps are the worst thing I get, I'll be thrilled. My SI joints, miraculously, have been causing me very few problems. They go out of place, but are not causing much pain.

After the run, I was beat. I went home and slept, which I think was a great thing to do to avoid the weird pseudo-drunk feeling I had the prior week. Finally, exhausted, I could pass out with my mind at ease. I also made it a point to eat more after my long workouts, since I have a history of under-eating and suffering the consequences (see my near-passing out on the bike episode for more on that!) and I believe that may have been another serious culprit of my brain fog.

On Sunday, we awoke to cold rain and huge gusts of wind. It was not an inviting situation for a ride. However, since we only have one day a week to get our long rides done, we gathered our gear, fears, and determination and hopped on the bikes. The first seven miles were wet and cold. I could feel the moisture kicking off the back wheel and soaking my entire back and head. Around mile 8 we emerged from the clouds just in time to get hit with wind gusts that threatened to knock us off our bikes. Now, there's normal trade winds, problematic wind, serious wind, and extreme wind, and I think this landed in the "serious" category. It was enough to make it scary to ride, because the side gusts were strong enough to move my bike a foot or two over at a time, making me bobble and wobble and get way too close to the guard rail or the road. Not my cup of tea.

60-mile bike route
I've read that in order to optimize your handling in wind, you're supposed to stay loose. Now, of course this is easier said than done because when a gust hits you and makes you lose your balance, your first physical instinct is to tense up stiffer than a board and hold onto your bike or dear life. It's a leap of faith to allow the wind to buffet you around a little without fighting back, but it does seem to help.

We rode a kind of reverse-Honu plus some route: from Hawi down to just past Waikoloa and back. By the time we reached the Queen K highway, the winds were variable and less scary. Once we turned around to head back up the hill, much to our dismay, they became a steady headwind. Fighting our way up the elevation gain was not fun. At about 45 miles, both of us were getting a little dizzy and not thinking clearly. We stopped for a few moments to eat a little something and clear our heads. I can't say we felt much better once we started again, but we kept going.

When we reached the long hill leading up to Hawi, I reminded myself to take it slowly and stop if I needed to. My determination got the better of me and I did not stop. I pedaled, slowly against the wind, for what seemed like forever. With my conditioning where it's at it has become more of a mental game than anything else. My legs, although tired, were fine. They were not burning or exhausted. There was still power left there. My lungs were good, my breathing under control. I wasn't gasping for air. And yet, I wanted to stop so badly I could hardly stand it. Every few minutes I checked myself - "legs? Yes, they are okay. Lungs? Yes, they are okay. Heart rate? Yes, it's okay." and as long as the answers continued to be "okay," I kept going. I know now that losing the mental game is the worst feeling you can have. Knowing that your body could have kept going but you let yourself quit is excruciating, even more excruciating than the millions of uphill, wind-hampered pedal strokes.

For the second time now, I made it all the way up that horrible hill and to the end after a long ride without stopping. I was full of relief when we reached our finish line at Sean's truck. Again, I went home, ate well, and slept for an hour before doing anything else, willing my body to heal itself, be strong and healthy, and continue to carry me along in my training.

This is the hardest I have ever pushed my body. That is an amazing thing to wrap my head around. Yes, Xterra and the Hilo Marathon were harder in an acute sense, but this is the most difficult week I have ever done -- the most endurance I have ever asked of myself. It reminds me to stop and thank my body for what it's doing, and to be easier on myself when I feel tired. It also makes me appreciate each of the fitness gains I see happening, despite the fatigue. I mean seriously, I used to feel after a 3 mile run like I now do after 11 miles.

The upcoming week is a recovery week, meaning that the mileages go back down a little for 7 days. Then, there is one more push -- the final push, the hardest push -- leading up to the race taper. Our longest run will be 14 miles, and the bike will be 65. I don't feel it now, but I know when the time comes I'll be ready to face it down.

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