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.
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.
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.
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.