So, I did it. My goal was to finish the Chicago Triathlon for a second time, but do it pain-free. Last year, I finished, which was a great accomplishment, but I was in quite a bit of knee pain for most of the run segment. I didn't have any super-scientific training schedule—I put up a calendar and filled in some target distances in pencil, which mostly got quickly abandoned. But training days accomplished get filled in in sharpie, and if there are too many blank days in a row I get motivated to get back out there. But I think the biggest difference between this year and last was just not stopping that training in the fall and winter. For my first triathlon I trained from April to August. I've been training for this triathlon since September last year—I took a few weeks off running right after the triathlon because of my knees, but I was swimming within a week or so. I also signed up for a fair number of organized runs to make sure that I was getting some running miles in.
So my only goal was an absence of pain, but I guess I got my general fitness up enough that I managed to shave more than 30 minutes off my overall time. So, yeah, that feels pretty cool.
Indulge my data-diddling for a minute with a table of my two Triathlons:
So my improvement was pretty much across the board. I also benefited a bit from entering a new age bracket, mainly because it meant I got to start about an hour earlier in the morning. That was a great benefit on a really hot day. It also meant less standing around futzing. Erica and I drove down at the frightfully early hour you have to set up your transition area and then we went back to the parking garage and slept in the car for about an hour and a half.
We strolled back over to the lakeshore, got Erica a brat and some coffee for breakfast, and then I got to the swim start pretty much right in time to push up to my wave and then get in the water. And then we were off.
It was great to not have stood around waiting to start, but to just be in the water. It was a really warm day—the water was up near the temperature where they don't allow you to wear a wetsuit. Many people elected not to wear a suit, but I wore mine. Last year open water was still something of a struggle, but now I'm pretty comfortable out there.
I wasn't wearing a watch, so I didn't know what my time was like, but I could tell as soon as I got out of the water that I was in much better shape than last year. Last year I had exited the water pretty exhausted, had barely acknowledged Erica who was cheering me on, and I had stumbled down to the transition area. This time I felt fine, gave Erica a kiss and took my iPhone back from her, and jogged off to change clothes and get on the bike.
Last year I would have said that biking was my strongest leg, but it was the sport I practiced least this summer. But I had advantages over last year. I had purchased my probably-a-bit-fancier-than-I-need bike shoes (and despite my accidents earlier in the summer, I was confident of wearing them on this ride since there's no intersections or stopping for 7 miles at a stretch). And I had finally put a super-cheap cycle computer on my bike. I work really well with numerical feedback and so just knowing what my speed was and setting myself little goals for each hill and leg and so on is really helpful for me.
Speaking of numbers, it didn't help me during the race, but I'm happy that I've finally found something of the analog of the Nike+ system for biking. The iPhone has GPS so there are several apps that help you track bike rides and I've settled on Cyclemeter. Despite the name, it'll also track runs and you can manually enter workouts as well, so I can use it to keep track of my swims.
I owe a couple of my friends an apology because of my improved time. Erica had sent out an invitation to friends to come down to the lakefront and join her in watching the runners and cheering me on as I went past. Because there's such a long stretch between the swim finish and the run she had included an estimate of when people should arrive to see me come past. By that estimated time, I was already well into the run, so they either didn't make it to the race at all or could only meet me at the end. I'm so grateful that they even wanted to encourage me at all, and so I'm sorry that I messed up their attempts to see me run. (Though, of course, I have to be happy about my speed improvements.)
When I talk about pain-free, my biggest worry is always the run, because that's where my IT bands fall apart. I gave myself permission to walk as much as I wanted and I only felt the tiniest twinge in my knee once. Near the end of the run I was reminded how distance running is as much a mental sport as a physical one. I wasn't in any pain, and while I was tired I was nowhere near the end of my resources, but it was hard to push myself to keep running and I kept slowing to a walk. I had to keep reminding myself that I wanted to run. I missed Shaun at that point—a good friend, he usually finishes and then comes back and waits to run the last mile or so with me. But he was off in Louisville doing a much larger challenge and so I certainly couldn't begrudge his absence.
So now I want to keep this fitness train rolling. Erica and I have signed up for some runs this fall, but first, a tropical vacation awaits us.