Monday, August 03, 2009

Ending with the Train Run

This final week of training has been exhausting. The most difficult. The most tiring. Not because it, in of itself, was so hard but because all the weeks leading up to it had dug me in a whole. All as planned. After my big bike ride last weekend (Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge), this weekend was all about the run, a final 20-miler. I had mixed emotions. 1. I was tired--how was I ever going to muster up the energy to do this? 2. I was nervous--would I be able to do it? Would it be enough? Was that truly all I needed to prepare me for race day. 3. I was excited--race day is just around the corner. I get to taper now? But I've been training for sooo long! Am I really ready? The 20-mile run, my key workout of the week, loomed in front of me like Mt. Everest. Would I be able to reach the summit?

2.5 mile swim
But just doing a 20-miler was not enough of a challenge. I wanted to simulate the fatigue I would feel on race day. So I kicked off the weekend with a 2.5-mile ocean swim on Friday night. Even though the water was a balmy 72, I donned my wetsuit, albeit reluctantly. The first lap to the 1/2 mile buoy was a warm one; I almost stripped it off for the 2nd lap. However, knowing my body temp drops at the 60-minute point when my blood sugar drops, I resisted. On the 2nd lap to the 1/2 mile buoy, I felt comfortably cool; thank God I had kept the wetsuit on! I could feel my left armpit chafing; had I forgotten BodyGlide there? Ugh. I had to mentally push aside the constant sandpaper feeling with each stroke, telling myself a little chafing was not a big deal. On the final lap to the 1/4 mile buoy, I started to get hungry. Luckily, it was high tide and the overwhelming taste and smell of bird shit from the nearby nesting cormorants and pelicans kept my appetite at bay. As I reached the mouth of the cove, I could smell the burgers grilling from the park in the grass above. My mouth was watering. I sprinted for shore, motivated by my primal urge to eat, shaving 2-minutes off my final lap. Score! I stumbled up the stairs, found Brent, and gasped, "Food!" He asked how my swim went but I was already stuffing my face with the plate full of watermelon, burgers, cookies, and brownies that he had prepared for me as I swam. That was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me!

70-Mile Hilly Bike--The Sleeping Indian Ride
On Saturday, I organized a 70-mile ride that was supposed to only have gentle, rolling hills. Actually, it was only supposed to be 63-miles but I lied about that too. I didn't just lie to everyone else; I lied to myself as well! Most of my riding buddies didn't show, having wisened up to my "only rolling hills" declarations in the past. Even Brent, still beat up after the mountains from last weekend wouldn't go. He wanted flat and fast ("I don't want to see a single hill right now," he told me). My plan was to ride fast but to include a few rollers. As we headed east on Palomar Airport Road, I hit it hard, redlining up the small but very distinct hills along the way. We continued east on Lilac, reaching some prominent hills. I was prepared, believing these would be the worst batch of hills on the ride. I'll get them over with and have a relaxing 2nd half of the ride, I told myself. It was not to be. First mistake--my newly planned route ended up turning into dirt roads (thanks!), forcing us to turn back (hence the extra miles) and return a different way. Not really a big deal, except the way back was all uphill. Doh! Luckily, all the other riders remained in positive spirits and seemed to think of the extra hills as bonus training opportunities. I was thankful for their good attitudes. Olive Hill Road and Sleeping Indian was a lot HILLIER than I remembered. Every time we reached a steep ascent, one of the riders would mutter, "Another "rolling" hill." However, with each steep ascent, we were rewarded with a steep descent (isn't that a roller?). I reached 48 mph at one point! I caught up to one of the lead riders and relayed this information to him.
He looked at me wide-eyed, "I only went 44," he said.
"How's that?" I asked.
"I used the brakes," he replied.
"Oh, you're supposed to use those?"
We hit the headwind on the San Luis River Rey bike path and motored home. Since I had been mentally prepared, it wasn't a big deal. If my goal was to tire out my legs, I think I took a pretty good shot at them! The ride had been way hillier than I expected, I rode hard, and even got in extra miles. Bonus!

20-Mile Run--The Train Run
Okay, now the good part. The key workout of the week. Final big workout in my Ironman Canada training plan. What you've all been waiting for. I needed to make the run exciting and fun. Otherwise, running 20-miles can be a very tedious task indeed. I tried to round up my running buddies, even for a few miles, but I got no takers. I was to do my final 20-mile run solo. Unsupported. In a way, this was perfect because, in the end, you're totally alone and self-reliant on race day. The only person that was going to take my legs 20 miles was me. I decided on the Train Run, a one-way run from Oceanside to Solana Beach (16-miles--I would then addd on the final 4-miles on the bike path in Solana Beach). I purchased an 1-way Amtrak ticket to Oceanside for 10 bucks. Then, I would run back, following the coastline. No excuses. No backing out. 100% commitment. The only way to get back home is to run back. Plus, running along the coast is beautiful. There are many beach bathrooms to stop and refill water along the way. And there are a few mellow hills to make it challenging but the route is mostly flat (similar to Ironman Canada's run course).

I bought my ticket and boarded the train, making small talk with a few cyclists headed up to Irvine (who would then ride back--also a lot of fun). We started talking about the Death Ride(16,000 feet of climbing, 130 miles, 3 Sierra Nevada mountain passes), and I had to make them stop. It was making me tired, and I still had a 20-mile run looming in front of me! The landscape blurred past me out the window as the train sped down the tracks at 70 mph. I was on the train for a long time. When I finally exited in Oceanside, I was worried. Was I really going to be able to run the whole way back with my 2 little legs?

I started running. One mile at a time, I told myself. I settled into an easy rhythm, maintaining a conservative pace. I took in the sights as I ran through Oceanside. The early Sunday morning scene was subdued and depressed as a few homeless men sat wearily on benches, and some older surfers with potbellies stripped off their wetsuits after a first-light surf. Some young girls ran past me in the opposite direction. I smiled at them. Hope.

I reached Carlsbad in 3 short little miles. Had 3 miles already gone by? Even though it wasn't yet 9:00 am, the diners lining the 101 were packed. I drank in the tantalizing aromas of pancakes and bacon. Not fair! I was joined with a myriad of other runners, walkers, and strollers with their dogs, baby joggers, or hand-in-hand with their partner. I tried to maintain my pace as I weaved in and out of the crowd. I, personally, prefer quiet trails to busy streets where I can lose myself in my thoughts and go at my own pace. Soon, I was running with the other "serious" runners in the bike lane where I could maintain my focus. Today, I was all business.

Carlsbad took forever to run through and presented the largest challenge since it had the most hills (and the longest ones). I diligently worked my way up them. In a way, I was grateful. On the flats, my thoughts would distract me. How do I feel? My stomach hurts. How much longer. This is going to take a long time. Am I tired? Do I need to eat more? Drink more? The four-year old voice in my head was exhausting. All was quiet when I ran uphill. The hill consumed me as I concentrated 100% on reaching the top. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else hurt, and I could feel nothing but my beating heart and heavy breathing of my lungs. It was a wonderful, all-encompassing feeling.

I weaved my way through a beach campground to keep things interesting. The campground was lined with RVs. Towels hung to dry on lines like a rainbow tapestry. Kids pedaled on their bikes up and down the parking lot. Older kids carried ice and water back to the camper. The smell of sausage and bacon on the grill was overwhelming and delightful. Even though the highway was separated only by a thin line of trees, the campground seemed like a different universe. Time slowed down. Everything was more peaceful.

Then, my stomach started hurting. Ah, I've been expecting you. I noticed my pace slowed instinctively. I popped an Immodium and kept on going. Within 15-minutes, my stomach had surrendered, and I didn't miss a beat in getting all the fluids and calories into it. I finally reached the end of Carlsbad. God, that took forever! Now, I was entering Leucadia, land of fish tacos; at least that's how it always smells. I skirted up a steep (very steep) but short hill to run down Neptune, a side street along the ocean with some very expensive and beautiful homes. I always pretend I'm a millionaire looking for a home when I run down this street. I evaluate the homes and gardens along the way. If I'm really tired, I'll even pick up fliers on the houses for sale. Not today. My stomach had been subdued, and my legs were feeling better and better. Neptune flew by in a flash.

I reached Moonlight Beach in Encinitas at mile 12 and did a water check. I had stopped once already to refill and already gone through 6 bottles. I had enough to reach the next beach; gotta love running along the coast! My hunger and thirst were mounting but I continued to gobble down the Blocks and gulp water (I had already gone through my Infinit). Funny how I start out forcing down the liquid and calories at the beginning of each run and how the hunger and thirst just build and build and build as I tack on miles. Somehow, telling myself I only had 8 miles left to go was comforting. I was in the single digits now!

I climbed up the nasty, steep hill out of Moonlight Beach and resumed my pace. I was very pleased. My pace was dropping steadily. I was going to negative split this baby! A cyclist recognized me as I was heading out of Encinitas and rode back to give me a few encouraging words. Even though I ran alone, he made me realize I had a ton of people supporting me along the way. Now, I was heading downhill on a pedestrian path into Cardiff. My legs carried me easily forward. I knew I was going to make it.

Up the final hill back into Solana Beach. I was feeling fantastic at mile 16. I passed the train station and headed to the south end of Solana. Only 4 miles left to go! I was thirsty and out of water but at this point, I had taken in enough to get me through. I glanced down at my GPS. I was cranking out 8:30s! At mile 18, I recognized a little boy in an orange shirt on his bike up ahead. It was Brent and Alec! They had come to run me in the final 2 miles. Brent told me how great I looked and fell in behind me. "You're going too fast!" he said (he had already gotten his run in). They're guest appearance just fueled my fire, and I sped onwards. Alec rode beside me on the Solana Beach bike path and gave me his best Yoda impressions. See? That's what I'm talking about! Just what I need at mile 18 of a 20-mile run!

I hit mile 20 and threw up my arms. I had done it! Not only that, but dare I say, the 20-mile runs are getting...easier? I felt fantastic. I had negative split the run and gotten it done 5-minutes under my goal time. I was ecstatic. Having Brent and Alec run me in at the end made the whole experience every so special. We headed up the street to Beach Grass Cafe where I scarfed down a delicious, juicy hamburger.

It's finally time for the taper.


Steph said...

Great job! So exciting. Funny - I had to run only 5 miles after I ran a 10K on Saturday, and I did the same kind of thing where I decided I needed to get dropped off 5 miles from home so I HAD to run home if I wanted to get there. Now, that's not even close to 20, but someday I'll get there- haha.
Great training is in the bag - good luck tapering!

bunnygirl said...

I love the idea of the train run!

Enjoy your taper!

Diana said...

What a cool idea to get the "one-way" ticket! Definitely nothing to do BUT run home!
Nice job, I can't wait to read the IM report in a few weeks. Your workouts are very inspiring, although, I've come to the conclusion that a full IM is not for me-I hold a candle to you and all who have done them!

Jack said...

Wow, great job, what a way to end the training cycle! Enjoy your taper, I can't wait to read about the main event!

Krista said...

That was the most interesting run report I have read! Great idea to take the train and just run one way. I wish I wasn't at work so I could go for a jog!

I can't wait for your IM report!

Renee said...

That is a really cool idea! It sounds like you had a great run and are ready to go!

Shan said...

Nice work Rachel! I remember doing the train ride for IMAZ training...such good memories :).

You rocked your training - now let it all soak in! I'll be cheering for you on IM Canada day!!!

Kate said...

Wow girl! You are going to wipe the floor with IM Canada!

Great idea for a long run- I've always wanted to do something like that!

Leah said...

Nice! Sounds like the perfect way to end your big build. Now enjoy the taper!

Clio said...

Hi there,
I've been following your blog for a while and always love reading about your training sessions. You've inspired me to contemplate an IM myself - although I REALLY need to work on my swimming first. One thing really caught my attention in this post, besides the amazing descriptions of the scenery, as usual. You mentioned taking Immodium when your stomach started to hurt. I suffer from majore gastro-intenstinal distress when I run, which is a real issue. Last year in the NY Marathon, it sidelined me at mile 18. I went from 8.30's to 14/15's because I had to keep stopping and using the port-a-potties etc, and the cramps were so painful. I have cut almost all fiber out of my diet in the weeks leading up to long runs etc. but that means I don't get to eat my favorite foods. Do you think Immodium would help me? any advice would be greatly appreciated, as I have really never used it before, and the doctors have never suggested it.
Thanks so much!!

Rachel said...


Great question! Take a look at my most recent blog post. I elaborate on GI distress.