Not Always Alone: Team Freeplay

I spend a lot of time by myself. Besides Steve and Tupac the Cat, there are plenty of days I don’t really talk to anyone. And that’s fine. I prefer that. I especially prefer it when it comes to hard workouts.

If things are getting nasty and ugly and rough, I don’t really want to have to deal with anyone else besides myself. I don’t even want to have to deal with being nice to someone else. I just want to get out of this on my own. I’m familiar with the inside of my own head, even if it’s not always a nice place to be. This is so true that I have been known to let myself get dropped more than once when I didn’t want to deal anymore. Oops.
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Crying in My Car, And Other Weird Parts of Ironman Training

Yesterday, after my swim workout, I got in my car and started crying. There wasn’t any particular reason. I had totally done the workout just fine and everything was fine, theoretically. The reason was simply: Ironman Training.

Last summer, I was busy with so many other things—like moving to L.A. and my car trying to kill me—and I was arguably undertrained for IM Canada (though not because I’m lazy, just because I was as trained as was smart and made sense at the time). So I never really had the full-on Ironman weirdness happen, where your body just sort of isn’t sure what to do with what you’re putting it through.

Not this time around. This time I’m pretty sure my body isn’t sure what to do, so I’d like some corroboration that weird things happen during Ironman training and also, if you were wondering just how healthy being fit is, well here you go. These are some weird things that have happened that we’re just chalking up to Ironman training:

  • Can you micro-fall asleep? Where you’re pretty sure that you fell asleep for the second you closed your eyes and then you blinked and woke back up? Because I think that’s happening.
  • Also, I can’t really sleep after hard or long workouts. Which is fun.
  • One day, after a really long weekend, I fell asleep on the couch and woke up and couldn’t figure out where I was. Not just for a few seconds, which happens to everyone sometimes. I straight-up walked around the house, took something out of the oven, and still wasn’t sure where I was.
  • Not being able to breath all the way. It just keeps catching in my chest. But then it goes away. Except for the other day when I forgot how to yawn.
  • Freezing-ness. Lots of that.
  • Am I starving? Am I going to throw up? The fun is in not knowing.
  • For a little while, I was convinced I was sweating way more than usual, just buckets and buckets. But that’s stopped. So I’m not sure if I imagined it or if something was actually wrong with me.
  • Sure, I’ve been to the doctors for both my ankles. I think they’re both within the realm of ignorable twinges, though. I have, however, lost the ability to discern ignorable twinges from non-ignorable ones.
  • I also have so many cuts. I’m not even sure how you get this many cuts training for an event that is largely by yourself. But there you have it.

Oh, and yeah, things are a mess. Don’t come visit our house right now. I’m not thinking straight and sometimes I write stuff that doesn’t make sense. Good thing that’s my job.

You Can Only Be Good At So Many Things At A Time

I’ve been watching a lot of America Ninja Warrior lately because summer. And I was about to say there are just two kinds of stories on this show—redemption and come-uppance—but that’s not totally true. It’s actually a much more interesting show than people give it credit for.

But, still. There are themes. And one of those is that people are constantly giving up everything to become good at ANW, to finally conquer Mt. Whatever-Its-Called (seriously, they need to do a better job explaining the ins and outs for those of us who aren’t, like, nerding out over every new ANW obstacle). On the show a few weeks ago there was a guy who had quit his job and worked as an usher at a movie theater now just to make ends meet while he trained full-time for ANW, because you can only be good at so many things at a time. If he wanted to be good at this, and whether or not you value the “this” that he wanted to be good at is irrelevant, then he couldn’t just do it as a hobby.

Whether the movie theater ushers (or running bums or aspiring triathletes) are viewed with benevolence or a sense of ‘it’s time to grow up’ seems largely to depend on if they’re successful. If you put aside a career and work odd jobs to pay bills and live with your parents, all in order to make the Olympic team and you make it, then it was all worth it. Sort of. But if you come in 4th at the trials or whatever the cut-off is, then you’re just a guy living with his parents.

People keep asking me what I’m doing now. And I don’t know what to say. They want me to have gotten a super exciting job at a super exciting publication that they’ve heard of, and to be training for Ironman, and working on ambitious side projects, and presumably not sleeping. But, with the exception of one job I applied for and did not get in the spring (even though I would have been totally awesome at it, whatever), I’m not really looking for that lifestyle. I’m working and I’m training and you can only be good at so many things at a time.

Steve has appointed himself as my “elite athlete consultant” and his self-described job is basically to tell me that no, I shouldn’t take that extra gig or project or go to that extra event or worry about that extra thing. If you want to be good at some things, then you can only do so many things.

Why Don’t You Write More About Training

One of my writing teachers—OK, a few of them—told me I should write more about running and “being an athlete” and “that kind of stuff.” And I don’t mean in a reporter ‘here’s how to train for your first half-marathon’ kind of way. I mean that they thought I should write more characters who are athletes, more personal essays about “Why I Run,” more about what it all means, etc. Write what you know, right? Or something.

The thing is that when I have, no one believes me about what it’s really like.

Once, after reading a story I had written in which there was a part where the main character was running, I was informed that I had “gotten it wrong” and it just “wasn’t believable.” That’s not how running works, girl in writing workshop told me. You’re not supposed to get angrier when you run. Aren’t there endorphins and stuff, right? Like you’re supposed to feel better after running.

Sure, sometimes. And sometimes you just want to lie down on the ground for a little while and cry. And sometimes you’re so jacked up you’re ready to rip somebody’s head off. Like maybe somebody in a writing workshop who’s telling you that you’re wrong about what running is like. Not to be specific.

The main reason writing what you know doesn’t work is that what you know is that people are wrong about how they think things are.

I have been training a lot lately, probably not a full-Hillary Biscay load yet, but a lot still and it’s been pretty intense. And there’s not a ton to actually say about that. I ran on the treadmill for 11.6 miles the other day. You know what I did during that time? Mostly thought about running on the treadmill. (Also I semi-watched a close-captioned version of the terrible TV show Botched.) Here’s some writing what I know for you: I’m tired a lot, but then I bounced back and stopped being as tired, but I’m still pretty tired. Tantalizing, right? And there’s just really not a super exciting way to say, “And then I almost started crying in the middle of intervals on my bike, but I didn’t and instead I finished the intervals.”

There is a reason most professional athletes’ twitters and blogs and instagrams are all motivational photos and sayings and stories about how they’re working hard and overcoming and they believe. (Oh, and then every now and then they’ll throw in a vague post about “keeping it real” and how they’ve been struggling, but that’s just part of the journey and now they’re moving forward again and don’t worry, they’re going to overcome this because they believe.) Partially, that’s what people want to hear. It’s easier to sell a brand that’s aspirational.

But partially that’s what the athletes want to hear too. It’s what they need to hear.

The line between crying on your bike and not crying is very thin and if you look at it too hard it’ll disappear. Why did I almost start crying the other day, but then I didn’t? I don’t know. Because I decided not to? Writing, though, does not lend itself to a lack of introspection. Training does not lend itself to too much. I don’t think all those athletes are lying to everyone else with their motivational photos and stories that always have them coming out on top. I think they’re lying to themselves, but it’s lies that they have to tell.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve stopped writing as much online here about my training at the same time that I’m doing more training than ever. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when my mentality slightly shifted in races, my race reports got sort of boring. When you stop thinking about the funny story you’re going to tell or the excuse you’re going to have or how this is all going to sound later, then all you have left to think about is just doing the thing you’re doing. And there’s really not much to write about that.

When Your Body Fails Right After You Finally Make It Through Everything

The last few weeks I’ve been sure I was going to get sick. Thesis project, South Carolina nationals trip, more final projects, bachelorette and Wildflower, final final project, and then moving a bunch of my stuff back up to the Bay Area. And, also, it’s possible that I might have gotten very drunk after that final final project. Theoretically.

Basically, I’ve been waiting for my body to give out and it made it all the way through all those things and now, here is a list of ways my body has betrayed me since Friday:

  • I dislocated my thumb. Randomly, while loading the car. It popped right back in, after hurting like a mother, so I figured no problem. But, since then it’s been really painful. I couldn’t even open my beers at Beer Mile with that hand. And then the thumb popped out again today. Now, I can barely use it. I’m sort of hoping this gets better on its own. Or possibly I splint my hand.
  • My Achilles has been hurting after run workouts. At first, a few weeks ago, I thought it was just sore. But, it’s gotten worse and worse. After the hard run on Sunday, I couldn’t even bend my ankles. Then, I hit a wall funny on a flip turn yesterday, and it just kept hurting. This is concerning.
  • I’ve gotten sick. Finally, it caught up with me. Last night, I thought I might be getting sick, but I’ve thought that a bunch the last few weeks and usually I wake up feeling better. Today, I woke up feeling sick instead.

Also, add a whole bunch of bruises and blisters and whatever. This is not just my imagination. There’s, like, for real studies about how people get sick after big events. Sure, it’s probably because you have a weakened immune system and then you get sick after the gestation period. But I think there’s also something to the fact that your body can hold on for so long but then no longer.

Getting In (Or Out) Of My Head

Here are a few observations about perception:

    • In L.A., I am the most intense athlete I know—give or take. (Like, yeah, yeah, everyone is intense in their own way. Some of my friends are taking some time off right now. And, you should, obviously, always do what makes sense for you.) But, the net sum effect is that, generally speaking, I don’t know people doing harder workouts than me. This messes with my head. Because (CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF AROUND HERE), I’m not really a super intense workout person. I’m used to lots of people I know doing crazier workouts than me all the time. I’m used to lots and lots and lots of people being lots faster than me. And, I’m used to telling training partners my workout plan for the day and having them nod and be all, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ When everyone I know is, instead, like, ‘What?! That sounds insane,’ I start to think maybe it is insane. So, if all my internet friends who are Hillary’s athletes (Maggie? Alyssa?) could tell me about their super crazy workouts she has them doing, it would make me feel better and get me back in a good mental place.
    • Friday I bombed a workout. It was 4 x 2 miles and I only did 2.3 of the four repeats. I just was not hitting the times and I had only given myself 1 hour and 25 minutes exactly to do a 1 hour and 25 minute workout. So, when I had to take a loooong bathroom break, I was stuck reevaluating. But, it was easy to cut and I was weirdly not stressed about the fact that I bombed it, because I don’t think I really expected to finish it. This is not good.
    • In the fall, I was very not fit. Yet, I went on a killing-it streak at a bunch of races in October/November. I think it may have been because I knew I wasn’t in shape, so I expected it to be awful and that I’d have to power through. Then, I wasn’t surprised when it hurt. Now, I’m really fit (for me), so I keep subconsciously thinking it won’t hurt. But, it still always hurts.
    • Evidently, somewhere in the back of my mind right now I am expecting an accident or disaster. I’m just waiting for it. Wednesday, I had to cut through a parking garage, because “cycling routes” *shakes head*. And, I had this weird crazy PTSD. It might be the first time I’ve cut through a parking garage since shattering my teeth and I was freaking out. I was convinced that I was going to hit something, or someone was going to hit me, or something terrible was going to happen. Yesterday, Steve and I went cross-country skiing and I was having the hardest time on the downhills, because I was positive, 100% sure, that I was going to have some bizarre accident and end up in the hospital. I’m just too in shape right now, too ready for the L.A. Marathon and collegiate nationals. Something has to go wrong. Something always goes wrong. And, if you really want to get into some Psych 101 stuff, this may be why I’ve been self-sabotaging workouts and races lately, because somewhere in my head I think that I need to balance the karmic universe. (Subconsciously, ok? I’m not doing any of this consciously.)

So, yeah. That’s been fun.

Oh, Rest, Right

Usually, I train on a three weeks on/one week off schedule. Sort of. I mean I tend to not operate exactly on a seven-day plan and it’s all relative. But, I do always make sure to have three to five days of very, very easy stuff to recover about once per month.

Here’s the thing, though: I kind of forgot to do that.

I wasn’t training crazy over break, just steady and hard. And, I was doing some other random stuff (like cross-country skiing). And, I kept taking a day or two off or easy every now and then, when I felt tired. So, it just seemed like I could keep chugging along. Plus, my schedule was such that I was going to have two weeks at the end of January of basically no working out. It made sense, then, to push through until that break.

Only that didn’t end up happening. And, instead, the first two weeks of school have beaten me up. So, Tuesday, when I was trying to decide what I was going to do this week and how I was going to deal with the fact that I’d barely slept the night before and this documentary that’s trying to kill me and the fun of driving all over Greater Los Angeles, Steve suggested maybe it was time for a rest week.

No, I’m fine. I don’t even feel physically beaten up.

As soon as I decided this was a rest week through Saturday, though, my entire body just collapsed. It stopped functioning. I slept 15 hours on Thursday, after being not well over night. I’m pretty much about to fall asleep right this second. The idea of working out is mind-boggling. It’s amazing how as soon as you cross a finish line, you stop being able to even walk straight.

Training Week 10: Jan 5 – 11

It seems like I’ve leveled off at my natural training point of 12-14 hours/week. When I’m super focused and build up appropriately, I can push my standard leveling off up to about 14-17 hours/week, but it’s not my natural state of being. And, that’s fine for now, particularly as I’m doing most of my hard stuff running — because running is generally lower volume and because you want to factor in recovery and stretching time and all that stuff that comes with running.

I am about to shift, though, since we’re two months out from the marathon and since I’m getting ready to lean in to a triathlon season. That means fewer long rides, but more intensity on the bike. Slightly more run volume with slightly more speed work. And, seriously, up the swim frequency already.

But, I actually feel pretty good about all this. So far.

Monday

Swam 2,400 yards. I was still very weirdly tired in weird places from cross-country skiing, so I almost nixed the swimming, but I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to do anything after classes started, for a variety of reasons, so got to get it in while you can.

Tuesday

Rode about 50 miles, some with Steve, and then some on my own up Alpine Dam and back down. I was going to do the whole loop, but it was getting dark and cold and I was tired still.

Wednesday

Ran about 8.5 miles before I drove down to L.A. Included in that were descending hard efforts of 6 minutes, 5 minutes, 4, 3, 2, 1. It was supposed to descend from half-marathon pace for the 6 minutes to 5,000-meter pace for the 1 minute. I went 6:39 pace, 6:34, 6:21, 6:14, 6:03, 5:41. There is no universe in which 5:41 is actually my 5,000m pace. So, that was either a mistake or wildly optimistic.

Did some light core and then yoga and rolling out my legs before getting in the car. Sigh, the car.

Thursday

Nothing.

Friday

Ran a bit over 5 miles easy, with drills, in a sad, sad park after work on my way home. A thought: if a large park with a lake and walking trails, etc, is the only really good and safe place for people to walk or jog after work, then why would you lock the gates and turn off the lights at 5 p.m. That seems counterproductive.

Saturday

Rode from Pasadena up Mt. Wilson with Justin. It’s 6,000 feet and about 18 miles up (and not warm at the top). And, naturally, it started raining on us as we descended. I was promised this wouldn’t happen in L.A.

Sunday

Ran about 7 miles on the track (which was rough and sucked, because it was just one of those days where the first track and pool I went to was totally closed, the second one was in the heart of Santa Monica, so I had to park at a public lot and pay, and then the pay machine broke, right at the same time I got done and a Christian youth group event got out, so no one could leave). But, I finished the workout: 1 mile at 6:52, six 800s descending at [3:09, 3:09, 3:07, 3:06, 3:00, 2:59], 1 mile at 6:44. Yes, it was ugly, but it got done. And, then, I finally got home after the parking gate finally opened, and yoga’d and rolled and laid on the floor.

TOTAL: 12:05

Oops with the not swimming.

I’m actually getting pretty fit. Sometimes, I can tell that. Justin told me I’m biking much stronger than I was back in that hole of miserableness in the fall. And, I’m running reasonably fast for me. I’m definitely getting fitter. What I’m not sure about is how fit — both in comparison to recently but also in terms of all-time. I signed up for a half-marathon in two weeks, so I guess we’ll see.