Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Avoiding burnout and the 100 X 100's

One of the keys to staying fresh and energized while training for the Ironman or for any endeavor is to incorporate variety into your routine. As much fun as swimming, biking and running is, it can get a little monotonous if you don't mix it up. You should be flexible and be prepared to alter your plan as your available time and conditions fluctuate. By varying your workouts and not being totally in thrall to a given prescribed training session is OK and, in fact, should be encouraged. Otherwise training becomes a chore and burnout is close at hand.

That's where the 100 X 100's comes in. On a "normal" week, my brethren and I at T3 will have a long bike ride on Saturday followed by a long run on Sunday. This past Sunday was different in that T3 held it's annual 100 X 100's swim workout. This involves 10 sets of 10 one-hundred meter swims (two laps in a 25 meter pool). You can swim as much or as little as you like so long as you do it in 100 meter increments. To keep it fun and interesting, our coaches mixed in a variety of drill sets, pulling sets with paddles and sets with fins. The total distance is 10,000 meters or 6.2 miles of swimming.

We descended on the pool at 7:30 am and started swimming. Two hours later, I bowed out, having covered 6000 meters. By this time my shoulders felt like they belonged to someone else and my mouth was parched from the chlorinated water. It seemed I had stuffed and entire bag of cotton balls into my mouth and then chased it with a box of saltine crackers. No amount of water or sports drink could cure it, until I got out of the water. I know what your thinking....so where's the "fun" part of all this?

Truth be told, triathletes are a strange breed. The tougher the workout the more we like it. Oh, we'll complain the whole way, but when it's all said and done we've enjoyed ourselves more than you can know. If the conditions are tough, we're happy. If the hill is steep, we want to tell people we climbed it. If the distance is insane, we want to cover it and tell our non-triathlete friends about it, just to see the looks of abject horror on their faces when we tell them what a blast we had. So the prospect of swimming over 6 miles, early on a Sunday morning is like manna from heaven to our sick and twisted species. Oh, and there was bacon...

That's right, bacon. As alluring as 10K of swimming is, you can't go wrong by throwing a little bacon on top of it all. Coach Maurice (Mo) was poolside most of the morning whipping out flap-jacks, eggs sunny-side up, and yummy crispy bacon. Some of us made pancake, egg and bacon fold-over sandwiches to...ahem....refuel after the workout. It was a nice team building experience, and it was fun to finally see some of the really good swimmers "struggle" as they pushed through the last few 100's. Keep in mind their "struggles" still looked graceful and almost....almost effortless to those of us who swim in the lanes way on the other side of the pool.

To all who participated, it was great to see you. To those who swam all 10,000 meters, well done and......are you freaking nuts!!!!???? Cheers.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The "Meathead" Gene

When training for an Ironman it is important to avoid or at least temper what I call the "meathead" gene. It is present in all of us to some degree or another. Some control it with skill and others let it all hang out so to speak. When properly harnessed it can push you to new heights. When left to run amok, it can derail an entire race or racing season. It can be part of your training, or can infiltrate from another compartment in your life and affect everything. A super-duper human computer virus. This was my situation last Monday.

Being a husband, father, triathlete, and holding down a job places numerous and complex demands on my time and stamina. Those in my situation know this all too well. Those not in this situation, no doubt, have other obligations and people competing for their attention. Sometimes it gets frustrating and the meathead gene takes over.

Last Monday, faced with a screaming, stubborn child who wouldn't go to bed, my frustration boiled over. I had the good sense (at least) to leave the room, but that's about where my sense ended and the meathead in me took over. I pounded my fist into the wall in our kitchen. The wall gave, but not enough. My hand became swollen and it hurt, alot. X-rays the next day confirmed I cracked a bone in my hand. The fortunate thing about this episode, is that I didn't snap the bone. That would have sidelined me for at least two months and seriously jeopardized this year's Ironman prep.

I was able to get in my training for the week, for the most part. And I had a not so friendly reminder to think....just think. The worst part about it wasn't the pain in my hand, but having to sheepishly explain my idiocy (aka meatheadedness) to my friends.

The meathead gene should be kept in the box for your training, racing and pretty much all other aspects of your lives. About the only time the meathead gene can really help, is in a sprint triathlon, but only when used in small amounts. Otherwise, keep "Wild Mike" in the box. Train hard, train smart, don't punch the walls.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Every journey starts with a single step....

The distances are insane. The undertaking is daunting. You must be prepared for anything. And that's just the training. Never mind the race.

Once again, I, like many other age groupers around the world, sat at my computer with my finger perched above the submit button contemplating my registration for the Ironman and what that means. For the uninitiated, the unknowns are many. For those, repeat offenders such as myself, we know (to a degree) what registering for an Ironman race entails. Hours of swimming, biking, and running. Tinkering with equipment and nutrition. Trying to find what works in the hope that we can put it all together on race day and have the time of our lives.

The race this year is Ironman Coeur D'Alene in Northern Idaho. It is a beautiful venue with wonderful volunteers. We'll have an opportunity to see alot of scenery along the way as we cover 140.6 miles (2.4 mile swim, 112 miles of biking and a full 26.2 mile marathon). A full day indeed.

I did my first Ironman there in 2003. Fourteen and a half hours of "self-exploration." Almost all people (almost all normal people) at some point in the race wonder what the hell they have gotten themselves into. I know I felt this way after the first loop on the bike. At the time I did the race, the bike course ventured into the State of Washington making Couer D'Alene the only Ironman course that was in two States. Since that time, the course has changed. It's all in Idaho and....it's harder!!!! If that's possible.

In 2003, I trained exclusively with three triathletes, Rafael, Carlos, and David who basically made me their training donkey for the better part of 6 months. "Training with" is a bit inaccurate. What's more accurate is that we started each activity together and I would see them at the end. In between, especially on the bike, I was by myself. Lonely, but good training for some of the isolation you feel in an Ironman.

I now train with T3, an Austin based training group that I've been part of for the past four years. I'm somewhat of an antique as longevity with the team goes. Our coaches are great. They are always positive and motivating. If you can't find a workout that suits your schedule, you're doing something wrong. Probably working too much.

This year 71 of us are trekking to Idaho for the race. Amazing. Over 70 people of the 102 people from Austin and Central Texas registered for the race are with T3. This doubles the largest group T3 has ever taken to a race. Our training has just started. This week called for 9 total hours of training. I'm already behind. I can't and won't beat myself up about it....at least not much. We are all still trying to find that balance between work, family and our hobby. It takes planning and a willingness to be flexible. And a willingness to train in the dark.

In the months ahead, I'll track my training here and hopefully have a story or two to share from the trail, road or pool. We have a diverse group of people of all ages and from all walks of life. This is going to be fun.

Once more unto the breach...dear friends