Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Unleashing the Marathoner

Two blogs ago, I discussed my version of those lingering questions that fall out at the end of one athletic season and the beginning of the next. Question number two in that list is one that plagues me to no end: "How do I reconcile my passion to run marathons with my desire to race well in triathlons?" After the question, I included the following parenthetical thought: "Whether you call it a need or an obsessive-compulsive behavior, it's something I MUST do."

What the hell does that mean? Will I die if I resist running marathons? Probably not. But I don't really want to find out. A month ago, when I realized I'll be in Orlando the weekend of the Walt Disney World Marathon (January 9), I registered immediately. I gave it very little thought -- it didn't even occur to me that I had not run over 13 miles since October.

The thing is, I sometimes do believe I have a basic NEED to run. If I don't run, I get crazy and I can't think straight. No other sport has this effect on me (i.e., avoids making me crazy and helps me think straight). There may have been a time I didn't run, but I don't remember it. Even in elementary school -- it may not have been organized running, and some people may have called it "playing" -- I ran. I was restless if I didn't. My athletic "career" probably started with being the fastest 50-yard-dash runner in my elementary school. Yes, I even beat the boys. I'm sure my girlfriends were mortified and it probably eliminated my chances of having a "boyfriend." But I was 10. I still had places to go (and run to).

That day I became a competitor. And a "runner." At only one other moment in my life did I become acutely aware of the importance of running. I was a senior in high school. I was having a very bad day. "Bad" is relative when you're in high school -- this particular bad day, embarrassingly enough, may have been due to a "B" on an exam. After mentally beating myself up at track practice, my track coach, the incomparable John Klarman, kicked me off the track and sent me off on a three-mile run. ALONE. I had never run ALONE before (I was a quarter-miler, for cryin' out loud, we LIVED in a group on the track). As I pounded the pavement, ALONE, my mind cleared. Upon returning to the track, I didn't (and still can't) remember exactly what had sent me into such a bad state that day.

From that day on, running has become the antidote. All the people close to me have discovered it: when Jeanne is having a bad day, send her out running. My room-mates in college did it. My friends do it. My husband does it. Like a Hyde-Jekyll transformation, I usually come back a different person from when I left.

Unfortunately, as a triathlete with a running problem, I still want to run (and excel) at marathoning. I used to think it would be difficult because of the required time commitment -- just for running and not including the other two sports. But if 2010 has taught me anything, it's that it may be possible to have both. In Detroit in October, I learned I can actually perform somewhat respectably (3:06) at the marathon distance with as little as 35-40 miles of running per week. In Pittsburgh in May, I also learned, to my own shock and disbelief, that I possess the ability to run a marathon "for fun." (Although, it's only fair to note that my attitude in Pittsburgh may have been additionally influenced by the rewards: breakfast at Piper's Pub and a trip to IKEA on the way home.)

Heading into 2011, then, will require me finding a balance. Racing marathons while training for triathlons IS possible, with a slight adjustment of goals and a constant reminder to myself why it is that I run in the first place. Running is the reason, the mentality. Racing is just the icing on the cake. I'll can still go on eating the cake...

...wait, that was a bad analogy. I like the icing better (sometimes I only want the icing and NOT the cake)...

...Let's try again. Running is the basic need, the way of life. Racing marathons is just another data point. It proves to others that you do it, but it's not really necessary for survival. My ultimate goal must lie elsewhere until I stand, once more, at that beach on Ali'i Drive.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

That Bike Thing: Avoiding Future Bike Disasters

The struggle in Clearwater
In my last blog, I promised to address the lingering (read: mind-boggling) questions from my 2010 season, one by one. The first one on the list, and most important because it continues to plague me relentlessly year after year no matter what I do, and it's approaching the point where I'm ready to tear my hair out and re-dedicate myself to just marathon-running, is: "how do I get faster on the bike?"

I look at the question and think everyone is staring right back at me with accusations, thinly veiled as questions: "how can you be so stupid that you can't figure out how to train on the bike?" and "do you even ride your bike?"

So, yes, I feel like an idiot when it comes to biking -- because I DO ride. I ride hills. I do long rides. I do trainer intervals with a heart-rate monitor. I ride a LOT. During the season, I ride three or four times a week with at least one week-day ride after work exceeding two hours. And during my Ironman build-up, I ride at least six long rides of 100-110 miles. People I've ridden with have even told me I'm strong biker (after which, unfortunately, I have to scrutinize them for signs of insanity).

Yet, I never improve. I don't get any faster. In fact, I got slower this season. My training log says there's no way that could have happened (my training log even reached out to strangle me more than once this year while screaming "what the hell is wrong with you?"). I logged more miles and harder miles than ever before, and my race speed has not changed. And what's worse, I reach speeds in training that are faster than I ever do in a race (on similar terrain). The day before my final 70.3 in Clearwater this year, I went out for a short easy spin and my legs felt better and I rode faster than I did on race day. And the question resurfaces: "what the hell is wrong with me?"

How is it that, for me, the laws of training and racing (i.e., hard work equals improved performance) do not seem to apply to biking. Even at my advanced age, it still works for swimming. It still even works for running. But not for biking. Is biking that much different? Does it take years to see improvement? Are my biking muscles deceptive in their behavior? Do they hate me? Am I not working hard enough when my legs are burning and I'm sweating buckets on the trainer only to get off and feel like jello for the rest of the day?

I buy books with training plans in them. Last year I bought a book called Going Long: Training for Ironman-Distance Triathlons by Joe Friel and Gordon Byrn. The book has an eight-week muscular endurance program for the bike that I followed religiously. Based on my performance on the bike this season, it didn't seem to have any effect at all. Yet, every other piece of advice in the book was good.

So now what? What can I do different? I talk to other "bikers" (i.e., people that seem to have figured out this biking thing, or, pretty much every triathlete on the planet). Besides recommending things I already do, their answers boil down to the following:

  1. Add strength training with weights
  2. Ride with a group of faster bikers
  3. Train with a power meter
  4. Get a CompuTrainer
After exploring these possibilities, I have deduced that yes, indeed, triathletes, in general, make much more money than I do (i.e., recommendations 3 and 4 are well above my income level even when eBay is selling them). I have also deduced that weight training is something I need to add. I will HAVE to figure out a way to fit it in around my work and training schedule. Riding with other bikers will take care of itself this year because I now have a team to train with -- I think I mentioned them in my previous blog, the Bike Authority Fleet Feet Multisport team.

Because I've heard and read such amazing things about it, a CompuTrainer would also be high on my list of training tools. There's always hope for a miracle windfall or some other way to scrape up $1600+ -- not to mention, being a Mac devotee, I'll have to come up with another $3-500 for a Windows PC.

Whatever happens, you can be sure I'll chronicle it here and let you know what the results are... or give you the disaster fallout details.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Seasons End

I usually write a "yearly recommitment" blog in January or February to jumpstart my training and remind myself why I race and what I love about my sport(s). This year, as we head into the holidays, I'm recommitting little early because, non-thinking person that I am, I registered for a race in May and my serious training must now commence, albeit in the midst of a five-day snowstorm in Cleveland.

I'm struggling with a less-than-stellar 2010 season and it's causing my recommitment to take on a certain reassessment-like tone. To my dismay, I'm still searching for answers to the same old questions:
  • How do I finally get faster on the bike? (I thought I figured this one out last year, but, alas, it didn't work)
  • How do I reconcile my passion to run marathons with my desire to race well in triathlons? (Whether you call it a need or an obsessive-compulsive behavior, it's something I MUST do.)
  • Where on earth will I scavenge up the cash to pay for ever-increasing race entry fees, gear (including necessities like running shoes, nutrition and supplements) and travel expenses? ...and still have something left to eke out a living or, *gasp*, take our yearly trip to the UK [to see Turin Brakes and our ever-expanding number of wonderful English friends].
  • How do I mentally deal with the age-related slowdown? (or the other age-related disasters like throwing out my back the day before my biggest race)
  • How do I let go of past disasters so I can race (or blog) without a bad attitude? (or so SOME people think)
  • What can be done for my newest ailment, allergy-induced asthma, a.k.a. "being allergic to spring," "not being able to go outside in the spring" and "ripping my hair out on the indoor trainer while everyone else is finally going outside in the spring"
  • How do I finally get command of those two age-old bugaboos, nutrition and sleep?

In the coming months, I will try (note: TRY) to address each of the above questions calmly (note: CALMLY) in a blog, with high hopes that some of my readers can help me find solutions.

For today, I'll just tackle the recommitment part. Why do I run (, bike, and swim)? I do it because, unlike my job and relationships, it is the one thing I do that depends entirely on me. Performance is directly related to the amount of effort I put in both physically and mentally. It does not depend on who likes me or who I schmooze or how good I am at marketing myself or spinning the truth. It's governed by a (sort of) golden rule that I always believed in: hard work pays off. In the case of the Disaster Magnet, a little luck sometimes helps, but... you get the point.

I'm fortunate to have new friends and an expanded support network heading into next season. I look forward to racing as a new member of a team -- the Bike Authority Fleet Feet Multisport Team. In turn, I plan to give back that support and (hopefully) a little age-related wisdom to my friends and the local triathlon and running community.