I trained, I got swole, now hopefully I will conquer this triathlon

I’m three days away from the Paradise Coast International Triathlon, which is the race I have been basically training my ass off for the last three months.  After my supremely disappointing race at St. Anthony’s earlier this year, I decided that I was going to do one more international distance triathlon before the season was over, and that I was going to do it the right way.  No half-assing it.  If I am going to suffer during a race, it’s going to be controlled suffering that I do on purpose because I am pushing myself.  It’s not going to be the pathetic suffering of the underprepared endurance athlete.  I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I am not interested in the T-shirt.

Normally I don’t write too much about my training, mainly because I like to keep this blog topical, but I decided to make an exception for this post because I realized that I enjoy reading about other people’s training experiences – and not just in running and triathlon but in all sports – so I thought maybe someone might be interested in a quick round-up of the things I learned and experienced over the past three months.  (And if I was wrong about that, I’m sorry.  I’ll return to the regularly scheduled programming of patriarchy-smashing next week.  Pinky swear.)

LOGISTICS

I started out with a training plan Brian found for me on TriNewbies.  I couldn’t follow it perfectly so what I ended up doing was using it as a guideline.  I tried to hit the prescribed distances and workouts for each stage – the build, the volume and the speed stages – but I moved the workouts around so they fit with my work schedule.  I aimed for three workouts for each discipline plus two lifting sessions (and when I could, a pole class) each week.  I don’t think I had a single week when I hit every single workout. Usually I got about 75-80% of them, which I think is still pretty good.

My lowest volume week was a little over six hours of training, while my highest volume week was more than 11 hours of training. (I felt like I had entered permabeast mode by the time that week ended, by the way.  Tired permabeast, but permabeast nonetheless.)

There are three factors in my life that make triathlon training relatively easy for me.

  1. No kids.  I’m sure I could train even if we had kids but it would be infinitely more challenging.
  2. My husband is a fellow triathlete. In fact he is currently training for Ironman Florida, which has been a bit like sharing my house with a living, breathing piece of fitspo. This means we both understand the demands this sport puts on our time and energy, so neither one of us hassles the other or feels resentful about it (which I hear happens quite a bit when one partner is a multisport junkie and the other isn’t).
  3. My training facilities are convenient. My gym is in the same office park as my job. I live a half-mile away from a looooong recreational trail.  The county’s only indoor Olympic size training pool is a twenty-minute drive away.

Now, for the one factor that makes training a bit of a nightmare.

  1. My job hours are not consistent.  I work as a web producer for a 24/7 cable news station.  This means sometimes I start my shift at 4:30 a.m. Sometimes I don’t leave work until 11:30 p.m.  Sometimes a huge storm blows in and I don’t leave work until two hours later.  I do what I can to work around this without too much complaint (because, hey, JOB), but I’ve got to tell you, when you get home from work at midnight and you have to be back at 11 a.m., sleep takes priority over getting a 20-mile bike ride in the books.

I’ve become pretty good at squeezing the workouts in whenever possible.  If that means running three miles on the treadmill during lunch, cool. If I have to cut a ride a few miles short in the morning because I ran out of time, then oh well. At least I got some miles in, right?  It also means that I usually have one or two gym bags with me at all times, that my car smells like chlorine and sweat and that I have given up trying to have pretty well-styled hair.  Not gonna happen.

I’ve also become really skilled at the art of self-motivation.  I have a mantra that I repeat to myself whenever I start thinking about how much I want to go home, take off my bra and vegetate on the couch instead of spending an hour swimming in a shared lane with a guy doing sprints while wearing swim fins.  That mantra is: “Don’t think, just go.”  I’ve learned that I can always talk myself out of training, but if I put myself on autopilot and just go instead of hemming and hawing, I’ll get the workout done, and usually I will enjoy myself while it’s happening and I will be happy that I didn’t spend yet another hour of my life parked on the couch playing Candy Crush.

“Don’t think, just go.”  It’s a good one. I recommend it.

PROGRESS

I had a rough triathlon a couple of months ago, and in fact, my USAT score from that race was my worst one yet. I used my post-race analysis to alter my training a bit, and so I began prioritizing my time on the bike over everything else.  It was a smart move, because last month I competed in the Courage to Tri triathlon at Sand Key and I came up with my best age-group placement in triathlon ever and my highest USAT score ever.

But even before I finished and knew how I had placed, I was fully aware that I was having a fantastic race.  My swim was strong, and then I got on the bike and handled the technical course with confidence.  The bike course took us over a three-bridge loop, which is one I had been riding every weekend, hammering my way up those hills even though they made my quads want to set themselves on fire in protest and then riding down them as fast as I safely could.  (A high point in my training came when I lit up the digital speed limit sign at the bottom of the Belleair Causeway and sent it flashing at 33 mph. I pumped my fist in the air and gave a big woo-hoo! when I saw that.)

Because I wasn’t afraid of the bridges – and in fact, because I had trained super hard on them – I dropped a lot of people on both the uphills and the downhills.  I suspect that a lot of those people would have otherwise beaten me if the course had been flat.  And then when I got off the bike and started running, my legs felt fresh and strong immediately, with none of that bowl-of-jello wobbly shit that normally characterizes the first mile of a triathlon run.  I felt strong the whole way, picking off woman after woman in my age group, and when I crossed the finish line with a 24-minute 5K, I knew I probably could have run even faster than I did.

I understand how why people say bike fitness is the key to success in triathlon.  That’s because it not only affects your ability to ride your bike, but it also affects your run.  I’m glad it only took me, oh, a year and a half to figure this out.

This also has me excited for running season to start, because I have a suspicion that spending my summer engaged in so much cross-training is going to make me a stronger runner.  I know many people will argue in favor of the principle of specificity, which basically says you should train in the sport in which you want to improve, but I’m not one of those people with bodies that can handle high-volume running, so doing a lot of cross-training is the next best thing for me.  (Plus, it’s just plain fun. I have come to love swimming and cycling, and even if they didn’t help my running, I’d do them anyway.)

PHYSICAL CHANGES

This was a surprising aspect of my training. I’ve been pretty active for about six years now, but aside from the 10-15 pounds I dropped a couple of years ago and a bit more muscle development in my upper body, my body has stayed pretty much the same.

That is no longer the case. I’ve noticed three discernable changes in my body composition:

  1. I’ve noticeably leaned out.  I’m not talking, like, fitness professional lean, but lean for me.  Lean enough that people noticed and said something to me about it. (I still have not gotten used to this, by the way, and I don’t think I ever will.)  I haven’t had my body fat tested in a while, and I don’t think I will, but I can tell that it’s dropped quite a bit.  However….
  2. The scale has gone up.  My clothes feel looser and the scale has ticked upward. I’m going to take a wild leap here and say that it’s because I’ve gained muscle.  About five pounds of it, to be exact.  I am beyond stoked about this.  Yes. I said it. I am excited that the scale has gone up.  And I am pretty sure I know exactly where that muscle has parked itself…
  3. My butt and quads have some solid muscle now.  I have lost track of the number of times I have caught sight of my quads and my ass in the mirror and been like, “Damn girl.” My ass is definitely starting to approach shelf-like status, I can actually see all of the different muscles that make up my quads and my hamstrings have become so developed that a friend of mine, who used to be a personal trainer, commented on them the other day.  I suppose this is what a steady diet of hill climbs, speed work, squats, lunges and deadlifts will get a lady.  P.S. My shoulders and back are looking pretty sweet, too.  Thanks, swimming!

Now, I don’t mean to give the impression that Muscle & Fitness Hers is going to be knocking at my door with a cover-model contract in hand.  And I’m sure that if I posted photos I’d hear all about how I’m still soft, how my muscle definition isn’t that impressive, blah blah blah whatevercakes.

But check this out – I don’t compare myself against anyone else when it comes to this kind of stuff.  Why?  Because that shit is pointless.  I am a tall woman with long limbs that stretch my muscle bellies out, muscles that are apparently bundled up with slow-twitch fibers, hips that do not allow for a thigh gap and a core that will probably never be flat unless you remove some of my internal organs.  There is not a single training plan in the world that will give me a body that looks like anyone else’s body, and so comparing myself to someone else, whether that’s Gwyneth Paltrow or Dana Lynn Bailey or Britney Griner, is bound to be a fruitless endeavor.

It is much simpler for me to compare myself against previous versions of myself, and I can tell you that if you put Current Me against Previous Mes, Current Me is going to be a lot buffer than any of those Previous Mes.  This is the only comparison that matters.

So that’s where I’m at.  As Brian always says, consistency and baby steps will take you anywhere, and I feel confident that they’re going to take me to a good race this weekend.

P.S. I’m just going to leave this video here with the information that I have said a full three-quarters of these sentences at some point over the past three months.

I spent most of my time watching this video and cringing in self-recognition.  In my defense, however, I reserve my triathlete dork-out sessions for fellow triathletes.

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32 responses to “I trained, I got swole, now hopefully I will conquer this triathlon

  1. You are gonna kill your race! I feel really excited for you -is that weird? I just finished my last race of the season, which was also my first Olympic distance tri and I was really happy with times. I’m still struggling with the whole ocean swimming thing and I’m really encouraged by the fact that you learned to love it, despite being freaked out at first. I keep telling myself that if I just keep on doing it, eventually I’ll learn to love it… Thanks for posting about your training. It’s inspiring. I hope you’ll post a race recap so those of us in the off season can live vicariously. Also, that video was hilarious.

    • Aw, thanks! I appreciate that!

      Congratulations on completing your first Olympic distance tri! They are so challenging. I was really taken aback the first time I did one. You should be proud of yourself for doing one with times that you are satisfied with.

      I have to admit that sometimes I still get nervous with ocean swimming, especially when I see photos of, say, a huge ray swimming close to shore or I come across a jellyfish, but for the most part I enjoy it a lot, mainly because I’ve come to understand that the majority of what scares me about it is all in my imagination. It has helped me chill out quite a bit.

  2. GOOD LUCK on the weekend and I hope you feel great when you finish! Here is a mantra I use sometimes: “Preparation. Grit.” You know you prepared. You got off the couch so many times. You put in the time and the effort and now, standing on the start line, you’re as prepared as you ever could be. Or at least, you’re as prepared as you are, because now comes grit. Who cares which of your competitors trained hardest or is fittest… now is time to dig in and use your heart. I like to tell myself “that person may be faster than me, but I have more grit, and I’m going to win based on that.”

    Not sure if any of that is helpful, it’s just the mental tricks that sure help me!

    • GRIT. Love it. Thank you for sharing with me. I have a feeling that word is going to be bubbling up to the surface when I’m in mile three of my run on Sunday.

  3. I love “don’t think, just go”! I also like how you snuck in your workouts when you could and didn’t stress if you couldn’t do it “perfectly.” In fact – it inspired me. I just went on a power walk on my lunch hour. It wasn’t exactly the workout I wanted, but I thought, “Don’t think, just go” and got in what I could, when I could. So thanks!!

  4. “It is much simpler for me to compare myself against previous versions of myself, and I can tell you that if you put Current Me against Previous Mes, Current Me is going to be a lot buffer than any of those Previous Mes. This is the only comparison that matters.”

    Seriously awesome. Can’t wait to hear how you do on the race! I did St. A’s several years ago now and it was God awful. I will never do it again.

    • Oof, you too? What were your issues with it? I personally hated how late my wave started, because it meant I was doing my 10K at 11 a.m. at the end of April. They cut the swim short because conditions were choppy, and I’ve heard that this happens a lot.

      • The year I raced (ummm, 2010 or maybe 2009) they cancelled the swim all together. So we did this like, relay run into transition start. Much like you, my wave ddn’t start until very late and it was really miserable. I’ve done many large races before, but this one was particularly bad. Really disappointing too, as it’s one of few that pros show up to in our area.

      • I remember hearing about that one. Yeah, that would suck. You get all psyched up for a swim, only to have them do away with it entirely. They ended up cutting the swim in half the year I did it.

        A friend of mine who did it in 2012 also had the late wave start, and she said she was probably not going to do the race again because of it. I didn’t understand until I was sweating pure salt at mile two of the run leg, and then I was like, Yeah, the late wave start can suck it.

        By the way I love that you’re kinda local so you get these references. 🙂

  5. I know you mentioned a couple months ago that you started the New Rules of Lifting for Women program. I’m a big fan of this program as well, and I do a workout from it twice a week in addition to running, walking, and bike-riding. But I’ve found that it actually makes running harder for me, because my legs are tired so much of the time. I like to think that stronger legs is making me a better runner in the long run, but for right now, while I’m in the midst of the program, I feel like my tired leg muscles are my limiting factor in my runs. Have you noticed this at all?

    Anyway, good luck this weekend! I enjoyed reading about your training, and I’m looking forward to seeing the race report.

    • Thank you!

      Yes, I am still doing NRL4W, and at first I ran into the same issue you describe, where my legs would ache and I couldn’t run. So what I started doing was making sure to lift only on days when I ran in the morning. The following day I would usually bike and swim, which do require muscular strength but they aren’t as high impact as running, so I could still have some residual soreness but it wouldn’t impede me. Also, it gave my legs had a day to heal before I ran again.

      The other thing that I did was I made a point not to lift to my full capabilities. My max deadlift has been 105 pounds and my max squat is 95. (So far at least.) It’s enough that I can develop some strength, especially as I try to do very controlled, slow motions, but not so much that I blow my legs out. As much as I would like to lift as heavy as I possibly could, I know that lifting is mostly a secondary activity for me at this point, and so it has to take a more supportive role instead of being the main show. When you lift how heavy do you go? I don’t mean actual weights, but more like your effort.

      FWIW I do think that lifting is making me better at all of my sports but it took some trial and error to find a way of doing things that worked for me.

      • I lift closer to as heavy as I can; probably a bit lighter because I’m paranoid about getting injured, but I’m close to maxing. For me, lifting and running are equally important, so while it’s a bummer to see my running pace slow, it’s worth it to have actual arm muscles for the first time ever. Plus it’s so fun to watch the numbers go up as I get stronger.

        I’m just about to finish the program, actually. I guess I’ll be borrowing my husband’s copy of the non-women-specific New Rules of Lifting.

  6. I can’t wait to hear how the race goes for you!

    Now that I’m nearing the end of the training cycle of my first marathon, I can also tell how my body has changed. So many people have told me that I’ve lost weight, but my weight has stayed exactly the same. I am leaner, though, in my belly, which is where my fat usually lives. Current Me is a BAMF who can run double-digit miles on a regular weeknight and not blink. She also looks a little better in a shift dress, which is a nice side effect.

    • “Current Me is a BAMF who can run double-digit miles on a regular weeknight and not blink”

      LOVE IT. Good luck with your training! I just added your blog to my feedly (it has only taken me six months to get the hang of this stupid thing) so I can follow along and see how your big day goes!

  7. Rock the fuck out of that tri, Caitlin!

    I really like reading these training logs because it is interesting to read about body shifts, because it’s not about weight loss; it’s about how different exercise shapes our bodies, and it’s not focused on numbers or shapes or fucking thigh gaps. It’s how I’m trying to measure my own progress, and like you, I’m competing against myself. I was thinner back in my 20s, but I know I was not nearly as fit as I am now, and that is fucking fantastic.

    • Thank you! I fully intend to!

      Like you, I was a lot thinner as a teenager and when I was in my 20s but I was also very low-energy and not that strong and not capable of doing much beyond walking from point A to point B. Now I not only like the way I look a lot more, but I also enjoy being in my body a lot more, too. It’s great, and you couldn’t get me to change back for all the moneys in the world.

  8. “I am a tall woman with long limbs that stretch my muscle bellies out, muscles that are apparently bundled up with slow-twitch fibers, hips that do not allow for a thigh gap and a core that will probably never be flat unless you remove some of my internal organs.” HA! This is me, exactly! The other day I mentioned something to my husband about having a thigh gap and he burst out lasting (in a nice way, I swear!) and said I would have to cut part of my legs off because even if I was super lean, I wouldn’t have one.

    Good luck for this weekend! I admire triathletes so much. The training sounds so intense! I definitely relate to the feeling of being busy and sometimes having to prioritise sleep over training. I feel like I’m go, go, go all the time and can’t ever imagine being able to do what I do now work- and training-wise if I ever have kids.

    • The training can be intense, but I’ll tell you what – it’s also so much fun. I love that I get to basically play for training. BTW if you want to talk about intense, strongwoman training looks like it would kick my ass six ways to Sunday. But again, it also looks fun. It’s amazing the things we can make ourselves do when we think of it as playtime.

      If I ever had kids, I figure I’d just have to find the time to make it work. I’m like you in that I can’t possibly imagine that happening now, but I also feel like I could rearrange a few things if I needed to. And maybe sacrifice some sleep. A lot of sleep, actually.

  9. You are going to rock that tri. ‘Don’t think – just go’ is also my mantra. It is entirely possible to overthink going for training. (My motivation when I really wanted to bust 5 hours in my last marathon was ‘You have to earn it’. Got me out of bed every time. Also, it worked.) I can’t wait to see your race report!

    I am a daily news reporter and my wackaloon work hours are similar to yours, so I completely understand what your life is like trying to balance work/ family/ training. Sometimes I don’t even know ahead of time where I’ll be starting or ending my day. Makes it a bit hard to pack, especially when I can’t drive or don’t want to drive to some of these events because driving in the city is a nightmare.

    I only ever compare myself to past or future me. Comparing myself to other people would just be demoralising. 🙂

    • “You have to earn it” is awesome, and so true. Most of us are not naturally talented enough to have our athletic goals just fall into our laps. I’m going to stash that mantra in my motivation bank for future reference!

      Also, so much respect for you trying to balance everything with reporting. I am basically confined to the newsroom, so I’m not physically running around the way reporters and photographers do. My exhaustion is mostly psychological and emotional.

  10. I’m really happy that you kicked ass in your triathlon. You trained hard and it paid off. Congrats!

    Your physical changes are interesting to me. I thought this article/case study was fascinating, and I’ve been tossing it around to all my cardio bunny friends, and people who ask me for tips on fat loss. And your results are the exact opposite of Rachel’s. If you haven’t seen it yet you might think it’s interesting (and it’s written by one of the NROLFW authors!):
    http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/the_final_nail_in_the_cardio_coffin

    Maybe her “results” were so drastic because it was ironman length and the length/duration of your training sessions didn’t have the same effect? Maybe everyone is just different? Who knows. It doesn’t really matter, but it is intriguing.

  11. This is a great post – as much as I would *think* that reading about other peoples’ training would be boring and silly…it’s not. I love it.

    Also love? The shelf-bootie. I’m pretty comfortable in my own body, and am tall/thin-ish by American standards – although sometimes living in Asia next to tiny Chinese women makes me feel enormous (and hit my head on the hand holds on the buses, which are about 8″ too low). And while I’ve come to accept my wider-set hips, I actually adore my butt, which I fondly refer to as my “hill climbing butt”. And when I’m powering up a hill (past lots of other runners), I be sure to huff a few words of thanks to my tush. =)

    You use yours to kick some tri a$$. 🙂

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