I wrote this shortly after the race, when I was still feeling the sting of a DNF. Now I feel pretty good about the effort and proud of myself. I did the best I could. And that makes me a winner in my book.
Swim: I registered for the Bustinskin Middle Distance race without having any idea how long it would take me to swim the race distance. In April I did a timed swim session and discovered that I needed 40 minutes to cover 1000m. If I had appreciated just how much I needed to improve, I might not have registered for this race. So it’s good I didn’t know. I identified the swim as a major limiter for me and focused on improving my knowledge and technique. I bought a couple Total Immersion swim videos and several books and taught myself how to swim differently. I also regularly attended coached-swim practices and got constructive criticism. Generally speaking, I did not follow the practice exercises on the MAO training plan other than trying to get in the pool for at least three hours a week. Given my skill level, I decided it was more important for me to simply swim for an hour or so at a time, doing TI drills and/or the coached practice sessions with my club. Maybe next time I will have enough swimming skill to do the practices as prescribed. In the beginning, I focused on swimming laps and increasing my distance. I did not feel like I was getting much better. In August, I changed what I was doing and started to do the TI drills step-by-step. I didn’t get all the way through the exercises. I was torn between wanting to increase my distance and improve my form. On reflection, I think form comes first. The distance took care of itself. Some weeks, I had a difficult time getting to swim practice. Lap Swim Pool hours here in Holland are odd. My club trains in the late evening on Tuesdays & Fridays, and going to bed late would make me very tired the next day (spoiling both training and paid-work). As a result, I skipped a lot of swim practices. On Fridays, they switched from the pool to an earlier practice time at a lake and later the sea. I preferred to hang with my family most Friday nights. Many weeks, I swam only once during the week and found the North Sea too rough to swim on weekends. As time wore on, I got better at planning when & where I could pool-swim – making appointments with myself to get to the pool during the times reserved for lap swimming. Several of my open water swim practices in the North Sea did not include many free-style strokes: either it was too cold to put my face in the water, or too rough. Etc. I simply gave myself permission to become familiar with being in cold, rough water and play. I think this strategy paid off since I raced in similar conditions. While training one day, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to rescue two drowning children. That by itself makes all the effort worthwhile. My future plan is to continue swimming with the club once or twice a week during the winter - Friday nights have reverted to the late pool practice, so I can hang with my family early in the evening. Sunday mornings, I will work deliberately through the TI techniques to develop my hip drive. I could feel during the race the points in technique that I had reached in my training. I ordered the new self-coached CD and some “fist gloves”. I will also make more use of the stroke rate timer that I bought but did not use very often. The Bike: Considering the “me” factor and the unrelenting head winds, I think I pretty well. The “me” factor is this: I live in The Netherlands and did not train on hills. I’ve been at a sedentary desk job for 25 years, raced several sprint tri’s between six & seven years ago, etc., started running again in December 2008. I am 46, stand 5’6” & weigh 170. I would like to lose 10-15 pounds, which would put my body fat under 20 percent. It’s at about 26 percent now. I did not drop weight while training (except for the five pounds I gained on vacation in July that I lost in August). (I figured out the weight-loss & train trick too late – or maybe it was the fact I was doing speed intervals that tripped the metabolic switch.)
I followed the training plan very closely. I kept to my heart rate limits, stayed at the middle or near the top of the range and avoided going over. I rode more than 900 miles and more than 80 hours, at least twice and more often three times a week. I missed only two key practices while I was traveling in July. I did all the sessions in the last six weeks. And I enjoyed every ride. Did the way I train get me to the 55 km mark in the race? Yes, certainly. Would a different way of training (higher intensity, longer rides) have gotten me further? That’s the question that I can’t answer. Some alternatives: train as if for a longer course. That might have helped. On the other hand, I think I maxed out my capacity, given my starting point and other lifestyle issues (full time job, children, and so forth). During the race, I dropped out after riding 4 hours, which just slightly exceed the typical length of my long rides (usually between 3 and 3.5 hours). I wonder whether longer rides (5 hrs/90 km) would have kept me going longer on the race. The What If’s: In hindsight, I wish I had asked more specific questions about bike racing and how to prepare for the hills. I felt unprepared mentally for the sustained effort required for the long hills and short steep hills and the short steep hills that turned into long hills. They were much harder than anything I did in training. Rather late in the race, I noticed that the effort for hills was quite the same as doing leg presses. I could have used that strategy earlier! Also, I didn’t practice standing out of the saddle during a climb. That might have helped too. I also wish I had figured out how to add some hills to my training, even if it meant driving to Belgium for the day. Here’s the conundrum: if I am training by staying within a specific heart rate limit, how do I also train on hills? I had to slow for the (very small) hills in the Dunes where I ride. If I work the hell out of hills, how do lay the endurance foundation that I need? I followed the weight lifting program pretty closely, only rarely missing a planned session. And I worked intensively on the speed work sessions. I resolve this by taking the long view. I won’t be able to accomplish everything that needs to be done in the first half-year of my first HI tri-racing season. There are no short-cuts, and it takes as long as it takes. High intensity training has a high risk of injury and burn out. Finally, it occurs to me that the will to train means little without the will to race. I want to learn how to ride my bike fast (and safely) without feeling so afraid of cars and downhill screams. (Maybe that's not possible! :>) )
Lessons learned: Next time I will ask my coaches more questions, especially to help me evaluate my training sessions and to plan specific strategies for the race. I found that my questions got answered, but as a beginner, I don’t even know what questions I should be asking. And mostly I was pretty content to follow the recipe and bump along. When I shared my concerns about the swim, Mark gave me good suggestions that I used. I wish I had focused your attention and mine on strategies for cycling training & racing for this course. It wasn’t enough for me to race with only the thought “stay within your heart rate.” Then again, maybe it was, and I gave all I could considering me, the day, the course.
Occasionally I read blogs by other athletes (and write one myself, which I have not done lately since I’ve been so busy training!). One athlete who has trained with MAO observed that he was changing trainers because he found the MAO coaching too passive for his needs - that you were not holding him accountable for missed sessions and forcing him to explain why, etc. My immediate reaction is that he should grow up & take responsibility for himself and what he wants. I think of myself as a fairly low-maintenance client, who is a self-starter and resourceful. Did I ask enough of my coaches? Did they ask enough of me?
I went into the race with the hope that since I had followed the training plan, I had done enough to get across the finish line. I liked the heart rate training because once I got used to the increased volume, the training felt comfortable & sustainable. But maybe I wasn't working hard enough. I wish I had asked for some specific feedback. I certainly felt like I was working to capacity time-wise, balancing all the other aspects of my life.
One question is whether I raced frequently enough (the answer is probably no) and whether I should have programed into my plan some “simulated” races. Perhaps that would have helped me develop more speed and power. Perhaps I should have also asked for some more specific direction as to how to train for hills while living in a flat country. I looked back at our correspondence. I identified that need in the beginning but did not follow up with additional requests. The website certainly identifies the need to train in race-like conditions. I think I had a beginner’s blind-spot and overlooked this in my training. (But that takes me back to the conundrum I discussed above - heart rate limits vs. intense intervals). Maybe I just did the best I could, giving it what I could. Maybe it’s just post-event blues, but I’m feeling a bit incomplete. Doing a Half Tri was "my goal" for the year, and I didn’t make it. That stings. I always have finished what I started. I don’t fail. And it feels a bit hollow to have to redefine the goal and the event. I’m wondering if there was something more I could have done to make me faster and stronger. I guess everyone who wants to improves asks that question! Of the three disciplines, I focused my time and attention on improving my swim technique. I found a lot of information that I applied in the race from the book that goes with the video Swimming Outside the Box. I have some books on cycling that I simply did not have time to read. So, all things considered, I gave it my best throughout the training period and got myself as far as I could. Nutrition: I will use the next four months to slim down. I’ve figured out how to do this while continuing to train. Being lighter will make racing easier. I will keep some records of how my speed changes with my weight, so I can confirm this notion.
There’s a poem that goes something like “love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like no one’s watching.” I have to add a line: race like you’ve never lost.
Races: My friend Judy’s already registered for the IM next June in Nice. My initial thought is that I don’t want to do the IM Nice since (a) it comes too early in the year given the weather where I live ( I don’t know how I could train for it during the winter here), and (b) it has a lot of hills (and as we know, I suck at hills). On the other hand, I really enjoyed having a virtual training partner focused on the same race, and if not now, when. I have held the desire to do a the IM since I did my first sprint tri six years ago. I don’t know what kind of time commitment is required to train for the full distance, compared to what I just did - which I really enjoyed. And I’ve thought that the time required to train means I ought to wait until my kids are older (and I am fitter/thinner/stronger, whatever else I lack). (I thought the same thing after running my first marathon - that the training time required was too long, but I’ve registered for another one in April anyway).
Alternatives: This year I joined The Hague tri club, but only swam with them (they also offer coached running and cycling training). And I did only one local tri (the Beach Challenge) - partly because of the language barrier - but now I am more familiar with the local calendars and how to find out about races. (I also balked at a June Oly distance tri in Amsterdam because of the time limit on the swim.) I could do more local races next year. For example, there are several local half and quarter distance races that I choose from (in July & August)(and then a half in Cologne, Germany in Sept. But it’s an ugly urban course). I’ve mused that I could go back to Weymouth UK for a week in the summer to practice on the hills while camping with my family, and have a second go at the course in September 2011. That still gives me a bit of a fright. :>) (My son suggested training for a full IM distance to prepare next time.)
In all, I want to keep racing. I now have all the gear (quite a thing in itself) and I have learned how to plan my time & training week to week - I do still have to figure out how to carry enough water and deal with eating on the bike. I also need to resolve some stressors in my personal life and ensure solid finances. I have several running races lined up between now and January - repeats of events I ran last year and a couple new ones. (17 October: Amsterdam: 8k fundraiser; November - 15k hill run; 25k dune run; December 16k beach run). I have to say that I don't really call what I do when I run “racing” - I’m usually bringing up the rear of the crowd, playing beat the clock. But that’s okay.
I’m also planning to teach myself how to use the TRX trainer, which I got this summer and used a couple times while traveling. The club also trains on All-Terrain bikes in the winter. I might like to try that, but would need to buy a proper bike.
So, there’s the good, the bad & the wishful thinking.