Monday, September 15, 2008

Tri training: a retrospective

It all started almost a year ago. I was gathered with a group of friends celebrating Olivia’s birthday. We were drinking wine and eating. And drinking wine. Claudia sat herself down beside me and started talking about joining the tri team. I thought about it. She poured me more wine, talked about Pacific Grove Triathlon. More wine. Phil thought doing a tri was a great idea. More wine. Enough wine that I agreed to join the team and sign up for my first triathlon.

Time went on. I finished my last marathons of 2007, started planning my 2008 races. In January I was tired and worn out and one bright morning during a normal little 6 miler my knee went out. I ignored it, figuring the pain would go away with enough ice and advil. I continued running, my knee kept hurting. Worse and worse and then I could hardly walk. I finally went to see my doc who’d magically healed that same knee a few years earlier, hoping for that same old magic. The MRI showed quite a bit of inflammation and a tear in the meniscus. I began physical therapy.

Meanwhile, there was major upheaval in my family and work got complicated. I needed to get some exercise and since I couldn’t really run I started pre-training for the triathlon. Claudia and I began swimming at the local pool, following an old swim calendar from another tri season. I had my bike fixed up and started cycling with Bree . I continued to try to run while engaging in constant physical therapy.

Like I normally do, while under stress I ate and ate and gained about 10 pounds the first few months of the year. By the time the real tri training came around I was at my heaviest weight ever and feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities. Luckily my knee was starting to feel better and I managed to get in a couple of good training runs. Wanting to get at least one race under my belt before tri training, I went to visit my sis and ran the Country Music Half Marathon .

After swimming in the safe confines of the heated pool we hit the open water in mid-May. My confidence took a nose dive. I continued running, slowly and with some knee pain, and continued short bike rides and swimming regularly. I decided I needed to run one more race before tri training began so I registered for and ran the See Jane Run Half Marathon instead of going to kick-off.

Tri training started and I felt out of place and way out of my comfort zone. Despite the pre-training I felt fat and sluggish and unhealthy and old. Three of those were true. I was still determined to follow through on my commitment to raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and to complete my first triathlon.

At our second track workout I was doing mule kicks and felt something in my back twist in a way that a back shouldn’t twist. So as not to seem like an old fat weenie I continued and finished the workout. I managed to aggravate what would have probably been only a minor tweak. With large doses of advil and a bit of rest it improved enough that I ignored it to continue training.

Meanwhile I was having trouble coping. With just about everything. My training wasn’t going well and I was spending a lot of time crying. Very unlike my normal attitude and mood. I was internalizing and trying to swallow all my emotions and face the world like my normal self. It didn’t work too well.

In mid-June I completed the Tri for Fun, a sprint tri that taught me quite a bit about what I needed to do for the real tri. I didn’t count it as my first triathlon (even though it really was) because I wanted my first to be the real race I was training for.

That’s when the horrendous fires raged across the state, leaving a thick haze in the air. I couldn’t breathe, found training a chore but continued out of fear that I wouldn’t be prepared for the race. I substituted a couple of indoor workouts for the outside ones. The weather turned hot and stayed hot.

My world crumbled when I found out that three of my dear friends were moving away within the next few months. My little running group, which I hadn’t been able to be part of because of my knee injury and the tri training, was reduced by half. My depression increased. I stopped sleeping and my stomach constantly ached. I was actually losing weight instead of gaining it. I had difficulty focusing, cried constantly. Somehow I continued to go through the motions of training, continued the swimming and cycling and some running.

I finally had to go to the doctor, had to get help. I started taking antidepressants and an anti-ulcer medication. Things got much worse before they started to get better. There was improvement, then setbacks, then a major setback. My back got so bad that I couldn’t do the workouts. I managed to do my first swim race, the Aqua Challenge, but I couldn’t run afterward.

Back to the orthopedist and back to physical therapy. My depression was lifting, my stomach still unsettled. I continued to lose weight without trying and continued to get an average of about 4 hours sleep each night. Tri training progressed with me feeling a disconnect from the team, not feeling part of anything and deeply needing Claudia and Phil present to feel comfortable with group trainings. Training increased in length and intensity and I walked the runs so I’d at least have some time on my feet. I was exhausted and hungry.

The end of the season approached and I actually ran the long run. We had our test swim at Pacific Grove and my anxiety level went off the charts. Although my longest bike ride went well, I was sad and scared and knew I wasn’t ready for the race.

A few weeks ago I started my mental prep in earnest. I knew that if I went into the race feeling the way I did, I’d never finish. In fact, feeling that way I doubt that I would have made it out of the water. When I got into bed each night, knowing I’d never sleep anyway, I’d mentally practice the swim and transitions and finish. I pictured myself calmly diving in, confidently swimming behind and next to many other swimmers, getting kicked and splashed and hit. I smoothly swam though the kelp. I mentally practiced getting out of the water, running around the rock and diving back in. I saw myself swimming from buoy to buoy and to shore. I could feel the icy water on my face, feel my limbs trapped by the kelp, taste the salt. Through it all I saw myself completing a very successful swim in a calm, focused manner.

I also mentally rehearsed racing through transitions, hopping on the bike and strongly pedaling out and back and out and back and twice more. I saw myself racing up the hill and speeding the downhill. I saw myself confidently making the turns and speeding away. I thought about when I’d drink, when I’d eat. I practiced being relaxed and strong and smooth. I knew how well the second transition would go, imaged getting my legs under me to run. I saw myself running and then finally saw myself sprinting to the finish.

Before the race I had hoped that I’d be sleeping well and that my stomach would feel good enough to eat well. Neither of those happened. The lack of sleep gave me more time for my physical therapy exercises and the inability to eat resulted in a total weight loss of about 20 pounds. I didn’t mind that part at all and hoped being lighter would aid my race.

My plan for the race was simple: do whatever I could and do it as well as I could. I wasn’t asking any more of myself, didn’t think I could produce anything more. Knowing my training (or lack thereof), knowing my back was hurting, thinking my knee might give out, having no idea if I’d be able to fuel up and keep it down. My goals were:
  • Worst case scenario: finish before they close the course
  • I’d be happy with: 4:30
  • Best case possible: 4:15

Sometimes we surprise ourselves!


  1. great recap from the beginning! congratulations again! when's the next one??

  2. Wonderful, wonderful! I'm so happy for you.

  3. This is a great recap. I am very proud of you for getting through this season. I know it was tough on you but you did it and you KICKED ASS :o) Congratulations!!!