Wednesday. Another Memorial day training camp finished. 3.5 miles of swimming, 220 miles of biking and approx 16 miles of land coverage by foot. Another weekend of feeling weak, inadequate, inferior, old, fat and slow. This time I got to do it in the cozy comfort of a whole new team who really didn’t know me. At least on my old team people were used to my weaknesses and whining, on top of my suffering I had to break in a whole new group. Another Novel, hope you have your coffee ready.
There were many good things about the weekend. I have a new long-sleeved wetsuit that I bought for Alcatraz and I am happy to report that I think I have finally found a long-sleeved wetsuit that fits and works. It doesn’t choke me. It doesn’t hold my arms back and make me feel like someone is grabbing my forearms. I swam about 3 1/2 miles this weekend all in my new wetsuit and I think I got the hang of it.
Ironically I had tried this same brand wetsuit in 2007 when I bought a used suit from another tall gal. What I finally figured out is tall is NOT the same thing as long torso. I am very tall (5′ 10″) but it is all legs. I have an average torso (at least in length, in width another story). The tall suit came up over my head. I also needed the women’s cut because unlike men I am not shaped like a V, I’m more like a 8. Lo and Behold, it actually seemed to fit just right (snug but not roomy) and when I pulled the arms to let water in they became very roomy and comfortable not pulling at my forearms.
Click here to check out my new Promotion wetsuit. After I bought it they put the bit about Alcatraz in the description which was an added bonus. Several of my teammates commented on my suit and said they liked it (which really doesn’t matter because how a suit looks has little to do with performance.)
I also found a new anti chafe cream. Blue Steel sports. I used it first on my neck where the wetsuit would rub against my neck. I didn’t use enough the first time, but the second time I put a generous amount on and it felt great the entire swim. After that I just started applying it everywhere, seemed to work well.
Day 1. Started with a 20 mile team ride. That was fun. We had 30 people pace-lining through the countryside. It was POURING rain. But I kept joking that I only know how to train and race in the rain and that it was a good sign. As my friend Donald would say “If it’s not rainin’ it’s not trainin’.” Coach said we would probably cut the later hill repeat session if the rain did not clear up. Unfortunately it stopped and then we were let loose on a lovely road for hill repeats. 4 miles up with an elevation gain of 1,250 feet which I calculate to be a 6% grade. Doable, not bad, just long. Then down the other side of the mountain about 1 mile — steep.
Then we had to turn around and come back up and over. Here was the rub. The return trip was about 1,150 feet in only 1 mile which I calculate to be about 21% grade!!! That’s just ridiculous. This was a gut wrencher. It was everything I had to keep it going but I did it. Back down to the beginning. Correct me if my calculation is wrong because frankly I don’t think I am capable of tackling a 21% grade. Back down the 4 miles and repeat.
Second time significantly harder but I know I’ve done it once I can do it again. See one of the newbies fall over. She says she’s okay, just keep going. Okay, I made it to the top. Spent. I’m done. “One more time.” Coach yells to me. “You mean up and over?” I ask incredulously. He gives me a look that means stupid question. I’m pretty sure I can’t do it but what can I do? I start back up, ride down and start a very shaky, shaky climb to the top. My legs start shaking. Not cramping, my right quad starts quivering like a spasm. Oh crap, I’m about to go down. I unclip quickly and stop the fall. I let my leg rest for a second and I have to cross the street to gain enough momentum to continue to climb. I make it to the top and coach is waiting for me at the bottom. I am dead last. I ride back to the camp with the coach. Not impressive. I did do it, so that counts for something I guess but I could tell already my legs were shredded. It was only 56 miles on the bike. That did not bode well for the weekend.
Off to the lake for a 40 minute swim. That was easy. Most people not taking it very seriously, we all swam to the other side of the lake, we were all actually chatting and swimming at the same time. Everyone commiserating about the hills. I start to realize that I may be the oldest person on this team by a long shot.
Day 2. Saturday we had to be up bright and early for our race. Yes an official race. We had to register the day before, we had race bibs, timed splits and everything — set up transition areas (transitions timed). All the pressures of a race. 1 mile swim, 52 mile bike with some hills with some hills on them sprinkled with a few hills thrown in for good measure and then a 9.2 miles of which 4 miles were straight uphill in the 85 unshaded sun. The coach cut my run short so I only did 7.5 miles (I measured it the next day). If he didn’t do that we would still be out there scraping the remnants of me off the road.
It was hot, hilly and hard. My legs were shot from the day before. For the first 36 miles of the bike I couldn’t get my bike to go into the big chain ring so I was spinning madly trying to get some speed with no luck. There was a 10% grade that almost killed me (I knew that was a 10% grade because of the warning sign on the way down.) Finally coach made an adjustment on my bike and that helped me get into big chain ring but alas too late I was next to last (ahead of two newbies but last amongst anyone who had ridden a bike before.) Sigh.
Major leg cramp getting off the bike. Gal on team gave me two salt pills. Felt better. Obviously I didn’t place in the race because of my modified course but I gave it what I had. Can we go home yet? Oh no, not done. A little rest and then back to the lake for a one hour swim no lollygagging allowed this time. We had to do one hour. I practiced sleeping while swimming. I think I succeeded. But when I finished I realized that I just did another 1.5 miles non stop with the wetsuit for a total of 2.5 miles of swimming that day and that was all I needed for Alcatraz so that was great! I really felt a huge relief knowing that I could now go to San Francisco and not drown or freeze to death in the bay.
My legs were still shot from Day 1. I didn’t know what effect this race was going to have on them for the next day. I am no longer worried by 100 mile rides but Vermont was scaring me and my coach’s penchant for finding the biggest hills in the state was scaring me even more. He wouldn’t do that to us on a 100 mile ride would he? Sure some hills but not the crazy ones, right? Even typing that I realize how stupid that thinking was.
The ride was different from the other team rides I had done. On this team the entire team rides the entire way together, fasties and slowbie alike. The coach sets the pace and for the most part everyone stays together. There is some natural splitting but we regroup together every twenty miles. I was thinking that this must be extremely painful for the fast guys but they didn’t seem to mind. This was not about speed it was about time in the saddle. Everyone really got to know one another riding with different people and chatting at the rest stops. And they had a SAG wagon driving behind so anyone who got lost or injured could be picked up. It was actually quite nice. Until…
Based on the previous day’s cramp when getting of the bicycle I decided to take two salt pills. I never take salt pills because I have sodium in my Infinit formula. And there my woes began. My stomach didn’t like them at all. I got a really nauseous feeling. All my woes of 2010 training came flooding back. I had such difficulties finding things to eat because of those stupid Horse-sized iron pills I used to take (I love you Flora Dix. I couldn’t be 100% sure it was the salt pills because I had eaten HALF (yes just half) of a Snickers bar at the rest stop. Maybe that was doing it? Maybe it was just the heat? Maybe I was just old? Maybe, maybe, maybe. I was still ruing the hills from day 1 but my legs actually were doing the work. I think I was just tired. Stomach blech.
Next rest stop I brilliantly decide to take another salt pill. If two were two much maybe just take one. Sure enough we start pedaling and the nausea sets in. I don’t even know if nausea is the right word for it. I’d feel good and then bad. I was getting dropped by all the riders. Next rest stop I decide to have a coca cola. I thought I read somewhere there was something in coke that was supposed to soothe your stomach, I was wrong. I was a mess.
I am long lost from the team. I have the map. I pass a teammate walking a bad hamstring. I pass another newbie waiting for the other teammate and I told him he had to keep going. The entire team was waiting for him and a sag wagon would pick up the other guy.
And then the evil twin mind showed up. When I talk about meeting yourself out on the limb in Ironman training this is what I mean. Those moments of incredible self-doubt even self-loathing. You can’t do this. What were you thinking? Hopes of Ironman is over. I hate this already anyway. I hate everybody. My life sucks. Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I ever catch a break? I quit. I am out. This is evil twin (so labeled by coach Shifu in years past.)
I’m a little older a little wiser and I’m on to evil twin. I see her coming. I try to talk her down. Now c’mon let’s say some positive things. Fine. I’m positive I’m too old, I’m positive I’m too fat, I’m positive I’ll never do this.
I try to dig deeper. I see this huge hill in front of me. The sun is baring down on my back. A few tears come out of my eyes. Seriously? After all the crap you are going through in your life you are going to cry about a bike ride? I know the bike ride is just the outlet. I know I am capable of riding my bike. But things are not going well and I’m feeling sick and the heat is so hot and Jeez how long is this hill anyway?
I am aware that my heart rate is going through the roof. I am breathing so hard that I can’t control it. I feel the sun burning burning into my back. There is no shade anywhere. This hill is never going to end. I am going to die right here on some mountain in bumpwhat Vermont. I cannot believe this climb. This is like doing the Lake Placid hill down to Jay in reverse. What is this six miles uphill? I have never done anything this long. I see a guard rail. There is no shade but five feet beyond the guard rail there are some trees. I have to stop. I’m going to die. I am done. I give up. I unclip. Thankfully I think to take my helmet off. I’m over heating. I decide to rest my bike on the outside of the guard rail so in case I die they will find my body by seeing my bike. I must walk into the shade. I stand there like an idiot.
Then a guy comes riding up the mountain (this is a mountain, a legitimate, 100% mountain.) He has a backpack on his back as he is riding up the mountain. I look at him with total hatred but he asks me if I’m okay. I tell him to please tell my team not to wait for me and that I’m going straight to the hotel. He says he will relay the message. Just then the SAG wagon (the coach’s wife) pulls up with the hamstring guy. They are really nice. The coach’s kids are in the SAG wagon too. Everyone jumps out to see if I’m okay. They want to know if I want a ride. I honestly can’t tell you why I said it but I said “I’m sorry I can’t take a ride. I have to at least get back to the hotel on my own.” They gave me water. I stood in the shade. Poured some water on my head and down my shirt. My body cooled down. I ate a honey stinger that someone gave me (not vegan I know.) I couldn’t believe it but I said “I think I’m okay I’m going to go a little further until I find another shady spot and then I’ll rest again. They all look up the mountain with me. There is no shade. But they say okay they will stick nearby. I keep climbing. I make it about 1/2 mile and have to pull over again. They come back. Maybe you could just drive to the top and tell me how much further? I mean how much more could there be? I’ve already climbed at least 3 or 4 miles. They leave, I start climbing. They come back and say 1/2 mile to the top of the mountain. Okay I can do it. 1/2 mile to the top. I can do anything for 1/2 mile right? Those hills from Friday were still haunting me.
Finally I made it to the top and then had a descent that was scarier than any I have ever done in Placid. Downhill, downhill, downhill. It felt like a half hour but I know it was probably just minutes. Just hold on hold on. Finally I make it and see the sign for the turn I want. (I have not gotten lost yet and I’m giving myself big credit for that — big credit!!) I turn and start riding on a flat road. I look ahead and I swear it is a mirage. It is the entire team leaving their rest stop. The time I was taking my siesta on the mountain they were at the bottom taking their break. The coach sees me coming and asks if I need any water. I say no, I took my break already and then there I was. Back in the fold with the team riding as if nothing ever happened. It was right out of the Twilight Zone. Everyone who saw me was so happy to see me because they thought I had turned around to go back to the hotel (the guy did deliver my message). Did they not know I had just been to hell and back? I told them that I was just going to do the 80 and go home.
Then we hit a road that was built for me. Gentle rolling downhills along a shaded river. The most beautiful road in the world. I start hauling and passing one person after another. 27 mph. I was in heaven, literal heaven. All of stomach issues gone. Heart rate normal. Breathing back to normal. I started sending mental smoke signals to my friends doing their training camp in Lake Placid. “Don’t quit, whatever you do keep going. Be strong.” Was I talking to them or talking to myself? Next thing I know we are at the last regrouping station — half ironman people go left to finish out the 82 miles. Ironman people go right for extra mileage to finish out the 106. I didn’t know what to do. I knew I would get dropped again. What if I started feeling sick again? I asked the coach. How do you feel now? He asks. I feel okay. You decide. I said I would try.
I decided if it didn’t matter how long it took me I could do the rest of the bike. He said it didn’t matter. There were some big hills left he said. One long one and one short one. But not as bad as the long one we did earlier. I remembered that in endurance sports if you start feeling sick just wait, it will probably go away and be replaced by some other annoyance. Everything changes.
The last 26 miles hurt because I was tired. But I made it up all the hills (they were shaded so no problem). I had crotch issues for being out so long (the rest stops were long but that was part of the plan). There was something to this making the rides longer than they have to be. Galloway does this is running too. Need to run a marathon? Make one of your long runs 28 miles. Then you’ll have no doubt you can do 26.2. Know you have to be out on the bike course for 7 1/2 – 8 hours? Make your bike ride 9 hours and you’ll know you can do it. I actually see some merit in this thinking.
As I was finishing up my 106 I was watching my odometer. 98 miles, 99 miles. I wanted to see the 100 mark so badly. I have to admit it felt good. Finally did 100 miles again. Maybe there was hope. Dim hope but hope. And there in a nutshell was the gamut of emotions that run through me during endurance events. Reaching down into the deepest darkest pit of doubt in your psyche. Finding some way to talk yourself off that ledge. And every once in a while the ability to pull yourself up and out and see some light. I think that is why most people get addicted to endurance events. When you can look into the mirror of your Self and truly confront what you see — as ugly as it can be and find some way to take care of it, to possibly even love it, that’s a powerful process and can’t help but to make you stronger. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say you are, for a moment, 100% with yourself.
I didn’t do the 40 minute run after the 106 miles. I regret that a little. I wasn’t too, too far behind everyone so I could have done it but I had been through such an emotional wringer that I just held up the white flag. I took an ice bath and then met the team for pizza party. I was so touched they ordered a vegan pizza!! And it was great!
6:30 a.m. group assembly on Monday morning came way too soon. Everybody looked like the walking dead. This, apparently, made the coach really happy. He was smiling and proud that he had brought each and every person to their knees. Even the youngest of the younguns were saying they were whipped. There was not a semblance of a smile on a single face. Off we went for a 2-3 hour run. He warned us that it was quite a hike to the top and that we just do what we could do. If we had to walk it, walk it. Run when you could.
Ridiculously steep. Ridiculous. It took me about 45 minutes to hike to the top. I did not hold out any hopes of running but lo and behold it flattened out and I decided to try and guess what? I was running! I couldn’t believe it. I was actually running okay. Not fast but as long as it was flat or downhill I kept going. And then I ran up two hills! Shut up! Who the heck is this? A couple of people were coming back already walking. They were either injured or done. I ended up doing about 2:20 minutes and I would say a good 45-50 minutes of it was some decent running. And I actually felt better than when I had started. Go figure that!
And that was the end of my Memorial Day Weekend training camp. (With a stop at a brewery for lunch with some of the gals). I was worried I wouldn’t like the people as much as I liked my old team. Turned out that I like them just fine (the type of people are very similar — nice type A people.) I was afraid I couldn’t keep up — well I couldn’t but the structure accommodated for that. I was afraid that I was too out of shape (I am), I’m too old (debatable), and that I wouldn’t be able to do Ironman (we’ll see.) But in the end what I realize all of this is about it constant forward motion. Just keep trying. My old coach Lisa was with me a lot this weekend every time I paused to take a breath or eat a gu I would hear her in my head saying you can eat and walk, you can recover and walk, just don’t stop moving. Never stop moving.
My friend Cea Dubbleu posted a quote that I like: “Religion is for people who believe in Hell. Spirituality is for those who have been there.” Let’s just say my Memorial Day camp was a spiritual experience!