Friday, February 7, 2014

End of the Road: Key West Training Trip

So back in the fall when I was running an absurd amount, I was surprised to find I was enjoying the high volume a lot more than expected, so I started thinking about racing something longer than an Olympic. Based on timing and a few other factors, I decided on the Bone Island Half. Not too long after I made up my mind that I was going to race it, I bought my plane tickets. Not too long after buying plane tickets, I decided not to race, but to go down anyway. I figured it would be a nice few days in warm weather and I could stay with Jonas, whom I hadn't seen since we graduated USCGA almost 2 years ago. Also, there was a huge group of people from Virginia Beach and the Final Kick Running and Triathlon Club going down to race, some of whom I knew, some I didn't. I kind of tried to get a relay together at one point, but then I backed out of even doing that, so instead it was just a little "traincation" as superstar John O'Neill indicated this sort of thing is called.
The timing of the trip couldn't have been much better. I spent a few days on a container ship for work, learning more about how they actually operate when underway, which is designed to help me better understand what I'm doing on inspections. That combined with lingering stiffness from my Christmas Day mountain bike crash meant training had been a little light for a few weeks, and we aren't too far out from the first race of the season in Clermont. Also, the Polar Vortex Redux meant that Virginia was about to feel something that approaches winter, so I was happy to get out of there. The weather meant I made some crazy changes to my original itinerary, but fortunately I did not have to sit next to John Candy talking about his barking dogs. In anticipation of the storm, I was able to change my original itinerary to leave Tuesday afternoon, then I spent Tuesday night in a somewhat sketchy hotel near the Orlando airport before completing the journey down to Key West on that Wednesday. After navigating the ridiculously crowded, ridiculously tiny airport, I picked up my Hen House with no damage to my bike and not a dime paid to check it. A couple of other triathlete-types in the airport eyed it with jealousy.
Because my friends were all at work during the day, I started putting my bike together to go ride as soon as I got to their house. Key West itself is great and bike friendly for getting around because it's so small, the speed limits are low, and for the most part there are bike lanes or shoulders on all the roads. However, your options for actual rides are pretty much a variant of how far out U.S. 1 you want to go. That said, it's not like it's a bad view or anything:
I'm convinced this place isn't real. Riding through the Keys reminded me a LOT of Bermuda
Other awesome things about training in Florida in the winter included swimming in an outdoor pool, which I always, always, always love. I also didn't have a car there, so I just got to enjoy riding my bike all around the island, like to the pool, out to eat. Over the course of those couple of days, the focus seemed to be swimming and biking, but I did have a few runs too. It's always a little precarious running in an unfamiliar location, especially if you're trying to do any intensity like I did the one time, where I found that it was time to start my intervals right as I was in the tourist-heavy Old Town and near the Southernmost Point. The way I see it, though, I'm much better prepared for steeplechasing or XTERRA runs later on in the year with the amount of hurdling and dodging of dogs and small children I had to do.
Aside from training, the nice thing about a "traincation" is getting to actually recover from workouts. My normal routine involves something before work, quickly inhale breakfast smoothie and coffee while driving to work. After that I spend most of my days at work out on an inspection on a ship, walking up and down 10 flights of stairs on a ship, often sweating it out in the engine room while wearing heavy, heavy boots. I'm not trying to say my job is any worse or harder than others, but it's nowhere near ideal for recovery between a morning and an afternoon workout. Instead, I just got to sit around and do nothing.
Ok, so not quite nothing. With the LSAT coming up (only the 28948th time I've mentioned it here/Twitter), logic game drills were my recovery activity of choice.
Perhaps one of the most eye-opening experiences I had in Key West was just realizing how different my life is now from my classmates'. I was staying in a house of 4 guys, all on the same ship, but there's a decent sized little colony of USCGA grads from the classes of roughly 2011 to 2013 that kind of all hangs out together mostly from the two ships homeported in Key West. I have plenty of classmates in Virginia, but I rarely see many of them. My guess is that's a combination of my personality, but also just because being on land affords the opportunity to have a bit more of an outside life than being underway. It's also just funny to me realizing how little I know about the Coast Guard's afloat community. I feel a little bad about it at times, but I don't live in that world and have next to zero exposure to it, especially because my office is only people in my field and we don't share location with any other units.
It also has an impact on their outside-of-work lives too, as it just so happens that out of the house, there was a triathlete, runner, and swimmer all in the house. Out of all of them, the only one that's still fairly active in that area was Jonas, who has for the time being moved on to ultramarathons rather than triathlon, in part because it's a lot easier to train running while underway. One night, after freezing my Royal Rastafarian nay-nays off by swimming in the 65*F water in nothing but a speedo at the beach, I rode along and paced Jonas back towards the back end of one of his ultra training runs.
I couldn't help but laugh that Jonas was wearing a jacket. All the guys who live down there were all complaining about how cold it was the first night, when it got below 60*F. I reminded them there was snow on the ground where I lived.
Saturday was the big day, race day...but not for me! It was kind of cool to be in a race atmosphere but not racing; it really does make me realize I've found the right sport, because I still enjoyed being there. That said, when you're not in a race, you do have the ability to look at things a little more abstractly than normal.
From a few days before I got into town: there was in fact a real circus in Key West that weekend, but I'm thinking my version was more apparent to most of the people on the island.
I figured I would volunteer, so I did, standing at the first major turn on the bike course, directing course traffic while the police officer held cars off and directed them. It feels good to help out from time to time, because we all know races can't happen without volunteers. After my shift was up, I was able to hang around with most of the Virginia Beach locals and watch. There were enough people that either didn't race or did relays that there were always quite a few there as well. The vuvuzela was a big hit, or the most annoying thing ever, depending on your perspective I suppose. From what I hear, it was a cool race, but definitely had some logistical issues in its second year, some of which are all but unavoidable, like holding traffic at the turnaround out on U.S. 1. Nevertheless, it seemed like everybody enjoyed themselves.
Most of everybody, as there were a few lingering around elsewhere and/or still out racing.
After the race was the real fun though. Jonas was tired and had to work the following day, so I went out with some of my Virginia Beach friends instead. While I knew most of them beforehand, it was primarily through workouts and the occasional post-workout beer, not really socializing much beyond that. It's a tight-knit little group, but a fun one to be a part of for sure. I will say that riding a bike down Duval Street on a Saturday night was one of the most terrifying things ever.

All in all, it was a pretty spectacular trip. Over the course of 4 days, I got in 14,050 yds of swimming, 174.2 mi of biking, and 21.5 mi of running, and I was really happy with each and every workout. Now, some time later as I'm starting to really nail down the speed part of the equation, I'm really feeling how that solid base helped significantly. In addition to the training though, I was really happy to get to spend time with both USCGA friends whom I hadn't seen in almost 2 years, as well as get to know local Va Beach friends much better. Now it's only a couple more weeks before I go back to Florida again for Clermont!
This was a big time bummer, boarding the plane. The airport is so tiny that you always have to walk across the runway though. Weird.

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