Week 5 Ironman Louisville Training: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

This week has been hard. Really hard. Work stress has been piling up, leaving me with unpleasant things like work-related nightmares. That can’t be good. I almost saw a child die on my long bike ride on Saturday. I almost got T-boned when a minivan decided to run a red light today after I dropped off my bike to get tuned up. So yeah, there’s all that. My personal life is meh at the moment but let’s focus on the good. As a memorial plaque told me on my long bike ride this weekend, “Love life, live fully.” I intend to do just that.

My ride started off a bit of an afterthought on Friday morning. I had heard that the weather was going to be exceptionally beautiful this weekend in Seattle. My longest ride to date was 42 miles or so on a stationary bike last December, and 29 miles on my real bike (outdoors) mid-January. With all of the training I really wanted to feel like I was making some sort of progress, and based on how I felt with some of my longer 30-40 mile rides on the trainer I felt that it was time to take myself for a test ride. On Friday, I mapped my route and did some research.

Again, this was the farthest I’ve ever gone. I’ve driven to Redmond ONCE and that was in October, when Shant was in town for Halloween. We went to visit a glass pumpkin patch all the way at Marymoor Park. On the map I saw all these cities that I’d generally deemed too far to drive to, let alone ride. Kenmore? Bothell? Woodinville? Redmond? I went along with the route, hoping that my naivete would carry me forward.

On Saturday morning, I lagged…majorly. I made breakfast and went back to sleep. I woke up again at around 10 o’clock and got things ready…got dressed in my gear, got my bike tires pumped, strapped my spare tube and air canisters on, filled up my Camelbak, and even decided to give my biking cleats a try.

Before my ride (a.k.a. before falling down and cutting myself and developing saddle owwwies). I had no clue what I was getting myself into!

I made it as far as my front door, perhaps even an extra 50 feet, before I clipped in and immediately proceeded to fall off my bike. I broke my fall by not tensing up (something that keeps repeating itself this weekend) and just kind of fell as gracefully as I could onto the pavement. I looked around and it didn’t seem like anyone saw, so I got up. I unhooked myself and walked my bike up the hill. It’s incredibly hard walking with cleats on, let alone up a sidewalk on a hill. I try to get on to pedal some more but my chain is out of whack again. Great, just like the night before my first triathlon. I try to put my chain back on while my biking gloves are still on and my thumb catches one of my bike chainrings and I begin bleeding all over my bike. (I spare you of those photos, but at least I’ll highlight it in red for you.) I pull my bike indoors to get things cleaned up. There’s chain grease everywhere (including all over my white handlebar tape) and blood on my hands. I clean up and, in the process of bandaging my thumb, wonder if this was going to be worth it. It would be so much easier to just stay home, or to hop on the trainer, or to grab a stationary bike at the gym. This whole process kills about an hour and half.

When I finished my pity party, I headed out again anyways.

My first break. A bench with a short memorial. “Love Life, Live Fully.”

The Burke-Gilman trail definitely didn’t disappoint. There were lots of people on the trail that day. Friends, family, couples, athletes. It was nice to see everyone out enjoying themselves. I wished dearly that Shant, or my parents, or my besties were there riding with me that day. I try to think of this as a preview ride where I get to experience all of the bumps on the road before deciding if its something safe for them to enjoy, and that helps. I was hoping to catch Shant that morning for a dose of enthusiastic cheer, but alas he was already prepping and out the door for his photo shoot. I’m a nervous wreck when I have to deal with distances that seem out of reach for me, and he always knows what to say to put me in a peaceful place.

The views of Lake Washington was extraordinary. I didn’t want to stop quite yet, and as an incentive to finish, I figure that I could take photos on my way back. So, eventually the signs said “Leaving Seattle” (eeeek!) and the Burke Gilman Trail became the Sammamish River Trail.

Taking a snack break along the Sammamish River Trail. Little did I know that there was a huge picnic area just less than a mile up the trail. This is a theme that continues repeating itself…

I start getting hungry. I kept telling myself that I’d stop at the next bench I saw, but they stopped coming. I eventually just dismount and set my bike down. I watch a ton of people ride by while I snack on almonds and fruit mix.

I made it to Richmond! Like, all the way to Richmond! I biked from Amazon to Microsoft! Craziness. It’s also crazy that Marymoor Park has wifi.

I push through and eventually made it to the end of the Sammamish River Trail at Marymoor Park. It felt glorious. I remember seeing this trail from the road, I remember the sign (above) and I remember the baseball fields near the park entrance. I find some empty bleachers and make a home of it for a few minutes while I catch my breath, eat some more, and hydrate. I’m already pretty tired, but I still had to head allllllllllllllll the way back home. I know that I passed the Redmond transit center on my way to the park. Great, there was an escape plan! However, I figured that I’d leave that as a last-ditch effort in case I really couldn’t just slog out the miles. It lifted a bit of weight on my mind so I headed back.

Somewhere in between Redmond and Woodinville. All I really wanted was a diet Coke at this point.

I can’t really remember the name of this place. I was starving, tired, exhausted. I really just wanted to go home at this point. My saddle had been killing me, my lower back was getting uncomfortable, but I knew that I still had enough juice in me to slog it home. I really wanted a weekend to remember, so off I went…

Pulled over in Kenmore to catch a breath. I watched a young girl almost die, so I needed a bit of a brain break here.

Wow. So here I am in Kenmore. Just a few feet behind me, I watched one of the scariest scenes of my adult life unfold before me. There was a young girl, no older than 2 or 3 years old, riding along on her tricycle without her helmet. The side of the Burke Gilman trail here actually has a bit of a cliff. Beyond the patchy grass you see there is actually a 20-30 feet drop onto a rather large highway. There’s a bit of a grading, so if you had the tenacity, you could climb up and down if you were a bit like Spiderman, but it generally acts as a divider between the trail and the highway. So this girl loses her footing and goes plummeting down this cliff, with no helmet, and she is headed head-first into a parked SUV along the side of the road. By some good grace she manages to not freeze up and turn her handlebars at the last minute. By now I’ve already dismounted and was heading down the cliffish hill (as someone who is TERRIFIED of going down a steep hill, even on foot) hoping not to witness the maiming of a child. When I see that she’s cleared the parked SUV I look (with mostly fear) at the highway in both directions…and it’s clear enough, with a few cars off in the distance headed towards her but nothing that a driver wouldn’t have missed if they were paying attention. Another stranger was able to dart faster down the hill than I was able to, and grabbed the crying girl and pulled her out of the intersection. Her parents soon followed.

It all happened so fast. I wasn’t prepared to see a child die on Saturday. I don’t think you’re ever ready for that. I’m glad that it ended up being a happily ever after but seriously, why on earth would you let your 2 year old ride a tricycle so close to a cliff edge? And why the hell would you be carrying her helmet instead of making her wear it?! Ridiculous excuse for parenting ever. Seriously.

Matthews Beach Park overlooking the Pontiac Bay.

I continue on, contemplating life and death and all the shades of grey in between. The pain in my rear is radiating at this point. I’m mentally fatigued. I’m not sure why the hell I even decided to embark on such a long ride by myself. I missed my boyfriend, I missed my besties and my parents. I hope that one day we can all bike here. It was such a pretty day out…would’ve been a great day for a picnic. I thought about my new life and in the physical misery I felt at that time, there was a small ray of happiness. I also decided here, at Matthews Beach Park, that I was not going to schlep up the hill in Eastlake to get home but was instead going to catch the next bus after passing through UW, thus completing my journey from Seattle to Redmond in one sunny afternoon.

Almost made it home, but to get me close enough I hitched a bus about a mile or two. (There’s hills where I live…)

Blood, sweat, and tears. All of them. All weekend long. At least I finished that sucker.

Week 5 Ironman Louisville Training:

13.1 hours; Swim: 3432 yards; Bike: 96.58 miles; Run: 5.21 miles

Monday, March 25: Rest day

Tuesday, March 26: Strength training in the morning, 1.2 mile commute to work on foot

Wednesday, March 27: 13.7 miles in 1:15

Thursday, March 28: 0.75 mile swim. I got kicked in the face with a huge wave of water. 15 miles on the bike, 3.2 miles on the treadmill…all before work.

Friday, March 29: Strength training in the morning, followed by a 1.2 mile swim in 1:05 again. In the evening I return for 14 miles on the bike and 1 mile on the treadmill.

Saturday, March 30: The grandaddy of all bike rides I’ve ever done. 53.88 miles in 04:59:32 with plenty of breaks in between. 1.01 mile brick run when I get home.

Sunday, March 31: Rest day. Took my bike in for a tune up.

Here’s to a less bloody week 6. I’m technically 20% done with my training. Oh boy.

6am Gym Date, Got My New Bike Trainer

I fell asleep really early last night — 10pm or so — and ended up waking up at 4am with nothing to do! I was still a bit sore from the day before, so I tried to get some more shuteye and then I opened up my inbox to see an email from SparkPeople…

With a message like that, who can stay in bed? I decided to get up. Thanks for the motivation, SparkPeople! I skipped my first cold shower of the day but changed into my swimsuit and packed for a bike ride at the gym afterwards. (Another brick workout was on the schedule!) I took the cold shower and the gym and let it chill my bones for a good 3-4 minutes. I hopped into the pool immediately afterwards and PRESTO! It felt like the pool was heated.

Last night, before I fell asleep, I watched this really great 3 minute swim lesson on YouTube. I tried to remember all of the points to improve on, but couldn’t remember them all this morning. I mainly focused on 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock arm placement, and that actually helped out my swimming a lot! I tried not to sprint in the pool, which causes me to get winded quite easily…by moving at a relaxed pace down the length of the pool, I was able to maintain my form and breathing.

I headed to work and the day went pretty well. When I got home I decided that it was time to set up my bike trainer! It took me less than 5 minutes to unbox, get the new axle on, and get everything in place. Good thing I watched a few YouTube videos the other night on it, otherwise I’d probably get lost. It was really easy though. No tools necessary, at least not for the trainer I purchased. I also got a small thing for the front wheel to rest on…that way, the bike stays level while I’m riding (and not just wobbling on the ground). A part of me wishes I got the mat underneath it, but maybe I can get that later. Or I can use an old yoga mat.

Then, to top it off, I bought myself a nifty (and cheapie) bike computer so that I can get the best measurements for when I do more indoor training at home. That way, when I’m getting 3-4-5+ hours on the bike, I can figure out how far I’m actually going. (Olympic triathlon = 24.8 miles, Half triathlon = 58 miles, Full triathlon = 112 miles)

I feel like I’m getting back to my old self again. Feeling focused and motivated. Next up, I need a new training swimsuit…I’ll have to earn it first. Onwards!

Tools of the Trade

I should’ve listened to my friends Barce and Gabe a long time ago.

A few months after I started biking distances around the 10-mile range, they started asking me if I had the right tools around just in case something happened, like a flat tire.

Well, I remembered their surprised faces when I told them that I didn’t carry ANY tools with me at the exact same moment today that I noticed my front tire was flat, 14 miles in to a 20 mile ride. Unfortunately I had to cut it short and do the walk of shame all the way back to my car.

This flat tire incident was actually preceded by my rear brake falling off right before my ride. I drove around town for almost 45 minutes to find an allen wrench set so that I could get it snug again.

So, today, after my 1.5 mile walk of shame, I drove home, ate brunch, watched a little bit of the Ironman Championships, and then headed to a few local bike shops to stock up.

Some of the things I got:

  • Handheld pump by way of CO2 cartridges and nozzle
  • Tire patch kit (something I had and already bought to fix my wetsuit)
  • Tire levers (something I bought when I got my first flat tire)
  • Two spare tire tubes
  • A small seat post bag to store it all in
I figure that if I’m really going to give this half-Ironman thing an honest go, I’d better start acting like it. Being physically prepared is one thing, but mechanically prepared is another.  Now I’m planning on another long ride tomorrow, hopefully to the tune of 25 miles so that I could make up for the distance I didn’t do today.
In other news, I also got a new pair of Brooks running shoes! Finally got fitted by a running retailer shop called Arch & Sole here in LA. They’ve even agreed to set up my charity team with a purchase discount. I’m so excited to break them in!

Planning For My First 70.3

I’ve recently decided to pursue a 70.3, a half Ironman. (Well, technically the Ironman is a branded event and I am not actually attending an Ironman race, but it is the same race but from a different company. Sorry, that’s my marketing background talking.)

There’s going to be lots of planning involved. For me, that’s the fun part!

Some things I need to work on:

  • Swimming endurance: I have very little of it. To address this I will attend a swimming boot camp class 2-3x a week.
  • Swimming consistency: My swimming is quite irregular. To address this I will not only enroll in a swimming boot camp but also go to the pool 2x a week on weekday mornings, for a total of 4-5x per week swimming.
  • Open water swimming practice: I’ve only done this twice (once during my last sprint triathlon). To address this I will aim to substitute two weekly swim sessions at the pool with the beginning ocean swimmers meetup group here in LA.
  • Biking consistency: I need to ride more often and for longer periods of time. To address this I will bike at the gym during the weekdays when I can’t make it out too far. I’ll have one long ride on weekends, most likely after my group run on Saturday mornings.
  • Running: I’ve been sidelined with injuries and illness which have both prevented me from being consistent with my long weekend runs. I need to be more mindful of stretching, icing, cooling down, nutrition, and rest so that these problems do not become too large to handle.
I have 12 months to work on all of this. What I’m aiming for is to be as proficient in my swimming as I am in my biking. That’ll take a lot of work since I don’t deem myself a particularly strong swimmer. I have a few races coming up — Tri Carson on the 15th and the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon on the 30th — but the most pressing event is my marathon on November 13th. I’m running out of weekends to accomplish my long training runs so I may have to start sandwiching them into the week.
After my marathon, I will have to start working out twice a day: Start the morning off with a swim and run in the evenings, or vice versa. One evening a week my runs will be swapped with a long bike ride (either stationary or road). On one weekend day I will have a brick workout (long bike ride to be followed with a run) and on the other weekend day I will have a long run (10+ miles). For two weeks I will swap out a few morning swims with a bike ride so that I can take a few ocean swimming clinics on weekends.

  • Month 1: November 2011 – Swimming proficiency, run Athens Classic Marathon
  • Month 2: December 2011 – Swimming proficiency, cycling emphasis
  • Month 3: January 2012 – Swimming proficiency, running emphasis
  • Month 4: February 2012 – Swimming proficiency, running emphasis
  • Month 5: March 2012 – Swimming proficiency, run LA Marathon
  • Month 6: April 2012 – Swimming proficiency, cycling emphasis
  • Month 7: May 2012 – Compete in an Olympic-distance triathlon
  • Month 8: June 2012 – Open water swimming endurance emphasis, cycle, run
  • Month 9: July 2012 – Open water swimming endurance emphasis, cycle, run
  • Month 10: August 2012 – Open water swimming endurance emphasis, cycle, run
  • Month 11: September 2012 – Peak training month(s)
  • Month 12: October 2012 – Peak training month (s)
  • Month 13: November 2012 – Taper, Race
From a macro view that all seems very feasible. Now all I have to do is plan out what the day-to-day will look like. My short term goal is to get comfortable enough with my swimming where it’s the last thing that causes me pre-race anxiety. My long term goal is to work towards the full 140.6 distance. I’ve always enjoyed a good challenge and I feel that this is within reach if I plan for it and execute on that plan. I’ve been reading up on 8-12-16 week plans but they all seem so rushed and hurried. I need to be able to account for things like life getting in the way, getting sick, injured, family, friends, etc. I think a one-year plan gives me enough time to build endurance and proficiency in all three sports to perform well and race confidently on the big day. I hope that my friends and family will be patient with me as I slowly end up disappearing into my training…

The Feeling of Liberation on a Bicycle

There’s something really amazing about being able to experience the city on two wheels instead of four.

The weather has been absolutely great for riding lately. Even if it’s a bit on the warm side, there’s nothing like the feeling of wind in your hair to keep you cool. I’m riding a mountain bike and most of the time I ride on the sidewalks. Hop, skip, dodge a pedestrian, stop for a car, ride, repeat. There’s a feeling of liberation — freedom from the tether of a desk or a car, escalating gas prices, parking tickets, worries. Instead of contributing to a problem I’m trying to fix it. Instead of worrying about the minutiae I’m focusing on my journey and my destination.

I go up and down sidewalks and, in my mind, I imagine trail switchbacks that I hope to one day ride. I see the Hollywood sign but all around me I see evidence of real life, not the contrived or imagined that is so typical of Los Angeles. I see faces, people walking to and from work, excited tourists from all over the world visiting Tinsel Town hoping to catch a glance of the next up and coming starlet. I see homeless people pushing their carts and huddling together in the evenings. I hear international exchanges everywhere. I ride through quietly privileged neighborhoods and bask in the foliage, ample sunshine, and impossibly wide streets.

Every so often I end up riding on a major street. Most of the time I’m cruising around sidewalks and residential neighborhoods. The whistles and cat calls come…it’s pretty much expected. What’s nice is when I pull up to a stop sign or crosswalk and catch eyes with a driver. They’re usually surprised by a bicyclist, for one. Two, they’re usually surprised that I’m a girl. (The males here seem to outnumber the females quite a bit.) So, I might get a few choice words or a silent acknowledgement, but then I’m back in my world again.

It’s not very often that I get to catch a ride with someone. When I do, I honestly feel like I connect with them on a different level. There’s almost a silent understanding, some sort of positive waves being exchanged. The feeling of being able to experience something so liberating and so joyous with someone else is indescribable. It’s like a new invisible bond is formed and sealed between you and them in that space and in that time. It’s irreplaceable. It’s not the same feeling that I get when I’m walking with someone, sitting next to or across from them, running, or even swimming. It’s a feeling I only get when I’m on a bike.

It seems as though when I want to let off some steam or think, I go for a run. When I want to challenge myself, I go for a swim. But, when I’m looking to return to a “happy place,” I go for a bike ride.

Then there’s the feeling of coming home safe…that always makes me happiest.

When in Doubt, Ride a Bike

It was a great weekend in Los Angeles!

With all of the hoopla of Carmageddon, it was definitely a big weekend for public transportation and biking here in LA. In fact, I’ve never been more proud of living in LA. Late last week, it was announced that the biking group, Wolfpack Hustle, challenged JetBlue’s ridiculous $4 flight promotion between Burbank and Long Beach (two local airports roughly 40 miles apart) to see who would make it there faster. I put my money on the bikes and they didn’t disappoint.

I was, in fact, so motivated that I went home on Saturday night after a 12 mile bike ride with my friend Kaylee and purchased a brand new road bike. I’ve been meaning to get a second bike anyways. The good thing is that it’ll require some small upgrades to be in optimal shape for the triathlon, but it’s a much smaller impact on my wallet than previously imagined. Hooray.

To celebrate all of this goodness, I decided to go park my car in a safe spot so that I could bike to work ALL week. I’ve missed doing that the last three since…well, I can’t find a place to park my car during the day. What a lame problem to have!

Back in the Saddle, Back in the Water

This was definitely a week of firsts!


I got on my bike three days this week — and if you count the two roundtrip courses I had to do, it was five! Even though I am still relearning a lot of the basics I thought that I’d manipulate myself into riding it a bit more seriously — so, I decided that I would ride to work on those few occasions. It was a bit tough — one of the locations I work at is only a mile or so from my apartment and the roads are relatively smooth, so the ride was fantastic. The sidewalks were wide open, there weren’t very many cars on the road, and overall it was a relatively simple ride. There is even a private lot that I get to park in so I don’t have to worry about locking it up. The other place, unfortunately, is in downtown Hollywood…and the ride there is incredibly intimidating, not to mention bumpy. The roads are poorly maintained, the drivers are pretty much insane, and pedestrians are slow, so I feel bottlenecked everywhere. I have to chain the bike to a fence on the ground level and my office is on the 9th floor, so every so often I’d have to peek out of the window to check to see if my bike was still there.

Overall I feel a little more comfortable on it. I still get pretty scared if a car gets too close to comfort. I have my instances where I just get off of my bike and walk it. Bumps in the sidewalk and street seem a little less insurmountable now that I’ve gone over them quite a few times. The starting and stopping is definitely getting better too, and I’m finally getting the hang of my handbrakes. (Thanks for the tip, Gabe!) Both days I was nervous (not to mention sweaty and icky!) as heck but in both instances I made it back safe and sound. This week I also bought a helmet and a bike pump. My next purchase will probably be a bell (although a fog horn would be pretty fun)…I’m noticing that people aren’t really getting out of the way, mainly because they don’t see or hear me…and frankly, I’d feel a bit rude saying “Hey! Get out of my way!” I’m definitely a bit sore so I stayed off my bike today, but hopefully my body will adapt to it as I ride a bit more and stay off those bumpy Hollywood streets. (It probably didn’t help that I biked in leggings on both days!)

As for swimming, it was also my first time back in the pool for awhile. A few months ago I did a late night swim with Shant but that was leisurely, so I don’t really count that. I’m trying to get over my dislike of water in my face…and up my nostrils…and into my goggles. Timing my breathing has been difficult and I seem to be gasping for air with every stroke, which I’ve calculated tires me out 3 times faster than the average person who is swimming in the pool with me at any given time. Today I was lucky enough to eavesdrop on a private swim instruction a few lanes down, so as the swimmer was being coached, I was trying to pick up on it and implement it at the same time while remaining cognizant of my abilities. For instance, today I began breathing out INTO the water…a start, I suppose. Since swimming seems to be my weakest link I think I may consider a class at UCLA, LACC, or SMC to help me become more proficient and confident. Then I can progress comfortably to open water swimming. Despite all of that, I still made it in the water twice this week so it’s a victory which ever way you slice it.

Adding bicycling and swimming to my routine has been quite interesting. Running seems so easy compared to these other two sports. In running, all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other. It requires very little official training, equipment, variables, and constraints. It seems natural. I feel like these other two are pulling me in different directions. I overthink every action and I’m slow as heck because of it! The more I concentrate on it, the less confident I become. But, the more I practice, the more comfortable I feel with my progression.

It’s interesting switching from one sport to the next — and although I haven’t done them in rapid sequence or anything — I can feel the muscle fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks. One day this week I ran 4 miles before work, biked 4 miles to/from work, and then did a 0.2 mile swim at the gym. After my run, I felt energetic. After my first ride, I felt confident but a little tired. After my second ride I felt great but a little tense. Then, during the swim, I felt like I had weights tied to all of my extremities as I was flopping about in the water. I am sure it gets better with time and practice.

Relearning a lot of these basic skills has been an interesting journey thus far. I feel giddy every time I sharpen yet another skill set that helps me feel more comfortable on my bike or in the water. I’m trying to make it a point to switch up my routine a bit from all running to include these other sports so that I exercise all of the parts of me that’ll be needed for the triathlon. With all of the hurdles I’ve jumped through — and all of the future ones I’ll be dealing with — this is going to be one of the most challenging tasks I take on yet. In comparison to the Athens marathon I feel that the triathlon will be a lot harder, since it’s testing not only endurance but multiple skill sets and the transitions thereof. Eek!

For my marathon training class tomorrow, I have a 13 mile run that I’ve dutifully plotted this evening. I try to set courses with as little turns as possible since I tend to forget. I hate listening to instructions and most of the time I have my earphones in — bad, I know — but I am notorious for missing turns on my runs. This one is simple enough and the only road diversion I’ll have to deal with is turning south on Cloverdale in Santa Monica. It won’t be too hard to forget since it’s one of the major streets that stick out in my mind. (I think it’s because it’s the street I can take to get to my acupuncturist’s office…)

I’m still feeling relatively enthusiastic about everything. I’m definitely a smidge tired, but a few days ago I bought a foam roller and have been using it on my legs and my back. It’s been helping with loosening up any tension and keeping me relaxed and out of the acupressurist’s office. Those usually run me about $40 a session with tip included, so this has definitely helped me save some money. That, and I don’t have to do any of the travel! For those of you who are curious about the types of massages I’ve been doing, here’s a video I watched to help guide me.

All in all, the alone time has been great. It’s been nice being able to focus on something outside of my silly worries, insecurities, school, business, etc. Everything feels so cathartic. Just a few months ago I was wondering how, at the age of 27, I could ever feel so low, sluggish, chained, and drained. Now I feel like a completely different person — happier, energetic, and a ton more sociable. To you I might be the same Amara, but in between these ears is a completely new environment. I love it!

More news soon…I’ve got to get some rest for my long run tomorrow. Broke in my new shoes this morning so I’m excited to do away with sore legs and feet for the second time. (Does anyone know where to recycle running shoes?)