When I think about IMLP, I still get a little sad. It was hard to write the result in my side bar on the blog. It's a race that I would for the most part prefer to forget. (Except the swim. Proud of that swim.)
Forgetting those races you'd like to forget, however, is not the way to go. There is a great deal to learn when a race does not go as planned--often way more than if the race had gone right. I truly believe that my "bad" races contribute to my becoming a better athlete and coach--in the end. That's my silver-lining.
The following is a self-justifying and self-promoting paragraph, BUT.....
The funny--perhaps even ironic--thing is that when an athlete looks for a coach he/she often examines the coach's athletic credentials and chooses a coach, at least in part, based on whether that coach has been successful. Clearly an athlete/coach who can point to a successful career in racing has done a great deal that is right, of course. But it's my (more than slightly biased) belief that those who have experienced both success and failure (that would be most if not all coaches/athletes, of course)--and (most importantly) have dug deeply to understand their failures in addition to their successes--emerge the wiser, more empathetic, and successful coaches. Additionally, it makes more sense to look at the successes a coach has had with her athletes as opposed to her own athletic record, but that's another post.
The first two days after IMLP I felt to sick to my stomach (still) and too numb to really figure anything out about the race. I just mourned (more than a bit) and tried to put the result into perspective. After writing about it I felt much better, and within the week I was looking critically at the race to try to iron out the many factors that contributed to it NOT being the race I wanted.
Some of the lessons I took away from the race border on cliche (okay FINE! They are cliche!) they are so well known. Unfortunately, sometimes we must learn things by experiencing them--and sometimes by experiencing them more than once. This is certainly true for me. I'm wicked smart ;) and know a lot. Except sometimes I just know it and I don't KNOW IT.
Anyway, Here are a few of the things I learned (or re-learned) after my somewhat suck-a-rific race at IMLP.
1. In order to execute an Ironman one must be willing to gut out sickness, pain, exhaustion and sometimes even injury, especially during the run.
However, I think some believe that if one has trained well enough, then digging deep shouldn't be necessary--or AS necessary as it always is when you get to the latter stages of an IM. No one would SAY this, but I have certainly encountered this false notion in conversation. It is not that the elites are not as sick, exhausted, and in pain as you are. They are. They just have learned how to fight through it better than you and me--or, more likely--they want to fight through it more than you and me, and they know the only path to success is to do so. There is no training regime that allows an athlete to experience the IM run as anything less than extremely, if not overwhelmingly, challenging. This is as true for Chrissie Wellington and Craig Alexander as it is for us. They may make it look easy, but it's not--not even for them.
In my last race I did not have the will to fight when things got tough. I got sick, and I was unwilling to to everything within my control to finish the race strong, anyway. That will is required.
Had my will been in place I still (almost certainly) would not have PR'd or gone sub 11. However, my result would've been much better than it was.
Part of my lack of will grew directly out of petty anger. I felt I should not be sick because I had executed the race as one "should" execute an Ironman. I deserved to have the run go well. Of course, that is just about the stupidest reasoning ever. Ironman is not a kind mistress. She doesn't care what any of us deserve or do not deserve. Most everyone at that race deserved to have a good run, and there were plenty of men and women around me who were also not having a good time of it. I think we tend to believe that those people who navigate IM successfully have done things correctly leading to the race and during the race that we, those who flail, have not done. That may be true. It also may not be. That is the very difficult thing about racing in general, and about Ironman in particular. Sometimes we get the race we "deserve." Sometimes--maybe a lot of the time--we don't--and it's not always because mistakes were made.
But back to will.
It may sound as if I am berating myself for not having enough fight on race day.
Fight is mental... and so it is just that I wasn't tough enough mentally. Right?
Well, yes! But there are reasons I wasn't tough enough on race day. It's not enough to simply say, NEXT TIME I will have the fight! I want it, damn it! It's more important I understand the reasons my fight was not there.
1. In late May/early June I had signs of nonfunctional over-reaching. Over-reaching can be intentional--as when one makes a one to two week push to increase volume and/or intensity in the 4-6 leading up to a race like IM. The athlete does become exhausted, but proper recovery is planned following the period of over-reaching, and adaptation is able to occur. Nonfunctional over-reaching is more insidious. The athlete has not intended to over-reach, and therefore does not recover to the degree she should. On paper I should have been able to complete the training I was doing--at least in my mind. But for whatever reason, my body became exhausted and simultaneously my brain chemistry became slightly altered.
This happens when we over-reach. Hormonal shifts occur, and brain chemistry is slightly altered. It's this neuro-chemical and hormonal shift that signals to the body that it is overly tired. Although not really advisable, one could ostensibly train right through over-reaching--because the fatigue is largely a signal from the brain as opposed to true and serious damage done to physiological systems stressed when training. Unfortunately, these neuro-chemical and hormonal changes may not right themselves for several weeks--and sometimes several months.
I think part of the reason I had no fight at IMLP is because although my body was fully rested and ready for the race, my brain chemistry and hormonal imbalance was still off. I know this partially just because of the way I felt in the weeks leading to the race. My sleeping was off, my moods, my desire to train. My body was rested, but my brain chemistry was not right. In short, my brain worked hard to shut me down on race day, right from the start--probably far earlier than it would've had I not had that period of nonfunctional over-reaching.
All that is a fancy and long-winded way of saying that I trained too much and fucked up my poor little brain. And my body was healed from that period of training too much without enough of recovery, but my brain wasn't. When we use the term burn-out, this is what we are actually talking about.
The lesson here? One, listen to your coach and do not add volume or intensity to your training unless you decide as a team you should. It is not wrong that I wanted to add volume to my training. It was the way I did it that was wrong. Second, if you feel something is awry--you feel flat, unmotivated, lethargic--then tell your coach! If you insist on keeping it to yourself because you fear she will take away volume, or challenge you about adding more, or she will think you're a wimp, or she will change your training zones or WHATEVER... get over it, or be prepared for a race day like I just had.
Lesson #2. Nausea often means you should slow down. Nausea also usually means YOU ARE DEHYDRATED.
I don't know how many times I have to learn this one. I am a woman who pees-- a lot. This probably has something to do with the three babies I had in quick succession. So the fact that I peed a ton before the race, during the swim, and on the bike--well--it really doesn't mean much except that I am a woman who pees as soon as there is a drop of pee in her bladder. It might say something up how I don't process fluid the way I should -- or something. Who knows.
Anyway, I took in a lot of fluid at IMLP. But it wasn't enough. My nausea, sadly, can be attributed to that alone. When I get de-hydrated, I feel sick. It happens in training. One of these years I will remember that when I am racing... and drink more than I think I need. Because the truth is I need more than I think I need--and perhaps even more than is recommended by others for me.
Less #3: There are certain "best practices" that a coach should employ when training an athlete for Ironman, especially an athlete new to Ironman. However, if these best practices have failed to produce the desired result in several previous races, then it's time to try something different, because it is foolish to train the same way for a race again and again, and expect you will have a different result.
What this means for me, is that it's time to try something new! I think we know somewhat intuitively what works for each of us--especially if we have been at this IM game for awhile. This intuitive sense of what we need, however, does not always jive with conventional practice and wisdom.
If you are new to Ironman, then I think it's smartest to suspend your intuition and do things conventionally the first few times out. There is so much cumulative experience and knowledge out there, and a good coach will apply that and get you to the finish line.
However, after the first 2-3 IM's, if things are not quite working, it's time to go back to that intuitive sense and explore it further.
I plan to break from convention when training for my next Ironman. It may not work. But the conventional path has not quite worked for me either, and I'm ready and eager to try a different method.
I have ideas about race specificity that I have yet to really explore. An observation I have made is that it takes me, and others, only about 4-6 weeks to peak for a race once race specificity is added. Typically I have started to become increasingly race specific 10-12 weeks out. Further, I have tried to peak for a 1/2 IM 6 weeks out from IM. But the 1/2 and the full are very different events. What has happened nearly every time is that I peak for the 1/2 IM, and then, because of fatigue, I fail to peak again for the IM six weeks later. For me, at least, the 1/2 IM six weeks out is counterproductive. It may not be if I choose not to "race" the half and hence do no race specific half IM pacing workouts before that race. But that is not what I want for me. I want to be competitive in every race I take on.
Also, I have ideas about what race specificity needs to look like--for me--and perhaps others.
In our final, more race specific build toward IM we conventionally ride the race distance and follow it with a short transition run. We also run long, perhaps even 20-22 mile at once--though this run is separated from our biking. We may do a few bricks each week, but they are not race specific if they involve anything but IM race pace--and long distance.
A race specific brick, in my opinion, involves IM pacing on the bike followed by a longer run with IM marathon pacing targeted within it. I'm not suggesting that people ride 6 hours and then run 4 hours--all at IM pace. That is asinine. But in the same way one trains for a marathon--e.g. repeatedly running longer and longer at target pace until a distance just shy of race distance is achieved in training, I think I (maybe others) need a few race specific workouts that better emulate the demands of riding long on the bike followed by running long off the bike.
What would this look like? It might be a 2.5 hour ride with IM race pace intervals mixed in followed by a 1.5-2 hour run which includes 6 x 1 mile at one's targeted IM marathon race pace. I'm fairly certain that this workout would not be more taxing then the far less specific training protocol of running 20 miles straight in the weeks leading to IM, or executing an 112 mile bike ride followed by a 40 minute transition run.
I need to re-iterate that I don't think training that involves this type of workout is appropriate for those new to IM. Ironman training for one new to it requires a coach get the athlete to be able to go the distance. Riding 112 miles or running 18-20 miles prior to race day is crucial for someone who has never completed a century or run that long in training or racing.
Still, for the more experienced IMer, I think it makes sense to experiment with race specificity in the 6 weeks leading to the IM. My body and brain has only been given the opportunity to run long off the bike 5 times since I started this type of training--and all of those times have been during my IM races. Over and over research has shown that one is ready to make a breakthrough after the execution of several extremely race specific workouts reveal that breakthrough can happen. A marathoner knows a sub 3 hour marathon is within reach when she can run 20 miles with 15 x 1 of those miles done at sub-seven minute pace. Likewise, I think one needs to teach the brain and body how to ride at a targeted pace, and then run (long) at a targeted pace after that ride.
I have a brain that needs to be imprinted. Partly this is because I think too much. I am a person who needs proof. I have no proof I can run long off the bike, or run at a pace I want to run while doing it. Therefore I think that I need to show my brain/body how to do it. It can do it. My brain and body can do it, but they have not been taught how to. My next goal is to provide them that instruction in the 4-6 weeks leading to my next IM race.