Image: Denise on her bike
Jim Seida  /  MSNBC.com
On a rainy afternoon, Denise puts her new bike, lovingly dubbed Napoleon Dynamite, through its paces. This is the mean machine that will carry her to Ironman.
By
msnbc.com
updated 4/11/2005 9:36:22 AM ET 2005-04-11T13:36:22

Ah, at last it's April. The flowers are blooming, sending the fragrance of freshly born florals into the air. The days are getting warmer and brighter. The promise of spring brings a smile to the face, a lightness to the mood — the promise of ... promise.

But April also signals a far more important passage — from running season to full-on triathlon season. Let the bricks begin!

No, there is no masonry involved. A brick means moving from one discipline to the next with little or no break, such as from biking to running or from swimming to biking. Why is it called a brick? I haven't been able to find a definitive answer. However, when I first started doing these last year, it definitely felt like I was hauling 40 pounds of bricks on my backside when I started to run after a 10-mile bike ride. Heavy, man, real heavy.

Our training group had its first "tri workout" of the season this week. Yes, we have all been swimming and riding stationary bikes during the long winter, but not in a regimented manner. For most of our group, it's been catch as catch can. The return of the group workout changes that. From now until the end of September, we are multi-sport athletes again. You know you are a triathlete when you look forward to Saturday workouts.

I pulled up to our gathering point, new bike in tow, ready to roll. Because of the extremely wet weather we've been having, our fitness coach, Jeff, has instructed us to bring our bike trainers. Instead of riding the streets of Bellevue, Wash., we will be turning the parking lot of Sammamish High School into a mobile spinning class. Since it is just the first workout (and we have a fresh crop of new group members), Jeff takes it easy on us. We start with a 20-minute ride, at an easy pace. Napoleon (I've dubbed my new red-white-and-blue beauty Napoleon Dynamite) is humming. The soft whirl coming from the wheels is intoxicating. I drop into the aerobars, enjoying my buzz as I spin.

Check out my new ride
As we pedal away, the conversation begins. I'm the special girl today because everyone is admiring my new bike. You know you are a triathlete when you bask in the glow of your latest equipment purchase. However, I am also advised by no fewer than five people that I must, MUST go from cages (pedals with a toe slot) to clip-in pedals. Duly noted.

After 20 minutes, we dismount and head for the track where we do an easy four-lap run (1 mile). You can tell it's an easy workout because Ali, Laura and I are talking about athletic wear and wine tasting instead of split times and orthotics. By the time we head back to the bikes, we've decided that we all like the look of the new running skirts.

It's 10 more minutes on the bike, then back to the track for a lap. Then back to the bike. Then back to the track. We do this six times before Jeff calls it a workout. For some of my companions, it's been a fairly brisk workout, reawakening muscles that have been dormant for the winter.

But I have been doing bike-run-bike-run bricks since January, so I feel pretty strong. You know you are a triathlete when you think the perfect chaser to a brick workout is a 1500-meter swim. In fact, I can't help thinking back to a year ago, when I was still plodding around the track at 14.5-minute mile pace and struggled to trail far behind the pack. Now, I can keep up with most of the group on the track and on the bike. And now, just a year later, I'm training for Ironman. There are times when I can't believe it myself. You know you are a triathlete when ... when you do triathlons, of any distance.

The end goal is so huge and so intimidating that I prefer to just take it all one day at a time. Today's brick workout was fairly light, but the workouts will get longer and more intense as the weeks roll by. But it's a progression, a day-to-day advance toward the 140-mile destination. And even though I'm getting nowhere fast on my bike today, I am enjoying the ride, and the view, and the promise of ... promise.

In my previous entry, I recounted a very bad running day. I'm happy to say it's gotten much better, and a lot longer, since then.

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I did learn my lessons from that disastrous 2 hour, 20 minute run. I make sure to get to bed at a reasonable hour the night before a long run (I'm not going to say early because frankly I don't go to bed all that early), limit my alcohol intake the day before and eat some real food about an hour and a half before the run. Usually it's a banana, a bowl of cereal and a hard-boiled egg.

I have since done a 2 hour, 30 minute run and, this past week, a 2 hour, 50 minute jaunt. Jeff has been my usual long-run partner, but this week he came down with a virus and wisely opted to sit this one out (Note to athletes in training: You do yourself zero, ZERO good undertaking a strenuous workout when you are sick, especially when you have a fever. Stay home and rest. You will get better faster and you won't spread your illness to unsuspecting people like me). Fortunately, Laura, who just wanted to do the 170-minute run to see if she could, was there to join me. I can't thank her enough. It was the first morning of daylight savings time (so our 7 a.m. start was really a 6 a.m. start) and it was pouring. I can't image what it would have been like to do that run without her there to keep me moving forward and the conversation lively.

I've been pretty clear about my relative dislike for running, mostly for long-distance running. I wouldn't say that I exactly enjoyed last Sunday's run, but I was definitely satisfied with my performance. I still have a 3-hour run to go on April 17 before the taper begins for the Vancouver Marathon.

My lamentations about running sparked a lot of e-mail from readers, most of which echoed my sentiments. But there also were quite a few from former runners who lamented their inability to run anymore, largely due to injuries and too much wear-and-tear. And that got me thinking. It got me thinking about my friend Jason, who is working hard just to be able to walk the aisles in a grocery store as he continues to recover from a near-fatal car accident. And my friend Kathy, who has been forced to all but give up aerobic workouts because of degenerative injuries in her feet and knees. And my co-worker Tom, who was a devoted marathon runner until knee injuries forced him permanently to the sidelines.

The suffering and pain that goes with triathlon training is self-induced, and frankly, not all that miserable. And any one of these folks would trade places with me in a heartbeat just to get a chance to do a fraction of the workout I do. I am a very lucky woman. These runs are no picnic for me, but I'm injury free and getting stronger, which is a win no matter how you look at it.

Special shout-out: Just wanted to offer a special cheer to my good friend Juliet, who completed her second Ironman race on Saturday, April 9 in Tempe, Ariz. She finished in 13 hours, 41 minutes and 51 seconds. She has been an inspiration to me and got me started on this odyssey. I couldn't be more excited for her. Juliet, you are an Ironman!

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