Sunday, March 27, 2016

From Runner to Triathlete - Transformation Almost Complete

In the movie A League of Their Own, there's a dialogue between two characters (Tom Hanks and Gina Davis) that resonated with me long ago and frequently comes to mind. The film is about the All-Women Baseball league that formed during World War II, and Dottie (played by Gina Davis) was one of the star athletes, and Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) was the coach. Dottie decided to (try and) walk away from the sport when her wounded husband returned from battle.  To her coach she says, "It just got too hard." Jimmy (Tom) replies with one of my favorite movie lines, "It's supposed to be hard.  If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard ... is what makes it great."  

Triathlon training is full of epic workouts. Workouts that are meant to push the body beyond comfort, beyond expectation, beyond current fitness.  Big workouts that simulate race stress and conditions. Workouts that not everyone can do. Great ... Hard workouts.  When I look over my weekly schedule, the epic ones stand out. Just reading the description about the set increases my heart rate. If I have to ask the question, "Can I do this?", I know it's an epic one. I'm not training to complete, I'm training to compete and I know how much it hurts in the middle of the race. I don't want to back off when the pain hits. It will be these epic workouts that carry me through with power and energy, and will get me to the finish line ahead of my competitors. Within these workouts I will learn what I'm capable of and how to give myself a chance to accomplish something ... great.

Over the past 4-6 months, I've been working hard to transition from runner to triathlete. There are many reasons why this has been a very difficult task and I still struggle with letting go of certain strengths and advantages in order to gain other strengths and advantages that will make me (hopefully) a great triathlete. But I've had expert advice to rely on and incredible support and understanding when it comes to my headstrong grip on running. Epic triathlon specific workouts have been the key. As I swing high above the ground afraid to let go of the vine called Running in order to reach out and grab the vine called Triathlon, fearing I may fall completely, a transformation has been occurring. I am about to fully embrace the sport of triathlon.

Here are 3 transformational steps I've taken:

  1. Data Gadgets - My bike is equipped with an awesome power meter and I regularly train with a heart rate monitor now. It has been hard for me to learn how to pace myself on the bike and I have too many times erred on the "too easy of a pace" side of things and have had to learn how to ride hard and understand how long I can hold a given pace.  Along with the addition of the power meter, Fred has had me do Functional Power Threshold tests to determine how hard I can ride maxed out for an hour. This forms my base for training paces and this step alone has made a huge difference. The heart rate monitor is less of a tool for me than it is an interesting indicator. Through almost 40 years of training as a runner I've learned to know my body and my run paces based on feel but the monitor helps me on the bike and I can see how bike efforts and run efforts match and differ. 
  2. Equipment - I want to be clear regarding how I feel about gaining time or advantage because of equipment. This has been one of my sticking points in the past. I didn't want the aero-helmet or special race wheels, or even an aero bike frame. I wanted my time and performance to be pure and based on physical training, ability and mental strength. Over the years I have grown aggravated that I would end up realistically racing with many noted disadvantages. I'd line up with women of similar ability and get beat, not because they were better or stronger, but because they had the stupid equipment. I resisted for a long while, much because I raced with a runner's mentality (which means I am a minimalist when it comes to equipment). I have more recently decided that I no longer want to race with all these disadvantages. I have equipped myself with an aero-helmet, and recently found a great set of used race wheels on Ebay. This of course is more evidence that I've morphed to some extent into a triathlete and while I still feel that training, ability and mental strength are the real keys, at least I am able to compete on a level playing field again. 
    Zipp Wheelset with cool green decals.
  3. The accomplishment of epic workouts that are getting more epic each week! In preparation for the two Ironman 70.3 races (the first of which is in May), I have done several 4 - 5 hour workouts (bike/run combos). To help me with these workouts, I've also had incredible training partners. Here's something else that has been a huge key. I have a coach, Fred Maggiore, who not only writes these workouts but often does them with me. I really haven't got enough words of thanks and gratitude to express how much it has meant to me to have these experiences with other athletes. A few weeks ago we did a 70+ mile ride (around Lake Casitas starting out toward Ventura first, then coming back on the 150 - which I consider to be "Around the lake in reverse direction"), followed by a 30 minute run at tempo pace. Dr. Greg Gaitan weathered that ride with me (high winds that day) and Fred also joined for a solid portion of the ride. A week ago we increased bike mileage by doing a 75 mile ride around Lake Casitas but also looped around Ojai. This ride was then accompanied by a 40 minute hard run off the bike which ended up totaling over 5 hours. Mike Desmond and Fred did this workout (the bike portion) with me. I flatted on this one, making me even more grateful that I hadn't had to do it solo. 
    Photo credit to Mike Desmond who was obsessed with capturing this awesome telephone pole.
    And this weekend we rode Figueroa Mountain and Happy Canyon in Santa Ynez amidst lush green fields and wild flowers. The ride wasn't as long (this is the recovery week) but had 4700 feet of climbing. Riding buddies on this one again included Mike Desmond and Fred, and also James Kantrim. 
    Happy Canyon en route to Fig Mountain

    The view from the top of Fig Mountain

As final proof to myself that I am close to fully morphed, I decided to forego the upcoming Carlsbad 5000 which I was planning to race. It interferes with the big epic workout planned for this weekend so I decided to omit the race and make sure and hit that planned Double Brick instead. The 5000 meter race would have fed my competitive nature but would be of little value in preparing for a 5 hour triathlon. The Double Brick however will be a key workout in which I will simulate race effort over 4.5 hours and will allow me to test myself, push my fitness and endurance to a new level and provide the opportunity to again test my nutrition plan for the race. This brick will be comprised of a 30 mile bike ride followed by a 6 mile run (both hilly), followed by another 30 mile bike ride and then another 6 mile run (both hilly). This will be a little over 3 hours of cycling and 1 1/2 hours of running - similar to the race time/distances. A workout that will push me physically, mentally and nutritionally. And this one will be done solo. I believe this signifies the letting go of the Running vine and grabbing hold of the Triathlon vine, and in the transition ... I didn't fall to the ground. 

It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard ... is what makes it great.

1 comment:

  1. Nice writeup, Cindy! Some of us know how much energy you've put into the Carlsbad 5000 in previous years- that alone says something about your goals and drive to tackle the tri season from a new perspective. Best of luck- looking forward to seeing your hard work pay off in the season