Monday, July 25, 2011

Tri, tri again... again

Remember when I used to race instead of writing about how I used to race?

Yeah. Me, neither.

Well, Sunday I broke the two-year tri hiatus with a sprint at Huntington. It was the usual setup: I'd overdone one discipline and left the other two as problems for "future Gina." I've been running maybe once a week... and let's just say I've only been swimming twice — 2500 yards and 1500 yards — since December 2009. And those were both last week.

Cycling, however, has been spinning high. I'm biking at least 25 miles every day. I ride a refurbished Centurion LeMans, whose high-grade steel frame is surprisingly light and more than sturdy enough for my daily commute. Throw in a couple panniers, way too much clothes and a 17-inch MacBook Pro in the trunk, and I may as well be riding with a parachute and ankle weights (hello, Jerry Rice!). While I haven't been riding fast — some mornings are harder than others — I've been covering mileage I would have thought crazy a couple years ago.

You already know I'm going to say the biggest difference has been strength training, which I've been doing five days a week since January. But it's not all about heavy weight-lifting (while there's been plenty of that). Between working with Melissa and Ben, I've done all manner of strength and cardio training that often leaves me questioning their sanity and mine. Although I'm always grateful for it. Like two or thee days later.

What's the diff? Running: I can feel activation of different muscle groups to get this toosh moving. So much of my power came from the middle of my legs last year — and obviously, it left through the shins. Now most power and impact comes and goes higher in my leg, and when I reach fatigue, my body triggers more action from my hamstrings, glutes and some quad. I have a stronger stride now, a healthier stride. There's plenty of speed and twitch. Now I need just a smidge of mental fortitude back... to replace all the paranoia that's taken over my will.

Swimming: well, I up and swam 2500 yards like it was nothing, without so much as looking at a pool for two years. It felt fine. It probably wasn't as fast as two years ago, but I'll take it.

All this in mind, I considered Huntington my walk-through tri. It was my "cross-training-only" tri. During a year I'm trying to take it easy, I could afford (ego-wise, that is — I'm not exactly going anywhere with my racing "career") to take a test ride. So, I did.

But not without a whole slew of reservations. Which bike should I ride? Could I do the swim? What should I wear for the swim? When was the last time I ran? Have I done a brick workout this decade? Right up through the ride to Bay Village, I was questioning why and whether I should be doing this stuff again.

Then I got smacked with the magic of triathlon. The people, the energy, the bike porn. This is why I keep doing this schtuff:

Huntington Beach pre race

Lake Erie was pristine and perfect. My friend Katie was waiting, ready and raring to rock her first duathlon. My dad, NB and his sister KB came out at 6 a.m. to cheer. And it made my morning to hang with TriSaraTops on the beach before the start (you're such a rockstar, lady!). I warmed up in perfect-temps water and was ready to go, go, go!

But then we had to wait, wait, wait.

I think blue-capped, 39-and-under ladies were the fifth wave, beach entry. Run-ins always give me nerves, mostly because last time I raced Huntington I got punched in the face so hard my goggles exploded, and I swam the quarter-mile, panicked, delicate and slow, like an old lady wearing curlers, trying not to get her hair wet. Lucky for my nerves, however, this beach start went single file, all across the shore. I took the way-inside, ran in and stayed back from kicking feet and flailing hands. No-contact start. Rawk!

I swam calm, warm-up speed to the first buoy and readied for my open-water panic moment (that's where I hit the parallel stretch and freak out). Sure, I felt strong, but I had to take a couple seconds breaststroking to calm myself. Then I tore it up.

Not that I'm in peak shape, but I felt stronger than swims of old — as if I could swim forever, even if it wasn't very fast. There was a pretty decent group of blue caps ahead of me. As I rounded the final buoy, though, I decided no one left in the water was going to beat me. So, I picked them off, one by one, until I ran out of the water in 8:33.

Running out of the water at Huntington

Not my best swim, but a great ROI, all things considered.

Then the bike. I'll start by saying I pedaled a race-PR 40:25 for 12.2 miles (18.1 mph). So, at face value, I'm pretty happy. But here's how it went down...

First, I brought the wrong helmet (big ol' Bern instead of the Specialized racer), forgot to put on my watch, didn't bring water and then, a couple minutes into the ride, my seatpost dropped all the down, so I felt like I was riding a beach cruiser! I was riding pretty hard, nevertheless, and even took out some serious sprints to set up a couple rabbits to pace me. Let's forget about the SUV that nipped my arm, driving too close at a turn, and we're thinking this is going to be one helluva a ride.

And it was. I was FLYING! We cut into the woods, where it was dark, damp and dense. Lots of questionable passing, hard-ass riding. Then I heard some catty back-and-forth about passing, get-out-of-my-way, left-left-left! This tall, super-skinny biotch was flying through the woods spitting a lot of back-and-forth with another rider. They were fast approaching my pack, when the biotch cut off the other rider hard and sent her flying. Lucky for her, she fell mostly in mud and didn't impale herself on any branches. Unlucky for her, she just bashed her head on a tree and none of the 10 riders in eyeshot were stopping.

It was a packed course, so I had to stop super fast. Well, it was wet and narrow. I started skidding and my bike spun out into the mud. I twisted my knee and kicked out the bike before I took most of the impact on my left hip and arm. Let's just say, it didn't feel great then; it feels worse now. Thankfully: minimal scraping! I got her feet out of clips and pulled the bike off her. She said she felt fine to stand up, so I gave her water, made sure she had no telltale signs of internal bleeding or head trauma, and took off to tell volunteers there had been a crash.

While I'd lost a few minutes, I rode pretty pissed for a few miles, livid that only one person in a very amateur triathlon would stop for a very serious crash. Good bye, faith in humanity! God forbid you miss out on an age group medal while someone lay dying. Grr.

By bike's end it was just plain hot outside. I reported the accident, changed shoes, finally slugged down some water and took it easy for 5K. Note to self: brick workouts will be helpful in the future. Most of the run was pretty shady, running out and back on an all-purpose Metroparks trail. It was way awesome to see Katie wrapping up the back end of her 5K, catching sight of Sara and even seeing where the cycling rabbits were. I finished with some uphill kick (thanks, Ben, for those 10% grade quarter-mile sprints!) in 26:26 (8:32 pace) for a total time of 1:22:52. Hear me roar.


Katie and I celebrated the wonder that is racing (and the wonderfulness that is Lake Erie) with a post-race swim, plenty of cookies and plenty of good intentions for next-race preparation. Lessons learned: pack better, run more and bring water. At least I don't need to remind myself to have fun.

Next up: Greater Cleveland Triathlon, probably Olympic distance. I was pretty gung-ho about Rev3 70.3 in September before this race, but the jury's stepped out. They should be back after GCT.

Monday, April 4, 2011

It's that time of year... again.

You know, that time of year I look at the number of weeks left until Hermes, until Cleveland and say, 'aw, crap.'

Since January I've been working with a trainer at the fitness center on campus (Some catch-up: I ended up winning that step challenge, whose prizes included an eight-week fitness program, six months gym membership and a surprisingly not awkward lunch with my team and some university senior VPs. I'd been loving bootcamp for three months until my work schedule just didn't have room for it. Just in time: the fitness program, an eight-week personal-training deal focused on strength building and weight loss, kicked off in January. I lost my crutch weight — I'm keeping most of it off from week to week — and couldn't remember how I'd existed before working with Melissa. Not only can I do pull-ups and like a gazillion push-ups, I feel better, stronger, fitter overall.) and doing most of my training in the wee a.m. hours or during lunch.

While my cardio is very sound and strength way up, I can't say I've done the volume of running I'd typically do training for any race — particularly a half. But here I am: April 4, and I've been running 1-2 times a week. I've actually felt very comfortable on the 2-3 long runs I've done over the past month or so. More recently, I've started doing intervals and sprints. Part of me is very surprised how well I've been able to run (very relatively speaking here!) without much training. If nothing else, it's definitely made me a believer in serious strength training! It does leave me wondering what to expect for my races, however.

On one hand, I'm very determined to lay low this year: I'd like to give my bones plenty of time to get stronger, my muscles time and training to develop and protect my bones. The idea of stress my bones too much stresses me out. And it's not like my racing career is going anywhere. I'm very average. I'm very OK with that. Sure, I'd like to improve in the long run, but not at the cost of walking.

On the other hand, I feel like I have a whole different kind of fitness now. This time last year, I was in my best racing shape yet (I'm still proud of my 7:40 pace in the Hermes 10-miler!). Looking back at my training schedule, however, I know that I wasn't really running as much as you'd think. There's a reason I got hurt — I wasn't doing the work. Now I'm doing the work, just in a different way. It's less about miles; it's more holistic. Which begs the question: how much was an improvement in fitness last year and how much was an improvement in my mental game?

Part of me feels compelled to see how well I can race now. The other part knows I've lost far too much mental fortitude. I don't have the ability [right now] to ignore the burn, the pain of pushing myself beyond my thresholds. In fact, I still get flashbacks to bone pain when I run with a certain cadence. I don't hurt; I'm not injured. In my bones, that is. I'm just a big mental wuss.

Nevertheless, I registered for the Cleveland Half next month. NB's running his first too! I'm so eager for him to experience his first distance race that I keep forgetting I'm running it too (no, we're not running together).

Part of me wants to put this low-mileage, high-strength training to the test. Seriously: how fast can I go? While I can't expect a PR out of this race, I'm interested to see what I'm made of... now.

Another part of me, meanwhile, wants to jog it and enjoy every step of being able to run 13.1 miles a year after I broke myself running 26.2.

A final part of me, the fiercely competitive with no one but myself part, wants to race balls out, as if last year never happened. But I'm happy with whom I've become out of all that leg-breaking stuff. I am stronger. I'm happier. I enjoy running and fitness more. Maybe that doesn't translate to faster. Maybe I need to assess what success means to me this time around.

Whatever happens, I just want to be worrying about all these things next year around this time.