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What I Learned From My Last Triathlon

Monday, August 18, 2014

This is largely for my own benefit. I want to be able to look back at it during the winter, while I'm laying the foundation to move up to an Olympic-distance tri.

One thing the Washington State Patrol Academy drills into cadets' heads is "I will not quit; I will not fail; I will not die." When you're doing a job that sometimes involves hand-to-hand combat with someone who's willing to kill you to avoid going to prison, it's less melodramatic than it sounds. At least one trooper credits that mantra with saving his life when the bad guy was winning the fight. While I was never a trooper, and I face more danger from my questionable diet than members of the general public, I've never forgotten it. There are times during tough workouts - usually lengthy hill climbs - that I find myself saying "I will not quit, I will not fail, I will not die." Of course, I'm usually about three heartbeats per minute below the threshold for a heart attack, so the irony is not lost on me. But it's calming to have a mantra like that - even if it's a little on the melodramatic side.

My inner coach controlled most of the race last Saturday, despite my breakdowns. When I was on the verge of quitting, Coach yelled back: "You want to quit? NO YOU DON'T! You don't really want to quit. You're just scared. You've swum farther than this in a pool. Just get to the first buoy. Get going!"

But I want to cry.......! "No! No no no no! You can't cry now. It's too hard to do everything when you're swimming. You can't cry and swim at the same time. You want to cry? Cry when you get on the bike." (Seriously, I said that to myself!)

I had to fight back tears a few times during the swim. It sucked. Those were the times I stopped to tread water. Other than that, I never stopped. I don't know why it took me that long, but once I got to the first buoy, I developed a rhythm: backstroke backstroke backstroke crawl crawl crawl backstroke backstroke backstroke. I enabled me to sight the second buoy. I had difficulty sighting the exit point on the shore - so much so the squadron of kayaks were yelling to get my attention and then pretty much guided me into the shore.

Between the fighting back tears and my Inner Coach yelling at me, I had a couple of insights. First, my practice open water swims have been too short because I quit. I quit because it sucks. I don't know why I'll push through a sucky pool swim but I give up when I'm in the river. So, once we have a truck, we're buying a canoe. The Hubs will be my lifeguard in the canoe. And he will make me keep swimming. If it's just up to me, I'll give up. But with a little external motivation, maybe I won't.

That insight also pleases me. Prior to my first tri in June, I hoped that I would not quit when it mattered. I didn't. So I'm able to tough it out when I really want to. This means I CAN do the thing that scares me. I quit when it's easy to quit.

Another thing we're going to do, that doesn't require buying a pickup truck: The Hubs is going to join me in the river, with a length of PVC pipe. He will stand upriver of me. I will hang onto the pipe and practice rolling side to side and breathing. I had to do that in the pool when I first started; why would I think I could just jump into a moving body of water without practicing the basics first?

I need to do more swim-to-bike bricks. That's a lot harder to coordinate than a bike-to-run brick. But The Hubs has said he's willing to help me out. We can lock the bike up where we're getting out of the river. He'd have my transition gear in the canoe and hand it off to me as I got out of the river. Clearly, that won't happen this year.

I think I need to start carrying a spare tube, in case I have another flat on the bike course. Slime tubes are too big to fit in my seat bag; I think I will have a tube in my transition gear. I don't use my tri suit's pockets on the bike, so I can put the tube in there. And, as much as I hate to consider it, I need to practice swapping out a tube so I can do it quickly. Ugh.

I don't know why I had so much trouble on the bike. The route gained about 1650', according to my Garmin. It was a rolling course, so every uphill meant a rapid descent. But that one damned hill that I had to walk up TWICE - WTF? I've climbed Weber Canyon (6% grade in spots, goes on for about 6 miles) - how can I not climb this stupid little hill on Whidbey Island? I have a decent interval route near my home. I've only done it as a specific interval workout once. Clearly I need to set up more interval training days before I'm ready to tackle an Olympic-distance tri.

I walked most of the run. I tried to run more, saying that I knew I was wrecking my foot and I had all winter to heal. I just couldn't. Oddly enough, my max heart rate on the bike was still higher than my max heart rate on the run. I think my legs were just plain tired. I could feel the difference after using my homemade energy gel, but I need to be stronger.

I've told people in the past that it isn't enough to know that I can do a 10K. I have to be able to do a 10K when I'm worn out. I think I need to be able to run 15-18 km to adequately prepare myself to run a 10K after doing the swim and bike leg.

One the plus side, I have access to the routes for the Olympic I'm doing next September. (See that - I'm doing this. I didn't quit, despite my mind repeated asking, "Why are you doing this? What is wrong with you? Why don't you just go back to being a cyclist?") And it's here in town, so I can practice on that turf as much as I want.

Now for the not-very-fun part: structured training. I won't start an actual tri training program until my foot is healed. But before the end of September, I'm going to sit down and write out a training schedule. That schedule will go on my desk calendar on my calendar on I can start doing the core work on an exercise ball now. The swim team takes over the pool again in a couple of weeks, so I'll no longer be able to swim in the evenings. I will have to get creative about getting into the club to swim, other than my short swims at lunch. I also need to schedule strength training - I haven't done that since June, because I wanted to devote more time to the swim.

The days are getting shorter. Soon, riding my bike to the club after work for a strength training workout will mean riding home in the dark. I have sufficient lights to make myself visible. But soon, the evenings will be cool. That means carrying more gear to keep myself warm and visible. We'll see how that goes.

Time to knuckle down on the diet, too. I'm happy with Matt Fitzgerald's "diet quality" regimen, as outlined in Racing Weight. I'm hopeful to reduce my body fat percentage over the winter, just as nature is encouraging me to do just the opposite. While I don't stress too much over my weight, I'd like to get down to 165 pounds by spring - assuming that ten pounds is fat lost. The last time I weight 165 pounds, I looked ah-may-ZING!

I have a big task ahead of me. I'm still a little stung by Saturday, despite everyone I've encountered - both online and in RL - telling me how amazing I am and how much I inspire them. Focusing on a plan makes it sting a little less. Maybe next year I won't an "Orca" - I'll be just another age-grouper.

I will not quit; I will not fail; I will not die.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Nice motivation here. I am scheduled for a sprint tri on September 28th, and my training schedule is pretty much non-existent. Can I do it? Probably, but not with times I'll be happy with. Thanks for convincing me that I need to buckle down. Also, my husband was stationed at Whidbey (many moons ago). He often regales me with tales of something called the Bridge to River race in Wenatchee (sp?), where his team lost their canoe!
    737 days ago
    Yeaaaaaah, that makes sense. There's a reason my beloved and I have only ever been in a canoe together once. We sometimes pretend we'll rent one, but then, you know, the dogs. We have to think about the dogs. And thereby, we are saved from what would surely be a horrible marital experience...
    737 days ago
  • v LIVESTRONG2010
    I am so happy I came across your blog! You are amazing and a motivation! I so want to do a half iron man but am scared to even try. I am a cyclist first then a walker (14 to 15 min mile) but never a swimmer. you make me believe I too can do this.

    I will not quit
    I will not fail
    I will not die!
    Thanks for sharing. September is my birth month so next year that will be my goal as well!
    Teresa emoticon
    738 days ago
  • v LYNSEY723
    Love this post. I would love to use that mantra if you will lend it to me. :) You are going to do great next year. You did great this year. If it was easy, what would you have learned from it??? You are a rockstar!!! emoticon
    738 days ago
  • v GHK1962
    That's cool that you're having a Tri in your backyard next year. Knowing the routes totally helps. Training on the routes even better.

    And you're going to an Oly distance?!?!?! WOW! I just did the Olympic distance on a relay team as the bike leg. The length was not the issue at 25 miles ... but MAN the uphills killed.

    But the run ... the 10K ... ohhh, that'd certainly be my downfall. The fact that you're now thinking of upping your game is steel fortitude indeed.

    And bummer about the light going away with the slipping of summer. I can almost feel myself stopping riding already ... and I've not even been riding much this summer too. (Oh ... I think Sept. is another Bike To Work challenge in our area ... are you gonna do that?)

    Anyway ... keep analyzing ... keep Tri-ing ... keep being awesome!
    738 days ago
  • v HILLSLUG98239
    And I do this post-mortem often. I'm hyper-analytical. I dissect, I ponder, I poke at the sore spots. It's an odd quirk of my personality. I don't think I'm capable of not analyzing - or over-analyzing - things. Even Freud said "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," but I'm not so sure.
    738 days ago
  • v HILLSLUG98239
    I used to own a sea kayak. (A tree fell on it. It is no longer sea-worthy.) I agree a kayak is more maneuverable. We opted for a canoe for a couple of reasons.

    The Hubs has never kayaked. He will adapt to a canoe much quicker. I have a fair amount of kayaking experience. My The Hubs experience has shown me that he usually doesn't listen to my advice. It would be incredibly frustrating for both of us to get him comfortable in a kayak.

    He can fish in a canoe. He could fish in a kayak, but he'd have to learn how. And, although it will require a level of communication we often fail to achieve, we can both paddle the kayak at the same time.

    I doubt I'll be able to get into the canoe without tipping it. I figure I can hang on while he paddles to shore. As tempted as I may be, it would be really dangerous to dump him into the river.
    738 days ago
    Great insights - I do love to observe the way you learn, and feel some kinship about those internal monologues. I'm reminded that I could probably push myself harder - instead of my "I can't quit yet" monologue, maybe I need a "why the heck do you think you should be allowed to quit at all?" monologue.

    I like your plan! I suspect the hubs will feel better about your training, too, if he can be right there with you. Though I'd favor a kayak over a canoe, myself - I find them easier to get into from the water because the center of gravity is lower. I've never gotten into a canoe without managing to dump the other person! Also, because kayaks are sealed all around, they're pretty unsinkable, which also appeals to me.
    738 days ago
  • v APONI_KB
    This is the right approach. It's almost like watching game tapes and studying what went wrong and what went right.

    In my younger days I competed in a lot of karate tournaments. That next week in class my instructor would always ask me what I did right and what I did wrong. The idea being that we could work on what I needed to work on. The problem is that I never could remember anything about it.

    Let's see there were a lot of people walking around in jammies. Suddenly I was standing on a piece of electrical tape across from someone who was roughly my same age, weight, and rank. A big sort of scary man was in the middle and then he dropped his hand. After that some things happened, then a whistle blew and either the big scary man held my hand up and I had to pretend not to be a smug jerk or I had to stand there looking brave and like I wasn't upset when he held up the hand of the person who was roughly my age, weight, and rank.


    Kathrynsan carries a notebook to tournament, takes notes, we go over later at home.

    Yea my instructor was not a native speaker and sounded like yoda. Sometimes this was too much and resulted in uncontrollable giggling followed by pushups.

    the POINT here is that I think you've done the right thing getting all of this down while its fresh in your mind

    I still think you rock for toughing this out.
    738 days ago
    I'm going to add my kudos to your analysis, not just your tri. I've had races where I "disappointed" myself with my performance, and it didn't matter how many others said nice things, I still didn't do as well as I wanted. With time, perspective, and especially what you just did here... analysis of what you want to do differently as you train for next time... those wounds will heal.

    Well thought out... I look forward to watching you progress to your first Olympic outing next year. Because you can, and you will! emoticon emoticon emoticon
    739 days ago
  • v GEORGE815
    Great post!
    739 days ago
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