We’re 3 months into the COVID-19 pandemic and one thing is clear, the 2020 triathlon season has been cancelled. The big races I had planned for this year were Chattanooga 70.3, Blue Ridge 70.3, and my first full distance IRONMAN Lake Placid. I guess we’ll try again in 2021!
In terms of triathlon training, I’m still training 10-16 hours a week and feeling strong. The pool has been closed since mid-March but I’ve been lucky to have access to a local lake to do open water swim practice 2-3 times a week. My pool is scheduled to open in a couple of weeks. I really hope I haven’t lost the gains I made in the pool earlier in the year, but I know everyone is in the same boat.
My coaches have kept us busy with a couple of race simulations in the training calendar. On the weekend of the planned, now postponed, Chattanooga 70.3, I did a swim-bike-run of 30 minutes OWS, 3hr45min bike, and a 40min run with intervals. The swim was great. The water was still cool enough for the wetsuit and everything felt good. The bike started out well, and even though I got lost a few times on new roads, I felt really good for my 2 x 10 mile intervals. About 3:15 in, I was pretty much done with the temps heating up and running low on nutrition. By the time I finished, I’d covered 69 miles and was very hot and tired. I really missed having aid stations on the bike to dump some cold water on myself! The run was not enjoyable. I forgot my nutrition belt so ended up doing laps to circle back to my cooler to grab hydration and dump water on my head. My heart rate was way up there and I couldn’t bring it down even with walking. I was very grateful it was only 40 minutes of running and not more. This simulation really showed me that my mental game was not there - no surprise since I haven’t raced in 7 months. Pushing myself that hard showed me my weaknesses. Good thing I have plenty of time to work on them!
My next race simulation was June 7th, the planned date for Blue Ridge 70.3. For this one, I decided to reach out to people on social media to see if anyone wanted to join me for all or parts of it. I have a bad habit of trying to do everything myself and not reaching out for help or support. The reality is that when you’re doing something this taxing, you really need some sort of support out there. I’m grateful that a few friends came through to help out. For my 30 minute swim, my friend Betsy swam in the lake with me. It was warmer this time so I wore the swimskin instead of the wetsuit.
Next was on to the bike for 56 miles. A few people planned to join me but they got the days mixed up and showed up on Saturday instead of Sunday. I had mapped out a route of 58 miles because I couldn’t figure out an even 56, and I knew almost all of the roads quite well. Everything started out great, and then around mile 16, I came up a hill and saw a cyclist on the side of the road. I slowed down and downshifted to see if he needed help and managed to drop my chain between my crank and frame. Unfortunately, it was really jammed in there. This cyclist tried to help me and we just couldn’t get it loose. Frustrated, I called my husband to come pick me up. While waiting, I managed to get the rear wheel off, and that helped me get a grip on the chain and pull it out and away from the frame. Back on the road! My main set was 4 x 25min at 70.3 pace with 5min EZ in between. I was in my first 5min EZ when I dropped my chain the first time. My second interval felt awesome! A combination of a net downhill, tailwind, and utter joy that my ride wasn’t over helped a lot. In my 2nd 5min EZ, I got stung by a flying insect in my armpit. That hurt like crazy, but I just grabbed the spot and squeezed as hard as I could to try and stop the burning. It helped a bit and eventually I forgot about it. The 3rd interval went well, but I had to stop and help a turtle cross the road. Maybe something I wouldn’t do in a race, but I couldn’t pass by without doing something. The 4th interval was tough. I managed to stay aero for 90% of my previous intervals, but I struggled to stay aero on the 4th one. I think this interval had more climbing, plus a wicked headwind, and just being worn out made aero not feel so great. I was happy to be done when I was, with about 30 minutes left to ride. Then, only 10 miles out, I jammed my chain again. This time, I really couldn’t free it. I didn’t have the strength to yank the chain out, and I couldn’t get the quick release to open on the rear wheel and I just was sick of fighting with my bike. I called my husband and he picked me up and drove me back to the lake.
Luckily, my friend Eric was there to do the run with me, and my friend Laurie was so kind and set up an aid station on the backside of the 2 mile loop I mapped out. The plan was to do 4 circuits of the 2.2mi loop to get 8 miles in, as per my coaches’ instructions. Mile 1 was a set up mile - nice and easy to find the legs. This was easy since I’d had about 25 minutes of sitting on my butt between my last pedal stroke and my first run stride. Miles 2-6 were 70.3 feel with a 1 minute walk every mile to simulate an aid station. Eric hung with me until about mile 6 when he started to drop back a bit. I felt great - easy breathing, able to handle the hills, loving the aid station with ice so much! - but my heart rate was around 175-185bpm, which is pretty high. I told myself to focus on feel and worry about it later. Miles 7-8 were “give it whatever you have left”. I kept it conservative for mile 7 because I wanted mile 8 to be great. I tore away from the final aid station and managed to bring my 9:15-ish pace down to 7:30/mi - the slight downhill helped 🙂
Overall, this race simulation went much better than the last. I’ll attribute it to a few things:
- I had a better idea of how much it would hurt so that didn’t affect me as bad mentally.
- The help and support of friends! This made all the difference in my motivation and mood. I’m so grateful I took the scary (for me) step of asking for help and that people showed up.
- Good nutrition plan and sticking with it. And Laurie’s aid station with Coca Cola for the last two laps was a game changer.
There is a chance that smaller races with fewer people will be held later in the year. I’d be the first sign up if that’s the case. But since the big races are cancelled, and I had a big first in the calendar that’s no longer happening (becoming an IRONMAN), I wanted to do some other first this summer to keep me motivated to do hard things. I’m hoping to do my first 100-mile bike ride, and following from my success of reaching out to people, I’m hoping to do this with some badass women cyclists here in the Midlands so I’m not out there on my own.
The lack of racing has also given me time to focus on other areas of my life that are important. I’m continuing to advocate for cyclist and pedestrian safety in my county, and I hope to see progress there in the coming months and years. My husband and I are working on creating our “mini-farm”, and we managed to move his dad’s 15 chickens to our house, and add a pond with 2 goldfish. And I’m working on my passion project, a podcast called The Eco-Interviews.
Otherwise, it’s worth commenting on all the racial unrest we’re seeing after the George Floyd murder. Triathlon is very much a white space, and a very white, wealthy, and male space at that. I’m encouraged to see new initiatives popping up to get more BIPOC into the sport, but we as athletes need to welcome beginners with open arms when they get here. Cost certainly is a big barrier to entry in this sport, but there is also a real nasty machismo spirit that goes through it as well. I’ve come up against male posturing and “frat boy” stuff in this sport, and I’m grateful I didn’t experience it until I was a few years in and had some confidence. If I came up against that in my first year or two of the sport, it might have put me off for good. We were all beginners once so instead of making fun of a newbie for not fueling right, or signing up for a super long race that they’re not ready for, or for having secondhand gear, lead by example and share the wisdom you’ve accumulated throughout the years. Let’s really show that this sport is a lifestyle choice, and a wonderful lifestyle, and not some pissing contest to do the longest distance, ride the fastest splits, or destroy your body so you end up in the medical tent. Be kind to each other.