Thursday, October 06, 2011

Best Day Ever

September 11, 2011. Maybe because I remembered where I was 10yrs earlier, how horribly that day was, I knew this day was destined to be the opposite; to be great. The weather was beautiful. The previous 6 or 7 weeks I had been tense and borderline miserable. Work was a strain as I had been "reorganized" for the third time in 18mos. We didn't have a kitchen because it was still being remodeled. Dishes were still done in the downstairs bathroom. Money of course seemed like it was flying out the door (see "kitchen"). And I hadn't worked out in what seemed like forever. Most notably I had not gone for a swim in the ocean since August 9th.

I've never deemed myself much if a swimmer. It was always a complimentary activity, something done when I had too like preparing for a race. So I never really considered how much I might miss it. On Saturday as I was leaving with Dylan to go to his soccer game, I got an offer to do the run leg as part of a relay at the FIRM Man 1/2 Iron triathlon. Sure! I was excited to do something competitive again. Yes it would be well below my best times due to a lack of fitness, but I suspected I could do something reasonable. But I wrote down the wrong phone number to confirm my interest. When I finally got home and corrected my mistake, the team, having not heard from me, got another runner. So it was that I had no option but to join the 1st to 2nd beach swim on Sunday if indeed I wanted to workout with others.

I was a bit intimidated by the thought. The others had continued to swim while I had my layoff. The ocean around us gets a bit "hungrier" as the fall closes in. I was unsure of my current ability to manage big water. I reassured myself that despite my lack of form relative to earlier in the year, I had now done this swim enough that I could at least survive it. And survive it I did! About 1/2 way through the water got very "confused" and I struggled. It was not pretty. You can't "fake" it in those conditions. But when at last I dragged myself up on 2nd beach I felt exhausted and ... transformed.

As people our "higher" brain functions may allow us to think of, and do, incredible or as we saw 10yrs ago and really see every day, terrible things. And yet it seems the farther we allow ourselves to journey along the paths that our higher functions create, the farther we journey away from our humanity. Survival situations push us back towards our instinctual roots. Closer to our humanity. When I emerged from the water I once again felt "human." After the swim we were invited to share coffee and pastries by a wonderful person at a house overlooking the wild waters we had just swum. The view was magnificent, but it was sharing that moment with the people, my fellow swimmers, that was perfect. I'm not sure if anyone noticed, but as I left to return home I very nearly cried.

And the day was not even over. In fact it had just begun. Alexandra has been a bike riding fiend for a while now, and her younger brother has been wanting desperately to catch up. Well it was Alexandra who asked if we could take the bikes to the fields near the track at Gaudet Middle school so they could ride and Dylan could practice w/o training wheels. After a few false starts and some nerves, he was up and going. Wobbly for a bit, when he went behind the "shed" at the field, like a ship passing behind the moon, you held your breath waiting for him to emerge...and he did. My buddy was a two-wheeler.

Best day ever.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Andy

We ocean swimmers (yes "we" as in "including me") are a small group. We convene at a little place, on a little island, in a little state. Because of this we have a bond. I wasn't sure how significant that bond was until our numbers fell by one yesterday. Andy passed away yesterday. I did not know Andy well, however we had mutual friends and shared a passion, swimming in our wonderful ocean.

I cannot recall a time when our "spiritual leader" Mike has not declared how wonderful, how glorious it was to be enjoying our waters. Early on I was too concerned with survival to fully appreciate this gift. Two days ago I had what might have been my awakening, my satori if you will. Treading water, with friends, near Purgatory Chasm. It was incredible. I was not anxious. I was not afraid. I was at peace. I was at home. There was a sense of calm that went through me. It was so basic, so real, so primal. I'll never take this gift we have here for granted again.

Andy will never again swim with us, but I do not doubt his spirit will not miss a start. Tomorrow at 6:30am we're swimming from 40 steps on the Cliff Walk in Newport to 2nd beach in Middletown. Quite literally there is no other place on earth where you could do this. While this event is not technically being done in memory of our friend, I can safely say he will be on our minds. The ocean binds us together.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ironman Coeur D'Alene

I was in the Phoenix airport. I was sitting in Starbucks watching my flight time slide from 3:45 to 3:55 to 4:00. They were playing Jimmy Cliff “Many Rivers to Cross.” I had no laptop, but suddenly I was inspired to fill the time writing. I walked down to the news store and found behind the racks of romance novels and assorted c.r.a.p. there was a little shelf with a couple pads of yellow lined paper and a few pens. It was basically an homage to things from a bygone era. And while I knew even then I was getting a little mellow dramatic, nonetheless the song and the moment inspired a “reflective” report.

The planning, build-up, trip, and lastly the race are all over now. 23 months in the making and over just like that. 23 months of seeking a do-over for Lake Placid ’09, and the near miss to Kona. And after all is said and done, some undeniable truths emerge.
1) I feel a lot better about LP ’09 than I did in ’09.
2) I’m a pretty competent race manager.
3) I’m still not going to Kona.

Can one be really happy with an experience and very disappointed at the same time? I wrote months ago that going to Hawaii didn’t matter so much anymore, however the very apparent truth is having the option to do so, in other words qualifying, does. I didn’t race poorly; in fact I raced pretty well. I saw no blatant cheating. I was just beaten. I’m forced to respect that. It’s hard to live with, but you have to respect the people who did a better job than you. I’m pretty sure I got everything out of my body that I had to give, and still it wasn’t enough. So I’m proud of my race, and yet disappointed. Less than 4 minutes, 3 places, and this report would be vastly different. I’m now 3 for 3 in near misses. The trip was also one of those experiences I’ll remember for a long time. And as great as my time with my teammates was, the trip as well will forever be one of mixed feelings.

A brief recap of the race reads like this. At 7:00am the cannon sounded and we were off. The start was chaotic but I’ve been in much worse. I think the clarity of the water helped. The swim was slow and a really big boat wake appeared on the second loop just as I was approaching the turn, screwing up my navigation and causing me to turn too much and so turn back. I also had a goggles which were leaking thanks to a bump in the head breaking the seal around my right eye. My contact effectively became like a cataract. It wasn’t too much of a problem during the swim, but the bike could be an issue. As I approached shore I remembered I had not thrown glasses into my bag as a backup in case just this thing happened. I came out in 1:11 and just like that I knew 10hrs was out of reach. Time to recalibrate the goals…age group place.

My hands were cold so transition was slow. In fact it took 3 shots to get my watch on. Once I got out on my bike I started to settle myself. I checked my heart rate and it said 140, and then 80, and then nothing. “Okay, this one’s going to have to be by feel. No heart rate today!” It did eventually start reading again, but was still wacky. The bike leg was my biggest disappointment. I should be 10min faster at my fitness level. And it was the flat lands, coming back into town into a bit of a head wind, where I got my ass handed to me. In fact comparing to fellow teammate Pat Wheeler, who rocked the course top to bottom, I only gave up fractions of a mph on the hills, but upwards of 3mph coming in, especially on the second lap. Disappointing.
CDA Bike

So it was down to the run to see if I could move up and perhaps get a Kona slot, which I may or may not take. I was fairly conservative going out. It’d been almost 2yrs since I’ve run this distance and it was warming up outside. I focused on nutrition and told myself to dial it back…slow it down. I got my heart rate, the monitor now working, back into what we call a mid Z1 effort, basically a steady aerobic running pace. I passed the eventual women’s champion Julie Dibens around mile 2. She was, however, on her 2nd loop. It did tell me I was running well. Still I expected to have problems so I kept it conservative. Mostly the run was uneventful. I did see teammates in force, and I was extremely surprised at the “Motivation Station.” As I crossed the mat, I looked up expecting to see some lame generic message. Instead I saw, “J. Kehm, B.M.A.” There is only one man who could have done that because only one other person in the state of Idaho on that day would know what that meant. Thanks Doug MacLean (the overall age group champion). I had decided to keep it conservative until the final climb was over. Then it was time to roll it out. I brought it home hard, including a 7:10 final mile and a final sprint to mid 5s.
CDA Run

I crossed the finish line. I got my medal. I returned my chip…and then I returned all the coke and water from the last couple of aid stations! A medical volunteer jammed a barf bucket in my face. I used it. And then she asked me if I was done. However she did so with the bucket literally jammed in my face. I said, if you move my puke out of my face, I may be okay. She didn’t move. So I just stood up. They walked me over and put me in a lawn chair with a couple of ice packs. “When was your last pee?” “Mile 18.” “Of the bike?” “No, the run. In fact I think my shorts are still damp if you don’t believe me! ;)” Okay I didn’t really say that last part, but I thought it!

My final time of 10:16 was not a PR, and so as I said I have mixed feelings. But I’ve got mixed feelings about much of the trip. At 6:30am PST on Tuesday I woke up to an empty house. I knew most of my teammates had left early, but it was odd nonetheless. We had just had what was really a pretty cool week. Just hours before the house had been alive with people and food and beer. We shared stories of the race, stories of home. It was a great afternoon/evening which had that “final bonfire of summer camp” feeling. In a short time you shared quite a bit and suffered together in the race, and then you went your separate ways. I can’t remember the last time I shed just a bit of my conservative demeanor , but there I was cap to the side (tag still on!), pants ½ off my skinny butt, and a 40 of Olde English in a brown paper bag. Now it’s back home and back to the “real me.”

On Tuesday I had a final breakfast at a local Coeur D’Alene diner named “Franklins.” We had gone the day before and I had the “Philly Cheese Steak Omelette.” It was pleasant then. Today not so much. Coeur D’Alene was quiet now, the carnival known as Ironman having packed up and moved on to the next town. A few locals had emerged and positioned themselves in their favorite spots. I had the same waitress as the previous day. She was perfectly pleasant to me. But then I heard her conversing in the next room. The discussion began with the waitress and a regular saying they were glad the athletes were gone (the place was empty so I didn’t have to try to hear every word). “Did you see them?” “Why would they do that (Ironman)?” “It’s stupid.” “And they think they’re better than everyone.” “They’re assholes.” “Yeah, they’re a bunch of geeks who think they’re better than everyone else.” (That's only some of the comments.) Well, I was glowing. Not just red. Glowing. They’re remarks weren’t intended for me to hear, but that didn’t much matter. I heard, and it offended and hurt me. And while they have a point, there are definitely assholes in the triathlon world, clearly we don’t have a monopoly on that category. When she brought me my check for breakfast she didn’t appear uncomfortable. She didn’t know I had heard. Now it would have been easy to pay and quietly walk away. After all I will never see them again. But I didn’t just walk away, however I didn’t cause a scene either. After all, wouldn’t that just validate their opinions? Instead I walked up with my check and said, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m truly grateful for your hospitality. I’ve been here twice now and have enjoyed my meals. I also wanted to let you know that I’m a middle-aged father of 2, I work at a bank, and I don’t think I’m better than anyone else.” “Oh,” she said. “I’m sorry you heard that.” She repeated that a couple of times. She looked a bit embarrassed. And then I walked out. Summer camp, or the mirage of it anyway, was truly over.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Off to Idaho

I can't believe the day is almost here. As usual I stopped posting things and indeed took other measures in my training over two months ago to handle the anxiety I typical feel in the final build up. I'm prone to a constant over-analysis of my conditioning followed by the inevitable "Am I faster than 2yrs ago?" My big fear in taking 2yrs off from Ironman racing was getting into things again only to discover that in the interim my body had aged beyond the point where I could post a PR and maybe even crack 10hrs. As I sit here I have a strange feeling of calm where my fitness is concerned. I have a feeling I've never been better prepared. It's like I've got the raw strength I had in early June 2009, combined with the relaxed and confident "Watch me go!" attitude I had in 2008. And I'm a more complete athlete. While I may well post the usual 1:06 on the swim, it won't be because I'm a slower swimmer. I know I'm faster, or maybe more durable is a better way to put it. My swim has joined my bike and run in that "I don't really slow down" category, unless of course I'm trying to hold Doug's or Diane's feet and then I pop! Even then I am finally able to settle myself, relax and recover while continuing to move. That bodes a little better for what I hope is a reasonably clean start (knock on wood!).

I've also managed to avoid illness since the winter of 2010. As much as anything this is a reflection of the reduction of stress in my life, both at home and at work. During the build up in 2009 I was sick a lot. As a result I've been training without unplanned interruption since the winter of 2010. Volume still has never been huge, but for those of you who think it's all about the volume, I'm here to demonstrate that consistency and restoration are greater...with a little bit of fun thrown in! The Mayflower sprint and Pumpkinman 1/2 that I did last year were hands down the most fun I've had racing in a long time. It felt like the "old days". I saw my friends. We talked some trash. And I ran all but one of them down and took home hardware at both! ;)

Of course none of this would be possible without the support of a great number of people, but special mention goes to two. The first is my boss Katie, who for some reason puts up with a prima donna has-been athlete on a daily basis. The funny thing is she didn't even hire me! Had I stayed with the person who had, this story would likely have a different tone. And of course there is my number one supporter Leanna, who puts up with me 24x7! I absolutely mean it when I say there is no "me" without her.

Where's Tim you say? Oh, he's there. That aspect of the training was a bit different this year. Rather than one-on-one we worked with what QT2 calls the "Mission Plan." It's a very detailed plan put together and customized for me, but at the end of the day it's the athlete driving the success or failure of the training, not the coach. It was a good fit for me because at 45 it was time to take what I've learned and put my big boy pants on.

So in a few hours I set off on the journey to Idaho. The travel will take a while and I've still got some packing to do, but when this day ends I'll be in Coeur D'Alene. My thoughts go out to everyone who helped me get there.

(And to Alexandra and Dylan: I love the two of you so very very much. Daddy plans to swim, bike, and run fast so I can get home to you sooner!)

Saturday, April 02, 2011

45

It's April. Where the hell did March go anyway? Let's see, work, vacation, the Alexandra 7th birthday week long Fiesta, Gangsta Coyotes, more work, training on and off, Alexandra's first asthma incident in a year, and hmm...anything else? Oh yes, I'm old. 45 to be exact. I turned 45 a week and a 1/2 ago. 4 days later I ran a 10k. I felt heavy and old. My mind was convinced I was done; the best days were truly behind me. Too many distractions, too much to overcome to keep the train moving. I had finally found the limit of what I could handle. And then a few hundred yards from the finish I saw the clock reading a time better than it ever had at this race, and in an instant I felt transformed. I buried it, set a new PR on this course by 10 sec, of course hurled about three times (I'm sure many of you would have been disappointed had I not!) and was once again an athlete on track to do something I had never done before, break 10hrs for Ironman.

I ran the race w/o a watch. I carried my Garmin in the back of my shirt so I could get data later, but I ran blind and just went with it. We've got sooo much technology weighing us down. The constant, incessant feedback all these training gadgets provide can be overwhelming and at times demoralizing. So I decided to go old school as much to heal my brain as test my form. Athletics is about a body versus a course measured by a clock. That's it. There are peaks and valleys throughout the event. That's the natural course of things. Running blind allowed my instinctual behavior to guide me through those peaks and valleys. With the constant feedback provided by the GPS watch, I find I'm more likely to fret about drops in pace throughout the race. That doesn't help the head and as a result it's harder to rally at the end. This time around I focused on dosing effort on the course, one of the finest 10k courses anywhere if you ask me, and on my fellow runners. I felt the invisible push, that bubble of force they create when they are right behind me, and I felt the invisible pull of that imaginary elastic band when I was behind them. These forces kept me honest. Like running on a treadmill, the pace couldn't really slack off because the bubble would push or the band would pull.

So going old school has become my focus. In part it's because while I realize just how little I truly understood when I was young, I also realize that doesn't mean I did it all wrong. I was pretty good at some things, I just didn't know why. Like riding my bike, there was a time when I was pretty good. I've been on a bit of a decline for a while now, partly because I'm older, partly because I second guessed everything I had ever done, and partly because I just wasn't enjoying it anymore. So now I'm old schooling my training. Back in the day I never averaged much more than 18mph on any ride. Okay, I loved BIG hills so it was hard to hold too much pace, but even when I wasn't climbing the number was 18 when I trained alone. And then somehow, on race day, the number was always much bigger than that. The last few years I've been stuck in the mindset that if I didn't average north of 20 on any given ride it was a disappointment. And the "pressure" to achieve that, to make every single ride faster than the last, made it all start to suck. This year I'm back to the old mind set. I've even reset my position on the bike to feel a bit more road, and a bit less triathlon. And you know, as I rolled out today, it felt gooooood. It was amazing in fact. The sensations were the same as they were decades ago. I felt part of the bike, not a rider on the bike. I may just have to break out the Oakley Eyeshades (yes I still have them!).

All right so I'm rambling a bit, but so be it. It's been more than a month since I've written anything and stream of consciousness is what I've got right now. Coeur D'Alene is now less than 3 months away and the final push has begun. I'm trying to do something I've never done, go under 10 hours. But the story here, at 45, I've finally realized this effort isn't about doing everything in a manner different than I've ever done. It's about pulling everything I am and everything I've learned over the years together and delivering them in one magnificent athletic expression.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

One more week in the books

This was a tough week. On paper it didn't look that bad, but I never really had it going. Could have been a lot of things, e.g. residual fatigue from the miles in the cold and wind, but the bottom line is ... it doesn't matter. I did all my work and feel pretty spent. During the run today I just wanted to stop. I felt tired, like "I want to step off the road and go to sleep" tired. But I didn't. Same thing on all the bike rides this week. I averaged ~5% slower across the board. But then I realized something pretty remarkable, it was okay. Yes I want to improve, but no I'm not going to get all neurotic about it. There is time, and there are ALWAYS weeks like this. Every athlete has them. Not every workout can be a PR. In fact in part I'm writing this in the hope that another athlete somewhere, who is perhaps having a rough go of it, can relax a little and know that a bad week doesn't mean the end of things. All it really means is it is time to refocus and pay extra attention to recovery. And in my case I'm actually seeing some opportunity. Tomorrow I have another couple of hours, run day after long ride day, and I know I will be tapped out. Historically it has always been my toughest day, and historically despite struggling mightily at times, I tend to make it through the run even begin to "refind" myself in the final 30min. I think more than anything else these two days each week build my durability, and Ironman is a test of durability, not speed. Case in point, as slow as my run felt today, I averaged a faster pace than I expect to run in Coeur D'Alene.

Ahh, Coeur D'Alene. Leanna and I were at dinner last night and she asked my about the plans after Coeur D'Alene, and more specifically what I was thinking about Hawaii. Well, here it is. Kona is not in the plans. All of my eggs are in the Ironman CDA basket. It is the theme for this effort (there's always one you know and they always make themselves known!). The goal is to go under 10hrs, plain and simple. Much like the first time I went under 3hrs in the marathon, this time out I'm setting a goal time, training towards it, and will do my best to execute towards it...no excuses. And if I come up short? Well, we'll worry about that on June 27.

This was not an easy decision, but I actually made it a while ago and I'm quite fine with it. Yes I've held this dream since I was much, much younger but in the end my dreams for my family and kids outweigh this one. Madame Pele and I may well never meet, but that's not the end of the world. Much like when I made the "honor roll" in high school cross-country, if I go under 10hrs in Idaho, I'll be able to walk away from Ironman racing satisfied... (I think!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

No guarantees

The worst part about not writing for a while is knowing where to start. At times like this I find it easiest to start in the present and work backwards. It's school vacation week, which means extra time with the kids, and perhaps too much time to think about where I stand with things after 12 weeks of training. Yesterday I got to the track and put in a set of mile repeats. This was my first such test since December 26, thanks to our less than cooperative winter. And it almost didn't happen.

I hate running miles. I love running miles. I hate running miles. I love running miles. Miles hurt, maybe more than any workout I do. They make me tense. The effort always results in a few gray hairs. I fear them because of all the places where the inevitable age induced slow down could occur, no doubt it will first surface in the mile. The mile run is very much like the 2000m row. It's no sprint. You must dose effort and be smart. But you must also be on the edge the whole time. If you are comfortable, you are not going hard enough. In December my mile set was the slowest I've produced in a long time, but I had excuses then. Yesterday there was no such quarter. Yeah it was windy, but I was trained and reasonably well rest, especially compared to the day after Christmas in CT.

Despite being tight and wearing way more clothing than I'd like for a track workout, I launched into the effort. I planned to "cruise" the 1st mile, get a feel for the track and the wind (this track is very exposed). This first mile would be the benchmark for the day. At the end of the 4th lap I looked down and saw that I had clocked a 5:53, well off 2009 but better than anything I had done in December. Effort 2 resulted in a second :53. While it was work, the wheels didn't fall off so now I was feeling a little better about things. I was definitely feel the strain, though, and my face was numb. Yet for the 3rd I felt I needed to get a little more "into it," so I dumped the warm-up jacket I had worn for 1 and 2, and ran #3 in much more aerodynamic attire. Who said aerodynamics don't matter running?! Repeat #3, 5:46. That one was a surprise and a very welcome one at that. For the first time in ~2yrs I had broken 5:50 on a track. I've done it on the road on plenty of occasions, but not the track. It's a mental thing and a hurdle I needed to clear. I also had my splits headed in the right direction late in a workout. Relief. The final repeat was done on the road because I was cold and to hit my designated total workout time (and a bathroom sooner as opposed to later!) I needed to turn for home. I actually didn't get a precise split for #4, but am reasonably certain I was in the low 5:40s.

Training, racing, hell life...there are no guarantees. We all know this yet we all look for them anyway. I want to know for certain that I'm going to be able to do what I've never done in my life; break 10hrs for Ironman. I want to know that I'm not just kidding myself. I want to know that I'm not just wasting my and my family's time in pursuit of some fantasy. Indeed the cynic would wonder what right I have to expect that this is even remotely possible, given that I've never done it. I'm not a newbie athlete who is just beginning to discover themselves. I've been an athlete for a long time, and pretty much know who I am. I'm not overly fast, I just try to not be slow. And I'm not getting any faster. If anything, yesterday reminded me that despite being my strength, my run is not "elite." I'm not shaving 14min off my best time just by running better. And I am getting older. I'm not old, but facts are facts. A training race would be nice, but only for the mental break. I can already tell you what the results will say. Speedwise I'm in the ballpark of where I've always been, maybe a little worse, likely not any better. Any new records will be a matter of improved execution across all areas of the race, not just one. And there are no guarantees.

So many people fear believing in things they can't see. If there is not conclusive evidence as to the existence of something, it cannot possibly be. Just play it safe. Trust what you know. Fear the unknown. It's such a limiting existence. At least you can take comfort in knowing more or less how things will turn out. But I need more. I need to show my children that sometimes the unexpected can happen. So I continue to put in my hours, to lose the sleep, to feel the burning in my muscles. And I'll continue to see performance numbers that indicate that on any given day I'm really no better than I've ever been, all in the hope that on one very specific day all the numbers will converge in a pattern they've never before created, the sum of which is less than 10. I understand quite well I may fail. I understand it might never get there. I'd love assurances. And yet for now I continue not because of guarantees, but because I know no other way.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

And I didn't miss any workouts and everything's great...

...and if you believe that!

It's week 10 and I'd love everyone, especially the coach, to think it's all rosy and we're all systems go to Ironman Coeur D'Alene, a PR, and a trip to Kona. But that's fiction. Yes it is all systems go (so far) for IM CDA, but that's about all we know. The past few weeks have been rough. I've gotten little road running in, something about that white stuff, but more than that has gone on. While I have successfully managed another SAD episode, I did end up getting sick and generally ready to sell all my gear and join the donut eating set.

It's during this (very regular, very predictable) episode of despair and self-loathing that something kicks in. I disgust myself to such a degree that I decide to kick my own a--. But this time it's not about working out more and harder. Part of kicking my a-- is forcing myself to realize that, yes, I'm about to miss a few key workouts while I shut it down and get rid of the cold. It doesn't really help that manic part of me, but it helps prepare me for what comes next. Likewise I refocus on my nutrition. See a theme here? It's not so much the exercise that pulls me out of these periods. It's the restoration. Once the energy levels begin returning then I crush it like a fiend resume activities as prescribed and just let what is gone be gone. It's just the best long term plan. Do I think the missed training volume could cost me in June? Maybe, but maybe not. I do confess I am most distraught over missing my mile repeat test. I know I'd be much better than I was at the end of December and frankly seeing that difference works wonders for the mind. Instead I need to try and be okay with simply knowing I am better. (Or am I?)

All this work and anxiety and depression may make it sound like I'm not enjoying the training. In truth at times I am not. But those times are fewer than in other years and they are really an indicator that I'm not doing it correctly anyway. Usually it means I'm pushing too hard too early. By backing off the throttle a bit it feels like much of the "burden" of training is lifted and I can, say, just hang out on my bike for a while. I don't need to obsess about whether or not I'm putting up better watts per heart beat than I did last session.

Oh, and adding to the "fun" was my I'm on the team, I'm not on the team, I'm on the team drama (self-inflicted). Well I'm on the team, albeit in a different capacity than before. Doesn't change a single thing about me as an athlete. It just changes the page on which my name appears on the website, and oh yes, you don't get to see my smiling face! Never fear, I'll post some pictures in case you find yourself longing for my lycra clad body!

This week marks the transition to "build" activities as opposed to "base" training. I have always liked build more. There is more variety. You do learn during the build whether or not you have a proper base, because if you don't you break down pretty quickly, and if that happens...it's back onto the emotional ledge!

(So far so good, including the best paced 800TT I've ever swum.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

5 more months

I'm in an in-between time where race day seems pretty far away and right around the corner all at the same time. Every time the workout ends up in the cellar, well, the summer seems far off. Hey, it's only mid-January after all. Most years I'm just getting started. I'm just doing adaptation workouts to get ready to train for real. However this year I'm almost to the "build phase" of training, which is when the real effort starts. Wow, building already. There's not much time left. Am I really ready? Will I be ready?

I've had some real doubts about my ability to get it done. It's pretty hard to imagine being significantly faster at 45 than I have ever been in my life. When taken event by event I am not faster. I've run faster; there was a time when I could run miles under 5:00min. I've ridden faster; there was a time when I could average more than 26 mph for a 10mile time trial. The one exception may be my swim which is marginally improved. So I need to focus on the following truthes: it's not about running sub 5min miles, it's about running 7:40/mile for over 3 hours after riding 112. It's not about riding 26mph for 23 minutes, but rather 21mph for over 5 hours. And while there is some hope in the fact that the race is not about how fast you can go, but rather how long you can go, I still have doubts. It's just difficult to wrap your head around the effort when it's 18 degrees out and you're riding in the cellar wishing you were riding anywhere but there!

And then there's the cost, though this really falls under a different heading. This is an expensive venture no matter how you slice it, expensive enough that at some point you have to seriously reconsider the "value" of a personal quest. I have one last thing to prove to myself, so it's still full throttle ahead, but this time around, win, lose, or draw, it'll be time to reconsider the future. I can't see myself leaving the sport, but to be honest I do not really like the direction. At the forefront is the M-Dot thing. In so many ways they set the tone that this is an activity for the privileged: if you've got the money you can buy a spot in a race! There's the equipment: "entry level" bikes now cost $2K. The upper limit is well...mostly undefined. Take a $5k bike add electronic shifting, an SRM power meter, some top end wheels and before you you know it your bicycle costs more than a car, a NEW car. And then there is the training: monthly personal training plans frequently cost more than monthly car payments. I do see the value in it for many people, especially beyond the value of high end carbon fiber toys. I question the ongoing value for me. I've got two young children who one day will no longer be young and will (hopefully) want to go to college. Top colleges already cost $60k+ per year in tuition. What will that be in 11 years when Alexandra wants to go? When we decided to become parents that was a statement that we were prepared to no longer have things be all about us. The kids and their future are the primary concern. The amount of money going into this Coeur D'Alene adventure alone would make a nice 529 plan contribution.

Which brings me around to my doubts. I'm beginning to think that there is more than a little element of guilt in here. I've committed to seeing this through, as planned, for the next 5 months but then maybe it is time to move forwards. Athletics is part of my legacy so I expect to stay involved, but in a somewhat different manner. I think M-Dot branded racing is done. After all I could probably prepay Pumpkinman, a wonderful independently run race in Maine, for the next 5 years for what this trip to Idaho will cost. And you know, I suspect the kids won't care if we race only local and shorter events. They may well prefer it, after all we could do more. That's more medals and trophies for Daddy to give them! I'm probably done getting coached as well. It is a means to an end, so once I've ended... Maybe I'll finally "retire" to that dream job as a Bill Bowerman-esque track/x-country coach. Or maybe I'll focus on community family fitness. I've long considered the possibilities presented by the very nice track and field facility we have here in Middletown. Or maybe I'll finally buy that open water single and simply return to rowing.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Muddling

It's been a struggle the last 2 weeks or so. Happens within a few weeks of this date every year, and in fact I've written about it previously. Fortunately good hard workouts help. They don't fix everything, only spring seems to do that, but they help. I got outside today. Cold, but sunny and calm so it wasn't too tough to warm-up and get moving. Finished the day with a much better time than I expected, which in turn proved that the negative thoughts have little to do with reality. Having the hard numbers really helps.

I've also spent some time chatting with my Dad the last couple of weeks. In fact I owe him an email this weekend. I decided if I can't be in Pittsburgh to talk about nothing with him, I'd write him from Rhode Island and "challenge" him with bigger topics. We discussed the nature of God and the theological understanding of God vs. what many churches still promote. It's actually astonishing to me that such a separation exists. Turns out I fall into the theologian camp more than I ever thought possible. Yes stunned even me! After all I'm the kid who hung the "WARNING: Theology Area" sign on my Dad's home office! Now this discourse doesn't mean I'm running down to the nearest church and signing up, but he has given me some things to think about.

The hardest thing to overcome is the feeling of isolation. Well in the past week I had to make a decision based on my "thinking" brain, to the objection of my "emotional" brain. It was the right decision, but frankly did not help the perception of isolation. The emotional brain really does not like losing! I elected to not be part of the QT2 Team this year, though I am still being coached by them. It really changes nothing, though maybe the clothing...we need to work that part out, but it feels like things are different. As rowers we all did ridiculous workouts in miserable, dare I say medieval, conditions at times and thrived because we did them together. Even if you were off your game, chances are someone was still holding it together and they'd help you through. That's what teammates do. So emotionally I feel like I'm cutting myself off from my teammates, turning my back on them. The reality is not quite like that, but again the emotional brain doesn't listen too well to the thinking brain.

**Update**
We went skiing today. It could have been a total disaster (okay maybe it was somewhat of a train wreck), but amazingly I kept my patience. Being out in the sun definitely helps. I have a few hours of trainer riding ahead of me and am dreading decending into the cellar, but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. I'd like to think things are heading north again and maybe they are, or maybe it'll just last as long as the sunshine. Either way I plan on enjoying the moment.