Sunday, July 26, 2009

First Is Always the Hardest

Trying something new is hard. I remember my first marathon, in Philadelphia in 2000. I had no idea what I was doing or what to expect. I ended up running the race in something like 3:47, including some unforeseen walk breaks the last few miles that made me feel like a total failure. I learned. Within two years, I finished a marathon in 3:02.

So I approached the New Jersey State Triathlon with realistic expectations. Cycling is entirely new to me, and I took two decades off swimming. My main goal was to feel strong at the end. By that admittedly tame measure, I succeeded. The breakdown.

Pre-race: I got to the start area early enough to warm up plenty in the lake. My big dilemma was whether to wear a wetsuit. The water temp in Lake Mercer registered an incredible 77.9, meaning it was .1 within the legal zone for wearing a wetsuit. I was told to wear one if allowed because it makes swimming much, much easier. The purist in me blanched, and I didn't want to try something new on race day. In the end, I decided to dance with the girl I brung, so to speak, and swim in a suit. I knew I made the right decision once I got into the water, which by that point was at least 80 degrees.

My other concern was about my bike, particularly my complete inability to care for it. By luck, I asked a guy near me with a floor pump what he thought of my tire pressure. He told me they were "basically flat," so we added quite a bit more pressure. It gave me a lot of confidence knowing that at least my tires were right heading into the 23-mile bike.

Swim: I got a nice surprise in that nobody kicked me in the head. Overall, it was very civilized. What I struggled with is the vagaries of open-water swimming. I never felt comfortable I knew where I was or where I should be. That meant I tended to look up quite often and sometimes just stop swimming to assess the situation. There were collissions, probably about a half dozen times. These also slowed me down. Still, I finished up feeling OK. 31:40, rank: 341/743

Transition1: No, I didn't practice, and it showed. I ran past my bike, got confused, ran back again, still missed it. The whole thing was a total fiasco. I'm shocked I got out of there in four minutes. I was also struck by how much harder it was to run out of the water than I thought.

Bike: As much as I love the Tour de France, I'm not a good cyclist. Something about the bike makes me lazy. I tend to take it easy when I can. Maybe I just need to work at it more. Whatever the case, it was humbling. I got passed by dozens of people. The NJT marks your age on your calf, so I saw the numbers streaming by. When I saw 53, I finally picked it up a bit. The overall effect was dispiriting. It's no fun getting passed constantly, and I fell into a rhythm of ignoring it and concentrating on enjoying my ride, with a lot of focus on hydration and eating. In this area, I definitely succeeded, drinking a bottle of Gatorade and another of water and eating a gel. I felt ready to do well in the run. 1:14: 32. 428th.

Transition2: Much easier time, mostly because there wasn't much to do. I put on socks for the run, kept my sunglasses on, then took off.

Run: I'm a runner. I threw off my helmet and couldn't wait to get at the trail and find some of the people who passed me on the bike. I was hurting a bit at this point but I have a lot of faith in my ability to run through fatigue. Mostly, I did well. I started the first couple of miles at or below 7-minute pace. After mile 3, I eased up, mostly because I wanted to finish feeling alright and without blowing up. I picked off people the entire time, probably about 30 of the 40 who passed me on the bike. 45: 15. 68th.

All told, I finished in 2:37:42, smack dab in the middle of my age group. I'm OK with that, although I know I should do much better than 31/75 in my group. It's pretty clear what I need to work on to get better. For one, I have to get more comfortable in open water. My guess is I wasted a lot of energy taking short breaths and worrying about where I was. Cycling is a must. I just don't know what I'm doing out there. My bike times are an embarrassment. To put it into perspective, the finisher immediately before me rode seven minutes faster and the one following me rode nine minutes faster. That's crazy. The run is the run. I should do it at 7-minute pace or below, but it's not that big of a deal. I was within the top 10 percent in that category.

My big decision now is whether to find another race to work on those things, move up to the half Ironman or start training for a marathon in the fall.

Friday, July 24, 2009


I've started reading an interesting book called Body, Mind and Sport. It's a little crunchy, preaching the need to connect the mind and body in exercise in a way that gets past the "no pain, no gain" mentality. I'm a little skeptical, because I've never thought the enjoyment of exercise being mutually exclusive from getting over pain. One part I do embrace is how it's the process that matters much more than the outcome. That made it quite easy for me to get over not breaking three hours in the marathon. I appreciated the training that got me to the point where I was in position to accomplish that.

Another important aspect I've found in distance running is to embrace the unexpected. In any long journey, things happen not quite as we expect. Every marathon has moments that go awry in some way. That can be what makes it interesting. My adventures in triathlon have already had curveballs, mostly because I haven't done enough planning. Today, I found out that if you don't make a rental car reservation quickly, there won't be cars anywhere in New York City. That was a bummer. But there's always a way. I'm now taking my bike on a NJ Transit train and hitching a ride with my uncle. If worse came to worst, I was willing to ride 15 or so miles to my aunt's and then to the race. Why not? I've had much worse before marathons, including a cancelled flight that made running the race impossible, severe stomach problems, etc.

I'm sure that won't be the first bump in the road, particularly since this is my first triathlon. My only hope is that the snafus are minor and don't involve something major during the swim or bike. I really don't want to try to change a flat in the midst of the race. That would suck. Other than that, I'm ready for whatever comes my way. I'm really going into this pretty blind. I have no idea how long it will take me, or how much it will hurt.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

No instant gratification

I've decided to try to update more regularly, even if just briefly. A friend of mine sent me a USA Today article about an organization to help the homeless get back on their feet through running programs. It would seem like people in such straits would have bigger fish to fry, but this makes total sense to me. Running can be very therapeutic, helps build self-esteem and gives a very helpful structure. The director of the program has a great quote summing it up: "It's a very egalitarian sport in the sense that running rewards effort. It gives people the strength to connect that with the recovery process. There's no instant gratification."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tri Countdown

I've been pretty terrible about updating the Pigdog. That's not right. In that time, I've continued to train for my first triathlon, which is now just six days away. Overall, it's gone fine, although my training hasn't been very focused. Instead of following a strict regimen, I've aimed to run twice a week, bike twice a week and swim twice a week. Within those, I try to do a long ride and run once a week. Here's how I feel going into the race in each discipline:

Swim: This is the great unknown. I put in enough time in the pool, I think, doing about 2000 yards each workout, usually with sets of 100s, then 200s, with some 400s. Lately, I've concentrated on doing longer sets without sacrificing form. I'm a mediocre swimmer.

Cycling: The bike hasn't been as easy as I thought. I probably thought my running fitness would totally carry over, but it hasn't. I've been hampered by being clueless on the bike, not knowing much of anything about how it works, what to do when something goes wrong, etc. This is an area I need to work on. Biking 24 miles on a flat course doesn't seem so bad to me, though.

Running: I feel great here. My Achilles is finally getting healed. The last few runs I've done have been great. The half marathon went alright, considering how little I run, and I've had several good runs since then.

So that brings me to my worries. They're all around the unknown. The marathon is familiar to me, I know the rhythms of it, what to expect and what will happen. The tri is different altogether, with lots more to consider. If I could do it over, I'd have done a sprint race first. Alas, no going back now. My concerns:

Surviving the swim: I haven't done any open water swimming. This was pretty dumb. I'm going to the try out swimming in the lake the day before and morning of the race. My main goal is to stay relaxed. To that end, like any new triathlete, I worry about getting kicked in the head and freaking out.

Gear: Do I wear a wetsuit? (It's unclear what the water temp will be.) Do I clip my shoes onto my pedals? Do I bring a tire pump in case of a flat? Is my bike working OK?

What I'm not worried about:

Fitness: I could be humbled by the tri, but I feel like I have plenty of fitness to complete it without much drama. The one thing I noticed on a brick workout is my heart rate elevates when running after cycling. I'll have to watch that. Still, I'm in great cardio shape and getting stronger in both cycling and swimming. The other week, I went for a 42-mile bike ride, then ran 5.75 miles at 7:15 pace. It wasn't that bad, either. So long as I stay relaxed and feel my way through the swim, I know I'll be fine.