The past 7 days have tested me again. Here we are, three months before my big race, and I have had moments where I felt completely broken. Last week, I biked 75 miles and ran for 60 minutes afterward, but was so exhausted that I skipped out on my ocean swim and 15-miler the next day, instead opting to go home and sleep for a few hours, and then, later, I made a feeble attempt at running, only seven miles along the beach.
I felt determined to pick things back up again, but, every workout, my limbs felt weighted, and I struggled against them, from sluggy swim, to burdened, burned-out bike, to ragged run. Finally, on Friday morning, I felt a break-through on the swim, a sudden burst of power that hadn’t been there in ages. My arms and torso pulled and twisted in unison, leaving me gliding through the pool like a regular sea creature, through endless 300s, speed drills and pacing drills. I left the pool that morning thinking that perhaps I’d gotten back that mojo I’d lost in the last few weeks.
We knew Saturday would be hot, and that there would be 80 miles of hills to climb. On top of everything, my knees had been a little achey all week from last week’s hilly bike ride. I asked to take the alternate “below the waist injury” route that the coaches had devised, which skipped the Cat 4 climbs, but still included several Cat 5 climbs. No biggie, considering what we’d been doing.
I clipped myself in and headed out on the route, keeping a high cadence and letting the morning air chill what little arm I had peeking out between my warmers and my sleeveless tri top. I looked down and saw that I was going at a good 18-20 mph. I felt okay, like, maybe I could get through this thing without crumbling, or feeling too much pain. 35 minutes in, I wasn’t feeling that sentiment as much. My leg power reverted back to its mid-week faiblesse, and I knew this whole thing was going to be a struggle. I felt cyclists whom I was perfectly capable of passing, or, at least, staying in time with, zoom by me. I gritted my teeth, turned up my gears, and pushed harder, but my bursts of power faded and became less intense as the sun began to turn up the heat.
As I continued on, struggling against my own physical weakness, I noticed that my new Adamo saddle was also beginning to bug me. Adamos are lauded by many triathletes because they have a cut-out in the front, and no nose, so there is nothing to violently smash and chafe a person’s more sensitive areas. However, they are both wider and a bit harder than your average bike saddle, and their positioning forces a person to sit on the sit-bones, as opposed to the mid or front of the saddle, which takes more than a bit of getting used to. Their site’s FAQ specifically mentions that the body must adapt to the saddle, and that it takes several rides to “build up” to comfort. Well, my body was not used to it yet, and the saddle uncomfortably dug into the crease where my thighs met my body on either side, as well as ground into my sitbones. After a while, it would go numb, and I would have some relief, but a change in position would leave me aching again.
After the first 26-mile loop, I had a feeling that two more rounds were going to be tough on me. By the fourth Cat 5 climb, my knees were unhappy. I stopped at our SAG point, grabbed some water, and met up with Coach Dave, where I told him that my knees were bugging me. He told me to cut myself off at two loops, and, disappointed as I was, I agreed that today just wasn’t my day. Tail between legs, I hopped back on my torture device, and started the slow wheel back home. Meanwhile, my right foot started to hurt, right where the pedal sat, under the fourth toe. At first, it was tolerable, but, by mile 45, it was killing me! I began whimpering as I pushed my foot and pedal up the hill. That was that. I phoned up our rescue SAG person, and he came and scooped me up, defeated and miserable.
I still managed to get in an hour run immediately afterward, but I felt so disappointed in myself that I hadn’t been able to complete 80 miles with the rest of the team. Well, not everyone finished the whole thing. Some had worse days than I did. Still, I have yet to have an amazing bike ride. I don’t even know what that feels like.
Jason suggested that I stop mashing such heavy gears, focus on my quad strength and my technique, which I will attempt in the near future. Still, I worry about making my cutoff at Wildflower if I go that route. I know mashing is bad for a person’s knees, but, if that’s the only way I know how to go faster, how can I train myself the other way in time for a tough race? It’s a concern, that’s for sure.
The next day, we gathered in Santa Monica for our regular ocean swim session. As we got up to the water, I choked, remembering the high, scary waves that had occurred last time I found myself in that big body of brine. Coach Quinton stayed with me the whole time, making sure he was in my line of sight as we navigated the smallish waves on the way out. I found it hard to catch my breath in the chilly water, but, eventually, I was able to keep going more than a few strokes at a time.
Before I knew it, I was out of the water, exhausted, but feeling accomplished that I didn’t let my fear get the best of me. Finally, we were onto the run, and I was feeling ready for the 17 miles we were about to accomplish.
Our coaches planned the route along the CicLAvia To The Sea event, a city-wide block party in Los Angeles that ran from Downtown L.A. to Venice Beach. What a sight for L.A! No cars, just people of all ages and races out enjoying the weather on bikes, rollerblades, and on foot. As we ran along sidewalks in our purple TNT gear, random folks would shout, “Go Team!” from the crowd in the street. It felt like some kind of crazy, reverse-world marathon!
The sun was working overtime that day as well, as we ran up Venice Blvd. My Nuun-filled water bottles were sucked dry by the time I got to SAG at Mile 6 (and we had stopped at a Taco Bell to refill them and go to the bathroom at Mile 4), and I was down to very little by the time we neared Fairfax, our turnaround point, two and a half miles up the road. Luckily, one of our teammates, Rob, came to the rescue, offering us ice pops, ice and water to fuel us forward on the next leg.
By the time I got back to Kris, my bottles were again drying up. I refilled with more Nuun, which wasn’t my typical long run electrolyte (I’m a Gatorade gal on a long run), but I’d thought, “I’ll be fine. I have two GUs and a Stinger waffle–what could go wrong?” Not even a mile out of our last SAG stop, I felt it happening. My legs slowed down, my eyes felt droopy. I was bonking, hard. Wuh-oh! Luckily, I still had Gu #2 stashed away. I slowed to a walk, and sucked it down, along with some sips of Nuun. I hoped it would get me through the last five miles of the run.
About ten or fifteen minutes after my Gu shot, my energy returned for a bit. My pace picked up and I managed to get in some conversation as I continued forward. The initial burst of energy flagged a bit by Mile 14, where I took a couple of early walk breaks to get through the rough patches. The last mile, my endurance returned, and I finished strong. All in all, I finished in under three hours and ten minutes, and, with all of the stopping (stop lights, SAG stops, bathroom breaks), the crowds, and lallygagging, and bonking because of the heat, I think that wasn’t half bad.
Afterward, a teammate and I stood in the ocean for a bit to cool off our legs, a natural ice bath. What a weekend!
Sometimes I think that I’m not getting any better as an athlete, because of these hardships, but, as Coach Quinton put it to me this weekend, “You’re trying to hit a goal, but the goal post keeps moving, the training keeps getting harder. So, you are getting better, but you won’t know it until your race.” I sure hope he’s right!
Here are some pix:
[All photos are credited to Paiwei Wei]