... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Friday, April 10, 2015


The Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, aka "Honu," is just 7.5 weeks away and our training is in full swing. This will be the longest distance triathlon that Sean and I have done to date, so this is truly new territory for both of us. Up until now I've been able to sneak by with regular 3-5 mile runs, a pool swim per week, and occasional bike rides of between 12 and 30 miles, enough to jump into shorter distance races with no extra preparation, but no more. At 9 weeks out it was time to reinstate a full-blown, official training schedule and I have to admit I was pretty excited about it. It's been quite a while since we've ventured into new triathlon territory and I've missed the schedules that used to run my life.

This schedule was from Competitor.com, originally set up to be a 16-week plan. I jumped in at week 7 since we'd been doing ongoing base training (if you call hobbling through the Hilo Marathon base training!) and modified it to fit my work schedule and needs. I settled on three swims per week -- one pool workout and two ocean swims, three runs -- one long run and two shorter ones with speed intervals worked it, and two bike rides -- one long, one shorter with speed intervals. I had to cut one bike session from the original schedule because I just don't have time in my week, but I plan on doing a quick loop including a nasty hill by my house whenever I get home from work early. I think overall that this will be an effective way to go about my training.

I arranged how I wrote down my schedule a little differently this time. In fact, each time I've done a race I've put the schedule in a slightly different format. For my very first race, it was day by day, each day with its own page. This was great because I was new to it all, but very time-consuming to keep up. Also, as I got more familiar with the workouts, I found that it's helpful to My next version was monthly, with the entire month on a page so that I could just check off a box for each day. This was nice because it gave me a good idea of what was coming up for me, but for whatever reason it was easier for me to miss a day when I could constantly see so many days of training represented. This newest iteration is by week. Seven days, six workouts, and feels right for where I'm at right now. It allows me to see and plan for each week, check off each day, and give me a weekly goal to shoot for: checking off each day, all seven days in a row. It also feels awesome to turn the page to the next week and makes me look forward to what is to come instead of feeling overwhelmed by it. The bottom line is, whatever works for you and makes you feel motivated, do it, and if it stops working for you, try something new!

Saturday's workout was a 40-mile bike ride. I am starting to get used to these distances in my head. 40 miles no longer seems so long, despite only having ridden that far twice before. I guess once you run 26 miles, riding 40 doesn't seem so bad. Anyway, we set out around 8am from a resort area called Mauna Lani. The road out to the highway faces northeast, and we were immediately met with wind like I've never felt before. I am used to moderate steady wind or higher speed gusts, but this was a brutal, constant force. As soon as we turned onto the highway, it improved dramatically. The ride out (to the Kona Airport) felt amazing. My legs felt light and strong and I couldn't believe how high of a gear I could stay in while still keeping my cadence up. Even the nastiest hill on the route didn't feel so bad. Somewhere in the back of my head I knew I must be benefiting from a tail wind, but I couldn't feel it at all. When we made it to the airport, I was feeling awesome. In fact, when we turned around, the first ten miles back felt good too. It was a good day.

We hit the top of the nasty hill, and I got ready to fly down -- one of my favorite parts of the ride -- but as soon as I went over the crest the wind hit me like a wall of unmovable bricks. It was unrelenting in its ferocity. Instead of racing down the hill, I was having to pedal, and HARD, to even move forward. It's hard to describe the frustration caused by a downhill being so difficult, but something about it gets into my head and turns my thoughts into negatives, leaving me to fight not only the physical battle but also a mental one. Knowing that we had ten miles left didn't help, either.

The best thing I have learned to do for myself is just to erase the "maybe I could stop" line of thought from my mind. This is the first response when things get hard -- the possibility of just stopping, of coming up with an excuse as to why you shouldn't keep going. This is also one of the most valuable skills that triathlon has taught me: the ability to identify that sneaky little notion and banish it completely. First, I ask myself "am I really going to give up because of this?" Sometimes, the answer should be yes, like in the case of a serious injury that could be further damaged by continuing. Most of the time, however, the answer is no. Once I've established that, then I consciously remove that thought from my internal dialogue, because what I've discovered is that the inner quit-or-not-quit bargaining process is one of the most exhausting and non-productive things you can think about. Along with it goes feeling bad for yourself or internal complaining, because they have the same effect, and if you're not going to stop then there's no sense in whining about the conditions. Instead, I replace it with "this is really, really hard, but you can do it." I find that this effectively acknowledges my situation but empowers me rather than breaking me down.

And so, along I went albeit very, very slowly, achingly pedaling through the wind, aware of every movement. With about four miles to go I had to stop to eat. I am finally getting good at recognizing the earliest signs of fuel shortage in my body, which, oddly enough, is most often a general feeling of negativity and frustration. Before I feel the physical signs, I notice the mental fog, and I've learned to immediately eat something when I feel it. After downing a few more Saltine crackers (new workout food discovery!) I got back on to finish the ride. It was terrible, and I hated every second, but I did it, and when I turned back onto the road connecting the highway to Mauna Lani, this time with the wind at my back, I finally got to fly. It was such a relief.

We weren't timing ourselves, so I don't know how long that last ten miles took, but it was horrifically slow and demoralizing. It gave me a tiny taste of what it would be like if the winds decide to turn on us for Honu, or, worse yet, what the Ironman competitors feel like when the wind is out of control for the entire 112-mile ride. I can't even imagine the physical strength and mental fortitude it would take to get through a ride like that. It tells me that I cannot possibly over-prepare for the possibility of unknown complications, and reminds me that training is as much mental as physical.

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