November 05, 2012

Kickstarting swim, bike for Ironman Whistler

Runners all ages, shapes and sizes pass by my window daily. Some have chosen company, others opted for solitude or a rhythmic technological companion. I watch them, scanning their faces and body language for signs of the rapture I am missing so much, and wonder when, if, I'll be able to join them again.

This Tuesday I am getting an MRI at St Paul's hospital in Vancouver, a request made by my GP eight weeks earlier. However, the physician I saw at the go-to sports medicine clinic in Vancouver told me two weeks ago he doesn't expect the MRI to show anything to help explain my injury. Both good and bad news, if he's proven right.

For now, I don't expect to run again this year. In October I ran once, in September four times (all therapist prescribed) -- short easy jogs, interrupted by walks, and all ending with the same conclusion: whatever my problem, it certainly hasn't been solved.

Mentally managing the uncertainty of a long layoff from running -- my first in the 17-year-long lifespan I have as a runner -- and the worry that I might never be able to run again, let alone train for a Sub-3 marathon, has become the priority.

Self-awareness plays a key role. I know what motivates me just as I recognize what typically causes me to procrastinate. There's no rocket science to it; I simply need a goal that excites me, something I can sink my teeth into, something that scares me a little (or a lot). It's usually something that requires commitment and immediate, but manageable, action.

Intuition is another important ingredient. Several of the books I've read recently cite research by Dr Candace Pert which proved the scientific truth behind the saying, "Go with your gut."

"The work of Pert and her colleagues showed that a variety of proteins known as peptides (including endorphins) were among the body's key 'information substances'—and each of them could affect our mind, our emotions, our immune system, our digestion and other bodily functions simultaneously,'' according Paul Trachtman's review of Pert's book Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine (1999) for Smithsonian magazine.    

Having read about the science behind the value of 'hunches' helped me trust my intuition to sign up for Ironman Whistler last month, even though I had thusfar felt completely unmotivated to swim or ride as cross training, as was recommended to me.

Indeed, it helped me trust my intuition to sign up for my first Ironman since finishing Ironman New Zealand in March 2005, because I had thusfar felt completely unmotivated to swim or ride as cross training. I hoped that committing, at least financially, to this big scary goal would give me a reason, a positive reason, to return to swimming and cycling; I'd swim and cycle to get ready for Ironman, rather than only because I cannot run. Big mental difference.

I knew that riding on the windtrainer, as I will be doing until Spring next year, will simply be a matter of doing it, taking the time to slowly build that bike fitness from scratch. That also means I have plenty of time to search for a strategy that will help me overcome my fear of riding downhill; being able to train on the Ironman Whistler course regularly should help.

Returning to the pool was a different matter altogether. While I have a decent breast stroke, I had to learn freestyle when I started doing triathlons and it was a long hard slog.

In my first Ironman in Forster-Tuncurry, Australia, in 2002, I swam 1:19:27. The following year, I came out of the water in 1:17:16, before swimming 1:20:20 in 2004, though that year wetsuits weren't allowed because the water exceeded 24 degrees C.

Several months after completing my third Ironman Australia in April 2004, I did Ironman Frankfurt. The swim was awful; I finished it in 1:18:55. The next goal was Ironman New Zealand in March 2005, and I worked very hard on my swimming with plenty of drills, which finally paid off with a big PB swim of 1:13:35 in Taupo. That's also when I stopped swimming, as I opted to focus on running instead.

Two weeks ago I did my first swim training since March 2005, and was very relieved to find that I could at least cover the 25 metres of one length of the Squamish pool. I even sort of enjoyed it. Triathlete Tim had given me a workout that only included 25s, and those felt manageable.

I have swum five times now, and the last two workouts prescribed by Tim added up to 1.3K each and included two 100s. There's a long way to go before I'll be ready to swim 3.8K but it's a good start. I want to get a few more swims in this week as unfortunately our pool will close for six weeks as of Nov 12 for annual maintenance.

Luka is cheering me on ... I think
I have spun on my bike 10 times in the last 2-1/2 weeks, beginning with easy 30-minute rides to ease into reconnecting with my inner cyclist again. I am enjoying it, and today I did my longest spin yet at 60 minutes. I know that the hardest work ahead of me on the bike is the mental challenge to ride on the hilly course, but that won't happen until  winter gives way to spring.   
To help build upper body strength, and leg strength too, Tim and I have started going to a local gym where we're following a routine we've done before from Start to Finish Ironman Training: 24 Weeks to an Endurance Triathlon by Paul Huddle, Roch Frey, and TJ Murphy.

As I have slowly started the preparations for a return to Ironman, I thankfully no longer wake up in the middle of the night with a brick in my stomach wondering what on Earth I have gotten myself into, as I did the first couple of nights following my entry. It also helped that Tim, a 10-time Ironman finisher with a 10:09 PB and a Kona finish, told me he still feels scared signing up for the next one.

By now, I am excited about the training ahead. I have a positive reason to exercise, which I love and need, as I seek the answer to my running injury. Perhaps I have already found it.

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