Part of the process in becoming a triathlete, especially when starting from ground zero (or in my case, ground -42) is learning what you can do and what you cannot do. This becomes very apparent on the first group ride you participate in that the group advertises as “all ability levels”. This tag roughly translates to sub-groups of paces above 35 mph, paces between 25-34, and my pace group, which I will refer to as Road Kill (you can easily identify this group by the fact we ca be seen sitting on the curb of the first 7-11 passed sucking on a water bottle and softly sobbing into our towels).
A sad lot we are …
But no matter what level you start off at, that fast pace is no deterrent at the offset of the ride. You jump into the pack and pedal as fast as you can to keep up, inevitably burning your legs out within 5 miles, and being dropped (this is a nice cyclist term, meaning “leaving your slow fat ass at the first 7-11 to cry into your towel, as referenced above). So the hardest part of triathlon training at first is learning this hard lesson and figuring out that you need to stay in your zone and let the “big boys” play at what speed they need to be at while you monitor your heart rate like it’s a papal decree summoning the good little Catholics to CCD Class.
Luckily I was born with little to no ego, so learning to keep this in check has not been a hard task for me. I am kind of hard headed about some things (I know … everyone that knows me personally just spit out Bulletproof Coffee all over their keyboard. I assume no responsibility for your shock or amazement) so when I go out for a training ride, or run, or swim, I know what my pace and my goal for that day is, so being passed, or “chicked”, on these rides doesn’t bother me at all. My stalwart training partner, Dr. Jennifer Cultrera, on the other hand gets sucked into these mini races all the time. Now, to be fair, she has gotten a lot better at this recently, but also to be fair I found it kinda cute how, when being passed by faster cyclists, you could count on her scrunching down and picking up the pace to try to keep up. Adorable. And it didn’t bother me that by the time she snapped out of this mindset I was about 15 miles behind her.
Not one bit.
Seriously … it didn’t!!!
During a podcast by the Great and Powerful Vinnie Tortorich he was talking about the need to train in Zone 2. Great news, since that’s what I did anyway, so now I had an expert to back up my lack of ego! But seriously, it made a lot of sense during training rides, or runs, since you were training not only to endure long distances, but also to train your body to use fat as the primary source of fuel instead of carbs. It makes sense on the most basic level, since fat burns at a more slower rate than carbs, so the need to “reload” is diminished during these training sessions. It’s likened to using a log on the fire vs. pine needles. Both start the fire, but to keep the second one going you need to keep feeding it pine needles.
Checking your ego is easy for some (me) but I know cannot be easy for others, especially the elite level athletes, and especially triathletes, because, lets face it, triathletes are a testosterone fueled bunch (even the women). Lightening up is not easy for them. The idea of WALKING during a training run is unthinkable, let along slowing to 15 mph on the bike, but to be fair, not every one’s heart rate is the same. I think some people operate at a higher heart rate. To use the method Vinnie mentioned on his podcast is a good way to estimate your Zone 2 levels (180 – your age, then add 5 if your not active and subtract 5 if you are), but to get the real zone for YOU, there has to be a deeper process. Personally, I think what mine comes out to is probably right on the money. I am not a doctor (though I do hang out with one on the weekends), but I do know how I feel since starting this HR method. That method, in partnership with the Chi Running method, leaves me feeling good even during long runs. In the past I have finished long run (defined for me as anything over 8 miles) hurting and barely able to walk, but using these two practices leaves me able to go to a pool afterwards and swim 3000 meters.
So, I will continue to check my ego, get chicked, and finish when I finish. Hopefully training in this way will build my endurance and allow me to compete decently in races. It is my hope to improve to the point that by the Rock ‘n Roll DC Half Marathon in March I will break the 3 hour mark.
I can hear you laughing out there!! 3 hours is FAST for me!!
90 minutes is my mark in a sprint triathlon before allowing myself another attempt at a 70.3.
Of course, that includes a 1.2 mile swim …
.. but that’s a blog for another time ..