Tuesday, May 24, 2011

arms, legs, lungs

Getting back in shape.  It's tough.  It's so much easier when you're feeling fit and everything is easy.  You don't even think about the mechanics of running b/c it just comes to you - your limbs are pre-programmed and effortless.  You still work hard when you need to, but you have a sharp sense of control.  You've got gears and you can shift.

In the post marathon wasteland, you've got nothing.  Well, I had nothing.  I wrote before about the mental struggles and the downtime I found myself in, whether I liked it or not.  Slowly I began to enjoy exercise again - mostly in the swimming and biking domain.  And, for anyone who knows me, for me to say that swimming was my favourite....woo boy, I was definitely not into running :)

biking.  more fun than running.
It was nice to get outside again, exploring on my bike, very little pressure but set goals for the day, time, speed, whatever it was (making it to Steveston for croissants...Deep Cove for doughnuts...you see the theme?).  Even in the pool, I was happy to lend a little more focus to what I was doing, and all of a sudden, I realized I was improving in the water, but I have been so focused on the marathon that I didn't even notice.  That may be the blessing and downfall of triathlon - your mental energies can only be spent in so many places, but, simultaneously, you can't get too worked up about any one thing because your next workout is usually only a few hours away (if that).  

Now maybe I'm totally off the mark because I really don't consider myself a 'real' triathlete - coming from the outside as a runner, it's been hard to identify as such.  However, I do now feel like I belong on the start line, whereas before I felt like a total fraud.  Man, I was SO stressed about it all.  I was talking to Shawn and joking about how awful it must have been to be around me before my 1/2 Ironman last year (he wasn't around for the 1st 1/2 Ironman, which is just fine, because I was so sick he probably would have locked me in the car).  He confirmed, yes, it was awful, I was stressed, it was not enjoyable.  Lucky for both of us, it got better.

But for 1/2 Ironman #2, everything made me feel awful - tuning up my bike (I was worried it would screw it up - the opposite effect of most tune ups), going into get my race package (they know I'm a phonie!!), going into transition to rack my bike (look at these crazy fast bikes!), making sure I had all these tidbits of gear that I had only vague ideas of what to do with, showing up race morning and looking around at all these totally intimidating looking people, and on and on.....I felt awful.

I never got excited, I was never happy (only when I got out of the wetsuit and onto my bike, did a glimmer of happiness occur - and then true happiness occurred for me on the run), and I was so stressed that I'm sure I did not reward anyone who was being supportive as I could only see down the small black tunnel that lay ahead of me.  And I was no stranger to racing, but all this was totally uncomfortable.  But I'm also a person who believes in getting out of your comfort zone, so I did have a belief, however uncomfortable I was, that I was doing the right thing.  I was just going through some serious growing pains.

Ironman Canada came around and things were very different.  I was more nervous about the physicality of the task, and really only about how to manage effort levels throughout the day.  I was less hung up on gear and procedural tasks - I understood those better now.  I had more energy to put into thinking about how to move my body through 140.6 miles, and more time to remind myself of all my training, my survival of two panic attacks in  two race swims, my ability to complete an absolute hellish training ride from Oosoyos to Keremeos and back (on my Nishiki!), and my consistent toughing it out in the marathon.  I had a mental toughness bank and I was fully prepared to make some withdrawls if needed.

proof of happiness during IMC!

So finally, I could put to rest all the worries and chatter and start reinforcing my belief in myself - finally!  I think when you've been in a sport for a while, you forget how much mental energy 'new' athletes have to spend on everything but the pure basics that move them forward - arms, legs, lungs.  It's really that basic, but not when you're new at this.  Then it's anything but.

Now I'm going back to triathlons.  It's great because although I am now just feeling ready to compete again, I don't think I could be doing it in any other venue except triathlon.  Talk to me about a running race only.  Yuck.  No thanks.  But do a 1/2 marathon during a 1/2 Ironman.  Sure, sounds good.  Triathlon running is very different.  It's a chase, for me at least, and it's fun!  Maybe also because I'm signed up for a few triathlons this year, there is much less pressure on performance and end targets and more focus on learning experiences in each part of the sport, and more so in tying them all together and seeing what happens.  There'll be more pressure perhaps toward the end of the year, but I am a believer that you can only put on so much pressure before your cooker explodes, so you need to use it wisely.  I am just coming off a fairly highly concentrated race in the marathon, so I'm happy to just race and enjoy it.  How novel.

Maybe this is a case of not-yet-got-the-pre-race-gitters, and I always seem to fall into the zone I need before a race, sometimes sooner than others, but I'm not there yet, and I'm pretty happy about it.  I'm so relaxed at this point I keep worrying (see, worry is still here - I'm not immune) I'll forget my helmet or my cycling shoes or something stupid like that.  Running races are quite simplified compared to a tri race.  But they're not as complicated as I originally thought.

So, while I'm digesting oatmeal and chilling with my feet up, I'm building strength and peace in my body for the upcoming race this weekend.  I'm excited to get out there.  The strange thing to me about triathlon is that the last race I did was last August!  That was a long time ago!  Seasonally, triathlon rules where running is a year round standard.  So I'm excited to see the gains I've made in the last 5 months.

I'm even considering getting elastic laces.  So maybe I am a little bit triathlon after all...

Lots of races coming up this weekend so good luck to everyone out there - don't forget to have a little bit of fun along the way - it might just make you go faster :)

this made me go faster & have fun!

Monday, May 9, 2011

the three R's: a reflection, a report and some rest

my only ability to move post race - on a bike
I'm not really sure how to start this report.  I've had a degree of ambivalence about this race since I finished it.  I don't think that's a bad thing.  But I will say that going faster isn't linearly related to happiness.  Happiness does, however, seem to be related to the ability to understand oneself, and that is the process I seem to be going through now.

I've wrote to a few people after the race to try and explain how I felt the race went, and I'm not really sure if I had any success in translating my thoughts.  This was a big goal for me, it's taken a number of weeks and months to prepare for it.  I executed my plan and my goal within seconds over a distance of 42.2km.  I think, to my defence, if I sound a bit blase, I am quite tired from the whole effort.

A year ago I would have thought that a sub 3hr marathon would have brought elation beyond all comprehension to my running career.  Maybe I set my expectations too high.  Maybe, just maybe, I was underestimating myself and my potential to be even faster.  Because at sub 2:55, I can still see how to get faster - and I can see that this isn't the end.  That may sound annoying to a lot of people reading this, but, it's honest.

I am tremendously proud of my race effort and do feel very connected to the sense of work and discipline I put into that race - the process of the thing.  I do get emotional when I think of how overwhelming my friends and family have been in supporting and congratulating me.  It's astounding, and in the case of this particular race, I have really leant upon the messages from others to help keep things in perspective for me.

perfect moments in the marathon

Some race reports read all the brutal details of mishaps, boring pace splits and humoured happenings along the way, with the apex of positivity resulting in the final time.  My race report is somewhat backwards in that sense this time.  For me, this race meant the process, not the final result.

The race itself was beautiful, I hit my splits like a Swiss watch.  It is green and winding, across rivers and along heavily laden support on community roads - it was a treat to run.  I could go on, but it's probably just better that you come to run the course if you want to know more.  Eugene itself is a quaint little college town, that really does honour its runners - and for a new-ish marathon, it is building quite a bit of momentum.  I'm sure this will eventually be on the "to do" list of many long distance runners alike.

truly track town usa

As marathons go, I felt like I was out for an easy jog up to about the 1/2 way point - you always want to go faster but you shouldn't.  With a couple miles being a bit too fast, I easily scaled things back and tried not to get caught up in the 'bank the time' game and switch gears to the 'trust the process' game.  Once I went through the half way point, I attempted to try and sit into a pack of men, hoping they'd run the pace I needed to go at, but after a mile split, sadly, they weren't going fast enough, so I had to do almost all of my running alone, quite literally, in no man's land.

As I often caught onto the back of run packs in the 16+ mile stages, they always seemed to disintegrate, and I moved on (not that I'm complaining - I like passing people).  I know at a point a ways past the 1/2 way mark, a man was counting out #'s.  I was #92.  I finished in 68th, so I definitely picked off some people along the way.  Women in particular, are always the best to pass.  When I was reviewing the race with Carolyn, I came to realize that no woman passed me beyond the turn off to the half marathon race point, and only one lone red-shirted fellow, after I passed him during the final mile, came back with guts like Pre to out kick me on Hayward field, in the final 300 yards of the race.  But he was the only one.  Good stats for him :)

To be hitting your splits mile after mile is a reward in itself.  I can't really even say I looked at anything cumulative either than 10km and 1/2 marathon markers.  I just work split to split and trust that if I get that done, the total running time will fall into place.  At the end of the race, that last 6 miles, I just can't think much about numbers anymore - it just becomes a fight.  So that's what I did.  I am ever grateful for my super-fan Carolyn's support along the course and at this point it became more important than ever.  There was a bit of a lull for me and it happened at mile 23.  It carried into mile 24.  And when I saw my watch creep up for the 2nd mile I knew I had to claw back and put whatever energy I had left into the last two miles.


Splits dropped back down but I felt like hell.  I've never had leg pain like I did in this race.  The funny thing is, even though this one was more acutely painful, there really was less fatigue, and I was able to start creating great big fat lies to myself and actually believe them.  Such as the "you LOVE this feeling in your legs", "this pain is just AWESOME".  Lies.  Big fat ones.  But I sort of embraced it and got a kick out of how much they hurt (delirious? possibly, but I had stuck to a great fuel plan).

hydration - a beautiful thing :)

I reached a point in the last 1/2 mile or so that I had nothing left in me to speed up, but I wasn't slowing down, and my body just seemed to mechanically take care of itself and run itself all the way to the line.  As I reached the final bend and saw a low 2:54:something on the clock, I knew I had accomplished my goal.  Seconds at this point were quite secondary.  I had made it.  And then I almost hit the deck after finishing, but those nice ladies really don't let you fall - thank you catcher ladies :)  After that is a blur of chocolate milk and sunshine - you can't ask for anything better.

From that point on, I've just felt a bit stunned about the actual time goal.  I think it's still sinking in - and this is over a week later.  And I think it's a good thing.  Too often I think we finish a race only to start bouncing ideas around about the next one, the next time, the next goal.  Take a little bit of time to think about the thing you've been working on for weeks and months.  Don't discard it and move on.  It is tempting for me just to start focusing on the next thing (and of course I have races lined up, but I'm not yet ready to put the mental energy into them like I did for this one) but I am still sorting this one out.  It will come.  The next step is going to take a lot of work, and I think I just need some peace & quiet to absorb this experience before I move on.

Now the strangest thing is going to be changing gears from running to triathlon.  Even though I've been training all year in all three sports - I am finally going to be going back to racing triathlon after doing my last race at Ironman Canada last August.  That's a long time ago.  It's exciting, but I'm not quite ready to accept that I have to do it yet.  Give me a couple of weeks.  Let me get my wetsuit back on and smell that neoprene smell.  Please mother nature, have a sense of humour and shoot some sun our way for a while.  I'd ask you to turn up the temperature too but I'm pretty sure that would be asking too much.

So I hope to all of you who have had big races in the last couple of weeks, or have big races yet to come, that you enjoy the process as much as I did.  I hope you also get a great recovery after, as I did with the ability to slowly cruise my bike along the spectacular Oregon coast with saltwater taffy and fudge stops along the way.

the taffy

the fudge

Here are some photos trips out and about on the Oregon coast - enjoy :)

florence, OR

sea lion cave!

Heceta Head lighthouse