Last weekend, I did the Trans-Tahoe Relay — that’s swimming, not running, fyi. The entire week before the relay the water had been 59 degrees. I can NOT swim in 59 degree water without a wetsuit. I kept having panic attacks about the mere idea. I could vividly imagine jumping in the water and having one of those fall-through-the-ice moments where you can’t breathe or think or move. I didn’t think I’d even be able to climb back into the boat. When I actually jumped in, the water was 63 degrees and nowhere near as bad as I had imagined.
Turns out, if you vividly picture the worst something could possibly be, then either it’s not that bad or you’re prepared for the worst it can possibly be. The key, though, is to genuinely and completely imagine the absolute worst — not the pretty bad. Free training tip.
But, the weird part for me was that I’m used to not being a liability. You want me to be on your relay? Jump into a race? Try out some new sport? Sure. I won’t be the best, but I won’t be the worst. You can generally assume that I know what I’m doing and will show up prepared.
That was not the case this time. We had two girls who were quite fast swimmers and I figured I’d be just a little slower than them. I was actually much, much slower. And, terrified. And, out of shape. A 30-minute swim leg turned out to be really long and exhausting. My second swim leg I got tired and started zig-zagging around the lake.
So, I think we can rule out open water swimming as my Olympic sport.
People ask me about my training a lot. They tend to think I’m kidding when I respond and it takes too much work to explain I’m not. So, I usually just make jokes.
The things that everyone keeps saying are 1. oh, but I’m still doing so much more than they are, what am I talking about, (haha, so great, obviously I can still compete with the professional girls because I am not as overweight as the average American, what was I thinking) and 2. but I’m racing so much.
The #2 is kind of true. It’s an odd side effect of having no real training plan or peak. Usually I only do the races that fit with my overall goals and are smart choices. This year? Nope. This year is the year to do all the stuff I always think sounds fun.
Pick-up track meet? Sure. Super competitive road mile? Yes. Trans-Tahoe Swimming Relay at the last minute as a substitute? Why not, it’s not like I’ve swum in the last week. Marin Century? Of course, this seems like the time to finally crack the 100-mile barrier.
The only thing I really care about is the Chicago Marathon in October. Training started this past Monday. Sorta. My training plan is to do more-or-less what I did before Oakland, except faster. And, also, instead of starting 10 weeks before and off of holiday-level nothing and two months of reeling from life, I’m starting 3.5 months before off of a decent amount of running and Crossfit and some biking and stuff. So, I should go faster, right?
This plan is focused on low-mileage, heavy cross-training, strength work, and — the key — not doing stuff when I don’t feel like it.
That last one is the main difference this year. It’s really the only difference. Sometimes, I feel like doing stuff, so I do a bunch. Then, sometimes I don’t, so I don’t. I figure it kind of works as a training/recovery cycle, right?
This is what I’ve done in the past week:
Thursday: I was going to Crossfit, but then Justin came to visit and somehow I ended up going out to dinner and then REI. So, I bought cool running shoes instead and called it a day.
Friday: 8-mile run at China Camp. Ended up being not slow. Then I did some core and PT work. High school cross-country practice in the afternoon was another easy 4 miles and then another set of their core work with them.
Saturday: I planned to get up and swim Masters and then go for a 2-3 hour ride before having to leave for a meeting at 1:30 p.m., but setting an alarm sounded terrible. So, I thought I’ll just wake up whenever and go for a ride and swim on Sunday. But, then I got up at 10:20 a.m.and thought, ‘that’s not enough time to get in a good ride,’ I’ll just watch TV instead. And, that’s what I did.
Sunday: I loaded up a Camelbak and ran the 4.5-5 miles to the start of the San Rafael Downtown Mile race. Ran the mile - in 5:35. I wanted to break 5:30, but evidently I slowed down. Ran home. Did not swim.
Monday: Was going to open water swim practice, but it was like really cold all day. So, I didn’t.
Tuesday: Ran 50 minutes in the hills above my house and then did some strides. Bused to Mill Valley for work and biked home.
Wednesday: Was my big day. Crossfit in the morning was max stuff. I hate max stuff. It was followed by a 1:30 hard ride, with some short threshold efforts to remind myself what that feels like before the Tiburon Tri. (Short, like less than 10’ total with lots of rest.) Then, I grabbed my backpack and biked to high school cross-country practice where it was 4 miles moderately-paced, but I was dead. And, I sort of shuffled through some of their core work.
Yesterday: Was going to swim, but slept instead. And ran to cross-country practice, ran a CRAZY hilly, hot, oh-my-god-I-think-I-have-to-walk run with them, ran home. Stopped and stood in kids’ water play structure at the park.
This week might be just over 10 hours of training, which would be the first over 10 hour week since beginning of April. Whoo!
Today, I did my test time trial run. Not because I am in any shape to be doing a test time trial, but because the Dipsea is this Sunday and will happen regardless of whether I am ready or not.
If you don’t, you should do test time trials every now and then, particularly before big races.
Pick a course that makes sense for your race/training, pick one that you care about, do the same one repeatedly, use it to test your race-prep (same nutrition, shoes, bike equipment, whatever), and measure yourself against yourself. And, it doesn’t matter what it is, don’t get hung up how far exactly.
I run the loop around Phoenix Lake hard every now and then to see how fast I can do it. I’ve run it pretty much since we moved here four years ago because it’s an awesome loop (really lollipop if you do the whole run, but I just do the loop for time trials) and eventually started running it faster and looking at my watch. It’s perfect for a time trial, because 1. the start and finish points don’t change; the trail is always going to be the trail, 2. I find a loop more motivating, because you’ve got to get back, you can’t just quit, 3. it’s only about 16-17 minutes, so it’s nothing too long before in a taper period, 4. I’ve done it so many times that I CARE about how fast I can do it.
(Steve likes to do a fastest time up Wildcat before a hillclimb, because he CARES about the time up that climb, it’s short and a good quick taper hard race-like effort, and it’s a chance to do a test run of your race readiness.)
The Phoenix loop, itself, goes around Phoenix Lake (duh) and is just about 2.6 miles, but the single-track trail runs slow with all the stairs and rocks and fallen trees and creeks you have to jump. That also makes it particularly good practice before the Dipsea or Alcatraz.
For the longest time, my fastest effort around the lake was somewhere in the mid-17s. Then, one day, in the cold rain, on the empty trail, in just a sports bra and shorts, I just started going faster and faster. All of a sudden, I finished in 16:07, somewhere just over six-minute miles. Realizing I could go genuinely fast ON trails, not just on the road was an important breakthrough to have before the race. I went on to have some of my fastest running races right after that.
Today, I went faster.
But, it doesn’t really matter how fast you go. It doesn’t matter if it’s exactly 2.55 or 2.6 miles or if you run 16:07 or 16:04. It’s just a test. Today’s test told me I’m more fit than I think and reminded me what hurting feels like, so I won’t be shocked on Sunday. How that will actually translate to the Dipsea is unclear, but at least I have a little bit of confidence now.
Of course, I felt so good about my time trial test that I came home and had handfuls of Cheerios and three glasses of wine for dinner. Because why not; what do I have to worry about now? That’s probably a bad side effect.