What’s next? This seems to be the most common question a chronic athlete is asked after finishing his or her “A” race for the season. I’ve been asked this question more times than I can count since crossing the finish line at Ironman Coeur d’Alene, and it took me about six weeks to finally come up with an answer.
Umm. Good question. What the heck IS next?
Trust me, I felt a little lost after finishing the Ironman. After pouring so much of my body, mind, and spirit into training, competing, and recovering, the weeks following the race were a bit of a blur and I felt as though I had slipped into a scene from Dazed and Confused. Not only was I getting over the fact that I had just COMPLETED an Ironman, I went from a very structured schedule and training hours upon hours six days a week, to absolutely nothing. All of a sudden I had time. Lots and lots of time. And no structure. Two things I don’t do well with.
I felt a little lost going from one extreme to the other. While some people might get burnt out after 7 months of training for an Ironman, I was not ready for it to end. I remember walking away from the awards ceremony, saying goodbye to my coach and friends, feeling sad that it was over. That it would be months before I would reconnect with everyone and do it all over again. I definitely feel as though I left a piece of my spirit in Coeur d’Alene. For now, at least.
The timing of the race fell right near the end of the term at OSU, so not only did I get to recover from my race, but I also got a nice three-week break from work between terms. The irony is – this gave me ever MORE time. No training and no work. What’s a girl to do? Although I was still prepping my fall classes, I could do so at a leisurely pace and had already done most the work. I tend to be one of those people who prioritizes work and gets the job done way ahead of schedule! The extra time allowed me to pull out my things-that-can-wait-until-Ironman-is-over list, which was covered in cobwebs, and get a lot of errands run, fall cleaning done, and appointments taken care of. Plus, I got to spend a lot of extra quality time with Justin and Axel.
Surprisingly, it did not take me long to recover from the Ironman. I was back on my bike within a few days and went out for a 6-mile run the following weekend. Perhaps the lower intensity of the race allowed my body a speedier recovery. For a few weeks after the Ironman, I made it a priority to have fun and do whatever I felt like doing. I took advantage of the warm September weather and spent a lot of time on my bike, riding by feel and as time allowed. I paired up with my coach a couple times to attack some hills around town, and my friend Steve to ride to a nearby town for a cup of coffee. It’s kind of nice to be able to say, “hey, lets ride 65 miles for a cup of coffee.”
September is one of my favorite months for outdoor riding. The temperature in Bend is typically in the high 70s and there isn’t much traffic because the summer tourism season has ended. I tried to get out and ride as much as my body would let me, even if it was just for an hour or so. My rides did not have a whole lot of structure, and I didn’t have to worry about one workout affecting another or prepping for a race. It’s kind of nice to ride hard, or not, just because you feel like it.
One of my favorite post-race rides happened several weeks ago when a group of us gathered and rode around Crater Lake (twice) on the car-free day. This is a great way for people to experience Oregon’s only National Park from a different perspective, compared to viewing it from the window of a car. For those who might not know, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in North America and was formed by the collapse of a volcano named Mount Mazama 7,500 years ago. There is a road that circles the lake with numerous pull out areas to capture the perfect photo of one of the most incredible vistas I have ever seen.
You would think riding around a typically tourist-choked road on a day without any motorized vehicles would be a safer way to ride, but I am now a little skeptical after dodging cyclists of all levels (physical and awareness) left and right over the course of 66 miles. You would also think they would at least ask everyone to ride in the same direction, clockwise or counterclockwise around the lake, but that wasn’t the case either. Although it was a bit chaotic at times, it was awesome to see hundreds of people out on bikes having fun. The ride is pretty technical, as you are riding either up or down, and the road has several cracks, bumps, holes – even a stretch of gravel road – that you have to watch out for, but that didn’t stop riders of all ages and levels from venturing out to enjoy the day.
I did my last ride outside a couple weeks ago and rode up to the mountains for one last hoorah before the snow started to fall. Though we will still have some nice days here and there through the fall and winter, I will likely stick with the trainer for safety purposes more than anything. After getting hit by a car this last summer, I catch myself weighing the risks and rewards whenever I get on my bike. Plus, now that I am using Zwift on a regular basis (if you are a cyclist, this is great for indoor winter training) I don’t mind the monotony of spinning my legs in one place for hours.
As for swimming… the shower is the closest I have gotten to water since coming out of Lake Coeur d’Alene in August. I really haven’t thought about it either. The catch 22 is, swimming is probably something I should be doing as it is my weakest discipline, but I just don’t find any joy in swimming just to do it. If I’m going to swim it’s because I’m working toward a specific race or goal. After reflecting on my race season this past year, it is obvious to me that the swim leg really brings down my overall results. But, in order to get faster, I NEED to work on technique. The next time I swim at a pool it will be with a swim coach, starting over from scratch. I basically need to strip away bad habits and re-learn good technique. If I want to get to Kona I need to get serious about swimming. In due time.
Running this time of year is my absolute favorite! The air is a little cooler, colors a little brighter, and each day brings variety. Rain. Sunshine. Wind. Clouds. Cold. Warm. We get it all in one day here in Central Oregon. I’ve been doing a lot of early morning runs which has allowed me to capture some incredible sunrises.
Now that I’ve had several weeks to recover from the Ironman, I finally started contemplating a couple fall races. I was going to do the California International Marathon this year, but Justin and I are going to the Seahawks vs. Carolina game that weekend to celebrate our anniversary. While there are not a lot of marathon options around the PNW this time of year, one that did stand out was the Seattle Marathon on November 28.
I ran the Seattle Marathon three years ago and wasn’t happy with the way I ran it, so I thought it might be fun to go back for redemption. It’s a beautiful course and now that I have switched to cushiony Hokas, I feel better about the cement and concrete that I blatantly complained about after the race. Honestly, I told myself I would never run this race again, but here I am all signed up and ready to go. I have never ran a marathon on the same course, twice, so I think it will be a fun experience running a course I already know.
It’s been really fun focusing on running these past few weeks and seeing mileage on my schedule that I haven’t run in over two years. Now that I am deep into triathlon, I sometimes forget what it is like to center my efforts on running and not have to worry about two other sports. Running will always be closest to my heart, as it is where I started as an athlete, though I may now have an even deeper connection with my bike. It will be interesting to see how these relationships unfold in the coming years.
I’m looking forward to an extended trip to Seattle next month and toeing the line of my 10th marathon!
Have you ever sworn that you would never do a certain race again, only to find yourself signed up and seeking redemption sooner rather than later?