Weekly Recap (1/25-1/31)

Monday: Swim—Masters swim team (2800yds); 8-minute abs
This workout was a bruiser.  I woke up exceptionally unmotivated to do anything.  I made it to the pool, but I didn’t feel particularly strong while warming up.  And then I saw the workout, and just groaned internally:
300 swim
200 kick
100 pull
4 x 50 (distance per stroke)
4 x 50 (closed fist)
500 build
10 x 50 @ :55
200 pace
500 negative split
100 easy
This was a hard workout from the get-go.  I swam the first 500 really hard (you were supposed to get faster throughout, so the last 150 or so was tough), and I was gassed afterwards.  The ten 50s shouldn’t have been that hard because a few weeks ago, I swam 50 of them at that interval.  I think maybe I swam these a little faster (and thus had a little more rest, though. The “200 pace” was a 500 for the faster lanes.  The “pace” means that you pick a certain pace to practice.  I kind of vaguely chose my generic triathlon pace which meant I was swimming at a good pace, but at a pace that was really easy to maintain for 200 yards.  That was wise because I needed a little bit of a recovery before tackling the last 500.  For the last 500, we were supposed to stop for 5-10 seconds after the first 250 to check our time so we could easily compare it to our time for the second half.  With my lack of motivation and just generally feeling a bit out of it, I really had to up my mental game to push the last 500 hard.  I swam the first half in about 3:52 and the second in about 3:48, so I did manage a negative split (just barely!).  The combined time (7:40) would be my fastest 500, though with an eight second break between the two halves, it’s not really an “official” practice PR.  I also did some core work in the evening.  For some reason, it was exceptionally difficult, and I struggled through the eight minutes.

Tuesday: Run—1200m, 6 x 1200, 800m
Another tough speed workout in the books.  Actually, this was the longest speed workout I’ll do during marathon training, with four and a half miles of intervals.  The tracks are all still covered in snow, so I took it to the treadmill before work.  There were other people at the tiny office gym at 6:00am, so I couldn’t just blast Pandora like I did last time.  After warming up, I set the treadmill to 8.9mph (6:44/mile) and a 1% incline and got going.  My plan was to do six repetitions of running .75 miles, then hopping off the treadmill for .25 miles.  It was a hard workout, and the fact that it was on a treadmill made it harder this time around.  Each 1200 seemed to last forever.  And since I couldn’t listen to music, I couldn’t pull my “don’t look at the time until this song is over” trick which didn’t help.  After the first couple of reps, my legs started burning by the end of the first 400.  They would eventually “get used” to the pace, and I never felt like I was in danger of flying off the back of the treadmill, but it was rough.  The second-to-last 1200 was especially difficult, and I actually considered turning the pace down.  I gutted it out, though.  During the last 1200, I upped the pace a bit during the last 200.  I kept cranking it up bit by bit until I hit 9.5 mph (6:19/mile) right at the end.  Really, I wasn’t being hardcore at all.  I just wanted to be done faster and knew I had to run faster in order to do so.  I was tired exhausted the rest of the day.  Sleepy tired, not leg tired.  In fact, I believe the words, “I’m so unbelievably tired I think I might die” crossed my lips.  It was my flair for the dramatic acting up again.

Wednesday: Bike—13.79 miles (49:40); 8-minute abs
I thought it was going to be a warm-ish bike ride (upper 30s), but when noon hit, it was a good bit colder than I expected (lower 30s).  I got out on the bike anyway and almost turned right back around.  Seriously, my face hurt after 30 seconds on the bike.  I don’t know if my face got used to it or if the wind died down, but it got much better after the first few minutes.  I was actually able to get a decent lunchtime ride in.  There’s not much to say except to note—again—that I am counting down the days until the weather gets warmer and longer outdoor rides make more sense.  I also did core work in the evening.  It felt better than it did on Monday, and I’ve eradicated the “easy” exercises.

Thursday: Run—5 miles (37:16)
I wasn’t feeling a run on Thursday.  My stomach didn’t feel great for most of the morning, but it was feeling a little better by the time I went running around 1:00pm.  I started out pretty strong, but immediately felt like my legs were a little heavy.  So after the first half mile or so, I pulled back a bit.  I was still moving along at a fairly good clip, but I took the edge off.  The wind was against me on the way out, so I was feeling pretty tired by the time I hit my turn-around point.  The way back felt much better, and I sped up just a little bit.  I managed a pretty good kick to finish, and I didn’t feel horrible at the end.  I finished with a pace of 7:27/mile, which would have been thrilling three months ago but is currently just kind of “meh.”  I felt a bit flat out there, and that’s okay.  It makes me a little nervous because I have a 20 miler in two days, but last week, I ran an almost identical 5 mile time and nailed my long run.  And hey, one more run crossed off the schedule.  Only seven more hard runs until the marathon!

Friday: REST
My favorite day of the week!  As usual, I was excited for my rest day.  I slept in (until 6:00am!) and didn’t obsess over my water intake.  I did, however, start obsessing over the weather for my 20 miler on Saturday.  The forecast predicted rain/snow all night on Friday and all day on Saturday.  I started frantically putting backup plans in place.

Saturday: 20.05 miles (2:46:14)
The snow was pretty bad on Saturday, and the roads were slushy and slick.  I didn’t want to risk hurting myself, so I decided to run at the indoor track.  73 laps.  Daunting.  Even more so because the track was closed most of the day for a high school meet and didn’t open until 6:30pm.  As much as I hated the idea of running 20 miles that late, it seemed like the best option.  I’m going to write a post about the wonderful experience of running around a track for almost three hours, so I won’t go into too much detail here. The short version is that indoor long runs are a tough mental challenge and that I actually like some hills (or at least, some variation in terrain).  I finished with an 8:17/mile pace which, despite being slower than last time, is still pretty good considering I ran at such a strange time of day.

Sunday: REST
Another unplanned rest day.  I was going to go on a bike ride, but I woke up on Sunday morning to find that my car had been stolen… with my bike inside.  I could have still done core work, but I honestly didn’t care, so I spent the day feeling sorry for myself and coloring (after doing all the responsible adult things like filing a police report and e-mailing my boss to inform him I’m working from home on Monday).

CAD10
RIP, CAAD 10.  I’ll probably never see you again. 😦
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Why I’m a low-tech runner

I’m stingy.   I’ve think I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, but it bears repeating.  When I “treat myself,” I go to McDonald’s and get two McDoubles (Quarter Pounders are too expensive!).  I buy my make-up and other essentials with Amazon gift cards earned through work.  I have two winter running tops.  Two.  The last time I bought an article of clothing was this past summer for a friend’s wedding.  Like, it’s bad.  Thus, it’s not a surprise to anyone that knows me that I haven’t ever adopted any of those new-fangled training tools like Garmins and heart rate monitors.  Really, though, I’ve learned to enjoy the low-tech running I do.  I’m not out to make any converts, but I do think there are a lot of benefits to running without the help of (many) of the tools that have become commonplace.

Obviously, I do use technology.  When it comes to running, the stopwatch function on my standard Timex watch, an online pace calculator, and MapMyRun are my essentials.  I have a very particular process that I go through before each and every run.  That’s twice a week right now, when you keep in mind that I’m not doing this for my speed work.  I map out a run of the appropriate distance on MapMyRun.com.

SatelliteGPS
I don’t usually use the satellite function, but that’s the only way I could get the street names not to show up.  If someone is going to stalk me, I’d rather not give them all the info they need.

I then look for good places to check my splits throughout the run.  Typically, I look for impossible-to-miss landmarks like turns or intersections.  Once I’ve chosen the locations I want to check my splits, I figure out exactly how far into my run that location is and then use an online pace calculator to determine what my time should be at that location.

Splits
The first column is the distance, the second is the time I should be under at that distance.  Ignore the rest of the numbers.  I reuse Post-It notes.

Then I write those splits on my hands so I can check my pace on my runs.  This practice amused one of my friends so much that it made it into her product description of a Garmin for Competitive Cyclist*.  Basically, I’m famous.  For long runs, I may only check my pace every few miles, while I may try to check my pace every half mile or so during shorter runs.

SplitsHands
And here are the splits! (They don’t match the splits above because they were for different runs.)

And then, while I’m running, I just glance at my watch and glance at the split written on my hand whenever I hit one of those pre-determined pace checkpoints.

Watch
This is a post-run shot, not an action shot.

It’s a pretty involved process now that I think of it, but I think it does have a lot of benefits that I would worry about missing out on if I went the typical Garmin-route.

I love being forced to map my route before heading out for my run.  Not only does it make me more familiar with the turns I’ll be taking and the roads on which I’ll be running, but more importantly, it helps me visualize the hills I’ll deal with during the route.  Utah has some pretty decent hills, and sometimes, the slope is enough to affect your pace but not enough to actually notice it.  Having an idea about what kind of hills I’ll face and when during the run I’ll face them helps me tackle my runs in a smarter way.

I also enjoy not being a slave to my GPS watch or my pace.  I know that if I had a GPS watch, I would check it constantly and obsess over it during every mile of every run.  This is simply an unfortunate aspect of my personality.  I didn’t want to get an iPhone for a similar reason—I didn’t want to constantly be distracted by games, social media, and the ever-present Internet.  When I eventually did get an iPhone, I immediately picked up all the bad habits I was afraid that I would.  I don’t want to do that to running.  I don’t want to panic when I’m running up a mountain and not hitting my goal (overall) pace.  I don’t want to see I’m running faster than planned and panic and slow down, even though I feel great.  For me, running without a GPS watch has helped me learn to be a better judge of my effort.  I spent the first half of my marathon training cycle worrying that I was running too fast before embracing it and judging my effort based on how I feel during and after the run.  It turns out, I was more capable than I thought. I’m not sure I would have realized that if I had been holding myself back because a glance at the GPS watch revealed a sub-8:00/mile pace one mile into an eight mile tempo run.

I’ve also read too many horror stories about people pacing only by their GPS watch, only to be screwed when they realize their GPS watch is wrong or when the GPS watch can’t manage to find a signal at all at the start of a race.  If I got a GPS watch, I know I would become dependent on it.  And because stuff happens (batteries die, signals are lost, tangents are run poorly), I want to maintain my independence from GPS more than I want the information and convenience a GPS watch would undoubtedly give me.

And finally, I’m going to offer up a reason that I know isn’t fair.  Despite generally being uncomfortable building narratives, I’m able to admit when I do succumb to building narratives in my life.  This is one of those times.  I don’t have a GPS watch for the same reason I don’t listen to music when I run.  There is an imagined simplicity and purity to running by yourself, without much help from technology.  I mean, I know my regular wristwatch is technology, but that hardly seems to count these days.  I love stepping out the door and feeling like it’s just me and the road.  There’s something exciting and kind of risky (and, yes, stupid) about leaving for a long run with no phone or GPS.  It’s like you need to know yourself and know the area to make sure you will make it back as planned.

Obviously, there are workouts that I can’t do without a GPS watch.  And if I were a “real” runner instead of a triathlete, I’d probably need to break down and get one.  I can’t go out and do intervals of 10 minutes at a 7:15/mile pace and 2 minutes at an 8:30/mile pace.  Any intervals I do in the middle of a long run need to be measured by RPE (rate of perceived exertion) instead of by pace or heartrate.  It would be hard for me to swing a fast finish long run unless I was able to manage to do it based on effort alone.  Plus, as I mentioned above, I’m missing out on a bunch of data that I would probably over-analyze and obsess over… but I would also probably enjoy doing that.

Like I said earlier, I’m not trying to make any converts here.  GPS watches are really useful training tools, and I probably should have one.  I’ve run across articles and blog posts about the benefits of doing recovery runs without GPS watches to keep you going slow and to prevent you from obsessing over pace.  But I would also say that it can be useful to do some of your more serious workouts without a GPS watch.  I’ve shocked myself (in a good way) when I calculated my pace for some of my tempo runs (7:40/mile for 8 miles?!) and some of my long runs (7:51/mile for 15 miles?!).  And I’ve noticed that, despite my fears, I don’t seem to recover from the surprisingly fast runs any slower than the surprisingly slow ones.  The time it takes me to recover from hard runs seems to be, well, kind of random, but with more of a correlation with how the run felt than the actual pace of the run.

That’s why I embrace low-tech running and have no current plans to buy a Garmin (or any other brand of GPS watch).  That could change for any number of reasons in the future, but for now, I’ll scribble my splits on my hand before leaving for a run and pray I’ve chosen the right direction when I can’t quite remember which road I was supposed to turn on.

GandalfMeme
“I do not like the feel of the middle way; and I do not like the smell of the left-hand way: there is foul air down there, or I am no guide.  I shall take the right-hand passage.”

*I’m not getting any money from Competitive Cyclist.  I just know people who work there and am amused that I inspired a portion of a product description.

Weekly Recap (1/18-1/24)

Monday: Swim—One Hour Postal Competition (4400 yds total); 8-minute abs
Although I wasn’t officially entered into the competition, on Monday, I did a one hour time trial with the masters team at my pool.  The race report is here, so I won’t go into too much detail.  Basically, it was a warm-up, the hour swim, and then a brief cool-down.
500 easy
3 x 50 @ 1:00
3600
150 easy
One cool thing is that 2.4 miles is 4224 yards, which means that including my warmup and cool down, I swam the entire distance of the Ironman swim.  That’s a nice milestone to hit!  I thought about going on a bike ride because I had the day off, but it was cloudy and wet outside, so I opted to waste time for the rest of the day instead.  I also did some core work.  This week, I’ve upped my core routine from seven minutes to eight minutes.  I plan on holding steady at eight minutes for a while and instead upping my ab days from three to four in a few weeks.

Tuesday: Run—884m, 12 x 400, 884m
Another Utah winter day, another day at the Olympic Oval.  I have high hopes that I’ll get outside for my speed work next week.  Anyway, I woke up at 4:00am (which is absurd and I hate it) so that I could have time to drink some water and eat some food before leaving for the track at 5:00am.  I actually felt fast and loose while I was warming up with no residual soreness from my 20 miler on Saturday.  As usual, I took 45 seconds of rest between these 400s, except when otherwise specified.  I was aiming to hit 1:33 for these 400s, and I was pretty much right on pace the whole time:
1:32.5, 1:32.8, 1:32.6, 1:32.2
(1:30 rest)
1:29.2, 1:33.8, 1:32.8, 1:32.3
(1:30 rest)
1:33.0, 1:33.3, 1:32.5, 1:31.4
That lone 1:29 was when I got caught up between two guys doing speed work.  I subconsciously sped up and finished too fast, even though I was running in the second lane for most of the second curve.  This workout pretty much hit the balance perfectly.  It was hard.  I had to push myself the last 100 of most of the reps (the last 200 as the workout progressed), and I was sucking wind at the end of each 400.  But I was still able to keep up the pace and hit my target times.  I actually got a “nice job!” from one of the guys doing speed work.  Weirdly, that was the highlight of my workout.  I can’t think of a time I’ve had a stranger give me encouragement during a workout, so he must have noticed that I was really pushing it and working hard.

Wednesday: Bike—30 minutes; 8-minute abs
After work, I hopped on the trainer for a bit.  This was the first time I used Rob’s trainer, and it was pretty bad.  I found an interesting RadioLab story about Nazi POWs in the States during WWII and spun for half an hour while listening to it, but somehow the distraction didn’t completely take away the pain of the trainer.  I was interested in the story.  I just wanted to be listening to it on the couch or in the car instead of on the bike.  Regardless, it ended up being a good recovery spin.  I also did some core work.  In addition to adding some time to my routine, I’ve also been trying to reduce the number of “easy” exercises I do and focus more on the ones that hurt (good hurt, obviously).  This time, I specifically noticed how much easier the exercises are than they were when I finally added core back into my routine a month or so ago.

BikeTrainer
Trainers.  Hell on wheels.

Thursday: Run—5 miles (37:10)
Five mile tempo runs are so much easier to face than eight mile ones.  It helped that it was a nice day for a run—sunny and (relatively) warm.  I started out at a good pace while avoiding the trap of going out too fast.  The route I ran wasn’t hilly by any means, but it had a few ups and downs.  I tried to keep my pace strong while going uphill and use the natural momentum of the downhill sections to recover while maintaining a similar pace.  I think my effort for this tempo run was pretty spot on.  After I warmed up in the first half mile or so, the pace felt easy for the next mile or so before transitioning to comfortably hard for the later miles of the run.  I got a bit of a side ache in the middle of the run, but I was able to adjust my breathing and deal with it.  I’ve mostly conquered my side ache problem, but I’ve noticed it rearing its ugly head a little more often recently.  The last mile and a half or so I had to focus to keep my pace up, but it never hit the “this is so hard that I don’t know if I can do it” zone.  This run wasn’t quite as fast as my last five mile tempo run, but I still ran it in a 7:26/mile pace, which is quite a bit faster than my plan called for.

Friday: Swim—Masters swim team (2150 yds)
Usually Friday is my day off, but I wanted to take Sunday as my day off so I wouldn’t have to force a workout in between church and football.  I think building my schedule around religion and ball sports wins me the Stereotypical American award this week.  Anyway, with great reluctance, I woke up early and headed to the pool to swim.  Our workout was the following:
300 swim
200 kick
100 pull
8 x 50 closed fist
4 x 25 underwater
Whirlpool laps
25
50
75 (kick, drill, swim)
100 IM
75 (kick, drill, swim)
50
25
(complete ladder 3x)
I still can’t make it across the pool underwater, but I can now consistently make it in two breaths.  I still panic the moment I start feeling the need to breathe, though.  For the whirlpool laps, we all went into a small, circular area in the kid pool and ran in a circle to create a good current.  Then, we turned around and ran the opposite way doing the same thing.  It was a fun little change in pace.  The workout was nice because it was still a solid workout, but it wasn’t a ridiculously hard one.  With my long run on Saturday, I was glad it wasn’t a chest-heaving, gut-busting workout.  I also did core in the evening.  It’s becoming more of a routine and less something that I squeeze in when I finally remember.

Saturday: Run—15 miles (1:57:45)
I followed my typical Saturday morning routine.  I woke up around 7:00am.  I drank a bottle and a half of water and ate a banana before heading to Rob’s and eating a bowl of Lucky Charms and a small breakfast burrito while surfing the ‘net, listening to NPR, and chatting with Rob.  Around 10:00am, I went and put my water bottles out for my run.  When I got back from that, I drank about half a glass of chocolate milk and then deviated from my routine by popping a couple of preventative ibuprofen.  As usual, I checked my pace at the peak of the first long incline around three miles in.  I was a bit slower than I was two weeks ago when I last ran 15 miles.  I wasn’t all that surprised considering my 20 miler the week before.  When I hit the eight mile point, I was about 30 seconds slower than I had been at that point two weeks ago.  However, as I continued through the run, I kept feeling strong.  I noticed that my turnover was quick but didn’t feel forced.  I knew I was running fairly fast, but I just went with it instead of pulling back.  When I hit 13 miles, I was at almost exactly 1:44, which is an 8:00/mile pace.  I decided to push it pretty hard the rest of the way.  And I certainly did!  I ran the last two miles in about 13:45, which is a sub-7:00/mile pace.  I finished the run with a 7:51/mile pace overall.  Before you get too terribly impressed with my final two miles, remember that I was running downhill.  At a pretty significant decline.  You can check out the elevation chart below.  Still, I was very pleased with this run.  The best part is that I didn’t feel that deep, bone-numbing fatigue that I felt after my 20 miler.  I actually recovered well and felt good for the rest of the day.  I was hit with a deep, deep hunger around 8:30pm, though, and had to do some serious scrounging for food.

15miles

Sunday: REST
I finally took my rest day for the week on Sunday.  I turned off my alarm, which was welcome, and spent the whole day sitting around, eating good food, and watching football.  Days like this are important!  And after the week of workouts I had, I needed a day off and I needed a day where I didn’t just hole up and watch Netflix by myself.

Seven month checkup

Well, here we are.  Ironman Coeur d’Alene is happening this year in seven months’ time.  I’m still on track, and my fears of burning out over the winter are proving to be unfounded.  I’m actually feeling remarkably engaged mentally with the process so far.  What I’ve managed to do is essentially up the intensity of my routine while decreasing the time spent.  I think that has helped me remain excited about it and not overwhelmed.  Blogging about it has helped too, I’m sure.  I think I’ll be in more danger of burning out in the summer when I’ll be logging 12-18 hour training weeks.

Physical

Fitness:
My marathon training is going well as it hits its peak.  I ran my first 20 miler this month, and I hit an 8:11/mile pace—that’s faster than my pace during the run portion of my Olympic triathlon this summer.  I honestly never thought I’d be able to run that fast for that long, so this whole winter, I’ve really been riding the improvement high.  My swimming fitness is also improving, although that improvement has slowed down now.  I’m in a good place to improve even more, though, once I start swimming more often in the spring.  It’s been hard to watch my cycling fitness decrease.  It’s discouraging to compare my rides this summer with my rides now, especially when I think about where I’ll need to be in August.  I know it’s part of the process, and I’m glad I didn’t devote this winter to three hour trainer ride, but it’s still frustrating.

General health:
Other than a somewhat nasty cold I came down with right after Christmas, my health has been solid.  My weight is mostly stabilized, although it stabilized slightly lower than it was before I lost it this summer.  As near as I can tell, instead of having a range of 130-134, my range is now more like 128-132.  It’s not a problem now, but it could be when I start training more in the spring.  I’ve had a few aches and pains after my long runs, but nothing has materialized into anything that I need to be worried about.  My knee has been a bit sore off-and-on but has only given me real pain during one 15 mile run, and my left hip flexor was quite sore after my 20 miler, but that went away in a couple of days.  I’ve had a few weeks where I found myself overtired from not getting enough sleep, but that has been easily remedied by simply going to bed earlier.

Mental

I had a few low spells this month, but I was able to work through them mostly by getting more sleep.  For the most part, I’ve been very encouraged and engaged in my training, even when that training requires me to wake up at 4:00am.  Now that I’m approaching the end of my marathon training cycle, it’s easier to find the motivation to do the hard workouts because the finish line is in sight.  The fact that I’ve been hitting my paces on my runs and swimming well also helps.  Additionally, it’s hit that point in winter where I feel like I’m on the downhill slope towards spring.  Since spring means better weather and longer bike rides, I have something to look forward to.

Superlatives

Longest swim: 3000 yards*

Longest ride: 15.1 miles

Longest run: 20 miles

Most encouraging workout: My 20 mile run.  I feel like running your first 20 miler is, well, a milestone in marathon training.  It signifies that you have “made it” and that you could go out there and run the full distance, even if the missing weeks of training may cause you to run slower than your potential.  I know the real pinnacle of marathon training is the marathon, but the 20 miler comes close.

Most discouraging workout: My 15.1 mile bike ride.  It was the longest bike ride I did this month.  Of course, I enjoyed it because it was a bike ride.  And it didn’t go poorly.  But this is by far the shortest “longest ride of the month” I’ve had in a long, long time.  I miss the days of getting up at 6:00am to ride 30-40 miles on a Saturday or going for a “short” ride up Emigration Canyon after work.  This bike ride stood out because it reminded me exactly how far I’ve fallen in regards to cycling.  I know that my focus on running this winter will help me pick up cycling again quickly in the spring, but it’s still discouraging.

Average time per sport per week

Swimming: 75 minutes

Cycling: 63.75 minutes

Running: 238.75 minutes

TimePerSport07

Looking to the future

The theme for this winter carries on: Running and swimming are great, but what about cycling?  I know spring is coming, though, which means I only have one more month until cycling can take a front seat in my training again (weather permitting, of course).  At this point, I’m starting to think beyond the marathon.  I’ve got my race calendar mostly worked out for the 2016 season, and I’ve started studying the (free) Ironman training program I selected.  Oh, and I’ve finally managed to make core work a regular part of my routine.  I’d like to expand how much I’m doing.  I hope to eventually be doing ab exercises four times a week, with a shorter session (8 minutes) three times a week and a longer (length to be determined) session once a week.

Mountains

*My hour-long race was more than 3000 yards and took place before the 21st, so it technically happened during this month.  However, when I come up with the averages, I only use completed weeks just to make it easier.  So since I will be using that swim towards my averages next month, I’ll use it as my longest swim that month as well.

USMS One Hour Postal “Race” Report (1/18/2016)

On Monday, I “competed” in my first swimming “race” ever.

Yeah, that’s a lot of scare quotes.

Basically, I took part in an annual even that USMS (that’s US Masters Swimming) puts on an event called the One Hour Postal competition.  Essentially, it’s a virtual race where you swim as far as you can in one hour and send in your results.  Awards are given to the top competitors in each age group, nationwide.  However (and this is where those scare quotes come in), to officially take part, you have to spring for an annual membership to USMS ($45) in addition to the completely reasonable $7 entry fee for the race itself.  The fees themselves are perfectly understandable, but I didn’t want to pay $50 for one race that basically amounted to a time trial where I didn’t have to track my own laps.

Despite this, an hour time trial in the pool seemed like a useful metric at this point in my training.  My most recent time trial of any sort was a 1000 yard time trial in 16:12.  Because swimming times make no intuitive sense to me yet, I have no idea how to extrapolate that to a prediction for a 2.4 mile swim.  Since I’m hoping to swim my Ironman swim in 1:20, a one hour time trial would be a much more useful metric.  So I asked the masters coach if I could just join in with the swim and not officially enter.  Fortunately, he was totally okay with it.

I still had to come up with a goal for this “race.”  Recently, I’ve been wondering if I, perhaps, set my goals too low.  I’ve noticed it’s rare for me to miss the athletic goals I set for myself, and I’ve started to wonder if perhaps I’m setting my sights too low.  I’m usually fairly certain that, assuming a good race, I will hit the goals I set for myself.  And since I’m a fairly consistent competitor, I typically have good races and hit those goals.  So for this competition, I decided to branch out a bit and set a goal that I really didn’t know if I could hit.

A-goal: 3500 yards

This is the goal that I didn’t know I could hit.  It averages out to a pace of 1:43/100yds.  My pace for my recent 1000yd time trial was 1:37/100yds.  Looking at my times for other recent swims, I knew this would be stretch, and I honestly didn’t think I was there yet.

B-goal: 3150 yards

This would put me at the same pace I am hoping to swim for my Ironman (1:54/100yds).  Considering the swimming improvements I’ve seen over the past few months, I felt it was a very realistic goal.  If I could hit this distance this early in the year, I’d be setting myself up well to hit that pace in August during a longer, open water swim with people everywhere making things more difficult.

C-goal: Get a good indication of where my swimming fitness is

Had to have one goal I couldn’t botch!

Rob and I are somewhat active football fans, so on Sunday afternoon, we had friends over to watch the Broncos/Steelers game.  They brought over some delicious homemade mac and cheese which I ate with abandon.  I hadn’t properly refueled after my 20 miler the day before, so I was glad to have a bunch of party foods at my disposal for the whole afternoon.  By the time the game was over, I was finally feeling full and properly refed after the tough effort the day before.  Oh, and the Broncos won, which always makes any day a little better.

The game was on early enough that I ended up getting to bed nice and early—around 9:30pm.  After a fairly restless night of sleep, I got up around 5:30am so I would have time to eat, hydrate, and just wake up before heading to the pool at 7:00am.  I drank about a bottle of water and ate a banana and a bowl of cereal, along with a small glass of milk.  I would have liked to eat a little more, but because this was, if not an official race, at least a race-ish experience, I was a bit nervous and didn’t force myself to eat anything else.

Fairmont
Sorry– no fun pictures because my handy dandy photographer was not in attendance.

After arriving at the gym, I ended up getting out onto the pool deck just as the group was finishing up the regular masters swim practice form 6:00am-7:00am.  I chatted with the coach and some of the other swimmers as the folks finished up their set.  Then I hopped in to warm up.  The coach warned me that the water was colder than usual, and he was right.  Even with the warning, the temperature was a bit of a shock to me.  It was a few degrees colder than usual, and while that probably also meant it was closer to the ideal temperature for a racing pool than usual, it was still unpleasant because I wasn’t used to it.

I did a quick warmup, and the coach told us the (simple) rules: swim for an hour taking as many or as few breaks as you want.

We started off, and I took off pretty quickly.  Coming in to the wall after the first 50, I remembered I had to swim for an hour, so I slowed down into what I hoped was a tempo pace.  I wasn’t taking it easy, but I felt I could maintain that pace.  I’m not entirely sure how to recap a swimming race.  I swam back and forth.  Over and over again.  For a long time.  But in reality, I tried to space out a bit.  Swimming is a bit like running on the treadmill.  You stare at the wall (bottom of the pool) for ten minutes only to look at the clock and realize only two minutes has actually passed.  Basically, I tried to avoid looking at the clock as much as possible.  This possibly hurt my splits, but it definitely helped my sanity.  Every so often, I’d do a “pace check” and time myself for a 50.  My splits for those laps usually ended up being between 49 and 51, so I knew I was swimming well.

When I hit the fifteen minute mark, I was still feeling strong.  I had settled into my pace, and it didn’t feel taxing yet.  Of course, I was also kind of bored already and knew I had a long time more to swim.  As I approached the thirty minute mark, I started feeling fatigued.  Fortunately for my mental state, I got a second wind right around thirty minutes which helped me stay confident that I could keep up the pace for the rest of the hour.  Despite my fatigue, I think my form remained quite solid for the duration of the swim except for in one area—flip turns.  As I tired, I found myself losing seconds on the flip turns, so I began to focus specifically on keeping those crisp and quick.

I tried to pick it up for the final fifteen minutes.  When I saw I had fifteen minutes left, I actually thought to myself, “Okay, two more miles.”  Apparently, the relation between time and distance is inextricably linked to running for me.  Still, knowing that I had two more running miles worth of effort actually did help me gauge how hard I should be swimming.  With about ten minutes left, I started breathing every two strokes instead of every three which always helps me pick up the pace when I’m starting to lose steam.  When I hit the wall with about 1:30 left, I really pushed it, hoping I could fit in one more 100.  I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to, but I had enough left in me and ended up finishing that final 100 right before we hit an hour and stopped.

Although I knew I had swum well, I didn’t how far I had swum, so when the coach told me I had made it 3600 yards, I was thrilled—I even gave a little fist pump.  3600 yards is just a touch over 2 miles—by far the farthest I’ve ever swum without any breaks.  My pace was 1:40/100yds, which is honestly faster than I could have imagined swimming a few months ago.  Even with the time I would lose in open water, I think I’m in a good position to hit my Ironman swim goals in August.  In addition to counting laps, the support crew there had also taken splits for us, so I was able to look at my pace throughout the hour.  I had remained pretty steady.  Besides a fast start and fast finish (1:31 for the first and last 100), my paces were pretty uniform across the board.

Times
See what I mean?  Pretty uniform!

I was pleased with my performance and thrilled to hit my A-goal.  It’s a lot more fun to hit a goal when you didn’t know if you could or not.  I was also pleased with how I felt afterwards.  I was tired and stiff, but I recovered quickly and only had minimal soreness the day after.  My main intention with this “race” was to get an idea of where my swimming fitness was so I could feel more prepared for the Ironman, and I accomplished that.  I’m in a really good position and feel like I’m in a great position for when my Ironman training officially starts in April.

TotalSideways
3600 yards!

The numbers:
Time: 60 minutes
Total yards: 3600
Pace: 1:40/100yds; 1:49/100m

Weekly Recap (1/11-1/17)

Monday: Swim—Masters swim team (2550 yds)
I finally caught up on some sleep Sunday night and woke up feeling relatively refreshed in the morning.  I had cookies instead of a banana for breakfast.  When I got to the pool, we did the same workout we had done a few weeks earlier which ended up being good because I was able to see some improvement between how I was swimming a few weeks ago and how I’m swimming now.
300 swim
200 kick
100 pull
4 x 225 (150 build, 75 fast kick with :45 rest)
100 easy
20 x 25 @ :25
50 easy
Last time I did this workout, I did the 25s at thirty seconds instead of twenty-five.  I didn’t really do the 25s any faster this time around (still around :20 – :23), but my rest was more than cut in half, and I was still able to keep the pace up.  It’s nice that I’ve seen some improvement over the past few weeks, but I think at this point, my progress is slowing down (which is understandable).  To pick it up and start progressing faster again, I’d probably have to start attending Masters 2-3 times a week regularly instead of 1-2 times a week.  I don’t think that will happen while I’m training for the marathon, but it might in the interim between the marathon and the start of my “official” Ironman training plan.

Tuesday: Run—1200m, 4 x 1600, 800m; 8-minute abs
I didn’t want to repeat the mistake I made last week by going to a high school track completely covered in snow, so I planned to run on the treadmill in the office gym.  The Olympic Oval doesn’t have a start line for the 1600 (if it does, I haven’t seen it), so the treadmill was my only real option.  I decided to something completely new to me and listen to music while running.  I realize I’m about 20 years behind the times, but I prefer to work out sans music when I’m not running in place, so I never really cultivated the habit of listening to anything while working out.  I have literally no music on my phone, so I just turned on the classic rock station on Pandora.  It didn’t make the workout fun, but I think it did make it a little more bearable.  I did the mile repeats at 8.8 mph, or at a 6:49/mile pace, and I set the incline to 1% (except for the first part of the first repeat where I forgot).  Between each mile, I rested for a quarter mile.  Because it’s impossible to slow your pace on a treadmill without hurting yourself, it’s hard for me to judge effort.  The last 800 of the final two mile repeats were definitely though, though, and I could feel the fatigue.  Still, during the last quarter mile of the last repeat I was able to up the pace some and was running pretty fast by the time I finished that final mile.  I felt my sore knee a little bit, but it wasn’t bad.  It didn’t stiffen up at all during my rest periods between miles, and it actually hurt most (but still not much) during my cool down.  I’m wondering if it’s something about my stride or running mechanics when I’m running at a slower pace.  Oh, and during lunch I headed back down to the gym and did some core work.  I don’t like to do it immediately after a hard workout because I feel like the quality of the work goes down.

Treadmill
Good morning, sunshine!  Nice to see you at 6:00am!

Wednesday: Bike—15.1 miles (54:30)
This was supposed to be the last nice day before a storm (and more snow… does it ever end?!) rolled into the Salt Lake area, so I wanted to get out on my bike.  Riding during lunch is kind of a pain because of how long it takes to get dressed, put my bike together, etc., but it’s pretty much the only option if I want to ride in the daylight on a weekday.  Plus, there’s a nice path near my office that makes for a great 10-20 mile ride.  It was cold out (32°), but it actually felt nice to be out in the sun going fast (at least compared to running) again.  The mountains were covered in snow, and I was alone on the roads.  And I remembered again why I love cycling even though I’m a far better runner than cyclist.  I got back to the office just as my toes started to get uncomfortably cold.  I’m looking forward to some warmer temperatures and longer rides soon.  It was hard not to realize that, come August, I need to ride about seven and a half times further than I rode today, at about the same pace.

Mountains
Sometimes, I just can’t get over the mountains… even when I’ve seen them a million times.

Thursday: Run—8 miles (1:01:53); 7-minute abs
This was my second-to-last long tempo run in my marathon training plan.  Realizing that made me realize how quickly the marathon is approaching.  I’ve been feeling strong and surprisingly rested since I started focusing on sleep this week. However, when I started my run, my legs unexpectedly felt pretty heavy. Typically, my weekday bike rides have been shorter than Wednesday’s, so my legs may have been fatigued from that.  I also may not have fueled enough.  I didn’t want to take this tempo run too hard because I knew I had a tough long run coming up on Saturday, but I ended up really pushing the last couple of miles.  It’s a good thing I’m not following a training plan with easy run days because I’m not good at taking things easy.  As I said, my legs felt heavy to begin with, but they loosened up, and I felt fairly strong throughout the middle miles.  However, the last two miles are slightly uphill and against the wind.  I probably managed to stick to an 8:00/mile pace during this section, but I felt like I was standing still.  As much as I tried to pick up the tempo, shorten my stride, and be small in the wind (I’m 5’10” and shaped like a paper doll), it felt like I was moving through molasses.  Still, I kept my pace up throughout the run and managed to finish with a 7:45/mile pace, which is still quite fast for me.  As a bonus, while my knee hurt a bit in the first few miles, it loosened up and I didn’t feel it at all for most of the run.  It was a little stiff and sore after, so I iced it just to be safe.  In the evening, I did some core work as well.

Friday: REST; 7-minute abs
I needed a rest day.  I was getting free bagels for breakfast at work, free lunch, and was going to have some pie, so I was pretty much stoked for the day in general.  I tried to stay off my legs and give them some time to recover.  I ate a bunch of food on Friday and had an abnormally large lunch and dinner. I kind of hoped it would help me during my long run. I also did some core work in the evening.

Saturday: Run—20 miles (2:43:34)
My first 20 miler is in the books!  I woke up around 7:00am and over the course of the morning ate two bananas, a bowl of cereal, a small egg burrito, some chocolate milk, and a little box of candy. I also drank a bottle and a half of water.  I had been weirdly thirsty the night before, so I was worried about getting dehydrated on the run.  I set out around 11:00am, with the weather cloudy and in the mid-30s.  I was very concerned about starting out too fast, so I held back during the initial climb.  When I hit the three mile point at the crest of the first uphill segment, I was averaging an 8:32/mile pace.  I naturally sped up as my route headed back downhill.  The next few miles were over the part of my route that consistently feels the best, mostly because it’s not an uphill grind and it’s still the first half of the run.  I hit the 8 mile mark in around an 8:10/mile pace, and I managed to keep that average up for the rest of the run.  I felt really good until around mile 11.  After eating some gummies and drinking some water, my stomach started to feel a bit upset.  Looking back, I think I was drinking too much water.  It was cold, and I was well-hydrated, so the water was just sloshing around in my stomach.  After mile 11, it became a game of just getting to the next checkpoint.  Around mile 14, I took in some more nutrition and still felt nauseated.  My legs were starting to ache as well, just from being out on my feet for so long.  It was a race to mile 17, which has become the “almost home” point for me on my long runs.  My pace was in a solid groove during these miles, so I wasn’t really slowing down.  I just wanted to be done.  I finally hit mile 17 and enjoyed a nice downhill cruise for about a mile before turning onto my last (sort of) uphill stretch.  I counted down the street numbers as I passed them, knowing that Yale was 1065 South.  Soon enough, I turned on Yale, and it was all downhill.  I picked it up a bit, but not too much.  I knew I was probably on pace to hit an 8:15/mile pace overall.  I finished in 2:43:34 just four seconds faster than my dad’s twenty mile run the day before and with an 8:11/mile pace overall.  I took my pulse right after finishing, and it was only around 120.  Score!  I was still a couple blocks from Rob’s place.  That short walk back doesn’t usually bother me, but it destroyed me this time around.  It’s perfectly normal for an adult to sit down on the sidewalk while waiting for the light to change, right?  And my knee that has been hurting didn’t hurt at all, even after having time to cool down and stiffen up.

Sunday: Bike—30 minutes
Between church, football, and the cold morning, I had some difficulty fitting in my recovery bike ride.  I finally decided to do my ride after church but before the Broncos game.  The timing was a little tight, but I wanted to get on my bike to work out some of the kinks after my long run on Saturday.  The weather was in the low 40s for the first time in a long time.  If I hadn’t been rushed for time and pretty drained from my 20 miler, it would have been a great day to get out for a longer ride again.  As it was, I just went out for a half an hour, but I was able to wear far less clothing than I have been recently.  It was beautiful out, and my legs felt much better after I got back.

Quitting right.

I quit two workouts this week.

I planned for them, got dressed for them, traveled to the appropriate location, and started them only to quit partway through.  This is an anomaly for me and my borderline-obsessive need to follow my training plan.

On Tuesday, I was going to do a speed workout—eight 800s.  Since it was a warmer day (40°) and had rained a decent amount the night before, I hoped the snow on the high school tracks in the area would have melted.  For some reason, I decided to go by optimism instead of common sense, so after work, I headed to a high school track instead of the local indoor track.  After arriving at the school, I walked up to the track and saw it covered in a blanket of pristine snow.

Crap.

TrackSnow
In case you are wondering, that strip with melted snow that looks pretty okay to run on is not the track.  Much to my disappointment, it was a little strip of concrete inside the track.

Not one to be deterred by good decision making, I bullheadedly decided to do the workout anyway.  After all, there couldn’t be more than an inch or two of snow on the track.   So I started jogging my warmup.  And the snow was deeper than I expected.  It must have been at least four inches deep on the backstretch of the track.  I started readjusting my paces in my head.  There’s no way I’ll hit 3:20s in this snow, but maybe I can hit 3:30s. During my second warmup lap, I tried to step outside my previous footprints so I could clear pack down as much snow as possible.  And then, as I was finishing up my second lap, my thinking changed. This is actually just stupid.  I don’t want to be here.  I’m going home. So I finished up that lap, packed up my stuff, and drove home.  I briefly considered saying “screw it” to any sort of workout, but on the drive home, I decided to do the five mile tempo run I had scheduled that week instead.  I ended up having a very successful and encouraging run.

On Friday, I woke up to some wet snow on the ground and more coming down.  I drove to the pool, fully prepared to do whatever workout the masters coach had planned for us, despite being somewhat worried about the roads and traffic I’d face on my way to work afterwards.  In the locker room, I heard rumors that the roads and snow were worse further south (i.e. where I would be driving to get to work).  And then, the coach was a no-show!  I felt the already-wavering motivation drain out of my body.  My lane-mate and I did the typical warmup and then decided on starting our workout with five 100s.  As I was finishing up those 100s, I thought about the snow, the traffic, and the fact that I could get out on the roads 15-30 minutes earlier if I cut the workout short (and those are a big 15-30 minutes, traffic-wise).  So after the 100s, I apologized to my lane-mate for quitting on her but explained I wanted to avoid any problems on my commute because of the weather and stupid drivers.  And then I hopped out and added another quit-workout to the books for the week.

It wasn’t until the next day that I realize I had quit two workouts in a single week, which is really almost unheard of for me.  And yet, despite that, my obsessive self didn’t feel even a tiny bit of guilt for doing so (okay, maybe I felt a teeny-tiny bit for the swimming one).  I thought about why I didn’t feel guilt for that when I had to convince myself to have an unplanned rest day when I was struggling with a bad cold just a week before.  And I think it’s because of how I quit.  I quit right, if I do say so myself.

I should note that I don’t always quit right.  A couple months ago during a morning at the pool, I mentally quit on a set.  I finished it, but I took it easy for no other reason than mentally giving up.  Last winter, I spent a lot of time skipping workouts and never getting around to things I planned on.  I just didn’t get out the door.  These are the kinds of experiences that I regret, even if it’s just for a day or two.  I spent some time thinking about what was different between those two different types of scenarios, and I came up with a “rule” about quitting and skipping workouts.

Make a decision.  Know why you are making that decision.  Own your decision.

It’s so easy to not make a decision about mentally quitting a workout or skipping a workout.  I think that’s why people so often advise you to go start a workout and leave if you aren’t feeling well.  Once you are at your workout destination, leaving forces you to actively make a decision instead of just falling into the same situation after answering “yes” to Netflix’s infamous “Are you still watching?” question one too many times.  It’s easy to just procrastinate on whatever your workout for that day might be.  It gets harder and harder to leave, and then suddenly, it’s dusk and you don’t want to bother finding the lights for your bike.  Or you’re doing mile repeats, you’re tired, and on the final repeat, you just cruise through the middle half-mile when your legs start to burn and finish 10 seconds over your goal pace.

Neither of those situations is inherently bad.  It’s not bad to skip a workout or miss your pace.  It’s not even bad to cruise for the last repeat when you really could have hit the pace if you had run harder.  I just think it’s best if those skipped workouts are decisions instead of non-decisions.  Know why you are quitting a workout, skipping a workout, or taking it easy.  For instance, when I quit my track workout, it was because the track was covered with snow and I wouldn’t have gotten a quality workout.  I could have driven to the indoor track and done my repeats there, so I also quit because I was tired and didn’t want to be out that late when I hadn’t been planning on it.  And that’s okay.  A few weeks ago, I did some 1600 repeats on a treadmill.  I did them slower than my previous speed work predicted, and I knew afterwards that I could have managed to run them faster.  I decided to set the treadmill pace conservatively because I was still new to treadmill speed work and I knew I’d be racing a 5k two days later.

I also want to add that sickness, injury, and tapering are not the only “right” reasons to take it easy or skip a workout altogether.  The right reason is whatever you decide on—just be honest with yourself about those reasons.  If you are feeling mentally burned out and you know that taking an easy weekend will help, then, by all means, do it!  If a social opportunity comes up and you would rather see that friend or watch that movie than go for your after-work run, then skipping it very well might be the right decision.  But after you make that decision, own it.

“I was supposed to do twelve 400s, but I did ten.  It was later than I thought, I was tired and hungry, and I wanted to get back in time to watch Supernatural.  So now I’m going to sit down and watch TV guilt-free.”

“I was going to go for a run after work, but that cute guy just texted me and asked me out for drinks.  So I’m going to do that instead.  That is definitely the right decision here.”

CouchSlug
Sometimes, this is more important than working out.

I’ve found that actively making a decision (whether it’s related to working out or not) makes it easier to own that decision and deal with the consequences.  You can approach whatever path you take with gusto, whether that’s finishing up your last few reps or going home to ice and spend time with your cat.  If you do feel like you made the wrong decision later, you know what to do differently when you find yourself facing a similar decision sometime in the future.

I know most of the actual examples I’ve mentioned involve someone quitting or skipping their workout.  However, I’ve found that if I practice making the decision instead of just falling into the decision, I typically don’t decide to quit.  Several weeks ago, I was sitting around avoiding a bike ride on a Sunday afternoon.  I thought about not going and considered why I would be skipping the workout.  The truth was, I was feeling more depressed than burned-out (the difference is subtle, but I can generally recognize it).  I went out on the ride and felt much better when I came back.  Even last week as I prepared to go to the indoor track on Thursday morning to do the speed work I skipped on Tuesday, I didn’t want to go.  I did some mental fishing for a good reason to skip, and there wasn’t one other than knowing the workout would be hard and would make me really tired.  So I went.  And the workout went surprisingly well.  When I know in advance that I will need to own the decision I make, I’m much less likely to make a decision I feel bad about later.

One last benefit (for me, anyway) of actively making and owning decisions to skip or quit workouts is that it helps me recognize patterns.  After I realized that I had quit two workouts last week, I took a look at my attitude throughout the week and realized that I had wanted to quit more.  In fact, I had spent much of the week actively (but reluctantly) deciding to work out when I would have rather spent that time playing ChronoTrigger or watching Netflix.  Something felt off because, while I don’t typically look forward to hard runs, I don’t typically have a hard time motivating myself to do them.  I felt kind of burned out but didn’t quite know why.  It wasn’t a particularly hard week.  After I spent some time reflecting, I realized it was likely due to a plain ol’ lack of sleep.  The last few weeks have been full of earlier-than-usual mornings, but I haven’t been going to bed as early as I should to make up for that.  Sure enough, after sleeping in a bit over the weekend and making sure to get to bed early (like, before 9:00pm) on Sunday, I felt much better and much more motivated starting out this week.

Actively making the decision to work out or not work out kept me on track this week when my motivation was flagging.  It also allowed me to give myself a break when I needed it and encouraged me to recognize why I was struggling in the first place.  So if you find yourself floating through your schedule without actively making decisions, give it a shot.  You may give yourself a break from an overwhelming workout schedule.  Or you may end up getting up when you would have hit the snooze one more time.  But hopefully, your experience mirrors mine, and whatever decision you end up making will line with what you need much more than if you had made a non-decision instead.

Weekly Recap (1/04-1/10)

Monday: Swim—Masters swim team (3000 yds)
This was the day we did our New Year’s workout.  I guess the traditional New Year’s swim workout is 100 x 100, which my tri club did on December 31 (I couldn’t attend because I was working).  This fact was relayed to me with absolutely no acknowledgement that it’s really weird that there is a “traditional New Year’s swim workout” at all.  But I digress.  Obviously, we didn’t have time for 10,000 yards in our one hour practice, so we did a (much) shorter variant.
400 warm-up
50 x 50 @ :55
100 easy
I bet you’re wondering how we kept track of those 50s.  I knew what this workout would be ahead of time, so I spent some time over the weekend pondering it.  Turns out, so did the coach.  His idea was similar to mine, but better.  We ended up doing an abacus system using a kickboard, pull buoy, and the tiles on the edge of the pool.  The pull buoy was the “ones” tracker and the kickboard was the “tens” tracker.  I’d move the pull buoy up one tile each time we came back to the wall.  Once it moved up ten tiles, I’d move the kickboard up one tile and move the pull buoy back down to the bottom.  This worked perfectly until number 45-ish when someone knocked them all askew.  Anyway, the workout was tough, and when I was tired after doing ten 50s, I didn’t think I’d make it through.  But the pace we were holding turned out to be comfortably hard.  It was never really easy, but I never hit the point where I couldn’t keep up my pace.  I hit most of the 50s in around 45 seconds with 10 seconds to rest.

Tuesday: Run—5 miles (36:49); 7-minute abs
I did my core work during lunch again because I knew I’d struggle to get it done after my workout.  I was supposed to do a speed workout at the track.  I thought the rain and the warmer temperatures would clear the high school tracks.  I was wrong.  The track was still covered with about four inches of snow.  I was going to do the workout anyway, but after two laps warming up, I thought, “This is really stupid and I don’t want to be here.”  So I packed up and left.  Once I got home, I did a five-mile tempo instead.  It was the right decision.  I kind of threw the route together, so it was just three loops of a course that allowed me to not stop at any stoplights.  I ran too fast the first loop, so I dialed it back a bit the second two loops.  Still, I finished the run with a 7:21/mile pace, my fastest five miler yet.  And despite running quite a bit faster than my plan called for, I think I ran it at proper tempo effort.  It was hard, but not impossibly so.  My form was staying strong, and I was able to keep my pace up with minimal concentration.  I could have had short “running” conversations had I been running with someone else.

Wednesday: REST; 7-minute abs
I finally slept well and woke up feeling nice and rested on Wednesday.  I was glad to have a day off working out.  It was cloudy and threatening precipitation all day (not that that’s going to change anytime soon).  I did do some core work.  Two days of core by Wednesday… let’s see if I finish the last day before Sunday.

Thursday: Run—884m, 8 x 800, 884m
After my little snafu at the track on Tuesday, I decided to just bite the bullet and pay to run at the Olympic Oval again.  I went in the morning this time which meant setting my alarm for 4:10 (but not getting up until 4:19—I always plan for one “snooze”).  Too early.  Anyway, I woke up and made sure to drink some water and eat a banana before heading off to the Olympic Oval.  There were a few runners there and a couple of hockey teams playing a game (or practicing?).  Because the track is over 400m long, I did the same routine as last time.  My rest after each 800 was walking back up to the 800 start, except for after the fourth repeat where I took approximately double that.  My times were as follows:
3:16.7, 3:20.8, 3:19.3, 3:17.8
3:19.3, 3:18.1, 3:18.4, 3:17.1
It took me a while to dial in on my pace, perhaps because of the longer track which is a little bit of a mental adjustment.  But I held my pace better than the last time I did this workout.  I think it might be because I wasn’t dying of thirst.  After doing some reading and discovering that indoor tracks typically have cool (duh, especially when they are also ice skating rinks), dry air, I made sure to bring a bottle of water to drink between reps.  That is now a must-have when running there.  It was a hard workout, but I did a good job pushing the pace.  During the last couple reps, I was feeling the leg burn before finishing the first 200, but I was able to keep the pace up and finish well.

Friday: Swim—Masters swim team (1500yds)
There was snow outside when I woke up, and I heard in the locker room at the pool that it was worse the further south you got.  Considering I work “further south,” I was a little concerned about what the drive would be like.  So, when the coach didn’t show up at practice, I decided to leave early to give myself some time (hence the shortened workout):
300 swim
200 kick
100 pull
4 x 50 kick/swim
4 x 50 distance per stroke
5 x 100 @ 1:40
I was not prepared to motivate myself that early in the morning after a hard workout the day before, and I was worried about the weather and the traffic.  The weather turned out to be manageable, but the traffic picks up a lot in the extra thirty minutes I would have spent in the pool, so I think it was a fine decision, especially considering it was my second swim of the week.

Saturday: Run—15 miles (1:59:13); 7-minute abs
You know you’ve joined the Dark Side when you look at the map for your 15 mile run and are excited about how short it is.  Throughout the morning before my run, I drank one and a half bottles of water and fueled with a banana, a bowl of frosted flakes, some cheese and crackers, an egg with toast, and a half a glass of chocolate milk.  That looks like a lot written out, but I ate it between 7:00am and 10:30am, so it was spread out.  The weather was in the low/mid-30s, so it was a bit warmer than it had been, which was welcome.  I noticed my knee was a bit sore within the first couple of miles, but once it warmed up, any pain went away.  I hit the first pace check at a little under 8:20/mile.  Because the first three miles is mostly uphill, I was very pleased and was pretty sure it would be a good run.  I naturally picked it up as I descended but I was still running comfortably.  I was surprised when I hit the 8 mile point at just around an 8:00/mile pace and started to wonder if I could keep that pace up and break two hours.  I still felt strong, but in the later miles, when I stopped at stoplights, my knee started to stiffen up and hurt a bit for the first few steps when I started back up again.  I was keeping up my pace well, and when I hit the “all downhill from here” point, I knew I could potentially break two hours.  I picked up the pace a bit, but I didn’t want to push it too hard just to hit some spontaneous, arbitrary goal.  And I made it!  I finished in 1:59:13, with an overall pace of 7:57/mile.  My knee stiffened up and was pretty sore, so I used the advice I always got in college—ice and ibuprofen.  I plan on keeping my eye on it to make sure it doesn’t turn into a problem.  Training for a marathon this off-season was a really good idea.  I’ve gained so much confidence running that it’s hard to believe.  Oh, I also did core work in the evening.

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Sunday: Bike—50 minutes
My knee was still a little sore from my long run on Saturday, but luckily, I couldn’t feel it at all on the bike.  The benefit of being a triathlete is that if something hurts from one discipline, you can give it a few days rest while still continuing to train.  It was cold, but still warmer than it has been lately, so I went out for a little longer than my standard 30 minute Sunday ride.  It was cloudy for most of the ride, but towards the end, the sun came out, and it was nice to actually spend some time in the sun.  It’s been a while!  I’m hoping to get out on the bike a little more next week, but the weather doesn’t look like it’s planning on making that easy for me, so we’ll see.

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The sun was just barely peeking through at the beginning of my ride.

Mental Illness, Exercise, and Me

I sat down to write some sort of post commemorating the arrival of 2016, but I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired on that front.  I love seeing other people make resolutions and reflect on the past year, but I’ve never been that good at it.  I’m self-important enough that I don’t need another excuse to talk about myself, thankyouverymuch.  As this post will show, I’m plenty good at that without a specific prompt.  New Year’s is all about new beginnings, changes, and hope, which makes this particular topic a bit ironic.  Basically, I want to talk how I’m crazy and how exercise interacts with my particular neuroses.  This is a difficult topic to write about without sounding like I’m asking for sympathy or condolences.  So I’ll attempt to be just matter-of-fact about it and just hope I don’t come off as completely whiny.

First, a little bit of my own history in regards to mental health.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t struggle with anxiety and/or depression.  It’s been a thread in the fabric of my life since I was a child, not always visible, but always a presence.  It’s sometimes hard for me to pick out specific instances when I struggled with depression and anxiety while very young because those experiences don’t stand out.  They were just a part of my life.  In kindergarten, I got so nervous about a coloring contest that my older sister had won three years ago that I never even completed it (and then felt guilty for weeks).  I tried so hard to enjoy summer camp and sleepovers.  And I mostly did, but I spent most of my nights away crying because being away from home made me so anxious.  This continued into high school.  During my last couple of years of high school, I started having panic attacks while playing basketball.  I had no idea what was happening the first time.  I was just frozen out there on the court, completely confused and completely unable to do anything but shuffle between the three-point lines as the possessions changed.

By the time I got to college and went through my first major tragedy, I was able to survive a debilitating couple of years of depression because I had spent years developing coping mechanisms (some more healthy than others, by the way).  I was going through an emotionally-trying falling out with my family, and more than during any other period in my life, I felt like I was a worthless sack of flesh, incapable of living in the world with other people.  (Hopefully, my frequent posts about my visiting my family convinces you all that we have gotten past that particular issue.)  I never got a diagnosis, though, because it wasn’t until I was going through my divorce that I managed to find a therapist that was a good fit for me and attend on a regular basis for a while.  But while I was seeing that therapist, I decided to get a screening for several mental illnesses.  My ex-husband had spent considerable effort trying to convince me that I had bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.  I am a very sensitive person, enough that it’s sometimes hard for other people to understand.  I am easily moved to both laughter and tears.  So, knowing this and knowing how serious those mental illness are, I wanted to know if I really did have them.  So I had my therapist screen me.

Extreme reaction to real or imagined abandonment? “I don’t know.  The divorce has been really hard.” How about smaller things like someone being late to lunch or forgetting to call you back? “What?  No.”

Unstable relationships? “Not in general.  I’ve had a few fallings out with people, though.”

Impulsive behaviors like excessive spending or unsafe sex? “No.” Oh my gosh, those are literally my stress dreams.

Unstable self-image or quickly changing goals and ideas? “No.” Change is pretty much my least favorite thing in the world.

And so on and so forth.  While I met the criteria for a depressive episode of bipolar disorder (to no one’s surprise), I didn’t have experiences that lined up at all with a manic or hypomanic episode.*

Not surprisingly for most people who know me, she ruled out borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder.  She agreed with my belief that I had generalized anxiety disorder and also offered up the possibility that I had dysthymia, which is a low-grade, long-term form of depression.  After reading more about it later, I agreed with her.

So where does exercise fit into all of this?

For me (and I realize this varies widely among individuals), exercise has been the most consistent and most effective tool in managing my anxiety and depression.   As someone who always stayed active in sports in high school and college, I never had the opportunity to see the correlation between exercise and mood until I quit track in college.  There was one full semester in college where I didn’t work out at all.  I had a light class load as well, and I was looking forward to the break.  But that semester I just could not keep my crap together.  I struggled with certain symptoms of anxiety and depression—procrastination, hiding myself away, disorganization—more than during any other time in my life, even though my life was actually less stressful and I wasn’t quite as hopeless as I had been for a year or so prior.  And when I started exercising again the next semester, those particular symptoms disappeared, even though my class schedule was more consuming and nothing had changed to lessen my depression.

I noticed this, and I never stopped exercising again.  From that point on, even for the years when I wasn’t training for anything, I worked out 3-6 times a week.  Sometimes. it was only running.  Sometimes, it was running and swimming.  Sometimes, I’d even dabble in lifting.  People I knew would periodically ask me how I stayed motivated to work out.  I never knew how to answer them because I didn’t feel like I needed motivation to work out any more than I needed motivation to get to bed early at night.  Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to function.  I had some very dark years in my early twenties, and those years are the reason I joked with Rob a few months ago that crying a few times a week is no big deal.  It’s when I start crying a few times a day that I need to start worrying.  I believe that during this period of my life, I was suffering from a major depressive disorder on top of my normal-to-me dysthymia, which creates an effect known as double depression.  I remember one particularly dim day (my days were either like knives cutting me open or so dull that I couldn’t feel anything—I don’t know what was worse), I didn’t look before crossing a street and a car zoomed by right in front of me.  I usually startle easily, but I had absolutely no startle response, no elevated heart rate or adrenaline surge, to this close call.  I just remember feeling a vague disappointment that I hadn’t made it to the intersection a few seconds earlier.  During this time, exercise (and, to be fair, general self-care like getting enough sleep) was the only thing I was doing to manage my anxiety and depression.  That is by no means a recommendation, and since then, I have spent some time both on medication and in therapy, but at the time, exercise was all I really had.

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I actually specifically remember being so distraught this day that I could barely put on the happy-face I needed to have on a family vacation.  It actually kind of makes me sad to look at this picture.  I’m pretty sure that people often thought I was being a snot when really I was giving 100% just to function.

I knew exercise was good for me, but I hadn’t seen the new research that looked at exercise as a treatment for mental illness.  In grad school, a close friend of mine who had earned his BA in psychology told me about some research that showed that exercise was almost or just as effective as an antidepressant in treating depression.  I was a little skeptical, but it turns out, he was right.  Though, one should note that while exercise has been found to help anxiety as well, it doesn’t approach the effectiveness of anti-anxiety medication.  Additionally, it doesn’t appear that it’s a specific type of exercise that helps.  One study found that both aerobic and anaerobic exercise produced similar results in reducing depression.  And since I’m posting links to scientific studies, I should offer a caveat: I am not a scientist, and this is not something I’ve studied intensively.  So everything I write here should be taken as how what I’ve read interacts with what I’ve experienced, and absolutely nothing more.  And it’s important to remember that the results of scientific studies can be skewed by poor methodology, small sample sizes, etc. which has apparently been a problem in research on this specific topic.  As I was reading through these abstracts, I found a description of one particular problem with the sample size.  All the people in the study had strictly adhered to their assigned routine, whether it was an exercise routine or a medication routine.  The study authors noted that this showed a level of motivation that potentially indicated that the subjects were less depressed than many depressed patients would be.  And, if I didn’t already have exercise as part of my daily routine, during my worst times I would not have been able to add it in.  That’s the main reason I never stopped—fear of not being able to pick up the habit again after losing it.

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There were a million choices when I Googled “exercise depression meme,” but this is the one I chose.

However,  the general conclusion that exercise helps alleviate depression has proven to be true in my own life.  In fact, exercise has become one of the central tenets in managing my depression.  While I’ve sought therapy and taken medication during particularly difficult times and suspect I will have to do so again in the future at some point, neither one is particularly appealing to me as a long-term solution (respectively, for financial reasons and because I, perhaps ironically, have some anxiety around the use of medication).  With exercise, along with good sleeping habits and some mindfulness/self-acceptance techniques I learned in therapy, I’m doing okay right now.  The dysthymia is still there, and my anxiety waxes and wanes as life glides along smoothly or throws unexpected problems into my path.  That won’t always be the case.  Just a few months ago, a long spell of really dull, kind of deadening days that weren’t so bad it hurt to get up started to wear on me, and I had a little bit of a break down.  I could get up each day and go about my business without too much angst, but the thought of doing that every day for another fifty years was just too much to bear.  But generally, the stability I get from exercising regularly, sleeping is enough to work with my mental illness and live a reasonably productive life.

I’m not going to say that exercise has “healed” me or that it’s the end-all, be-all—a magic pill that will save you if you too just give it a shot.  Because it’s not.  It’s a tool, and it doesn’t always do the trick (as evidenced by my continued struggles and occasional need to seek additional help).  Like any other tool, it has positives and negatives.  Though the positives far outweigh the negatives, I need to be careful not to let the need to work out or follow my training plan trump my peace of mind or the relationships in my life.  I need to make sure I sleep and eat enough to keep up with my exercise.  I need to make sure I’m using it responsibly.  For me, though, it’s a necessary tool.  The routine, the endorphins, the time outside—they all combine to create an experience that is hugely beneficial to my mental health.  That experience has helped me maintain at least a semblance of stability and sanity through the months when I cried multiple times every day and the months when my anxiety was almost too much to bear.  It’s easy to write this post right now because I have been going through a good time emotionally.  Exercise is exciting because I’m doing well and improving and working towards goals.  But I know that even when my mood falls and I start struggling again, my exercise routine will be one of the techniques I use to help get me through it.

Weekly Recap (12/28-11/03)

Monday: REST
This was a (mostly) unplanned rest day.  I had been planning on working out in Salt Lake City after arriving because my flight got in pretty early.  But Rob mentioned he was taking the rest of the day off after picking me up from the airport to spend time with me.  I was not going to be the obsessive exerciser who goes to the gym after her sweet boyfriend has taken the afternoon off to spend time together.  So I made a plan to get up early (probably around 5:30am) to do a three mile tempo run before leaving.  On Sunday, I woke up with a pretty nasty cold—sore throat, achy, stuffy nose, the works.  I was still planning on running until I realized that the only thing compelling me to shove in a workout was because I was being weirdly obsessive and hadn’t planned on taking a rest day.  So I asked my dad and my older sister (the two most obsessive people I know), and they encouraged me to just take a rest day to get over my cold.  Taking time to recover instead of forcing myself to exercise just because I said I would is a big step for me!

Tuesday: 800m, 12 x 400, 800m; 7-minute abs
On Monday, I scouted out the track at a local high school to see what I expected—nothing but a blanket of snow.  So I decided to go to my office early and do my workout on the treadmill in the office gym.  I got up at 4:30am (which I’ve decided is about 30 minutes earlier than anyone should have to wake up) and made it to the office by 6:00am.  I set the treadmill to 9.7 mph (6:11/mile) with a 1% incline and got started.  It’s always a little strange doing intervals on the treadmill because I never want to slow or stop the treadmill between reps because of the time it takes to get started again.  So I would run a quarter mile (about 400m) then hop to the side of the treadmill and let it run without me for 200m before starting the next rep.  Every four 400s, I took a full quarter mile rest.  In one sense, running on a treadmill is mentally more difficult than running outside because it’s just so boring.  The intervals feel longer (to me) and the workout drags on.  In another sense, though, it’s easier mentally because you can’t really fall off your pace (without falling off the treadmill, anyway).  When running outside, you sometimes need to stay 100% mentally focused to keep your pace.  When running on a treadmill, you can space out and still keep up the pace because the treadmill always lets you know what your pace should be.  That’s one reason I try to avoid the treadmill and run outside whenever possible.  After finishing my workout, I did my core work.  I’ve upped the time to 7-minutes now.  And on that note, I noticed some ab definition that definitely wasn’t there a few months ago (partly due to lighting, I’m sure!).  So that is encouraging.

Wednesday: Masters swim team (2100 yds)
Wednesday is the day in Masters where we work on something other than freestyle, and thus it is a day I usually avoid.  But I wanted to get a swim in with them this week, and due to travel and New Year’s, Wednesday was my only option.  Sure enough, we had to do other strokes.  I just don’t understand strokes other than freestyle.  They are harder and you will never go as fast as with freestyle.  It would be like a track race where you must hop around the track.  Anyway, this was our workout:
300 swim
200 kick
100 pull
8 x 50 (IM order)
8 x 125 IM (rolling 50 yard stroke)
100 easy
The order for the IM is butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and then freestyle.  Basically, the main set was eight run-throughs of that at 25 yards for every stroke except one, which was 50 yards.  That stroke rotated.  So, the first 125 was 50 yards of butterfly and 25 of the rest while the second was 50 yards of backstroke and 25 of the rest.  The workout was fine.  My butterfly sucks, but my breaststroke actually felt okay.  And the coach wants me to work on backstroke by spending more time on my back during regular workouts.  I hate being on my back.  Apparently, I have a hard time committing to the position which is what is causing me to drown be waterboarded not float well.  He also assured me that working on other strokes will actually help me in triathlons, so I decided to believe him, being that he’s a coach and I’m definitely not.

Thursday: Run—3 miles (20:58); 7-minute abs
I planned to do a cold, lunchtime tempo run, as the high was only 18°.  On my way to work, I realized I had forgotten to pack my headband to keep my ears warm.  I think I know my ears’ threshold for frostbite due to an, um, unfortunate and rather foolish experience a few years ago, so I figured I’d be fine, if a little uncomfortable and decided to go ahead with my run as scheduled.  During my warmup, I deduced that the wind would be (mostly) with me on the way out and (mostly) against me on the way back, so I decided to start a little faster than my planned pace of 7:30/mile.  I ended up starting quite a bit faster than that, but I was glad in the end because it gave me a chance to see where I’m at speed-wise.  I was fast and feeling great on the way out, but when I turned around, I could really feel the wind.  It was a hard stretch of about a mile, but the final half mile felt a little better because the wind was a little more favorable.  I finished just below 21 minutes which put me at a 6:59/mile pace overall—the first time I’ve ever done a run with an average pace of under 7:00/mile!  It wasn’t a long run, but I was still very pleased with that little milestone.

Friday: Bike—12 miles
It was about 25° when I set out for my ride today. I basically wore the same gear as I did for my last very cold weather ride, with the addition of a beanie over my headband and a neckwarmer.  My fingers and toes were the only parts of my body that ended up uncomfortably cold.  I went with a friend of mine.  I forgot to start my computer until partway through the ride, but when we got back, her computer said we’d been out around 55 minutes.  It was the first time I had actually ridden my bike in over a week, and it was great to be back.  We took the ride easy and enjoyed the beautiful views of snow covered mountains.  I had only been planning on going out for about 30 minutes, but it felt so great to be back on my bike that we extended the ride a bit.  We turned around once my toes started to get uncomfortably cold, and we made it back just as they started to hit the pain threshold.  The timing was pretty much perfect.

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Ready to ride in the cold!

Saturday: Run—18 miles (2:27:10)
It was another cold day in Salt Lake City.  I slept in until about 7:30am and spent a lazy morning dreading my run.  I ate a bowl of cereal, and after I headed to Rob’s place, I ate some eggs, two small tortillas, and a banana.  We just hung out until around 11:00 when I went out and placed my water bottles.  When I got back, I did my final preparations and took off.  Over the course of the run, I ate a package of ProBar Bolt Organic Energy Chews.  (And I’m in no way affiliated with them.  They are just super tasty and sit well in my stomach.  Plus, they were the brand recommended to me by the local bike shop.)  I started off, and the beginning hill was immediately awful.  I’m not sure if my legs were a little tired or if I had just forgotten what it was like after a week away, but I was not going all that fast and was still feeling some muscle-burn which was a little worrisome in the first three miles of an eighteen mile run.  I hit mile three exactly on an 8:30/mile pace, which I was pleased with considering the first three miles are such a tough climb.  For the next few miles, I felt great.  My legs started moving, and it was sunny and cold (25°) which actually felt good.  There were a lot of people running in the park, considering how cold it was (New Year’s resolutions?), so there were plenty of people-watching opportunities.  Mile 11 started to get a little tough, and I knew the section from mile 11 to mile 15 would be a tough one.  I kept my pace up well up through mile 12, but after that, I didn’t have any pace checks until mile 15.  I tried to keep up my pace, but I could feel my legs dragging a bit, especially on some of the uphill sections.  So when I hit mile 15 and saw I had lost quite a bit of time, I was a little surprised, but not shocked.  Because I had lost time, I focused on picking up the pace a little, hoping to gain a little time on the downhill portions in the last few miles.  Except I misremembered my mile 15 mark.  I thought it was two streets farther along than it actually was, so I hit my pace much better than I thought on that stretch.  I still pushed it in at a decent (but by no means blazing) pace and finished in an 8:10/mile pace.  After a few minutes of sitting down in a warm house, my exercise heat wore off and the two and a half hours I spent in 25° weather caught up to me.  I started shaking with cold, and my lips turned an impressive shade of purple.  Fortunately, and exceptionally long hot shower did the trick, and I felt fine afterwards.  It’s good to remember, though, for future cold runs.

Sunday: Bike—35 minutes; 7-minute abs
I went on a short ride with Rob today, and it felt exactly how you would expect a bike ride to feel after an 18 mile run. I was tired, slow, and in a little bit of pain. But, as usual, it was nice to spend some time on my bike. It wasn’t nearly as cold as it was on Friday, but I think it felt colder because the sun wasn’t out. Still, it was a good way to stretch my legs out. I also did some core work after I got back.