Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Central Governor

I'm always fascinated by exercise; that's part of why I do it, and it's definitely why I decided to study it in grad school. There's always something new to learn, and I find lots of interesting articles on The Science of Sport. Recently I was reading about limiters in exercise, specifically pace limiters. And then Damie wrote about her latest 5k pace. If you were starting a 5k race, you'd run at a faster pace than if you were starting a half marathon, right? Ok, that's obvious, but why do you do this? It had been theorized that pace was based on feedback from your body after exercise had begun, such as lactate levels and body temperature, but new research will hopefully be updating us on how this is not the whole story. Part of why you run the pace you run is based on your experience at those specific race distances, but there seems to be much more going on than just that. Your Central Governor is a part of your brain that monitors and controls your exercise to make sure you don't do damage to yourself (a topic about which I am also very interested). Your brain will recruit more muscle fibers at the start of that 5k race than a half marathon by knowing only your race distance.

So my question is this: can I teach my body to override my brain's governing signals so that I run a faster marathon, for example? It's all mind over body anyway. Manipulating your brain takes training to a whole new level, but it sounds like a good non-impact form of training for the off-season.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Another Culture

There's a culture out there of which I am not a part of (but that's ok), and was not totally aware of until today. I went to Starbucks this morning, which is an unusual stop for me. Most mornings I go to High Point, where you get a chocolate covered bean with your drink. Many times, especially when I've come from the pool, I stop by Quetzal, where the coffee beans are roasted right in the building. On lazy summer mornings when there was no spin class for me and everyone was Ironman training, Charlie, Laura, Damie (and when we're lucky, Nancy) and I would go to Bluff City Coffee and hang out on the leather couches until we decided that we should go to our jobs.

But this morning, Starbucks was right on my route from my part time job to my full time job. I went inside and entered another world. It was just after 9 a.m., and the tables were packed with people; most were chatting, not many newspapers were being read, few laptops were out. It was like happy hour at a bar. Do these people work? They were dressed like they do. Then why aren't they at those jobs?

I got my Thanksgiving Blend, as it's still 10 more days until Christmas Blend is out, according to the large board over my head. I didn't quite know what to expect from Thanksgiving Blend, a hint of turkey and dressing? Squash casserole, maybe? Definitely no pumpkin spice; that's reserved for the latte of the same name. I passed on the protein and fiber additive, since I always add milk (protein), and does anybody really need any more help getting things moving than the caffeine already gives you? No vitamin boost either; coffee is the country's biggest source of antioxidants as it is.

I wedged myself between tables, ignoring the lure of the new Starbucks Gold Card sign, since it's for "people who really love Starbucks," and I wouldn't say I really love it. I just love it when it's convenient and my other coffee shops aren't. I also bypassed the "take this card for a free itunes download" card. Nope, no CDs, coffee mugs, gift baskets, or stuffed reindeer toys for me today, thanks. Where did all this stuff come from? I guess it was always here, but I never noticed before I went to independent coffee shops who can't sell a mug for 500% more just because their name is on it.

I really like the place just fine, I think they're geniuses for all they've done to create this culture, and some of their mugs are really cute. I like going and sitting in there in the afternoons with all the students, taking my work with me. It's calming and relaxing and a very nice break from my office. But I guess coming back after an absence has made me realize what a lifestyle it is for some. And there's something about that red Christmas cup that makes you keep going back again and again.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ironman #9

It's done. Whew. During the days leading up to the race, I just wanted it to be over with. I knew how much it was going to hurt and just wanted the nervous anticipation to be gone. But it was all worth it. Every meltdown I had, every early morning swim, every brick, that long ride in the rain... all worth it because I surpassed each of the goals I'd set for myself.

The day started off with the usual force-feeding of a PB and banana sandwich at 4:30 a.m. The ride to the start with the girls and Gary, the airing up of the new-as-of-the-day-before $120 tire, the BodyGliding of the neck, the slipping into the wetsuit; it all went by quickly and smoothly, and next thing I knew I was dipping my toes in the Gulf and jumping when the cannon went off earlier than I'd anticipated.

The Swim
The only time I panicked during the swim was at the first turn buoy when I was completely vertical, trying to paddle around the hundreds of bodies and avoid the arms of the men who were apparently trying to use me as a life preserver. I yelled at one guy to get off me as he tried to dunk me like a water polo opponent. What a nightmare. But I didn't drown and ended up swimming a 1:11, better than I'd expected for the amount of swimming I'd done. Plus, I was incredibly excited to find no chafing on my neck!

T1 and the Bike
T1 went well too, but really, what can go that wrong in four and a half minutes of changing clothes? (ok, lots, but I try not to think of those things) I was planning on going easy the first hour of the bike, and stuck to my plan despite the hoards of people flying by me. About one hour in, a nice pack came by, including a girl who was so close to the guy in front of her that she couldn't even ride in aero position. I was shocked at her blatant cheating and of course had to say something to her when I finally passed again. Apparently she'd been doing this the whole way according to a couple other guys, and thankfully someone informed me that she did indeed get a drafting penalty. I guess I was pretty vocal about my anger; they knew I'd be happy to know about her penalty. I have to say that many more deserved penalties, which is very frustrating when you make such an effort to not draft that you slow to 16 mph when packs go by before you can make the pass again. After turning a couple of corners, headed back to the barn, there was a nice tailwind and I picked up the pace as much as was reasonable. I was hoping to pull off a 5:20 bike and managed 5:17. Yay!

The Run
Another quick trip to the transition tent and the porta potty, and I headed out for the marathon. I was going to try to run "easy" the first 6.5 miles, out to the turnaround. Exciting as usual was mile one, which was populated by 15 or so of my incognito friends, with lots of dancing and music blaring. Several of them ran with me a few dozen yards until their flip-flopped feet tired of my blazing pace (ha ha).
This was one of their awesome signs they had out on the course. Thanks again Laura! There's nothing like seeing your enormous head on a poster to make you run away fast. :)
My first 6.5 miles was faster than I'd intended, but still at an easy pace that I tried to maintain through the second quarter of the run. I didn't quite keep that pace, I slowed down about 25 seconds per mile (ouch), but made it to the turnaround just under 1:43. Hmmm, at that point, with a sharp headache coming on, I realized I just might have run a little too fast for the first half. In 2006 on this course I ran the same first half split, only to slow about 10 minutes for the second half.

This is very obviously my first time in the park.

I passed the beer stop once again. At that point I probably smiled for the last time until the finish line. Normally bald Mike, in his long, blond, pony-tailed wig, followed close by on the Wolfman cruiser. He didn't have a lot to say, but the plumber crack he showed gave me some amusement. I kept looking for Gary, who was only a few minutes behind me, then first timers Deb, Nancy, and Damie. It was great seeing them so many times on the course.

This picture totally sums it up: everything is all askew. And there's no more smiling.

With about 3 miles to go I saw Nancy for the last time. She was walking and I assumed for some reason that she had given up. I mustered up all the strength that was left in me to tell her "DON'T GIVE UP NOW" and she cheerily said "I haven't!" I don't really remember much of the last few miles, but I remember telling myself to keep running to Laura. Then I'd have a mile to go. I kept reassessing my time, when my mathematically challenged brain would allow. "If I can just run 9 minute miles, I can finish under ___." My original A goal was to break 10:20. This helped me pick up the pace for the last 6.5 miles, even though at 20 the thought had occurred to me that I might not be able to keep running. Everything hurt, I was feeling incredibly nauseated, I felt like I couldn't get a deep breath, and I was at the point of drinking Coke only. Somewhere in those last few miles I calculated that I could break 10:15. I passed Damie with a mile and a half to go. "Go get your Kona slot!" was what she shouted to me. A man next to me said, "Yeah, go get it!" I mumbled "I don't think so," knowing there had to be several girls in their early 30s ahead of me. Two others were talking about finishing before dark. "You're going to finish before dark, aren't you?" the man asked. I gave him a thumbs up. I was planning on finishing in the bright sunlight, thanks to the end of Daylight Savings being moved back this year. At the last beer stop, just under 1.5 miles to go, I calculated that I could get in under 10:10. I last looked at my watch there, at 9:57. The longest mile of the day finally passed and I found myself at the finish line unable to contain my happiness when I crossed at 10:05. There was no jumping around or cartwheels on those dead legs. But I smiled really big!

Laura was there waiting on me, pulling ahead in the IronSherpa contest by helping me walk, ice my legs in the hotel's pool, towel-bathe the salt off, get my dry clothes before they were ready to release them, and completely taking care of my exhausted but elated self. I soon found out I was 4th in my age group, knowing there were most likely only 3 Kona slots. However, Liz called and emailed me right after the race to tell me 3rd place had already accepted her Kona slot at Ironman Wisconsin. It was mine, all mine! I happily wrote my check the next morning, and now I look forward to a few weeks of sitting on my couch and catching up on all the great TV I've missed.

I attribute most of my success to Liz, my Coach Extraordinaire, who made me be patient during recovery weeks, who told me it was ok to have meltdowns (they just make you stronger), and who planned everything just perfectly. I felt like after 8 Ironmans, I basically knew what to do; the problem is making myself do it. Having to report to someone who had thought through each workout and training cycle brought it all together and made it all work. Thanks so much Liz! You're amazing!

Definitely my biggest smile all day... all week, maybe.