Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ultraman Training: Finding Aloha in the Uncomfortable

I have started this post about a dozen times.  And a dozen times I've been interrupted, and then more exciting things happen so I delete and start over.  And it's been a month since my last update.  If I tried to explain everything that has happened in that 30 day time period I guarantee you would not believe me.  I'll run through some highlights.

1.  DAYS after my last post, we went to camp.

Our annual Team HPB training camp takes place over a long weekend in March.  During this weekend we smash ourselves and encourage our teammates to do the same.  This year going into camp with a decent amount of fitness I thought, Oh, I'll just breeze through the 100 mile bike ride and 10k swim no problem.  And compared to past years I did "breeze" through them.  But Hillary always manages to make the workouts challenging testing both my pride and my confidence.

For example, I've been swimming loads of yards for weeks now.  10k is really not a big deal.  BUT she made it a big deal by assigning me intervals that I can't hit.  Like 30 x 100 on 1:30, as 75 free/ 25 stroke (alternating back/ breast / fly).  Free no problem.  All those other strokes?  Forgedaboudit.  Or a kick set on 2:00.  (I SUCK at kicking).  But I did survive the swim.  And I was stronger for challenging myself through it.

A little post 10k swim selfie.

My favorite day ended up being our annual team race up Mt. Lemmon.  We divide into groups based on predicted finish time and then when your group hits the base of the climb it's game on.  We were instructed to race up the hill.  So in my little group of 6 or 8, we got to mile 0, I lapped out and gave them about 20 seconds to get moving and when no one did I surged from the back and took off.

First ones to the Cookie Cabin!!  #allthefood

About a mile later, Coach Alyssa had pulled Lauren up to my wheel and deposited her there.  We were instructed to keep the pressure on, work together and alternate miles.  We rode together until somewhere around mile 10 and when I went to take the lead Lauren fell off the back.  Only I didn't realize it so I kept going... talking to myself this whole time.  At some point when I don't get a response, I glance back and see that she's gone.  I'm by myself.

So I continued to hammer the pace stopping only briefly to refill water at Windy Point.  I lapped out at the top of the climb, 3W shy of my all time best, and 3 minutes shy of my PR.

Top of Gates Pass with my Team HPB roomie, Alli!

2.  The day after run.

Camp ends on Monday with a long trail run.  It's more of an adventure run because inevitably you get lost in the desert and 14 miles ends up taking 3 hours.  It's tradition to meet for margaritas on Monday night at the JW Marriott and celebrate the fact that you survived.  After lunch on Monday everyone checks their training plans for the next day to coordinate meeting up for the 2-3k recovery swim.  Everyone's looking at their smartphones and deciding which flavor of margarita they're going to get drunk on.  Meanwhile I am looking at my smartphone and a single tear rolls down my face.

Lost in the desert.  #adventurerun

My plan says this:  12- mile build on river path as 3 easy-3 steady- 3 stronger-3 very strong.
this is not about being fast -it is about doing the best you can on tired legs #ultramantraining

Immediately I am feeling sorry for myself.  Where's my easy recovery swim?  Maybe camp was supposed to feel easy and I don't need recovery?  Then why don't I feel like it was easy??

It was a slippery slope and needless to say there were no margaritas for me that night.  My husband drank a few margaritas to numb his tired body, but opted to retire to our casita early with me so that he could sherpa my run the next morning.

12 mile progression run on tried legs.  #ultramanstrong

We got up early to hit the river path.  My first 2 miles were slow and stiff.  10:45, and 10:30 respectively.  And then the stiffness and soreness from 5 days of camp just melted away and each mile was progressively faster.  I tried to keep them in groups of 3 as I was instructed.  My second 3 miles were closer to 945.  My 3rd set of 3 was around 9 or just under.  My last 3 miles?  824, 813, 735.  Those miles were faster than my progression run after the Mt. Lemmon ride.  And the best part was I felt fantastic by the end.  Like I could run forever.  Tired + Strong= Happy Place

And I still got to do my recovery swim later that afternoon.

3.  THE Ultraman Planning meeting!

After my run along the river path I sat down with Hillary for a 2 hour planning session.  We talked about everything pertaining to Ultraman.  Logistics.  Race strategy.  Nutrition.  Crew strategy.  Clothing options.  Anything and everything that might be important.  We made lists.  We looked at course profiles online.  We went over it all.  I felt a lot better about everything afterwards because I actually had a plan in place.  Hillary also reviewed the calendar for the next 6 weeks and we discussed where we could put all my final BIG workouts so I have a plan in place.

Hillary looks very excited about my impending suffering.

4.  The Lemmon Double.

A mere 5 days later I found myself back in Tucson, this time to tackle the Mt. Lemmon double.  Hillary had a second camp taking place and she thought it would be a good idea for me to climb the mountain twice with some SAG support in place.

I woke up that morning to a 3 am alarm and felt like my brain had been peeled out of dreamland.  You know that feeling when you wake up after a night of drinking and you're not hungover, but actually still drunk?  That's how I felt.  Only there was no drinking involved.  I felt dizzy.  And weak.  And slightly nauseated.  I am 100% certain it was a combination of being slightly dehydrated and calorically deprived from the day before.

The whole way to Tucson I blasted Avril Lavigne and Ana Nallick, while pounding calories and caffeine in hopes that I would wake up.  I parked at Le Buzz and took off on my bike in the early morning darkness.  There was no one in sight.  It was quiet and peaceful and watching the sun rise over the mountain, casting light over the varied terrain was spectacular.

Unfortunately I didn't appreciate my surroundings for long, and soon I was in survival mode.  I felt like dirt.  I drank my bottles filled with the usual calories, and ate some food but nothing was helping.  I cried.  A lot.  But I kept going.  After what seemed like an eternity I made it to the top of the main climb.  I pulled into the Palisades Visitor Center parking lot.  I got off my bicycle and sat down on the curb.  And I cried.  I cried believing that I was not going to do the second lap.  I was going to descend the mountain, go back to my car, and drive home with my tail between my legs.  I ate some more calories, dried my face, and started down.

As luck would have it, Hillary's group was only at mile 1 of the climb when I passed on my way down. I shouted over "this is not happening" and she responded "yes it is. You're fine". I stopped at the bottom of the climb, cried some more, took off my winter descending gear, ate some more and turned my bike around to head back up. It was quite possibly the hardest decision I've ever made. My car was 4 (flat) miles away. My pillow and bed were a 2 hour drive away. And I turned around for another 5 hours on the mountain.
Smiling because I finally caught up with SAG on lap 2!

I started catching the slower riders within a couple of miles and SAG passed me at around mile 3 and my friend Lauren yelled some encouragement out the window-- I immediately burst into tears. I stopped for SAG at mile 6 and basically cried the entire time I was eating/ refilling water.  

After my second trip up I pretty much looked like a zombie.
And then I got back on my bike and kept pedaling uphill. My second lap was much stronger than my first. Having company was such a boost and I forced myself to take in calories every 20 minutes. I made it to the top and sat like a zombie while everyone slowly arrived.

Pit stop with Team HPB teammate, Colleen.

When it was time to go, Hillary biked with me to the top of the climb out and then I descended alone. By the time I finished I was crying again, but not because I was feeling bad, but because I actually finished the ride when everything in me wanted to quit. Physically I've done way worse workouts/ races... but mentally-- major demons were conquered.

Here is what I learned. It is 100% mental. All of it. I was convinced that I had contracted the flu and that's why I felt so shitty on the first lap. I felt dizzy, weak, completely miserable. That ALL went away when I had calories in me and company on the road.

Mt. Lemmon Double:  second time up.

These are the instructions I told my crew that night after eating an entire pizza and sitting on the sofa for an hour:    No matter how many times I tell you I'm finished, I'm not finished. You can let me cry as long as I keep going. Tears felt like the only response my body had after a certain point. Please do not be afraid if I cry. Everything else felt like autopilot. Second lap up, I literally felt like a robot, programmed to do only what HPB told me to do. I had no feelings or emotions other than hunger/ thirst.

I know I am in very capable hands in 5 weeks.  I have tried to share as much of this journey with my crew as possible so that not only do they feel more a part of it, but they also know what I've been through.  And at mile 150 when I still have more than an hour to go on day 2, and 12 hours on day 3, they can remind me of The Lemmon Double.  

5.  Swimming with my paddler.

A few weeks ago we got an email from the assistant race director.  They "strongly encouraged" us to have one of our own crew members be our paddler during the swim.  Of course I immediately have a panic attack because a) I live in the desert b) none of my crew kayaks c) we are less than 7 weeks from race day.  I simultaneously messaged my entire crew/ cheer squad on our private FB page and emailed the assistant RD.  After a few hours, and many, many emails (Thank you, Dayle!!!) I finally came to the decision to do a test run with one of my cheer squad members.  

Marsha is one of my closest friends and when everyone was commenting on my post with "this is not ideal, but we'll do it" type of response she sent me a private text message explaining her background on the water, her comfort level, and her desire to be my kayaker.  Instantly I felt calmed by her confidence.  We set up a date to borrow a kayak from my colleague and take a practice run in Saguaro Lake.  

We were made for each other.  She tested my ability to follow the kayak by steering this way and that way.  I never had to pick up my head once because I could just breathe to my right and she was right there.  I could adjust my position based on how close I was to the kayak and didn't have to worry at all about where I was going.  I ended up swimming about 3/4 mile farther than I should have because I was just in my zen place.  

1 paddler + 1 swimmer + 1 kayak= fun morning on the lake!

And so ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce my 4th and final crew member, promoted from cheer captain!!  (Blog interview coming!!)

6.  10k is the new 5k.

I love swimming and I'm always anxious to see what type of long swims I have coming my way.  The 10k I've been doing lately looks like this:

Warm up: 1500 (specific set but not relevant to this post...)
5 times through this main set:
5 x 100 @ 1:25, 
500 swim for time
500 PBB cruise (so not totally easy, but not race pace)
Cool down:  1000 (specific set)

What I love is that even when I'm at 8k, I can hit my 100s on 1:25 no problem, and my 500s for time were on a 1:22 pace.  That is the benefit of Ultraman training.  During IM training, a 30 x 100 on 1:25 would have put me on the couch for 2 hours.  Now, it's like, whatever, I've been through worse.   I love these long, challenging sets.  I will be a little sad when Ultraman is over.  I might beg to do a 10k once a month just for fun.  :)

7.  Oceanside 70.3

The week of Oceanside we backed off the training just a touch to try to rest my legs for the race.  Even up to race morning I just didn't feel like I had much to give.  I texted my #bff and told her "I don't want to race today.  I want to stay in bed.  I am racing.  I just wanted to say how I really feel."  To which she responded with "LOL!"  Not exactly the sympathy I was looking for.  

I went through the whole pre-race routine and by the time we lined up for the swim start I was like, whatever, it'll be a short training day.  The swim was nothing special, but when I got onto my bike I felt so. fucking. strong.  Ridiculous strong.  Ultraman strong.

Representing Smash-Dimond:  we are STRONG!

I was pushing higher watts than I've ever been able to before in a 70.3, but yet never felt like I was going to blow up.  I could just keep going forever.  My legs were burning, for sure, but it's that tired + strong feeling that you probably only understand if you're doing the kind of training that would push your legs into that zone.  I can imagine it's what a ultrarunner feels like when he lines up for a half marathon.  It is the best feeling ever and if I wasn't so tired right now I might entertain the idea of another Ultraman in my future.  I LOVE this training.  I am eating it up.

Back to Oceanside.  When I got off my bike I had no idea what my run legs were going to look like.  But it was more of the same.  I felt SO STRONG.  I clicked off the first couple of miles a little too fast (like usual) and then settled into my planned pace for the run.  And I just stayed there.  It was amazing.  I've never felt like this in a race before.  I've had good races before but never a race where I was doing this well and felt so comfortable being so uncomfortable.  Ultraman training has definitely taken the ability to suffer to an entirely different level.  And it is so exciting.  

Photo courtesy of @tpspates :  Oceanside run course.

With the rolling start it was about an hour before I finally believed that I had actually won my age group.  There could always be someone who starts 20 minutes behind me in the swim and races faster.  So I waited and waited and the little number 1 next to my name on the Ironman tracker didn't change!!  I've been on the podium in Oceanside before, in 4th and in 2nd.  But this was my first ever age group win!  

And the best part about it was how great my body felt in the days after the race.  There was no soreness.  I was tired, like sleepy tired, but no measurable fatigue.  And when I did my first 30 minute jog a couple days later there was no requisite 10 minutes for my legs to feel like they weren't filled with lead.  I just felt normal.  Like I was going for an easy run.  My body is absorbing, recovering, and adapting, over and over, and it feels amazing.  

Photo courtesy of @smashfestqueen :  Our Smash-Dimond Team kits!!! LOVE!

8.  The final countdown.
Before I go, I want to share the second half of the interview that was recorded by Renee Hodges of Foundation Physical Therapy.  She and several of her athletes were racing in Oceanside last weekend too!  Always great to see them out on course working hard!  Click HERE to open the video!  The first half was shared in my last post-- so scroll down if you missed it and you can find the link there.  

I have 35 days left before I am lined up on the beach in Noosa ready to swim 10km, bike 420 km, and run 84.3 km.  I have 24 days before I board my flight.  I have 3 LONG rides left to do, one trip to the Grand Canyon, and one 50km training run.  I am trying to savor every single day because the time is slipping by so quickly.  It seems like just yesterday that I was nervously submitting my application to the Ultraman Australia team, when in reality it was 9 months ago.... (before Kona!)  And I know that if I blink my crew and I will be sitting at the awards banquet on May 16th and it will all be over.  I am excited and terrified, and hopeful, and grateful, and tired, and strong, and ready.  I am ready to be part of the Ultraman Ohana.  I am ready to do work, Kokua, to give everything that I have and all of my heart to this adventure that lies ahead of me.  I am ready to find my Aloha on the eastern coast of Australia.    


1 comment:

Bethany Jayne said...

Youre cool. You just are. :)