Operation Sub-6: Ten days out from my half-ironman

So I guess I’m officially tapering now for half-ironman #2, and as usual, it sucks. Tapering is such a paradox, isn’t it?  After months of workouts of ever-increasing length and distance, you finally get to chill out a bit and relax and then it ends up being anything but relaxing because your brain is all “welp, there goes all my fitness.”  (Or is this just me?  I don’t think this is just me. Please reassure me that it’s not just me.)

At any rate I feel like this is as good of a time as any to talk about my training over the last several weeks.  It’s been a really interesting experience for the most part.  I feel as fit, strong and healthy as I’ve ever felt in my entire life, even though I’ve also been pretty tired a lot too, which is not particularly surprising when you’re trying to schedule 10-12 hours of training per week around a full-time job AND volunteer work AND a couple of side gigs AND having something that resembles a social life. (How people with kids do this, I do not know. Lots of very strong coffee?  Perhaps a cocaine habit? Super-organized parents, what are your secrets?)  I have a lot going on but I’ve somehow managed to find both the energy and the time management skills to make it all happen, like I leveled-up in adulting or something.

One thing did happen that alarmed me a bit: my menstrual cycle got knocked out of whack by my training.  I charted my cycles for several years and I’m very consistent from month-to-month, but this past month – nothing.  I don’t even think I ovulated. Couple that with the fact that I’ve lost some weight due to training and my brain immediately went “ZOMG FEMALE ATHLETE TRIAD!!1”  Because I suppose that when you’re a blogger who focuses on women’s fitness and athletics, that’s where your mind goes and not, say, pregnancy, like the minds of most other young women in heterosexual relationships.

Anyway, when things didn’t straighten themselves out after a couple of weeks, I cut back on my workouts and spent a weekend basically eating nothing but bacon cheeseburgers, chili dogs, fries and burritos with double helpings of guacamole. The whole time I did this I kept thinking of a passage in Chrissie Wellington’s book where she talks about how whenever she’d lose too much weight during Ironman training, her coach, Brett Sutton, would show up on her door with blocks of cheese and chocolate and orders to finish them in three days.  I basically felt like that, but you know what?  It worked.  Aunt Flo came to visit a few days later and all was right with my menstrual world again.

Moving on from the TMI portion of tonight’s post – although let’s be real, this shit is important and more of us could stand to talk honestly about it – here’s what’s going on with my actual training.

Swimming

So I took the (literal) plunge and joined a masters swim team, which is being put on in part by my team. Now, if you had spoken to me at any point in my life up until now and said, “Hey Caitlin, what do you think about getting up at 4:30 a.m. so you can go thrash around in a pool for an hour?” I would have told you to get the hell out of my face with that nonsense and to not come back until you can speak to me like a rational human being. Yet, here I am, willingly getting up at this ungodly hour 2-3 times a week so I can go swim while it’s still dark outside.

And here’s the sickening thing: I like it.  I like it a lot. In fact, I sometimes even think I love it. I love the way the smell of chlorine hits me when I walk into the pool area and how it lingers on my skin for the rest of the day, I love the sight of the skies turning pink outside while we swim our laps, I love the camaraderie that comes from sharing the suffering of a tough swim workout.

And of course, I love that it’s actually making me a better swimmer.

There are a couple of things I really struggle with, though, like breathing exercises.  Whenever we have to do laps where we breathe every 5 or 7 strokes, I know I’m in for a real shitshow.  Everything else, though, I love.

It still blows me away that a little over two years ago I refused to do triathlon because I was afraid to swim, and now look at me. It goes to show that not knowing how to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t like doing that thing. It just means you don’t know how to do it.

Cycling

This has been where I’ve put in most of my work.  When you look at my Training Peaks calendar, most weeks have 2-3 runs or swims, but cycling always shows up three or more times a week.  I’ve had to do a lot of trainer rides, which I have mixed feelings about.  The trainer is good because it lets me put in a steady, hard effort without having to deal with traffic, etc.

The downside: the trainer is also soooo borrrring. I deal with it by watching Gossip Girl. (DON’T JUDGE ME.) (I MEAN IT.) (P.S. TEAM BLAIR.) I know Slowtwitchers are all, “I’m so hardcore, I just stare at a poster of Kona while doing three hours of hard intervals while listening to nothing but the sound of my own labored breathing,” but I am not that hardcore.  I need diversion in my life or else I will claw out my own eyeballs from boredom.

I’ve been working hard on breaking that horrible triathlete habit of riding in the big chainring all the time. Brian once described that part of a triathlete’s brain as being all, “I TRIATHLETE, I GO FAST,” which leads us to mash as hard as we can on the big chainring at all times.  I have found that, for me, this is dumb.  I go much faster when I ride in the small chainring, and with much less effort too.  Shocking, I know, that I’d have this sophisticated piece of human-powered transportation equipment for the past two years and would only now be figuring out how to make the most efficient use of it.  Such is my life.

Oh, and I have an aero helmet now.  My transition into full-blown triathlon dork is nearly complete. When I show up with race wheels, that’s when you’ll know all is lost.

Running

I’ve actually de-emphasized running over this training cycle, mainly because it’s my strong point already and so I don’t really see the point in continuing to work on that when other triathlon skills *cough*cycling*cough* need so much work.  Besides, I still have all the fitness I had from my BQ marathon.  Contrary to what my cracked-out taper-brain says, I did not lose all my fitness overnight, or even over the course of a couple of months.

I’ve tailored my long runs on the weekend to mimic the conditions for race day. I actually checked out the run course using Google Street View, and while the run is flat, as it’s along A1A, it is also without a single sliver of shade. As much as I would love a freak cold front to blow through that weekend, I know it’s not likely to happen, so instead I’ve been running outside – sans headphones – at 11 a.m. in 90-degree heat. It is exactly as unpleasant as it sounds.

The great thing is that all that heat training I did for the Keys 50 last year is really coming in handy now, because I have a whole bunch of tricks I can use to keep myself cool, everything from a wet towel around the neck to ice in my hat, shorts and sports bra.  Plus my old handheld water bottle broke, so I shelled out for one that’s insulated.  All I can say is WHY DID I NOT DO THIS EARLIER?  It’s wonderful to be able to sip my water after being outside for 45 minutes and to actually be refreshed by it!  Can you imagine?!

I had a chance to test my hot-weather legs at an international distance triathlon last month, and I ended up running the 10K in under 50 minutes, which I think was the fourth fastest run split out of all the women.  (I ended up being sixth female overall – my bike leg dragged me down. Again.)  Not gonna lie, I was pretty pleased with that.  I think it bodes well for my goal of going sub-2:00 in the run leg of the half-ironman.

So that’s basically where I’m at right now. I put in all the hard work, and now I’m just waiting to see if it was enough to achieve my goal. I feel like it was, but you never know what race day brings.

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20 responses to “Operation Sub-6: Ten days out from my half-ironman

  1. Wow, you are amazing! Congrats on all the hardwork! Also, it’s really great that you are discussing the issue of the loos of your menstrual cycle and taking steps to get it back. This is often not discussed among female athletes. It’s a natural part of our bodies! Good luck on your race!

    • Thank you! I was unsure about mentioning that at first but I realized it’s kind of an important thing, maybe more so than a lot of what I write about regarding training.

  2. I feel lazy reading what you do for your tri training. Props to you! It’s so amazing to hear that a couple years ago you were afraid of swimming.

    Thanks for writing about what happens with the menstrual cycle when you train hard and lose too much weight. It’s not really talked about, but this is a (an important) part of our health.

    • Don’t feel lazy! I’m actually starting to think I may have overscheduled myself, which is tough because I am one of those people who wants to DO ALL THE THINGS.

      re: menstrual cycles: Thank you! I was a little unsure about writing about it because it’s so personal but I agree that it’s an important part of our health. Like, I’m not even sure I want kids but I do want my body to be strong and healthy, and to me the loss of my period is like the canary in the coal mine going silent and not something I’m comfortable with just accepting as part of the cost of pursuing excellence in my sport. Anyway I’ve done a bunch of reading about it but have not had a lot of luck reading about it from the perspective of athletes who are dealing with it. I am definitely interested in hearing more about what other female athletes experience with regards to this.

  3. Good luck! Props for writing about your menstrual cycle. It’s not talked about enough!

    I am totally Team Blair too. GG was my guilty pleasure when I was recovering from surgery. I watched the whole series in three weeks.

    • I’m still making my way through the first season but I’m definitely into it. It’s a great way to keep my mind off the tedium of riding a bike inside (or, in your case, recovering from your surgery). I tried watching more serious shows and while they are good, they just don’t meet that need for escapism the way GG does.

  4. Wow! Sounds like you are nailing this half iron stuff! And aero helmet? OMG! You are gonna be awesome!! I envy your love of the pool. I cannot crack the swim. I thrash around and feel so fast and then look at my watch and am all like “…oh.”

    • I totally LOLed at your comment. I have the same experience all the time! I will say that joining a local masters team has made ALL the difference. Do you swim with a team or have a coach?

      • I have a distance coach which was great for sessions but maybe not so much for technique. I’ve started swimming with a local tri club and it’s been AMAZING swimming with other people and the tips on how to improve my shoddy technique have been REALLY useful!

  5. great post and very timely for me–I’m training for a marathon and haven’t had my period in 2 months (and haven’t really found that many people who have written about their experiences with amenorrhea openly). I haven’t lost that much weight (3-5 pounds) nor am I super slim (probably around 25% body fat) but my doctor thinks it could still be training related. I want to get it back but also don’t want to stop training. How long did you cut back for in order to have it return? And how drastically? Next week is a cut back week for me, so instead of 50ish miles, I’m only planning on 35-40 — think that is enough of a decrease? I’m 5 weeks out so don’t want to just stop running right now when things are going so well with training

    • Hey! I don’t know a ton about athletic amenorrhea despite reading a lot about it, but what I have been able to gather is that the increased amount of stress is a big part of it. I didn’t lose a lot of weight either – between 5-7 pounds – which is why I was surprised when it did happen.

      I really only reduced my workouts for about a week or so. I took an extra rest day, prioritized sleep, and cut my long weekend workouts, so instead of running 10 miles I ran seven miles, and instead of riding 75 miles, I rode 38 miles. I also dropped my speed workouts and replaced them with easier workouts, and like I said, I started eating more. Like, I thought I had been eating a lot before but apparently I needed to be eating even more than I was!

      Your stepback week sounds like a good start. Are you getting enough sleep at night? And are your rest days actual rest days? I’ve realized that I’m terrible at taking legit rest days, because my one rest day is a Monday, so I’m usually going to work that day, which is anything but restful. I realized I need to schedule in days where I do the bare minimum required to be a functional adult, which is easier said than done but I think that’s part of what was going on too. I just wasn’t giving myself adequate time to recover.

  6. Ha – you know that’s how I found out I was pregnant, right? I missed my period the weekend of a tri, immediately chalked it up to training, and didn’t realise anything was afoot till the following week when I needed a recovery run from my recovery run.

    Also, /cough shmore shmime on the shmike /cough – let’s see if that pays off! Good on you for focusing on cycling and sticking it out on the trainer. Speaking of which…I thought you had a century ride coming up?

    Training + work + volunteer + side gigs + social life + sleep = I believe something has to give…

    • Is that how you found out? That’s kind of hilarious. I thought that was a slim possibility but a very slim one, for reasons I’ll not go into for the sake of discretion. (Let’s just say that spending hours per week on a bike hasn’t exactly been conducive to that kind of thing.)

      Yep, I can tell you exactly what gave in my life – my house and my yard. It’s not, like, Hoarders but I’m also not excited at the idea of having people over. And also, my backyard basically looks like an episode of After Humans. Just weeds EVERYWHERE.

      (And I should also say that I’ve sadly had to cancel on friends more than I’d like, but once this race is over I’m going out for dinner with all of them.)

      I actually decided not to do the century when my period was delayed. I took it as a sign that I was trying to do too much, so I’ve dropped back to a 50-mile ride, which I can do without too much stress these days.

  7. As long as you aren’t describing blood consistency or anything I don’t think talking about periods is TMI. But maybe my family is too free with some information… But I’m the one who hates too much bodily function detail and I didn’t mind how you talked about your period.

    Does bare minimum to be a functioning adult include doing dishes? If it doesn’t I need to scale up my athletic pursuits so I can earn dish washing free rest days.

    • To me it does, along with cleaning the cat box and doing laundry. Everything else is negotiable. But I also have a partner who does this stuff too so I get my dishwashing rest days pretty regularly.

  8. You’re not alone feeling anxiety over tapering, but it DOES work and you’re not losing your fitness. Every time I taper I feel like all the hard work is flying out the window but then the results are there.

    What I do is maybe 4 days before the event I do a workout where I push a little and it gives me confidence and on race day that’s a big boost. With the easy days leading up to the workout and after, recovery is not a problem. Maybe for you I’d suggest an (under an hour) tempo run since running is your strongest and it’s bound to remind you how badass you are.
    This is what I did before my first half marathon and I came in with 1:30:40, right at my goal for under 7 pace.

    • Thanks for the suggestion! This past weekend I took my bike out and did a little bit of a time trial on some flat, open trails, and it both gave me some confidence and let me burn off a little of that pre-race anxiety. I went for a run this morning and pushed it a little again. Nothing crazy but just something to remind my legs that I can in fact run.

      BTW I am blown away by the fact that your first half-marathon was a 1:30. That’s incredible.

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