You would think by week five, I would have this whole training thing down. I would be in rhythm. I would be able to juggle my personal life and training schedule around like it was nothing, right?
If my life and training were having a competition, the final score would look something like this:
Life-1. Rhiannon’s training-0.
I had to learn a difficult lesson as a triathlete: there will be stretches when your training will have to take a back seat so you can deal with the essentials in life. I love being a triathlete. The training has been a new and exciting part of my life. But, that’s just it. It is a PART of my life. I have other important parts that demanded my attention.
Monday began the last week of classes. It also marked the last “Monday layout session” for our school paper. As an advisor, I stay with my students the last weekend before the end of each month as we create our issues of the school newspaper. This requires an unusual amount of additional time spent at school on a Friday, Saturday, and Monday stretch that never seems to provide enough time. This particular month marked our senior issue, the longest and most difficult issue to create of the year. Monday forced us to stay at school until 11 pm, and sadly enough, we found our task incomplete. We would have to come back one more day. Needless to say, after a 7am-11pm day, training would have to wait until the next day.
Tuesday was our school district clambake, a wonderful gathering filled with food, laughter, and celebration of a year completed. Originally, I was planning to attend swimming after the clambake and make sure not to eat too much while I was there. However, this Tuesday was the final concert of my retiring high school orchestra teacher, a wonderful man who brought the joy and appreciation of music into both my and my brother’s lives. We attended the concert with other alumni at a gorgeous church in downtown Syracuse as we watched our beloved conductor’s final farewell. It was an incredibly moving and emotional experience, and I was fortunate enough to have dinner with my former teacher and a few alumni, my brother included, after the event to reflect and catch up. On my way to the concert, I found myself feeling a touch guilty about “skipping” swimming, but I knew I had made the right choice. My teacher had been an important influence in my life, and it was only right that I be there for his final performance. It was a beautiful night and a memory I will cherish for years to come.
Wednesday involved the second (technically fourth) day of creating our senior edition of the school paper until I had to leave to coach swim. Apparently the paper was actually finished at 11 pm, well after I had left. But hey- we finished! I was able to get in a fifteen minute run in prior to coaching. I felt terrible, having hardly moved out of the sitting position for the last seventy-two hours. Since it was such a short time frame, I tried doing another sprint workout similar to last weeks except I included agility drills in between sprint sequences. I have noticed that while my endurance has increased over the past six months, there has been a significant decline in my agility. As a former basketball player, I lived in the world of “fast-twitch muscles” and saw how these skills added to my overall endurance. Many of our running workouts revolve around controlling cadence and form while building endurance. I want to attempt to get some fast-twitch muscle exercises back into my routine to build resistance in my muscles and have “extra tools in my toolkit” available for whenever they need to be utilized. As we say in tri, “Be prepared for anything.”
Coaching involved having our athletes work on drafting. I can’t help but laugh when everyone bumps into their friends as they try to go for the same gap, popping out of the water smiling and apologizing for the collision before getting back on track. Little do they know that weeks from now, they will be running over each other like savages showing no mercy and loving every bit of it. “No friends on race day.” Our athletes continue to grow and work hard. I would say near 100% of them are able to swim with their faces looking straight down in the water. If I had to guess, I’d say maybe 30% of them could do this during week one. Each swimmer has been facing their own personal challenges, yet the team has been growing as one. As I said to one of my fellow coaches, “This is a pretty cool thing to experience from the deck instead of being in the water. I can actually see it all happening.”
Thursday was a day for sadness. Two tragedies at work in the families of two coworkers at my school during the week had haunted all of us. By Thursday, funerals had been attended and the sadness was overwhelming. Rather than going out swimming directly after work, I joined coworkers to talk and attempt to process the events of the week. I then went to visit a dear friend from high school in town for the night before she took off the following morning to visit Paris and India for the next two months for an astrophysics internship through NYU. Some things are more important than swimming.
Friday was the chaos-combo of our final day of classes and our school’s senior ball. While I did not have to chaperone, I wanted to my seniors dressed in their best and boogie on the dance floor. Naturally, I had to show them a few moves of my own. I can’t have them going off to college without seeing what REAL dancing actually looks like. I never said it was good…. But, once again, training had to take a back seat.
Saturday FINALLY came. Our group headed to the Iron Girl course to bike the eighteen-mile track. I was finally able to get some training in! The course was wet as can be, and the rain continued to fall. Our group broke up into different sections based on our speed and the coaches led each group off. I decided not to “coach” as much this particular day since I did not know the course. I didn’t know where to turn, what to avoid, how to ride bridges and railroad tracks, and all the other important things a coach should know how to do. Instead, I rode with the upper intermediate bike groups and “hammered it out” with the riders and our two lead coaches, Helene and Brendan.
Helene and Brendan are in charge of our program and have always found ways to push me beyond my current capabilities without actually killing me (although I often tease Helene that she sure does try to take me out, especially on the bike). Of course, Helene decided that my riding along at 20 mph was not enough. She knew I had more. I knew I had more, but I didn’t know if I could do more and keep my legs sustained. As the intermediates were the last group to leave (allowing slower groups to get in front of us), Helene decided I needed to chase down everyone in front of me. One by one, she had me “hammer down,” shifting into higher gears while maintaining a decent cadence until I passed someone and got to the next person. I then was allowed to shift down, cadence remaining where it was, for about thirty seconds before “hammering down” again. Even while typing, I can hear Helene’s voice instructing (yelling) in my head. At one point I was riding around 26.5 mph and recovering at 20 mph, the speed I typically go when riding on my own. I tried to be a hot shot and pass two people who had a significant distance between them, but Helene instantly shut me down.
She gave me valuable advice: “I know you want to sprint this whole thing out, I know you want to beat everyone right now, but this is an eighteen-mile course. You are at mile-six. You have to let your legs spin out and recover after hammering, and then when you are ready, you catch the next person. And then you just do that over and over again. But you can’t sprint for eighteen miles. Remember, you still have to run after this!”
So, we continued our “hammer/spin it out” song and dance for about five miles until we came to the first crash sight.
Someone had tipped over while stopping at the railroad tracks, so Helene stopped to make sure they were okay while I continued forward. I caught up with a woman who was a strong rider in our group, and she and I worked on drafting while we switched who led. I was leading when we took a wide turn on a slick road. As I completed my turn, I heard the sickening sound of skin and medal skidding on asphalt. Her tires had wiped out from under her during the turn and one side of her body was covered in mud and grit. Thankfully, both her and her bike were safe, but the bruise on her upper thigh at the end of the ride was something I had never knew could happen to someone’s body. It was simultaneously horrific and amazing.
Brendan had caught up with us after my draft partner fell. He told me to continue on while he took care of her. As I rode on, completely alone at this point, I came upon a bridge where I saw the group I normally coached. They were stopped, many standing on the side of their bikes, one sat down, and one was leaning over the edge with Coach Sarah talking her down. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, so I asked the group waiting for Coach Sarah if everyone was okay or if they needed any assistance. They assured me everything was fine and I could keep going, so I did. In a large group where there are fifteen riders per one coach, if a situation is under control, I as a coach must continue forward to see if any other riders are in need of assistance.
I later found out that the rider leaning over the bridge was actually my good friend. Her tires slipped out from under her once she got on the bridge. Her fingers got stuck in the holes on the floor which made her body come to an abrupt stop. A woman behind her, the one sitting on the floor, had crashed into her body, flipped over her, and smashed her elbow into the ground. She ended up needing stitches, whereas the girl who originally fell almost had her nose broken into the ground. Thankfully her face fell in such a way so that her nose actually went through another hole, leaving only a small mark of a bruise on the bridge of her nose instead of breaking it. I felt terrible I had left this group after finding out the true story, but again- if a situation is already being handled, it is my duty to ride on in case there is another emergency.
I found Brendan waiting on the side of the road a few miles ahead. I told him there was something happening on the bridge and he may want to check it out. I was instructed to go back to the park where we originally started to meet bikers who were finishing to give any follow-up advice or assistance.
Apparently after helping at the bridge, Brendan and his wife, Jennie, went back towards the tracks where they found another bloodied victim who had taken a spill. While she was not part of our training group, Brendan and Jennie gave her the assistance she needed and met back with our group later on.
While there were no “severe” injuries, the ride as a whole was stressful, intense, and at times, scary, but many lessons were learned and our team grew closer than ever. I am proud of this group. They are brave, smart, and resilient people. They rode safely and cautiously while still pushing themselves to grow, all the while helping and supporting one another. They survived the “gauntlet” and I tip my hats to them for ending the ride with smiles on their faces and a fire to ride again.
Sunday was my first day back in the pool for some time. My goal was to get a feel for the water again and work on my bilateral breathing. However, I was unusually out of breath after doing my normal drills. I was supposed to do 12x50 repeats with 15 seconds rest and 8x100s with 30 seconds rest. After six 50s, I was more winded than usual. A swimming class that had just started was setting up to get in the pool. I had an option to continue swimming in the one provided lane, but it was crowded as can be and something felt off with my lungs, so I decided to get out. I drove home frustrated but determined to get back in the water the next day.
Upon returning home, I realized why I had struggled so much. I have a pill for my asthma that I take every night in addition to using my inhaler. I call it my “life force” pill. If I forget it, I am worthless. Apparently the night before, I had forgotten to take this particular pill. “Oooooooooooooh.” This being said, I expect my next swim to feel like an oxygen tank is strapped onto my face.
Triathlon has given me a whole new appreciation for breathing, that is for sure. Air is my friend.