... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Benefits of the Long Road

As we reach and pass the halfway point of our training and our workouts continue to increase in duration and intensity, I have been thinking a lot about how different this approach is compared to our Honu training in 2015. Our training plan then was focused purely on increasing distances -- 3 weeks of build and one week of recovery. We did this for 9 weeks, then tapered for a week before the race. There was no attention paid to intensity, heart rate, drills, or technique. Interestingly, this produced a relatively fast bike split for me, but my run was extremely slow and I remember very clearly being absolutely WRECKED after every weekend long run and long ride. Like, sick-to-my-stomach, dizzy, head pounding, must-sleep-for-hours-to-function-again wrecked. I also remember spending hours at my computer at work during the week with my legs up and ice on my knees, cringing with every step from the consistent stabbing in my IT band. 

Fast forward to this year. On Friday I did my first 60-mile ride of this training. Like the first 60-mile ride of Honu training, it was challenging. There were parts that were painful, parts when I felt anxious, and parts when I wished it was over. The difference, however, came when I got off the bike. In 2015 I would have laid on the floor for an hour or so, waiting to feel normal again and trying to overcome my nausea enough to eat. This year I got off my bike, put on my running shoes, ran 45 minutes, then went to work and did several hours of ballet. When I got home that night I felt energetic and had no joint pain whatsoever. Yesterday I did my 10.5 mile run followed by a 55 minute ride on what essentially felt like fresh legs. 

This is the result of doing a 36-week plan that is based on purposeful, focused workouts instead of just slogging through distances as fast as you can without passing out, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Every workout has a specific goal -- not just distance covered but also the intensity you do it at and the technique you work on. Are you trying to build speed or endurance? Are you trying to improve your cadence or your power output on the bike? Are you pushing yourself to your max or trying facilitate recovery? 

If you had asked me these questions before, I would have looked at you like you were speaking Greek. Now I can tell you with every workout what I am hoping to accomplish, and it is clear both in the improvement I see and in how much faster my body recovers. 

If you are trying to choose a training plan, especially for your first Ironman, take this into account. It is about so much more than just covering the distances, and your experience can be painful or invigorating depending on what you choose. The more months you can dedicate to training your body and building up your endurance, the more pleasurable the process is. Instead of just "making it through" your workouts and ultimately your race, you can thrive and enjoy seeing your body adapt and improve. 

For those of us who are not elite athletes, whose bodies don't seem inclined to run 6-minute miles even after years of training, this is also the most realistic approach. Although my previous "push as hard as you can for as long as you can" method might work for shorter races, I have to recognize that the chances of me going all out for 112 miles on the bike and then keeping it together for a marathon are very slim. Mirinda Carfrae and Daniela Ryf I am not. For this reason, building up a little more slowly and allowing your body to keep up with your mileage is priceless. I might not be the fastest, but I do have staying power. We did 16 hours and twenty minutes of training this week, and I feel great!

So instead of limping around for the next two days after my long workouts, I will be thoroughly enjoying my day off in full relaxation, sans sore muscles and aching joints. Next week here we come! 

PS. If you are looking for an Ironman training plan, I highly recommend the one we're using: Matt Llerandi's 36-week Ironman training plan, originally published on the SuperCoach network. It is made of gold. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Unicorn Run

I headed into my long workouts for the week motivated and ready to go. For my long run I was planning on doing a route that has been in the back of my mind for a long time, a pie in the sky that I fondly call my "Unicorn Run." Background information: Two years ago, when Sean and I were just beginning our Honu training, we were running on a particularly hot day at Puako. Sean was a little ways ahead of me, and I had just struggled my way to the turnaround point at the end of the road when a tan, incredibly triathlon-fit-looking man appeared as if from nowhere, like a unicorn. He hadn't been in front of me or behind me, and then suddenly there he was. He stopped and asked me if I knew if he could get back to the highway from there, and how far it would be to run back to the Fairmont. I gave him my best estimate, all the while marveling at the crazy idea that someone could actually run that far, much less via some mysterious route between Puako and the hotel that it seemed must include running on the beach. He nodded quickly, yelled "thank you!" over his shoulder, and took off again. He was so fast that he was out of sight within seconds. 
Ever since then I have wanted to figure out how he got from the Fairmont to Puako, and I imagined the day when I might be strong enough to run from there to the highway and back around to the hotel. My very own Unicorn Run. 

Fast forward to Thursday night. It turns out that the run is only 9.5 miles, making it perfect for this week's long run, and I was excited despite having several between-the-toes blisters from breaking in pointe shoes. I woke up at 3AM with throbbing pain in my left foot only to discover that one of the blisters was infected and extremely swollen and red. I did emergency surgery and went back to bed. It was still sore in the morning, but I put in my most Unicorn-esque tri suit (brightly colored and patterned) and took off to Mauna Lani. I used New Skin to cover the blister as best I could, slathered my toes in Neosporin, and laced up my shoes. 

I was relieved to feel that the discomfort was mild. It was extremely hot and muggy, but I settled in and got a nice steady pace going. I've been trying to up my intensity just a bit so I kept my heart rate at about 78-80%, which felt good and sustainable. It was a MAF test day so after the first 2 miles I carefully timed my mile splits for three miles, then went easy for three minutes, then timed another 2.5 miles. Despite the highway portion being extremely hilly, I kept good, consistent mile times throughout. The highway part was interesting. Even having biked that section many times, the were a lot of things I had never noticed. The rock walls surrounding the highway in one stretch are quite beautiful, dramatically cut with a variation of colors and layers making interesting looking patterns. The goats were prolific, and I could hear them calling to each other a lot of the way. It was a long stretch but when I reached the crest of the last hill and turned down the hill toward Puako I felt triumphant: Unicorn Run Part 1, completed! 

After the biggest part of the downhill, I felt a little odd. I had the very strange mental sensation that I was abnormally tall. It felt like my head was farther away from the ground than usual, and no matter how I ran or what I focused on, I couldn't shake the feeling. It was bizarre. I had brought a water bottle with me as well as salt tablets and Clif Shot Blocks. I took all of the above at mile 5 before the second part of my MAF test, which basically covered the whole Puako section. Still feeling good, the "I'm a giant" feeling gradually dissipated and I ran all the way to the end of the road, where the unicorn man had appeared, and again felt triumph as I touched the red signs that mark the edge of the culdesac. Unicorn Run Part 2!

I ran back to the Puako beach entrance and entered Part 3 of my run, the beautiful beach trail that I discovered several weeks ago. The ocean breeze cooled me down a bit and I fought the urge to jump in the water. It was gorgeous -- all black and white rocks and blue water and yellow tang swimming around. I had to walk a couple of times to avoid breaking an ankle on the rocks, so my pace slowed down a little, but overall I still felt great as I exited the beach and crossed the Fairmont property, where my MAF test concluded and I downed another salt capsule, another 3 Shot Blocks, and water. 

Part 4 was the run back to the Mauna Lani shopping center, and I had to keep convincing myself to slow down, cool down. It flew by and before I knew it I was back to my car. My training schedule said to compare the split times from the first timed MAF segment to the second (more similar times indicating less fatigue and thus better fitness) and I was pleased that mine were almost exactly the same, within a few seconds per mile until the last quarter mile where I hit the loose beach rocks and had to slow down to avoid a turned ankle. Pretty incredible compared to how my 9-10 mile runs used to feel: starting strong and fighting to keep from walking by mile 6. 

Unicorn Run, completed!  

*I wish that I could say that this was the end of my day, feeling strong and triumphant and awesome, but such is not always the case in triathlon training, unfortunately. My excellent run took enough out of me that within 20 minutes of getting on the bike for my post-run "cool down" (HA!) 
I bonked so hard that my brain and body stopped working resulting in an embarrassing tipping over incident and 10 minutes of me standing on the side of the Queen K waiting for my nutrition to kick in before I felt comfortable continuing. Not the most graceful unicorn, I guess... more on all this in an upcoming post. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Weeks 3 and 4: SICK.

Day one of week 3 I awoke with a little scratchiness in my throat, dreading what that meant. I mostly ignored it for a few days -- feeling a little run down, a little more sniffly, but able to continue. There was an interval run with some fun, short bursts of high intensity, more bike drills and one goofy ride where I wasn't feeling up to riding on the highway so I just rode back and forth between all the resorts... all was well. The Hilo to Volcano Ultra run was on the docket for Saturday, as part of a 3-person team for a total of approximately 10 miles each.

What happens when I play bicycle tourist
Thursday's swim gave us some hiccups. Sean and I were going to try out the master's swim at the pool in Waimea (at HPA), but by the time we got there and found the pool on HPA's sprawling campus we were 25 minutes late and too embarrassed to start. An let's be honest, it was incredibly cold at 6AM and the pool is outdoors. We then decided to go to Hapuna, but only had 10-15 minutes to swim because it was so late. "Oh well," we said. "We'll drive to Kona Aquatics after work tonight and swim." The joke was on us, however, because after driving 40 minutes to get there after a long day of work we found the pool closed for maintenance. Whomp whomp.

Eager to get back to it on Friday, I did my long bike ride on the trainer despite feeling more and more run down. My work day afterward was miserable and I resorted to drinking coffee (a very, very rare occurrence for me!) to keep myself going. I knew that the Hilo to Volcano race was going to be a push in my condition, but I headed home planning to quickly pack my bag, eat, and go right to bed for as many hours of sleep as I could get.

As soon as I arrived home I knew something was wrong. Sean's truck was in the driveway but the house was mostly dark and still locked. Bent over and wrapped up in every blanket we own, he staggered over from the couch to let me in and mumbled, "I have food poisoning."

And it was, indeed, very bad.

I'll leave out the details for everyone's sake, but suffice it to say we both ended up staying up all night and at 3:45AM, when I would have had to leave for the race, I was standing in our yard in the one tiny area that gets cell reception, googling "food poisoning treatments" and pondering whether or not I should be taking him to the hospital. Much to my chagrin I had to tell my teammates that I couldn't leave my husband in that condition and thus wouldn't be able to do the race. Here I would like to give a big huge shout out to those two amazing women, Barbie Nakamura and Melissa Schad, who completed the race without me (adding 50% more miles to their distances) and killed it!

Around 5AM Sean started being able to keep electrolytes down, but he was very, very sick all of Saturday. I had decided to forgo my workouts for the weekend and start again on Monday. On Sunday we relaxed together at the house, still trying to help him recover, then went to sleep. Early in the morning of Sunday-Monday night, I was woken up by a horrible pain in my stomach, along with nausea. I went to the bathroom three times before it got light, but given that I am prone to stomach problems, I didn't think much of it. That is, until 9Am when I started feeling so sick that I couldn't do anything but lie down. Then the vomiting started. Mine was not nearly so severe as Sean's, but still no cakewalk. I had to call out from work and miss yet another day of training, and I couldn't even think about eating or moving. By evening the stomach symptoms subsided but I was hit with awful body aches that made me feel like all my joints and muscles were on fire.

Kona Aquatics
It took until Wednesday for Sean and I both to feel ready to start training again. I started out with a very gentle jog on the road that runs from Honokaa to Waipio Valley -- gradual hills, and unique and beautiful views of eucalyptus forests on one side and blue ocean on the other. It was quite pleasant, and it felt good to be outdoors and moving again. Then I did a 30-minute swim at the Honokaa pool, which went well except for when I tried to perform the "fast 50's" called for in the workout schedule. My body was not having anything remotely "fast," so I let it go and just swam at a relaxed pace. I did my long ride for the week outside starting from the Mauna Lani resort area, and we finished up week 4 with a long swim at Kona Aquatics. It was the first time I've attempted a 1000 yards set in a pool, and although I've swam much longer distances in the ocean without stopping, the repetitive nature of the pool created its own challenge. It didn't help that there was a large group of people smoking cigarettes right outside the gate so that every time we breathed we got a lungful of secondhand smoke. Overall, though, it was a success and we got to see that lovely little notification pop up on our Garmin watches: Longest Pool Swim to date at 2500 yards!

Now that we are finally back to 100% or very close, so Week 5 is starting strong. I promise a much more interesting post for next week!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The First Two Weeks

It's official: it has begun,

Chilly on our first day!
We started our Ironman training schedule on December 19th with the coldest ocean swim I've ever done! It was cloudy and dark, and there was new snow on Mauna Kea, which did not provide the most inviting backdrop as we waded into the murky water. But we did it!

The second day was less successful. First I couldn't do my bike workout despite having prepped it on the trainer the night before because the one thing I hadn't done -- pumping up the tires -- wouldn't work with our new pump because the seal wouldn't lock. After  swearing at it messing with it for 20 minutes I gave up and headed out to run. I closed our gate and headed out and within 30 seconds one of my dogs, Jena,  appeared at my side, having dug under the fence. I took her back to the yard, but the moment I opened the gate the other dog, her brother Paco, ran like a shot out and down the road, followed closely by Jena at full speed. Having gotten a taste of freedom, they ran OVER A QUARTER MILE down the road, with me chasing them and yelling "FUCK YOU GUYS!" at the top of my lungs. When I finally caught them, they refused to walk and forced me to drag/carry them all the way home in a half-crouch, my legs burning. By the time I got home and finished burying a bunch of big rocks under the gate to stop the dogs from digging, I was already late to work. Great training day.

Beautiful Christmas Eve morning swim
The rest of the week went smoothly. The second swim was less cold and we got to share our swim space with a beautiful manta ray, a lovely welcome back. I got my tires pumped up and did my first trainer workouts on the bike, which was a new experience for me (with the exception of my one attempt at using our old trainer, which promptly ended up in the trash after the lock slipped and I slow motion crashed to the floor as I madly tried and failed to clip out fast enough). I did bike drills for the first time and via Isolated Leg Training (20 seconds pedaling with just one leg, 10 seconds transition with both, then 20 on the other) learned that my right leg is comically uncoordinated! I actually laughed out loud at the level of my right leg's spasticity when I first attempted it. By the end of the drills, however, it was starting to smooth out.

Curious cow on my beautiful run
The runs were nothing short of wonderful, soaked in the golden morning light with snow-capped Mauna Kea towering on one side and the ocean sparkling on the other. The air was crisp and the only other creatures I encountered were horses, cows, and curious goats. Around each corner there was new landscape to marvel over. Since these early run workouts specify fairly low heart rates, I never felt overly fatigued and was free to enjoy my surroundings.

It was also new to do two sports back to back almost every day. By Friday of that week the activity caught up to me and I got tired. VERY tired. (This could also be attributed to the fact that I had worked out for an hour and half and then danced for five and a half hours). The night's sleep didn't refresh me, and I made it through Saturday's morning swim before crashing and falling asleep on the couch for two hours. I woke up and did my long bike ride for the week on the trainer (yay for being able to watch Dexter!).

My new saddle -- less pain!
Sunday was Christmas, which we took off, and Monday of the second week we took our bikes in for tune ups and headed to Kona, where we did our swim workout in the Kona Aquatics pool. On our way back we picked up our bikes and did a 50-minute outdoor ride, which felt great and we did at a surprisingly quick pace. I also got a new saddle, and discovered with great elation that my nether-regions do not have to feel like they are engulfed in flames while riding! Such a relief! Ladies, if you have wide-ish hips, may I highly recommend a Body Geometry saddle!

Just more pretty running pictures
The rest of Week 2 was enjoyable, with no major hiccups. I weighed myself on Tuesday and discovered that I had lost 2.5 pounds in the first week in spite of Christmas candy. I have rediscovered my love of post-workout oatmeal, the latest incarnation being made with steel cut oats, lactose free milk, bananas, ground flax seeds, and chopped pecans. I also discovered a delicious smoothie made with all the same ingredients minus the oats and sub frozen bananas. Food is such a delight when you're working out hard!

I have also discovered that I really love drills, on the bike and running. Isolated leg drills, gearing pyramids, and variable gearing sets work the muscles like crazy while making the time pass quickly. We've never done a training plan with drills before because honestly I was intimidated by them, but I am so glad I finally made the plunge! It feels purposeful and I can tell that this method of training will lead to bigger gains with less stress on the joints and muscles. Win win.

Our Week 3 plan, proudly displayed
This week I made it until after the swim on Saturday before getting overly tired. Again I took a nap, but this week it actually refreshed me enough to finish the long bike ride feeling strong. Today, our day off feels restful and productive -- a great start to the new year! Sean also had the fantastic idea to put a white board up on the wall where we can post our week's schedule to motivate and prepare us, which was fun to write out and hang up.

So there it is, the first 2 of what I know will be a challenging and rewarding 36 weeks of training in preparation for this race. I'm ready