Well...this is a bugger of an entry to write. First off, I am not terribly pleased with either Strava or Garmin Connect as a training platform.
Garmin is convenient in that it automatically uploads all activities recorded by my watch and shows significantly more detailed data than Strava does. However, except for their Calendar view (which is superior to Strava's) I simply do not use its website or iOS app very often. Their devices record so much information and their platform is attempting to provide so many features, that you simply get frustrated by how poorly organized everything feels and your inability to view your data in a way that works best for you. My fingers twitch thinking of how I would improve their entire UX and add a handful of critical data visualization tools. Oh, and for the love of god could I please have the ability to add an activity manually? (Update! Tina has shown me where to add a manual activity in the Garmin Connect web application! Woot! She still had to go searching for it, so I think the point stands that their apps have a problem with organization.)
Strava swings the other way. Their pages for viewing an activity are the gold standard in visual presentation. I genuinely enjoy using their iOS app and I find myself reviewing my activities on it immediately upon completion. There is a solid social component to the platform, and its segments and flyby features are truly fun. But. Their primary focus is almost entirely on biking and running, which means other activities are given little attention and Strava's tools frequently ignore them. I find every single Training tool of theirs frustratingly limited. If you want a truly complete picture of your training via powerful search and data visualization tools, Strava does not deliver. I am also still pretty annoyed that they refuse to give users back a chronological feed–a feature they replaced with a "smart" feed over three years ago.
There are two other tools worth mentioning here too. Ride with GPS has really upped their game this past year, and if you are only into cycling I highly recommend it. If they ever expand into other sports, I suspect it would be a fantastic training tool. There is also Training Peaks, a platform designed by people who love entering data in ugly interfaces and then analyzing it with even uglier graphs. I barely last more than a few minutes in their application before I run away. As a UI, it genuinely offends me.
Sorry about that little diversion. While trying to write this entry, I spent time in both Strava and Garmin trying to find a way to easily visualize the last five months of training...and it was frustrating to say the least. So, instead, I will speak in less analytical and more conversational terms.
As a whole, the training went well, perhaps even better than expected. We only decided to start training for the Picnic at the beginning of January, which left us with less than five months to get in shape for what is essentially an Ironman Triathlon's worth of effort. We also decided that we were unwilling to focus exclusively on Picnic training as there were other activities–like downhill skiing and bouldering–that we still wished to continue doing. A challenge to be sure, but doable, especially since Tina and I are normally fairly active individuals.
There were a number of factors that added to this challenge though. Training in winter, especially for biking, is particularly difficult as the weather has a tendency not to cooperate. We had an entire week of snow, ice, and below freezing temps that made road biking for any significant distance impossible. And while we both bought warmer biking clothes, it is hard to push yourself out the door when it is 28 degrees and windy. Oh, by the way, hill climbing with freezing cold air? Hell on the lungs.
Both of us got sick too. I had a sinus infection that took me out of commission for over a week, and it took me nearly three weeks to fully recover both my strength and breathing ability. Then, the biggest challenge for me was the rolled ankle that happened in mid-March at the bouldering gym. The bike trainer and pool helped keep me active, but I lost more than two weeks of solid training time because of it. All and all, with two illnesses and an ankle injury, my true training time was less than four months.
I think in the end, I would have preferred another full month of training. When we walked up to the Columbia River on our first attempt, I felt finishing was possible but I did not feel as solidly prepared as I would have liked. Another few weeks of swimming definitely would have been prudent, especially given how punishing the swim ended up being. More brick days combing multiple activities with longer distances would have helped teach our bodies to push longer when tired too.
In the end, the best way to judge your training is by your results. While we did not do the full Picnic, we still accomplished a significant chunk of it and in the expected amount of time. If we had had time for a brief nap and a pot of coffee, it is quite possible we would have completed the entire Mt. Hood Picnic as planned.
What stands in my mind is how I felt afterwards. The next day, after 12 hours of sleep, I felt pretty damn good. A bit of tightness, a bit of soreness but no worse than I normally felt after one of our hard training days. I forced myself to take a full week off to rest and recover, but I felt completely capable of continuing our training regiment. That speaks to how effective the past five months ended up being. We were attempting to train our bodies to simply grind out hours and hours of exercise without breaking down. It worked.