Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ironman - The Training

Training really began for me in January, although the official training plan didn't kick in until late March. 

I had a lingering lower leg/calf issue that I just couldn't get rid of. I believe I hurt it doing kick drills while swimming in October. It didn't bother me on the bike but certainly did on the run.

I went through periods of rest, weeks at a time, without running. I continued to bike, swim and do various strength training. More than once I started slowly trying to run again. And more than once I felt good and then within a couple of weeks the pain came back. 

I was getting frustrated and very upset. It wasn't debilitating pain but was bad enough to hurt and cause serious concern for my future plans. My entire year was geared toward Louisville. None of the other stuff really mattered, but if this thing lingered on too much it would ruin my plans.

It finally got to the point where I sought medical advice. I got in to see a specialist and eventually got an MRI. My biggest concern at that point was a stress fracture. If that happens, it's a good six weeks of nothing. That would not be good. All sorts of other things could be wrong, each with differing healing times.

The MRI came back and showed no current or previous bone, tendon, ligament or muscle damage. This meant I just had some sort of strain and I was doing no damage by running or biking on it. The regular ice, stretching, massaging, should help it feel better. The best news was I could run and not be concerned about serious issues.

I believe this was as much mental as it was physical. Once I learned I could be reasonably confident I wasn't doing any damage, I felt significantly more confident about my health.

Serious training started in March. I began using a coach. I felt this was a good strategy given the length of the event and the training required to not only complete it but do the best I could do. I've always been very competitive and even at 40 years old, that has not changed. The best thing about having a coach is they can react to how the training is going and adjust the plans going forward. This was critical in my mind.

So, each week I had a plan laid out for the coming week. Day by day with detailed plans. It was really nice to have things at such detailed levels and not have to come up with it myself. There are great resources online and in books which could've provided solid plans, but there was something very nice about not having to worry about it.

My training varied typically between 12-16 hours per week. That is a LOT for anyone who has a job and a life outside of endurance events. It did pose challenges at times but for the most part I stuck with the plan the entire time. 

Training also included racing. I did a few events, sprint and Olympic distance, in the spring and early summer. Swimming, by FAR my weakest discipline, really hurt my times, but my cycling and running times were very solid. 

In June I decided to do another half-Ironman (I had completed two of them in 2011) in Racine, Wisconsin. It was drivable and I had a couple of buddies who wanted to do it. Road trip! I felt great going into this race. My swim still sucked, but my legs felt incredible. I felt like I was in as good shape as I had been since my surgery.

As any living, breathing being would understand, summer 2012 was brutally hot ... everywhere, Wisconsin included. Temps were expected to be in the low-mid 90s with very high humidity in Racine on race day. High humidity is not normally associated with northern states, but they do have a big lake there. Ha ha. The swim was in Lake Michigan, which was extraordinarily clear, by the way, and chilly.

To prepare for the weather, I began hydrating a lot in the days leading to the race. Lots and lots of water and more water. Race morning I still felt great. I had an okay swim. Not good, not horrible. Just okay. Felt decent starting the bike and then about 45 minutes in started to cramp. Within another hour the cramps got really bad. About mile 47 I cramped so bad my legs totally locked up. They. Would. Not. Move. It hurt so bad I can't even describe it.

After not moving for a few minutes, I finally got my legs going again. They locked up again a couple more times before the finish. When I got off the bike to transition to the run, I couldn't move. Literally. I couldn't move. I even heard people in the crowd commenting on my cramping. My legs were cramping so bad they were visible from a distance. 

After several minutes in transition, including taking more salt tablets and more water, I tried to take off. I ran for about 200 yards and then had to start walking as the cramping started again. This pattern went on and off for a long, long time. Eventually, at about 6 miles, I decided to call it a day and head to the medical tent. It was THAT bad.

It took 1.5 liters of saline and 5 bottles of sports drink and a cola before I could move without cramping. Funny moment in the med tent was when I had several people (nurses, EMTs, massage therapists and a physician) watching my cramps. It was so severe it made for a good learning experience for others. Hey, I'm always glad to help.

In all seriousness, the people in the med tent were outstanding. It was just funny when they were all watching my cramps. I was also lucky more damage wasn't done. It turned out to be a good decision to stop. I could've pushed through and walked two more hours to "finish" but it could've been detrimental to my real goal - Louisville.

The next few weeks included some intense training to peak and then slowly taper toward Louisville. I spent a lot of time (and stress) figuring out how to keep these problems from happening again.

While I hated what happened in Racine, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

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