Thursday, July 31, 2014

i run in miles now, not kilometers

Whew, thank goodness it is Wednesday and the week is all downhill from here.  Between pre- and post-work workouts and addressing and stuffing wedding invites at night, this week has gone fast so far, but it has also been quite exhausting.  Is it August 24th yet?  Training for a triathlon and also being in the final stages of planning a wedding are tiring work.  It’s funny, because this morning Mark and I were talking and he mentioned how I was stressed with the wedding planning.  Which of course I denied because it isn’t true – but now that I actually look at what all we need to do in the next two months I think I kind of am.  

We have also been discussing how we cannot wait for this triathlon to be over.  Don’t get me wrong, we are still excited about it and want to do more in the future, but at this point we just want it to be over.  I think both of us are looking forward to getting some more variety in our workouts, and also not feeling so obligated to train.  It also doesn’t help that we started training for this thing in late February, so at this point we are starting to feel some burn-out.  But the training continues.

Being out of town in Kansas City this weekend for my wedding shower number one (which was great, by the way) I didn’t have a chance to get in any workouts.  But I did manage to eat my favorite McDonalds breakfast of a sausage biscuit dipped in syrup and drink two Sonic cherry limeades – which are my priority treats anytime I get out of the city.  This training regimen has actually toned me up quite a bit (for the first time ever) so I do feel a little guilty eating things that are bad for me, but I do want to stress the little there (hence the italics, because let’s be honest, I’m not giving that kind of stuff up any time soon). 

Once I made it back to the city (which was late Sunday, given my propensity to purchase whatever flight is cheapest over convenience), though, I made up for my weekend sans workouts.  Monday after work Mark and I headed to the gym to hit the pool.  Amazingly enough I did not have goggle problems, and was able to put in 1000 meters like it was nothing.  I only stopped because I had to go grocery shopping (since I didn’t get to on my usual Sunday)!  

My goal for this workout was to just swim without stopping constantly to prove to myself that I could just do it (like my issues in the lake, my pool swims have always been very start and stop).  I also wanted to work on breathing more often, since at the clinic I found out breathing too infrequently was potentially one of my issues.  Turns out it helped a lot.  I usually find I am tired and out of breath every pool lap, but with the increased breathing frequency I was fresh the entire workout.  I still need to get into the lake more often, but maybe my pool victory from Monday will translate over.  I certainly hope so!

Tuesday evening Mark and I were going to go to the lake to swim, but due to a headache Mark was unable to go, and since my buddy system partner was out that meant I was too.  While I am sad to have missed a chance in the lake, I was also alright with it given yesterday was another chilly one up here in Chi Town.  Don’t get me wrong, I would never complain about this beautifully mild summer we are having (I hate heat and would always rather it be chilly out than hot), but the fact that the air is not warm and the water is still a cool 66 degrees does not make Lake Michigan swims all that appealing.

In lieu of any kind of swim workout, then, I opted to go for a long run.  Last night I clocked just under six miles (five point nine to be exact).  I can finally say miles because Mark figured out how to change our watches over from kilometers (just when I was starting to get the conversions down)!  I hadn’t run any type of distance in a while so it wasn’t necessarily a good run, but it was a full run and I didn’t stop.  The entire time I was just thinking, imagine having to do this after swimming (about a mile) and biking (about twenty five).  It’s a good thing I am signed up for the Chicago 10k next weekend as a pre-tri trial.

And that brings us to today – and it was a two-a-day.  Mark and I got up bright and early to go for a bike ride and then after work we swam.  With Tri Club, Wednesdays are a running day, but given Mark’s injury and my run from yesterday, we thought we’d break with tradition.  Getting up for the run this morning was rough – it’s not getting bright as early these days, which makes that five am wakeup call that much harder.  We still managed to put in a solid eight miles on the bike, though, and my legs are hurting as a result and I just feel like all I should be doing is stretching it out.  I think it was the run then bike combo (and slow weekend prior).  Although sometimes the post workout burn is nice – makes it feel like you are getting results.

As for the after work swim, it was another one that went incredibly well.  I swam 1100+ meters with relative ease.  This new breathing technique really seems to be working.  I was never out of breath, which is a nice change of pace.  Now, if only my arms didn't get so tired!  I also didn't have many goggle issues once again.  Thursday night our plan is to head to the lake, where I am anxious to put my newfound skills and confidence to work.  Now I am just hoping for no rain!

Friday, July 25, 2014

don't worry, it's all mental

So I realize lately that most of my posts have focused on swimming, but that is what I am having the most trouble with.  It’s (relatively) easy to just power through things on a bike or running, but not so much with swimming.  The big difference, in my opinion, is the whole ‘not being able to breathe freely’ factor.  With swimming and running air is abundant and always free for the taking.  Swimming takes such a conscious effort to breathe (and not breathe), which is challenging.  Over the past week I am really beginning to think I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this whole International Distance triathlon thing.

There are two reasons why I feel this way.  The first, like I said in my last post, is just the sheer distance.  When you look out over the lake and can barely see the half-mile turnaround buoy from shore and realize that it’s only the half-way turn around point it is incredibly intimidating.  Second, I am having a really hard time in the lake.  

The Chicago Triathlon puts on several open water clinics throughout the summer and I decided to attend the one they had on Tuesday.  It was an aquathon (750M or 1500M swim followed by 5k run) + swim clinic (general training) and I opted for the swim clinic portion thinking I’d get some more open water swimming tips.  I opted to go with the intermediate swimmers group instead of the beginners group because this wasn’t my first time in the water.  

Our lesson consisted of about a ten minute talk on sighting and then a 750M swim practicing what we learned.  I came in expecting we were going to be doing some drills or just short swims back and forth, so the 750M swim caught me off guard.  But not wanting to say no to a challenge I set out with the rest of the group.  I was out of breath and tired almost instantly, but was not having the same wetsuit issues I’d been having previously.  I think being in my wetsuit for a considerable time before even getting in the water (let alone just being in the water with it on) really helped with that front.  I didn’t feel so restricted by it, and was better to able to control my breathing in that regard.

On the swim, one of the coordinators noticed I was struggling (although in my mind I was not struggling, just taking my time and getting used to the feeling of the lake) politely suggested that next time I might go with the beginners instead (not going to complete an Olympic distance triathlon by going with the beginners, but thank you for the advice) before asking me to swim for him.  I did a couple of strokes and he suggested I might breathe more often than I was.  I think I was breathing every fifth stroke, but he suggested every third.  I gave it a try and it did seem to be easier on the way back.  I noticed I was going further and was not as out of breath.  Hooray!

However, my other problem that I noticed was that I would swim for a bit and then just stop.  I don’t think there was any reason I stopped other than I just stopped.  I used to do this when I ran and got even the least bit uncomfortable, and finally realized it was unnecessary and I could just keep going and the uncomfortable feeling would go away.  Hopefully it is similar with my swimming and simply time will help me get over this – and hopefully that amount of time required is about four weeks.  

So my takeaways from the swim clinic were to breathe more often and stop less.  Easy-enough, right?

I wanted to test out my learnings and mostly prove to myself that I could do this, so I went back in the water Thursday after work and dragged Mark with me (it's also my goal to swim in the lake every Tuesday and Thursday until race day, and maybe Sunday mornings as well - like I said, I think time in the water is the only thing that will keep me from stopping constantly).  Mark hadn't been in the water yet and he wanted to see what it was like, so he obliged. 

It was a chilly swim in Lake Michigan.  At least the last couple of times I have been in my wetsuit it has been relatively hot outside (hottest days of the year up here, actually) so jumping in an ice cold lake in a suit of rubber felt good, but the temperature today maxed out at a cool 70 (cool in that there didn’t really seem to be any humidity in the air).  Imagine taking a dip in 64 degree water in weather that felt closer to Fall than to Summer.  Like I said, a bit chilly. 

Needless to say, we didn't last very long out there.  I think we may have spent as much time suiting up as we did in the water.  We just swam back and forth by the buoys given the water was pretty choppy (and FRIGID!).  But I practiced keeping my head down.  So for the ten minutes we were out there I felt pretty good.  I think my corrections might actually work.

Now I just need to fix my goggle issues I have been having, which is another reason I stop so much.  Time to try out a third pair.  Third time is a charm, right?  I certainly hope so!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

...and a pinterest fail

Another weekend has come and gone, only 4 more until race weekend.  Next weekend is out because I am out of town – so that means three weekends until race weekend – time to make these weeks count!

I finally got back out in Lake Michigan this weekend as I’d been hoping to do for about a month now since the ITU race.  I am not going to lie – I went out to the lake expecting to crush it, but that is about the exact opposite of what happened.  As frustrating as it is, I had similar issues this time as I did in the tri.  I wouldn’t say they were as bad, but they were the same and prevented me from performing as I’d liked.  I got out there and would swim a bit, then have to stop – but couldn’t really figure out why exactly it was I was stopping.  

In my mind I’ve decided it has to be an overall dislike for being unable to remedy my uncomfortable-ness in the water.  Yes, the water is cold, but it is manageable.  Yes, my wetsuit is tight, but I can still breathe just fine.  But, what I can’t do is grab onto the wall or just stand up if I feel like it, or if I get a little winded.  In the lake, grabbing the wall is not an option and it’s too deep to comfortably stand on bottom.  So therein lies my issue, I think (hope).  My goal for the next time I go to the lake is to make myself better focus on just simply swimming, and not stopping as often.  I think if I can just get to a point where I go (rather than the start and stop thing I have going on now), I’ll do a lot better – because if I’m going it won’t matter if I need to grab the wall or touch bottom – because I’ll just be swimming instead!

Also – side note.  At Ohio Street Beach – training central in Chicago for open water swimming – they have buoys set up for you to track distance swam at a quarter-mile and half-mile from shore.  It really puts into perspective the distance one has to swim in these races.  Looking out to that half mile buoy and just thinking, “man, I have to go there and back?!”  Eesh.

So that was Saturday AM.  After the swimming excursion, not a lot else happened that day.  Although Mark and I did start watching The Wire on HBO Go (well, we actually started with an episode last week, but picked up this weekend) and by Sunday evening we were already two episodes deep into season two.  Usually I am the one encouraging the TV binge-watching, but Mark is driving this one all on his own!

Sunday morning Mark and I used as an opportunity to go for a bike ride.  Like I said – only four weekends left so you have to make them count!  We figured since the Rock and Roll Half Marathon was going on downtown, the Lakeshore path would be pretty empty.  We were right for the first half of the ride (got out there about 8am), but by the way back up the path at 8:30 we were dodging people as usual.  The life of biking in the city!  I don’t want a car, really, but I want a car so I can take my bike riding elsewhere (like the burbs).

Overall, I’ve decided that biking is hard – but it’s easier to go fast when you are in a pack of other bikers going fast.  It also helps when you are not dodging casual strollers left and right.  While I don’t think the bike portion of the race is going to be easy by any means, I am more confident in my performance there than the swim.  Somehow I’ve managed to nail the run portion, which is funny because prior to this summer I hated running.  Now I actually find it enjoyable.  I’m still not very fast, but that is mostly because I am not trying to be.  I just want to concentrate on completion for now.  Next summer I’ll care about time :) 

Oh, and did I mention I finally officially signed up for the Chicago Half Marathon in September?  Just one more thing to add to the ‘summer of feats of athletic ability.’  I am actually really looking forward to this race.

Before I go, and as the title says - here’s my Pinterest fail of the day.  My two ingredient pancakes (the eggs + bananas things that are all over Pinterest these days) did not go so well (and I added blueberries, so technically they were three ingredient pancakes I suppose).  From across the room Mark so lovingly decided to tell me they looked like turds on a plate.  I ate them anyway (and they were not too bad, but definitely not pretty like the pictures).

And since I had a fail - here's my win.  Blueberry muffins, healthified....mmmm!

Thirty-four days to the triathlon, forty-seven to the half marathon, and 82 until I do.  Good stuff coming up, blogger friends.  Until next time.

Friday, July 18, 2014

running those miles

I know it has been awhile since my last post, but to be honest not a whole lot has happened since then that has been post-worthy – until yesterday!  I ran 10.9k, which translates to 6.8 miles (I say I ran it in k’s because I cannot figure out how to switch my fitness watch to miles…I’m going to be a metric whiz before all this is over).  I ran five miles for the first time in the Cinco de Miler race in May and then just over five miles again about a week ago.  So the 6.8 is at least 1.5 miles farther than I’ve ever ran before (ran in about 1:07, with just under 1:03 for the 10k portion, so not too fast, but for now I will take it).  And let's not forget - the fact that I can even run farther than one mile is almost a miracle in itself.  

One thing I have noticed about running long distances – aside from the fact that I never thought I would be running them – is that it is extremely mental.  I didn’t realize how much ground I could cover (for those in Chicago – it was (roughly) from my apartment north of Belmont, over to the Lake Shore path, south to North Ave, and then back up through the park) to only go that distance (not only as in, ‘I only ran 6.8 miles,’ but only as in, ‘how can that amount of ground only amount to that far’).  I did want to stop along the way, but made myself keep going.  I didn’t want to stop because I was tired I don’t think, but I definitely at some points was thinking I should be walking instead.  That is definitely one of the differences between the me from now and the me from February – the old me would have stopped to walk, but this me kept right on running.  

The strange thing was as I finished, I wasn’t really tired and felt like I could have kept going (but it definitely caught up with me later when I fell asleep at 8:30pm last night).  Which gives me confidence that come September I will be able to complete the half marathon without too many issues (granted I ever remember to sign up!), although probably rather slowly.  First time isn’t for time though, right? :) Although as for running this distance after swimming the better part of a mile and biking 25 miles – we’ll see how that goes (sooner than I’d like to admit!).  

Other training is going well.  Given what happened in the ITU sprint I am still concerned with the swim for the Chicago Tri, but am working on it.  My biggest concern is that we have yet to get in the lake as we’ve been busy lately (and not that this is an excuse, but it is not so easy to get all the way down to Ohio Street Beach).  This will change by Saturday at the latest, though, as we have a training clinic there then.  After this, my goal is to go at least once, if not twice a week, until race day.  That should at least give me four or five times in the lake prior to race day, which will be better than the big fat zero I had before.  

We also need to be better about biking.  Hopefully we are better about getting in some long rides in the next couple of weeks before race day.  I am thinking Saturday and Sunday afternoons are going to be prime for this.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

itu chicago race recap, sprint edition

Race day has come and gone and I managed to survive my first triathlon.  Leading up to race day Mark strained his hamstring, so I was going solo on this one (minus others from the Tri Club participating, but from a household standpoint I was alone).  I must say that it was a lot harder than I was anticipating.  I forget sometimes that until February I was not active (really at all) – so even though I have this syndrome where I think I am awesome at sports, I am not so much.  But time can change that.

The sprint distance for this one was 750 meter swim, 20k bike, and 5k run.  Let’s start with the beginning.

Friday night we went to packet pickup to get our packets and then Saturday it was mandatory to rack your bike.  The course was based in Grant Park, which is not exactly easy to get to when one does not have a car, and then the transition area was on the south side of Grant Park – almost to the Field Museum – so it was a trip just to get setup. 

I went to rack my bike Saturday afternoon after practice in the morning (where I took my wetsuit for a dip in the pool to try her out and it was great, it didn’t feel too restrictive and I felt like I could swim forever with the lift it provided).  When I was down there the elite women’s race was just getting to the run portion so I stopped to watch that for a bit.  I was standing by some coaches, which were fun to listen to.  Here’s a pic of their final lap – the one in front held on for the win (which happened to be the only one who made it in my phone camera is broken, so all my pictures are a bit off).

One thing I did not like about this race was the start time.  For the sprinters the swim waves didn’t even start until 11:45, with mine (the 29 and under women’s wave) not starting until 12:30.  It was nice because I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night to go set up my transition, but I always feel like I perform better in the AM, and not to mention it’s much cooler in the morning.  The past couple of weeks have felt more like Fall here in Chicago than Summer, but Sunday was easily one of the hotter days we have had, topping out at 88 degrees with heat indexes much higher.  Nothing like racing in the hottest part of the day.

So back to race day…

I was down there to set up my transition by about 10am on Sunday morning and then head to gear check.  For reference, here’s a picture of about one-half of the transition area.  There were thousands of bikes (and people – 4,000 participants, I believe).

Here’s what mine looked like all set up and ready to go.

I finished up with my transition and headed over to gear check.  Navigating this course was a nightmare, especially since the course was all lap-based, so you were constantly having to cut across the course (through bikers and runners) to get around.  The worst volunteer jobs easily had to be the people trying to throttle spectators and athletes alike across Columbus which was where the bike course was.  But despite sometimes having to wait awhile to cross, everyone seemed to make it alright.

I checked my bags and headed over to the swim start to watch some of the waves that were ahead of me and made some friends in the process.  Everyone is so chatty when you’re all in the same competition and already know you have something in common.  At this point, they had also changed the event flags from green to yellow, signaling an increase in risky race conditions.  

I think the most surprising thing about watching the swim start was how many people were rescued by lifeguards as soon as they got started.  I was sitting about 100 meters out and in the 30 or so minutes I was watching saw at least seven people get plucked out of the water in front of me. 

Soon enough it was time to start, and Mark arrived just in time to zip my wetsuit up for me before I jumped in the water.  They gave you about ten minutes before you started to jump in and warm up/get acclimated to the water.  At this point it felt like it was at least 90 degrees out and I’m walking around in a neck to ankle rubber suit, so the 66 degree water I jumped into was more than welcome.  It seems like it would have been really cold, but it actually was not bad at all.

I tread water for a bit, try out some strokes, and get acclimated to the water and think it’s going to be a pretty good swim – tough for sure, especially when you look out over the distance (because training in a pool really gives you no reference point), but manageable.  We get the go ahead to start and I probably get about 100 or so meters (if even that) before I start to get anxious about being in the water and have to flip over on my back. 

And then every time I try to flip back over and start swimming a normal freestyle stroke I just couldn’t.  So I swim most of the 750 meters backstroke which just killed my legs for the rest of the event.  But I didn’t stop or give up so I am happy with myself for that.  Looking back it seems like it should have been easy to just tell myself to roll over and swim like a normal person – to get in some sort of a rhythm and just do it, but that is easier thought of than done (at least at the time).  I’m not sure what caused me not to be able to swim normally – lack of open water swimming prior to the race, eight foot deep water, swimming against the wind and the current, and any other thing could have caused it. 

Anywho, I make it out of the water and into the transition (which are much longer than I expected) and on to my bike.  Which other than having trouble pedaling into the wind gusts that came at times, it wasn’t too bad.  A lot of the bike course was on Lower Wacker (so a street under the city), which was nice because you were out of the sun, but it was very smelly down there.  Also, at some point when I was on the bike the event flags changed to red.

Then on to the run.  The second transition was much easier and I think I was only in there half the time.  I was finally getting energy back and was ready to finish strong with the run.  I hydrated and grabbed some Gatorade chews for the road and kicked rocks.  Overall the run wasn’t too bad, other than the heat.  My legs were tight at first but after the first half mile or so they loosened up, I think the chews really helped with that.  I was tired, but knew if I stopped to walk I’d never start again, so I made myself keep going, which wasn’t all that hard.  The finish line never seemed sweeter and it was nice to have earned a medal by crossing it.  Although it was too hot for me to actually want to put it around my neck, so I just carried it at this point.  I must say I was a little disappointed with my run time, but given the heat I’m not surprised it was a little slower than what I’d consider as normal for myself.

So there it was, my first triathlon was over, and it was a good learning experience for the one in August.  I don’t know what times I expected, but I’m happy with my results.

I’m also happy I still have two months to train, because like I said it was harder than I expected and August is double this one (but at least it starts at 6:00 in the morning, so I’ll at least have cooler temps on my side).  I’ll definitely be swimming, biking, and running more often and for longer distances in preparation.  And I’ll be headed to Ohio Street Beach hopefully at least once a week to work on open water swimming so I don’t have a repeat performance of what happened in this one.   Oh, and I’ll find a way to wear more sunscreen, because I have mad raccoon eyes from my sunglasses right now, and my race number is burned into my arm like a tan-tattoo (and I even applied sunscreen before and during the race!).