Sunday, July 8, 2012

Don't sweat it

If you're looking for an inspirational, motivational post that supports the adage: "The only workouts you'll regret are the ones you skip," this is not that post.

I have been training for triathlons for six years, the schedule increasing in duration and intensity year after year and culminating in my first Ironman race last November, and I can  honestly say I have never regretted a workout. Never!

Until yesterday.

I've had workout sessions in all kinds of weather--extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme thunderstorms--but I've always been glad that I "got 'er done."

Last year, training for IM Cozumel was extreme. A relentless schedule of 11 grueling workouts a week. And it wasn't just about the workouts--there was also a meticulous focus on getting enough sleep, staying healthy, eating well, and drinking and socializing very little. Believe me, it was all worth it--every minute!--but the effort took its toll and so, my husband and I declared this year an "off" year, meaning we would be less intense, less focused and allow more room in our schedules for things other than work, triathlon and parenting. 

But, it's been easier said then done. It really has been hard to let go and has left me wondering when the line is crossed from triathlon being something you "do" and becoming something you "are." Being a triathlete is a huge part of my identity and without doing the thing that makes up part of who I "am," I'm sometimes left feeling a little lost. This, however, is another post entirely, but I wanted to set the backdrop for yesterday's mental state and decision making. 

Yesterday was a "bike" day. These workouts are put on the calendar, in ink, and babysitters are scheduled as needed. We go whenever time and sitters permit, squeezing in time for our own workouts in and around the busy schedules of our three active daughters. It didn't matter that the afternoon temp was forecast to be 100 degrees plus humidity--It was bike day.  
But first, there was the swim meet, where we sat sweltering (I mean, acclimating) for five hours before heading home to prepare for our ride. I was already grumpy and agitated from hours spent in the heat and was beginning to gauge the absurdity of what we were about to undertake--biking almost 40 miles with a heat index of about 105-107. 

Last summer, while training for the IM, we had a ride under similar, but not quite as brutal, conditions, and it was awful. Last summer, however, workouts did not seem "optional" and I didn't really know any better, having never attempted such a workout in that type of heat. I remember being pretty miserable, but also that, like every other time, I was glad I'd done it. I clung to this notion while preparing for yesterday's suffer-fest. 

With little time to recover from the morning spent in triple-digit temps, we were out the door again. By mile 10, I knew it was a mistake. I crested the top of a challenging hill and stopped to rest and cool my body by dousing it with water, though I hated to use a single drop that was meant for drinking. 

My skin was smothering under a layer of sunscreen, and the wicking shirt, while doing its job of lifting the sweat from my body, left no moisture to evaporate from and, hence, cool, my skin. I couldn't breathe, and even cycling in granny gears was a major effort. I announced to my husband that I was going to turn back and seek a shadier, flatter route home. He, who is normally way more heat-sensitive than I, seemed to be doing fine and was confused and surprised by this and, though he would have supported whatever decision I made, inadvertently made me feel like a total wimp for even thinking of quitting. And so, I gathered my resolve to push on, knowing that some of the worst climbs were still ahead. 

In hindsight, if we were so determined to go forward with this ride, we should have at least deferred until evening when the sun's decreasing angle might have created some shadows on the pavement. As it was, the sun was high and bright in the sky and there wasn't a speck of shade to be found, nor a single cloud to cast the tiniest veil over its searing rays. I thought of High Noon in Texas. 

My husband lapped me repeatedly, issuing words of support and encouragement. My words in return were not nearly as kind and I spit out that I'd rather he refrain from speaking to me at all. I'd soured to the point of feeling like Queen Bee in my daughter's book "I Hate Everyone" as the words I uttered to myself had morphed from positive things like "You can do this," "You did Ironman," "Chrissie rides in the lava fields of Hawaii," to "I hate this," "This is way hotter than Cozumel," "I hate my bike, I hate this ride, I hate the sun, I hate that my water is as refreshing as sipping from a hot tub!" 

Front Cover

Crossing the half-way point around mile 18, the wind shifted and suddenly teased goose bumps from my hot skin--the little peaks of flesh straining to reach any puff of air. Uh oh. Not good. It's never a good thing to get the chills on a 100-degree day.

I was averaging a pace as slow as what I'd clocked while riding in the mountains of Garrett County last September. With bronchitis. With 10 miles to go, I realized I was out of water. My lips were so dry they were sticking together. Fortunately, our local swim club sits on one of the main roads home and as I crested yet another hill, there it was, shimmering like an oasis in the desert.Without delay, I pedaled my pitiful, sopping self into the club, stripped off my helmet and shoes, and jumped into the deep end. Chills coursed through my body, my head began to pound, my neck ached, and my mind went a little fuzzy. I climbed out, black spots swimming before my eyes, and walked on wobbly legs to the snack bar, where I begged two bottles of ice water. Exiting the pool, I gave one of the bottles to my husband where he sat mending a flat tire. I finished my own bottle within minutes.

Finally, we were home. I literally felt cooked, like the old "brain on drugs" commercial, and was thoroughly depleted. Nausea began to set in and I found it hard to get my recovery drink down. Instead of being a relief, the air-conditioned house chilled me to the bone, so I sought my recovery outside on the covered deck, lying beneath the gentle breeze of the fan with my legs elevated on a chair. It was in this position that I slept, my body fighting to recover and restore its equilibrium.

It was after a shower and finally being able to stomach a full meal that I began to ask myself "why?" Why did I go? For what purpose? What did I gain?

Was I glad I went? No. I was mildly shocked to realize this was probably the first workout I've ever regretted.

It was also a prime example of when, in this self-declared "off" year, it would have been fine--wise, even--to have skipped a workout. I believe the cost was far greater than the gain.

I don't know exactly when my tolerance for heat began to slip, but I think it was sometime around my second or third pregnancy, when the little heaters humming and growing within me seemed to permanently, if ever so slightly, raise my core body temperature. Certainly heat was a non-issue for me in my teens and twenties, when basking in the hot summer sun, and under the tropical South Florida rays, was pure bliss.  But not anymore.


Today was the first day I've truly lived the principle of an "off" year. I was scheduled for a 7 mile run. Though getting up early would have allowed for marginally cooler temps, it would have spared me nothing in terms of humidity--and I really needed the sleep. So I slept. At 10 AM, the temp was 88, but the heat index was 97. I fretted for 30 minutes over what to do, as visions of yesterday's ride pierced my brain, the mere memory making me feel ill and causing sweat to pop out on my forehead. What would I gain by putting myself through that again today? Nothing. Why would I be doing it? I wasn't sure--my next race is still a month away and the run is only a 10K. So I opted out and suffered from feelings of guilt for the next hour, before finally settling into a productive, yet restful day at home.

Besides, said my addicted little mind, you're not "skipping" the workout, but merely postponing it until tomorrow . . .

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