Friday, January 31, 2014

Bumps in the Road: On BONKING in Training

WARNING: There are moments of TMI in this post.

BONKING: when your body "hits the wall" or otherwise stops when you want more than anything to keep moving, to finish, to win. I'm not really familiar with bonking in races; if anything, I over-fuel in my events and I have yet to compete in a race I am unable to finish. Even the 2008 Boston Marathon (a race preceded by several injuries which kept me from all the necessary miles marathon training requires) was less of a bonk than it was a slog of pain from a bad case of "runners knee" caused by a tight IT band, a relic of my hip bursitis I'd developed the marathon before.

I am not immune, however, to the BONK. It hits me especially hard in training when fueling, hydration and rest are of the utmost importance because, unlike a race, it isn't just one day or even one single session per day that I need to complete: rather, it's several days within which I have morning, mid-day and evening training sessions which need to reach certain intensity levels and/or pace (in terms of interval times) I have to meet. And I don't like to quit; I don't want to be that person who can't do it because they are weak and fat I want to be strong and fit-- I want to have a shot at winning-- so I train as much as I can (forgoing rest, which is a big no-no, I know, but I feel so guilty when I don't train) and the inevitable happens: I BONK and I BONK hard.

Like today: the tempo run down by the river in the cold, dark dawn. I lost the feeling in my legs early, yet I held a steady, solid pace. My stomach, however, did not want to hold anything and so what was supposed to be 35-minutes in one direction turned into 37 because I sprinted to the nearest bathroom. My stomach was a mess; I'd hardly eaten before the run but dinner meshed with breakfast in a dangerous (combustable, apparently) combination and I was sweating in those moments of awful repose.

I was able to gather myself together enough to increase my pace on the way back; I caught sight of the other Tri team members with (about) two miles left to go. My final time revealed I'd shaved 90 seconds from my average pace even though the trip back was mostly uphill. But my unhappy stomach rebelled again, expelling whatever was left in it (water, mostly) before I tried to re-group enough to complete my weight/resistance/core training session.

I was scheduled to swim at noon; but when I got home at 10:00 am, I lay down and every joint in my body hurt. Ached, almost, and I was so cold (I couldn't stop shivering) I put on my down jacket and wrapped all the blankets I owned around me and fell into a motionless, dreamless sleep. I must have needed it: I stayed like that for over three hours. Needless to say, I missed the swim (and abandoned my teammate, which made me feel awful.)

At that point, I should have canned the two-hour CompuTrainer session I'd planned (two hours on my bike, trying to ride at or above my threshold pace with a handful of very strong, very experienced cyclists.) This is probably why I have lost so many coaches: the first rule of training for an event is to listen to your body. To acknowledge you're a biological creature and not a machine. This isn't to say you're supposed to wimp out during a hard workout (you're supposed to push through those and put aside the very natural and human impulse to want to be comfortable); but you should do those sorts of workouts on days your body feels like itself and acts like itself, i.e.: not expelling everything you put in it instantly, like my body acted today.

So I deserved everything that happened in the CompuTrainer session tonight. All the moments I wanted to cry, to give up, feeling pathetic and awful at my inability to make my legs work the way they normally do on a bike (or, to work at all!) It was a challenge to push away all the negative thoughts I (somewhat) expected: looking at myself in the mirror and the comparison to the other female cyclists. I'm the fattest, the largest, so of course I can't keep up. I've been eating too much, not training enough hours, not keeping myself to a strict enough schedule. I have failed despite going to practice -- despite training for at least two hours-- every day. 

And for the second hour-- what's called "Fast Friday" a tempo ride and chase of sorts: I didn't-- couldn't "pull" (ride in the front position and therefore taking the wind which increases the difficulty of riding) at all.  Instead, all I could do was "survive" by barely holding on to the draft of other riders, my legs ignoring the commands from my mind. I told my legs: push, pull, sweep, harder, harder! and in response, they did nothing.  My heart rate was at a comfortable 150. NOTHING I could do would make it budge from that number. Not a faster cadence. Not a harder gear. (Yet another indication that I was, by that time, simply done.)

At the end of the two hours, I had the fastest transition time to the bathroom: I think it took all of five seconds for me to unclip from my pedals , run from the bike, down the stairs before my stomach once again released whatever was left in there. Shaking (and crying-- which is embarrassing) I really felt like I'd failed. I'd failed the people I ride with, I failed my teammate, I failed myself.  The numbers on the CompuTrainer screen flicker and change and become pounds, calories I've eaten that I shouldn't have, the width of my waist, the abundance of my chest-- all the measures of my failure.

Enter sanity: no one was upset with me. Not any of the riders, or the wives and friends of the riders who came to watch us finish the ride. They only said I was amazing. Rich told me our "group" averaged the fastest speed and it was something to hang on to that-- even in the draft-- when you feel like absolute shit (or the thing your body expels, again and again, after these bouts of effort.)

I think everyone must have a "bad day." I also think I've got to take some time off to recover. I want to win, I want to be the best, I want to push myself, I don't want to give up or succumb to the laziness to which every one is prone: (who in in the world doesn't want to be comfortable?) but I'm home now and all I want is to sleep. I'm not hungry and I don't want to shower or change; I want to undo today when I failed so completely.

But I think I'm going to have to rest first... and to be OK that I, too, can have a bad BONK day.

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