triathlon

The People in My Neighborhood: The Planner

Sometimes, you meet people in one capacity, and you never think that you’ll see them in other capacities. Sometimes our friends are silo’ed. They stay in their individual little places. We call them when we want specific things: I have friends I got out Drinking with; friends I Do Outdoors Stuff with; friends I Eat with, friends I Cook For. I have friends I Shop With, and Movie friends, and then there are the friends I Learn Stuff With.

I am squashily fond of the friends with whom I Chat Deep into the Night With Only a Bottle of Wine to Entertain Us.

My friend Peter the Planner is one of those, but he didn’t start out that. I met Peter in early July of 2002. i remember because this is the same weekend I got together with Jim. We were camping at Round Valley, mountain bike camping; and we packed in and packed out all of our stuff. We led a quick clinic on flats and cables and stuff, and then were off.

I know that Peter had said he was going to meet us somewhere en route. I’d never met the guy before. I was doing some pro bono media work for a non-profit racing association that we were both a part of. At some point on the trail a really sexy bike went by pedaled by a guy with impossibly long legs and perfect riding form–it looked as if his riding was effortless, and I was immediately annoyed–why couldn’t I ride like that?

Hello, Peter. Nice to meet you.

At some point after that we all went to see a movie together; and then we went out to celebrate Karen, Peter’s wife, on her birthday, at a vegetarian joint–was it VP2?–and then we went to a triathlon clinic together, and shortly after that we did a triathlon together, where we off-road people reveled in the three miles of trail run that broke up all of the awful asphalt; we had dinner together that night, and he came out a couple of times to meet me for drinks, and

Then

I

Moved.

To Chicago.

And I began to notice what happens when you leave the right people: They Call You.

And keep track of you. And when you come home, they make every effort to see you.

Peter and i haven’t done anything athletic together in years. But I know that if we wanted to, we could make it happen.

While I was gone, I learned a lot about Peter:

  • His writing, when he does it, is remarkably evocative of whatever it is he’s feeling at the time. (If you think this is easy, you don’t  know jack, and you need to read more.)
  • His sense of organization is ridiculously good.
  • He is a tangential thinker: His train of thought goes in different directions and then he actually connects the dots, and whatever he’s saying is almost always useful.
  • He knows Stuff. Or knows where to find the answer.
  • He is the right person to talk to when things look grey and confused. Peter will either add some color or sit with you until the cloud passes.

Peter is the planner not only because he works for a major urban-planning think tank, but also because when I am having problems organizing my incredibly disorganized brain and life, I know he can help, and that he will be vested.

I met Peter mountain biking, but our lives revolve around people now. Here is proof:

We go to movies. We go to museums. We have picnics on the High Line together. Sometimes Jim and I get to see Karen, and Peter and Karen’s hilarious and wonderful twins, John and Henry.

Isn’t it nice when someone you thought would only ever fit in one area of your life suddenly spills over into everything else?

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The things they ate

During an Ironman, you consume all sorts of high-tech food. Engineered stuff, crafted to hit the sweet spot between high-quality fuel and optimized ease of digestion. If that jargon isn’t enough to make your head spin, well…you should take a look at the labels on some of the stuff I ate.
Here’s the list:
(5) Gus
(2) Trader Joe’s Sweet,  Savory & Tart bars
(2) Cokes
(1) banana, cut into chunks and consumed over different aid stations on the run.
(5) bottles of Gatorade or Powerade
I added up the calorie count…it comes to something like 1900 calories. I don’t know how many calories I burned, but it’s way more than the above list gave me. Either way, I didn’t feel nauseated and I didn’t once feel hungry, so I think I did right by myself for the glacial pace at which I was moving.

No, the real problems came the next day, post-race. We sat down to a celebratory meal with Lara, of brat-and-potatoes, chicken cordon vert for Lara, and Wienerschnitzel, I think, for Jim. Prosecco for Lara and a summery white wine spritzer for me, and we gabbed happily about the race and debriefed each other.

But as I began to wolf down my food, I realized that there was what felt like a massive lump in the back of my mouth, just where my palate met the soft part of my mouth, and it was increasingly painful. I vaguely remembered there being one other such occurrence before, and I remember Jim saying to me then that he had it too, but I couldn’t remember when or why.  I was looking at my plate, wondering if I should mention the fact that I could hardly swallow to my friends and ruin the festive mood, or if I should just glug down the rest of my white wine spritzer and hope that numbed the problem. Too late, though: my friends noticed my slowing down (also, perhaps, the glassy-eyed staring at plate didn’t help, either) and asked with some alarm what happened.

It turns out, this happens after every race during which you’ve eaten pretty much nothing but soft foods. Your body’s in shock, you see, right down to the fact that all of the dehydration, near-starvation, and sugary content over the course of one long day forces the physical reaction of an angry, swollen palate.

All of this is to say that I think my body’s only recently gone back to normal. I couldn’t eat the hashed potatoes that came with my brat that day (too many rough edges); I could hardly eat the fondue we had that night for dinner because the fatty cheese covered nice crusty bread; I was thrilled to find that gelato didn’t offend anything in my system, and that beer cooled my throat. So sad. The next day was better. We went to visit a lovely mountain via funicular train up the side of Mount Pilatus:

funicularjhyslmh

Me, Jim, and Marilyn on board the funicular train

and had lunch at the top, which looked like this:

crisp greens

crisp greens

and this!

carnivoresplatter

Point being, there was no way I was going to let that gorgeous food go to waste, even if it was all sharp corners and crunchy things.

I still wasn’t really eating right by the time we got home, although I suspect part of that might have just been general aimlessness and a lack of focus and normal schedule. I think I’m back on track though: I’ve been eating good dinners and semi-good lunches. Had a nice burger at a BBQ with friends on Saturday evening; Friday I had shrimp burritos, but I totally neglected to eat the rice on the side, choosing instead to drink a very large margarita. Come to think of it, I think maybe the fact that the margarita was half-done by the time food arrived may have forced me to not see the rice at all. This is because of another side effect of Ironman training: I am now officially an uber-cheap date.

Anyway, I think I’m finally back to normal. I’m starving all the time and thirsty all the time, so I think my body is telling me that now I need to go back to exercising all the time. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Right. Tomorrow, it’s back to our regularly scheduled reading-and-writing based programming. I have a stack of book reviews floating around in my head that I need to process.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

iron stuff in my grey matter

For the longest time I thought I’d feel good about completing Ironman, and not in the traditional manner of having done something big and unprecedented for myself. More, I thought I’d be relieved to have Ironman training go away completely, have it be not a part of my life any more. I have been, up until very recently, quite annoyed at the intrusion that training places on my life: the skimpy weekends, the lack of freedom dictated by a need to be physically more than I’ve ever been before, the other various constraints that are too many to enumerate.
But now that it’s really and truly all over; now that I’ve told my coach I’m done and that I’m wearing a real, true finisher’s shirt for Ironman Switzerland 2009, I feel quite bereft, and rudderless. Lara and I spent some time mucking around town the day after the triathlon, and at some point she heaved a great big sigh and said, “Eurgh. Post-race blues.” I didn’t have them at the time, but I’ve got them in full force now.
Part of it, I’m sure, is the letdown after all the intensity that comes with a full-fledged race like this. For a really long time over one day you are giving your all, even if it’s just your physical all. And then there is the immediate gratification: I can’t really describe to you what Heartbreak Hill felt like; how I couldn’t even feel my legs as I entered the finish chute and put on my ShelterBox T-shirt; how I couldn’t feel anything but the stupidly enormous grin on my face as I bolted around the last few turns to the finish line and lifted my arms high in a cliché gesture of victory. You wouldn’t know any of these things unless you’d experienced them for yourself, but I’m sure you’ve experienced something very like it.
There is, also, a remarkably heightened sense of community. As I was setting about the marathon leg of my race, tired and cranky, and falling asleep, I thought angrily to myself that the Ironman organization could do more for charity, and that I’d never do a race like this again unless I could do it as part of a team and for charity. Then I thought that nothing about Ironman meshed with my own personal ethics: there was no sense of team in this event, no sense of helping others; no sense of collective giving. I needed more, I thought; than the mere punishment of oneself for a solid sixteen hours. I watched athletes willy-nilly chuck their garbage everywhere, felt them elbow past me during the run in order to accomplish their own personal goals, and harbored a clear revulsion at their lack of grace.
But then, as the daylight waned and the hours grew on and I came dangerously close to not becoming an Ironman, I noticed something curious: people wearing finisher’s T-shirts, all along the course, straining to sound out my name, written on my bib. They give me all the motivation they could. The encouragement came in many forms: One man, sitting on a park bench, botched my name and then chased after me, calling what he thought would be the correct name: “Go, Go, Yie Shoon! Allez, allez!” He got it right the second time he saw me. A man on a bicycle with a light on it pedaled slowly next to me, blocking me from veering off the trail in a dark section of the woods, talking me down from the rising panic in my chest that I wouldn’t make it. “You’re moving at a perfect pace for this,” he said. “You’ll make it, you’ve found this pace, now just keep it and you will be okay.” A young woman leaning on one of the barriers down the final stretch of my next-to-last lap looked at me, eyes limpid and wide. She shook her head at the limp in my crooked gait, presumably. “Go, Iron girl,” she said, quietly, evenly, and I could sense her empathy, even in those three small words.
And then I crossed the finish line, and I became a group of selective individuals. You only get the finisher’s shirt, a bright red-and-white number, if you cross the line on time, and I have one now. It’s taken me until today, three days after the race, to realize what a feat it is to cover 140.6 miles by swim, bike, and run, but the significance of the community of Ironman, which I’d have never thought existed, began to strike me right away. I creaked ever so slowly away from the finish chute and had to be guided by my shoulders to get my medal and then my photo taken, but no one laughed at my hitched walk or thought my bent posture bizarre. They all knew what I’d done, even if I didn’t, yet.
At breakfast the next morning, we spotted other red shirts right away, and got to rehash the race from lots of different perspectives. We got random congratulations walking down the street. At dinner, someone also wearing an Ironman finisher shirt spotted us from far away and lifted his beer glass to us in silent recognition. And this morning, at the airport, while I slumped over my bike box trying not to fall asleep, a man idly standing by made a downward moue with his mouth and nodded slowly, lifting his eyebrows. I ignored him, thinking him just a perv of some kind, but he pointed with his chin at my chest and said, “Congratulations!” And I thought, “Ohhhhhhh…” It turned out he’d done six. We stood and chatted for awhile, and I enjoyed the company.
I suppose, as with many things in life, it’s only through others’ eyes that I can recognize the enormity of whatever accomplishment it is.
I find myself wondering now how many of us there are in this community, and interested in the fact that I’ve always wanted to be a member of some kind of insider’s club. I didn’t know what it would mean to be a part of one, and now I know. I mean, I just kind of fell into this thing, didn’t I? Lara wanted to do an Ironman, and I said okay. Jim said he’d do it with us, and together we made up a kind of small team of sorts. I added ShelterBox to the mix, and Lara added the Great Ormond Street Hospital, and that gave me the added boost I needed to make it feel as if this sport were something more than self-indulgent.
My friend John, also a ShelterBox Response Team member, said it best. He wrote me that I would use the confidence I’d gained in completing the Ironman to forward myself in whatever I wanted to do. I suppose I’m a few days late in really taking his words to heart, but I finally understand them now. Ironman is just a stepping stone, although I must not allow myself to believe for a second that it was easy, or that anyone could do it without discipline, grace, and a mad level of desire.
Will I do another one? Not without a solid team and a very good reason. Am I glad I did? Yes, yes, I am. I do not regret a minute spent training, any step of the journey, or even the missed nights of sleep. Every bit added to the final experience, which I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Am I getting a tattoo? Heck, yes. I will wear it proudly. I hope the other members of my little team will get them too.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden (Part II)

Are you keeping track of the number of hours I’ve logged in as sleep since Tuesday night? I was, as I lay awake on Saturday night, the night before the race I’d taken six months out to train for. Jim crowded into my twin berth with me and hugged me while I bemoaned the loss of my wallet and the fact that I was going to attempt an Ironman on roughly 7 hours of sleep spread out over three nights, but Saturday night was by far the worst: I fell directly asleep and then woke up again at 10:30, jet lag again, I suppose; turning over figures in my head and really worrying for the first time in weeks whether or not I’d make the arguably short time cut-off (10 hours after race start) for the bike leg of the race.

I never did get back to sleep. The alarm went off at 3:55, me still staring at the ceiling, and I knew with absolute certainty that I’d have to blow myself out of the water if I was going to finish this race on time. Lara, in her ‘blog, calls my aim “fragile,” and it was, and I was feeling much the same.

I picked my way down to breakfast, where Lara attempted another run at an egg with miserable results and choked down what she hoped were the last two of many, many bagels eaten over the training season. I ate two slices of whole wheat bread, chased with coffee, and crossed my fingers under that table when I wasn’t watching the clock.

We went upstairs and gathered the rest of our kit and were downstairs in plenty of time to board the shuttle for the race start. We set up our transition areas with minimal fuss, although my rack-mate, a cross between Laird Hamilton and Malibu Ken with plenty of Ironman experience, bemoaned the lack of changing tents, clean Ironman-style transition, and lack of space. Apparently the Swiss do differently, and Rick was not pleased. This being his 8th Ironman, I can understand why, I suppose, but he was nice enough anyway, and gave me a good-luck hug and sent me on my way.

Jim, Lara and I and our new friend Dennis, who happens to be from Chicago, wandered over to the race start with a world full of other wet-suited folk. We’d barely gotten our feet wet and floating in the water for the swim start when I heard the teeny tiny crack of a gun, and we were off.

We’ve been workign with a swim coach in the water, and I knew that I was going to be tired this day, so I took his advice and found a couple of people to draft. A few times it was like being in a merging lane while someone else edged me out of the draft line, but I was marginally pleased to see my first lap time came in around 47 minutes, not far from my goal of 45 minutes. I was really enjoying the swim, anyway, with the absolutely tasty Lake Zurich water keeping my mouth from getting too dry and the ridiculously clear water all around. I think the color of the lake itself must have been soothing to me.

The drafting didn’t work for me at all the second time around; although I swam comfortably behind someone else, my internal body clock was telling me that time was seriously ticking, and I began to get confused about where I was in the race course.

race start. looks like a mess, felt like a wonder.

race start. looks like a mess, felt like a wonder.

I think maybe I was drafting someone on the too-slow part of things, but the Ironman volunteers, standing waist-deep in Zurichsee water, had me pulled out onto the steep landing slope at 1:45, a fairly decent time, although it meant I have 15 fewer minutes for the bike course than I had originally planned.

I hurry-hurried through the transition, struggling with my wetsuit, swearing a little, and multitasking, but was out on the bike in good time, not even bothering with arm-warmers despite the cool temps and the beginnings of a small cleansing rainshower, which only served to remind me that I’d forgotten to pee on my way out of the TA. Couldn’t worry about that, though–it was time to hustle. I needed to bank time to make up for the 15 minutes I’d lost in the swim. I now had exactly 8 hours to make the time cut-off, where I was banking on more. I know it sounds like a small time gap–it’s not, when every minute counts and you know you’re slow and weak on rolling hills and the descents are steep enough to make you want to cover your brakes every second.

The first third of the course is a treat: fast and literally pancake-flat, it makes for great leg and lung recovery while you’re spinning comfortably, and I did it averaging maybe 17 miles an hour. I pictured myself banking MPHs and time and reveled in the speed; and then I turned the corner, bladding aching like crazy, and found an OOMPAH band honking at me, cheering me on. This was maybe the third rest stop, and I finally stopped and had a pee, the strains of some polka thing wafting over to me. I hopped back onto my bike, happy now, and zipped over the rollers, marveling in the support of people along this part of the course, who stood on corners and leaned out of windows and yelled, “Hopp, hopp!” Some people ran along wtih you for a little bit, and there was a big group of guys at a bar (yes! at 9 in the morning!) who made a great big roaring noise that carried me up right a small hill.

The Beast, as they call it, is nothing more than the same climb we do at home in Harriman State Park, only I usually do that with a nice eight hours of sleep under my belt. A little under two miles on a steady uphill; I got into my low gear, pressing along comfortably, and continued the rest of the mostly downhill-and-flat course to the back side of the course, where I’d encounter Heartbreak Hill.

They don’t call it Heartbreak Hill because it appears close enough to the end of the course for you to want to weep over it. They call it that because the number of people gathered all around you, and the support they show you, is enough to crack even the toughest of hearts. They get way down and do the wave. They chant at you, and your cadence can’t help but get faster. They call your name. And at the very, very steepest, they gather you in a live tunnel of waves and hands and noise and that bouys you right up and over the crest.

the crowd looks so small here. from my view, it was ten thousand people deep.

the crowd looks so small here. from my view, it was ten thousand people deep.

Everyone, once in their lives, needs a Heartbreak Hill and its corresponding cheerleaders. Everyone should feel this much like a rock star at some point. It gave me an idea of what the rest of this race would be like.

I rode down the backside of Heartbreak Hill and started out on my second lap. And then I started to fall asleep. I was drowsy and tired, and knew this lap would take me longer. I did some quick math and figured out how fast I’d need to go, and then I settled into a nervous speed that would just barely get me to the cutoff on time. In the end, I made the 9:45 cut-off at Heartbreak Hill with 15 minutes to spare, and Marilyn a lonely figure at the top, waiting for me. Thank goodness for parents. I got passed by a guy in a clown suit (!) and a small Italian sexagenarian who pointed at my feet and said, in heavily accented English, “Same choooz!” and went on with a smile. I guess, if you have to passed, these are okay peeps to be passed by.

An Ironman and a guy in a clown suit walk into a bar...

An Ironman and a guy in a clown suit walk into a bar...

I made a quick transition and stepped out for my first loop of the four. Again, the crowd support was incredible. It buoyed me all the way around, and around, and around, and around one last time, as did the thought of folks at home who’d be watching on the computers and following our success. I met Jim on my first loop, and he seemed to be running well, but didn’t find Lara until her third loop. They were both pleased to see me, and I was in turn heartened by their happiness to see that I’d made my time goal.

I had to dig really deep on my third loop around, as it was where I began to have very serious doubts that I’d make it. I happened to clock myself between kilometers and saw with horror that it was taking me close to ten minutes to slog through the mileage. It wasn’t going to be enough time. But I thought more about how many people were supporting us, and of all the happy comments left on my fundraising page, and simply could not stomach the idea of not coming in in time.

So I left my aches and pains behind and slogged through to the finish, feeling like I was on wings for the last 200 meters. Folks who’d finished had stayed behind to cheer, and the noise of the crowd was almost too much to bear. I’d have cried, if I had any tears left.

In the end, I came in at 15:44, exactly where I’d calculated I would, and I’m okay with that. Tomorrow, race de-construct. For now, though, a massive thank you for everyone who supported me. No way I’d have been able to do this without knowing you were all behind me.

Hopp, hopp! indeed.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden, Part I (pre-race days)

…Me, Jim, and Lara, respectively, that is.

It’s over. Almost exactly 24 hours ago to the minute, I crossed the finish line at Ironman Switzerland 2009, and I must confess to harboring all sorts of unresolved emotions about the thing. I am proud of my friends and eternally grateful to Jim’s parents for coming all the way out to see us, and very happy that I was able to raise enough money for ShelterBox to house thirty more people after disaster–but I’m no closer to understanding why we pursue such sport, which I think is the reason I keep on seeking out more and more of these different challenges.

But you didn’t come here to read about that, just yet: You came to get a race report.

We deliberately booked our flights to Switzerland to arrive well ahead of race day. We had a sleepless night on an airplane, punctuated very frequently by the drunk yellings of the under-age tippler sititng just in front of us (that’s another story), and landed in beautiful Zurich on a cloudy day punctuated also very frequently by rain showers. Jim and I looked thoughtfully at the thunderous sky and wondered if race day would look like that. We hoped not.

My bike, Grub, and The Other One get loaded into the belly of our plane.

My bike, Grub, and The Other One get loaded into the belly of our plane.

ominous pre-race clouds & thunderstorms

ominous pre-race clouds & thunderstorms

We spent that morning wandering around town with Jim’s parents after we’d checked into the wonderful, very accomodating Comfort Inn Royal, which would be our home for the next week, and had breakfast. Zurich is a beautiful town. Have you ever been there? Still, the race course hadn’t been set up yet, and the streets seemed very empty for a Thursday morning–we wondered where everyone was.

Marilyn and Jim, Jim’s parents, had done a fair amount of research already, so we’d left much of the tourist planning to them, and I’m fairly certain that, without me knowing it, set the tone for the trip. We were there to race, and that was the bottom line. I suppose it’s always been that way, but being in one of my favorite places and not mucking around, looking at art stuff, was a distinct change of pace.

Okay, I wasn't entirely blind to Zurich's gorgeous landscape. This is the Limmat River, which runs into the lake.

Okay, I wasn't entirely blind to Zurich's gorgeous landscape. This is the Limmat River, which runs into the lake.

We came back to the hotel, crashed hard, had dinner out at a great place that Grant and Jill recommended, and then went back for a good night’s sleep.

Yeah. It worked for Jim. Not so much for me. We went to bed at about 10, and I woke up around midnight, stark raving awake and unable to go back to sleep until four. I woke up again around seven. All in all, not terrible odds, really.

We went down on our bikes for our first look at Ironman Village, and noticed that Zurich is extremely bike-and-pedestrain friendly.

p7090081

You can't see it against the white, but the bottom of the sign has a bicycle icon on it. Parking, reserved just for bikes. Who'd'a thunkit?

We went and looked at all of the Ironman-branded kit, but I refused to buy (it seemed pre-mature to me, really, to get the stuff before I even attempted a full Ironman), but something unpleasant was around the corner was awaiting me, and I ought to have bought something just to assuage the agony I felt on registering and signing all the proper documents, only to get this in my official race documentation:

harumph!

harumph!

Yeah, what the hell?! Not that I haven’t sent roughly, oh, I dunno, three e-mails telling them to FIX THE PROBLEM. I’m still “Shun.” I fixed it myself with a big black marker and walked away with Jim, registration done with.

Lara arrived later that day, and she and I scooted along to the pre-race meeting, taking the tram down and enjoying the nice ride along Zurich’s high-end brand-name boutique road. We caught up along the way and went into the big tent and listened somewhat half-heartedly to some information that we already knew and some very little we didn’t, while I scanned the crowd, looking for Jim. We finally found him, and looked around the Expo for some last-minute stuff. From there, Jim and Lara went to go listen to some alpenhorn schlock and I went off to meet some awesome ShelterBox peeps who run our Switzerland affiliate. The group here in Zurich is run by some very cool, very enthusiastic 30-something Rotaractors, and I was happy to spend the evening talking to them about ShelterBox and the SRT program, and getting to know them all. Highly enjoyable way to pass time.

Saturday morning dawned way too early. I once again went to sleep at 11:30, only to pop awake at midnight. I stared at the ceiling until 4:30 and slept until 8, when it was time to go to breakfast. I promptly threw a tantrum of a most unsatisfying sort, moaning that I desperately needed more sleep, and that this was no way to run a race. Breakfast with friends, however, fixed it, especially after Lara tried to eat an egg, entertaining me with her ill-fated attempts to peel it properly.

Lara resorts to spoon for her egg. Jim thinks this is so funny that he's squinting.

Lara resorts to spoon for her egg. Jim thinks this is so funny that he's squinting.

We had a really nice day at the Ironman grounds again, racking our bikes and chatting with other racers, and I began to realize that this was actually happening. After a too-long walk home, we caught a tram to meet Roj, Lara’s husband, who was in town to watch the race, for dinner, and it was shortly afterwards that I discovered I’d misplaced my wallet. Yes, that lovely Braithwaite dealio I bought awhile ago. I can’t for the life of me figure how it happened. I can only think that the lack of sleep combined with juggling a number of things in my hands resulted in the loss. I’m quite bereft. But that’s another entry.

Anyway, it was already 8PM. We needed to sleep. Ironman was the next day, and I’ll fill you in on that tomorrow.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Run, don’t walk

…that’s something that we’ll cover today in this installment of the triathlon primer.
The last leg of any triathlon is the run. There are one or two things you should know.
Things you should know
-Your legs are going to feel like crap after you’ve been on a longish no-impact bicycle ride. They will say things to you, like, “#@*%!” and “#*$&@!”
-Quick turnover–that is, the ability to put down one foot in front of the other at a faster rate than usual–is the key to faster leg recovery.

There isn’t anything you can do about the fact that your legs will feel like so much garbage after you’ve been on your bicycle.
However, you can help your legs get used to feeling like crap by engaging in brick workouts: swim right before you bike; bike right before you run. In other words, practice what you’d do in a triathlon. At some point, after you’ve done four or five of these, it will begin to feel normal that your legs feel like crap. (?) Yes, yes, I know. It sounds like bunk, and even slightly insane, but hey, this sport is slightly insane.

Don’t think, even for a second, that just because you’re doing that last part of a triathlon, you can slack off on your fueling and re-fueling. Odds are, you haven’t eaten or had nearly as much to drink as you need to, so you’d better keep on sipping that water and taking little nibbles of whatever yummy stuff you’ve got in your jersey pocket, or whatever they’re offering you at the aid stations. All in moderation, though–if you do like I did during a particularly harrowing half-Ironman about a month and a half ago and eat like a peeeeeg, things may not go so well for you.

Between the bike and the run, you might also consider re-applying some lube to the insides of your thighs and perhaps around your arms where your sleeves meet skin. You’ve been sweating a lot, and, um, frankly, the nice technical fabric you put on ages ago is probably just a little crustier with sweat than it was before. The guys out there may want to take care of their nipples. Bloody nipples don’t make anyone want to hug you at the end of a race. Blech.

As usual, pace yourself. This is where something new comes in. This year for Ironman, I’ve decided I’m going to adopt a run-walk strategy. I’ve never done this before, and frankly, it made me feel like a panty-waist. Everyone I’ve ever seen walking in a half-Ironman has looked drained, and, worse, embarrassed. But you know, eventually, I got used to it. And my pace didn’t suffer all that much. And, mentally (we’ll talk about that a bit more in another installment), it really helps me to know that after 8 minutes of running, I get to walk. Walk! Unheard of!

At the very least, my knees are much happier. They no longer feel as if they want to fly off and shoot around the room, wreaking all sorts of havoc before landing spinning at my feet. They feel like they kind of want to stay attached, the better to walk me to the bar, where a sweet pile of cheese fondue and a nice margarita will be awaiting me.

Right. We leave for Switzerland tomorrow. Forthcoming, though, we’ll talk about nutrition and the mental game, as they pertain specifically to Ironman. Thanks for reading, everyone! And feel free to write if you’ve questions!!deathvalley

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Riding a bike is not what you thought it is

It’s a sticky, slightly breezy day today, like it has been most days here, with a pretty good chance of thunderstorms. Last night, our neurotic dog woke up needing to potty twice, which is bizarre for him, but…what do you do? You pull on your outside clothes; grab your keys and let him out, down the hallway to the elevator, and then stand out there while he moseys about, looking for an appropriate place.
I swear, he never did this when we had our own backyard. It’s like he’s checking to see how far he can push us. Then again, I’m not willing to rish an accident on the carpet. It would make him feel terrible, anyway.
Consequently, I’m feeling far less than well rested today. That might explain the terrible lateness of this post, or it might not. Whatevs.
Today is the day we discuss the longest leg in the triathlon for many people, the bike leg. There are a few things you should know.

You, too, can look this happy on a bicycle

The few things you should know
-The faster you pedal, the less quickly your legs will tire.
-You are more stable moving forward, pedaling, than you are moving forward, without pedaling.
-Bicycling is an all-body sport.

Why those things are important
The bicycling leg is your best chance to refuel. It’s also where you will spend the bulk of your time on race day, and where you will spend the bulk of your time training. It’s where you stand the most chance of improving your time, so you do *not* want to do like I did this season and willy-nilly skip bicycle workouts all over the place and then pay no attention to things like heart rate and cadence when you do finally get to your bike workout.
Although the advantages of training by heart rate are well documented, some folks still overlook the importance of cadence. It’s really important to keep your cadence somewhere between 80 and 90 rotations a minute. It’ll mean easier pedaling, and you’ll get stronger, faster.
You’ll be able to sustain a longer ride if you can keep your legs from tiring, and cadence is the key to that. Remember, you still have a run to do after your ride, so ride smart, maintaining a good speed, and let it carry you up hills where you can.
Learn to ride smart on the downhills. Know which speeds you can maintain without feeling unstable; a crash at a high speed wouldn’t be much fun at all.
Be sure to spend a fair amount of time on your bike, practicing things like eating and drinking. You won’t be able to stop every time you want to take a drink or eat something, so learn how to do that on the fly, and get comfortable doing it.
You are going to experience a few uncomfortable things your first couple of weeks on your bike. First, there’s a little spot between the shoulder blades that’s bound to cramp from holding yourself up (c.f. “all-body sport” above). And, your butt will hurt. Don’t worry; these things will go away with time, but there are things you can do to immediately alleviate some of the pain.

Things to buy
Triathlon is an expensive sort, and while there are things you don’t need to spend money on, I do think that buying a good pair of cycling shoes and pedals is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my cycling career. A proper cycling stroke means that you use the muscles in your legs on the upstroke as well as the downstroke (think of the motion you make with your foot when scraping a piece of gum off the sole of your shoe). Being clipped in to your pedals means you can use that stroke without worrying that you’ll lose contact with your pedal. If you’re worried about getting your money’s worth, don’t: I’ve had the pair I’m using in this weekend’s triathlon for 13 years, and they’re my only pair of road riding shoes.

Beat up, ratty shoes. These are SIDI Genius 2s. For reference, SIDI is now making Genius 6s.

Beat up, ratty shoes. These are SIDI Genius 2s. For reference, SIDI is now making Genius 6s.

Cleats are the key to staying attached to your bike, and uber-efficient

Cleats are the key to staying attached to your bike, and uber-efficient

Buy a couple pairs of cycling shorts. These are padded in all the right places, for all the important reasons.

I’d also invest in a Bento Box for your top tube. It velcroes right to your bike frame and allows you to access things like…food. It’s likely the best $14 you’ll ever spend.
bentobox
Get a computer that will measure your cadence and speed for you. Some of the fancier models will connect wirelessly to a heart rate monitor so you can keep track of everyone right on your bike, but…I’m not that cool.
catseye_
Also, spend the money and get some Body Glide. It’s an allatonin-based product that will keep your clothes rubbing from rubbing against your skin, and prevent chafing. Put it on your butt, and anywhere your skin meets fabric. Do it. It’ll help.
Finally, *do* get a road bike, even an inexpensive one. There’s nothing quite like flying over the course on one of these sleek, silent machines. I’ve hit a top speed of 38 miles an hour on my road bike, and although that’s not nearly as fast as the pros on a good downhill, it is really an unbeatable, unmatchable feeling.
More important, though, you’ll be on a machine that’s engineered to go long distance over an asphalt surface. If you ride a triathlon course on a mountain or a hybrid bike, you run the risk of wasting a lot of energy for no good reason.
Right, that’s it for now. Tomorrow, the run course.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Hey, those are some nice legs

…I speak, of course, of the legs of a triathlon. There are three: swim, bike run. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Swim
Legend goes that triathlon organizers built triathlon to be in the order it is now because the swim is the area that’s the most dangerous. You don’t want tired, zoned-out people flailing around in deep water. It’s bad juju, and bad liability, to boot. So they put the swim first, which means you get on your bike cold and wet. Well, that can’t be helped, and you dry off pretty fast, anyway.
The swim leg is most difficult for many people. Many triathlon organizers, if they make use of cut-offs (times requiring you to be done with specific legs, or the race itself, at a given time) give you the most time to do the swim, proportionately. For instance, I’ll probably finish the swim time in about an hour and a half, if I’m lucky and do everything right. The pros will finish in under an hour. But the swim cutoff time is still a whopping 2 hours and 20 minutes.
triathlonstart
(This is what a swim start looks like. Messy, splashy, and fun. Also, confusing.)

Some things to learn
There’s actually not too much to say about the swim; really, it’s just something you have to get through.
More and more sprint race directors have cut the swim to 400 meters, or about a quarter of a mile, a distance that even only a fairly decent swimmer can get through in 10 minutes. I know people who have done that distance entirely on their backs, or using the breast stroke. Heck, I know folks who have done 800 meters in a sprint race on their backs. The point is, learn to do the crawl. It’s much more efficient, and you’ll be able to see.
Another skill you’ll need to learn is sighting. It’s the art of looking up every once in awhile to see where you’re going. In a pool, you’ve got the lap lines and the pool wall to guide you. In a murky lake, no such luck. You only need to sight every six or so strokes, but make sure you learn to do it. Getting lost in the swim portion of a triathlon is fodder for a lot of bad jokes at your expense.
Learn, as well, to breathe bilaterally. The theory is that it will help to keep you going in a straight line if you’re not just breathing to one side all the time, but I’ve found that it also keeps my neck muscles loose in a long swim. At the very least, it’s something else to focus on, which helps me to get through the time better.

Some things to expect
When you do get to your first triathlon, be sure to spend some time in the water before the race starts. A lot of people freeze up when they get into the open water. I’m not saying that this is going to happen to *you*, but you might as well prevent it if you can.
Then there’s the actual start of the race.
It feels like this:
Clif Bar on YouTube
No, I’m not kidding. Just be ready for it. There’s a lot of people, all vying for their spot to swim in, and you need to expect that you might be kicked.
You might experience some vertigo coming out of the water. This is normal. Once you get out of the water, start unzipping your wetsuit and struggling out of it. I’ve seen racers apply Body Glide to their lower arms and legs, both under the wetsuit and on the outer of the wetsuit itself, so it’ll slide against itself better and be easier to remove. Do practice taking your wetsuit off a couple of times, at least, in a hurry. You don’t want to be struggling in the transition area and losing valuable time. Don’t forget to pull off your goggles and swim cap.

That’s about it for the swim. Tomorrow, the bike leg.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A triathlon primer

I’ve been involved in multi-sport since 2001, and started doing triathlons back in 2003 as part of a project to get more urban women involved in outdoor sport (“Yes! You *can* have a two-martini dinner and still go for a five-mile run when you get home!”)
At any rate, navigating some of the terminology in triathlon is one of the things I remember doing first, so let’s start from the very beginning.

Base Definition
Technically, a triathlon is any sport that involves three sports, much the way that a biathlon can be anything from a cross-country-skiing-and-shooting-fest to a run-bike-run. But, strictly speaking, triathlon is typically defined as swim-bike-run, in that order.
sbr
(Cartoon images help me to remember which order events are in a tri.)

That Whole “Ironman” Thing
I can’t tell you how many people have asked me, when I’m doing an Ironman, “Wait, a full one?” Sometimes I get the same question when I tell people I’m doing a triathlon. Anything less than a full triathlon would be a bi-athlon, or a running or swimming or biking race. And anything less than an Ironman is a half-Ironman or an Olympic distance or a sprint race. (More on those later.) The term “triathlon” is not interchangeable with “Ironman.”
There is some controversy about the Ironman branding. I was very disappointed to realize that, since the people behind the Ironman brand also operate events at the half-Ironman distance, they are extending the Ironman name to that distance. They’re calling it “70.3″ instead (the full distance behind an Ironman is 140.6 miles, exactly), so as not to dilute the brand of “Ironman,” I suppose, but I believe it’s backfired: Now, you can say you’ve done an “Ironman” if you did an Ironman-branded 70.3 event. They encourage it. I find it annoying. I don’t like the idea of making it sound as if I’ve done something I haven’t. For me, that will all change this year once I cross the finish line at Ironman Switzerland, and I suppose that, in the future, the collective memory will forget that Ironman once meant one specific thing, but…eurgh.
Anyway.
imlogo
(This logo is fraught with controversy. Okay, just in my head.)

The Distances
Remember a couple of days ago, when I was geeking out to the math involved in a triathlon? Get ready for some more geekspeak.
In order, from shortest to longest, the triathlons are: sprint; Olympic (or International); Half-Ironman (or “middle-distance”); Ironman. Here are the distance breakdowns:
Sprint
Swim: 400-800 yards (0.25-0.5 mile)
Bike: 13 miles
Run: 3.1 miles

Olympic (International)
Swim: .93 miles
Bike: 26 miles
Run: 6.2 miles

Half-Ironman (Middle)
Swim: 1.2 miles
Bike: 56 miles
Run: 13.1 miles

Ironman
Swim: 2.4 miles
Bike: 112 miles
Run: 26.2

How to Get Started
Start small. Find a friendly local race to train for. Enlist some friends to train with you and race with you. Enjoy the process, as you become competent in several disciplines as once and gain confidence and strength. Swim outdoors when you can. There are a ton of training programs online. I used Trinewbies.com for awhile and enjoyed it.
team-divas-05
(These are the girls who were in my virtual network for awhile. Loved doing a triathlon with them.)
Next, shop. Yes, do get triathlon-specific items. You could spend a ton of money, but you don’t have to: invest in a pair of triathlon shorts that will take you straight from swim to bike and through the run. A wetsuit, if your chosen triathlon requires it, or if you live in a colder-weather clime.

Next, set some goals. They can be anything: weight loss; time spent outdoors; a time goal. Just pick something and stick to it.

Finally, pick a nice, casual restaurant in which to celebrate your first triathlon. If you don’t finish the race feeling good enough to have a margarita (okay, I’ll admit this is my own personal benchmark), then…well, try again. Then repeat.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk some about the specific legs of a race.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.