Monday, June 4, 2012

I am now a triathlete

I am  lousy swimmer.  But I didn't drown.  That is success.

One of the difficulties with doing endurance athletics is that you are always driving for something new.  It's probably not unlike the junkie looking for a new hit, needing more and more just to get a high, turning to the next thing on the street to get high.  Yeah, it's just like that. 

Having conquered the marathon thing multiple times, and having just done a two-day 150 mile plus bike ride, I was in the mood for something new.  So despite not having any experience swimming, I signed up for a triathlon.  It was today.

I would like to say that I picked up swimming quickly and didn't have any problems, but that would be a lie.  Distance wasn't the issue - I can do 4000m straight in a pool.  But there's a mental aspect to all of this, and that's the problem.  Before this morning, I'd never swum in open water over my head without a life jacket (boating, water skiing, etc.).  And I've never played water polo or otherwise had the sort of experience where you are forced to engage in hand-to-hand combat in deep water, so the whole group start thing is a first.

After setting up transition I managed a bit of a swim.  It was just to get prepped, get wet, get used to the water.  This made a huge difference. I was much less nervous when I stepped in the water than I otherwise would have been.  I was smart enough to hang in the back near the outside, so as to not have to fight the crazy good swimmers up front, and this was also a good call.

My group was second to last to go, so there was about a 40 minute wait from the start gun before I could get going.  I have to say the tussling and swimming over people was not as bad as I thought it would be.  I got kicked a couple of times and had to swim over a few people, but in the end it wasn't that bad at all.  I did start to panic once or twice but managed to keep my emotions in check.  I had to swim breaststroke for a little bit for sighting purposes but otherwise the entire thing was done freestyle.  I somehow managed to finish in the middle of the pack in about 11:35.  The only downside was that I forgot to start my Garmin. 

My first transition was really slow.  Note to self:  let's leave the cycling gloves at home next time.  Don't know what I was thinking there.  But once I got on the bike, everything felt awesome.  My legs were fresh, my lungs were ready, my body was cool.  And I flew.  I did 24mph for almost the entire course.  I was passing people left and right.  My road bike and I absolutely dropped several tri bikes, just left them standing there.  I backed off over the last half mile or so to give my legs a chance to rest for the run.

The second transition was fast - very fast.  Would have been a couple of seconds faster without the gloves - again, not sure what I was thinking.  And once I got out running I was in familiar territory.  Running hard when I'm tired is not something new.  I finished in precisely my goal time for the run, 22:30. 

Overall it was a successful race, and it was absolutely a blast.  I'm definitely signing up to do this again.  Actually, I already have - signed up for an Olympic distance in August.  I'm excited.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Barefoot running - accepted science?

I mentioned earlier that I've had a bit of an extended layoff.  What I had was posterial tibialis tendonitis in my left ankle.  This is a result of some crazy-hard training in Feb/March (I did set a PR in the 10k, though, so there is that) and an ill-advised three day jog through Asia that included an informal 5k on the Great Wall, a day of hiking in the mountains of Japan, and a makeshift 10k through the cherry blossoms of Tokyo.  This was followed up by a 150 mile bike race the following weekend.  Maybe I overdid it just a touch.

The fact that I broke this particular ankle in an especially horrific manner 12 years ago has a lot to do with it too.

The thing felt like somebody gummed up the works with equal amounts of gelatinous sludge and Geneva-convention defying torture.  Off to the doctor.  Spent two weeks in a walking boot and another out but doing nothing (swimming was allowed, cycling and running were not).

I'm cleared to run and bike now but in limited quantities (10% rule and all of that).  He knows about the race schedule and I've been cleared for that - I just have to take it easy.  His prescription, though, was interesting.  When I asked him how to prevent this from happening again, he didn't even hesitate.  "Barefoot running," he said.  When I suggested there was a debate about it (and, again, I'm already a proponent) he told me he doesn't even think it is a debate anymore.  "It's just common sense," he said.  "You train barefoot, your foot and your tendons get stronger.  Break in gradually but it's a great prophylactic."

I wasn't aware we'd moved past the debate, but I don't need to be told twice.  So one day a week is going to be spent running in the Vibrams.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The rhythm of the keyboard...

...has been conspicuously absent from this blog for some time, which is a shame.  It matches the rhythm of my training, though, as I am just coming back from an injury - and one that wasn't exercise induced.  About a month ago I went to China and Japan on business.  Meetings ended a day early in China so I went out to the Great Wall.  It is just as great as the name indicates, but it is also very steep and it's not advisable to run/walk 5k on it when you are not used to hills - especially if you follow that up with a day hiking through the mountains of Japan and a six mile run through Tokyo.  And then follow that up by a multi-day, 150 mile bike race the next weekend back home.

Thankfully it was only tendonitis, and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  The doctor told me I couldn't run or bike for three weeks, so I spent a lot of time swimming.  A lot.  One morning I swam a full 2.5 miles, which is longer than the swim needed for a full Ironman.  And, with perhaps more hubris than common sense, I signed up for a sprint tri just after I thought the doctor might let me do it.

Fortune smiled on my injury and I'm cleared to run and bike.  The sprint tri is this weekend - 600m swim, 11 mile ride, and a 5k.  I'm a slow swimmer, but I think I can do the ride in about 30 minutes and the run in 22:30 or so.  My stretch goal is to break 1:10, which wouldn't be too bad for a guy who is going to take 12 minutes to finish the swim.

This is all a precursor to something bigger and better, if I survive.  While I was recovering from the injury I signed up to volunteer at bike check in for the Ironman here in the Houston area.  I'm sold.  Because I volunteered, I get dibs on signing up.  So my new schedule goes something like this:  sprint tri this weekend, olympic tri in August, marathon in October, half-iron tri in November (maybe), Goofy challenge in January, and full iron in May.  I'll be the fittest man on the planet, if I don't die first.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I'm not crazy - just Goofy.

Despite my body seeming like it was going to fall apart at the seams at various points during 2011, I signed up for the Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World for the first weekend in January.  For the uninitiated (read: people who are not crazy), the Goofy involves running a half marathon on Saturday, and then turning around and doing a full marathon on Sunday.  The looks I got when explaining that I was, in fact, going to attempt this left no doubt that most people think there is something not quite right in my head (as if there were any doubt before).

Truthfully, I was pretty nervous about this race.  I had what I affectionately called a "hell weekend" in training where I ran a 5 miler on Friday, 14 on Saturday, and 20 on Sunday, and I got through that just fine.  But that wasn't the same as a back-to-back race with a full marathon as the second leg.

We got to WDW on Thursday (that's the 5th of January - I'm late in posting this) and picked up our packets immediately.  Much smoother than last year (we tried it on Friday and it was a zoo).  After picking up a few not-quite-necessities at the expo, it was off to the parks to play.  But that's a subject for a different blog.

Friday morning I got up at about 5:00 to head off to cheer on my mom in the 5k.  It was her first ever race, and she has every right to be proud of finishing as she did.  I'm proud of her, at any rate. Dad was more than a bit amazed at the amount of people that were lining up to run.  I had to laugh, knowing what was in store for the next day.  And then we all had another day of play in the parks.

Saturday was the start of my real race.  Imagine, if you will, a large NBA-type arena filled with people.  Now take all those people, put them in running gear, stick them on a street, and tell them to line up.  Stick a DJ, a video screen, and far too few port-a-johns around for good measure.  That's pretty much what you had for the half marathon.  27,000 runners, give or take.  27,000 runners, by the way, is about half a mile of people on a four lane divided highway.

Dad had lucked into an earlier corral than the Mrs., so he got to start first.  I never caught up to him - he had a 25 minute head start, and we missed him by less than a minute at the finish.  Big, major accomplishment for this his second race, and I was proud of him.  The wife and I, however, were stuck in the back and ended up having to weave our way through all sorts of traffic for most of the 13.1 miles.  I took this slow - faster than the wife wanted to go, probably, but more than slow enough to keep my legs for the next day.  Total time:  2:35 and change.

Sunday was the day to put on my big boy tights and show what I was made of.  Well, except that it was far too warm for my compression tights, so I had to go with shorts and calf sleeves instead.  From the start my legs felt a little bit dead from the half the day before.  And somehow I managed to keep myself under my marathon PR until about mile 22.  At mile 18 I could feel my quads were fried - I stopped briefly at a medical tent to get some ointment.  At 21, they shut down.  Not surprising, to tell you the truth, but it murdered my time.  I ended up finishing in 4:04 - not bad for having done a half the day before.  And the shocking thing was that the recovery was far less challenging than any of my other marathons.  I was sore the next couple of days, to be sure, but not as bad as other races.

Of course I'm signing up to do it again next year.