Saturday, August 28, 2010

I've been thinking...

Lately, I haven't felt the love for running. In fact, I haven't run more than once and sometimes twice a week since July. I'm having a hard time with all the heat, the sun and the humidity we've had this Summer. I have also not been feeling very good lately, and I think I found the culprit this morning: my seasonal allergies. They are not as bad as usual this year, which is why it took me so long to figure it out, but the symptoms drain my energy nonetheless. I went to the doctor this morning to get some nasal spray and it should help me get back to normal.

Anyway, I've been wondering if I had fallen out of love with running and if I should just give up. I was talking to a friend this week, trying to put all my thoughts together to make her understand how I felt. She told me she knew a lot of people who didn't run, or ran a lot less, in the Summer. These people were the same as me: people who have a hard time with the heat, humidity and allergies. Interesting.

So, I started to devise a seasonal training plan, where I would run from September to May and where I would allow myself to run only when I want from June to August. This would give me the flexibility to not run during heat waves or during insane allergy peaks, and it would remove a lot of the pressure I put on myself all the time. My plan also includes riding my bike outside from April to November and taking a break from it the rest of the time. Again, it wouldn't mean I wouldn't ride at all the rest of the year, but it would mean I wouldn't put pressure on myself to ride on the dreaded trainer in the winter. I would replace some of the biking with yoga: i'll do yoga on the weekends in winter instead of going for a long bike ride. For swimming, I thought i'd swim all year. I usually swim once a week, but because I'm joining the swim group with the triathlon club this fall, I think i'll aim for twice a week, except when it's -40 outside and I feel like taking a mini-break.

I also started thinking about long-term goals, such as:
- being able to ride and swim the Half-Ironman distance in 2012 (1.9K swim and 90K bike);
- doing my first Sprint Triathlon in 2011;
- being able to run 10K sometime in 2011;
- doing my first Olympic Triathlon in 2012;
- doing my first Half-Marathon in 2013 or 2014;
- doing my first Half-Ironman in 2015.

I'm not sure those are all possible, but I like the idea of working towards a goal and having a dream (Half-Ironman).

Now, I only have to make it through this week's heat wave and I'll be able to start to run again.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Best Open Water Swim So Far!

Ever since I first thought about doing triathlons, I have had to face a number of fears, which i blogged about here. The next fear on my list was to swim at Meech Lake. I knew that I would have to face that fear sooner or later because every triathlete I know has swam at Meech at some point. I was intimidated by Meech because it's a lake, there are fishes in it, it's deep, it's dark and you have to swim away from the safety of the shore.

Sometime this Summer, I made a mental list of the things that I still hadn't done and that scared me the most. Interestingly, I was most scared of swimming at Meech than I was scared at swimming in the Ottawa River; I was also less scared of swimming at Meech than I was at riding with clipless pedals or on aerobars; and, I was intimidated by the idea of buying and putting on a wetsuit. I decided to face one of those fears this year, and so I chose open water swimming as my fear to tackle in the Summer of 2010.

Cynthia and I went to Brittania a few times and it was tough. I couldn't swim many strokes before I got uneasy in the water and had to stop to get control of my breathing again. Cynthia helped me tremendously by giving me tips and pushing me to do just a little bit more than I thought I was capable of. She challenged me to swim for 10 breaths, then 15, then 20 (I made it to 17). She calmed me down when I freaked out because of the weeds/plants in the river. She really didn't get much of a training when she came swimming with me, and I felt bad for her. When I told her that, she said she was investing time in me so that she'd get a stronger swim buddy next year.

Anyway, last week, she suggested we try Meech Lake, because it was easier to access. I said yes, but man, was I scared. When we got there, it was 20 degrees outside and there was some light rain. I was kinda hoping there would be a storm and we couldn't go, but the skies cleared up by the time we were finished putting our wetsuits (I'm not intimidated by it anymore! yay!). The water was so warm, it was very pleasant.

A loop at Meech Lake is about 650m: you swim to a small island in the middle of the lake, then around it and back. We didn't have any objective for this swim, the goal was just to get me used to swimming there. Off we went. Holy crap, the aquatic plants are huge at Meech. So. Scary. Ewwwwww. I'm not sure what it is about aquatic plants that scare me like that, but they really do. Fortunately, you swim a few strokes and you don't see them anymore. I must have swam a good 30-35m before I freaked because of the plants and I was happily surprised.

I then faced my fear of swimming in the dark and was surprised to notice that swimming in the dark is not that scary! It was kind of comforting, which was really weird. I hadn't expected to be so afraid of aquatic plants, and I was not afraid of swimming in the dark. I mean, I was not super comfortable either, I had to take breaks every now and then to catch my breath, but I almost made it to the island. I think the reason why I was nerveous was that I was on the lookout for fishes. Fishes scare the hell out of me. Fortunately, I didn't see any. I made it to the point near the island where you see the stupid scary plants and then I swam the distance horizontally to be able to say that I swam to the island.

The swim back was eventful, with me losing one of my goggle lenses about 100m from the shore. I had to swim to the shore with my head out of the water, which had the upside of not allowing me to see the scary plants.

I swam at least 500m that day and I was soooooooo proud. :-) It made me want to go back to Meech, but Fall is coming and it's not as easy to go open water swimming after work anymore. Plus, I think I prefer to end my open water swimming season with an excellent experience! It's back to the pool now. When open water swimming season opens again next year, I'll be a much stronger swimmer. I'll take on those aquatic plants!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Mental Game

After I wrote my last race report, I noticed that most of my struggles this year have been related to my weak "Mental". What I call "My Mental" is the series of thoughts, feelings and sensations on my mind at any given moment. This year has been really tough mentally, and not just from an athletic point of view. It started off with my crazy stomach infection in Mexico, continued on with the high anxiety I felt following this infection, then with the insane stress levels I've experienced at work. This led me to a mini burnout in March. I then took 7 weeks off to take care of my mind and body and get back to a balanced life. All was good, until I went back to work and had to start balancing my personal life with my professional life. Again, I didn't do too bad with that until June rolled around and the stress at work became worse again, at the same time we started getting hot and humid weather.

I suffered from a heat exhaustion episode in early July, because I didn't pay attention to the amount of fluids I was taking in while biking and swimming. I felt pretty sick from the heat and I beat myself up for not paying attention to how my body was feeling until it was too late. Following this, I became hyper-aware of my body and everything went down the drain. It's either too hot, too sunny, too humid, too windy to go for a run. I don't run unless the conditions are perfect, because I don't know how to differienciate between feeling hot and suffering from heat exhaustion. I have terrible anxiety running in the sun and I often feel like I'm going to pass out when I do. Of course, I don't pass out, but I'm scared of passing out so I avoid running. This was all made worse a few weeks ago when I went running first thing in the morning and came back home with a bad migraine that kept me in bed all day.

All this to say that I have been through difficult times this year and I don't know how to take control of My Mental again. I can't ignore it completely when it tells me to be careful or take it easy, but I can't keep on listening to everything it says either. I'm feeling a bit lost in this mess and I'm not sure how to approach it. Do I need a break? Or do I need to just push through the discomfort?

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Day My Mental Challenged Me: National Capital Triathlon

The stats:

200m swim: 5:48 (Improvement of 1:40 over my best time!)
20km bike + T1: 57:34 for an average of 20.8 kph (I can do much better)
5K run + T2: 43:46 (again, I can do much better)
Total time: 1:47:06 (my best time on this course by about 2 minutes)

My plan was to do my first Sprint Triathlon at the National Capital Triathlon this year. However, after buying my wetsuit and realizing it's a lot tougher (mostly mentally, but also physically) to swim in open water, I started having doubts. I wondered if I was scared or if I really wasn't ready. You can never know for sure, I guess, but a week before the event, I decided to do the Super Sprint Triathlon instead of the Sprint Triathlon and this was one of the best decisions I've made this year!

The difference between the Super Sprint and the Sprint is the swim distance: the Super Sprint is 200m in shallow water whereas the Sprint is 500m in "regular" water. The Super Sprint swim follows the shoreline and the Sprint goes right to the middle of the river. Having had my share of panic moments in open water swim training, i knew it would be risky for me to do the Sprint. I was worried that I would have a panic attack once everyone was gone and I was all alone in the middle of the river. Knowing there would be kayakists nearby was not really reassuring me. After a lot of debate, I did a risk analysis and concluded that the likelihood of me having a panic attack was quite high and that the consequence of such a panic attack would be very high too.

The minute I made my decision, I started to look forward to the race rather than being scared and worried. That's when I knew I made the right decision. :-)

The race didn't go really well. I could list a few excuses, namely that my allergies have just gotten intense and that I slept 2 or 3 hours the night before my triathlon. These certainly contributed to the outcome of the day, but the real challenge during this race was to ignore "the mental" that wouldn't shut up. Seriously, the whole 1 hour and 47 minutes it took me to complete the race, the mental kept telling me how much I sucked and how I was an imposter. It told me it was a good thing I hadn't been stupid enough to sign up for the Sprint Tri. It asked me why I bothered spending money on race entry fees when I sucked so much: why not just train to stay fit and forget about races? It asked me who I thought I was, participating in triathlon races as if I was an athlete. It said I should DNF and I considered it. It whined. It told me to notice how poor my performance on the bike was, when it was usually my strongest sport of the three. It told me the run would be awful, because I haven't run much lately. It even told me I was so frickin' fat. Seriously, the mental was vicious yesterday.

My mind kept fighting the mental. It kept telling it to shut up and tell me to just keep going. It told me not to give up, that I trained for this and that I could do it, even if it was hard and even if I didn't reach my objectives. It told me to swim/bike/run my own race and not to worry about everyone around me. It told me that there was something to be learned from a difficult race, that I just had to keep trucking and that when I reached the finish line, I would understand what I had to learn that day. It told me to run with joy. It told me to appreciate the moment, because the weather was perfect, just like I had prayed for. It told me that it thought I had a good swim and that I may have done a better time than my other swims in Mooney's Bay. It made me notice the sign that said "Pain is just weakness leaving your body" and I visualized my "wimpiness" leave me. When it got really tough on the run, it told me it was OK to walk because it was such a difficult day. When my breathing was back under control, it told me to run just a little bit, one more step and one more.

Everytime someone cheered for me, it gave me more resolve to keep going and fight the mental. I knew I was doing the right thing and I wanted to defeat the mental, even if I hurt a lot while doing it. As I approached the finish line, I got angry at the mental and pushed as hard as I could (which wasn't much!) up the little hill before the last 50m to the finish line. It was then that Cynthia reached me. She made those last 50m much more enjoyable and much less focused on the mental. We say misery loves company, but I swear that company pushes the misery away.

Mind: 1 Mental: 0