Monday, August 27, 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship with Rest

I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a couple weeks, mostly because I'm kind of sheepish about the topic but also because a month ago I wasn't sure if this whole resting thing would help my season. There was a couple month stretch this year when my training turned into the non-sunshine and rainbows I usually think about when I see hard bricks, long runs at pace, or hill repeats in the double digits in Training Peaks. I was a little grouchy, a lot jealous, and mostly just missing killer workouts and fast races. I basically had a mid-season break that created feelings of doubt and sadness and seriously made me wonder how the hell I was ever able to run marathons in the low 3s or lay down respectable bike splits. All I wanted was to feel (my sense of) “normal” again and get back to work busting out hard 20+ hour training weeks, strong races, and lots and lots of miles.

But my body rejected this notion. Sometime around mid-June when I thought I’d be mostly recovered from Ironman St. George and ready to start building again, I just couldn’t come around. Ironman recovery is different for everyone, but in the past 4 years of racing at this distance, one month of really easy stuff and gradually getting back is what has worked for me. But not all recovery is created equal and this year I needed more time.

More recovery time, however, was not what I wanted. I didn’t have feelings of “burnout” and my motivation was in check, but I just didn’t have the speed and power I had earlier in the season. After my first DNF, a very poor VO2 Max test on the bike (whoa my watts were low) and a few less-than-stellar run workouts, I had one of many heart to heart talks with my coach. Kainoa said I needed more rest and that she was going to give me a good long break before I’d start easing back into it in mid-July.

I knew I had to accept this guidance and as I started talking about my break with some of my close friends who were also feeling some mid-season blues I realized people don't really like talking about rest for a couple reasons:

1) We all kind of suck at it. There's a reason most of us have hit our goals and had some sort of athletic achievement - it's due to hard work.

2) A lot of people, me included, sometimes view it as laziness or missing workouts and builds that will make us stronger (the whole "I'm not putting in as many miles as she's putting in, so I must not be making as much improvement...I must be GETTING SLOWER!! AHHHH!")

I realize these two things aren't true. Yes, achieving goals takes hard work and sometimes a lot of volume, but it's not going to happen if your body is worn out, you are mentally drained, or if you decide you hate the sport. I can't quite figure out why my body needed a break. It might have been the exceptionally tough day in St. George, starting my season too early after a long 2011, my 5th year in a row racing Ironman, or the constant balancing act of being a competitive age grouper (not that I want to change my life anytime soon).

So somewhat begrudgingly, I followed my coach's instruction. The low volume weeks coincided with the 4th of July and and the Knutson Family Reunion. I spent about 2 weeks with bike workouts that topped out at around 2 hours, runs no longer than an hour, easy recovery swims, and complete rest days. But, just like my coach always knows best, this was what I needed. And it happened be to a really great way to enjoy time with friends and family.

The last weekend in June I went over to Chelan, WA and had a few days with friends -easy bike rides, BBQs, fun swims, wine tasting and lauging - so much lauging. The second part of the holiday week I flew to MN and spent a few days at a lake up North with about 40 aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins. It was classic family fun - softball games, songs at night, matching t-shirts, playing in the lake with my cousin's kids, kayaks, big meals, tennis, golf, and easy runs with family. My two favorite workouts in MN were: swimming to the island where I learned to water ski as a kid while my dad canoed next to me, and running with my 65-year-old aunt and then jumping into the lake together (sports bras and all) followed by coffee on the lake. It was a good break from thinking about obsessing over my workouts and the first step in getting back on track.
The next couple weeks still weren't that pretty. I started ramping up volume, but it took some time before I felt like I was where I needed to be. It's hard to say just how this break will affect my performance when it comes down to my "A" race. I do know, however, trying to "train through" any type of rough patch probably would have really hurt me. It never got to the point where I wanted to give up the sport, but there were some tears and a lot of moments of frustration and doubt.

I have no idea how this story ends, but I do know that I'm in a much better place than I was a couple months ago. I'm coming off one of my hardest and strongest Ironman builds and feeling pretty good about my current fitness. I knew this all along, but I couldn't compare my workouts with anyone else, not the Twitter universe or even my own workouts from a year ago. I had to listen to my body, listen to my coach, and accept that no matter how much I suck at resting sometimes and no matter how much I might hate conceding to easier workouts, the love I have for the sport could have been lost if I pushed through it. A good, hard lesson for me to learn, but in the end, exactly what I needed.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

APB: Athlete in Training

I am in the middle of a big build and have noticed a few things over the past few weeks that I’m regretting not warning people about. There are some days I feel lucky showing up for things basically in one piece. In training for future races, I may send out the following all-points bulletin warning people of my shortcomings and idiot moves. Putting aside all embarrassment, these have all happened or been really close to happening before a big race.

·     I will be on the verge of crying, biting your head off, or kissing you on the lips depending on my mood and what you do to me or for me.

·     I will get a $124 ticket for running a yellow (red) light ON MY BIKE while trying to finish a workout as quickly as possible.

·     My fridge will rarely have enough good food, my apartment will always be messy, and the laundry will never be fully clean or put away.

·     I will forget a swimsuit, a wetsuit, make-up, and pants all in the same week. Luckily, I will make due or have some sort of nasty back-up.

·     My legs will never feel “fresh” and I will almost always feel tired.

·     My mom will call me and leave messages like, “just making sure I still have a daughter in Seattle.”

·     I will likely go through a break-up. (Ironman WI – 2009, Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2011, and now Ironman WI – 2012, the first two resulted in great races…) I should clarify; this doesn’t happen for everyone who trains for Ironman and hopefully isn’t a trend, because I plan on racing for years.

·     I will have at least a couple dreams about race day: one where I leave the swim for after the bike and run, another where I forget my bike, or another where I talk to Andy Potts about next year’s schedules (in my dream we are both doing Oceanside next year – who knew?). These are just a random sampling, there are many more bizarre-o ones.

·     I will fall on my bike more times (2) in five miles than I will have fallen in the past three years. This is because I became a dork at the end of a 100 mile ride and forgot how to clip out. So embarrassing. Luckily, I will ride away unscathed.

·     My friends might get engaged, plan weddings, buy houses, do home improvement projects, landscape their yards, and have kids while I am swimming, biking, or running. (I will admit, I think I have the better deal.)

·     People will be concerned with how often I eat.

·     I will know the best stops for bathrooms, ice, and water during long workouts. And I will go into any gas station, store, or Starbucks regardless of my grossness.

·     The few clothes that still fit will be in desperate need of dry cleaning.

·     But I will feel a new sense of accomplishment with every workout I complete.

·     I will feel more and more prepared for race day.

·     Every night I will go to bed thankful for the people who help make my dreams possible, like how my bosses don’t mind when I roll into work late after a 21 mile run, or how my friends offer to make dinner after long bricks, or how supportive and thoughtful the triathlon and running communities can be.

·     I will smile during my workouts, laugh with my teammates and training partners, and not get too caught up in any pressure I put on myself.

·     And I will remember the journey that got me to the start line. And I will live a fuller life because of the people I meet and the lessons I learn.

I can’t say I’ve ever nailed a perfect balance in this sport and the rest of my life. But I can say that I look back at every season with fondness and pride knowing I gave everything I had at that time and each year helps define me as a person. I’m sure a lot of you are building for races between now and Kona. There are a lot of days that aren’t easy, but they are part of what make you who you are. Don’t get too wrapped up in all the little things because it’s all part of the bigger journey.