Let’s catch up, shall we?
I was supposed to do my first tri—a sprint—on May 17th in Harriman State Park. It did not come off as planned, and I’ve been thinking and rethinking my training strategy since then, which is probably why I haven’t posted here in a while. I’m still not 100% decided on the path ahead, but I’m hopeful that laying it all out here might help clarify things.
Picture it: Harriman, NY, May 2015. LRB was doing the Half-Iron distance on Saturday, and my race was Sunday. We drove up Friday evening, checked into our hotel, had a late dinner, and then I watched LRB practice transitions for an hour before bed. I woke up around 3 AM with a screaming headache, which quickly went from bad to worse. I spent the next two and a half hours alternately sweating, shivering, and trying to throw up as quietly as possible so as not to disturb LRB’s much-needed sleep. I managed to pull it together enough to drive him the 20 miles to the start around 6, threw up in the bushes while he got set up, and made it back to the hotel before the last wave hit. I slept for a couple of hours and felt a bit better, so I slathered on the sunscreen, filled up my water bottle with Gatorade (at which point I realized that if one had be sick and dehydrated away from home, a triathlete’s hotel room is not the worst venue) and drove back to the park to fulfill my race support duties. I made it in time to see LRB’s last bike lap and cheer him and the other athletes into and out of T2. For the next couple of hours I focused on hydrating, trying to stay out of the sun when at all possible, and cheering on the runners. I was also trying very hard not to worry about my own race the next day.
I had expected to be really inspired watching the half-iron race and have that I-can’t-wait-to-train-and-do-this feeling, but it never came. It wasn’t the exhaustion of the athletes and the anguish on some of the faces that put me off. When I watch ultra-runners with the same (or worse) expressions, I can tap into the joy and exhilaration behind the pain and immediately start fantasizing about running Western States and the Barkley. Watching this, I just kept thinking of that Kenny Powers line about triathlons being a competition to see “who’s the best at exercising.” I felt disappointed. I really have enjoyed some aspects of the training. It’s just that putting it all together with multiple costume changes and the constant threat of equipment failure just didn’t look fun. Still, LRB kicked ass on the run and finished his first 70.3 in high spirits, and I tried my best to tap into his enthusiasm.
After getting him rehydrated, back to the hotel, and rested, I managed to eat a decent dinner, but was still not feeling great. I decided that I would see how I was doing in the morning, but that the operating plan would be to give the race a shot the next day. I woke up hungry and tired, loaded up the car, and drove back to the park for the third time that weekend. We had plenty of time, so I got checked in, set up my transition area, and went for an experimental jog to see how I felt. Physically it felt okay, but I was not feeling my mojo by a long shot. When it was finally time to go I queued up with my wave for the swim start. Aside from the general crappiness of the weekend so far, I was actually pretty confident about the swim. It was only a quarter mile and I had been banging out 800-yd repeats with no problem in the pool. I knew I was under-prepared in that this was my first time in open water and my first swim in my wetsuit, but I really wasn’t overly stressed out about it. I ran in somewhere in the middle of the pack and started swimming. Almost immediately a guy behind me started trying to draft, but was way too close and kept hitting me in the calves on every stroke. I tried to speed up and pull away from him, but he just kept windmilling away at my legs, so I started maneuvering to the outer edge of the pack. He stayed on me, literally. I was at that point that I realized I was swimming way too fast and was getting into a serious oxygen debt. I switched to breathing every other stroke, but still couldn’t seem to get enough air. I finally rolled over on my back for a few strokes, which I thougt would at least persuade Pummeling Arms Dude to find a new swimmer to draft, but he just kept smacking away at my legs. I rolled back over, told myself to stay calm, and focus on making it to the next buoy. I swam, counted my strokes and my breath, and tried to concentrate on my form. When I popped my head up again to sight it seemed like I had made no progress. My head was pounding by that point, whether from the glare or the exertion I’m not sure. I kept going another 10 or 12 strokes, still unable to get my breathing under control, but felt the panic rising. Finally I gave up, pulled to the inside of the pack and then inside the buoys, and started swimming to shore. I was going to DNF for the first time ever, and I truly did not care.
After the drive back to the city I went for a long run to think and regroup. I had another sprint tri a month, which I had no interest in doing. I knew that much already. The bigger question was the NYC Tri in July, tri camp, and my general approach to training for the rest of the summer. I enjoy the hardcoreness of triathlon training. I like two-a-days, the fact that I finally have some definition in my arms, and that I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. What I don’t like (other than transitions, the bike, and open water) is constantly feeling harried and unfocused, like I’m devoting a ton of time to training but constantly switching gears and not really able to make big improvements anywhere. I can dig the pain cave of the bike trainer, but I hate biking out in the big world with cars and hills and gravel. I know that I have gotten a lot of utility out of tri training—I’m a much better swimmer (at least in the pool), and having the bike trainer as an alternate workout option has been great. Still, the fact remains that I have zero desire to compete in another triathlon. The question is whether that’s because I’m struggling with the bike and the swim, because I’m afraid of biking on the road and open water swims, or because I’m afraid of being bad at it.
Even with several more weeks perspective, I’m still not sure where I am on the subject. I skipped the next sprint tri and deferred the NYC Tri until next year. I still have my (nonrefundable) tri camp at the end of July, and for now I’m still planning to go. I have continued to swim twice a week, and my endurance swim class is going better than I expected. I took an open water class last weekend which I thought would boost my confidence, but the fact that it was right before a storm blew in and we were swimming in the ocean in 3-foot surf did little to increase my comfort level. I’ve done some more trainer workouts, but I haven’t been out on the road on my bike in weeks.
My training for the New York City Marathon officially kicked off last week, and it feels great to have one focused plan and goal ahead of me. Aside from the usual early summer battle to heat-acclimate, my running still seems to be on track, and I’ve had two solid 10K races this past month and set a new PR. Ironically, as much as I’d like to ditch the cross training at this point, I might actually need it. I’ve developed plantar fasciitis in my right foot this past month, and something is still up with the tendon in my left big toe. So far neither has kept me from running, but I’m a little nervous about substantially ramping up my run mileage with niggling injuries this early in the season. I’ve added yoga and more time stretching and foam rolling to my routine, and much as I hate to admit it, I think the swims really help with muscle recovery. So for now I going to keep on keeping on.