Going Dark

In six days I'll race at Draper Lake in Oklahoma City. Saturday is on-road duathlon — run 3 miles, bike 15, run 3. Sunday is off-road — run 3, bike 12, run 3.

The time for talking about race readiness is over. The time for strategy and tips and analysis and tweaks is done. It's time to withdraw, stop thinking, and finish transforming into the animal who's going to show up Saturday.

I'll keep you posted through race week — this is a big race for me in the sense that I'm investing actual vacation time and dollars to do this. This is a big race in the sense that it's a hard physical effort and twice as much racing as I've ever done. Of course I'll write about it.

But in another sense, after tonight, I'm going dark. Whatever I have to say about me racing, the animal has already begun to devour. Whatever can be said, will be said on the course.

But tonight, here is a timeline. Make of it what you will; or skip it — it's really long and mostly for my benefit. These are the months since deciding to do my first triathlon, a little over a year ago.

March 2009. I may not get to run Hospital Hill. I want another challenge. I sign up for the WinforKC triathlon. I can barely swim 100 yards. I am not ever sure of actually finishing a 5K. I don't have a bike.

April - June 2009. I run to get ready for Hospital Hill. The big question in my mind is whether I will finish it running. Also, N. and I buy me a bike, the Trek Hybrid. I tell myself, "Don't be silly. You are not afraid to ride in traffic." I believe me. I swim a couple of times a week.

June 2009. I run Hospital Hill. Until I almost black out, then walk a bit. I am running 11:15 minute miles. The day after the run, I sit at Denny's and finesse my training calendar. I chart milestones to get myself to finish each of the triathlon legs, with big-effort workouts — bricks, longer runs, longer bikes, progressing through the weeks.

June-July 2009. I execute the plan. I also have decided to maintain weight, preferring to race in the body I'm in, focusing instead on endurance.

August-September 2009. I finish WinforKC, slow on the swim, stronger on the bike than I expected, able to endure the run. Immediately sign up for triathlon #2. Recover, put together another calendar, keep preparing. Again, slow swim, good bike, painful run. The hooks are in deep.

September 2009. I start trail running. I also start talking to Zoolander a lot, about racing, trail running, cycling, and nutrition. I start weaning myself off corn, because it doesn't appear to give me any actual fuel. I learn to ride in clipless pedals.

October 2009 - February 2010. The focus for the winter is changing power to weight ratio. I am in the gym 3-4 times a week; on the bike trainer once a week; running 4 times a week; swimming twice a week. I decide not to diet. I won't restrict calories. Instead, I'll focus on the best possible fuel for the activity I'm doing. I start cutting out things that don't provide that fuel — processed foods, refined flour, sugar. I start eating more meat, more eggs, more nuts and fruit, even more vegetables (not many more, given that I was almost vegetarian before). Real butter, real mayo, real cheese, when I have them. Great chocolate once in a while.

November 2010. I stop using my stopwatch when running. I run by endorphins — I run to keep my endorphin levels high. If I need hills, I run hills; whenever I can I run trails; I run as long as I feel like running; I have no idea how fast I'm going. I will run through the winter, in the 4-degree morning and a couple of times in snow. No matter what, I run. I'm not moving to train for anything — I'm moving because it's what I do. And I want more.

December 2010. I avoid bread. It's the 80-20 rule (as Zoolander says and others have said before him). 80% of the time, I don't eat what doesn't serve me. 20% of the time, I eat whatever sounds good and don't worry about it. Strength sessions in the gym continue — Trainer Kevin has me do lots of single-leg work, some explosive strength work, and always core, core, more core.

January 2010. Groundhog 5K. 9:34-minute miles. I sign up for a whole bunch of races.

February 2010. Decide to run a half-marathon. Start making one run a week longer. I avoid rice and other whole grains. The Paleo Diet and the book "Good Calories Bad Calories" round out my understanding of the nutritional changes that ZL started talking to me about way back when and that I had begun testing my way into months ago. The power-to-weight period is ending; my focus now is endurance on the run. I have taken about 15 pounds off the bike. I start shopping for a better road bike.

March 2010. Run the half marathon. Endurance on the run period ends. Triathlon focus begins, but without a calendar. I am on the hybrid bike now, commuting to work. Running trails as I can, though it rains so much we will be off the trails for a few months. My swim stroke is awful.

April 2010. Ready to race. My mindset has shifted from "participant" to "competitor." I want to RACE. N. and I buy Gogo, the dreamy road bike, and I learn to ride her. I also obtain (thank you forever, Seth and Jen) the GT Saddleback, which I name "The Comfort Zone" after the cushy saddle that she comes with. I run the Trolley Run and feel like I am going slow and later see how close I was to a 9-minute mile. Then, my first MTB ride is at the heat-stroking God's Country duathlon in Lawrence. I come home with a 2nd place plaque. I'm in for Du Draper Twice.

April - May 2010. I get on the MTB at the fast, barely-obstacled Lawrence River Trail as much as I can, even though I get more nervous with every ride. I ride Gogo and run afterward. I run the Shawnee Mission Park trail loop. I swim open water. The Heritage Park duathlon (2nd Place, sub-9 minute miles on run 2!) and the KC Tri (happy to finish on my feet) come and go. I am hardly home as I am running or cycling all the time. Trainer Kevin leaves my gym; I slack off strength work and stay sports-specific. Oceans of Mercy 10K; longest run at a sub-10 pace. I start running trails with the Major MudBunny, who knows ZL; the Major and I become race pals.

May-June 2010. These months are all about power punches and high-quality effort. Run in the heat whenever I can to get ready for Draper. Daunted by the task of this race, I make a new calendar. What will I have to do to get ready for a two-day race, with one day off-road? I work forward with two-a-days, bricks, rides on Gogo, trail runs, road runs. Everything is focused on quality; no trash miles. The Major teaches me some cool things about riding the MTB. We do open water swim together. It's enough to stay convinced that I can finish the later sprint triathlons. My swim stroke FINALLY returns. I miss the strength work but don't do more than the occasional core session. Over the summer, my run gets slower and slower. I don't know why. It bothers me. The standard run is 4-6 miles now. I decide, hell with it, I am not running to race prep anymore. I am running again because it feels amazing. Oh, and I acquire bike gear. And I learn to ride clipped in on the MTB.

July 2010. I ride the Orange loop at Shawnee Mission Park, with its rocks and roots, walking what I need to. To me, this is like saying I walked on the moon. I didn't think it was possible until I saw myself do it. Which is why I did it. I fall, I get back up, I learn how to deep-freeze my nerves, I ride. I have taken 35 pounds off the bike since the start of this timeline. It is the least important change.

Which brings us right up to this week. And now it's time to go dark.