Monday, June 25, 2007

An Autopsy: French Creek Iron Tour

Well wasn't that a tad bit unpleasant?

And when I say a tad bit unpleasant, I really mean along the lines of eye surgery without anesthesia or elephant birth.

Sunday was just not my day. Just. Not. My. Day.

In order to appreciate how it went down (or, actually, up), you need to know how my Saturday went. Lovely! Mighty M and I had an "agenda free day," which in our household means we wake up whenever we want, we wander around the house doing chores without pressure, and maybe even run a lazy errand or two. We managed to put a new faucet in the kitchen without killing each other (home repair does not bring us together...more like brings out the worst in each of us), cleaned up after a busy week, and generally got our house in order.

So, when 8:00 rolled around and I finally realized that if I didn't run NOW, then I would miss my long run for the week, I grabbed my shoes and watch and got outta dodge. Ten miles in under 2 hours -- nice and strong, in fact 11:10 minute miles. BUT, of course there was the Sunday ride to consider.

And if not consider, perhaps sabotage.

Mistake # 1 : Leg drain.


And although I came back feeling great from the run, I didn't listen to the Yoda voice in my head telling me to eat. I was just too rushed to get things together and settled on some custard and, well, nothing else.

Good lord, what was I thinking?

(Oh, yes...and for those who know me know that I already learned this damnable lesson! With the same run course and THE SAME RUN TIME, almost to the minute! That makes it all the more frustrating to go through again!)

Mistake # 2 : Empty the tanks.

Sleep came after some running around to get all my nutrition and gear together -- sometime around 11:30 or midnight. Wake up call at 6:00. So that's, like, six hours of sleep. I'm not even pleasant on seven hours, much less six.

Mistake #3 : Lack of sleep.

Tried to get some food in me, as I was actually hungry in the morning. (Go figure, Watson!) Big bowl of cereal and a small coffee first, load the car, and then headed to the site. By the time I had gone through registration and got the bike setup, it was time to hit the road. At that point, I probably had 300 calories on board. I didn't feel the impending bonk yet, but I should have known. Seriously, I got a 5 on the math AP, but I can't manage to add up my calorie intake?


Mistake #4 : Slacking on pre-ride fuel

And I was off. I had my Garmin with me, so I kept an eye on my heartrate for a while. That is, until the first hill, which was a doosey. Like with the Taxing Metric (on these very same roads!), the first hill was one of the hardest. Soon it became apparent that the frequency of inclines and the occasional serious hill was going to make it very hard to conserve energy or have a good average mph.

In the first hour I had a 1/2 a bottle of Perpetuem. That's it.

Hour two? Second half of Perpetuem and 1/2 a bottle of Heed. That's it.

Approximate intake? 400 calories.

Mistake #5: Waiting too long to start "eating" and drinking

From there on out, I think the damage was already done. The hills were giving me little reprieve and I had very little energy to throw at them. I became dehydrated early -- of course -- and started craving water. I skipped the first stop (at 12 miles, when I was still feeling alright) and the next was at 30 miles.

Where I spent 38 minutes. Recovering. Drinking as much as I could. Looking desperately for nonexistent bananas (how can a rest stop NOT have bananas??). Staring at the map that showed how many, many more miles the group had to go for the 100 mile route.

And calling Mighty M. Because I was scared. Of my legs and my energy. He told me to think of next weekend and push through the 50 miles, so my brick run would really tell me something. I agreed in theory, but doubted my ability.

And this whole time, I'm wondering what the hell happened.

Seriously. What the hell happened??

I've been off the bike for about two weeks now because of it being in the shop and getting new bars, but before then I was riding 50, 60, and 70 mile routes without complaint for weeks. Can you lose that much progress in 10 lousy days?

I started doubting everything -- next week's half iron distance, any slim hope to make it through the iron bike. Everything. I was my own worst enemy at that rest stop.

38 minutes of this.

Mistake #6: Losing focus, big time.

From here on out, it was about survival for me. Just getting to the end of the road. When we were back on familiar ground, I decided to cut the 50 mile route short and just head back to the parking lot. But, in my survival state, I simply continued to follow the arrows on the road. Which, of course, did not lead back to the parking lot...they let out to the next loop of the course.

The next loop of the course.

Good grief.

So, one more rest stop (thankfully much shorter this time!) and back to the car. 52 total miles. Very close to the half iron distance. So at least I have that to put in my back pocket.

Next: a run off the bike.

I have never in my life looked forward to running more than this moment. Never. If it meant that I was done with the lousy hill climbing, I was game.

Did a quick changeroo in the parking lot and headed back out to the course. Got a number of second-take glances from the volunteers who couldasworn they just saw me bike in the other direction.

The run was short and uneventful. And the only good thing that happened since the night before, and that was merely happenstance. Alright, maybe a byproduct of all the time I've been putting into my running recently. At least I didn't manage to screw that up, too.

When I got back, I was cooked. My legs were cooked. I felt the tendons in my upper back and neck that got a workout when I was out of the saddle so often on the ride. My knees were already screaming at me.

And I was mentally cooked. I had blown it and I knew it. I had a chance to get a full century of hills in -- making a major training milestone -- and I blew it.

I learned so much from the experience, but the unpleasantness is still draped over me, even this morning. Being out there with no energy and no outlet was horrible. To know that I could have prevented it with better planning made things worse.

I'm a big optimist in real life. I'm always finding new perspectives for friends who are in bad spots and searching for a lesson in the wreckage.

So, I go through that process again, but this time it feels less restorative. I know what I learned from the day -- rest and good planning are essential for long days, a lack of good nutrition will kill your ride, and consistency is key.

But they don't make me feel any better. And even though I know I can run the 13.1 miles, and I just completed a 52 mile course that has the same or more climbing than Sunday's race, and I have a slow but consistent swim -- I just don't feel confident.

My mental game is off, and yesterday didn't help. Neither did last Thursday -- when I swam in my wetsuit for the first time and found it to be a little too large and much heavier to manage in the water than I had hoped. That didn't help either.


Is this the mental part of the sport? Is this the psychological side of preparing? Will I work through these fears and arrive at the starting line with some hope in place of this fear?

Because right now I'm discouraged. I need a good bike before next Sunday. I need to find my confidence out there again. I need to feel that "it" factor before I dip my toe in the Monongahela river. I need to know that the unexpected -- the unplanned and unpredictable -- will not be coming from me. To know that I'm prepared for the unplanned and unpredictable that the course will throw my way.

Maybe this is the respect for the distance I should have before a race like this. With so much focus on September, perhaps this is the heavy mental baggage a half ironman can dump on you when you're not paying attention, pretending like you can train through something of this distance. Perhaps this past weekend was a wonderful gift -- a warning of what can happen, and how hard it can hurt, if you are casual about 1.2/56/13.1. I'm in training, but I'm no machine.

Perhaps I just was reminded to be humble again.

Well, it worked. I am humble. I respect the distance. I get it now.


Bolder said...

respect the distance.


live and learn!

mishele k said...

Spit happens, especially in training. Live and learn (or in my case, live and learn and learn again til after a dozen or so eff-ups with nutrition and training prep you finally get it. Kinda).

Good for you for running. I'd have thrown a pity party on my drive outta the parking lot.