Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Blood, Sweat and Tears

We're now about five weeks out from Ironman Wisconsin, which means that I'm at that point where, more than a couple times, I've look ahead at my training schedule and either laughed (ha ha, good joke, like there's any way I'm going to be able to do THAT) or had a minor anxiety attack (no way, THAT is going to kill me). This last weekend was particularly dread-inducing, as I was scheduled to do 9+ hours of training, including the longest bike ride of my life and a 20+ mile run. At altitude, no less, without being entirely adapted thus far.

But before I even started to think about how I was going to physically handle this cruel and unusual punishment that I actually pay someone to send my way, I needed to find some suitable routes to log my miles. Enter the magic of Twitter. I told Liz I was looking for good routes, she and Jen put out a call on Twitter, and within minutes, Melissa, a Boulder triathlete, had reached out to help. After I told her what I was looking for -- a LONG route that was challenging but not too challenging, since I come from the land of flat and am not used to altitude -- she created a 100+ mile route that showcased Boulder and even sent me detailed notes pointing out highlights ("grab a beer in this hippy town, or maybe not, you're riding long,") and potential hazards ("watch out for rattlesnakes").** Triathletes are nice.

**(She told me later that there are often mountain lions on one part of the route, but she withheld that information so that I didn't get too scared. GOOD call).

Saturday morning came, I left "home" when it was still dark, and got to Boulder when it was light. And off I went, over rolling hills, through small towns, up and down moutain roads, in and out of canyons. The scenery, as expected, was amazing. The roads were flawless. Major climbs weren't frequent (thanks, Melissa!), but the ones I encountered were for real. Melissa warned me about one of them, a climb up to Carter Lake. She said it was "short but steep," but promised a reward of a general store with snacks at the top. I'll do anything for snacks, so up I went. In a couple minutes, when I was nowhere near the top, I realized that a "short" climb means something very different in Colorado than it does in Illinois. But, as promised, there were treats at the top (never mind that all I bought was water, I'm testing a fuel plan that, very unfortunately, does not include either Red Slushees or gummy bears), and a pretty lake, so it was all good.

Carter Lake

More pretty views

All good, of course, until 100 miles in, when the meltdowns started. There was one at 103 miles, when I started whimpering loudly after I turned a corner and saw (yet another) hill. Suddenly, I was sick of my ride. My shoulders hurt, my neck hurt, I was tired of climbing, tired of stop lights (there were only, like, 6 in my whole ride, so to be whining about that was just silly), tired of the wind, tired of the mental effort it took to keep trying to find my way on an unfamiliar route. I was just tired. Then, I almost ran over a rattlesnake. That was enough to snap me out of it...for a little. At Mile 113, the whimpers came back, this time with a couple tears thrown in for good measure (of course, these were toddler tears... you know, tears that come not because anything is wrong, not real tears, just tired, time for a nap tears). I was so close, but so far away. Suddenly, every mile seemed like it was taking 20 minutes, and I just wanted to be off the bike. Now.

Finally, after 118.5 miles, including only one wrong turn (that's big for me, as I'm slightly directionally challenged), I was done. I got off the bike, slogged my way through a 30 minute, very painful, oxygen-deficient run around the Boulder Reservoir, cleaned up, and hightailed it to the nearest Chipotle, where I dug into a carnitas burrito bowl with absolute reckless abandon.

The most emphatic "No Trespassing" sign I've ever seen

Then, Sunday rolled along, and a long run loomed. There's a certain type of anxiety only reserved for long runs, and of course, I dealt with the anxiety the way I always do... by avoiding the situation. I spent the day pushing off my long run, finding other things to do and excuses for why I needed to wait. I slept in. I joined Betsy and Clare at brunch, then figured what I really needed was a short nap. Short nap became long nap. Then, of course, there were Very Important Things to read on the internet. YouTube videos I just had to watch. Emails to catch up on. Finally, at almost 6:00, I resigned myself to the fact that I couldn't avoid this run forever, got in my car, and drove an hour to Denver, where I'd scoped out a long, crushed-gravel trail.

The site of the longest 21 miles ever

If my bike ride had been hard, my 21 mile run went to a whole new level. The first hour was OK. I was keeping it easy, and surprised myself by actually hitting the same pace I'd hold at sea level. Hour 2 got a little more hilly and a lot more difficult to keep hitting the same pace. I started panicking a little, looking ahead to and envisioning a very painful final six miles. But, I pushed on.

By the end of that second hour, it was getting dark. I looped back to my car and grabbed a headlamp, and got back on the very, very dark path. My legs were killing, the fatigue had set in, and when I saw a set of glowing green eyes staring out at me from the side of the path, I was pretty sure I had started hallucinating. Then I looked a little closer, and I realized I was in a staredown with a coyote. I was pretty sure that coyotes didn't attack humans (wikipedia has since confirmed that coyote attacks on humans are rare) but it certainly brought my heart rate up a bit.

A mile later, when I was even more sick of running, even more fatigued, I spotted four sets of glowing green eyes. One coyote may not attack, but will a pack of four?? I didn't want to find out, and frankly, it was an absolutely terrifying sight. With every muscle in my body screaming in protest, I picked up the pace and tried to get back to my car as quickly as possible.

Finally, I hit mile 19, and started feeling a little relief-- two miles, I can do this. As always, famous last words. A half mile later, the gravel path I was on rose up to meet a small stretch of concrete, I lost my footing, and wiped out. Hard.

At that point, laying on my back on a dark running path, I had my final meltdown of the weekend. I knew I was bleeding. I'd landed hard on my elbow, the same elbow that randomly swelled up to about the size of my head last time I crashed on it. I thought I'd felt a hamstring pull when I was going down. Who knew what I'd done to my problem knee. I laid there, staring at the sky, and I lost it. I was afraid to move and see what damage I'd done. I had a very definite fear that I'd just ruined my season. Mostly, I was terribly frustrated at my inability to get through a workout anymore without issue.

After a few minutes, I gathered the courage to get up, brush myself off, and assess the damage. Fortunately, it wasn't too bad. A few bruises. A skinned elbow. But my legs felt OK, and I finished off the rest of the run without incident.

Monday morning, I woke up, after a fitful night of sleep punctuated by "oh, ow, ouch" wakeups every time I rolled onto one of my new bruises, feeling like I'd been beaten from head to toe by a mallet. I lazed around for the morning with Betsy and Clare, watching the Olympics, then went to a pool and tried to "swim" a little to work out the soreness from the weekend. 1100 VERY slow yards later (I think the old lady sidestroking in the next lane was keeping up with me), I called it a day, played with Clare in the lazy river for awhile until I got too cold, lounged in the sauna, ate a delicious lunch of pulled pork and sweet potato fries, and then got home and took a two-hour nap. This a Monday for me these days. Rough life. Such a rough life.

Looking back, this was definitely a memorable training weekend. There were great highs, great views, and many moments when I felt awesome and couldn't get over how lucky I was to be out in Colorado, doing what I love. But then, there were the meltdowns, too. Although they comprised only a very small portion of my training time, it was those very low lows that really stood out. I'm told occasional meltdowns during training are totally normal, and actually, good practice, since there will be quite unhappy moments in Ironman and it's important to know how to work through them. Doesn't make them fun, though. And doesn't do anything to build my ego. I want to believe I'm a tough chick, able to take whatever is thrown at me, and crying during training.... doesn't really fit into that picture. But if it makes race day a little easier to deal with, then I'll tell myself I'm OK with it.

What I would not be OK with, however, is ever again encountering a pair of glowing green eyes in the middle of the night while running alone. THAT is a vision will haunt me for a long, long time.

I have no pictures of the coyotes since I was trying not to get eaten, but here's a random picture of YET ANOTHER herd of elk, just hanging out where they don't belong (e.g., a soccer field). I counted 48 this time.



  1. Oh yes, your IM training meltdowns sound about right. We did one of those huge weekends 2 weeks ago (which makes sense, since we have 3 weeks left till Canada) and it's a doozy - really it's just about survival after a point, especially during that ridiculously long run the day after the longest ride ever (thank goodness the ELF only had us do 115 this year instead of the 120 I did a few years back).

    That danger sign is totally scary! Even just sitting here at my desk it's freaking me out.

  2. Wee! I found your blog. It was great to meet you and I'm happy you enjoyed that long ride. That sign at the Res is one of the best ever. Certain Death. Boulder is so weird.