Week 4: Is It Not Monday?

Yes, that’s a beer. The mountain bike guys gave it to me after our last long run. It’s not that weird. Photo: Leslie

I don’t know. All the days are a bit of a blur. This week was training camp week, which means everything from Thursday afternoon to yesterday afternoon was just: run, eat, sleep, bike, bike, bike, eat, swim, sleep, swim, eat, eat, bike, change flat tire, sleep, bike hard, run hard, throw up a little, sleep, run more.

That’s actually a fairly accurate summary. Continue reading “Week 4: Is It Not Monday?”

Why I Started Crying on the Top of Mt. Lemmon

I wrote this right after training camp in Arizona in early March, but then I also had written a story about training camp for espnW, so I decided to wait until that ran to publish this. Then, my editor asked me if I had thought more about why I randomly started crying. And I was like, OH, HAVE I. (And also, for the record, all this anger/confidence mellowed out some right before Galveston; we’ll see if it comes back.) So here is my original post:

There’s been this thing recently — as is perhaps obvious — where I haven’t really felt the desire to write stuff here. And I could say it’s because I’m tired and busy (sure, true, whatever), but it’s also because I’ve been fighting this weird simmering unease and anger that’s hard to pin down and that seems to be intricately connected to triathlon in some way that I can’t explain. Since there was no clear and perky thing to write, I didn’t write.

But then I was thinking about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ idea that you write not to make an argument, but to refine your argument in the first place. Not to answer questions, but to understand which questions are the ones you should be asking. And I realized the question wasn’t why I wasn’t blogging or why do I want to punch the old men who make vaguely sexist comments at me when I’m running. Those answers are somewhat obvious. The question really came down to: Why did I start crying at the top of Mt. Lemmon at training camp last weekend? (Less obvious actually.)

Have you seen the new Under Armour ad campaign? The first gymnastics video made me want to go fuck some shit up, but the subsequent Michael Phelps ad did that + so much more. I wanted to break things and cry and prove everyone wrong and buy Under Armour. Kidding, but not really.

Almost every female athlete I know who watches this has had the same reaction. I thought everyone was having the same reaction. But then I showed Steve and he was: *shrug,* the same as Nike. And one guy after another agreed. It was not that interesting to them. The more I think about this, the more I think this isn’t coincidental.

It’s in the tone of the ads, in the darkness of them. Nike’s “Just do it” is a great ad slogan, particularly for guys who have always been permitted to just do it. For women, though, there’s an element that it doesn’t capture. There’s a part of “just do it” that doesn’t speak to all the times you’re not supposed to do it, of putting in the work when no one even wants you to anyway, when you’re being told you should be doing something else, that you shouldn’t be doing this. I think that’s why these Under Armour ads, this slogan — “it’s what you do in the dark that lets you shine in the light” — resonate with female athletes.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the gendered expectations of what I should or shouldn’t be doing lately. Because, I swear to God, I can’t go a day without someone asking me to justify my life to them. Why aren’t I having kids yet? If I’m not having kids, shouldn’t I be climbing the corporate ladder or something? When am I going to get a real job? Oh, this triathlon thing you’re doing must be nice; it’d be so great to have that kind of time.

The idea that I have made a conscious decision to see how fast I can get right now and have made choices to support that effort is so alien as to be an entirely different language. In fact, now, I’m wondering if I should just start sign language-ing the next time I find myself in this conversation. *Signing: I do not acknowledge your boxes; stop trying to put me in them.*

It has also recently come to my attention that I don’t necessarily look like I should be a good athlete. This isn’t a passive-aggressive call for compliments, but a fact. I suppose it’s because I’m small and turn bright red and tend to look like I might pass out or die. This has been true my whole life, but given the difficulty of some of my workouts in the past few months, the degree of redness and possibility of passing out has increased. This is prompting a lot of people, mostly strangers, to make more comments than usual to me. I am a constant source of inspiration, evidently. It’s amazing I’m out here at all. I really should wear sunscreen. Am I sure I’m OK? I probably need a break. You know, I really ought to “ride a higher cadence/drink more electrolytes/midfoot strike when I run/not be out here by myself.”

I’ll give you two guesses about which gender has made every single one of the SUPER HELPFUL comments about what I should be doing.

And, you can be sure people would like to let me know that the science is still out on if women should even, biologically speaking, be pushing their bodies too hard. What if it makes you infertile? What if it’s just too difficult to overcome all your hormones and stuff? Besides, no one wants to see women looking like that. Right?

It’s annoying and bullshit and an artifact of a time I mistakenly thought we were no longer in, but it’s also made things very simple. I spend a lot of time talking to myself while I’m training, because there isn’t anyone else to talk to. And, when so many people have opinions about what I should be doing, it’s very easy to tell myself, “Screw them all, I’m nailing the shit out of this workout instead.” It’s really easy, when I think I might cry, to think instead: I don’t want that old guy eyeing me like he’s got something to say, to think, even for a second, that my crying is why women shouldn’t be allowed to do sports. When I want to hit Stop on the treadmill, I find myself arguing that I can’t, because I want the high school girl watching me to believe, even just a little bit, that she can do things too. It’s exhausting, but it’s also simple.

Last weekend, I was at training camp in Arizona with Hillary and Smashfest teammates, and one of the things I appreciate is that there are a LOT of fast women there, and guys who aren’t the least bit fazed by fast women. Of course, none of this stuff was consciously going through my head during camp; I was too tired. Mostly, I was just trying to try my hardest and not give up. Because if this is the thing you’re doing and you don’t do it, then what the hell are you doing anyway?

So we ran. And then we rode 118 of the hardest miles I’ve probably ever done on Friday and swam 3,000 yards of the fastest 200s I’ve ever done. And Saturday we were in the pool for the longest I’ve ever swum (10,000 yards) and rode some slow slow recovery miles. This meant by the time we were set to race up Mt. Lemmon on Sunday, I was wrecked, but I was determined. I rode and rode, and when I got dropped around 15 miles in, I rode some more. And then I started to fall apart. Maybe this was all a waste of time. Maybe I hadn’t come as far in the last nine months as I felt like I had. Maybe this whole triathlon thing was better as a hobby. Maybe everyone else (not at camp) was right. Maybe I should buy into the American Dream after all, meet expectations.

But then I started to talk to myself like I usually do. And I thought about what you do in the dark, and why it matters. Mt. Lemmon crests just after 20 miles, and then descends, and then there’s a little climb again before you descend the last mile or so into town. I started really hammering that last few miles and arguing with myself about why I needed to try my hardest even if it didn’t matter, even if no one else knew or cared. I would know if it wasn’t really my hardest. And, all of a sudden, as I’m descending into town, when it’s all over and the tough part is finished and you’re basically done, I started to cry.

Why? Because I was tired, yes. Constant fatigue is an overwhelming part of serious training that can not be ignored. But it was also because ‘Screw them all.’ Because I’m doing it anyway. Because who cares if I cry or not; I reject the traditional male lens through which you view sports. Because I was worried I had somehow failed in those miles I’d questioned myself, as if everything could fall apart so easily. Because I don’t have to justify anything to anyone.

And, of course, from there we finished camp and I tried my hardest. And no one really knew how big an emotional meltdown I’d had (ed note: or no one knew until I wrote about it for espnW, hah). Or that in the question of why I needed to go into the bathroom at the Cookie Cabin at the top of the mountain and sob for a few minutes were so many other questions I can’t answer.

 

What Is A Triathlon Training Camp Anyway?

Can you tell which one is me being "crazy."
Can you tell which one is me being “crazy.”

 

Whenever I’d mention to normals that I was going to team camp, they wouldn’t nod in understanding like I expect. Instead they had all these “questions” and “confusion.”

So, an explainer:

Team Camps started with actual teams — cycling teams, primarily. They’d gather in the early season (like now) to do some base, intensive training. But, also, to get to know everyone, do sponsor photos, test each other out, etc. Those teams usually have everything taken care of: housing, coaches, cooks, masseuses. It’s part of the job.

The idea obviously got picked up and grew, except triathlon teams aren’t quite the same. They don’t have the same team managers and the same team strategy, since triathlon is an individual sport. (There are also all kinds of team camps, from the local cycling team crashing at one person’s house all weekend to hyper-intense triathlon teams like Timex gathering everyone from around the country in one place.) Team camps are, understandably, relatively organized. You have a schedule and a team van and places you’re supposed to be at specific times. You test out products from sponsors for the year. And, for all that I kept saying, “No one wins camp,” people definitely want to prove they’re fast — to themselves and to directors.

The PacWest team.
The PacWest team.

 

The second camp I was at in Arizona was the PacWest team camp. It was a fun mix of people from the race team and from the general public team. We’d have a team meeting each morning in the lobby of the hotel everyone was staying at and we’d get loaded into two vans to head out for all the days workouts. We tested out Finis products — I’m into the strapless paddles right now — and Newton shoes and Muscle Milk recovery drinks, took lots of pictures, went out for dinner and got to know everyone, which was cool. Also, you know, we got in a decent amount of training.

Newton-sponsored running clinic.
Newton-sponsored running clinic.

 

Training Camps are versions of team camp. Basically, all the people who weren’t on teams were like ‘man, we should get to go on a training vacation too.’ There are lots and lots of variations on this. Some are just a group of friends holing up in a hotel for a long weekend, some are organized by one person, some are paid training camps, put on by big pros or coaches or organizations.

The thing that made me nervous about training camp #1, which was an organized training camp by Hillary, was that I didn’t know people there. Usually you’d do training camps with friends or people you know or with a team for team camp, obvs. Most of the people at Hillary’s camp were coached by her, so it was sort of a team camp, but it was open to everyone (and they said it’d be cool if I came) and it didn’t have all the regular markings of a team camp (no sponsors besides lots of Powerbar product). Everyone, mostly fast women, was actually really cool and fun to talk to and dealt with triathlon the same way I do — the stop stressing about stupid things way — but if you can’t figure out who the weirdo of the group is that means it was probably YOU!

Proof that I was, at one point, at the front of the group. Before I definitely wasn't.
Proof that I was, at one point, at the front of the group. Before I definitely wasn’t.

 

The main difference between the camps was that at training camp (v. team camp) you were relatively self-sufficient. Get to where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there; leave when you’re done, feed yourself, do or don’t do what you want on the schedule (or, maybe that was just me because I’m self-coached). It was supported by a friend driving a SAG car and three group leaders who all knew the area, but otherwise you needed to make sure you could deal with things on your own. Also, the weather was crazy, so we kept revising — but never cutting workouts. NEVER. It was about the same amount of training and as hard.

This picture cracks me up because it was after we had biked up Mt. Lemmon and then done a fast four mile run descending to like 6:30 pace and I had one of my “episodes” after the run. So, they were like ‘hey get in the picture’ and I was like ‘yeah, if I stand up, I’m going to pass out.’ Good times.

Oh, poor me.
Oh, poor me.

 

There’s lots of reasons people do these camps: because they have to, because it’s fun. At first I was sort of ambivalent on going to Arizona when it’s been 70 and sunny all winter here. Fortunately, it rained while I was gone, so it wasn’t a total waste. There’s also a benefit to going anywhere just to have uninterrupted focus on training. I was completely able to handle the load because I wasn’t trying to rush around to meetings and offices and appointments. The few hours of work I did each day did nearly kill me, however.

There also can be big fitness gains from a “crash week” — or loading a bunch of intense training back-to-back — as long as you follow it up with a good amount of recovery. It’s a high risk, high reward strategy. I’m not sure how it’ll work out in the long-run yet. I definitely got stronger, even over the course of the 10 days, and I feel much more confident about my ability to do that kind of training now, but I also hurt the arch of my right foot, so we’ll see. I’m not sure if I’ll go back to Arizona next year, but I do think I’ll definitely do another focused training getaway/weekend or camp — possibly even before IM Canada.

I'm eh about the desert, but this is sort of pretty.
I’m eh about the desert, but this is sort of pretty.

Ironman Training Week 11: March 3-9

Otherwise known as Training Camp #2 — or the camp with The Team.

I made it through both training camps, more or less, sorta. And, managed to stack the three biggest volume weeks I’ve ever had in a row, which is both 1. encouraging and 2. amazing in how it emphasizes how much I have to gain with volume increases, like wow I really don’t generally do a lot of volume. So, if my foot can get better (and it is, it is) then I’m on a good track.

Monday

Ran 14 or so on trails on the last day of Training Camp #1. It took 2:35, even though we were the “fast” group. I’m pretty sure that’s not because we suck, but because it was all rocky and hilly and desert-y. And that doesn’t even include the break to stop and pull cactus balls out of Hillary’s leg and arm.

Swam about 900 yards easy (with some technique tips!) + some swimming with my legs tied via bands to the side of the pool. It’s quite hard to do, but I just kept figuring if I was actually going backwards someone would stop me.

Tuesday

SO TIRED

Wednesday

Swam 1,100 yards easy to shake it out and did some stretching/rolling.

Thursday

Swam 4,200 yards for the start of Training Camp #2. Swimming is stupid: I was so tired I could barely walk straight and yet I swam the fastest I’ve swum all year, consistently 1:21-22 pace. There were some 100s and 500s, 400, 300, etc.

Biked 60 miles with the group. I don’t generally love riding in groups, with all the speeding up and slowing down, but I was determined to sit on wheels for as long as possible. The whole thing went by fast, with only a little bit of riding on my own into the wind, and I only had to drop a few minutes of 400 watts here and there.

Ran just under 3 miles off the bike, relatively quickly. I mean the running was the quick. The amount of time it took me to get out the door was not quick.

Friday

Swam 3,800 yards. I tried to move up a lane — to see if I could find the right lane — but it was too hard. I pulled some 2:30 200s and then tried to keep up for the 100s on 1:20, but it just didn’t happen. So, I moved back down a lane for another 1,000 yards before my arms just gave out.

Everyone else did a 40K bike time trial test, but there were a number of reasons that was not a great idea for me (or probably really for them), so I rode an very, very easy 12 miles and ended up back at the hotel.

Ran about 7 miles in the evening as a natural running form clinic and workshop, followed by a hard workout. Try this: Continuous running as 5′ at tempo pace, 3′ at threshold, 1′ FAST, 1′ recover jog, repeat. It’s hard because you never stop and you don’t have enough time to really recover. Maybe it’s because I knew how hard that would be, but I was pleasantly surprised and didn’t blow up. I did three sets of that running, finishing with Ilyce at about 7:05-15, 6:40ish, 6:20ish? (who knows, it was just fast), and slow, slow jog. We finished in the dark and cooled down.

Saturday

Rode 71 miles. It was supposed to be our 100+ mile ride, but, well, no. The whole 10 days I kept being sort of in between groups — not quite ‘fast’ yet, but getting there. So, my options were to either try to stick with the fast guys group, ride by myself or ride with some of the girls. They wanted to do the shorter ride and, really, so did I. I rode that steadily instead and then met up with my sister for sushi and stuff.

Sunday

Some triathletes don’t know how to drink at night and run the next morning. Not me. That is something you definitely learn in collegiate triathlon. Ilyce and I ran 2:10 on some hot, boring, windy, sandy trails. She wanted to do 18 miles, but we only did 15.25 and called that enough. It was a hot, boring, windy, sandy run. But, you just keep moving through.

TOTAL: 17:45

Bam.

Not sure yet what comes next in the training. I have a rough outline, but I need to see how this week of recovery goes and how I feel by the weekend. It seems like I, more or less, came out of this stronger and more confident and now I just need to keep that going. It also wasn’t the most craziest training ever, but it was what I needed and what I knew I could handle. Yesterday, when I was stressed about my foot hurting, Steve joked that I’m good now, I did the training and I should probably just coast in on that. Wouldn’t that be cool.

Training Camp #1 and #2: Did I Make It Out In One Piece?

So, the big question: Did I survive two training camps back-to-back with more volume than I’ve ever done?

Almost.

I was feeling great. So great. Surprisingly great. Like, ‘wow, I’m going to be the fastest ever, bitches better be watching out’ great. And, then, I wasn’t. Very abruptly.

During Training Camp #1 my right foot cramped up a few times when we were swimming. I never get leg cramps — like, actually, have only had two in my entire life — but my understanding is they’re no big deal. But, every now and then, during Training Camp #2, the arch of my right foot would feel really tight or ache or start to cramp up. One night it woke me up with its cramping. But, still, NBD. (“No Big Deal,” mom.)

The very last workout, of the very last day, of the very last camp, I ran 2:10 on some hot, dry trails with Ilyce. It was a hot, dry run and neither of us felt good. It was the most silent I’ve probably ever been on an easy run, but we got through it. The last few miles my right arch started to ache again. So, when we got back, I rolled it out with a TriggerPoint ball and stretched out the foot.

Unfortunately, that just made it angry.

By the time we were getting out of the van to be dropped off an hour later, my right foot hurt with every step. By the time I was walking to meet my sister, I could barely walk. Last night I iced it and compression socked it and hoped I’d sleep it off. But, by this morning, it was officially messed up. I looked like this at the airport (and, fyi, the airport is not the place to be if you can’t really put weight on one foot):

Of course, going into all this, it was the bone spur in my left foot that I was worried about, not a spontaneous new injury in my right foot. I’m hoping I just pulled something and the rolling it out irritated it and it just needs to be rested. I’m hoping I made it out of training camps relatively ok.

And Onward the Training Camps Go

image

This is from Mary Knott of our long trail run on the last day of Camp #1 last weekend. I am now in the midst of Camp #2. I’m surprisingly, and I mean surprisingly, doing great. I may actually be getting faster as this goes on, as long as I don’t destroy myself or get sick first.

It turns out that when all you really do is train in a day, training isn’t that bad. If only I had actually learned this when I was trying to race pro and work 60-70 hours/week at the same time.

Ironman Training Week 10: Feb. 24-March 2

Obviously, this past week (and this current week) are really about Camp 1 and Camp 2. Trying to load a ton of work into two 4-5 day periods with some rest in between, hoping that it jumpstarts the training, helps me build up, kicks me in the ass, etc, etc.

It was surprisingly ok. Things hurt and were exhausting, but the only really bad moment was when the pinched nerve problem I keep getting in my right leg got really bad halfway up Mt. Lemmon. It hurt to sit on my bike; it hurt to pedal; tons of shooting pain. I stopped to stretch it out and tried to stand on my bike a decent amount. And, while it was sore the rest of the day, it was only debilitating for that hour in the middle/end of the climb. Yes, this is wildly concerning, particularly since it happens whenever I ride more than a few hours. But, I’m going to try my TT bike first and do some massaging or PT or something before I start worrying too much. (Though I’m really worrying already.)

Monday

Rested up for camp. Meetings.

Tuesday

Pilates class + 1,000 yards swimming easy to test out my new Finis paddles.

Wednesday

Biked 30′ in the pouring rain to get around. Ran 5 miles in less pouring rain with the high school kids. So wet, so cold.

Thursday

I don’t know if you can call it rest when it’s driving and flying and driving and unloading and building your bike. But, mostly rest.

Friday

Rode 95 miles in 5:40 up to Madera Canyon and through the desert. It was, in terms of watts and kilojoules, one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done. For the first 2-2:30, I was fine, riding strong on people’s wheels or in the group. It was windy, but not bad. Then, a mile or so before the start of the 3.5 mile climb, I fell off the back of the fast group I was with. This may have been slightly in my head, because I hate when everyone bikes super hard uphill and I may have been a little worried about whether or not I could keep up and I may have promised myself I could stop at a bathroom to pee. The climb itself was fine and then we did a blistering pace line back down the false flats. It was insanely hard. The last 15′ or so of the ride, I definitely checked out and accidentally ended up momentarily in the parking lot of the BBQ restaurant.

Swam 2,750 yards with lots of band technique — which means swimming with a band around your ankles. It was hard.

Saturday

Swam 1,000 yards in the morning before lightening forced the pool to close.

Skipped the bike ride in the rain.

Swam another 8,500 yards in the evening. Yes, some other people started over at the beginning, but since it was the longest any of us had swum, our lane decided we’d just count what we’d done in the morning. The workout was 100 x 100, with the primary sets: 30 x 100 as 5 x (3 x 100 on 1:40, 2 x 100 on 1:35, 100 on 1:30), 30 x 100 as paddles, buoy, band — which I had to try and do without the paddles some and switch up since I’ve never swum even one-third of that much with paddles (this is also when I skipped like 400-500 yards going to the bathroom and screwing around with paddles, etc), and 12 x 100 as sprint 25/easy 75. I pretty much swam all 1:25s, even at the end, even when I thought I couldn’t feel my arms. Go me.

Sunday

Biked up Mt. Lemmon (5 miles to the base + 25 miles up) after waiting for it to open from the ice storm the night before. I was, uh, not prepared mentally or emotionally for this. I was prepared for a steady 2.5 hour ride up. Instead, I got dropped off the pack of fast girls in the first two miles of the climb. I looked down at my power meter, saw 200+ watts and was like, nope, see you guys later. For about 10-14 miles I was riding around 160-170W, caught one person and was catching another. My right leg was killing me though, killing me. It feels like the bike seat pinches the nerve at the base of my sitbone on my right side and sends waves of pain and weakness down my leg. I stopped to stretch it and put on some warm clothes, then rode most of the rest of the way relatively easy with one of the girls.

The only problem? It was storming at the top, freezing and piles of snow. And, we had to descend before really reaching the top. My fingers tried to fall off at that point. When I stumbled into the Cookie Cabin, I was delirious and swearing and everyone already there told me to huddle by the fire and sit under blankets some Boy Scout Troop Leader had given them. After an hour, we made the trip all the way back down. It was not as bad as expected, but if it had been we’d probably be dead.

Then, ran 4 miles off the bike descending to 6:30. (Or, other people descended more, but that’s the fastest I ran.)

TOTAL: 16:50

It’s not really about the week, clearly. Since we did a 2.5 hour easy trail run Monday morning and now I’m resting up again. I was pretty happy with how I made it through the camp. There are things I would have done different or better, but I also know where I’m at and what I can expect. And, I may have only been a total weirdo to like half the people there. I tried not to be totally strange, but sometimes I just say shit. Who knows. Now, just to fix these little problems and keep the momentum moving forward. Week 11 and beyond…

Things I Bought at Safeway Last Night: Or, Training Camp Day 1

I’m at Training Camp 1 in Arizona right now. I got in Thursday night after everyone was asleep — and, for some reason, after all of Arizona turns off its goddamn lights and after my phone died, so I was wandering around in the dark yell-whispering, ‘hellllloooo, am I in the right place??’

Yesterday, we rode 95 miles that included a steep 3.5 mile climb. People tend to think I do that kind of thing all the time, but, well, I don’t. I was actually highly skeptical I’d make it through the ride since the most I’ve ridden since August is like 50 miles and also people are faster than me and they’re on time trial bikes. But, because of the wind or stop lights or who knows, I ended up in the front/fast group on the way out. It was ok for about 40 miles, then when everyone tucked in their bars I got dropped and had to gather myself at a bathroom to pee (since I do NOT pee on the bike or in the nature) and give myself a pep talk. They waited at the top of the climb and I made it and everything was fine — even if there was a very brutal pace line that I thought might kill me and a long section from mile 70 to 83 where I rode by myself in the wind and counted down mile markers on the side of the road.

After we got back, I needed to get some more work done — that hadn’t been finished at 11 p.m. the night before or at 6 a.m. in the morning — but at that exact moment my computer decided to stop connecting to the internet. I spent almost two hours trying to get it to work and then we swam. And, I’ve never swum with a band before, so I mostly felt like I was drowning for 30 of the 60 minutes — almost like something was tying my feet together!

So, when I went to the food co-op to buy food in the evening and couldn’t find anything I wanted, I had a small breakdown. I just want the internet and the food I like. This is what I ended up buying at Safeway:

  • KitKat bites
  • cake batter ice cream
  • Bud Light Platinum
  • six avocados
  • cheese
  • bread AND english muffins
  • four frozen dinners
  • a frozen pizza
  • peanut butter and jelly
  • cookie dough
  • strawberries
  • hummus
  • sausages (?)
  • crackers
  • salsa
  • eggs
  • Chewy Quakers chocolate chip granola bars

This morning we got lighten-ed out of our swim and then everyone went for a ride. But, I opened the door, saw the rain and wind and said, “Nope. I’m not going.” I just can not voluntarily ride in the rain any more than I already have to. Can’t do it. Instead, I ate my KitKats and got ready to make a second-go at the swim. And, I don’t even feel bad about that decision. (OK, I feel a little bad.)