Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2015 - It's happening!

I know, 20 days into the year and I finally decide to embrace it.  Good for me!  It's been somewhat of a low-key start to the year, so maybe that explains my reluctance to exuberantly celebrate the start to the new year.

Or the end to 2014, for that matter, which was a memorable year but wasn't exactly a *fantastic* year.  I think that I declared around this time last year that it would be a 'bold' year which, ultimately, it wasn't.  It's funny, in foresight, I believed that the whole Ironman thing would be an audacious experience, but that wasn't really the case.  As a family friend said to me on this topic, there is something militaristic about training for such an event.  He didn't say that in a negative way but rather matter-of-factly, and he was quite right.  By undertaking IM training, I ended up with a regimented schedule for about 6 months.  Not to say that it was easy - it wasn't - or that it wasn't a fantastic experience - it was -  and I certainly took risks and grew and learned about myself and about the whole swim/bike/running thing.  However, Ironman wasn't THE defining moment of the year, which is okay.  Maybe it's hard to find one moment in any given year, or, if you do, are you reducing all of the other moments that are pretty great?  I can say that 2014 was a year of growth, which came with good times and also harder ones.  Seeing relationships ebb and flow is natural, but it's not always easy, and I experienced some of those growing pains this past year.  Also, I know that it sounds silly to non-pet people, but I still miss Milo, our dog, who passed away last February.

I hope that 2015 is also a year of growth (I suspect that it will be!) and of tackling new challenges.  Despite some of my moaning, groaning and grumbling about lack of fitness, I have committed to another Ironman experience!  My plans in 2015 are Ironman 70.3 St. George and Ironman Boulder!  St. George was a tough choice because it's the same weekend as Wildflower, which will always be near and dear to my heart in terms of triathlon, but after last year's swim, I don't know how the conditions will be better this year (with the continued lack of rain), and Michael, Mr. Sherpa, said that he'd prefer to go to St. George anyway.  The only issue I'm currently experiencing with St. George - mentally at this point - is that it is a harder course than Wildflower.  Gulp.  This means that I need to get in gear, especially on the bike!  The bonus is that it looks like an amazingly beautiful course, so I can't wait for that.

And Ironman Boulder - it was the only 'obvious' choice for different reasons.  Summer plans, for instance, and also for the emotional pull that Boulder has had over the past 9-10 years.  It was my first Ironman experience, at Boulder 70.3 a few years ago, so it will be exciting to tackle the full distance this year.  Plus, we'll be there in June which will give me the chance to train on the course - what a concept!  Even better, I love the idea of seeing friends and family on the day of the event.

My only issue right now, is that... despite working with the same coach as last year (who is awesome) and despite the long off-season that should have reenergized me, I'm feeling...  Oh, a bit 'off'.  I was so excited to begin to train and to focus on 2015 training, and I still am, but I'm also worried that I bit off more than I can chew this year.  Maybe it's just that I'm nervous about the idea of another Ironman and I'm still waiting for things to come into focus.  I was so excited in July, still riding on the post-Ironman high, that I couldn't wait to sign up for another race, but now I feel somewhat intimidated about fully committing to the training program again - but here it is!

In the meantime, I recognize that I have much to look forward to in 2015 and exciting changes are afoot.  But there are also some scary unknowns (the Rumsfeldian "known unknowns" along with the "unknown unknowns").  I hope that I can embrace all of the experiences, good and difficult, and the changes that come my way in 2015.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The 2014 Christmas edition

I know, I know, it's 2015 already yet I'm still stuck in 2014.  With the return to work looming (ack, tomorrow!), I want to express gratitude for the fun times that we had over the Christmas break with good friends and family in Colorado.  Although it made for a busier trip, I felt particularly lucky this year that we were able to see both sides of our families, spending time with Michael's family in Boulder and skiing with my family.
Our trip preparations included dressing up Gus in his Christmas costume.  He was a very unhappy doggie as an ice cream sundae.

As usual, we drove from Pasadena to Boulder, however, we stopped in Santa Fe this year rather than Flagstaff.  We arrived late and left early, so we couldn't fully appreciate the sights, but wow, is it a beautiful place at Christmas with the lights! Also, the sunrise to which we were treated as we left town was so beautiful - such pinks and blues!  I sometimes think that Georgia O'Keefe's work is a bit cheesy with all of the pink, but when I saw that sunrise, I thought - "Wow, she didn't make any of it up".

After a few quick days in Boulder (most of which we spent running errands, although we hit some of our favorite places - Salt, Backcountry Pizza which is notable for an outstanding beer list, and Southern Sun), we headed to Keystone, Colorado to meet up with my family.  This was a repeat of our trip two years ago which was fine by me.  We discovered that a ski trip suited everyone - giving us enough freedom yet still allowing us to be together.  One of our first stops was Keystone Village where I posed with the ice sculptures alongside my niece and nephews:

And then we spent the next few days skiing:
Michael, my brother, sister-in-law and I

 Panorama view of the mountains

More posing at the top of the mountain!

Michael taking a break.

The skiing was really great this year thanks to a few days of major snowfall right before we arrived (and the day of our arrival).  I don't ski all-out, super hard-core these days, largely because I'm nervous about injuring myself, but we had several great days out there.  What most surprised us was the lack of lift lines - we rarely had to wait at all, and when we did, the lines were quite short.  It was fun to see my niece and nephews on the slopes too.  We didn't ski too much with them, but they are becoming very good skiers and it's fun to watch them on slopes!

The last day was probably the warmest, so we got in one final morning before returning to Boulder for a New Year's Eve celebration.  We closed out 2014 and brought in 2015 with a competitive game of Cards Against Humanity, plenty of champagne and caps that Michael's mother made for all of us.

A motley crew

Boulder - The Flatirons with snow

We spent New Year's Day in Boulder - going for a walk, visiting family, and I even motivated for a New Year's Day run in the cold (for me, it was freezy!), the perfect way to start 2015.  It was a full Christmas/New Year's break, and while at times I missed the low-key nature that often defines our holidays, it was great to see so many people and share the holidays with them.  We definitely ate and drank and played pretty hard, and I'm now ready to focus on 2015 and all that it will bring!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A "cat" in the house!

I know, there have been plenty of new additions to the house with the Bat.  And now it seems that there is a cat - or a kitten!

For the 2015 year, I'll be training and participating in events as a Vanderkitten VIP, which is basically the Vanderkitten Brand Ambassador-type program.  I admit that I was super surprised.  I'd been looking at VK gear for over a year and was planning on getting a kit.  When I saw that they were soliciting applications for the 2015 VIP program, I thought "Why not apply?  I have nothing to lose."  So, I applied, hit "send" and didn't hear from the company for a while.  Then, last week, I got an email informing me that I had been selected as a VIP.  Whoo-hoo!

The company's slogan is "Clothing for women who kick ass" and it supports women in a variety of sports, but focusing on biking (mountain, cyclocross and road).  It's a bit daunting for me to be included in such a group, but I'll try to rise to the challenge!  I'm definitely excited to connect with other women who are swim/bike/running.  While I lean heavily to the introverted side of things, I do find that meeting up with people, especially for training (serious or not), is energizing, and I'm hoping that I'll find a few more training partners and get to know some cool women.  All while sporting some great gear!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The post-Thanksgiving post

Gratitude is one of those ubiquitous topics at this time of year, and it probably should be more common, for me at least, on regular basis.  Also, I'm always a bit late with my Thanksgiving post (see last year) and the beginning of December is such a fun time as well with Michael's birthday, so a later gratitude/Thanksgiving post seems appropriate.

But I do have so much to be thankful for right now, and it's nice to remember that and take stock. First of all, we had a fabulous Thanksgiving break.  It was low-key, but just what we needed, a mix of social outings (we went out for Mexican food twice - how is that not a major win?!), plenty of fun activities and also some down-time.  Thanksgiving day was busy early on, as I went and "oversaw" students who were making food that we then delivered to The Midnight Mission, an organization in Downtown LA that helps homeless families and individuals.  I hate to admit this, but I was a bit grumbly before, not nearly as excited about helping out as I should have been.  However, once I arrived on Thursday morning and the kids came, something *clicked* and I realized that I was so lucky to be able to help out in this very small way.  Also, the kids really do most of the work - they just need an adult around in case there's an issue, like someone cuts off a finger (hasn't happened yet, knock on wood).

Once I returned home, we had a low-key Thanksgiving dinner, just the two of us, but then met at some friends' for dessert which was fantastic - a nice buffet of pies, bread pudding, cookies and we brought a pear and apple crisp with whipped cream.  We followed up Thursday with a trip to West LA, looking for bike gear for me and finishing that outing at LACMA.  We really enjoyed the two exhibits we saw - Samurai: Japanese Armor and Pierre Huyghe (I'd never heard of the latter, but apparently he is a big deal, at least according to the NYTimes, and so is this exhibit;  I must admit that I looked up information about Pierre Huyghe after the exhibit, but maybe that's the point of going to a museum?).

Returning to work this week was a bit brutal, but knowing that we have Christmas break right around the corner has helped!  Also, celebrating Michael's birthday gave us both something to look forward to. It was pretty low-key in terms of gift-giving, but we went out to dinner on Saturday at a new place that, as they say, knocked our socks off.  I'd read good reviews of Bäco Mercat, but really had no idea what to expect.  It's funny, when we lived in Silverlake, we rarely ate at places in Downtown and usually headed further west for a "fancy" night out.  Now that we are further east, the idea of going so much further west seems ridiculous.  Fortunately, a lot of great restaurants have opened up Downtown, so we are happy to explore at least one of those new, hip and happening places.  And, holy crap, it was amazing - one of the best meals I've had.  EVER, I think.  It was that good.  I don't even know what kind of food I would call it because some dishes had a Middle Eastern tang, like the fried squash blossoms and the sunchoke dish that we ordered (sunchokes are amazing, by the way, as I discovered last night), but then other dishes definitely leaned to Asian influences, like the peppers and kale and the duck confit, which I could only describe with superlative after superlative.  And I don't mean to forget about the drinks and desserts.  The drinks feature "shrub", which Jonathan Gold, the LA Times and LAWeekly food critic, describes here:  "Shrub is an artisanal thing, the bartender's equivalent of the array of jams and preserves flooding Etsy at the moment."  I also loved that it was a very casual place - and fantastic for people watching!

The other major gratitude this week?  RAIN!  Yes, it rained in Southern CA, like a real storm.  While it certainly doesn't solve the drought, it came as welcome relief and we might even get some more rain this week (please, please, please).  The best thing about the rain?  Going for a run in the days following the storm.  Southern CA is at its best following a storm.

And, finally, a nice social ride today.  I've been trying to amp up training a bit, but haven't wanted to be TOO focused at this point about 2015.  An easy, 90-minute ride just for fun was perfect.

So, lots of small moments to enjoy and take in and appreciate.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bonding with "the Bat" (aka The Sweet Ride)

So, the Sweet Ride (the Cervelo) has an official name - the Bat.  When I first had my eye on the Quintana Roo and a few other bikes, a part of the appeal, other than the price, was the color - black.  As much as I've liked my Trek, I haven't loved a white bike.  I realize that this is the most insignificant detail when it comes to purchasing and owning a bike, but I really liked the idea of a black bike, in part because I already had a name that I thought would stick - the Bat.  But then, I ditched the idea of the QR and opted for yet another white bike because of minor things like fit.  So, I considered other names for it, but somehow, once I started riding the Cervelo, the Bat seemed even more accurate because of how compact I feel when I ride.  So, the name has stuck.  It's even better in Spanish and is actually one of my favorite words - Murciélago. Also, there ARE albino bats and such a thing as an Honduran white bat, so maybe "the White Bat" isn't too silly.

This is not a real bat.  Source.

Anyway, the Bat and I have been spending some quality time together, and things have improved since our first outing (meaning - I haven't fallen).  However...  I realize that I sound like a broken record, but it is taking me a while to get used to everything about this bike.  I've adjusted, more or less, to the shifters being at the end of the bars, and the new saddle has greatly improved my riding experience, but it's still hard for me to get out and ride more than 2 hours at this point.  I think that I've been accustomed to a much more comfortable ride, one that let me ride in several different positions and to ride more upright, obviously.  With the Bat, it's hard to sustain any position other than aero (at this point), and I'm not super strong in aero.  My final point is that I don't think that I'm a faster cyclist on the bike even though everyone else whose blog I've ever read has raved about how they suddenly became speed demons with their tri bike (the Internet lies!).  So, I envisioned suddenly riding 1-2 mph faster without much effort, and I haven't found that to be the case.  Mind you, I'm comparing my current times to those from May and June, when I was actually in decent cycling shape.  Okay, maybe that's an unfair comparison?
So, the adjustment period continues.  As does finding all of the right 'gear' - hydration system/s, bento box, places to put/carry my tubes and other necessities.  I haven't been able to simply swap everything that I had for my Trek, and I continue to shop around to find the stuff that works for me and for the bike.

I definitely don't mean to complain.  After all, I've actually been putting in time in the saddle since this purchase, so it's motivated me to get back some of my bike fitness!

And you can see how different my fit is.  Michael now says that when I'm riding the Trek it looks as if I'm on a carriage.

We'll see whether or not I'm a faster cyclist with more time on the Bat, but I have noticed a difference on the run.  While I'm not running tons of miles off the bike at this point, I am faster, and not because of my fabulous run fitness these days.  It still feels just as hard to run off the bike, especially the first mile, but when I look down at my pace, it's faster than I would expect.  So, this might be a very exciting development - but I'd better learn to ride long on the Bat.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A new sweet ride!

So, last Saturday, this happened:

Although it would seem to be an impulse buy, that isn't the case.  First of all, I've been looking at tri bikes for the past 18 months.  Maybe even 24?  While I really do like/love my Trek and have no regrets about 'racing' my first irondistance event with a road bike, as I thought about 2015, it seemed like investing in a tri bike wouldn't be a waste of money.  I didn't want to be one of those people who buys a tri bike for one race and then never rides it after said race.  Plus, my road bike really is a good bike, so I was conflicted about adding yet another bike to my growing collection.  

After many conversations, I felt good about the decision to commit to a tri bike, so then I started looking around seriously - mainly online, but looking to buy, not just to look.  Then, two weeks ago, when we went to Tijuana, I stopped by Nytro, a shop in Encinitas that specializes in triathlon, and did some serious shopping. Going into this process, I wasn't considering a Cervelo at all, but was looking at Quintana Roo.  So, they got me on a Quintana Roo after taking my measurements, and made some adjustments and then more adjustments, and then I went out for a ride on it.  I didn't ride very far, in part because I was so nervous about riding!  It was a completely different experience - I'm so used to the fit and feel of my Trek, and while I was still riding a bike, I found it difficult to relax and get comfortable on the bike and I couldn't climb on it at all (also, I was nervous about falling or something, scratching the bike and then having to buy it!).  While I really wanted to like the QR, I had serious doubts about buying a tri bike after that test ride.  

Meanwhile, the guys at Nytro had set up the Cervelo for me, so it was ready for a test ride.  I spinned on it in the store, and it immediately felt better than the QR.  So, I took it out for a longer ride (but was still freakin' nervous!).   I wasn't ready to buy it at that point, but I put a refundable "down payment" which took the bike off the floor.  

After thinking about the bike for much of last week and reading a ton of reviews about the P2, we then went back south last Saturday (I realize that I live in the LA area and yet I bike shop in other cities - don't ask).  I took the bike for a LONGER ride which was good; I was less nervous so I could enjoy the ride quite a bit more.  This definitely helped me make the decision to pull the trigger and buy the bike!

The maiden voyage:

And then, last Sunday, I decided to get out and enjoy the sweet new ride.  It was a gorgeous day - perfect for a ride.  And things were going well as I rode along PCH from Malibu to just south of Point Mugu (during said ride, I realized how out of biking shape I am!), and then things felt off - maybe a flat tire?!  No, how the hell could I get a flat on my first ride on my new bike?  But, yes, I did have a flat tire.  

I stopped, pulled over and checked out the tire - of course it had to be the back tire.  And, somehow in all of my flustered frustration, I ended up toppling over, still clipped into the bike!  I've definitely fallen over while clipped in, but it's been a while and I've never gotten as scraped up as I did last Sunday!  The one positive is that I had the foresight when I bought the bike (with 650 wheels) to get tubes, just in case I got a flat.  So, we managed to change the flat fairly quickly and then finished up the ride.  At that point, I felt quite deflated - not only was my elbow banged up so it hurt riding aero, but the saddle was KILLING me.  

(While the bike was still a maiden; that is, before I fell while clipped into it)

Fortunately, the scrape has healed, and I'm none worse for the wear - nor is the bike.  And the saddle was no surprise - trying out the bike, I was about 99.9% certain that I'd need a new saddle.  After Sunday's fairly short ride, I knew that I either had to become a nun or get a new saddle.  The first option was out, so, I took it to the bike store here to inquire about different options.  When I rolled in the bike and explained my woes, the salesguy said "That is not a good saddle for women".  Good to know that I'm not the only one!

This past week, I rode the bike several times on the trainer (first time on the trainer since June, cough cough), and then Michael and I went out and rode the San Gabriel River bike path today.  This, by the way, was after an aborted attempt to go to Joshua Tree to ride yesterday.  We turned around at Highway 62, the road that leads to JTree, because the wind was insane - we even took the bikes off the bike rack on top of the car because the gusts were so strong.  So, the ride today was a welcome change from all of these mishaps - I did not fall, it was fairly stress-free, and I was able to really appreciate the new bike!  I'm still not super fast and need to get used to riding aero, but I feel that I can accelerate quickly and easily, without making a huge effort.

I still have plenty to learn as I acquaint myself with my new bike (whose name I'm deciding on), and there are other decisions to make, but I can say, without a doubt, that it is a sweet little ride!  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Recent getaways - the CA coast and Tijuana

The fall is often a hunker-down-and-work time for me, but we had two short albeit significant (for us) trips in October and November.  Last month, we took advantage of a long weekend and went on a short camping trip up the CA coast, just north of Santa Barbara.  As I recall, it was a hot weekend, so this was a great way to escape the heat, and it's always nice to be close to the coast.  We didn't do much except tootle around - eating good food, hitting Morro Bay, and stopping in to taste wine at the dog-friendly Alma Rosa Tasting Room (they used to have a great barn outside of Solvang that served as the tasting room - we missed that, but the wine is still good and we appreciated that Gus could hang out).
Gus, sunning himself

Michael, hanging out

Our little campsite

Ooooh - the California Central Coast - hard to beat at times!

And the big adventure for us was going to Tijuana, MX last weekend for Día de los Muertos with a tour group called Turista Libre which offers unconventional tours of Tijuana.  I've been to Mexico quite a bit, especially if you count all of the trips to the Texas border towns, but in the past 9 years, Michael and I haven't traveled south of the border here in California at all.  Most of it, to be honest, has to do with the fact that the situation in Mexico isn't 100% stable, and we aren't comfortable driving and exploring on our own, which is really too bad.  It's such a beautiful country and has so much to offer, which makes me even sadder that we can't (or don't) travel much south of the border.  Given our tentativeness, an organized tour seemed to be the best way to venture south, and on Día de los Muertos?  Major score!  I've never been to Mexico on or around Día de los Muertos, but we certainly talk about it in our Spanish classes, so this was exciting.  

We spent Saturday night around San Diego - just north, in Del Mar - and headed south Sunday morning.  We met up with the group right on the border.  The French teacher from school was actually the person who told us about the tour, and she and her husband also came along.  It was funny because as we were driving through San Diego, Michael kept asking me "Do you feel like we're close to Mexico?", and I kept saying no, no, no.  But once we were right on the border, I got out of the car and it definitely felt like the border (duh, it WAS the border, but there is just that feel that you have).  So, our guide, a US writer who has lived in TJ for the past 7 years, met us on the US side and then we crossed the border, got on a bus and headed to Puerta Blanca, Tijuana's largest cemetery. Before we left for the cemetery, our guide gave everyone on the bus a shot of mezcal.  Now that's a way to get your day going!

Our guide - with face painted for Día de los Muertos.

Hanging out by the bus

The cemetery

At the cemetery, a local folklorist told us the story of Juan Soldado, a local legend, which was entertaining (well, she was entertaining), and we also saw how families celebrated Día de los Muertos - visiting the cemetery, cleaning tombs, bringing flowers, and spending time as a family with their deceased.  

After taking in the sites there, we loaded up on the bus and headed to the Mercado Hidalgo - something like a food court, but better (obviously).  We mainly wandered around and looked at all of the different products - some edible, some more decorative.  

Lots of sugar skulls

The market's altar or ofrenda- to see what everything means, you can look it up here
It is definitely a complex process.

And more sugar skulls to take home.

Post market - on to dinner.

After spending the afternoon in the cemetery and then the mark, we headed to El Taller, a restaurant that specializes in pizza.  We had the mole pizza which was good.  Not quite as much mole flavor as I expected or hoped, but still pretty good.  

And then we had a bit of an adventure crossing the border!  Not really, but we found out that the Tijuana crossing line was a 3 hour wait for pedestrians, and then we still had to drive back to Pasadena, so we took a cab to another crossing which was a shorter wait, and then took a cab back on the US side to our car.  Fun times!  

The one negative about the experience was the sense that we were such tourists.  Don't get me wrong, we WERE tourists, but to go with a group, well, it highlights that touristy feeling.  Also, you can't choose everyone else (or we couldn't), so we encountered a few annoying people.  I had to bite my tongue at least once.  But, in general, we weren't on top of the other people and mainly could explore on our own, but when we were on the bus and at dinner, I couldn't shake the sense that this must be the experience that people have on a cruise ship.  

Despite that, I would definitely recommend Turista Libre to someone who wanted to go to Tijuana as a first time experience.  I wish that we were more confident about traveling in Mexico these days, but the situation there is just so unstable.  I definitely felt that we were in Mexico, so that was fun, and it was great to be there for Día de los Muertos and to experience that, even in such a touristy way.