... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Timing is Everything: Obsession with the Clock

My first Ironman 70.3 is just 8 days away, and I'm feeling nervously prepared. I have done everything in my power to be fit and ready, but the butterflies are still fluttering away in my stomach. I suppose that any time you're reaching a new distance there are bound to be nerves involved, but this race in particular feels like a big leap -- from the can-maintain-the-proper-fitness-level-on-a-casual-commitment Olympic distance to the big leagues, where training is hard-fought, time-consuming, and difficult to maintain without constant work.

Some of my "this is a really big deal" feelings are coming from the fact that for the first time in my triathlon life, there are cut off times for each leg that I may actually have to focus on. So far, the cut off times have been well beyond what I would consider a threat, like 5 or 6 hours allowed to finish an Olympic distance that I do in 3-3.5 hours. This race, however, asserts its "serious athletes only" intentions with a total cut off time of 8 hours and 30 minutes. Up until this point I have known that I would be somewhere around the middle of the pack, give or take a little, but this race eliminates the bottom 1/3 of the pack in most races with its cut off times. I guess they figure the bottom 1/3 of the pack in most triathlons wouldn't put in the time necessary to train for these distances anyway, which moves me from solidly in the middle to scraping to finish in time. It is twice the distance as the Olympic triathlons I've done so far, but only gives 2-3 hours more time.

The cut off for the 1.2-mile swim is 1 hour and 30 minutes, which won't be a problem. The bike cut off is where I start feeling a little hint of stress. We must be off the bikes and running at five and a half hours after the start.

My predictions for myself (assuming nothing goes horrifically wrong) are:
Between 40 and 45 minutes for the swim
5 minutes transition (run from water to T1, get T1 bag, unpack it, inevitably forget something important, etc.)
4 hours for the bike... this is where I get nervous.
2 minutes for T2 (change shoes, stuff pockets full of energy chews, remember to put on hat!)
3 hours for the run... again this could go horribly wrong

That means that if all goes smoothly and well, I should be coming in at around 7 hours and 50 minutes, with 40 minutes to spare.

However, here are the many things that are freaking me out:
1. I am unfamiliar with the T1 bag/change tent format and feel like it's going to take me a long time to make sure I have everything I need.
2. In order to do the bike in 4 hours, I need to maintain a pace that I think is reasonable (4:15 minute miles) but not easy.
3. If there is significant wind on the bike course, I don't know if that pace is possible.
4. If I don't eat enough early on, I don't know if that pace is possible.
5. If I get a flat (especially a rear flat, god help me!) it's going to take me about 6 years to change.
6. I've never used a bike aid station. What if I fall/miss the bottle/get the wrong thing/miss the trash drop zone and get penalized?
7. On the run, I have no idea how my body will hold up. I could finish in 2:45, or it could take me 3:45. My runs have felt pretty decent (all relative, of course!) but who knows in the heat after 4 hours on the bike?
8. The heat is going to kill me.
9. The trails are going to kill me.
10. The grass is going to kill me.

So where does this leave me? It leaves me calculating endless scenarios with different times on the 3 legs to see if I would make it or not. These are the things I'm thinking about on 5 hour bike rides and three hour runs. In fact, oddly enough, I've found that doing mental math calculations is one of the most effective distraction tactics I have during long or especially difficult workouts. I spent most of the Hilo Marathon doing repeated calculations figuring out exactly what time I would finish down to the second if I kept various paces, not because I needed to but because it kept my mind off the pain yet focused. My mind rattles off something like this:
If I do a fast swim (40 minutes), a decent transition, (4 minutes), fast bike (3:40), fast transition (2 minutes), and fast run (2:45), I'd be in at 7:10 ish. Let's be honest, that isn't going to happen.

If I have a decent swim (44 minutes), a bad T1 (5 minutes), bad bike (4:15), bad T2 (4 minutes), and bad run (3:25), I don't make it before the cut off. I come in at about 8:34, incredibly pissed off. (I do think, however, that if I was that close to the cut off I could power through the torturous minutes required to speed up and get in on time.)

Somewhere between these two scenarios is what I'm aiming for. Perhaps a 43-minute swim, 5-minute T1, 4-hour bike, 3-minute T2, and 2:50 run. That would be 4:15 minute miles on the bike and 13 minute miles on the run, which is doable barring disaster. It would bring me in at 7:40, which I would be ecstatic about. Realistically, if I come in under 8 hours, I will be thrilled. Just finishing within the cutoff will make me happy. Despite my training, so much depends on the wind, the heat, and how well I adjust to the new factors introduced in this race.

So there they are, my fears laid out for all to see. If I've learned anything in this process, it is to acknowledge fears and work through them with steadiness and patience rather than attempting to circumvent them and I hope that by examining my nervousness, I can stay true to my mantra: Calm. Strong.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bad Tans and Aching Eyes: Weird Triathlon Side Effects

When I started triathlon, there were some things I expected. Sore muscles, changes in body composition, fatigue… I was ready for these side effects. The deeper I go into tri training, however, the more strange and surprising things come up. Sinking in water instead of floating, increased appetite, and adjusted circadian rhythm were the beginnings, now I’m full on into triathlon-related oddities that I never would have thought of.

The first, most obvious, and entertaining, is tan lines. Oh my god, the tan lines. Living in Hawaii for nearly 5 years, I have some pretty well-cultivated bikini lines, but since increasing my training distances, shit has just gotten ridiculous. Triathlon apparel serves its purpose and, I suppose, has its own version of fashion, but the resulting tan lines are not pretty. Racerback lines permanently emblazoned on my back and shoulders, zebra stripe tramp stamps where my top rode up slightly from my shorts, and mid-thigh farmer-style shorts lines… my reflection in the mirror after a 5-hour workout is laughable. You lose all the excess jiggle on your body and replace it with beautiful, lean muscles, but those tan lines will keep you humble!
Terrible tan!

The second thing is a complete and utter mystery to me. I lose more weight the more I eat. When I’m not training seriously, I eat very little. A lot of vegetables, some fruit, a little lean meat, a tiny bit of whole grains, and a dessert each day. This is mostly because of my picky digestive system. As I exercise more and more, I am forced to increase my eating proportionally to avoid getting dizzy and light-headed. It seems inevitable that each time I up my training, I fail to up my calorie intake as much as is needed. At the beginning of this round of mileage increase, I was baffled because I wasn’t losing any weight despite the longer distances I was running, swimming, and biking. After my week of delirium, I started eating more. In fact, I started eating almost constantly, and oddly enough, it took only two days before the weight started coming off. Even now, two weeks later, if I eat more on a particular day, the scale goes down the next morning. Bodies are weird.

How I spent much of my week, avoiding bright light
The third and most painful thing was the discovery that if you squint for 4-5 hours on the bike, you can get strained eye muscles. DON’T EVER GET STRAINED EYE MUSCLES. Sore legs, sore arms, even sore abs I expect and understand, but sore eye muscles? You’ve got to be kidding me. For a week after our 50 mile ride my head hurt around my eyes, and it felt like whatever connected my eyes to my brain was aching and damaged. Every time I looked up or down or at a bright light, it shot pain behind my eyes. Closing them didn’t help. Sleeping was difficult. Watching TV, reading, or looking at the computer was awful. The sun felt like it was out to get me. Words looked a little blurry and tough to see. For several days I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on, until I got back on the bike and realized that the aero position, head somewhat down while looking up at the road ahead, aggravated it more than anything else, especially when I squinted through my sunglasses. Once I noticed my squinting, I caught myself doing it all the time. I didn’t even realize that I had a weird habit until it made my life miserable, but I immediately set out to break it. It took about 5 days, but after a lot of conscious effort to relax my face and move my head to look around rather than just my eyes, the pain eased. When we did our 60-mile ride, I focused the entire time on keeping my face slack and not squinting. I also started wearing sunglasses on the run (instead of just a hat) to keep my squinting to a minimum. These steps seem to have solved the problem, but I still have to catch myself all the time to keep my face relaxed. So there you go – eye muscle strain is a little-known side effect of triathlons.

I never cease to be surprised. If you need me, I’ll be at the beach trying to counteract my bad tan lines, eating excessive amounts of food wearing three pairs of sunglasses to prevent eye squinting.