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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Identity crisis

  For the past month or so, since my trip to Boston, I've been in the midst of a swim/bike focus, which is something that I originally embraced with a "bring it on" attitude, despite my well-publicized love/hate relationship with the pool.  The honeymoon came to a gradual end last Sunday, when the fact that I've been running less than 15 mi/week, mostly at 7:30 pace, began to frustrate the longtime runner in me.  I finished the run less than inspired, and Mary was required to talk me (email me?) down off the ledge (ok, slight exaggeration, but I had reached a new level of unnecessary hostility).  The thing was, I've been in the midst of a shifting personal identity: from that of Jennie the runner, who happened to do triathlons and got away with relying on the strength of her run, to Jennie the triathlete, who sometimes runs open races but will now be competing at a level where everyone runs sub-1:30 half marathons off the bike, and who needs to get her butt on a bike and in a pool if she wants to stand a chance at not getting embarrassed.  The shift has been subtle; I should have noticed it earlier, but I've been stubborn, and until now, not entirely ready for it.

   On September 20, 2009, I started the morning as a wreck of an injured runner who had spent her summer on the bike and in the pool, who had this crazy idea that she could try a triathlon.  Less than 2.5 hours later, I finished the Finger Lakes triathlon, and I was transformed...into a runner who had done a triathlon fairly well, despite my Walmart helmet, oversized drifit t-shirt worn on the bike, and small panic attack early on during the swim.  My transitions were hideous, I didn't drink an ounce of fluid on the bike because I didn't have the skills to get at my water bottle (this might still be a problem...), I took in half a gel only because a more experienced competitor had taken me under wing and told me I should, I had figured out how to shift into my big ring the day before and hit 30mph for the first time ever, I swam way off course, and I was completely unprepared for what running off the bike would feel like (given I hadn't even been running yet, I shouldn't have been surprised by that one).  And I loved it all.  I didn't know where I would go with the sport, but I knew that triathlon wasn't going to be a one night stand; it was going to be a whole freaking relationship, for better or worse.

   Fast forward a few months, and there I was, registering for Musselman 2010, my first 70.3.  But I was still a runner who dabbled in triathlons.  I ran my way from 12th to 2nd there.  After that was a small sprint tri in Massachusetts on our way to Cape Cod for vacation.  I exited T2 in second, and ran to the win.  The 2010 Finger Lakes tri played out the exact same way.  I relied on my running strength in tris; my swimming was mediocre at best, and my biking was just adequate.  In between tris, I jumped in every road race I wanted to run.  The runner identity remained.  I clung to the "runner" label over the "triathlete" label, despite mounting evidence to the contrary as time wore on.  The following winter, my husband bought me a top of the line, expensive tri bike (goodbye, bike split excuses!), I developed a singular focus on qualifying for Vegas, and I trained for a marathon on two runs a week, with the rest of my days filled with biking or swimming.

  Sometime over the course of last summer, the shifting balance began to become more obvious to me.  Unless I was racing, I didn't run without biking first.  Heck, half the time, I felt better running off the bike than open running.  In June came a first for me: I skipped a local 5k I would otherwise have done because I thought a long ride would be more valuable as I trained for Musselman.  I had been able to use my run at Mooseman to secure the Vegas slot, but I wanted a better bike split to go along with it, as well.  I still wanted to be a runner, but I was beginning to have an identity crisis: was I becoming a triathlete who runs races on the side, rather than vice versa?  Vegas threw me for even more of a loop: among amateur women, I placed higher on the bike than on the run.  What?  That'd never happened before.  After Vegas, I spent a couple of months experimenting with actually running while marathon training, trying to regain the runner identity; yet, when all the dust had settled after NYC, my marathon pr remained the same, and I had an elite triathlete license.

   Which brings me to now.  After last Sunday's breakdown, I woke up Monday, and did what every runner who's just beginning to admit she's a triathlete first does: I sucked it up; I hit up the pool and put everything I had into some 50y repeats; I kicked my own butt on the bike during some intervals, pedaling until I was grunting and near tears, fighting with everything in me to keep the wattage up; finally, I ran one good mile, and then settled into my trot of a zone 1 pace.  The rest of the week played out similarly.  Wednesday's swim workout, which hadn't intimidated me too much on screen, turned into a battle.  I ended up struggling through 2x600 at a pace slightly faster than the greatest accomplishment of my pre-QT2 swim life, which was a 7:15 500 (try not to be too's ok to pity clap)- but I was still annoyed.  This, though, was a big step: swim times got to me.  I'm done being satisfied with swimming sub-1:30 (up to a certain distance, of course), which had been my previous benchmark for a decent swim workout.  I can't count on making up that kind of time on the run anymore.

  The transformation to triathlete was nearing completion.  Yesterday morning came the highlight of my weeks lately, which, at a mere 40 minutes, is the longest run I'm doing at this point.  My HR monitor was misreading, which I used as an excuse to let it rip a bit towards the end.  It felt great, until I considered the fact that after a full day of work, I'd have to come home and put in a 1.5 hour tempo ride.  I fretted about it a bit, hoping I hadn't screwed my ride, and I spent the day finding excuses to sit when I might otherwise have stood.  My legs were certainly feeling it, but I managed to improve upon the previous week's effort at the ride, and went to bed feeling more satisfied from the bike than the run.  This morning, four hour trainer ride time rolled around.  In the early stages of the ride, for the first time I can remember, I was working to keep my HR up, rather than fighting to keep it down.  When I reached the final half an hour, I just started smiling, and I couldn't stop.  I felt strong, my wattage for the ride was the highest it's been at the same heart rate I'd been averaging, and I could finally tell that I was getting somewhere with my QT2 training.  Plus, I was just enjoying being on the bike, and I was enjoying the fact that I could still feel good riding after 3.5 hours, when I'd been on the bike every day for over two weeks.  Afterwards, I scrolled back in my logs and looked at my long rides from the previous few weeks- the improvements weren't drastic, but they were real and they're happening.  I have faith that once I get into more running, I might just see the same pattern.  And I'm now willing to admit that I have a new identity.  I'm a triathlete.  I can still be a runner, but that's just part of what I do now.  I've been biking daily, I've been swimming five times a week, and I've now accepted what that makes me.  So, that's what my identity will be moving forward.  All in all, I guess that's what I get for waking up in Vegas (and I'm not ashamed to admit that that song makes the "suck it up and go" list on my mp3 player during particularly miserable moments!)        

  Once again, thank you to everyone who continues to support me in my journeys!  Next week will bring about another exciting new chapter-my new ride, a sweet Kestrel 4000 Pro, is scheduled to arrive.  I'd also like to thank Woolsports for their sponsorship; although I haven't been running much, the running that I have been doing has been scheduled on the coldest days of the winter, and my Woolsports socks have been a total lifesaver in keeping my raging Raynaud's in my toes at bay-give them a try!

1 comment:

  1. Nice Post! I think a change in identity shows that you've grown as a person.