Saturday, August 28, 2010

It's Officially Taper Time!

Wow! I seriously can't believe I'm only sitting 2 weeks out from my first Ironman. When I signed up last year, a year seemed like so far away, like it would never come. Yet here I am.

2 weeks to go means the taper is in full swing. My long ride today was a mere 60 miles. I rode about 20 miles out to one of the few significant climbs around here and did hill repeats. I think I confused a farmer nearby who was baling hay because each time I rode up I'd wave and he'd look at me funny. The new 12-25 cassette worked out just fine and I'm pretty sure I'll stick to that for the race.

Normally I'd run on Saturday's too, but given my recent running woes I decided to give the groin another rest day. My long run Thursday was 13 miles, but was still about 75% walking. The run segments felt just fine, but I'm at the point right now that I really don't want to push anything. I'm going to play it cautiously from here on out and if I feel good come race day I'll push it then.

Swimming is still pull buoy intensive, but at least I'm getting some yards in and my shoulders are getting used to the work again, even if I have lost a lot of speed.

Other than that there's just a lot of pre race visualization going on. I'm not sure how I'm going to make it through another 2 weeks of work because I swear my mind starts drifting to the race every few minutes. It doesn't help when there's a wealth of inspirational stuff on the internet to distract me either. This was posted on BT last week and I wish I knew the original author so I could give them credit because it honestly gave me goosebumps of anticipation:

Right now you are about to enter the taper. Perhaps you've been at this a few months, perhaps you've been at this a few years. For some of you this is your first IM, for others, a long-overdue welcome back to a race that few can match.

You've been following your schedule to the letter. You've been piling on the mileage, piling up the laundry, and getting a set of tan lines that will take until next year to erase. Long rides were followed by long runs, which both were preceded by long swims, all of which were followed by recovery naps that were longer than you slept for any given night during college.

You ran in the snow.
You rode in the rain.
You ran in the heat.
You ran in the cold.

You went out when others stayed home.
You rode the trainer when others pulled the covers over their heads.

You have survived the Darwinian progression that is an Ironman summer, and now the hardest days are behind you. Like a climber in the Tour de France coming over the summit of the penultimate climb on an alpine stage, you've already covered so much ground...there's just one more climb to go. You shift up, you take a drink, you zip up the jersey; the descent lies before you...and it will be a fast one.

Time that used to be filled with never-ending work will now be filling with silent muscles, taking their final, well-earned rest. While this taper is something your body desperately needs, your mind cast off to the background for so very long, will start to speak to you.

It won't be pretty.

It will bring up thoughts of doubt, pain, hunger, thirst, failure, and loss. It will give you reasons why you aren't ready. It will try and make one last stand to stop you, because your brain doesn't know what the body already does. Your body knows the truth:

You are ready.

Your brain won't believe it. It will use the taper to convince you that this is foolish - that there is too much that can go wrong.

You are ready.

Finishing an Ironman is never an accident. It's the result of dedication, focus, hard work, and belief that all the long runs in January, long rides in April, and long swims every damn weekend will be worth it. It comes from getting on the bike, day in, day out. It comes from long, solo runs. From that first long run where you wondered, "How will I ever be ready?" to the last long run where you smiled to yourself with one mile to go...knowing that you'd found the answer.

It is worth it. Now that you're at the taper, you know it will be worth it. The workload becomes less. The body winds up and prepares, and you just need to quiet your worried mind. Not easy, but you can do it.

You are ready.

You will walk into the water with 2000 other wide-open sets of eyes. You will look upon the sea of humanity, and know that you belong. You'll feel the chill of the water crawl into your wetsuit, and shiver like everyone else, but smile because the day you have waited for so VERY long is finally here.

You will tear up in your goggles. Everyone does.

The helicopters will roar overhead.
The splashing will surround you.

You'll stop thinking about Ironman, because you're now racing one.

The swim will be long - it's long for everyone, but you'll make it. You'll watch as the shoreline grows and grows, and soon you'll hear the end. You'll come up the beach and head for the wetsuit strippers. Three people will get that sucker off before you know what happening, then you’ll head for the bike.

The voices, the cowbells, and the curb-to-curb chalk giving you a hero's sendoff can't wipe the smile off your face.

You'll settle down to your race. The crowds will spread out on the road. You'll soon be on your bike, eating your food on your schedule, controlling your Ironman.

You'll start to feel that morning sun turn to afternoon sun. It's warmer now. Maybe it's hot. Maybe you're not feeling so good now. You'll keep riding. You'll keep drinking. You'll keep moving. After all, this is just a long training day with valet parking and catering, right?

You'll put on your game face, fighting the urge to feel down as you ride for what seems like hours. You reach special needs, fuel up, and head out.

By now it'll be hot. You'll be tired. Doubts will fight for your focus. Everyone struggles here. You've been on that bike for a few hours, and stopping would be nice, but you won't - not here. Not today.

You'll grind the false flats to the climb. You'll know you're almost there. You'll fight for every inch of road. The crowd will come back to you here. Let their energy push you. Let them see your eyes. Smile when they cheer for you - your body will get just that little bit lighter.


You'll plunge down the road, swooping from corner to corner, chaining together the turns, tucking on the straights, letting your legs recover for the run to come - soon! You'll roll back - you'll see people running out. You'll think to yourself, "Wasn't I just here?" The noise
will grow. The chalk dust will hang in the air - you're back, with only 26.2 miles to go. You'll relax a little bit, knowing that even if you get a flat tire or something breaks here, you can run the damn bike into T2.

You'll roll into transition. 100 volunteers will fight for your bike. You'll give it up and not look back. You'll have your bag handed to you, and into the tent you'll go. You'll change. You'll load up your pockets, and open the door to the last long run of your Ironman summer - the one that counts.

You'll take that first step of a thousand...and you'll smile. You'll know that the bike won't let you down now - the race is down to your own two feet. The same crowd that cheered for you in the shadows of the morning will cheer for you in the brilliant sunshine of a summer Sunday. High-five people on the way out. Smile. Enjoy it. This is what you've worked for all year long.

That first mile will feel great. So will the second. By mile 3, you probably won't feel so good.

That's okay. You knew it couldn't all be that easy. You'll settle down just like you did on the bike, and get down to your pace. You'll see the leaders coming back the other way. Some will look great - some won't. You might feel great, you might not. No matter how you feel, don't panic - this is the part of the day where whatever you're feeling, you can be sure it won't last.

You'll keep moving. You'll keep drinking. You'll keep eating. Maybe you'll be right on plan - maybe you won't. If you're ahead of schedule, don't worry - believe. If you're behind, don't panic - roll with it. Everyone comes up with a brilliant race plan for Ironman, and then everyone has to deal with the reality that planning for something like Ironman is like trying to land a man on the moon. By remote control. Blindfolded.

How you react to the changes in your plan will dictate your day. Don't waste energy worrying about things - just do what you have to when you have to, and keep moving. Keep eating. Keep drinking. Just don't sit down - don't EVER sit down.

You'll make it to the halfway point. You'll load up on special needs. Some of what you packed will look good, some won't. Eat what looks good, toss the rest. Keep moving. Start looking for people you know. Cheer for people you don't. You're headed in - they're not. They want to be where you are, just like you wanted to be when you saw all those fast people headed into town. Share some energy - you'll get it right back.

Run if you can.
Walk if you have to.
Just keep moving.

The miles will drag on. The brilliant sunshine will yawn. You'll be coming up to those aid stations fully alive with people, music, and chicken soup. TAKE THE SOUP. Keep moving.

You'll soon only have a few miles to go. You'll start to believe that you're going to make it. You'll start to imagine how good it's going to feel when you get there. Let those feelings drive you on. When your legs just don't want to move anymore, think about what it's going to be like when someone catches you…and puts a medal over your head... all you have to do is get there.

You'll start to hear the people in town. People you can't see in the twilight will cheer for you. They'll call out your name. Smile and thank them. They were there when you left on the bike, and when you came back, and when you left on the run, and now when you've come back.

You'll enter town. You'll start to realize that the day is almost over. You'll be exhausted, wiped out, barely able to run a 10-minute mile (if you're lucky), but you'll ask yourself, "Where did the whole day go?" You'll be standing on the edge of two feelings - the desire to finally stop, and the desire to take these last moments and make them last as long as possible.

You'll hit mile 25. Your Ironman will have 1.2 miles - just 2KM left in it.

You'll run. You'll find your legs. You'll fly. You won't know how, but you will run. The lights will grow brighter, brighter, and brighter. Soon you'll be able to hear the music again. This time, it'll be for keeps.

Soon they'll see you. Soon, everyone will see you. You'll run towards the lights, between the fences, and into the night sun made just for you.

They'll say your name.
You'll keep running.
Nothing will hurt.

The moment will be yours - for one moment, the entire world will be looking at you and only you.

You'll break the tape at the finish line, 140.6 miles after starting your journey. The flash will go off.

You'll stop. You'll finally stop. Your legs will wobble their last, and capable of nothing more.

Someone will catch you.
You'll lean into them.

It will suddenly hit you.

You are ready.
You are ready.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Madison Training Weekend

So last weekend I traveled to Madison to get in one last good training weekend before the taper starts for IMWI and I must say that it was quite the confidence booster given what I've had to put up with the last few weeks.

I rolled into town Friday night and met up with a group of people from BT that are doing the race as well. We ate dinner at a nice little Italian restaurant called Bucatini's that seemed to be a hit with everyone. A few of us may be using it for our Saturday night meal come ironman weekend. It was nice to meet and chat with some other people doing the race and I instantly had eight new friends/training partners.

Saturday morning was a 2.4 mile swim race put on by the U.S masters club. I got to the race site much earlier than anticipated so I picked up my timing chip and then headed back to the car for awhile since I had left my water bottle there. After chilling for awhile I made my way back and wrestled my wetsuit on. My middle finger on my right hand is still a little swollen from my crash 3 weeks ago so gripping and pulling the wetsuit on was interesting to say the least. Soon enough they were herding us into the water like cattle.

I floated out a little ways with 200 of my friends. I figured I would be swimming for an hour and twenty minutes so there would be plenty of time to warm up once the gun sounded.While technically this was a race, I had no intentions of racing it. This was merely part of a training day to prep for IMWI. This would be my longest OWS to date and the goal was to simply survive it. Add the fact that due to RAGBRAI, a bike crash recovery, and flooding in my hometown I had swam (swum?) all of 4000 yds in the previous 4 weeks, I really had no expectations.

The gun (or was it a horn?) took me by surprise. Other people started swimming so I figured it must be time to go. I started several rows back and close to the shore side. As a result this was probably the furthest away from the mayhem I have ever been so my start was relatively clean. About midway down the first section someone made up for it by kicking me in the head. The goggles started leaking and I thought I got most of the water out and sealed back up but my eye was really irritated after the race and is still a little red 2 days later.

Sighting was pretty much awful the whole day. I haven't done a long OWS since June, but even so you'd think I'd retain a little sighting skill. Aside from that I cruised along relatively easily, never really pushing the pace. As I got close to the end of the first loop I could feel my right shoulder (the one that, along with my head, took the brunt of my crash impact and kept me from raising my arm above my head for several days) starting to get a little sore. I couldn't tell if it was just normal fatigue or something I should be worried about. Usually it's my left elbow that starts to get sore after awhile so this was new.

I glanced at the clock as I finished the first loop and saw I was around 37:00. 2 minutes slower than my last HIM, but still good enough to keep me on pace for a 1:15, which is my goal for IM. I felt like I sighted better and held a smoother stroke throughout the second loop, but my pace must have slowed some because by the time I scrambled up the ramp I just over 1:17. Oh well. I accomplished what I set out to do and that was survive with enough energy to tackle the rest of the day.

Afterward I chatted with our training group till my dizziness subsided and then found some food and water for a quick refuel before the ride. It was a good confidence booster to get an IM distance OWS in before the race in 3 weeks. Given the circumstances surrounding the last month of my training (or lack thereof) I am pleased with the result.

Next up was a ride on the bike course. I drove out to Fireman's park where the loop part of the course starts and met back up with our group. Ben led us out and it wasn't long until I hit the first of the infamous hills of IMMOO. It was definitely hillier than anything around here by a longshot. I don't mind the climbing. In fact, for living in a relatively flat area and keep a little more weight around my midsection than I should I am a pretty decent climber. What I am not, is a good descender. Give my a hill straight down I am fine. Put me down a hill that curves and I can't see turns coming up I have a deathgrip on the aerobars and am riding the brakes like nobody's business. I doesn't help that I just had a high speed crash 3 weeks ago.

That said, part of the goal of riding the course early was to get a feel for it. I have a better idea of where I need to brake and be cautious and where I can open up and enjoy the speed. I also got to experience the three big hills on the loop and see just how bad they are. They were big for sure, but I wasn't overly impressed. Only once did I wish I had another gear and I'm still debating whether or not to swap out my 11-23 cassette for the 12-25 I bought. I probably will just to have that extra gear on a few of the climbs, but it will mean a lot more switching in between the small and big chain ring.

At the end of the first loop I decided to turn left on Whalen and ride the stick portion of the course. I had plenty of nutrition at the time and figured I'd be more apt to do it now than at the end of the second loop. I did about 10 miles out and then back to the park, putting me a little over 62 miles for the first portion of the ride.

After a quick refuel I headed back out for another loop. At some point early on I made a wrong right turn. The course was marked with chalk arrows designating turns and I swear I saw one pointing toward that turn but apparently not. Pretty soon stuff starting seeming a little unfamiliar and then I went down a monstrous hill and I knew I was definitely off course. The problem was I really didn't want to go back up that hill so I kept on riding for awhile. Finally, several miles later, I summoned the gumption to turn around and head back. Let me tell you, that hill was the hardest climb I face that ride. Ouch!

Eventually I made back onto route 92 and rode for awhile. As I neared Mt. Horeb I saw I was over 90 miles for the day already so I decided rather than complete the loop I would be better off just turning around and heading back to the park. I rolled in at roughly 105 miles, which was plenty for me that day. I was a little bummed that I didn't get a second look at the full loop, but it was a darn good training anyway. Needless to say I slept like a baby that night.

Sunday I made the drive back to Ames. My legs felt awesome that morning, probably the best they've felt after a century ride. I attribute this to a couple of things. I rode the first loop pretty easy, wanting to just get a good look at the hills and how to attack it. In addition, on a hilly course like that, the descents are so steep that often times I was just coasting down. Around home I am pretty much pedaling the entire ride, with my only breaks being for turns. Lastly, I may just be in the best bike shape I've been in all year, I don't know.

Whatever it was I wasn't just content to sit inside for the rest of the day so I went out for a walk. I hadn't discussed it with my PT yet, but I decided to throw in some jogging intervals to see just how the groin felt. I did a 6/1 walk/run combo and felt great. Last night I did a 5/2 walk/run run combo and felt pretty good as well. I can't begin to explain how relieved I am to get in a little running. I know my marathon won't be the speediest ever, but getting to confidence to know that I'll be able to run at least a portion of it has helped immensely.

All in all, the weekend was a HUGE success for me. Just a couple of weeks ago I wasn't even sure if Ironman was going to happen for me, but know the pieces seem to be falling into place at the right time and I couldn't be happier. Just a couple more days of regular workouts and then the taper begins. 18 Days!!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Moving Forward

Okay, so I will be the first to admit that the last couple of weeks have been depressing for me. I've been dealing with a groin injury stemming from a bike crash not too long ago. I think I have covered the entire range of emotional reactions during this time, ranging from 'Oh my God, my Ironman is ruined!' to 'Maybe I'll have a miraculous recovery and everything will be just fine.'

The truth is I think I have found a happy medium. I have come to terms with the fact that this will more than likely not be my best Ironman. That's okay. I just want to make it to the start line as healthy as possible and finish the dang thing, even if that means walking an 7 hour marathon. Any time goals have been thrown out the window and that may be a good thing. No undue pressure to put on myself come race day. I can just go out and enjoy myself. There will be more IM races after this one where, if I get to race day as prepared as I can be, I will concern myself with the ticking clock.

The race will not be a total loss though. I still expect to have a solid swim and bike and get myself out on the run course at about the 7 hour mark. I started swimming again this week, and while it hurts the groin a little to kick, I have limited myself to pull buoy sets and believe the wetsuit will help come race day as little kick is needed with one of those.

Biking-wise I feel pretty good. I was able to get out a couple of times last weekend. I did a cautious 30 miles on Saturday and felt no pain whatsoever. I followed that up with a 106 mile ride on Sunday that felt pretty good too. It has taken me a little while to recover, more than the last century, but I think that's most likely due to the 2 weeks of inactivity that I had after the crash.

This weekend should be another good training weekend. I am heading to Madison for a 2.4 mile open water swim race on Saturday at Lake Monona. After that I will be riding the entire bike course to get a feel for it. I am excited to check out the hills and see just how bad they really.

Then it's one more week of hard work and some sort of modified taper. Not sure what the taper is for zero running miles. Lol! In actuality I am going to begin some long walks to get my body somewhat used to that. I'm not sure if anything is really going to get me used to being on my feet that long.

Until then I will continue to see my PT in hopes that the groin will improve and keep trying to get into the orthopedist to get his opinion.

3.5 weeks to go!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Quick Update

I feel I owe everyone a quick update. I haven't been in the mood to write much lately but didn't want to neglect the blog completely.

It's been a week since RAGBRAI ended. It wasn't the trip I had anticipated. We had some setbacks that included our team bus breaking down and the remnants of our team completing various amounts of the trip. Despite that it was still a pretty fun trip. Luckily for me one of the members of the original team biked and drank at about the same pace as me so we pretty much hung out the whole week. Well, the whole week up until my accident.

On day 6 I had a pretty bad accident. I was changing lanes and my front wheel stuck in a gap in the concrete. Needless to say my bike stopped and I didn't. Nasty concussion, 7 stitches in my head and a couple more in my finger, road rash galore, and generally a pretty achy body. Lucky for me nothing was broken.

I spent last week in recovery mode. I had absolutely no energy for anything and making it through an 8 hour work day was difficult. Mid week I attempted a run but didn't make it far due to said low energy levels. I laid low the rest of the week and finally got out on my bike yesterday for a 50 mile ride. All in all things felt good and for the first time since the crash I started to believe having a good IM race was still in the cards for me.

So today I decided to go for a run early now that my energy levels had returned. I didn't make it very far before I started getting a sharp pain in the upper groin area of my right leg. It slowed me to a walk and even now 12 hours later it is still pretty sore. I had noticed a faint pain there earlier after the crash, but it was the least of my worries at the time. My amateur diagnosis is just a strained muscle, but even that is going to take a lot of rest to heal. With just 5 weeks to go, time is becoming a scarce commodity. But I have to do what I can do to get myself to the start line.