Thursday, November 06, 2008

The plan keeps coming up again

Date: Nov. 5 and 6
Mileage: 17.3 and 16.0
November mileage: 190.2

I feel like I have a lot going on right now. I have been putting in quite a bit of time outdoors - out of habit, out of mental necessity - but it seems like my mind is usually somewhere else. There is a little voice of reason that is starting to shout: Training! Focus! Training! It's early November. I need a plan, I really do. And yet, when I'm out on my bike, aiming for miles or speed or a few bumpy turns on the ice-crusted snow, I'll find myself gazing blankly at the horizon, legs spinning on autopilot, focus elsewhere.

By this time last year, I had a pretty good plan for Iditarod training. It centered mainly on hours of exercise and time in the saddle - valuable, but in hindsight, only a small part of what I needed to actually be ready for the race. This year, I know I need more time on my feet, more weight on my bike, more impact, more upper-body everything. And that's just the physical fitness part, which only amounts to about 20 percent of being ready. After that there are gear decisions and testing, food planning and testing, weather conditioning, sleep deprivation, bicycle maintenance practice and mental preparations. And even if I get all of that right, that only factors in to about 20 percent of my probability for success. Everything else is luck and willpower. That's why I love this race.

But yes, training is still important, and my inability to focus right now may become a concern if it lingers much longer. There remains the option of soliciting the help of a coach. For anyone who knows me, the very idea would make them laugh out loud. "But Jill," they'd say, "Coaches are for people who race, you know, more than once a year. Coaches are for people who enjoy structure and who chose activities based on fitness value, not on how many pretty pictures they can take along the way. Coaches are for people who enter races that aren't based 80 percent on luck. Coaches are for, you know, athletes. Real ones."

And yet, any coach who says he's interested in the abstract discipline of "ultra-endurance" has my attention. Would such a coach share my view that success in this arena has as much or more to do with mental landscape as it does with physical conditioning? Or would the coach defer to what may actually be more useful knowledge, encouraging me to buy a heart-rate monitor and stick to my planned 15-minute intervals even when I think the weather that day calls for six hours of long slow distance and a few dozen pretty pictures? There is a chance I would never see eye to eye with a coach, but it certainly is worth some dialog, at least.