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.)
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.
- No kids. I’m sure I could train even if we had kids but it would be infinitely more challenging.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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.)
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:
- 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….
- 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…
- 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.