Thursday, August 09, 2012

It was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times 

A weekend in which, a young triathlete named Paula Findlay finished dead last in her Olympic debut and taught me something.

The extraordinary photo finish of the Women's Olympic Triathlon

On Saturday, I experienced a personal triumph. I rode over a 100 km in under 5 hours in some punishing heat (30°C, though the "Feels like…" number was more like 38°C).

one hundred and eleven Kilometres
4:48:50 hr
2750 calories
3 bottles of water
1 bottle of Gatorade
1 can of Coke
1 can of Red Bull
2 cream cheese and jam sandwiches
1 energy bar
2 Hostess chocolate cup cakes
2 Advil

After a shower and a stretch I rode in the rain to California Sandwiches and devoured (and by "devoured", I mean demolished) one of their huge chicken parmesan sandwiches (along with a chocolate milk and another bottle of water). I felt like the shot putter, Dylan Armstrong packing in 9000 calories or something. Then I went to see The Dark Knight Rises and when the movie was out at the atrocious hour of 1:22 AM, I rode home. If you're counting, and you aren't but I am, that was an additional 15 km ride just to see a movie.

I felt indestructible. I was wrong to feel that way.

Sunday was raining lightly, so I went to the pool. About 850 m into my swim the power went out momentarily (probably a power surge from the thunder and lightning storm). As the community centre uses super-energy efficient lighting, the lights would take about 15 minutes to come on thus, there was no point continuing. As I stood in the rain unlocking my bike, a woman doing the same said to me "…but it feels so good, doesn't it?" She was referring to the cool, light rain that had finally broken the dead heat Toronto had been under. My response was, "Yes, it's amazing" but I was really thinking, my back feels amazing, my knees feel amazing — everything feels amazing. I felt like I could smash atoms, climb mountains, or run through solid rock. That's how good I felt. I went home and felt unsatisfied about my short swim. Never mind, I did my exercise for the day. I did my laundry, read a magazine and had a snooze. Still I thought, maybe I should just do a short run. Three days before, I'd had one of my best runs ever. It was my fastest 8 km. The same run also featured my fastest 5 km, fastest single kilometre and fastest mile.

Let me interrupt by sharing some simple advice. If you want to improve your running, simply go more often. Anecdotally, I've found that frequency of running is more important than speed or distance. Even if you run slower or a shorter distance, if you run more often*, you will improve immensely. (*"more often" being more than whatever you currently run).
“I felt indestructible. I was wrong…”
With that in mind, I set out to do 5-6 km, slowly and evenly, in no rush and if I wasn't feeling great, I'd just cut it short. Thus it was. Somewhere around 3 km, and the data from my run computer proves this, I basically had a crisis. I was absolutely killing myself and going nowhere. I thought it was a momentarily lapse and perhaps I should push further. That was when I felt the blood leave my head, go past my neck, down my gut and drain out of my legs taking any and all strength with it. I could barely move and I felt my hands begin to shake. When the spots appeared in front of my eyes I thought I might just take a seat. I looked at my run computer. The number flashed 4.25 km. I was 750 metres short of 5 kilometres and I pretty much felt like I was going to pass out. I stopped to collect myself and I thought I'd jog to the 5 km mark and check again. My heart rate wasn't through the roof or anything, so it wasn't like I was going to die. It just felt like I would. I started again and was just hoping and praying for something, anything. I got to 5 km and stopped. Dead stop. I sat on a nearby bench and closed my eyes. I lay down. I looked up at the blue sky and wondered how the clouds could move so easily? Now my thighs were quivering and my feet tingling and my whole gut and chest felt empty. Void of anything; organs, oxygen, blood or bone.

If you've ever used a battery powered drill you probably had at least one time you're trying to drive the last screw and the battery just quits. Then you reach for the back-up battery and try again but the same thing happens except this one doesn't even have enough juice to turn the chuck. Well that was me. I had a dead battery and when I reached for the back-up, I had an even "deader" battery.

That gap between heart rate and pace illustrates "the Wall", but it looks more like a chasm here.

Eventually, I stood up, woozy, took a deep breath and started walking the last 1500 metres home. Usually in a run this is the part when I'm on the home stretch and it only takes a few minutes. This walk seemed to take forever. Every step, my calf muscles felt like knitting needles were poking them. When I got home I collapsed and slept for over an hour. When I woke, I ate two bananas and drank a bottle of water. That's what you get for feeling like a big shot. You get a big shot of Karma and with it a dose of reality. Well done, Peter. You bonked. After I ate supper, I immediately had a "digestive crisis" and thought, well, at least that didn't happen during the run.

The next morning I slept late, ate a massive breakfast and stretched. Then I rode 105 KM in about four and a half hours. The whole time my left hamstring was threatening to mutiny and stabbing pain was grabbing my leg if I pushed or sprinted. I told my leg the only way this would stop would be at the end, so get used to it and stop whining. It never listened to me, so I didn't listen to it.

Home. Shower. Food. Ice. Stretch. Sleep. Someone has to be the captain of this vessel and it might as well be me.

That's what Paula Findlay taught me. You have good days. You have bad days. You never have quitting days.

Paula Findlay finishing 52nd in her Olympic debut. Image via The Toronto Star

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