As most of you know, the weather was nice enough outside this weekend that I could take my new crank out for a spin, so we decided to head into Arlington to test that sucker out on the Tuesday night Conte's hill loop. 2.5 loops plus some bonus climbs in and out of Falls Church later, I'm pretty happy to say that I've regained the ability to climb without mashing my brains out. It does mean that all of my gears are in a different place yet again, and I need to re-re-learn how to control the bike as I climb and descend, plus the bike itself is still fairly new to me and I'm figuring out how to eat and drink and take pictures of myself without crashing. But it was the kind of ride where I can't do anything except feel thrilled to pieces to be alive, and almost quiets the part of my brain that is angry about being unable to run.
I was fortunate enough to have Monday off, and I was
stupid reckless enough to tell my coach Sunday evening that I was feeling extremely rested and would love a big day in the pool and on the bike. She was happy to deliver, and after finishing my swim workout (description included lots of the word HARD) and getting my calf mashed up, I bundled up and headed into Maryland to climb lots of hills and play chicken with idiots driving silver Mercedes'. This wasn't a HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY ride, this was the kind of ride where I learned a lot about where I am and got a good strong reality check about how much work is ahead of me to get where I want to be this season. Being mostly inside on the trainer for the past few months, I've lost a lot of my good habits as related to nutrition and hydration.
By the end of last fall I had it down to a science and it worked. I knew how much and when to drink and how much and when to take in calories, and it's been a really long time since I've bonked on the bike. But bonk I did, yesterday, bonk bonk bonk all the way to the bottom of a long descent where I pulled over and ate every last calorie I had in my bottle, my pockets, stuffed in my bento box and hidden in my seat bag behind the spare tubes. 25 minutes later I still had the glassy-eyed slow-pedaling detachment that I associate with a serious need for fuel and pulled into a gas station to throw some more fat calories and caffeine down the hatch. I had been tracking pretty carefully since the beginning of the ride and didn't think I was short, but the wonderful thing is, your body doesn't give a flying fuck about the math. If it wants fuel, it wants it, and no amount of me thinking "but I've had 240-250 calories per hour, what's the problem?" was going to change that. I think I failed to recognize that I was starting to ride at 11:30am instead of 5:30am and had only eaten about 500 calories so far in the day, I had done a swim with lots of hard effort and I wasn't taking into account how much work my body was doing to fight the pretty hard winds and not-cold-but-definitely-chilly temperatures. I only had liquid calories with me, which is usually fine, but I probably should have eaten more non-liquid calories before leaving on the ride to give my stomach something to do the first easy hour. I was able to spend a great deal of the ride in aero, including every single long climb, but I think that works against me in terms of nutrition. It's all a balance, I just need to figure it out again. I also got a good feel for where my climbing ability and endurance is at right now, and it's both slightly depressing and extremely motivating. So, lots of work ahead, lots to be done on the bike, but I'm ready to put my nose down and bull forward. When I finally rolled back up the driveway just ahead of the setting sun, I was worn out to my core but pleased about all the good stuff I had been able to work on. Yes, my jacket can been seen from outer space and I don't care, it was 70% off last April and it keeps me warm despite extreme ugliness.
This is the first time I've really been injured in any way in the midst of full-blown triathlon training, and it's interesting how my responses are different. I can bike and swim almost completely without issue, but there's a hole in my life where running usually is - and it's a different, smaller kind of hole than when I've been injured before. Ever since college, I've felt secure in classifying myself as a runner. I wasn't fast, I didn't do it a lot, but it brought me a great deal of joy and I wore that proudly. I had special pants and knew how to wear my iPod headphones down the back of my shirt and had loops and routes and gave myself little pats on the back every time I got out the front door. And when I got injured and couldn't run, I had nothing left. It sent me reeling into a pretty deep depression that made it harder to climb out the back end. Now, not being able to run is still creating a void, but it's tinier and harder to see and isn't a black hole. Part of that is because I can still swim and ride, and my schedule can be filled up with those things to keep the itchy parts of me happy while I wait for the leg to heal. Part of it is definitely because my coach is being pretty zen about the whole thing and not turning on all the panic stations, and that is calming. And I think part of it is just because I'm not a runner anymore. It's not what defines me. I've become one of these crazy multi-sport athletes, a triathlete, and not only am I happier here than I ever was as a runner, I'm steady. I never thought I would like being in the pool, but I find a lot of peace in the water and get real giggly when those 6K swims show up on my training plan. I've loved the bike since the first day I rode it, and the only thing I don't like about heading out for a ride is how annoying the trail is the first 40 minutes I roll away from my house. Running will always be how I got started, but I think I've finally stepped away from the roller-coaster love affair I've had with it for the last ten years. So don't call me a runner, not anymore. I'm putting down some pretty serious roots in the land of swim-bike-run, I'm thrilled to be here, and I'm never going back.