Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ups & Downs

Training is such a series of ups and downs sometimes. We have good days followed by bad days followed by really bad days. The days where you are swimming your 200s a full 40 seconds slower than usual – that’s 10 seconds per 50. How is that possible? The days where holding 20 watts below threshold feels like 20 above. Our bodies have a rhythm that is unpredictable and reminds us that we are not always in control. Sometimes the body will do what the body will do – no matter what you want from it.

In the past week, I’ve had my share of ups and downs. Last Sunday was a long ride that left pieces of my legs and spirits out at Fermilab. When I got home, I rode up the driveway, all 10 feet of it, and told Chris that was the only part of the ride I enjoyed. Note to self: next time summer surprise attacks us with 85 degrees and nonstop wind – stay home. Or, if you go outside, at least put on sunscreen. It’s April and I already have the cycling jersey tan. The heat was bad. The wind was worse. It was unbelievably windy which around here is a touch below gale force winds. I was doing some race pace intervals when I found myself spinning out over 100 rpms in 53-12. Thank you 40 mph gusting tailwind.

After that glorious ride, I had a run on the track. The entire family went to the track; me, Boss, Chris and Max. You’ve seen my dog. Sometimes just looking at him cracks me up. It’s his ears, his expressions, the fact that he has no idea he’s only 10 pounds. Imagine seeing him running around the track. We did a lap together and wouldn’t you know – that little shit took lane one. Then he took a pee in the long jump pit. It gets better: you know it’s a rough day on the track when your Chihuahua is keeping up with you. Running was like running into a wall of wind. I might have spent an entire 100 just running in place. I did a bunch of 200s. Boss outsprinted me in the last 10 meters of one and then sat out for the rest of the run. Looks like someone could use a lesson in pacing.


When I was done, I was disappointed in my power on the bike and times on the track. Intuitively I know the weather played a big part in that but at the same time – no one likes to disappoint themselves. The greatest pressure is the pressure I place on myself. I could care less what other people think – I just want to meet my own expectations. When I let myself down, I take it hard. The rest of the night I pitied myself for a bad workout. This happens sometimes. You just need to wallow in your own overdramatic angst. When it doesn’t happen from time to time I know that I’m too comfortable or too confident. It’s good to be shook up. Keeps us honest.

Eventually I got over it by eating a bunch of jelly beans.


On Monday, I turned over a new leaf. Time to get over myself. I had to. I had a killer week ahead. I took the name of a competitor in an upcoming race and asked myself – what would ____ do ? every time I was faced with a choice; like going to bed versus staying up to do whatever I do to stay up late or forgetting to eat only to realize 5 hours later I haven’t eaten. What would ____ do? She always does the right thing. She always eats. She’s in bed by 9 pm. Dammit, she’s such a perfectionist! In all fairness, I don’t even know her. Regardless, these strategies are very effective. Not only in putting a fire under your ass to do the right thing but create a bit of fury for your competition.

On Wednesday I had redemption for my bad Sunday workout: bike test. The workout of truth. Gulp. If the numbers aren’t good, I’ll accept it and work harder. If the numbers are good, I’ll accept it and work harder. There never comes a point in this sport where you rest. You just keep bettering yourself. I woke up like Christmas, today I get to do a bike test. I paid meticulous attention to my diet the last few days (what would ___ eat? Not jellybeans). I slept a lot. I got up that morning and drank 100 percent fully loaded coffee. Roughly one gallon’s worth. I brought in the babysitter.

I don’t know why but I love the bike test. It’s a burn in the legs that I find hard to match when you’re outside because of wind or coasting. I love the grind of going hard and that point 5 minutes to go where the voice starts talking in your head. It’s the voice of negotiation – we can back off a bit and no one will ever know. No one except for yourself. Which is sometimes the worst because then you have to live with knowing you gave it less than your best.


When I get to the last 5 minutes I convince myself it’s only 5 x 1 minute hard to go. Ssshhh! Don’t tell myself that there is no recovery. Useless details you don’t need to know when you’re up to your eyeballs in lactic acid. I never understand how in the last minute you have to literally kill yourself for one more watt but that is what happened. But that was the watt that mattered most. Because it was the watt that qualified this test as my best bike test ever!


I'm recording that for women who want to know what can happen after pregnancy. I first tested 3 months after giving birth. In the past 6 months, I’ve gained 12 watts but lost 10 pounds. So if you’re wondering about the pattern of how fitness comes back to you, there’s an example. And in those 6 months it’s been hard at times to believe that I could outdo what I’ve done before in the sport. I’m different. My body is different. I’m older. But none of that has ever taken away my belief that yes I can. That’s all we really have is our own belief. Nothing motivates us more. Whatever you do in this sport, do it with confidence. That will count more than anything else.

Next up was a run off the bike with specific pace directions. Jen means business when she tells me a pace. I don’t ever ask for a pace; if it’s hard I go hard, if it’s easy I go easy. I ran with the Garmin and learned a valuable lesson in the difference between average pace and average lap pace. Big difference. Average pace is you racing against the entire pace of the run. Painful lesson when you’re trying to run a x:xx mile.

Friday I woke up feeling great (shameless plug: e21 Recovery) but almost missed masters. Max’s nap time got delayed by his I’ll just stand in the crib crying until you come sit me back down routine. Speed feeding, dressing, get to the gym and in the pool only 5 minutes late! At the start of each year I set swimming goals. This year one of my goals is to break a certain time for the 200. Today we did 200s. I got within 2 seconds of my goal but dammit cannot break through the barrier. On the last one, I put on paddles to breakthrough, come on already! Once I see it on the clock, I know I will be able to do it sans paddles. I just have to get there first. I came in at 7 seconds better than my goal and finally – FINALLY – know what it’s like to stop at the wall and see a time in the x:xxs for a 200. I’ve never seen that time before. And it looked really good! This is what I love about sport – constantly we go places we’ve never been and learn new things about ourselves, even as adults.


That seemed like enough work for the week. Right? On Saturday, I was told to run 10K. Seriously? Is this punishment for sending late payment for April? I woke up to rain and 43 degrees. One day spring will come! Lucky for me there was a 10K across the street at the Arboretum. I run there all the time. I know every hill, false flat and turn. During the warm up, my legs felt great. I knew they would. The law of running says that every run you have that feels like ass is followed by a great run. Yesterday on my run, my legs felt like ass!

The gun went off and my plan was to ease into the first 2 miles which contained two serious hills. From there, it was time to lock in a steady rhythm up and over the rest of the hills. As expected, a group of 10 men surged out to the front and I was left hanging between them and everyone chasing. I spent the rest of the race running alone, just like any other training run out there. I found a solid rhythm and held it. Toward the end, I thought about easing up because I was running first woman with no other women around me. But I looked over my shoulder to see three men charging toward me. Then I said to myself what would ____ do? The answer: she would try to chick as many men as possible. I held them off through the finish line and chicked all but 11 men.


I don’t do racing as training often because I find it hard to be at your best when you’re not at your best. But sometimes it’s the kick that you need. It’s one thing to race on fresh legs, another to race on not so fresh legs. The latter is much harder mentally but then again most breakthrough performances are when you master your head on top of being physically ready. Sometimes training feels too comfortable mentally. You can’t simulate three men breathing down your neck. But then again, if I ride on my trainer with Boss, Max and Chris standing behind me that might come close to it.


Once I got home, I had a 90-minute ride with some race pace efforts. When it was all said and done, I laid on the living room while Max sucked on my salty knee caps. I know, it’s disgusting but not as bad as when I found him sucking the carpet on the stairs.


A few days of ups and what arrived on Sunday almost on cue – the downs. I woke up Sunday morning grumpy. Chris said you are in a bad mood, do you want a hug. I said I don’t need a hug, I need someone to pedal my bike for 3 hours while I sit on it. I did not want to run. Nor ride. I had to do both. It was 37 degrees outside. Eventually I went for my run. It’s funny how one day you can be holding a pace 3 minutes per mile faster than the next day. My legs felt that great.


When I got home I convinced myself I needed to ride 3 hours instead of sitting around eating waffles and bacon. I ended up on the trainer. My legs were tired but I knew that I had to get through it. Quitting or not even starting would have been much easier but if it was all easy – everyone would win.

And so goes a week of training. Some days are up, some days are down but in general it is an upward trend. Someone once told me that in a week you should be able to hit 80 percent of your workouts. If you hit them all, you’re likely not working hard enough. If you hit less, you’re probably overtraining. If you do 14 workouts a week, you can expect that 3 might not go well. I’m usually there. I keep it all in perspective and know that getting up the next day, after rough training, is what being a champ is all about. It’s easy to train when things are going well or the numbers look good. Not as easy to get over yourself and move on when things aren’t going your way.


Next week promises to be more challenges but also hopefully more breakthroughs. Everyone has ups and downs in training. The breakthroughs make even the hardest training days feel worth it. And true, it's hard to stay encouraged when you’re stuck in a rut of downs. I’ve been there. I remember the one week of bad swims including the swim my lanemate and I swore we would never talk about again. Or the week where I had to do my 13 mile run on the elliptical because my hamstring was barking. But training is fickle like that – it’s up, it’s down but you do the work, you make the right choices and trust it will come together when you need it most. Confidence in yourself and the plan for success on race day.


For next week? It’s not time for rest yet and we’re getting closer to big races so that means the work is getting more race specific (read: hard). I noticed next week two of my favorite words: track brick. Something like ride hard, run 800 meters, repeat many times. There is nothing more true than the track. You’re fast or slow, you’re either ahead of or behind your Chihuahua. Not that I plan on bringing Boss but if he does show up, I’m taking him in the final 100 meters.


Bring it little doggie. BRING ------ > IT!

9 comments:

Molly said...

Love this!!! It's so true and something we all have to deal with - knowing is half the battle in adapting to the ups and downs without going crazy.

And WOO.HOO. for track brick :)

GoBigGreen said...

Good timing for this blog. we are all getting outside ( um well the midwest is having trouble with this arent we, damnit) and its getting to be more race focused.
I LOVE that Track Brick. I think its the most effective Du wko i have ever done. or maybe its the only one i have ever done:)

Jennifer Harrison said...

This is great, Elizabeth! I think that most athletes need to understand that they cannot or will not 'win' every workout....honestly, if I can have 80% of my workouts GOOD or "successful" then the week is a success!
And, you did not mention you WON the 10k! HA...good training week done!

Miss said...

Love all your insights. Just curious - with 14 workouts per week, do you have time to take a day off? Do you take a day off - as in OFF off - each week?

E.L.F. said...

Good question! No, I do not usually take a day off each week unless I am doing a duathlon or triathlon. I've found that some athletes need that day off each week to decompress, catch up on life, etc. Other athletes actually do worse with that day off because it disrupts their rhythm. Neither way is right, it's just what works for you.

Wes said...

Yesterday on my run, my legs felt like ass!

just out of curiousity, does this feel like your ass is dragging, or you feel like crap all over? :-)

You are too funny... I don't have any triathlon specific goals this year. Somebody should probably come up with a good list of goals from which one can choose.

legacyman59 said...

Thanks for this post! Everything you said hit home with me. Lately all my workouts have felt like ass. I am trying to pull thru it and love it anyway, but my boyfriend of three years is not supportive and doesn't understand why I race, train and repeat. He uses my injuries as a way to deter me from training. How do you get your significant other on board? Were Chris and you both into training before you met? Is it possible to awaken the athlete in a boyfriend who doesn't see the point? ( And trust me he should, since I've been doing sprint tri's and marathons I've lost 20lbs)
Any advice?
Thanks!

Alicia Parr said...

When I read these "bleed lactic acid out of your eyeballs" kind of posts, I'm left convinced that I'm a total slacker. Upon closer examination, however, my baseline expectations for hard work might be higher than most. I really don't know for sure.

I've never really done the math on the 80% good workouts idea, but I know how sucky days just happen sometimes and oftentimes they are followed up with rockstar days.

Best of luck on your upcoming races. Sounds like you'll be ready to roll.

Kim said...

Great post ELF and so true. Thanks for the great read. I love seeing you happy and yourself when you're in a routine and training! Thanks for the inspiration. If you can do it, so can I :)