Saturday, November 23, 2013

That run I didn't want to do

There are mornings when I wake up as soon as my alarm goes out, hop out of bed, down a banana, clothes on, and I'm out the door for a run before I can even process it.  Today was not one of those days.  I did the wake up, go back to sleep deal for a while, followed by a very lazy morning.  I was moving slower than slow.  My motivation to run was not helped by being reminded of what 23 degrees feels like when I walked the dog.  Being cold in my ridiculously warm coat, gloves, and hat for a short walk around the block is not exactly what makes you want to go run in tights.

I was not looking forward to this run at all, and the only reason I was doing it was part of Operation Get in the Habit Again.  I was worried about the cold. About some GI issues I've been having. About my shin. My hamstring. I think deep down I was worried about disappointing myself and getting another reminder of how slow and out of shape I am.  The prescribed workout was a measely 30 minutes- out at zone 2 (8:57 pace), back at zone 3 (8:38 pace).  I finally got myself out the door thinking I'd start by just running and then worry about hitting the paces, if at all.

Well, a block from the house my Garmin announced it lost satellites.  Awesome, glad I stood in the cold not moving for 3 minutes while it searched so hard for them before I started.  Oh well, just run by feel.  I felt like I was running a decent pace, not sprinting, but not just skipping along.  Then my watch beeped to tell me I was at the mile mark. And based on how I know where every mile essentially is from my home (a special gift of being a runner), I knew it was pretty close.  I guess it had magically re-found satellite and somehow guessed those parts it missed?  Magic technology aside, I saw I was at a 7:50 pace.  While this would once not have been a feat for me, lately it is.  My 5k pace is 7:57.  Yes, I had the wind helping me, but I had no warm-up and it was cold, and I was running this pace not feeling like I was going to die.

I kept on.  Now it was feeling a bit more like I was pushing it, but still not that awful going to collapse any moment feeling I had with the 5k test.  I didn't look at my watch much, just kept going.  Minor stomach cramps came and went, nothing to bad.  When I hit the turn around, it got much harder as I had the wind in my face, both adding resistance and just some good ol' suck value to the run.  I got a bit more of a side stitch but told myself I only had 15 minutes to go.  Around mile 3 I slowed down significantly, but I didn't stop or walk.  My body wanted to, but I knew I had no good reason to.  Slowing down was allowable, but I wasn't going to succumb to walking.  Mental toughness builds in the winter, far ahead of the long rides and runs of the Ironman build.

I finished the run with an overall pace of 8:02 min/miles.  I was elated.  Not only was I resembling my old speed (though at a harder effort) but I had an awesome run when I had been dreading it.  I wonder if this is the power of expectations.  I had the bar set low for the run.  I was going to be proud of myself just for getting out the door and slogging through 30 minutes.  I wasn't going into it as a test, where I have expectations and am disappointed in results.  A few weeks ago, I quit on myself during the test, walking some steps.  Today I powered through.  I believe during the test I felt defeated halfway through, and gave up.  Today, every good step just felt like a bonus.

I need to keep this in mind with future workouts I am dreading.  It tends to be those that I really put off that end up surprising me.  The power of low expectations cannot be underestimated.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Battling Excuses

Back in the good ol' days when I was in decent shape, I never skipped workouts.  I didn't make excuses to skip a workout, instead, I made excuses to skip other things that were potentially in the way of workouts.  It was a mindset, or even an addiction or compulsion.  While it might not sound very healthy or balanced, I am trying to get at least part of that mindset back.  My mindset much of the past year was "well, what is another missed workout" or justifying it, as ____ is more important, and that way, I'll have more time later to get the workout.  I also realize that one of my major issues is that I let perfect be the enemy of good.  It was that all or nothing attitude.  If I wasn't going to be able to do the full hour ride, why do any?  Or if my legs were toast and I couldn't do the prescribed workout, I'd bag it all together. 

Last night I had a bike workout on my schedule.  I'd been out of town for 10 days and hadn't biked in nearly 2 weeks.  It wasn't routine.  I got home from work and it was later than I had planned.  Then I realized I didn't have my power cord for my computer that no longer maintains a charge, so I had to go and install TrainerRoad and the ANT+ application on an old computer of mine.  It was getting later and later.  I felt excuses every step of the way.  The truth is that skipping that workout would not have mattered physically.  But it would promote the pattern of skipping workouts and not help in getting back my old mindset.  I powered through, and felt pretty darn good the whole time. Score.

Well, when you lose the momentum, you lose it.  Overcoming excuses last night did not have my magically psyched up for tonight's run.  My original plan was to run around 4ish, from work, then go home after.  I had my snack at 3:30.  Then I got busy with something and before I knew it, it was 5:30.  Having a dog puts some limits on my schedule and I needed to be home somewhat soon.  Hmm, skipping was tempting...  Cold and rainy didn't help either.  I had those thoughts of "I can do it tomorrow" but I reminded myself that my history says that won't happen.  So I talked myself into a new plan- run home.  It is about 7 miles if you do it the short way, which is longer than I had intended.  As I stood outside waiting for my Garmin to find satellites (which ironically takes forever considering we are across the street from the Garmin store), it started to rain.  Then a bit of my old attitude sank in- this was fun- I was badass.  Of course I was going to run home.  Because I can do it. 

It turned out to be a nice run.  The lakefront at night is magical, just the glow off the water with the waves.  Somewhat eerie, but enough people out to feel safe.  However, this run was not perfect.  I skipped the prescribed intervals.  My reasons can all be seen as excuses- sore hamstring (still!), shin splints, can't read the watch well in the dark, etc.  But I still got a 7 mile run in.  To me, that is good.  Not perfect, but pretty darn good!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thirteen Years of Races Without Dad

Today marks 13 years since I lost my dad. During Ironman training this summer, I read a father's account of his race experience, finishing an Ironman with his daughter.  Maybe it was the emotions and fatigue of training that led me to be a sap, but I found I felt better after writing this.

I grew up with a dad who loved to be active.  He was always running, rowing, biking, swimming- heck, even building cardboard boats for us to take part in the "Cardboard Boat Race".  I have memories of my mom making lasagna for his rowing club to carbo load with.  I remember jumping in the car with my mom and sister to hunt my dad down after he went for a run in the dark and it starting storming. When we found him, he didn't see what the big deal was.  A little rain wasn't going to hurt anyone.  He said that line a lot, actually.  Still to this day, when I am getting ready to run in cold, rain, snow, heat, wind, or whatever mother nature throws our way, I remember my dad saying "If you only run when the weather is perfect, you'll never run." And when things hurt, there is always his equally infamous (and not original) "No pain, no gain." I'm not sure how much I admitted it at the time, but I loved going for runs with him. We would do local 5ks and the annual Turkey Trot Five Miler, which was a big feat for a kid. Of course, he made it seem like an even bigger deal when he would take my medal and ceremoniously place it in our "Trophy Cabinet" among his various plaques and trophies.

I remember the day my dad died, he was getting his PICC line out after a long course of antibiotics. When he wasn't answering at home, we figured he had finally gotten out for a swim- something he hadn't been able to do and was so looking forward to. That thought of my dad happily returning to physical activity was still in my mind when I found my father dead at age 49, never to complete another race.

My dad was an endurance guy. He wasn't ever going to be the world's best, but he loved being his best. While the embarrassment of being a 13 year old with your father picking you up from school in neon spandex is very real, so was my pride for all my dad could do. Most of my friend's dads weren't up at 5am every day to row, or sneaking in a 8 mile run before a family bike ride on weekends.

One of the big "sucks" of having a parent die when you are a kid is that they don't get to see the adult you grow up to be. For me, my dad never got to see the athlete I have become. I didn't get to call him and tell him when I broke an 8 minute mile (and then 7 minute), or when I finished my first 10k. He wasn't around when I signed up my first half marathon, and raised $3900 for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America doing so. Heck, he didn't even know I had to overcome this disease to be the athlete I have become.  He wasn't there when I finished my first marathon, or qualified for Boston on my third, or when I started dabbling in triathlons. He wasn't there when I crushed my half-ironman expectation away and finished in 5:33, two days after starting to flare. It might seem insignificant that I am sad he doesn't know me as an athlete, but that is because who I am as an athlete is who I am- it is my determination, my courage, my strength.

Most of all, my dad hasn't been there for my Ironman journey, from the excitment I had when I registered, to the moments of panic I'm having as I taper. I think that if he was alive, we might have been embarking on this journey together.  I imagine us signing up, excitedly, together. Calling each other after each long session, sharing tips, the highs, and the lows. I can picture him bragging- not about his own accomplishments in training, but about mine. As any father, he was more proud of anything I might do than himself.

I know a lot of people will say that he has been there, in some form or another, all along, and will be with me on September 8.  In some ways, I agree, but it isn't enough.  My mom will be there when I cross the finish line, and yes, that does mean the world to me, but her version of a pep talk when I admit how terrified I am of the 140.6 miles I am about to cover is "well honey, I still love you if you don't want to do it."  I like to think that back when I was just a kid, my dad taught me to love sports knowing it would get me through the tough times and shape me into who I am today. This year was a tough one for me, and the training was what got me through. I don't have my dad around to offer advice or be a shoulder to cry on, but thanks to him, I have 140.6 miles of therapy.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Testing, testing

I officially have my first bike and run tests of the 2013-2014 season behind me.  Testing is something that is still relatively new to me, and that I never did before joining Endurance Nation.  The bike test consists of 5 minutes all out, followed by 10 minutes of recovery and then an all out 20 minute segment.  The run test consists of a 5k run.  Sounds simple enough, but the thought of a looming test gives me nightmares. 

There are several reasons to test.  The advertised reason is to know where you are at now to set your training zones for the next weeks, and track your improvement.  More valuable than this, I believe, is the practice of pushing yourself.  As hard as we may train on a daily basis, in the endurance world it is more the prolonged suffering than lying in the fetal position about to puke.  And while Ironman intensity is far different than that of a bike or run test, the mental practice of pushing through the pain and not listening to your head telling you to stop is incredibly valuable.  Once again, I have a quote to capture this-

“That’s what our training is for, we practice not panicking, we practice breathing, we practice looking directly at the thing that scares us until we stop flinching, we practice overriding our Can’t.” - Kristin Armstrong

With that in mind, I think it is important to judge the success of tests not only on the FTP or pace, but how successful we were at overriding the “can’t.”  So how’d I do?

Run Test:
I did the run test last Tuesday, and the timing was far from ideal.  I was coming off being sick, the puking your guts out sick, and hadn’t trained well for about a week.  It was also a day before my big licensing exam, so my mind was definitely elsewhere.  I tried to make excuses for pushing it back all day, but finally I laced up and went.  I warmed up for about 12 minutes, nice and easy.  Then I was off.  While I had my Garmin, I’d also mapped out a route on mapmyrun as I didn’t want to run any extra due to a misbehaving Garmin.  I’m not sure the last time I ran fast.  It was kind of funny how I just flipped a switch from my just running along pace to pushing it.  Fair to say I went out to fast.  It felt ok at first. Almost fun or freeing to be running fast.  I was spinning my legs, breathing hard but not painful.  Then it started to get a little hard. I reminded myself that it would be over soon enough, and just keep pushing. Of course, I said this thinking I was almost to the mile marker, when a glance at my Garmin showed I hadn’t cleared a half-mile yet. Doh. It was hard, but it still seemed doable.  I tried to slow down just a hair, thinking I can save it for my final kick. Then I slowed down some more.  While I was most certainly fatigued and hurting form poor pacing, it was mental/psychological fatigue that was getting to me.  I didn’t like how it felt.  I didn’t like how my legs felt, my lungs, my overall comfort. I even walked a few steps.  I kept telling myself this is to practice pushing through, but I was not strong enough to listen.  So in that respect, I failed. 

In terms of the pure run time, I ran in 24:16.  Definitely not something to write home about, as while I have not run a 5k in a while, I know this is significantly slower than what I was capable of just over a year ago. However, it could have been a lot worse.  I finally have an honest view of where I am at, and I think it incorporates both my physical ability and my mental.  Getting stronger in either will result in a better test next time. 


Bike Test:
Due to traveling last week and being sick, the bike test didn’t happen until Monday of this week.  I hadn’t ridden the trainer since last April, and was reminded of how annoying it is to set up initially- changing to a trainer tire, changing the skewer, centering the wheel.  This year I was using TrainerRoad with my PowerTap, so I can’t really compare to last year.  I was also inside on a trainer tire, making it different than outside.  Therefore, I had no idea where the FTP would fall. 

As soon as I started warming up, I saw that my numbers were going to be low.  I think I therefore went into the test a bit disheartened.  The five minute test saw a rapid decay as I immediately realized my initial effort was not sustainable.  The good thing about the 5 minute test is it really will be over soon.  Then came the 20 minute test.  It just goes on and on.  I did do a good job of pacing overall, as no major decay in the power.  It felt hard throughout, mentally and physically, but I whole-heartedly believe I could have pushed harder.  Again, mental toughness has a ways to go. Interestingly, my cadence was high- 94 for the 5 minute, 98 for the 20 minute test.  I always thought of myself as a low cadence rider, even lower inside.  The test ended in disappointment.  I never thought my FTP would be that low, and while I don’t have a true basis to compare, I am sure I am deconditioned.  I had false expectations that the OutSeason would just be building on what I had- I forgot I first have to regain what I lost sitting on the couch.  Well, as I’ve said before, no where to go but up!


An area I struggled with in both tests was not having a clear expectation going in.  This made it difficult to both pace myself, as well as motivate myself.  Going into the next tests, I will be able to formulate a stronger plan, as well as have a benchmark to compare myself to.  Something I knew I did before and can therefore do again, but this time, better.