We wait all year for it and once arrived – the days seem to fly by. I love the summer for so many reasons; my garden bursting in coneflowers, cold beer, the occasional Dairy Queen for dinner, windows down, music up, daylight beyond 8 pm.
I’m just one hosta away from needing a bumper sticker that says, “I’d rather be gardening.” Here’s my explosion of Phlox, Beardtongue, Purple Coneflower, Guava Ice Coneflower, Cheyenne Spirit Coneflower, Gayfeather & Purple Fountain Grass
With summer here, training is in full swing. Recovery after Texas went well. I never thought I would attempt two Ironmans in one year so I consider this year a science experiment to better understand how athletes recover from an Ironman and then leverage that fitness into the next one. Sitting here about 8 weeks after Texas, I’m finally seeing my fitness come back around to where it was prior to Ironman. I’m grateful for my health and excited to build from this point.
This past weekend, I enjoyed some good old summer fun training. One of my long-time athletes, let’s call her M., came out to join us for training in Naperville. While Naperville doesn’t seem like a mecca for training, when you dig deeper you realize we have it pretty good out here. Situated 30 miles west of Chicago, we have miles of crushed gravel trails that run through beautiful woodlands and meadows. We have hills and flats. Though I have to drive 30 minutes to get there, we have uninterrupted roads lined with corn and endless blue skies. We have a quarry for open water swimming or long course meter lanes. An amazingly fit and fast masters team led by quality coaches. A diversity of training partners in my arsenal including national champions and a world champion. I’m a pretty lucky athlete.
Thursday started with a long hilly run at the Arboretum. The Arboretum has approximately 12 miles of roads undulating with short and long hills. We warmed up slowly and then took on some long hills at tempo effort and short hills at a hard effort. I started the run by telling M that I don’t usually talk when I run but then, as usually happens, I started talking. I told her my goal this weekend was to show her what a great athlete she really is. What I’ve learned in 8+ years of coaching women is that I’m not predominantly coaching fitness and physiology – I’m coaching confidence. I’m coaching their ability to trust what’s inside and then give experiences and skills to bring that out. M stayed gritty on the hills; she was right there putting the pressure on herself and also putting the pressure on me. Sometimes we need that to rise up and fight through a workout.
Later that evening, we went to masters along with my husband, Chris, and local athlete, good friend and now coach in my business – Amanda. Our masters team is run much differently than others. We don’t have lanes separated by base pace. That is how I end up swimming with people much faster than me – to push me and make me understand what fast swimming really is! But on Thursdays, it’s sprint night and everyone swims together on the same interval. This means you can find yourself swimming with someone who can usually lap you on a 150. Thursdays are USRPT practices. For short course season, we focused on 25s. You basically had a goal pace for a 50, split it for a 25 and learned to repeat that pace for more reps and eventually on shorter rest. By the end of the season, we were doing 30 x 25 on the :35. We started with 10 x 25 on the :40. It sounds easy but when you’re going close to “all out, it’s a challenge! Personally I loved the sets as they forced me to figure out the form, effort and subtleties of how what I’m doing translates to a half second faster. Now, we are working on 50s. Lucky for M, we were doing sets of all out 50s on the 1:15, some 25s and then an all out 100. For someone who always swims alone, she bravely rose up to the challenges and found herself putting down her fastest 100 ever.
Deep water mass starts at the quarry.
The next day, I took M to my open water swim class that I teach at the local quarry. Some people talk about how they want to get faster in open water. Those who do get faster actually practice it. We practice everything – race starts in the water, from the beach, going around buoys, drafting, pace lining, pier sprints, diving, jumps. Most of all I encourage them to not play nice – they get all over each other and some even swim over each other. Just like racing. We work at all intensities to learn to find different gears in swimming rather than just getting into open water and “just” swimming (which – surprise! – doesn’t make you faster for open water swimming).
Swimmers – ready, GO! Running in from the beach & don’t play nice!
Later in the day, we rode up to Fermilab with Amanda. Fermilab is part of the Department of Energy, a particle accelerator laboratory. It’s closed to general public traffic. Low traffic roads mean lots of cyclists. There’s a herd of buffalo that reside on site and the highlight might have been watching the “teenaged” buffalo awkwardly run with the herd. We kept the watts low and conversation going.
Herd of buffalo in Fermilab & token midwest red barn in background.
Saturday was the big day. An “organized” ride. These rides take place nearly every weekend. Usually they start at a local school and for a $25 entry you get a course map, marked roads and rest stops. It’s a great way to feel safety in numbers and find some new routes. Parts of this course actually went through our normal route to Morris. And, in case you haven’t heard, Morris is the new Boulder. Somewhere off of I-80, the small town of Morris rests with a gas station on Washington Street equipped with the usual population of small town and a sign that promises LIVE BAIT. This gas station is a haven for cyclists after 30+ uninterrupted miles on some of the flattest roads around.
There may be plans in the works of driving 45 miles & abducting this sign in late October.
We actually rode to the start of the route – with Chris leading and a warm up pace over 2 mph faster than my usual pace. This could only mean one thing: NO WIND. And in Chicago, we never, ever have no wind. Today would be a very fast ride. It was a feeling of pure awesomeness to sit on fast wheels while literally flying past large packs of riders like a freight train. It reminded me of the years of Ragbrai – the thrill of riding set against the peacefulness of farm roads. At one point, geared out, spun out I found myself dropped but not alone. Behind me trailed a long line of men holding my wheel!
We regrouped in Morris making a critical error. Should you ever have to choose between making a left turn towards home or a right turn towards the gas station to buy your usual hit of 5-Hour Energy, turn right. TURN RIGHT! In a very un-Coach Liz like moment (I am human, after all!) I started to unravel, fall apart and, gasp, bonk. With 1 hour to go, I found myself again, alone, watching the Chris, Amanda and M disappear further and further ahead. It was then I found myself thinking of my favorite quote from Ragbrai:
If you find yourself alone, riding in the corn fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in ______ (Plainfield? Morris? Seneca?) and you’re already dead!
Right on cue, I hit bottom with a nonstop chatter of negative thoughts and feelings flying through my head. You’re slow, you can’t keep up, you’ll never be what you once were, you’ll never achieve your goals, you don’t belong. Fear, shame, embarrassment – feelings that were wrapping strong around me. For over 20 miles. And you know what I did? Just kept pedaling. Just kept moving forward with the same pressure on myself to maintain the effort. I didn’t give up, slow down or stop. I stayed the path. It wasn’t easy but one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over the years is to keep the momentum going and stay the path. What you do in your dark moments is just as important as what you do when it’s going well. An hour later, I got off my bike, albeit alone, but it was done and over it.
The run off the bike? Well, after riding 92 miles faster than I’ve ever ridden (including races!) at half Ironman watts (ouch), safe to say that run felt very, very special. It was hot and my head was filled with clutter as I watched Chris and Amanda pull away around the path. 25 minutes of running felt like an eternity of self-doubt, self-hate and when will this be over already!? It didn’t take a sports scientist to diagnose what was happening – I had depleted all of my resources in many ways. By the time we got back to the car, it required a Pop-Tart to save my life.
The next day, we woke up to swim one last time at the quarry. Not surprisingly everyone was beat up, tired and feeling the effects of a few days of more training than I’ve done in years! The swim was refreshing and easy. It took another two days of easy before I felt like myself again (and before I peed clear and slept through the night; the difference between younger Liz and older Liz is a lot more recovery time).
“Surround yourself with those who see greatness in you, even when you don’t see it within yourself.”
As for how M did over the weekend? As expected, she rose up and met the challenges in front of her. She swam, biked and ran outside of her zone of comfort. She took risks and went all in. If you want to breakthrough, that’s what it takes. Sometimes you find yourself keeping up, sometimes you find yourself falling behind. But if you’re going to answer your questions and find meaningful answers – you’ve got to take that risk. You’ve got to be brave enough to face whatever it is waiting for you at mile 80, alone or with others. There’s no other easy way. I didn’t videotape her, perform masterful analysis, test her V02 max – I just observed. Put her into a variety of situations and watched how she reacted. Honestly this is the most valuable thing you can do with an athlete. All of the years on deck at masters or coaching my Ironman group weekly at Well-Fit and what I’ve found is that by simple observation you can learn how an athlete works. This is more valuable than knowing any test result on paper. Put the real world challenge in front of an athlete and then watch. What do they do when tired? When scared? When with others who are slower? Faster? The physiology is all very interesting, the psychology is what makes it happen out there.
And this week it’s been back to training – solo. Unless you count my two children. The stress level of any workout increases exponentially for each child present during a workout. I had to make a prison of empty boxes around my bike so no one would touch my wheels or get under my pedals! And like my coach said to me when I confessed the Pop Tart required to recharge my life force (and personality) on Saturday: whatever it takes, Liz.