When is doing too much too much?

Short Answer: When your body gives you the middle finger.

Long Answer: When your body gives you the middle finger.  We’ve all had those days when you’re short of breath, low on fuel or just haven’t worked out for a long time. I had one of those today. I ate a ‘healthy’ light lunch at noon, and then in the frenzy that is work I forgot to grab a snack before leaving for my bike workout. Didn’t drink enough water at my desk either. I show up at the Velloway today well ahead of time. People take a while to show up (note to self: leave later next week) and it’s 6.30 before we’re ready to start, 45 minutes after I got there. In the middle of Coach Liz’s long instructions I realize I am famished. I hope my body can manage the 10 mile ride we’re supposed to do with interval.

But I’m no Superman. Or rather I am Superman plus the Kryptonite. Did the 3 mile loop okay (with practice to lift my hand off the handle bars to get used to riding with one hand: good tip – look ahead, not down when you do that). Stopped to drink water after that loop (because I cannot drink while riding, hence the hand-off-the-bar practice) and I nearly passed out. The asst coach Carol poured some water over my neck and I took a short break. Interval training didn’t happen much as I just wanted to get the distance in but I was weak! The chain came off a couple of times and the second time, a kind roller-skater helped me but I was feeling too weak to say thank you! Somehow finished the 9 mile loop (got over the crazy sharp-turn-then-crazy-hill all 3 times, which probably took some energy off). We were supposed to do a 1 mile run after (called a brick, ’cause your legs feel like bricks after the bike), but I decided to skip it.

On the drive back I had a 1000 thoughts go through my head. First, the sense of weakness was pervasive, it didn’t go after a while. I got a choco milk from Marion and felt a bit better but not much. So it wasn’t just lack of food. Yeah, I know your body is like an engine and if you got no gas, you can’t go far. I get that. Then I got gas, got some rest but I still felt tired and weak. And then, I remembered I have been feeling tired all week. In fact I even skipped doing anything last week, including tri-training.

Yeah, tri-training is not hunky dory. Its been lack-lustre so to speak. I mean, it’s ok, I can do the distance, individually. Gotta put it all together on race day too. But the issues are bigger. I’ve got way too much going on. Work is extremely busy. I’m taking music lessons and I have absolutely no intention to quit that (but I don’t have any time to practice so it’s like being stuck at the same place). And I try to volunteer for Asha as much as I can. End result: other than work, everything else sucks because I feel half-assed about it.

Last week it got too much. I just took off. Didn’t go to my bike workout on Saturday, slept in. Didn’t cook or clean even. Just sat on the couch and ate. Then the guilt got to me so I went to the swim workout and felt better, a bit. But the weight on my head has been pulling me two ways. Every morning I wake up and one little devil says, screw it all – there’s too much going on. The other little devil says, get up, go run, or bike or swim. It’s like having a mini meltdown.

I talked to Manasi a bit about how overwhelmed I was feeling. She said something useful. Said I should ask myself why I do, everything that I do, that I want to do. It doesn’t have to be a significant reason, it just has to make sense, to me. Frankly, haven’t had time to do that thinking yet! And the truth is, I want to do everything I do and I want to do it well. But until I can understand the real reasons why I do them and figure out a way to fit it all in, I’ll just keep doing them I guess.

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The Runner’s High is out on the trails

Today I pushed myself beyond prior limits and it was fun! GRao and I have been trying to get out to run on the trails every now and then but it’s hard given that I’m doing tri-training and she runs with someone else on the road at other times. The last post on trail running saw us go out to St. Eds greenbelt with Savitha. But with Savitha on vacation and my supreme boredom with road running (not to mention the impact of concrete on my knees), I was itching to get back out on the trails.

Savitha told us about the Hill Country Trail Runners group that meets twice a week. Their Sunday morning run starts at a decent time, 8AM so GRao and I decided to give it a shot today. The group was about 6-7 in number, most of them knew each other well and were avid trail runners (proudly sporting faded Bandera 100K or 50K race tees). They were extremely friendly and welcomed us into their group. We began running and it was a perfect day, cool at 50F. The group was fast! Before I knew it, they’d gone ahead and GRao and I kind of kept up with each other through the run. The group run is a NO-DROP one, i.e. they wait at the intersections where the trail might veer off, which is great otherwise we’d definitely be lost. The trail we ran today was Bull Creek greenbelt and it is hilly as hell! At the beginning of the trail, there was a ridiculously steep climb which even the seasoned runners walked up. Then we reached the top and ran over what was pretty much a ledge/precipice looking over a steep descent of bushes. The width of the trail in some parts was pretty much space for one foot followed by another. I was surprised at how well I did on the inclines and those dangerous ledges. 1 year ago, Memorial Day weekend on a hilly hike in Kentucky I had to sit down in several hilly parts while the others walked on. Feels great to have gotten younger and fitter in under a year.

The trail was extremely variable in topography – it went up and down constantly, parts with loose gravel and rocks and parts with solid roots that GRao and I kept almost tripping over. We’d run for about 10 minutes and then catch up with the group, chit-chatting about sundry topics. We’d catch our breath (they were so nice about waiting till we all caught our breaths!) and move on. The last two miles were winding paths downhill mostly which were a lot of fun. I felt so strong and even though it was a lot of effort at very low speeds, it was a ridiculous high! Just the shade from the sun, the smell of the trail and the cool air was fantastic. One of the trail runners kid knew the trail like the back of his hand. He was no more than 7, and while I split with the group to run back early to make it for swim, he took me down a short cut where I promptly fell. Wasn’t a bad fall but the kid kept running, I was amazed at how well he knew the trail and how fast he could run for a long time!

The run took about 1.50 over 5-ish miles so you can tell how steep the climb was. It was about 65% hilly and 35% relatively flat but never completely flat. GRao and I decided we definitely want to go back and get a few more trails before it gets ridiculously hot!

Oh and swim class. Barely made it to Ironchicks swim class on time. We had a different swim coach this time. We pretty much did the same drills except a new one which I loved! So the usual sideways swim is where your body is facing the side wall of the pool, your one arm is extended out straight and the other is by your side (as if you’re stretching out on the water) and you kick sideways, breathing in and out till the end. In the latest drill, we did the same for about 6 kicks (or till you breathe out underwater), then switch arms, do the free-style stroke for 3 turns and then turn to the other side and do the sideways kicking. This was way more fun than usual sideways. Other drills included swimming with the pull-buoys between your legs (to work on your stroke) and doing the freestyle but breathing on the non-dominant side. I was pretty beat from running for the last 2 hours so I kinda modified my drills and did about 50 yards less than what everyone else was doing because it took me several minutes to get breath back!

End result: NO SORENESS!! This is what multisports is about! Its cross-training all the time, using different muscles all the time. No one part gets overworked unlike marathon training. I ran 5 miles on the trail for nearly 2 hours followed by a grueling swim workout for 1 hour. What pain do I have? Nothing. Nada. Rien. Kachu nahin! I love it! I probably expended the same effort as I would have on a long road run but the trails were good to my legs and the swim was good for my recovery.

Every time I have a good workout like this, I feel glad about moving to Austin and discovering this hidden active side of me! In reward, this is what I ate today.

Two-thirds of Sprint Triathlon – Check!

I was almost convinced that my love affair with running was over. Since the trail run last month I hadn’t felt good running at all. Since the Austin Half, with my aching knees I decided to give the miles a rest and run for fun, when I felt like it. But they’d all been miserable runs. Either I’d started out too fast or it was too hot and I was a bag of creaking bones.

This past Thursday I ran about 2.4 miles from work till Rogue and it was horrible. My lower legs cramped up, and I couldn’t walk them away. It was very hot and humid that day, it could be because I didn’t drink enough water or because I’d eaten badly at lunch (pizza and lasagne – which was kind of why I ran to Rogue the long way even though I was going for a core workout). Fortunately that wasn’t the main workout. We did some core drills such as skipping and kicking to work the running muscles and some usual planks/crunches/V-ups etc. While those are hard I really enjoy them because they’re a good break from a cardio routine that I usually do in terms of running or biking. But I also know they’re going to make my performance at those a lot better.

This morning was the first training run with Ironchicks – they had us run only 30-40 minutes. Was able to do about 3 miles in 40 minutes which actually felt awesome. There were no cramps, no short breaths, no reasons to stop and walk. I ran with Marion and it was a cool morning at 50, best time to run at 7AM. I felt like I could have gotten in at least a mile or two more easily. It hadn’t felt that good in a long while.

Where I really made up on the fun and workout quotient was my FUN FUN FUN bike ride with Bharath, GRao and Sandeep! After breakfast, we headed up Bull Creek, down Hancock and caught Shoal Creek. We rode Shoal Creek all the way up to 183. For non-Austin folks, Shoal Creek is a 7 mile stretch of road with wide bike lanes and one of the favorite bike routes in the city. The weather was gorgeous at 65 and sunny, not a cloud in the sky! We rode easy, stopping often for various reasons but thanks to my Wed Veloway workout I now knew how to use my gears! As Cha said, once I’d figure that out, hills would be easy-peasy and they were (though most of SC was flat with very gentle inclines). I remembered what Liz the Ichix coach said – you want to use the gears to make your ride as easy and uniform effort as possible. So when you’re spinning too fast, get your rear gear to move up to the bigger spoke. Vice versa when you’re on an incline. But do not change gears while you are on the hill! Your bike ‘hates’ it (sic). And use the front gear change for big changes in incline. I haven’t used the front gears much yet. I keep the front on the middle and play with the rear gears. Move up when I am coasting or spinning fast due to course ease. Move down when I anticipate the hill and try to get some momentum in going uphill, makes it a lot easier to pedal a bit near the top.

Another minor challenge is starting off. Still nervous about balance and since J&A fitted the bike, the seat is kinda high and I cant touch toes to the groundwhile stationary, making me nervous. To think this is a mobile vehicle of yore and I would be okay! But it took me two green lights at the short stop lights to get through! Thankfully everyone was patient.

And then I fell! Biking with running shoes – not a good idea! Laces got tangled and stuck on the chain. Fortunately I knew I was going to fall, I rode to the sidewalk, braked gently, called for help and fell headside to the ground, bike et al, laces still stuck! A group of bikers stopped to ask if I was okay which is nice because bikers get a bad rep as they aren’t as friendly as runners. Sandeep and Bharath disentangled my laces and also fixed the chain for me.

Lessons learned:
1. Try not riding alone – flats, falls and chain coming off that much harder! Especially if you are a novice like me.
2. Get shoes without laces for biking. Not fun to change shoes at transition, but what the hell.

We did about 12 miles today so if the bike course at any tri is as flat as SC, I’m done :).2/3rds of the Sprint Tri distance (transition included brekkie!) – Check! 5k run & 12 mile bike ride! Woohoo!!

Why Tri?

Triathlons come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve signed up for a sprint tri, which is the shortest distance of all. It’s about a half a mile swim, 12-14 mile bike ride and a 5k run. So in a way it is a lot easier than training for the half marathon. Somehow when people hear triathlon, they think its tough. Individually taking each sport, its no more tough than going on a medium distance run I feel. Similar amount of effort is to be expended when you swim about 750 meters (about 30 laps of a 25 meter long pool) or when you bike or when you run. However you use different muscles and different skill sets for each. And doing them one after another requires some training. And several additional sets of lungs. Other distances include the Olympic (1 mile swim, 25 mile bike ride and 10K run), Half Ironman (total distance of 70.3 including a half marathon and a 56 mile bike ride) and Ironman (140.6, including a full marathon, 114 mile bike ride).  I have no idea why anyone would do the latter (I know one crazy guy). It takes more than 11-12 hours to finish!

And so I figured, I really can do all 3 activities – I don’t have to learn either from scratch, I just have to get really good at them. So I started with the one that I’d have no way out of – swimming. When you’re tired you can walk or get off your bike. No such luck in open water, as most triathlons go.

Today was the first day of bike training. It wasn’t much riding really – only about 6 miles around a loop of 3 miles of Veloway in Circle C in South Austin.  But the workout was more about getting the basics of gears today. I took Scarlett over to Jack & Adams at lunch to get Scarlett fitted for me. They made me ride on it stationary and raised the seat quite a bit, raised the handle bar and fixed the pedals. 30 minutes later and $20 lighter, I was outta there feeling more confident about the evening workout. I got to training late thanks to ridiculous traffic in precisely 3 mile bottleneck where I got stuck because of my own foolishness. Anyway, the idea today was to get a feel of the ride and practice changing gears.

Finally I figured out what the gears did! This is after a few days of riding around the neighborhood with Bharath. The right handlebar has the back gears which one changes for small changes in inclination. The left has the front and is meant for bigger changes. And they work opposite to, you click one the other way and vice versa to get higher/lower. This is my first experience riding a bike with gears. Come a long way since I learned to ride a kiddy bike when I was about 12-13 (if you didn’t get it already, I am a late bloomer). I bought an old bike from my then best friend Suchi for Rs. 200, and my close friend Sachu (no relation to Suchi) spent one summer day teaching me how to ride. We labored over it for hours and then finally, one moment I knew how to ride a bicycle. What a triumph it felt then. And what a triumph it feels today, doing such fun things on a bicycle!!

So we did 2 loops of the Veloway which has about 1 steep hill. I didn’t get the hill on the first loop. I was too slow getting on the hill so had no momentum on the hill, even though my gears were easy. But the second time around I was prepared. It wasn’t easy but I got over it. It’s not a very big hill so if I ever want to bike from work to home, it’s no use thanks to the long Lavaca hill!

Liz, the coach said that this was the first Ironchicks training where everyone made it over the hill without crashing. :). On that note, goodnight! More about tri-gear in another post.

A new challenge – the freestyle stroke

Now I’ve signed up to train for a triathlon. Why, I might ask myself? Well, I did enjoy training for the half marathon tremendously. It gave me a goal and a challenge. The triathlon presents different challenges – running (I almost have to begin from scratch), swimming (my freestyle is abysmal) and biking (I am weak and haven’t biked in years). My favorite challenge is swimming, followed by biking :).

Prior to signing up for a tri training program, I also signed up for a 3 week swim class at UT to get better at freestyle prior to the Ironchicks training. This class was superb. I got almost undivided attention from a trainer who attended to minute details of my stroke. He taught me to kick from the hips, raise my lower torso more than I was in the water. He showed me what the perfect stroke should look like. You stretch your hand in the water, straight, extend, then pull angular into your body, cut the water under your ribs, extend your hand back again out from the back with a wide angle swoop and open your shoulders before bringing your hand back into the water again, cutting it straight. At the same time you keep kicking from your hips. I would get one part, forgetting the other. Worse, forgetting to breathe and spluttering, gulping large amounts of chlorine! But I understood where I had to get to. After 5 classes, my freestyle had improved to the extent I could go 25 meters without stopping (1 lap). It’s still tough for me to head back immediately because the stroke is so darn oxygen-demanding! After a few laps I feel like I’m sweating and have run a couple of miles!!

We had to do many drills. One was to trail fingers on top of the water without submerging them in the freestyle. Just skimming the surface on each stroke. That’s meant to perfect your elbow movement. Another one involved kicking with the kick-board which was always the hardest.

So I showed up on the first day of swimming training at Ironchicks, feeling a little bit more confident that I would be able to swim. The pool was the YMCA East Communities – 25 yards unlike the UT pool which was 25 meters. And 5 feet deep, full of bugs as it was an outdoor pool. Never a better way to get used to open water swimming I say! The ladies looked intimidating! All geared up in trisuits or gear from previous triathlons they looked like an intense bunch. I was nervous! At least I had a new tri-swimsuit (to wick off moisture when you get onto the land sports after your swim etc.) from REI so I was excited about that!

The coach made use do a few awesome drills. One involved doing the freestyle on the side. You extend one arm, the other rests on your thigh and you kick yourself on the side to the other end of the pool. You have to look down into the water and bring your head up to breathe as if you would in a free-style. This drill helps you practice rotating the body in the free-style which is critical for efficiency and help breathing. The second drill which focused on the stroke had us put pull-buoys between our legs (so you do not kick) and helps you perfect the stroke. This was darn hard! The pull-buoy made me wanna flip around! And I realized how right-side dominance I am on the free-style as I could hardly get the left side to cooperate!

Finally I went to the UT pool back today, determined to do about 650 meters at least of various drills, strokes and swimming styles but focus on freestyle (I learned the backstroke as well at the UT class which is going to be very useful for later). I thought I did pretty well. I did each one of the drills and I still have a way to go to get my left arm and side to work well when I do the sideways free style with arm extended. Pull-buoys wasn’t great either on the left side. So, more breathing in from the left and more power to the left. I accommodated by eating some fried shrimp for dinner hoping they would affect the left side more. Whatever.

Tomorrow is the first bike workout so perhaps the next post will be about biking! Wait till you find out how gear-heavy triathlons are!!