Doing an Ironman will change you forever. I had been warned about a post-partum depression that would kick in shortly after the race. It never hit me. I am an angry person by nature and in the days and weeks after the race I let my simmering pot of self-righteous anger boil over. I was short tempered, had no patience for any irritant, and barely held my tongue in public situations. Over a few weeks that passed. Mostly I found myself getting into arguments that were a waste of my time. The further I got from the race the more I returned to normal, a low boil of wrath. A technology client of mine asked to borrow my road bike for a visiting family member and I agreed, offering to go for a long ride with them as well. We decided to meet at the south side of Marina del Rey and figure out a course from there. It would be one of the worst rides of my life.
I didn’t know who the person would be riding my bike. My client said that the family member rode some in Chicago and was looking for a fun ride while in Los Angeles. My client was going to come along and take a leisurely ride along the beach, maybe get a cappuccino, and be relaxed. That sounded lovely. The morning of the ride I prepped two bottles of Infinit (275 calories each) and ate only a portion of my breakfast. It didn’t taste right so I left most of it in the bowl. I didn’t sleep much the night before but didn’t think much of it – it was going to be a social ride, right?
I ride out to the parking lot rendezvous, about five miles from my home. My client was running a bit late, and I bit a early, so I did 2 mile loops around the Marina, just spinning my pedals for thirty minutes. They arrived and I met Allen. I decided I would not talk about my Ironman. I was tired of talking about it and frankly, I didn’t want to come across more advanced than I was. He brought his own pedal tool. He biked “a few hundred miles a month”. We were going to need a bigger boat.
He got prepped quickly and the three of us pedaled out. I suggested we do the doughnut ride – the Ballona bike path south through the beaches. If we had time and felt up to it we could climb up Rancho Palos Verdes to Marymount College and descend the other side of the peninsula, the full doughnut ride of about 60 miles. He was game and we accelerated our pace. My client waved “ciao” and settled into his cappuccino ride. Smart man.
Allen was just under six feet tall and a sturdy build. We talked a bit and he said that he rode with a group of cyclists around Illinois and they would do 60-80 mile rides where they would just attack each other the whole time. He was also a good climber. I am not. I’m a triathlete. I don’t draft. I suck at hills. I’m only three seasons in and my power to weight ratio sucks. He’d been riding for years. I was a dead man.
Allen made it look easy. I hadn’t ridden since my race but that had only been a month prior. Could I have lost all that fitness in four weeks? He’d smoke me on my own bike on every hill. Patiently he would wait for me to catch up, and I’d haul my ass up the minor grade huffing and puffing. This would go on for a while and then I’d get angry and catch him and we’d be together for a while. By the time we were a few miles from the Marymount climb I began to doubt if I’d be able to get up that hill. My legs were sore and I had already consumed one and a half of my bottles. I’d been in the saddle three hours already and it was nearing 80 degrees. I pressed on, pointing Allen towards the climb. Fuck it, I was in for a penny in for a pound.
Allen shot up that hill like a rocket. I contemplated suicide.
At the top he was basking in the glorious southern California sunshine comparing it to the wet, cold, snowy hell he had left. I was in my own snowy hell, drained of fluids, confused at how I had lost so much fitness so quickly, and wondering if I would survive the ride home. I felt girded by the fact that it was mostly downhill home.
By the time we hit Manhattan Beach Allen had to stop for me several times more. My legs had begun to cramp – badly. I was long out of fluids, Allen had even poured me some of his to share. Then he gave me a Clif bar. I was still a mess. In Manhattan Beach my whole left leg seized on me, every pedal stroke was agony. I vowed to finish, even as embarrassed as I was.
I had been surviving by pedaling with one leg for the last two miles but then the unclipped leg just went into total spasms and I could go no further. Along Dockweiler with only 4 miles left in the ride both legs seized and I stopped being able to pedal without pure agony. I apologized, deeply embarrassed. Allen was very cool about it – he’d been there before. He knew that once the cramps hit that hard it was over. I gave him verbal directions how to get back to the parking lot and that I was just going to rest for a while until I could get back. He didn’t want to leave me but he had family obligations and I figured I could get back home somehow. I texted Sofia my situation and she immediately drove out to pick me up. For the first and last time, I hoped.
I was cocky. I hadn’t put in any miles since my race more than a month prior. I didn’t bring nearly enough nutrition. I didn’t eat a breakfast. I underestimated my companion and my own ability. I still had the 11/23 cassette on the rear of my tri bike, probably the worst setup for a hilly ride I hadn’t done in almost a year. It’s a long list. If I ever go out on an unknown ride with unknown distance, course, and companion I will prepare for the worst and ride as if it’s a double century with Lance. And I’ll let Lance be the cocky one, not me.
Contrast this with what happened last Sunday. I haven’t run more than four or five times since my Ironman, and each of those runs were between 4 and six miles and an easy pace. I volunteered to pace one of our TNS members for her first half marathon which she wanted to run in two hours. I signed up for the race and said I’d pace her, giving her whatever she needed during the race. If it was encouragement, I’d do that. If it was silence, I could do that, too.
Race day was perfect weather – cool with a minimal breeze. The course was easy – a Santa Monica beach start, turning east on Venice Blvd into Culver City, return to Venice Beach. Everything went smoothly – Dave was going to run an easy 10 miles and hammer the last 5K since he was tired of blowing up in all his races and was taking everyone’s advice to heart. Eve was going out for a fun run because she just likes running. Talia had been training and putting in miles and this was her race.
She ran a perfect race. Her pace was steady, even, and her breathing controlled. Her stride didn’t break down as she got tired and she ran the entire time. I stuck by her side and she finished in one minute over two hours, exactly where she wanted to be. As I had loaned my GPS to Brian for his marathon training I didn’t know we were one minute over, and to be honest if I had known that I would have pushed a bit harder to crack two hours. But the best thing about a first race is it’s an automatic PR. It gives Talia something to aim for next time. I think she may do the LA Marathon, and if so either I will run it as well or jump in for the second half to pace her out if she needs it.
The second event was, to be honest, just as cocky as the first. Most people don’t do any prep and then run a half marathon for fun. The Ironman has distorted my sense of what I can and cannot do. That bonk ride fucked me up completely. For days afterwards my neck muscles were crippled from what I discovered was my death-grimace expression I had been holding for the last miles of that ride. Meaning I was making such an anguished face from pain I hurt my neck muscles.
I hurt a bit after the half marathon, mostly in my hamstrings, but that passed quickly enough. No permanent damage, anyway.
I’ve said 2010 is about giving back to everyone who helped me with my race, building the TNS community, and sublimating my own race plan to help others reach their goals. I’ve been calling it unstructured training because it’s not focused towards any particular race. It will be a year long base period.
What is important for me to remember is that I must still take it as seriously as if I were training for a real race. If I continue to skip workouts and throw in long, crazy rides and runs without prepping my body I’m going to have problems. Worse, I could injure myself badly and then be useless to everyone.
I like being able to do crazy things, and I should always remember that it should only look crazy from the outside. From the inside it’s the result of planning, preparation, and respecting the challenge.