I haven’t been on a training high since March, when fitness and optimism sent me into Ironman South Africa buzzing. Then the normal ups and downs of training returned, as if on the lazy breezes of summer.
Last week, after a month-long slump, I finally started to feel like my old self again. (Or maybe my young self would be more appropriate here.) Maybe the Botox injection in my chest is wearing off, or maybe it’s the dietary changes I’ve made. All I know is that I’m loving this new upward trajectory. In one week I decided to race Arizona. I started going to Masters again. I ran 35 miles in five days. And yesterday, I rode 99.5 miles (unintentionally, but I couldn’t care less about doing an “OCD lap” up my street), followed by a strong 30-minute run off the bike. I chased it all down with my favorite post-race meal: a giant Mexican-style salad with rice, steak, salsa, guacamole, and grilled veggies.
I love Mondays after a big Ironman training weekend. I love that groggy-yet-rested feeling. That “I feel like I was hit by a truck but I love it!” feeling I’ve only ever had in this sport. I love walking to the kitchen on heavy legs that seem to know they’re in for a rest day—ready to be fastened to a pull buoy and dragged around for an hour in the pool, at most. I love seeing a face in the mirror that’s slightly sun-kissed from six hours in the fall sunshine. I love feeling the training sinking in.
The weekend was a huge confidence builder for me. Saturday was unusually cloudy and blustery, so I ran 14 miles along the coast, and then settled in on the couch with my Norma Tec recovery booties and Netflix (I never watch TV during the day!)
Sunday was even rarer. I traded a challenging and scenic ride with strong friends for a boring solo out-and-back through the (barely) rolling terrain of Camp Pendleton. At least I had the ocean for company, with the navy blue tones it seems to develop in these cooler, clearer months. That, along with Spotify and a few trusty podcasts, carried me up to San Clemente before I made the turn-around for home.
Some of you might be laughing at me for making such a big deal out of riding alone, something most triathletes do all the time. But this really is new to me. I am a very social athlete—nine times of out of ten I’ll tweak my schedule or throw the plan out the window just to ride with people. Though I often run alone for convenience’s sake, when it comes to swimming and riding, I’m all about the party. On Sunday, however, I was surprised at how quickly the time flew by, how “on” I felt physically, and how much I simply enjoyed being alone in the world on my bike.
My strategy was to warm up easy for 30 minutes, and then try to keep my watts between 160 and 190 (max), in order to simulate my Arizona pacing plan. I usually try to target 200 watts in an Ironman, which ends up being more like 180 once I download my files. Numerous people have suggested to me that my race-only chest issue might due to racing the bike too hard. And really, I should know better. Chalk it up to still being a fairly “new” Ironman athlete.
Today, this quote by Joe Friel spoke to me: “The goal on the bike is not to produce the fastest time possible, but rather the time that will leave the athlete with enough to actually run the marathon. A maximally fast bike time means a 26.2-mile walk. Such a marathon always leads the dejected athlete to believe he or she is simply a poor runner. That’s seldom the case. It is usually a bike-related issue.” My story to a T.
Arizona is going to be one giant, 11-plus hour experiment. An experiment with expectations and goal management. An experiment in pacing and nutrition. And I’m excited to play lab rat. Because you just never know.
Tips for solo long rides:
- Follow a well-known route. Getting lost won’t add any warm fuzzies to being out on your bike for four or more hours. Alone.
- Plan your first water stop, and know how far into the ride it is. This will ensure that you’ll stay hydrated and fueled.
- Bring money, cards, ID, and enough snacks and hydration to get you to that first stop. If it’s a race simulation, bring exactly what you plan to eat and drink in your upcoming race. I still haven’t decided 100% on that part for Arizona yet, but let me say that I’m LOVING Honey Stinger gels. I normally can’t stand gels, but these really do taste like “just like honey from the bee” (cue Van Morrison) and have a great consistency to boot.
- Pack your fully-charged phone, loaded with energizing music and some of your favorite podcasts. This will keep boredom at bay, and make sure you have a lifeline in case of an emergency.
- Have a plan. Wattage, heart rate, intervals—they’ll all help to pass the time.
- Allow yourself to flow in and out of thoughtfulness. Regardless of whether you call it meditation or something else, it’s unusual to achieve this state in everyday life. Enjoy it.