Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

As it Stands

I was pretty freaked out by Monday about my ankle. Not sure if this has come up before, but I don't have health insurance. That means that if I fall off my bike and break my collar bone, I am (going to censor my language for the protection of readers who are younger and/or related to me). So all day at work, people kept asking, "Have you seen a doctor yet?" No! You know I don't have health insurance, so you should know that the medical profession is a last-resort type of thing for me! But of course, everyone thinks that doctors are the end-all-be-all to telling you how your body works and what it needs (here's a quick clue: they're not).

But having everyone tell me how important it was that I get it checked out was really making stressed. I started creating scenarios: what if it is broken, or torn? What if I have to have some kind of surgery? What if my ankle is permanently screwed unless I do such-and-such A.S.A.P.?

Then I talked with one of my physical therapist friends (who began by saying, "Have you seen a doctor yet?"). I know there's no telling without an X-ray or possibly and MRI, but in her opinion, the ankle's not swollen enough to indicate break, tear, rupture, or anything else equally unpleasant. She recommended that I go through as full and natural a range of motion with it as possible and put as much weight on it as I could stand. In other words, treat it as close to normally as you can.

So I hobbled around on crutches for a couple days (just to take some of the weight off the leg), and each day has gotten progressively better. Today I'm off the crutches and walking almost normally; if you didn't know I'd been hurt, you wouldn't notice me limping. Ankle is still swollen, and there's going to be some pretty severe bruising, I'm sure. It's tender on the medial side of the Achilles (but it was always sore there, where I have tendinitis), and on the lateral front ankle, where I think I hyper-stretched something (peroneals, maybe?).

I've been swimming with a pull buoy, and lifting weights. I guess one good thing about this injury is that it forces me to do the two things I haven't been doing at all over the past month or two! I think I'll be back on the bike by the weekend, and if it's feeling all right, I'll go ahead and race women's cat 4 at the DeStad opener this weekend; I was really wanting to do all five of those races!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Race Report: Wichita Cyclocross Weekend, Day 1

I shouldn't have tried to do this race.

I was taking one more lap to practice the course before we started staging. I didn't really want to (it hurt!), but I figured I should make the best of my last 15 minutes and not let my body get cold. Coming up on the second set of barriers, I was moving too fast. I didn't release my right foot in time. My front wheel ran into the barrier. My bike tried to go up and over. My foot tried to stay in the same place. My ankle sort of got caught in the middle.

It seems like I have a pretty hardcore sprain. I've got a puffy, flesh-colored tennis ball connecting my shin to my foot. It was extremely painful for a while. Like crying and quivering kind of painful. Now it's just faded to a dull ache. Hurts to dorsiflex.

As soon as I could (probably about the time the ibuprofen kicked in, actually), I got up and started walking around. USAT club championship is tomorrow at Redman; I was slated to race the sprint. I figured that if nothing else, I could walk the 5k, assuming I could walk. Driving home from the race, I was convincing myself that I could do it, that I should at least drive down to Oklahoma City and see how I felt tomorrow.

My best friend, who broke her ankle freshman year of college (it's still not back to normal), talked me back out of it again. She pointed out that if I tried to walk/run tomorrow, I might damage the ankle further; I might damage it permanently. And she also questioned whether I should really try driving on the interstate (this is my right foot, we're talking about). Sure, I can depress the brake and the accelerator. But if something ran out in front of me and I had to brake quickly, would I be able to?

Ultimately, it's not worth the risk. Redman was important to me, but it's probably not worth the potential long-term problems that running (ha! hobbling) on it at this stage might cause.

So I'm sitting at home with frozen vegetables wrapped around my ankle, which is propped up on a chair.

And the worst part is that I don't even get to try out my new, over-priced, team custom Oakleys.

(Um, actually the worst part is that this is the end of my tri season and I was in great shape for it. But the sunglasses thing is funnier.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Next Step: Single-Sport Focus

This is the standard view for me when riding with the full-time cyclists.

You are a triathlete. That means you train for three sports simultaneously. You are (as one of my friends once put it) striving to be solidly mediocre in three sports. That means that when you pit yourself up against dedicated swimmers, focused cyclists, and well-trained runners, you are probably going to come up short. Why? Because you're not trying to be the best swimmer, biker, or runner; you're trying to be the best triathlete.

But when the triathlon season is over, there's no reason to continue to pursue adequate mediocrity in three sports at once. Why not focus on just one sport, and get really, really good at it? What if you can make your "solidly mediocre" as good as a single-sport athletes' top performance?

It was this step, more than any other, that brought me more success as a multisport athlete. Running was always my weakness. I didn't like it; I didn't want to do it; it was my primary limiter in every race I did.

But I signed up for a half marathon anyway. And then I did another one. And somewhere in that training to go long, I encountered a runner within myself that I didn't know existed. I started to enjoy running, to look forward to it, to consider myself a runner. Of course, once the triathlon season came back around, I became (once again) a triathlete. But the hard work I'd put in and the improvement I'd seen stuck around, and by this season, I was running 8:30/mile instead of 9:20.

My guess is that for most triathletes who weren't previously athletic, running is the limiter. If you came from a running or cycling background, swimming is probably your biggest struggle. If cycling is your weakness, that's completely legitimate, too. Whatever your weakest sport is, you need to figure that out (I bet you already know it, if you think about it). My recommendation to you is that you do an end-of-season focus on that sport.

The alternative to choosing your weakness is to choose what you like. You probably won't see as much benefit going into next season, as far as catching up to your competition, but you will still come back stronger, more capable, and more confident in your abilities. Last year, I focused on a half marathon at the end of the season, and it saw my average speed drop by 50-60 seconds per mile; this season, I'm focusing on cyclocross and group riding, and I think by the end of next season, I can easily be averaging 22 MPH. That's not going to provide as great an edge as if I were to drop my run times by another 30 seconds per mile. But cyclocross is fun and I'm enjoying racing with my cycling team. (FYI, I'm planning to do a half marathon and marathon after the cyclocross season).

Once you figure out which sport you're going to focus on, here's what you do:

Swim: Find a swim meet in your area or close enough to drive to. Determine which events you'll compete in. Challenge yourself! Don't do three long-distance freestyle events; try the 100 breaststroke, or the 200 IM. Developing your skills in the other competitive swim strokes will give you more overall strength and confidence in the coming year, as well as balance out your muscular engagement (which will reduce your chance of shoulder injury).

From there, you have two options: join a masters swim team and work with them on preparing to race your target meet, or prepare on your own. If you're going to prepare on your own, you need to make a plan. It could be as simple as committing to swim 5 days a week; it could be as involved as building a periodized schedule with weekly yardage and daily training objectives. Read up on swimming--coaching techniques, tapering, stroke mechanics, and so on. The more you learn about your swim stroke from this phase, the more you'll have to bring into your next tri season. If you're going with a masters group, be sure your coach knows about your plans and goals; he or she might not write up a whole plan for you, but you'll get some more specific help in workouts, and maybe even some workouts written with you especially in mind.

Bike: Again, you pick an event. It might be a race. It might be a series of races. It might be a tour; check at a local bike shop, as they'll usually have flyers up, or will at least know the cycling scuttlebutt. Whatever your event, commit to it (psst: that means go ahead and register!). Once you've chosen what to do, start riding with a group. Start with a casual, local ride; again, check with a local bike shop. Be sure to ascertain what kind of pace the group keeps (you need to be able to hang in) and what kind of purposes the ride serves. If you're racing (as opposed to doing a long tour), I highly recommend you find a friend who's into the cycling scene and has some experience with racing. Cycling races aren't quite as beginner-friendly (and not nearly as welcoming) as triathlons. Be prepared for that.

Commit yourself to getting out of your comfort zone. If you're used to riding triathlon-style, you probably prefer to train by yourself. You're not necessarily used to hanging in a draft; you don't often need to feel responsible for holding your line. These are things that are valuable for a triathlete to learn and be comfortable with, just likes it's beneficial to be able to swim all four competitive strokes (yes, even butterfly).

Run: This is probably the easiest of the three to focus on in the off-season. You have a few options available to you as far as how you pursue this emphasis, but all of them start with the same basic premise: choose an event! Maybe you want to gun for a PR at the mile, 5k, or 10k distances. Maybe you want to run your first marathon or half marathon. Maybe you want to try something new, like trail running. Whichever it is, choose an event and commit to it (yep, that means register)!

If you're prepping for a PR, you should already have run the distance you'll be gunning for. You should have an appropriate base of distance built up. And you should already have been working in some intensity (i.e. sprints, intervals, track work). Set up a detailed plan with a couple of speed workouts a week, a long run that isn't more than 50% of your weekly volume, and some cross-training. If you're looking for speed, I recommend 5 days of running per week; if you're not running at least 4, are you really doing a single-sport focus?

If you're shooting for your first half marathon or marathon, it's all about building distance slowly and safely. Otherwise you get hurt. Plan on 3-5 days of running per week, with at least 2 days of cross-training. Look not so much at daily volume as weekly volume, especially at the beginning. The long run becomes all-important eventually, but at first you need to accustom your body to taking so many miles. When in doubt, take it slow. Never increase weekly mileage by more than 10%; never increase your longest run by more than 10%. And don't do all your mileage in one big, long run!

The main physiological benefit you derive from a single-sport focus (in my opinion) is putting in all the time. Because you're not dividing yourself (at least) three ways (we're not even getting into weight lifting, flexibility, yoga, and bricks), you have a lot more time and energy to devote to quality workouts in a single sport. And that leads to big improvement fast.

But equally important is the psychological benefit--you become more confident. I went last year from claiming that my strength was transitions to firmly believing "I am a runner!" And the same will happen to you, whether you choose to spend this season focusing on swimming, biking, or running (or something else entirely; why not focus on weight lifting or yoga?).

So. Which one will you be doing?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Derby Rock 'n' Route Pics!

Being anti-social and focused pre-race
Still with the ear-buds!
Not me swimming, but that's what it looked like.
Smoking T1!
My bike looks so little with me on it!
Heading out on the run.
And . . . podium!
And that was Derby Rock 'n' Route in pictures! 

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Next Step: Race to Train

Last time, I discussed the need to train like you race; the day of an event is not an effective time to try out new ideas.

The other side of that equation is to race the way you train. But if you ask me, the relationship between the two is not exactly reciprocal. For example, let's say you do some tempo runs--that is, runs at race pace. And in these tempo runs, you keep your heart rate at around 165 BPM. But then you go out to a race, and end up averaging 171 for 5k. You don't blow up and you don't feel like you worked that much harder, but your heart rate ends up being outside of your race pace zone. You didn't race the way you trained.

There's nothing wrong with that. Racing presents a different mindset and different conditions and a different environment than you encounter in everyday training. And on some level, you can't train for that.

Which is why, if you want to get faster, at some point you start racing to train.

Think about it. Not every race is top priority for pros; you can't expect them to peak for Timberman the same way they peak for Kona. They have A priority races and B priority races and C priority races . . . they might do some races just for fun, some for the community, some for the money, and some for the fame. And while we age groupers may not be peaking hard core so we can be in top shape to win $200,000, we can take a lesson from this.

Long story short? Race as much as you want to. Race as much as you can afford to. Race as much as you can.

That includes single-sport racing. So you've got a 5-mile tempo run scheduled for Saturday? Why not hit your local 5k, with a mile to warm up and a mile to cool down? It's not that you're trying to set a new 5k PR at Podunkville's Summer Fun Run; it's that it gives you an opportunity to practice the race-day thrill, the competitive environment, and the surge of adrenaline as you toe the starting line.

I've found that the more I've raced, the more comfortable I've become with racing. At a certain point, you (I hope) got over the newbie nerves--not the butterflies in the stomach that flutter as you approach the big day (those are fun), but the feeling that everyone at the race is faster than you, better than you, and knows more about what they're doing. The next step is to perceive yourself as someone who is faster, better, and knows what he/she is doing. That gives you a confidence and a presence that (I think) translates to faster times and more intense races (it has for me, at any rate).

There are a few drawbacks to the race-to-train mentality. For one thing, it's expensive. Let's say you want to race a tri a month (probably $50 minimum for entry fee, not to mention travel, nutrition, and accommodations), then also do a race-to-train 5k ($20-$30, probably) and a local road race or time trial ($20-$30). Congratulations. You've just racked up $100 in one month just on race entry. And that's assuming that your races were pretty cheap and you didn't have to travel.

So how do you get around that? You go with a group, and everyone in the group has the understanding that you're going balls-to-the-wall and racing. It's easy to find a group cycling ride that has that mentality, but don't go there unless you have a road bike (take the damn aero bars off, for God's sake), have decent handling skills, are comfortable riding in a pack, and can hold 18-20 MPH. Not every cyclist-centric group ride is going to have those requirements, but based on my experience with group cycling workouts, if you don't have those things, you're not going to have much fun (and you may end up in a crash or--even worse--causing a crash). 

Alternatives: go out with a group of triathletes for a no-drafting casual "group" race. You won't get to catch up with Steve about how his two kids are doing in cross country, but you'll have raced to train (sort of) without having to drop $20 on a time trial. You can also look for a semi-formal time trial; Wichita has one (every other Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., see for details), so I assume that they have them just about everywhere. They're free, they're timed, and someone will hold your bike for you so you can do a fancy TT start.

Competitive running groups (it seems) are harder to come by. Maybe there's a running or tri club that does regular track workouts you can join; those always end up as races at our track workouts. Same goes for Masters swimming; I know sometimes the atmosphere in a lane can get pretty competitive. Or you could do a "catch me if you can!" set.

These aren't perfect replacements for regular racing, but if money is a concern, it's probably worth it to sacrifice perfect preparation for the hundreds of dollars in entry fees you'll save. 

A fear I had as I got more into racing and became more and more confident in my abilities was that I'd lose the nervous thrill that comes before a race. I remember being completely unable to sleep the night before my first race. I had strange dreams that I was running late and didn't get to start on time. I was nervous in the week leading up to it. And I was so keyed up on race day that I could barely speak.

My experience has been that I don't (usually) get very worked up for the B and C priority races. But when it comes time for the A game, the nerves go into full swing. I don't think that feeling ever really goes away; I hope it doesn't.

When it comes right down to it, nothing is going to prepare you for racing like racing will. So be prepared to fill in your schedule a little, next year. Give yourself the depth of experience to present your best at next season's A race.