My Recurring Nightmare: Ironman New Orleans 70.3 Transition Area
Week Sixteen ~ the week where it all came together. Finally. I have been dreading the process of combining the disciplines, and wasn't sure how or when it would work itself out, but as usual it did. This has probably been the most physically difficult week in my training, but also the most rewarding. I have managed to get in every major workout on my program, and only had to cut back slightly on two workouts due to family needs and weather. I was hoping for a 100% completion with my weekly workout plan, but I will give myself a 98% and be satisfied with it.
Workouts started off light early in the week as I think I was being given a break by my coach to mentally get back into the game after last week's tough emotional events. It was short-lived however, as by Wednesday it was game on and the intensity turned up incredibly. My medium intensity swim and a spin class was replaced by very long back-to-back runs. I focused hard on my nutrition this week and made sure I was well hydrated and loaded with energy and protein. It seemed to pay off, as my 2+ hour run mid-week was not only doable but was strong. I was able to push out the last two miles in 18:11. That was after an approximately 8-10 mile steady paced run. I was very pleased and thrilled to realize that my "limiter" had become my strength.
The next day's run was even more of a challenge, mostly because my legs were tired, and my running partner was out of town. It was the end of a long day, and I had to do the run in my own neighborhood which lacks the excitement of the lakes and is very small and with limited scenery. To run for 1:45 in small circles is just mentally painful. I did have one moment of emotional insight during that run. As the sun began to set, I couldn't help but get caught up in the beauty of it, and I suddenly thought of my friend and her son who were buried earlier in the week. I became overwhelmed with emotion for a few minutes as I thought about them, and how lucky I was that I could run in the sunset, and they couldn't. I felt a surge of energy and their memory helped me push through that training run. I decided that I was going to, in some way, take Courtney and Reece along with me for my race, and I would dedicate my race to them, even if it was only in my head. It was a tearful moment, but comforting to know they would both be in my heart for the race.
Courtney and Reece
I knew Saturday was going to be tough. I had a 5 hour bike ride scheduled and I was anxious about it as I hadn't been on the saddle for more than 3.5 hours and hadn't ridden more than 65 miles in one sitting. On top of that I could feel myself getting irritable as the week progressed. I was getting worn down physically and was already worn down emotionally. I kept telling myself that the point of this ridiculously long ride was probably to prepare me for feeling this way and to see if I could push through. So prepare I did. I tried to get my sleep in as the week went on. I tried to drink my water. I planned out my meals in hopes I wouldn't bonk again. By Friday I was on edge, cranky, and anxious. I was having trouble finding people to ride with for that duration who were about my pace, and that was frustrating me. I just wanted it to be over.
I managed to coerce a training partner, Linda, to ride with me even though I knew it was going to make it quite a challenge for me as she is much faster and more experienced than I am on the bike. But my options were limited and I decided I would have to make a go of it, and I prepared myself for the inevitable "drop" that would occur. When it was over, it actually was the best riding situation that could have happened, because I was able to work through some great mental exercises along the way.
It began like this ~
The ride sets out from a local grocery store and I am keeping pace quite well with my partner. I knew we were just warming up and that I shouldn't get too excited. I lasted for about 45 minutes and then it happened. I lost her wheel. The distance between us grew and I had to work through my first mental exercise... do I push to catch up or do I hang back and ride my own pace. It was a tough one, as I knew it would set the tone for the rest of my ride. I am so competitive and I hate to be dropped. I want to be able to ride with the big kids and not always be the caboose. But I made my first of many wise decisions that day and held back. I thought through my options and knew that I had another four hours in the saddle and if there was any chance of making it, it was not going to be at that pace. I settled myself down for the long-haul.
The ride was still challenging even at my pace, as I couldn't get my heartrate out of Zone 3 into a more comfortable rate, and no matter how hard I pedaled I couldn't get my speed to increase. The wind was brutal. I worked through my cycling knowledge base to try to make it easier. Drop the gear, increase the cadence. I checked to see if I was in my big ring. I dropped into my small ring, and picked up my cadence. Don't mash. I pulled up instead of pushing down. It seemed to get easier after that. I couldn't figure out how to beat the wind, so I just lowered my head and tried to keep a straight line. Linda stayed in sight, albeit far away, but it wasn't a lonely ride. There were plenty of cyclists training for an upcoming race on that stretch of road. I felt safe and was fine with being slower paced. At the end of our hour out, we hooked up again, regrouped, and headed back to where we started. This time I stayed on Linda's back wheel for about 5 minutes. Okay, let's say three.
It was at this point I started turning over my options. We were now an hour and a half into a 5 hour ride. My legs were mildly tired, but I was struggling to focus on how to make it through this session. It was then that I started reviewing my "mental toughness" research. Mentally tough people have a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C. Instead of throwing in the towel, I needed to work out my plans. This was not only therapeutic, but also filled my time on the bike. So this is what I worked out:
Plan A: Keep my same pace. Try to manage my heart rate according to my written workout plan ~ some Zone 1, Zone 2, and Zone 3. Stick with the original routes for the ride. We were heading back to the store to pick up another rider, then off to the split to do a loop, pick up some more riders, do a few more loops, then back to the car. Five hours total.
It was during this mind exercise that I decided I needed to down-grade to Plan B. I was already doubting my ability to keep with my original plan, and really wanted to prevent the bonk that hit me so hard on the last ride.
Plan B: Slow my pace so that my heart rate falls into a consistent Zone 2. Make it back to the store. When we pick up our next rider I will abandon the two, as they ride similar speeds, and I will load up the bike and drive to the split. There I can feel comfortable that I will be able to make it back to my vehicle, alone if necessary, if I start to bonk. I will aim for the five hours planned, but will give myself the ability to just keep riding "the loop" so no one feels obligated to ride my slow pace.
I was set on Plan B as I caught up to Linda and pulled into the store parking lot. Unfortunately Plan B went to hell when Rider 2 (who shall remain nameless) decided not to ride. Now the guilt of either making my partner ride solo to the split while I moved my car, or asking her to drive her bike there so I could ditch early if I needed to was weighing on my brain. I decided at that moment I would have to HTFU and make it to the split on my bike. I knew that this decision also meant that I would have to make it back to my vehicle when the ride was over...and knowing that for my partner 'when the ride was over' meant five hours.
So there it was. At that moment I knew I would never even get to truly contemplate Plan C, which for those of you that might be curious was to drop into Zone 1, go as slow as needed to keep the wheels spinning, and if required ~ get off the bike and push it until the five hours was done. It was then that I knew this was one of those make or break moments. I wanted to complete the time. I wanted to do well. I wanted to make my coach proud and to be proud of myself for my effort. It was no longer an "if I can accomplish it" moment, it was now a "how am I going to accomplish it" moment. I knew that I couldn't stay with Linda the entire time, but so far I had been good for 30-40 minute spurts on her tail. That was about how often I was planning on hydrating or taking a bite of something to eat. I decided I would take advantage of those few minutes when we might stop, as it seemed I recovered pretty quickly during that time and I would be good to go for another round immediately afterwards.
As we rode on, I was pleased to find that my plan was working. I'll admit, it could have been worse. Linda admittedly was riding slower to work on her cadence, but she still seemed to be keeping a good speed and I didn't feel like I was hindering her training. We joined some more training partners at the split and it was a good opportunity to ride at a fast intermediate pace. I was surprised to see I was still riding in Zone 3 even as we approached three hours. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep that up, but for the time it was working, the legs felt strong, and my nutrition was good.
We finished the loop, waved goodbye to our other partners, and decided to ride on towards Alligator Bayou. This was going to be our final push of an hour and a half to get us to the end of the ride. It was just the two of us now and not too many other riders on the road. I knew I'd have to stay on her wheel to keep from riding solo for the rest of the ride. It wasn't too bad, and whether it was the wind that seemed to have died down, or my legs that felt strong and warmed up, I felt good. I equated it to the feeling I'd get when I hit mile 4 or 5 on a long run. I'd never heard of anyone talk about an endorphin high when they spoke of cycling, but I think I was on one. We had a good ride, I enjoyed the conversations we had, and I actually believed I was going to make it back to where I started. Even in Zone 3.
As I pulled my bike into the store parking lot, I was elated that I had finished the longest bike ride of my life. Five hours and about 80 miles. Although I was supposed to complete a brick workout and finish up with a run, we elected to cancel it due to the rain starting. Knowing that I felt strong enough and energized enough to complete it if we had chosen to was exhilarating. It was the first moment where I really believed I would be able to complete this race, and maybe not be in agony doing so.
The week's workouts ended with one final long run. My training buddy Lizzard was back and encouraged me to plow through, even when my legs started to feel like cement blocks. I am utterly and completely exhausted, but I am happy. The irritability is subsiding, and I think it will go away completely with a few nights sleep and a well deserved recovery week.
Planned Training: 16:25
Actual Training: 15:51