Stepping back

I know, I know. There’s been a lot of radio silence. To be honest, the silence is because nothing is happening. Well, a lot of things are happening, but nothing particularly relevant to triathlon training.

You see, I haven’t been well lately. I haven’t necessarily been ill, but I haven’t been well. Let me start where I left off in my last post. I had deemed myself recovered from over-training and had started training again.

Training again

I started training for endurance events again last August. I signed up for a huge race in Sydney called City to Surf. It’s a 14km road race from the CBD to Bondi Beach, and seemingly everyone in Sydney runs it. Last year they had about 80,000 runners. I only trained for a few weeks, but I somehow managed to finish it alive and smiling, and it only took that one race for me to decide that I wanted to start training for real again. For real, for real. I wanted to do another Ironman.

I tried to be patient about it. I built up my training calendar slowly. I eased into each distance, duration, and intensity. In fact, I didn’t attempt any high-intensity training until right before my first race in Forster in November. Knowing that I have had problems with stress and over-training in the past helped to keep me honest with myself. I knew I couldn’t push too hard. But, I was so excited! Yay, training! I wanted more. I started this blog because training was all I could talk about or think about, and I needed an outlet.

8-challenge forster5

Going into Challenge Forster, I was okay. My training wasn’t excellent in terms of its ability to deliver a solid performance, but I wasn’t over-training or experiencing any of the symptoms I had when training for TNF100. I wasn’t losing any weight, though, and that irked me. I was doing many hours of cardio a week plus the occasional strength training, and I wasn’t losing a pound. I chalked that up to doing zero speed work or high-intensity work, and I waited.

Dec07

After Forster, you may remember that Rusty and I spend 10 days in New Zealand and then two weeks in the United States with our families. I was sure I was going to gain more weight during this time. I wasn’t doing much proper training–I’d fit in a run here and there and got in a couple of swims–and we were eating so much Mexican food and drinking so much beer. (Seriously, all the Mexican food. I miss it so much when we’re in Oz.) But, I came home lighter and happier than when we left. In hindsight, this should have been a clue for me, but I brushed it off.

Once we were back in Sydney in January, Ironman training started for real. The hours got longer, and the workouts were more intense. I felt like I was constantly pushing for more and being disappointed when I couldn’t get there. As I’m sure you can imagine, that gets exhausting after awhile.

Breaking

We all have our breaking points. I now know how to find mine. There’s a specific amount of stress my brain can handle, be it emotional, mental, or physical. And, as it turns out, when I’m working a stressful full-time job, the amount of physical stress I can throw at myself is pretty low. Combine that with a host of small, seemingly insignificant stressors (a coffee in the morning, the occasional glass of wine, a board presentation, a missed bus, an argument with my boss, etc.), and I end up over my limit.

Things started going wrong again in mid-February. Thankfully it wasn’t as painful or as sudden as last time. In fact, the symptoms were fairly different than they were the last time, but I still knew what was happening. One thing that was the same was that I was gaining weight again. Again. I feel like a broken record with this one, but it reached the point where I didn’t want to do my swim training because I didn’t want to put on a bathing suit. That doesn’t make sense for a long-course triathlete. My weight should have been going in the opposite direction, and I knew that.

Then there were a host of minor symptoms that when added together were terribly frustrating. I wasn’t sleeping through the night. I was irritable. I had no energy. I was missing workouts because I was too tired. My digestion was off. I took a couple of rest days in a row, hoping that a little relaxation would fix up some of those little things.

Unfortunately, I knew that a couple days off wasn’t going to fix my big symptom this time, which was the fact that I hadn’t had a period since the end of December. Sorry in advance to those of you who find talk of menstrual cycles to be gross or inappropriate, but for female athletes, it’s a serious issue that needs to be discussed.

Broken

I am no stranger to hypothalamic amenorrhoea (the loss of one’s menstrual period due to stress, weight loss, and/or excessive exercise.) It’s something I’ve struggled with a few times in the past, actually. The first time was when I lived in Korea in 2005/2006. Over the course of about a year, I only had 4 periods. I wasn’t exercising heavily at this point in my life, nor did I have a particularly stressful job, but I was working an odd schedule (noon-10 PM) and drinking a lot of booze. I don’t think my body liked either of those things. The second time was in 2011 when I was training for my first Ironman while finishing law school and studying for the bar. Again, it was too much stress.

In 2006, the answer was to quit drinking so much and get more sleep. In 2011, I avoided the question by acquiring hormonal birth control pills.

This time, I didn’t want to avoid the question. I’m not particularly tied to my menstrual cycle–I have no desire to have a child in the near or distant future–but I am tied to my hormonal health. If my reproductive health is off, then my health is off. I needed to get back on track.

Fixing, step 1 – the shame

The reality is that I had to stop doing what my body considers excessive exercise. Meaning, I had to quit triathlon training while working my stressful full-time job. Look, no one thinks this is as unfair as I do. Accepting that my body cannot do what other people’s bodies can do has been a daily struggle since I made the decision to quit training. I had to stop going on social media for awhile because I couldn’t bear to hear about how everyone else’s swimming, biking, and running was going when I couldn’t do any of it. It’s not fair, but it’s the reality of my situation.

What’s it like to admit defeat? There’s a lot of shame involved in the beginning. Everyone knew that triathlon was my thing, so everyone asked about it all the time. I felt a twinge of pain every time a co-worker asked how training was going during that first week. By the second week off, I knew there was going to be a third week off, so when people asked about my training in week two, I just got sad. My friends asked about training. My family asked about training. I could brush it off for awhile, but I eventually had to tell people. And, frankly, I found it embarrassing.

By the second week, I had to start withdrawing from races that I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete anymore. First Challenge Batemans Bay. Then Ironman Australia. So much sadness. So much shame.

I had a lot of second thoughts. I’d tell myself, “There’s still time! Two weeks is nothing–you can pick up where you left off! You can still compete!”. But, then, I’d have to remind myself that this wasn’t an ability issue. It was a health issue. Even if all of the little over-training issues had ironed themselves out, I still hadn’t had a period. I would still have to start training 10+ hours a week, which apparently is too much for me to handle right now.

Fixing, step 2 – the process

What’s it like to suddenly drop from thirteen hours of training a week to zero hours a week?  In a word, painful. I thought training whacked out my hormones, but it turns out that not training whacked them out even more. For the first couple weeks, I swelled up like a balloon. My boobs were so sore that I had trouble laying on a massage table because the pressure was too much (this has never happened before–I have tiny boobs.) I had major mood swings. I cried more than usual. I had no interest in talking to other people, and my ability to handle daily stressors was severely compromised. All of my joints hurt all of the time, despite not exercising. My muscles refused to work on occasion. Somehow, I had made things worse.

But, onward I plodded. I knew I was doing the right thing. In the last few days, my hormones have evened out. I’m starting to feel a bit more like myself. I still have joint pain here and there, but that’s mostly because I’ve been doing short, full-body strength-training sessions a couple times a week. I know I’m supposed to be backing off from exercise, but the strength training keeps me sane. I feel powerful and substantial, and I improve every time, which is good for morale. I’m not losing weight, but I’m getting stronger, so I’ll call it a wash for now.

I wish I could tell you that I know how long this process takes, but I can’t. After nearly four weeks (which have felt like an eternity,) I’m still in the middle of it. I still haven’t had a period yet. I can tell I’m getting better though, so I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing.

That’s it.

Challenge Batemans Bay is this weekend, but I’m not competing, of course. Rusty and I are heading out of town anyway. I think a little time on some white sand beaches in Jervis Bay will do us good, especially if we get to see the bioluminescent algae at night.

I feel strange and happy to have told all of this to you, internet friends. I totally understand if you unfollow this blog now, since there will definitely be a lack of triathlon training and racing for me in the future. I’ll keep writing about training and healing though, so stay around if you like!

Talk to you next week.

Sometimes you can’t make it work

When I first started writing in this blog, I mentioned a number of times that I had taken a significant break from endurance exercise about a year ago. The full break lasted about 3 months in total, but things were wrong for much longer than that. I’d like to talk for a minute or two about what happened there.

If you’ve ever struggled with hormonal imbalance, adrenal fatigue, metabolic syndrome, or severe over-training, you may be interested in hearing my story. I think it’s a more common problem than people let on, so I want to put this out there.

Something wasn’t right.

BlueMts1

Last January, I was training for The North Face 100, a 100K race in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. I had been running regularly for some months already at low volumes to build a base, but I started ramping it up in January. My long runs were getting longer, and single long runs on Saturdays became double long runs on Saturdays and Sundays. Rusty and I were spending hours and hours hiking in the mountains when I wasn’t running (or occasionally in place of the running,) and running was my life.

But, by the end of January, I realised that something didn’t feel right. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew my body wasn’t happy. It was little things at first. I started getting headaches in the mornings on the bus to work. I was tired all of the time. I was irritable. My runs were getting slower and slower at the same effort. I thought my body just needed some time to adjust to the training, so I cut back on my weekday runs and focused on my weekend runs. It was frustrating, but I assumed it would pass. Compared to other ultra-runners I knew, I wasn’t doing anything excessive, anything out of the ordinary. So, I continued on.

Something was definitely wrong.

By the end of February, I was in a dead panic. Things were not getting better; they were getting worse. At the end of February, I went to see a doctor with a laundry list of bizarre symptoms. I knew that she would think I was crazy for even asking if they were related to each other, but I needed help. My headaches were so bad that I was often unable to function in my day-to-day life. My eyes hurt and were sensitive to light. My jaw was tense and painful around my ears. Despite running 50 miles a week and watching my food religiously, I was gaining weight. My hair was falling out. I was having weird menstrual cycles (they were abnormally heavy and very irregular.) On top of my eyes being sensitive, I was seeing flashes of light and movement in my peripheral vision (I constantly thought I saw spiders on the floor out of the corners of my eyes.) My temperature fluctuated constantly–I would go from sweating to shivering multiple times throughout the day. For about a week or so, my skin broke out in a weird rash that covered me from armpits to crotch. I couldn’t sleep all the way through the night. I had no libido. Frankly, I had no motivation to do anything at all. I was falling apart.

My doctor was a bit baffled. She was calm when she spoke to me, but I could tell that she was perplexed by what was happening. She ordered a battery of tests. The first test she ordered was a CAT scan to make sure that I didn’t have a brain tumour.  My partner Rusty and I had the most terrifying conversation–a conversation that no couple ever wants to have–about what we would do if I had a brain tumour  Yes, having the conversation before the test is unnecessarily premature, but I was so miserable and was in so much pain that we both thought a brain tumour was a legitimate possibility. It was that bad.

When the CAT scan revealed no tumours (thank goodness,)  I went back to the doctor for more tests. I had all of my thyroid hormones tested. All normal. I was tested for autoimmune antibodies. Negative. I was tested for a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that could have been making me ill. Negative. I went to a serious of appointments with an ophthalmologist who confirmed that aside from a minor amount of inflammation, there was nothing wrong with my eyes. I went to an optometrist for a new contact lens prescription. Could all of this have been caused by wearing ill-fitting contacts with an old prescription? Nope (though, wearing properly-fitting contacts with a current prescription does feel much better.)

Weeks later, I was a few thousand dollars poorer, and I had no answers. Everything in my chart was marked as “idiopathic,” which basically means that my doctor couldn’t figure out the cause. I asked her if it was lifestyle-related, if it had anything to do with my ultra training, and she said no.  She said that running should only help the situation, and I believed her. If anything, I wasn’t running hard enough! The other ultra runners I knew were thin, lithe, agile, strong. They were faster than me and ran more miles than me. I needed to run more, not less.

With no answers from the doc, I then turned to the internet. That’s how we get answers these days, right? I was sure that it was something I was eating. That belief was founded on nothing other than my personal belief that everything our bodies do is connected somehow to what we’re eating (probably not entirely off-base.) But, I was quickly overwhelmed with all of the information I read.

I became afraid to eat or drink anything because I thought that it might be causing the headaches, which were the most debilitating of my symptoms. At different times, I thought the headaches were from too much caffeine, too little caffeine, too much sugar, too little sugar, dairy, nuts, eggs, wheat, soy, or some combination of those things. The internet can be a terrible place when you’re already afraid, and every time I read something that suggested a new possible culprit, I was overcome with anxiety every time I faced it. I knew that I wasn’t eating enough, which may have been contributing to the headaches as well, but I didn’t know what to eat, so I couldn’t fix it. Every time a meal time approached, I was nearly in tears.

Something had to change, but I didn’t know what it was. My doctor was out of tests. I was normal, by all of her metrics.

I needed someone who understood.

I hired a nutritionist who had experience with endurance athletes. That was an important first step. She couldn’t help me with everything–in the end, what was wrong with me involved more than the food going into my mouth–but she helped me get over my fear of food. Small victory. She helped me quit stressing about a lot of things, actually, and I was slowly starting to heal. It appeared that stress was the most important piece of my puzzle. As soon as I quit freaking out, things started slowly to get better.

My nutritionist introduced me to the concept of adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is one of those illnesses that most Western doctors don’t believe exists. You can’t test for it, and the symptoms are common things that many people experience without being sick at all–tired, sluggish, difficulty concentrating, headaches, weight gain, etc. Just like what I was experiencing. If you google “adrenal fatigue,” you’ll not only come up with a variety of definitions and protocols to fix it, but you’ll come up with a plethora of opinions about whether it should be discussed as an illness at all.

I was sceptical, but what did I have to lose? The protocols recommended to address adrenal fatigue aren’t exceptional or difficult. Since adrenal fatigue is mostly connected to stress and cortisol in the body, most of the protocols basically tell you to chill the f*** out. Unfortunately, I still had that 100K coming up. Remember that race I was training for? Yep, I was still struggling through the bare minimum of training. I couldn’t do anything until I got past that race.

So, I started working with my nutritionist in March, and she helped me with all she could between then and my race in May. I made great gains, but there were some things I was unwilling to do. Specifically, I would not give up my ultra training.

I needed to fail.

Look, the power of denial is amazing. I was raised in traditional Catholic family and learned the power of denial at a very early age. Despite the fact that I was nearly incapable of completing even the most basic training necessary, and despite the fact that I was having to re-teach myself how to eat like I was a small child, I was totally in denial that this would affect my ability to complete a tough, mountainous 100K trail race. I toed the line and started with everyone else in May.

I cruised along for the first 40K. At 40K, I started to feel bad. At 50K, I couldn’t move my legs. At 55K, I DNF’ed and had Rusty take me back to the hotel. I had no energy. I couldn’t move my legs. My muscles were so painful that I had trouble sitting in the car seat because of the pressure on my butt and hamstrings. I cried when I couldn’t walk up the five stairs in front of the hotel. I should have been able to go farther even with my crappy training, and I knew it. I was forced to admit that something was wrong, and that it wasn’t only what I was eating. It was something that I was doing as well. I knew had to examine the possibility that running was destroying me.

Once I hit rock bottom, I admitted that something was wrong. It was horrible, and it was embarrassing.

Something was finally right again.

After the race, I started following a metabolic rehab protocol. It was my off-season anyway, so why not? First, I stopped all long-distance endurance exercise. I thought I was going to go crazy, but it actually wasn’t that bad. When my legs started feeling normal again, I started walking home from work everyday. It’s about 4.3km, about 2.5 miles. When I started feeling like I had a little energy, I started doing yoga a few times a week. I worked up from a normal vinyasa flow-type yoga to a hot power yoga. Both the walking and the yoga taught me to relax, which is something I hadn’t done properly in years. When I started to feel tired or stressed, I backed off. When I felt like pushing myself, I pushed.

By the end of May, I noticed the first thing that was going right. My hair started growing back. It was pretty much the best day ever when I noticed the halo of 2-inch baby hairs sticking out of my shoulder-length hair. I was so happy that I started crying (yeah, I cry a lot,) and I called my mom. Not only was my hair growing back, but it was curly again. For years, the curl had slowly been falling out of my hair. Now, my hair was coming in shiny, strong, and curly. My mom loves it when my hair is curly, and she was very happy when I told her it was coming back!

The headaches started going away, too. By the end of May they were less frequent, and by June they were so sporadic that I hardly took note any more.  I had been keeping a detailed headache journal for months trying to isolate a specific cause, but I abandoned it in mid-June because the headaches were basically gone. In case you’re curious, I never did identify the specific cause of the headaches. I have my theories, but I’ll never know exactly what was happening there.

The other things seems to be connected to the headaches. The eye pain, vision problems, jaw pain, and ear pain all dissipated when the headaches eased up. I can’t say whether their relationship was causative or  relative, but all of those symptoms went away together.

I didn’t lose all of the weight I had gained, but I lost a little. I lost it slowly, too–the way that you’re supposed to. It was painful to watch the numbers move so slowly, but I knew I was doing the right thing.

Through July, I focused on relaxing and staying calm. In August, I started running again.

—–

This is the end of the first part of the story–what happens next will bring us up to recent times. I’d keep writing, but I think dividing this into two parts is best.

Talk to you soon.

Tour of Sufferlandria: Part 3, the videos

10-being sick

Part 3! This is the final chapter. Let’s talk about the videos involved in the Tour of Sufferlandria 2014. I can give no guarantee that these videos will be involved in the Tour of Sufferlandria 2015, but they’re good videos to know anyway.

Without further ado.

Rubber Glove.

As I wrote in this post, Stage 1 is called “Rubber Glove.” It’s a 20-minute warm-up, a 20-minute FTP (functional threshold power) test, and then a cool-down.

“What is FTP?”, you ask? Your FTP is your average power/effort output for a 60-minute race. It’s critical to know your FTP because it guides your effort zones. While the test is ideally done using power as the metric, it can be done just as easily with heart rate as the metric. Once you find your FTP, you can most accurately set your power and/or heart rate zones for efficient training.

Basically, the FTP test in “Rubber Glove” is a 20-minute time trial. You gun it, all out, for 20 minutes. It’s effing brutal.

Things I like about “Rubber Glove”: The music is good, and the footage is solid. It works for me and keeps me engaged.

Things I’m not crazy about: During a couple cool-down periods, they switch the footage to a chick on rollers in her kitchen cooking an omelette while pedaling. Impressive, yes, but doesn’t keep me engaged. I tend to stop paying attention at this point and lose focus.

ISLAGIATT.

That stands for “It Sounded Like a Good Idea at the Time,” and it’s appropriately titled.

“ISLAGIATT” is a 2-hour workout focusing on endurance and climbing. There are 4 mountains in the stage, and the video uses footage from the Giro d’Italia. This is a solid, serious workout. It’s brilliant. If you’re honest with your effort, matching it to your FTP that you set doing “Rubber Glove” the day before, it’s amazingly horrible in a wonderful way. I’ve never sweat like that before.

This video also has the best music and commentary in all of The Sufferfest videos I’ve seen thus far. You actually have real targets that you’re “chasing” through the race, and it helped drive my effort.

Things that are nice: It’s long. That may not sound like a good thing to you, but if the weather is crap and you’re forced to spend 2 hours on the trainer inside, it’s a solid way to spend it.

Things that are not so nice: It’s long. It can be difficult to stay engaged for that long.

Revolver.

“Revolver” is a 45-minute workout, designed to train for speed. There’s a warm-up and then multiple (many many many) sprint-rest intervals before a cool-down.

The footage is from indoor track cycling, which is awesome, and the music is some of the best in all of the Sufferfest videos. Speed workouts are not my bag, but this one keeps my head in the game.

Positives: Good footage, good music. The workout is very straight-forward and easy to follow.

Negatives: The workout is a touch long for such an intense speed workout, in my opinion. Recovery from this one is long for me.

Hell Hath No Fury.

“HHNF” is a 1.25-hour stage racing workout. There are four stages. The first is pretty flat and short. The second is long and involves some climbing. The third is similar but a little steadier. The fourth is a team time trial.

I like this video because the footage is from women’s races. I dig that. I think it’s cool to see women in sport.

The good: The workout has some intense parts and many steady parts. If you’re going to be on the trainer for that long, it’s nice to not be constantly attacking! Don’t get me wrong–there’s a lot of attacking–but there are a lot of places where you can put your head down and pedal steadily.

The bad: The music is a little weak at points. This is a video where I would consider wearing headphones with my own music and just watching the visual cues on the screen.

Extra Shot.

“Extra Shot” is a nice video to have in your arsenal. It’s a 20-minute stage race, and it’s meant to be done in conjunction with other workouts. There’s no significant warm-up or cool-down.

There’s not much to say about it. It’s solid.

The Wretched.

“The Wretched” is good all-around cycling workout. It has a flat stage in the beginning, three climbs, and then a flat run to finish. The workout is about 45 minutes long, and it’s brutal. Thankfully, the footage for this video is from the Tour de France, which is cool. At least for me, the Tour de France footage is the most recognisable–I can watch parts of it and remember what it was like when I was watching it live.

Stellar: There’s enough variety to keep in interesting, and, like I said, the footage rocks.

Lame: They don’t give you much warning about workout (generally at the beginning of the video, they walk you through the workout, step by step.) The video claims the minions lost the route book. Personally, I like to know what I’m getting into before I start, and it’s harder for me to engage when I’m just following along and responding immediately to commands without knowing they’re coming.

AVDP.

That stands for “A Very Dark Place.” The video definitely helps you find a very dark place. It’s about a 45-minute workout, and it involves a warm-up, a set of short sprints, a rest, a set of longer time-trial-ish sprints with rests, and then a cool-down. It’ll make you cry if you’re not ready for it, but it’ll help you find something in yourself that you didn’t know existed if you are ready.

Things that rock: I love the footage (I say that a lot, huh?). It’s French but not Tour de France. Solid music, too.

Things that rock less hard: I have no complaints except that it makes me want to puke.

Angels.

“Angels” is a 1-hour climbing workout. The video is a little older, so it’s a bit different than the others. You have to pay attention a little more than usual because the timing cues and visual cues are a bit different. The music is better, though, if you ask me!

As for the workout, “Angels,” being a climbing workout, is as brutal as you make it. Keep an eye on your HR or your power, and stand up when they tell you to stand. Otherwise, you can just pedal away at a nice slow cadence and ignore what’s happening. There’s an extended warm-up with a long over/under section, three serious climbs with descents, and then a cool-down.

The pretty: The music. I love it.

The ugly: I find it a bit hard to follow because I’ve become accustomed to The Sufferfest’s new cues. I’m like Pavlov’s dog with the usual auditory cues in most of the videos, so it’s harder to pay attention with this one.

The Hunted.

“The Hunted” is similar to “Angels” in that it’s an older-style, 1-hour climbing video. The footage is from the Tour de Swisse and Tour de Romandie, which I dig. The workout is basically a warm-up, some flat parts, one big climb, and then a descent and flat race to the finish.

Awesome: It’s straight-forward. Despite the video being old-style, I find it easy to follow.

Not as awesome: I have no complaints.

Blender.

If you’re looking for a long, intense workout, “Blender” is for you. It’s an endurance workout, clocking in at 1:45, but it’s a collection of short-ish intervals, so it’s easier to digest. On one hand, it feels like it passes faster because of all of the smaller intervals, but on the other hand, you feel like it will never be over. If you make it through this, sticking to the intensities listed, you’re a rockstar in my book.

Positives: It’s long and intense, and it’s broken into manageable chunks.

Negatives: You will indeed puke.

Violator.

I seriously felt violated after this one. It’s not very long–right around an hour–but there are 64 sprints. Yes, you read that right. 64. They’re short, but the sheer number is intense. The rests get shorter and shorter as the video goes on.

Smiley face: I like sprinting. I do. I don’t mind that there are 64! Though, the first time I did it, I spent a lot of time wondering how they were going to fit them all in.

Sad face: It gets hard by the end to gear-up and gear-down fast enough to keep up with the intervals. When the rest periods were only a handful of seconds, I had to just leave my gears where they were and legit rest until the next interval.

The End.

Alright, friends. There you go! If you click on the titles of the videos in this post, it will take you to The Sufferfest page for that video. On each webpage, you can get more details about the workout. In addition to workout details, they also have links to some longer, in-depth reviews of the videos. You can also buy the videos from there.

Happy training!

Tour of Sufferlandria: Part 2, how to participate

2014-01-23 19.04.33

Welcome to Part 2.

Like I said in Tour of Sufferlandria: Part 1, the basics, you don’t have to officially sign-up for the Tour because it’s not an official tour—the goals are honour and glory. However, there is, in my mind, a proper method of participation.

Here’s how to do it and how to make the most of your experience.

1.      Buy all the videos.

You have to do this first. They’re expensive, but they’re worth it. Trust me on this one. You can use them over and over, and you’ll want to. They’re high-quality, serious workouts. More on these later.

Buy them here.

2.     Print a number.

The folks at the Sufferfest will post a link to the template. You can find the link for this year’s bib here. You can choose any number and name you want. Many people make it their Facebook profile pic or Twitter avatar.

Example:

Bib

You can print it out and wear it or post it in your pain cave. Send a pic to The Sufferfest, and they might post it on their Facebook, Twitter, or blog. There were a lot of creative bibs this year! Check them out here.

3.     Sing the National Anthem of Sufferlandria.

Self explanatory. Find it here.

4.     Tell your loved ones what you’re doing before you start.

I’m serious. I’m going to give you a shorter version of the lecture I got during law school orientation many years ago. You’re about to start something that is very difficult and will demand a lot of your time. Also, you will be cranky. Warn some people ahead of time, even if you know they’ll tell you you’re out of your mind. The Tour demands a lot of time and a lot of energy. You will eat a lot. You may not be in the mood to clean. You may not be in the mood to practice basic hygiene. You will generate piles of sweaty spandex. My partner is incredibly understanding and deals with my Ironman training most of the year, and the Tour still tested our relationship. Let the important people in your life know what’s happening before it happens.

5.     Start the tour with everyone else.

Suffering in numbers is more fun than suffering alone. You can do the Tour at any time of the year, since in the end you are just competing against yourself, but it’s more fun to do it with the other crazies.

6.     Participate online.

This is a big one. There is an INCREDIBLE community of Sufferlandrians online. Want to meet people with similar interests and hobbies? Join the Facebook event page. I posted a picture of my suffering, and got tons of comments and “likes” from fellow Sufferlandrians. From strangers! You’d think as a blogger I’d be used to stangers talking to me on the internet, but I’m not, really. It was fun! The Sufferfest also retweets funny comments about the Tour and responds to nearly everything on Twitter, which also helps build community.

If you’re a member of a cycling or triathlon forum on the internet, there’s a thread about the Tour. Slowtwitch? Beginnertriathlete? MTBR? Bikeradar? There’s a thread on the forums. Connect with others; it’ll only enhance the suffering.

 Some additional tips and tricks.

 1.     Download the videos ahead of time.

The videos can take a long time to download. For me, with my slow-ass Australian internet, each video took hours. That means you have to plan ahead. They are not streaming–you download them to your machine. If you want to do a video in the morning, download it the night before.

2.     Get your set-up right.

You need a proper pain cave with the proper access to temperature control and electronics. You need your bike set up on rollers or a trainer, obviously, and you need to be able to see a screen that displays the video, preferably with audio. In addition, I’d highly recommend that you arrange in advance for temperature control. The Tour is in the middle of the summer here in Oz, so arranging the windows and fans was key! Don’t forget tons of water.

10-wc 25 november3

I look pleased to be sweating on my trainer, don’t I?

3.     Refuel and relax in between.

We’re talking about 9 days straight of high-intensity cycling training. Give yourself some love in between. My suggestions are to foam roll often if you’re into that sort of thing; balance the high-intensity workouts with slow aerobic activity; and eat a lot. DO NOT go grocery shopping immediately after a workout, though. I did that once and ended up with a cart full of cookies. Don’t know who threw them in there…  Also, sleep.  See this post about the untold disciplines of triathlon and adhere to disciplines 4-7.

4.     Do what you want regarding music.

The music is pretty awesome on most of the videos, but if you don’t want to listen to it or can’t listen to it for some reason (some people have these things called “partners” and/or “kids” that like to “sleep in,” or something,) then you can still do the videos. All of the cues in the videos are visual as well as auditory, so you just have to stay focused on the video screen. Some people prefer to listen to their own music when they’re in their pain cave. I get that.

5.     Harden the f#&^ up.

You know what to do.

Alright, friends. That’s my 2 cents on how to set yourself up for Tour success. Tomorrow, let’s talk about the videos.

Tour of Sufferlandria: Part 1, the basics

I know you must have a ton of questions about the Tour of Sufferlandria. Or, maybe not. You may have forgotten this thing that took over my training a couple weeks ago! Let me refresh your memory.

ToS-2014-FB-Banner

From 25 January to 2 February, the Tour of Sufferlandria was all I could talk about. It ruled my life. But, here on the blog I didn’t go too far in depth about what was happening.

Assuming there may be some of you reading that have no idea what was happening, I’d like to take a minute to answer some of the questions that I imagine you have. Yes, you all exist in my imagination.

First, where the hell is Sufferlandria?

Yes. Well. Sufferlandria is a mythical land created by the people who run The Sufferfest.

Sufferlandria, of course, is where the suffering happens.

Wait, back up. What is The Sufferfest? Who are these people?

Oh, I see. You need me to start at the beginning. Well, here we go.

2014-01-23 18.04.36

According to The Sufferfest’s website, the idea for The Sufferfest videos started back in 2009 when Founder David McQuillen thought he might have a terminal case of TTBS (Turbo Trainer Boredom Syndrome.) He learned how to do some video editing, licensed some race footage, and made the first video. As it turns out, other people love to suffer! Go figure. The business was a success.

There aren’t just Sufferfest videos. There’s a Sufferfest culture. You get tuned into it once you’ve done a couple of the videos, so I’m not going to explain much of it here. For example, the rival nation, discussed occasionally, is Couchlandria. Also, in Sufferlandria, there are minions for all kinds of purposes. And wildebeests. There’s a mountain that spews lava.

It’s complex, and it goes deep.

Now that we’re clear on The Sufferfest and Sufferlandria, let’s go back to the Tour.

What is the Tour of Sufferlandria?

It’s a 9-day “Tour” of the mythical country, done through training videos. I’m going to review the included training videos later, but they’re all brutal and make you feel like you’re going to vomit at the end.

2014-01-26 10.19.16

It’s not a proper tour because no one can win, of course, but that doesn’t mean you can slack off and go through the motions. You’re racing against yourself and your own effort. The first stage of the Tour is an FTP test that you can do with a heart rate monitor or a power meter to set your zones and effort levels for the rest of the Tour. If you don’t have either, you can use the FTP test to get a feel for what the zones should feel like. Then, it’s up to you to play fair to yourself.

This is an honour thing. Honour and glory. The good stuff.

Do I have to sign up?

Negative. You don’t have to do a thing to participate except own the videos. I’ll go more into that tomorrow.

Along with the Tour, The Sufferfest runs a parallel fundraiser for the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s with a s%$#-ton of excellent prizes for donors.

The Davis Phinney Foundation raises money for medical research for Parkinson’s disease and patient support for those suffering. This year, the Tour raised $60,427! Fantastic love from the Sufferlandrians.

Donations for prizes are now closed for this year, but you can always make a donation, of course, by visiting the Davis Phinney Foundation website.

For every $10 you donate during the Tour, you get 1 entry into the donor pool for donor prizes. What did The Sufferfest give away to donors this year?

Crazy, right? Awesome prizes!

Alright, friends. Those are the basics about The Sufferfest and The Tour of Sufferlandria. Stayed tuned tomorrow for specifics about to make the most of your Tour experience.

This Week in Training: WC 3 February

IMAG0249

Haha! I’m so far behind with posting! Life gets in the way, eh? All you wonderful folks that post daily, I’m in awe of your energy. After work and training, it’s often all I can do to eat and sleep enough.

Another week done. I cannot believe there are just 12 weeks until Ironman Australia! Well, at this point, it’s more like 11. I feel incredibly under-prepared, but I vaguely remember feeling that way at this point when training for my previous Ironman, so hopefully the feeling will pass.

I registered for Challenge Batemans Bay on 16 March. It’s going to be my last tune-up before Ironman Australia, and it comes at the “7 weeks to go” point. That means I have four solid weekends of long runs and long rides to get in me before the 70.3.

Honestly, if I don’t have a great race in March and don’t markedly improve my times from my last 70.3, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’ve discussed with my partner Rusty the possibility that I might withdraw from Ironman Australia if I don’t feel ready after Batemans Bay. I lost a lot of ground during my downtime from triathlon (October 2011 – August 2013,) and I’m just now getting some of my groove back. Jumping back into the Ironman game so quickly may have been a hasty move, and I’m willing to admit that, if that’s the case. I guess I’ll know more in 5 weeks! Here’s hoping that I’m over-reacting and that everything’s going to be fine… I mean, I know I’m over-reacting…right? Argh.

This past week was a cut-back week for me. I feel like I have those all the time! It was welcome after all the time I spent in the saddle last week, though. I got in some good swims and a nice long ride on Sunday.

Monday = Rest day.

Oh, glorious rest day! I haven’t had one in awhile! It was nice.

Tuesday = 30 minutes strength training; 30-minute run.

I started Tuesday morning with some quick strength training at home. Mostly body-weight exercises and some work with my resistance bands, focusing on back and shoulder strength.

I had a run on the schedule too, so I decided to run a quick loop around my neighbourhood.  I promptly remembered why I haven’t been doing that much recently. I have never sweat so much in my life! Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it was incredibly hot and humid. I struggled to keep my heart rate in check. I’m not very good in the heat. I somehow made it through, but it wasn’t pretty.

Wednesday = 30-minute swim; 1-hour spin.

I headed to the pool Wednesday morning and swam a continuous 30-minute set. It was amazing. I finally got my new headphones to work in the water, too! Listening to music when zoning out in the pool is my new jam.

After work I hopped on the trainer for an easy HR zone 1 spin.

Thursday = 20 minutes strength training; 45-minute run/walk.

After work on Thursday I took the bus to the gym. My schedule had an optional 20-minute swim scheduled for Thursday, but I didn’t have my swim gear with me (oops!), so I substituted 20 minutes of swim-specific strength training.

After playing with the heavy weights (I miss you, heavy things!), I hopped on the treadmill. I couldn’t get my act together, though. Sometimes you’re not in the mood. I stayed on the treadmill for 45 minutes, but it was a mix of running and walking.

Friday = 1-hour spinning.

On Friday morning I decided to avenge my crap performance on the treadmill the day before with a stellar performance on the bike. I pulled up “Rubber Glove” from The Sufferfest, and gave the FTP test another go, just 2 weeks after the first time I did it at the start of the Tour of Sufferlandria. You would not believe the difference. I don’t have a power meter, but I could tell that I felt stronger and more powerful on the bike. If nothing else, I was more confident, and that makes a huge difference to me.

Saturday = 1-hour run; 1-hour swim.

I needed to get a long-ish swim in on Saturday, and if there is one thing I know about the YMCA pool that I usually attend, it’s that it is impossible to swim there on Saturdays. I don’t even try to go there–it’s miserable. So, I did a little research on local pools and found a sweet-looking 50m outdoor pool about 4 miles away from our apartment. Score! I had a 1-hour run on the schedule too, so I figured I pack up my running pack and run a really long, indirect route to the pool, swim, take the bus home after, and then eat all the food in the apartment. Awesome Saturday, right?

IMAG0245

The running part was…meh. It was about a billion degrees and 100% humidity on Saturday, and, again, like Tuesday, I had trouble keeping my heart rate in check. I think there may be other reasons for this too–I’m going to try some different things for my run this coming Saturday.

IMAG0249

Nevertheless, the pool was beautiful, and my swim was solid. Swimming outside in the summer is the best.

Warm up: 200 building speed on each 50 (slow-mod-faster-fastest)
Main set: 4 x 400 (10 sec recoveries) building speed on each 100
500 time trial
Cool down: 100 cool down

I had to share my lane with a few crabby people and an idiot who insisted on sprinting 50m freestyle and then sloooooowly breastroking 50m, over and over, while he was sharing the lane with 4 (!!!) other people who were swimming consistently paced laps.

I am pretty much in a constant state of swim rage. Anyone else?

Sunday = 4.5-hour cycle.

We’re closing out of summer here and slowly creeping into autumn, and that means that it’s getting light later and later in the morning. I appreciate that we’re sliding into autumn, but it makes it tough to get a good ride in before the streets fill with traffic! On Sunday, I left the apartment as soon as it was decently light out so I could get as much outside riding in as possible. I headed down to La Perouse first, about 10 km south of the apartment, and then I made some hilly loops down there until I hit about 2 hours. I headed home once the traffic started getting bad on the local roads and once it hit about 85ºF–I got home about 2.5 hours into the ride. Once I got home, I immediately set up the bike on the trainer and spun for another 1.5 hours. After 4 hours, my lower back was hurting so badly that I had to take a break and lay on the floor for a minute. Okay, for 10 minutes! I got back up and finished my ride, though. Somehow.

Oh, the bike. I’m in desperate need of a proper bike fitting. But, more than that, I’m in desperate need of a new bike! We’ll see. I might get a new one soon.

Total hours: 11.05
Swim hours: 1.5
Bike hours: 6.5
Run hours: 2.25
Strength hours: .8

Have you heard the joke about the appropriate number of bikes to own being n+1, where n is the current number of bikes that you own? That’s certainly true for us! I’ve also heard that the appropriate number of bikes to own is s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that will cause your spouse to leave you. Rusty and I have never found that number–we once had 12 bikes in a 1-bedroom apartment in Baltimore! 12 was a lot, though. I wasn’t the biggest fan of that situation.

Anyway, if I get a new bike soon, that will only be 4 bikes for us total in our little Sydney apartment. Not too bad.

Talk to you soon, friends.

This Week in Training: WC 27 January

2014-02-01 08.48.08

I’m in the midst of one of those crazy periods at work. It’s not necessarily intense in terms of hours–I’ve been going in a little early but not staying until all hours like I’ll have to do in May and June–but it’s been sufficiently busy to prevent me from Twitter-ing, Instagram-ing, and blogging during the day. I don’t have as many spares minutes as I’d like! How dare they deny me my social media time, right?

2014-01-30 16.41.40

Terrible picture of my desk at work. Yeah, I drink stuff all day. Lots of stuff. Mostly coffee and water.

I’ve been so focused on work lately that I had the most ridiculous encounter with the company’s CIO in the elevator lobby the other day. I was standing in the lobby, waiting for an elevator to go downstairs for lunch. I was deep in thought about some analysis I was working on for my boss, and I noticed the CIO walking towards me out of the corner of my eye. He looked me, kind of of squinched up his eyebrows, and said, “On your right, Alison.” Naturally, I did what any runner or cyclist would do (in a country where you run and ride on the left and pass on the right) and I took a step to the left so that he could pass. Call it a reflex. He stopped and stared at me like I was slow in the head. He meant that the elevator door  on the right was open. *sigh.* I know how to make all the friends.

Anyway, that story pretty much explains how my life has been for the last week. I’ll recap my workouts for you anyway.

Monday = 45-minute spin.

Last week was the Tour of Sufferlandria. Crazy, crazy business. I’m going to do a full recap of the Tour, what it’s all about and what it did for my training, so stayed tuned for that soon. In the meantime, I’ll briefly describe the “Stages” in this summary of my workouts last week.

Monday was a video called “Revolver,” which is a workout designed for speed training. It was excruciating and entertaining at the same time. Brilliant music, perfect footage. Loved it.

Tuesday = 45-minute yoga session, 1.1-hour spin.

In the morning, I made a vain attempt to do some easy yoga. Massive failure, but I tried, right? That’s what counts?

2014-01-28 06.53.28

Yoga is better in a room full of bicycles. Rusty and I might have a problem.

I made it 45 minutes through this video (intermediate multi-level flow from doyogawithme.com, which I highly recommend for free yoga videos) with serious modifications, and then I gave up and went to work.

In the evening, I hopped on the trainer for the Sufferfest video “Hell Hath No Fury.” The video is a stage racing workout, so there are lots of sprints, intervals, and endurance sets. F*&^ing nuts.

2014-01-30 17.53.49

Awww. My hair was still straight from work.

Wednesday = 1.1-hour spin.

There were two videos in Wednesday’s stage of the Tour, “Extra Shot” and “The Wretched.” For the Tour, the videos are meant to be done in the order I’ve listed, but since “Extra Shot” doesn’t have a proper warm-up at the beginning (it’s meant to be done after another video,) I added one of my own. I spun for 5 minutes, then jumped into “Extra Shot,” which is a 20-minute stage racing workout. After “Extra Shot,” I put on “The Wretched,” which is a 45-minute stage racing workout. I spent 90% of “The Wretched” asking myself, “What the hell is wrong with you?”, and then I dry heaved for a bit.

Thursday = 1.5-hour spin.

The video for Thursday was called “A Very Dark Place,” which is a speed workout. I found some VERY DARK PLACES on Thursday. Ouch. I did some easy spinning afterwards to shake out my legs.

Friday = 2-hour spin.

Friday was a two-video morning, “Angels” and “The Hunted.” Both videos were climbing videos. Big gears, in and out of the saddle. FML. I didn’t think my quads would make it.

Saturday = 1-hour run, 1.7-hour spin.

On Saturday, I was deeply, deeply in need of some slow, easy work. Days on end of anaerobic sprinting and climbing were wearing on me. I was twitchy in the evenings and having trouble sleeping. I needed something to cool me down, to slow my roll.

A long run was definitely needed. A 1-hour run isn’t that long, but it was long enough to do the trick. I’ve been avoiding my heart-rate monitor for awhile, but I put it on for this run so that I stayed in line. It was fantastic.

Fun fact: Rusty and I have a rating system for our runs. We rate them on a scale of 1 to 5 sad trombones. Our runs are usually that bad! Ha! After this run Saturday morning, I realised that we might need a system for when one of us actually has a good run. We decided while grocery shopping later that the scale for good runs would be 1 to 5 rainbows. So, that run was 4 out of 5 rainbows.

2014-02-01 08.48.08

After running, we Skyped with both sets of parents, and then I hopped on the trainer, thankful that I only had two days of the Tour left! Saturday’s video was “Blender,” a 1.7-hour endurance workout. I highly recommend it, if you’re into puking and stuff.

Sunday = 20-minute run; 1.1-hour spin.

I started Sunday with a quick 20-minute run around the neighborhood. Honestly, I felt so good after my run the day before that I wanted to experience MORE RAINBOWS. My Sunday run did not disappoint! 3 out of 5 rainbows.

The last video of the Tour is called “Violator.” It’s a 1-hour video, and there are 64 sprints in it. I am not kidding. There’s also a warm-up and cool-down. These are fast, quick sprints. I felt quite violated afterwards, but also very happy that I completed the Tour! I spun for another 10 minutes after the video was over to shake out the legs a bit, and then I ate all of the food in the house.

Total hours: 11.3
Swim hours: 0!
Bike hours: 9.25!
Run hours: 1.3
Yoga hours: .75

11.3 hours, most of which was anaerobic speed or climbing work? I’ll take it. All that cycling annihilated my legs by the end of the week, but I’m so glad I did it.

About the no swimming thing…yeah… I had a couple swims scheduled, but I just couldn’t get it together this week for much training outside of the Tour. I’m going to have a swim-focused week coming up soon.

Thank goodness this week is a rest week! Holy crap. My legs need some time to regroup.

Hope all of you are doing well!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 53 other followers