Cycling Through Life--cycling, triathlons, training and thoughts on an active, adventurous and healthy life!

Friday, August 29, 2014

What is being fit?

I paused, perplexed, as I stepped out of the kayak, slightly out of breath with my arms sort of quivering and feeling embarrassed at how tired I was after rowing 2.4 miles in a kayak with my daughter.  It was no coincidence we kayaked 2.4 miles, my Garmin just happened to be in the car so I figured, why not. I swam the same distance in Ironman Boulder faster than we rowed it. My chest and arm muscles hurt for days after. Wasn’t I in shape? Why do I feel so exhausted? Annoying. Specific fitness I will call it. But is that best kind of fitness for a normal age group triathlete approaching 50?

Sure, physiologically I am fit; my heart rate and blood pressure suggest that. I feel fit, look reasonably lean, but can become exhausted at the most menial of task that doesn’t involve triathlon specific muscles. Will this fitness serve me well as I age?

10 years ago I wasn’t as fit as I am now, or was I? I hadn’t even considered participating in a triathlon yet alone an Ironman. I weighed more, couldn’t run or bike as far and it was impossible to swim more than a few laps. But, I played basketball, soccer and hockey just fine, could dig a hole, trim bushes and probably could’ve rowed across that lake more successfully. I was certainly more balanced physically.

I think triathletes probably fall victim to specific fitness more than most athletes, especially older athletes. Obviously an offensive lineman probably can’t run a 10k very successfully, but he is a great athlete who can shove around 300 pound defensive linemen with precision. But he is young and that’s his profession and of course every athlete has honed their skills to their sport of choice. But triathlon training to me at least, is part of my lifestyle, it almost has to be to find the hours to train and to work and do everything else in life. It’s easy to get stuck with the limited time doing the same things for fear of not maximizing an opportunity to improve speed or endurance.

I am old, relatively speaking, and want to live a healthy life and no doubt training for triathlons will keep me healthier than most. But with school starting, the days shortening and race season winding down, it’s transition time yet again and as much as I hate to admit it, it’s time to think about some changes to my regiment as indoor season approaches.
Every year I vow to try more yoga or Pilates or simply lift weights. The pressure of building endurance and speed for the season will have dissipated and as I face the tedious hours of being inside, I know I should try to find more balance in my workouts. But I fall victim to the temptations of spin classes and treadmills.

My plan is to at least ski more and hopefully play some basketball and those two activities alone will undoubtedly give me some variations in my training and most importantly be enjoyable!

Perhaps with a little discipline, a few alternative workouts and other activities, I will be able build a snow fort, have a snowball fight and in the spring row across a lake without feeling so tired and still be ready for tri season next year!

Plenty of great weather will provide thousands of miles of riding yet this fall, but I hope to approach the Winter with a broader perspective.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Boulder Ironman, will it sell out?

Like a gigantic ocean liner heading out of port and slowly disappearing on the horizon, the 2014 Boulder Ironman is now a memory with small bits of chatter still floating in the wake of experiences it left behind. The ship is off to different ports and it will be back in about 350 days but I wonder if it will arrive in 2015 sold out?

I find it interesting and bit puzzling that general entry spots for next year are available nearly three weeks after it opened. I can’t help but wonder why. Historically Ironman races seem to sell out in hours or in the case of some like Arizona, in seconds.  

Many reasons can be hypothesized but I will argue Boulder is a bit of a one and done kind of race for many, especially locals. I have no data to back this up but I know many people who raced and don’t plan to do it or any Ironman again. With such a huge triathlete base in Colorado, I believe many athletes want to travel for their Ironman race.  For other locals it was a bucket list race with the inaugural Boulder venue providing a good opportunity to do their first full Ironman or try one again after years of absence.

I know statistically Boulder is one of the harder Ironman’s based on time averages. But the atmosphere was the best I had experienced.  I’m not sure what factors athletes from around the country, or world for that matter, become most important when choosing a race.  Interestingly the national triathlon club of Mexico picked Boulder for their club race this year. I wondered why I saw so many Mexican tri kits on the course. There were over 200 participants from Mexico.

I believe they will have a hard time selling out the race. I think the heat, altitude and gaining notoriety of the tough course coupled with more and more choices of venues across the country will keep Boulder open for a while. No doubt a new batch of locals will make it their first Ironman but I think the draw of the first one captured more than any future races will.

I signed up 10 seconds after it opened. For me Boulder is a race I want to conquer and do well. I like not traveling for a race and prefer to use my resources and time to take actual vacations that have nothing do with racing.

I think it will be interesting to see how this race evolves over the next few years. It seemed to go very well this year and as a participant I wouldn’t change a thing. I like the energy and camaraderie that develops locally during the off season and I’m looking forward to it already.

I’m not ready to hibernate just yet as I feel fall is the best time of year to ride and run in the mountains, taking in all the colors and crisp air.

The Ironman ship may be out to sea, but now is the time to enjoy the rewards of all that training and get out and have fun before the snow flies—which of course has its own fun rewards!

Carry on mates!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The dark side of my Ironman

I’m still emotionally reeling from Ironman Boulder. I’m feeling very conflicted. How can it be my worst race ever but be an amazing ironman experience?  I went deep into the dark side. Where is Obi Wan “Ben” Kenobi to guide me out? The darker side is this; I like to project a sense of strength and ability. It’s part of what I do and who I am. I don’t want to be ordinary or part of the pack in the world of triathlons and cycling—maybe in anything. Maybe that’s why I’m really disappointed. Boulder called me out and put me in my place. So now it’s time to learn and be honest with myself and accept the result and even myself and be a better person and racer. This Ironman, and I believe most any epic event can do this to anyone, brings everything to surface. I see missing a goal by such a margin as a failure and I am afraid of that label. It’s totally irrational I know. Believe me. But it’s a real fear I must deal with.

With my brother and daughter
I hate to even say I had a bad race because I know success should be in finishing and that it’s not supposed to be about time, but rather in trying and giving my best. I’m sorry, but sometimes that’s not enough--sometimes it just isn’t. I’m being brutally honest. I’m happy I finished but only because I know I would’ve been more disappointed had I quit. I finished because of that fear more than relishing the joy of finishing. Fear of losing and failing is a powerful motivator. There I said it. That is the dark side of racing that few talk about.

My mom's, I'm adopted and my mom and birth mom
 got to see me finish, also my niece and daughter
some great emotions for all
For some people this isn’t a race, it’s an accomplishment or a triumph or a symbol of battling life and conquering something or fulfilling a dream. Everyone has a motive and I’m jealous of those people who crossed the finish line beaming with the joy of finishing. I crossed with disappointment and not enough pain. Truly the only joy I found was in the joy of others and in my family who came to watch.

It was their first euphoric Ironman finish and it gave them some understanding of why I tenaciously train. I’m told that I’m not always easy to know, but that day at least they understood my passion. Now I just need to understand it as well.

I realize I didn’t fail, but I missed my goal by 90 minutes. That’s an entire soccer game, or time to fly to Chicago—it’s a long time and a big miss for me. In my triathlon career I have never not been faster in a race the following year. Yes each race is different, but still I knew where I wanted to be and should’ve been.

heading up the day before to check in
My swim and bike were solid but I fell apart on my run and respiratory problems caused me to walk half of it. I got so frustrated I thought of asking a spectator to borrow their phone and call my brother at the finish line and apologize for being so late. Really, that is silly.

I share this with you because I want to be authentic to you and myself. I know I didn’t fail, that would’ve meant quitting because I wasn’t going to meet my time. Disaster would’ve been a non-finish because of an injury. I am greatly disappointed though.

T2 at Boulder High School
It’s been hard to answer or comment on the amazing support and well wishes from family, friends, people in my spin classes and others I just don’t know. I feel like saying how bummed I am but I feel like whiner then. And I’m not looking for sympathy. I still finished in the top 15%, which is partly why I feel so conflicted. That is quite respectable.

I think what I’m learning is it’s ok to be me. It’s ok to not be as good as I had projected or hoped for and really I’m the only judge that matters. I take this race as a life lesson and for the nearly 12 hours I endured the challenge I hope I found decades more of happiness that I lost somewhere on the course.

A reminder of more to come...
Oh and you know what? I’m signed up for next year, and I’m going to cross the finish line with pure joy, one way or another.

I’m Bill Plock and I can fail too, and can take it and be better for it.  People can judge for themselves and either accept me as I am or not, but I know who I am and I have a lot to work on both on and off the course, but don’t we all? Let’s just do it and be happy!

Rock on…..

Friday, August 1, 2014

Ironman, it's not a cost but an investment

Check in at Boulder IM
Funny, the question I’m asked more than most others is will I race again next year, yet the inaugural Boulder Ironman is two days away.

I suppose most people expect me to say yes or at least the typical “well let’s see how this one goes” but my answer has been that I’m not sure. I answer unconfidently because of the cost and I tend to be a little squeaky with my money but I woke up with this thought today; I’m not paying for a race, I’m paying for a lifestyle, one that I like so how can I not sign up again?

I love having the race 20 minutes from home. I anticipated some of the local buzz that happened all year as people prepared for the race, but honestly, the energy radiated by local racers everywhere I go is contagious. Everyday the Facebook ticker page explodes with more and more chatter about the race. All year long beginning with months of indoor spin classes and boring swims, there was always someone interested or focused on this race. It has consumed the triathlon community and captivated many residents along Colorado’s front range. Boulder, is experiencing the pilgrimage of triathletes who will race and cheer with fanatical energy in this self ordained triathlon Mecca. I think the finish on Pearl Street will be epic and I plan to stay and cheer the last pilgrim to the finish line at midnight.

It is simply exciting to experience and I just want to soak it up. So how can I even hesitate when being asked if I want to do it again? $700 is a lot of money, to me at least right now. But now that I have experienced the flood of energy building to the start in less than 48 hours it seems like a paltry bill to pay. For $2 a day I get to dream and share an experience with about a thousand other local triathletes for a year. I see them in clubs during the winter and on the roads the rest of the time. For some reason it’s easy to know whom the brethren are and a smile or glance tells all. 

A cup of coffee a day for a year—I think it’s worth that, I’ll find $2 a day. I’m in for 2015.

But first, to all of you that have shared this year with me, passed me on the training rides or ran past me on the trails or some who have come to my spin classes or simply listened to the same presentations as I, I wish you good luck and give it your all, give it your heart and it will give you everything you hoped for.

Goodday and goodluck……

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Failure is not an option at Boulder Ironman

There is no such thing as failure, really in anything. Life, in my opinion, is about trying and I have recently really come to embrace that mindset more than ever. Have I made poor decisions? Sure. Could I have prepared more or prioritized things differently? Sure. But I only fail when I don’t try. No revelation here to most—nothing you having heard probably. But my revelation to share is to be ok with not looking at so many things as a pass/fail, but rather as success or more success.

I don’t know exactly what I want my life to be like or how I want to live every minute I have left, so how can anything I do be a failure? I don’t have a grand plan. My plan constitutes a variety of successes all glued together by happiness and a sense of accomplishment. I’ve made painful decisions to others and myself or lost more than I gained or outcomes I didn’t expect. I’m not proud of certain things, very happy about others but ready or not here I am.

An Ironman, like Boulder next week, to me is an amazing period of time where so many decisions and actions play out in one day. It started with a desire to compete and try something so bold. And then it progressed with carving out time in life and investing in equipment, nutrition, coaching and a million other things trying to put it all together for one performance of a lifetime. So many things out of my control could alter all my preparation and visualization of how this race unfolds. I have to know I can only control my preparation and effort.

In the end, the only way to fail is to not embrace the unknown such as the heat, difficult water temperatures, wind, rain, a bad stomach, a mechanical problem, cramping or just plain fatigue. None or all could happen and I’ve never had a race where at least one of those things I just mentioned didn’t occur.

Not everyone has a time or a goal but I have to know that the minute I cross the mat heading into the water I have succeeded and so have you. I do have a time and I will work my ass off to beat it. But I know I may not.

Tapering, for me, always causes anxiety and questions abound about preparation and execution. Sure, it’s good to plan things out and have a good idea about nutrition and hydration needs. So much is written about plans and paces and following this method or that and I think often wisdom can be found in every opinion.

But, ultimately for me it comes down to knowing I can’t fail. I might miss my goal, but I won’t accept anything but my best effort. The rest will simply be what it is. I will swim as comfortably and as fast as I can. Not being a lifelong swimmer I still have never quite figured my best pace so I try to keep my stroke strong and breathing regular. I’m not talented enough to know “this effort means this result” if that makes sense.

On my bike I know where I need to be and what I can do and I will try to sustain a pre-determined speed and heart rate. I don’t have a power meter on my tri-bike by the way. That would be the best way but so it is.

The run is the key to meeting my goal. I have to have my best run and I know a pace I want to sustain for the first 18 miles and if I can do that, I’m confident I can suck it up for the final eight. Those eight miles will really determine my level of success but no matter what, I won’t fail.

For each of us that enters the water on August 3rd, there are millions of people who would never even dare step foot on that shore. It is impossible to fail. It’s only possible to succeed less than I wanted. I need to let go of the uncontrollable variables, embrace them and stick to my plan and the end let my heart take over and push my across the line.