Going the distance.

Two years ago my wife started a master’s degree program. She recognized that my endurance training wasn’t showing signs of abating and that left her by herself for many hours on the weekends. She’s excellent at relaxing, but months went by and there were only so many hobbies and crafts that could be done before she realized she could get a graduate degree with her free time. Her semester classes are done via telepresence and they meet for two weeks in summer for an intense session of in-person learning, collaborating, and collegiate debauchery. (Grad students eschew beer and instead stay up late drinking fine wine and top shelf spirits.) The first time she left for two weeks I let my clients book me 24/7 and worked myself into back to back nasty migraines. The second year she was gone I figured out how to protect my time better, but still used it as an opportunity to work nonstop. This year she admonished me not to let my clients run roughshod over my schedule and to keep my normal business hours. I promised her that I wouldn’t have a choice as Coach Brian picked that first week of flying solo to lay down one of my Ironman training goals: the 300 mile bike week.

Originally I had asked for 500 miles, but Brian shot down that idea quickly and for good reason. That kind of mileage is loony tunes difficult and it wouldn’t serve a training benefit. Once you can figure out how to get your aerobic engine running well for many hours the overall distance becomes less important and the risk of injury goes through the roof. Once I could prove to myself that 112 miles was a conceivable and manageable distance the purpose of the long ride would be served. Future rides could focus on speed and running off the bike with more comfort and power. 300 miles would be just as good as 500, lowering the chance of getting hurt in the process.

Every mile of PCH has risk. I start at Pepperdine because it avoids the horrific traffic endemic to Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades.  In my experience drivers are staring at the ocean or the bikini nymphs on the beach, craning their heads west and not looking for cyclists hugging the right shoulder on the northbound stretch. The return trip is even more deadly as stoned surfers walk their 9 foot longboards straight into the bike lane and in front of cyclists going 20+mph on the southbound descent. Add the random driver aggressively swerving into the bike lane to grab a parking spot and the return trip with mileage-addled brain and weary legs becomes a death trap. I drive half an hour north to begin my long rides because it’s significantly less deadly even while more remote.

The week’s schedule looked like this:

Monday: 100 mile ride
Tuesday: 45 minute recovery swim, 1 hr bodywork
Wednesday: am 60 mile ride, pm 75 minute run
Thursday: OFF
Friday: 75 minute swim
Saturday: 40 mile interval ride
Sunday: 112 mile Ironman ride + run whatever off the bike

When I announced my plans my fellow TNS Training teammates totally stepped up and signed on to ride with me for large portions of each of the >50 mile chunks. Even though many of us are at different fitness levels just knowing that a friendly face was out there made it so each of us had a safety net in the other. In our war against the Pacific Cost Highway drivers our smaller numbers would be more effective spread out over distance.

Here are some things I learned over that week of major mileage:

PCH can stand for:

Pacific Corvette Highway
Physically Crushing Headwinds
Possible Celebrity Hideout
Pathetic Chopper Handlebars
Pneumatic Cleavage, Howdy!
Pleasant Cathartic Headtrip

PCH is a poorly programmed driving simulator with repetitive oceanic scenery and a limited number of vehicles set on a poor randomizer algorithm:

Ford F-150 w/surfboard(s)
Prius w/Obama sticker
Bentley w/plastic surgery disaster hiding behind designer sunglasses
Yellow Corvette, young prick edition
Yellow Corvette, old prick edition
Red Corvette, middle-aged prick edition
Porsche, driver in French cuff sleeves and cufflinks
Mazda anything, gay driver
Beat to shit Toyota pickup truck filled with lawnmowers, weedwackers, dangling saw blades, and a rusty ladder about to fall off
Brand new gleaming white Toyota pickup truck with Mexican flag covering entire back window OR vinyl sticker of obscure South American country covering front window

There are 3 distinct areas of the ride that smell like human feces consistently.
There are 4 annoying climbs between Leo Carillo and the sweet embrace of the parking lot at Michael Landon park.
I cry different kinds of tears at mile 80, 100, and 110.
A Payday bar can be the most delicious thing on earth after five hours of labor.
Do not text and ride.
Sunscreen stops working unless you reapply after a few hours.
112 miles is significantly harder than 100.
Keep your legs and hips moving while changing a flat tire/tube.
If you’re going fast enough there’s always a headwind.

The biggest victory of the week was the last ride of 112 miles, which when added to the previous rides slight excesses brought the week’s total to 315 miles. Michael B. did the whole 112 with me on Sunday and managed to beat me by a half an hour. After I pulled in to the parking lot after 6.5 hours I transitioned to my running shoes and asked if he wanted to join me for a quick run. Usually, Michael is much faster than me – but he was still in the initial state of disbelief that anyone would willingly run a marathon after doing that kind of mileage. I remembered that feeling after my first century, the very thought of running after biking that far felt insane. And yet, here we were starting to jog around the park. The first lap felt good – no tightness in the legs, the lungs were doing their thing, and my heart wasn’t leaping out of my chest. All good signs. Our pace sat around 9 minute miles. The second lap I was able to pick up the pace, and by the third lap I looked at my watch and was shocked to see I was doing a 6:50 pace. It was right around then I blew up, but I was giddy. Being able to uncork that speed after going 112 miles bodes extremely well for my ability to run slowly, longer off the bike in the coming months. There will be several more of these 112 mile rides with longer runs to follow.

The challenge for me is that I hear Damon and Brian’s voices in my head telling me that I’m not pleasant to be around when my training volume goes up. They are good friends for telling me this. I am by nature a hermit and while the wife was away and my training load went up I became less communicative with others. I jealously guarded my downtime and became resentful at any time spent on the phone or dealing with others. I’m already prone to Unibomber tendencies – the idea of living alone in a shack somewhere without any technology at times sounds blissful. But my agitation while training is a real emotional pitfall. Even now, just 2 weeks after the 315 mile week, my training load has gone up again and everything annoys me. The sound of someone eating. A child in the swim lane next to me playing and not swimming. I feel like Agent Smith in the Matrix: “it’s the smell, if there is such a thing…I can taste your stink, and every time I do I fear that I have somehow been infected by it.” I’ve watched the Matrix movies several times on the bike trainer now and my empathy for Agent Smith has just gone up – I feel like he’s the real hero of the trilogy. His motives are pure (chaos and contempt), his pain is real (he just wants to beat everyone and everything), and his defeat at the hands of a surfer dude (Keanu) tragic. The next few months will be as much a war with myself as it will be with the road.

At least those 315 miles are now money in the bank. My teammates threw me a wee party the day after the 112 and it was an honor to be celebrated for achieving a hard goal. These interstitial victories feel good, they remind me that this isn’t normal what I’m doing – what anyone training for an Ironman has to do – but that it doesn’t have to be a solo, isolating pursuit. The TNS Training community is growing, fed by an eclectic group of enthusiastic people who help one another realize personal goals. This can be in the form of a wave across a busy street as we head in opposite directions somewhere on our personal training plan, or in raising an off-diet glass of alcohol in celebration of one another’s incremental milestones.

As long as I can head home afterwards and be quiet. Alone. I am a study in contrasts.

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7 responses to “Going the distance.

  1. And then you flew from LAX to LAX to DCA… and were your arms tired!

  2. well done.

    PS your lack of blogging begs the eternal question – if a triathlete completes 300 ride miles in a week and doesn’t tell everyone about it….did it ever really happen?

    not to be confused with the equally flummoxing – if a triathlete gets hit by a car but was going over 23 mph while doing so – does anyone really care?

  3. Clearly I am biased, but I very much care if you get hit by a car!

  4. ‘Pneumatic Cleavage, Howdy!’ is my favorite.

  5. Another stellar piece, Max. You have plenty of qualified individuals to tell you how well you are doing athletically, but this very morning I internally scoffed at a Facebooker’s suggestion that 6 Reeses’ ups before bed was a bad idea. So I will confine myself to saying that every piece I read of yours – whatever form it may take – is more focused, more polished, more consistent and more entertaining. By all means train, but KEEP WRITING ABOUT IT. Please.

  6. What do you think about during all that excercising? When I run my 2 15-minute miles (around the track, because I like it squishy) I get so very, very bored after the first lap… and while I don’t have Porches to watch, it must have more interesting scenery than 75 minutes in a pool.

    • Well, I use the iPod a lot more than I should so Podcasts help a lot. Music throws off my pace, but a good Podcast will be good company for long hours on foot.

      Barring that, I mentally arrange my life. Once that gets boring I wind up counting A LOT. Steps, breaths, it all has a rhythm and counting out the steps and timing that can occupy my rat brain long enough.

      But mostly Podcasts.

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