How many hours does a triathlete train in a year?

Have I told you that triathlon is amazing? (Yes, many times, but I’ll say it again.) It’s a lifestyle. It’s challenging, but empowering. It’s time-consuming, but so much fun! It’s competitive, but your competitors will become your friends quicker than you can set up your transition area, I promise.

It’s addictive. And so is all the data about your training that you’ll undoubtedly begin collecting as soon as you get into it. With Strava, of course, where all runners, bikers and triathletes go to have fun obsess over their segments and course records immediately after they get home from training.

So it is courtesy of Strava that I give you the sum-total of my training in 2014. The miles and training hours, and a few select racing highlights. If you ever wondered how many hours a triathlete spends in training, or how many miles they swim, bike or run, here’s a glimpse at mine:

To Chicago and Back

Together, my swim-bike-running miles for 2014 would have taken me from my doorstep to the tip of the Pier in Chicago and back, with 145 miles to spare for sightseeing… Or running the route of the Chicago Marathon approximately five and a half times. Wait… That’s not a bad idea, someone should try it. Dean?

Miles: 4,422.5

Of those, just under 1,300 were on the run. Let’s make it a trip to Denver, Colorado, with 50-ish miles to spare… I’ll use them to get to the airport and fly back home!

Highest mileage month: June, 555 miles. Remember, this is swim, bike and run together. Summer months mean more riding, plus these were peak training weeks for Ironman 70.3 Vineman. It makes sense.

Lowest mileage month: April, 166 miles. I hardly rode a mile in April, dedicating the month to a ramped-up training plan for the Big Sur International Marathon. Makes sense again. Don’t you just love numbers?

Notably, December mileage was 196, nearly all of it running in prep for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K. ‘Twas the season!

Working Girl

Let’s talk hours now. Care to guess how many hours a triathlete spends in training? Days?

I don’t know what the “normal” is, but these are my stats:

Hours training: 517

That’s 64 and a half 8-hour work days, FYI. No time for lunch runch.

Longest hours: June and July, with 55 each, or an average 13:45 a week.

Shortest hours: December, 30 hours or an average 7.5 a week.

Hey! Kind of like the calendar. Long days in the summer, short in the winter. Makes sense, right?

The (Twice-)Daily Grind

As for number of workouts (or activities), that’s 633 for me, or an average 1.75 per day. I do count things like riding a bike to the gym or work an activity (hours in the saddle are hours in the saddle, regardless!), but let’s face it: twice-a-days are a way of tri-life, and super fun once you get used to them. Also, twice-a-days are usually big appetite days, just so you know.

And, since the average American coffee drinker drinks 3 cups a day and triathletes love coffee and it’s a performance enhancer, an average of a cup and a half per workout per day is a perfectly normal thing to do in your life.

I totally just justified two-a-days, someone please make a meme out of this or I’ll just put one here that hardly has anything to do with anything:

Speaking of Marathons…

(And see? Marathon meme completely appropriate now.)

A few fun racing stats:

Total miles raced: 401

That’s 14 races, of which:
3 x 70.3-distance triathlons (half-Iron)
one 56-mile bike leg in a half-Iron distance race relay
one 50K (that was really a 51.5K due to a last-minute course change)
one marathon
2 x sprint-distance triathlons
two half marathons (I can’t believe I only raced two in 2014!)
two 10Ks
one 5-mile run
one 5K

P-to-the-R trivia

Clocked a few PRs last year, including:

5K: 23:11 min (on tired legs while building mileage for Big Sur; can do better in 2015!)
10K: 49:13 min (also tired legs, during peak week for Ironman 70.3 Vineman)
Half marathon: 1:49:19 at the Giant Race in SF.
70.3: 5:36:50 at my third try at that distance, a full hour of improvement over the first.

Let’s play favorites

No year-in-review is complete without mentioning a few of my favorite races, so here we are, in no particular order:

The Big Sur International Marathon. One for every runner’s bucket list! It was my slowest marathon yet and worth every minute on this incredible course!

Ironman 70.3 Vineman for the beautiful course.

Challenge Rancho Cordova for the pristine swim, a very smoothly organized inaugural event and great race experience overall.

Ironman 70.3 California (Oceanside) for my favorite medal and best birthday party ever!

It’s been a great year. Thanks for being a part of it! (Sorry, Facebook, couldn’t help it.)

If you’d like to follow my swim-bike-run shenanigans in 2015, head over to Strava, Instagram and Facebook, and let’s be friends! I’ll continue to post race recaps here, of course, or other big/ interesting announcements.

Here’s to a healthy, sweaty, injury-free and PR-full 2015!

I’m (not) an Ultra Trail Runner, After All

On December 6, 2014, I ran my first ultra marathon, the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K, San Francisco. Though, to be completely honest, I didn’t consider a 50K much of an ultra back then — it’s not a 50-miler or a 100+? We’ll get back to this later.

(If you’re looking for turn-by-turn directions or a detailed description of the course, by the way, you won’t find it here. I lined up at the start completely unfamiliar with the hilly route. But I do have lots of pictures to show you.)

Also, a flooded footbridge on the course caused a last-minute change that tacked an extra almost-mile to the 31. The North Face Endurance Challenge Tough Mudder 51.5K, is what it ended up being — and this is how I ran it.

On race-day morning, I showed up at the start feeling unprepared and a wee bit nervous. I didn’t train properly for this race, focusing on running only for about eight weeks and my longest runs clocking up to 2 hours on a trail, and 14 miles on a flat paved road — also in 2 hours. Still, I was excited and expecting a long day of running in the beautiful green Marin Headlands.My friend Tiffany and I met at the start and had a good laugh at our completely matching, yet unplanned, race outfits:

This provided comic relief throughout the day, for which I am grateful.

I was seeded in the wave right before Tiffany, based on who knows what impossibly optimistic finish time I provided at registration. So I started a few minutes ahead of her and immediately got a question from a passing runner: “Hey, where’s your race twin?” Not to worry, she’d catch up to me later – and just at the right time, too!

The first climb came right around mile 2, and it was steep enough that we had to walk. Great, I thought. Not even two miles in, and I’m already walking. Just a hint of the tough (mudder) times we would all be having that day.Runners lining up the trail as far back as the eye can see. Always a thing of beauty. Some 25 minutes into the race, we entered an enchanted forest: An enchanted forest that gave us our first taste of the many a mud to come:So much mud, it was like a thing with a mind of its own. And it was saying, I will swallow you whole, you sad little humans, I am the boss of you and you are not the boss of me!At 8:06, the sun came out. (I know this because iPhone has a time stamp for each photo. Super helpful for cases where amnesia kicks in to obscure painful muddy experiences.)See the tiny dots on the side of this hill? Runners climbing.Walking, actually. Then running again.About 10 miles and two hours into the race (yes, two hours to cover 10 miles!), views of the ocean materialized. And we were climbing, yet again.But, the views were stunning.

And ten minutes later, mercifully, a downhill.A downhill swathed in mud of such epic slippery proportions, that all we could do was walk, elbows to the side, hoping we don’t slip and slide down the hill and plunge into the abyss.And the next minute – because things weren’t interesting enough already? – stairs:I remember telling one of the guys around, What a waste of a descend. Under normal, mud-free conditions, we would’ve all charged down and make up some time for all that crawling up. Still, the vistas were gorgeous.

The next climb I’ve got documented came around an hour later. I’m sure that’s not really the case, though. We were probably going up and down and up and down over this hour, and my memory blocked it. What I do remember is the toughest part of the nearly five-mile 1,300 feet (?) climb to Cardiac: a single-track trail of a muddy mushy-gushy mess of constant switch backs that looked like this.Four hours 20 minutes into the race, still climbing… but now in these beautiful, elven woods:And somewhere on the way, Tiffany caught up! She was thoroughly enjoying the slushy mud and told me to “just embrace” it. Right. Ugh.

We talked and walked, and trotted from time to time, until we arrived at the peak completely exhausted but in good spirits. Shoe situation:. And still race twins, of course:


Tiffany’s main man David snapped this pic of us, my race-day favorite. I had just announced to everyone, at the top of my lungs, that I’ve never in my life been happier to see an aid station. Tiffany was still talking about embracing the mud? Whatever. We were delusional and low on sugar.

I addressed the sugar situation, pronto, by drinking four cups of divinely carbonated Coke. I had eaten a Picky Bar on the slow trek up, and had been drinking one Nuun tablet dissolved in 6 oz water at each aid station. (I had 7 Nuun tabs during this race, and ate four Hammer gels.) A kind volunteer refilled my hydration pack too, 1.5 liters of water gone over the first four hours of the race.

After several minutes there, I started feeling cold and decided there’s no use in hanging around much longer. So I charged down and ran the entire 5 miles, sloshing right into the mud and thoroughly embracing it. Amused myself by thinking up movie sequel titles. There was the Western with a touch of horror called There Will be Mud, and this holiday season favorite, Mud Actually.

Except once I hit the bottom and had to run one of the few flat stretches of road on the course, it quickly became apparent that I can only shuffle. Then another climb came, and I was walking again. The miles went very slowly then. I remember looking at my Garmin unbelievingly, How can this still be mile 24?!!?! Telling a guy who walked beside me on the course that, Dude, if only I had signed up for CIM instead, I’d be so done with it by now! Then I hit mile 26.2 – the marathon mark – and realized I have another six miles to go, and came as close to a complete mental breakdown as I’ve ever been to my entire life. If I had seen a familiar face or called my family at that point, I would have for sure cried and asked to be picked up and driven home. Good thing cell coverage was spotty or non-existent the entire course. I did get a tiny little “bar” at the one-to-last aid station, enough to post the picture above on Facebook, with the following:

I am not doing this ever never ever NEVER again. 5 miles to go.. — feeling tired.

That’s how strongly I felt about it at the time. Because we were climbing again, and in 15 freakin’ minutes I had only covered a half mile, and there were 5.5 – not 5 – miles to go, and three of them were up and it seemed like that up would never, ever end. But the views were still pretty good.Now, focus on the space between the two mountain tops – I said focus on the space, no really, the space… Oh, I give up. You can see San Francisco there. That’s what I meant by the views were good!

Once we reached the last aid station, we only had 2.8 miles of downhill to go. It was painful, but like one gal told me out there, At least we’ll run to the Finish!

And so that’s what I did, until I finally crossed that line at 2:06 pm. Seven hours six minutes to run 32 miles, with 5,888 ft elevation change and a gazillion tons of mud.And now I know why any distance longer than 26.2 deserves to be labeled an “ultra.” Because trust me, once you get past that 26.2 mark, something mental happens that will make or break you. I’m still here, and – I like to think – I was made and not broken. But I stand by what I said that day, too: Never again. There are many challenges to take up in life and I’m glad I made this one of them. But for now, I’ll be sticking to the good ol’ 26.2, 70.3 and, one day, 140.6. How’s that for a plan?

Challenge Rancho Cordova: A Day of Unexpectedly Good Things and Happy Endings

So my Challenge Rancho Cordova race recap seems to have set a record. In procrastination!

Which is a shame because I had my best 70.3-mile race to date. Perhaps the best race to date, period! I loved every minute of it. Freezing my butt off in the pitch-dark transition area before the start. Gulping down some delicious water (drinking quality!) on the swim. Suffering through the frustratingly unrelenting rollers on the first half of the bike — and the fast second half! Dumping ice cubes in my bra at every aid station on the run (that would have any left) to counter the 98-degree heat. Powering through the finish line more than an hour earlier than expected!

Phew! That was a mouthful. It was all fabulous! Here’s the (only slightly) longer version of my day:

Rancho Cordova 101

First, you’ve probably never heard of Rancho Cordova. Yeah. The place didn’t even exist a little over 10 years ago. But Challenge Family chose it for their first-ever race in North America, and it turned out to be practically in our back yard… if you can imagine a back yard so large, you need about three hours to get from one side of it to the other. And so on October 3rd, two days before my last half-ironman distance tri of the year, we found ourselves in this “All America City” that seemed to consist of one shopping plaza and several very reasonably priced hotels.

It was tiny and there wasn’t much to do. But on the bright side? There wasn’t much to do! The day before the race consisted of:

  1. Quick and hassle-free packet pickup
  2. Run gear drop off at T2 (within walking distance of the finish area and packet pickup)
  3.  

    A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

  4. Bike check at T1 (overnight!)
  5. An afternoon nap.
  6. And, of course, sushi dinner at what I thought was an unfortunately-named Nemo Sushi (seriously. who would want to eat Nemo?), where we didn’t find any vegetarian rolls on the menu. So the sushi chefs made me the most fabulous on-request veggie roll. Just look at it! Happy end!

Pre-race

The shuttle to the bike start was a short 10-minute walk from our hotel (told you – tiny place; everything is nearby!). And because I’d dropped off my bike the night before, all I had to drag over there was myself and my wet suit in one of the plastic gear bags provided by the race organizers.

When we arrived at the start (another quick 10 minutes of riding — on a school bus!), it was still pitch dark out. And mind you, I had brought my head lamp on that trip, but left it at the hotel. Smart. It was also freezing and I didn’t bring a jacket. All I had was a skimpy short-sleeve shirt over my race kit, so I kept walking back and forth between my bike rack and the porta-pots and the (real) bathrooms nearby to keep myself warm.

Since I was already walking back and forth, I also made at least five visits to a combination of real flushable bathroom and porta one. You know, the usual pre-race routine. Gotta stick to those.

Finally, after more than an hour of freezing and potty-going and freezing, I squeezed into my wetsuit — then immediately had to go pee one more time; it’s the law! — and headed to the water. With at least 20 minutes to spare before my wave start. Oh well.

Note to self and to others doing this race next year: There’s really no need to show up at Transition more than 30 minutes before the start. Rack space is assigned by number and the bike set up already. Take the last shuttle possible.

The Swim

My best pre-race memory happened here. I was chatting with one of the ladies in my wave about I don’t remember what, when another one jumped in:

“I know! I actually thought this was a full-distance Ironman until yesterday!”

For some reason, this totally made sense within our conversation and we found it hilarious. And all three of us laughed and laughed.

Or it could’ve been the race nerves?

At any rate. The scenery was beautiful. The sun was rising. It was simply incredible! The race had a smallish field, a total of about 600 competitors, so my wave was all women age 18 to 39. There couldn’t have been more than 100 of us, I thought. The start felt almost relaxed.

In fact, that’s my most vivid memory about this swim, now that’s it’s more than a month in the past. I felt… at ease the whole way. I saw orange caps (my color) whenever I sighted, so I was managing to keep up with my wave. No one swam over me. No one kicked or punched me in the head. Or anywhere else. I was by myself, but with others. Catch, push, catch, push, breathe. Catch, push, catch, push, breathe.

A couple of water gulps too, but considering the swim is in the Numbus Dam area of the American River (drinking quality water), I say this counts as mid-swim hydration.

The only slippery part (literally) was the exit, where a helpful volunteer saved my butt by grabbing my hand just as I was about to slip ‘n slide back into the water, face down. Thank you!

Swim time: 41:22
Predictably slow, but 40 seconds faster than my Ironman 70.3 Vineman swim and a full minute faster than my Ironman 70.3 Oceanside swim! Um…. booyah?

T1

Excellent setup for a speedy transition. Out of the wetsuit, stuff it in the bag, bike shoes, helmet, sunglasses and off we go.
Time: 2:43

The Bike

Oh…. what can I tell you. The first part was tough! Tough, tough… But mostly it was my fault. I didn’t study the course well enough. Didn’t do a drive-through any of it. Was under the impression that it was flat.

Flat, my butt!

OK, that is flatter than my butt, but you see what’s happening on this bike course? The entire first half is rollers, with a net climb of about 800 feet. That’s nothing over 20+ miles, you’d say. But precisely! It was just such a long time of up and down, up and down, up and down on what felt like (and was, really) a steady, relentless climb. Cruel.

I worried. I doubted. I suffered.

I thought: I don’t feel good enough to keep this up for another two hours and then run a half marathon? I feel like crap?! I feel dizzy with effort? I couldn’t even tell what my heart rate was because my Garmin (again) decided to measure everything as a swim — so I wasn’t even getting any feedback on speed.

It was like time had stopped and I was pedaling, pedaling, pedaling.

Then, of course, came the big descent at Mile 22 and I was like WHEEEEEEEEEE! THIS IS FUN!

Then it seems most of the ride was descending, and all I could think of was I LOVE THIS! I COULD DO THIS ALL DAY!

(Seriously. High highs and low lows during long-course triathlon. Expect them.)

Rolled into T2 with a huge smile plastered on my face and no idea how fast I’d gone. Faster than I thought, it turned out:

Bike time: 2:55:28
Just six short second slower than my bike time at the Big Kahuna Triathlon, and that was in a relay where I didn’t have a half marathon to run afterwards.

T2

Another stress-free, smooth and speedy one! Challenge Family and USA Productions (the local race partner) had volunteers to grab your bike as you approach, so all you had to do is trot over to your shoes and running stuff and get changed there. No bike to push around and rack! It was almost… relaxing (and I didn’t even have to pee!)

Time: 2:06

The Run

This was a two-loop course, which I was dreading. But it turned out to be the best part about the whole race!

The first half-mile or so was around the little plaza where the race finish area was set up, so we enjoyed live music as we set off on the run. And being able to mentally separate the run in two parts was actually helpful. The first 6.5-mile loop was new to me.

I told myself, Don’t sweat it, girl. You’re simply exploring the wonderful tiny city of Rancho Cordova – no matter how tiny it is – water and ice station to water and ice station. Run as fast as you can manage, dump all the ice you can dump into your bra, take in water and Coke (where available) and keep pushing.

My legs actually felt really good and I was keeping a sub-9 minute/ mile pace. Except the first mile, which was 7:49… but this always happens after a ride. My brain wants to keep going faster than my legs should be going.

[Digressing: Which makes me wonder if this really isn't a pace my legs should be trying to sustain next time for the full half marathon. The body is the engine, but the brain is the driver - right?]

Anyway, here are my mile splits:

The best part of all? As I was biding my time and freezing my butt off back before the race start, I looked at the run map in detail and noticed that mile six of the course goes right by our hotel. So I texted it to HusbandRuns and told him, come out to watch around 55 minutes (optimistic, I know!) after I get off the bike and maybe you’ll see me!

And just as I approached the aid station near mile 6 – at around 52-53 minutes after I started running, right on time! – who do I see handing out water? HusbandRuns and KidRuns!! I can’t tell you how happy this made me. It has got to be the happiest anyone felt in the middle of a half marathon at the end of a 1.2-mile swim and 56-mile bike, ever.

“Ice water, ice water,” said KidRuns, sounding like he’s had years of experience volunteering at water stations.

He didn’t recognize me at first! But then he heard my voice and I stopped to give him the biggest, sweatiest and possibly grossest hug ever. Then I trotted over to HusbandRuns and let him dump two cups of ice directly in my sports bra. Such personalized service at this race!

It was the only time I stopped on the run. The second loop went by in a dream. I was in a hurry to get back to the water station at Mile 6 again and give my men some more gross, sweaty hugs. But KidRuns was helping pour water into cups behind the table, so I just hollered, waved and ran along to get this thing done.

I could already hear the finish line, more than half a mile away, I thought. And when it came into sight and I looked at my watch — and I saw 5:30-something — I was in shock. In this heat, I was expecting a 6-hour finish and had even given myself permission to not feel too bummed if I did 6:30-plus. I was not expecting to see five-freaking-thirty-something!

So my brain told my legs to give it one last push and leave it all out there, on the red carpet:

Run time: 1:54:41. I did not expect that either. I did not expect to smash my Vineman run time by more than five minutes and my overall time by more than 20.

And so with a fist pump and what I hoped was a smile on my face, I crossed the finish line. Victory is ours!

Total time: 5:36:50

Then I took my shoes off and walked right into a bunch of fountains springing off the ground and it was the best thing ever.

Water play for triathletes: Don’t just start your 70.3 miles with it. End your 70.3 miles with it, too!

And with a pint (or two?) of draft beer, of course. Now that was something delicious. I reunited with my men right as I was finishing it off and, still barefoot, headed to the car.

It was a wonderful day in Rancho Cordova and I plan to head back there next year for round 2!