Often I’m a big-picture kinda gal. Details are snags that can keep you from dreaming. Details are the negative naysayers that take your grand plan and ask, “Yes, but how are you going to handle x, y and z?”
But there are times when the big picture is rather daunting. When the ultimate goal is just plain intimidating and the work it takes to get there seems impossible. Had I added up how many miles I was to do on my first weekend of heavy volume training, I would have taken up a fetal position on my couch. But I decided to forgo the math. I let the big picture stay fuzzy and instead focused on the details.
It started Friday night with a 1.5-mile swim. Mark brought his kayak down to the pier swim site and followed me as I battled some bumpy water. Two years ago when water like this would make me cry. I would be convinced I wasn’t a strong enough swimmer to go against the strong current. But I’m stronger than I was two years ago. And I reminded myself as that as I put my face in the water and started to swim.
Time was not important to me. Getting in a long open water swim was. I focused on my form and breathing. Instead of thinking about battling the waves, I summoned the word “playful” and used the word “strong” when my arms started to feel tired. The swim left me feeling spent but good. Negative thoughts tried to creep in and I countered with others and finished my swim. Score one for me.
It was a carbohydrate-filled dinner and an early bed time to prepare for Saturday’s ultimate brick workout — a four-hour bike ride followed by a 16 mile run. It feels intimidating just to type, let alone think about executing. So I didn’t think about the big picture. I thought only about what was in front of me. The current moment was all that mattered.
The bike ride was a new route that took me from Boston, N.Y. to Angola and the shores of Lake Erie. Checking my cue sheet for directions and compensating for some missed turns meant my average speed was lower than I would normally be comfortable with, but the point today wasn’t speed. It was endurance. It was sitting in the saddle for four hours.
Back at the ranch for transition, I took time to change out my bike for running gear including my first use of a hydration belt, borrowing Mark’s Amphipod system. (More on that in a future post.) My hydration and gel needs secured, I went off for my 16-mile run.
Of course, my run was more like a combination of a jog and walk, sometimes called a “wog” or a “slog” in running circles. (OK, maybe it’s just my friends. That’s a distinct possibility.) But again, I didn’t care. This was not about time. This wasn’t even about endurance at this point. It was about survival.
I ran the first three miles before I needed to stop for a water and gatorade break. The temperature wasn’t too oppressive, but it was mid-day by the time I was out on one of my favorite running routes and the sun was high and bright. My gastrointestinal tract started to bother me, thanks in part to making my Gatorade mix on the bike too strong (lesson learned) but eventually I started to feel better. There were natural “breaks” in my route (intersections, turnarounds, etc.) and each time I took a walk break, getting in fuel and water before starting up again.
Walking on the run always felt somewhat shameful to me. I should run the entire thing right?
But here’s what I learned while watching the marathon at Ironman Lake Placid — this distance is about energy conservation. If you can walk up the hill just about as fast as you can run up (and this happens often) you spend less energy and hence can use that to run after you’ve crested the hill. For further validation, Sunday morning on Facebook I noticed an article by Jeff Galloway on incorporating walk breaks into your run.
For me, walk breaks worked. My pace when I ran was steady and the shorter segments seemed manageable. I walked any hill I encountered and felt better when I started running.
Again, I repeated my mantra of “strong” and started to smile when I realized I had only two miles left.
A seven-and-a-half hour training day in the books.
But the weekend wasn’t quite done. I had another three hour bike ride on Sunday, this time enjoying company as I rode with a friend around Grand Island. He kindly kept to my pace for the first loop of the island then went to do his interval drills while I planned to do two more consistent loops. But I started to get hungry. Like really, really hungry. My second loop slowed down as the wind gained strength. My third loop was cut short, but I still managed to ride for three hours and get in 52 miles all the while focusing on my pedal stroke, my cadence and my gears. I then proceeded to consume my weight in bagels and chocolate milk at a nearby Tim Horton’s.
Disappointed in not getting in another 60 miles crept into my mind, but I eschewed it. What was the goal of the weekend? Endurance. It was about riding on tired legs. It was about pushing myself out of my comfort zone. And out of my comfort zone I went, into training territory I had never been before.
In the big picture, I completed 130.5 miles and gained valuable endurance training for Esprit Montreal. But this time, it was the details that made all the difference. It was being present to what was in front of me, to seeing myself and my task without judgment, that brought me through the weekend.
In endurance training, as in life, sometimes it’s best to let the big picture get a bit fuzzy and concentrate on the details. It’s the details which bring you into the moment, which bring you joy, which bring you clarity of purpose. After focusing on the details for a bit, suddenly the big picture seems less daunting and more attainable after all.