Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Countdown to the big "W"!

So, the BIG DAY is coming up! No, not the royal wedding - I'm already sick of hearing about that!
No, the BIG W would be the 2011 Wildflower Triathlon - also know as the Woodstock of Triathlons. I did not coin the phrase, but it makes me feel like I'll be transported into another time and space.
That feeling seems apt since I'm getting nervous and very excited with the anticipation - kind of like a virgin bride. In keeping with the virginity metaphor, I *am* a triathlon virgin, so this is kind of a big deal for me. In addition to dealing with all of the gear for the triathlon, it's a 'destination' event, so I have to pack for a few days. PLUS, I have to pack for camping which means more shit.
Yes, I mentioned camping.
That is the "Woodstock" quality of this triathlon - it's a big two-day camping and competing fest. So, in addition to the one-page list of athletic gear and provisions, I have to add another page-long list of camping gear and remember things like headlamps, matches and sleeping bags along with camelback, towel, wetsuit and tons of other shit.
I think that I'm ready - I've had several friends give me great pep talks, mainly by talking about how AWESOME the experience is going to be for me. I also had a great confidence booster this weekend. After a so-so trial swim at the end of March, I vowed that I would try another swim before the race. So, I found a local open-water swimming "Meet Up" and joined a random group of people for a swim on Sunday morning at Seal Beach. The weather was less than idea (60 degrees and rainy), but Michael and I went all the way down there (it's a drive), so I felt obligated to participate.
AND... I actually enjoyed the experience. Surprise, surprise!
There was an instructor or leader who talked us through the process and some people who were WAY experienced, but other people were even greener around the ears than I. So, a mixed group. After an internal pep-talk, I was actually in the first wave of people to head out. Initially, I experienced the same breathing issues. But we did a few trial runs of swimming INTO the ocean and then returning to the shore, and I managed to relax and to control my breathing. We also finished with a swim from one lifeguard station to the next (about half a mile round-trip), and while it wasn't easy, I didn't finish the swim feeling totally wiped out and exhausted. Quite the contrary - I was so psyched that I managed the swim in the ocean and that I had enjoyed it. I almost felt reluctant to return to the shore! It hit me that I could possibly enjoy open water swimming. Maybe it will become a habit?
In the meantime, here is the group - and Michael highlighted my head. Yeah, that's me!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I could get used to this...

Three day weekends, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...
This weekend, thanks to Good Friday, gave us yesterday to play, play, play. I always appreciate an extra day here and there when I don't open a textbook or pick up a pen with which to grade student papers. Yesterday gave me a total respite from the grind of school, and I took full advantage of that fact. I enjoyed something of a sleep-in, and then Michael and I sweated through a super intense (to me) spin class. After that, I motivated myself to go swimming. Despite dreading it and feeling confident that it would be killer to swim post-cycle, it was a GREAT work-out, largely due to the fact that almost no one was at the pool.
Our big adventure for the day was lunch. We spontaneously decided to try The Oinkster, a place that has become something of an institution. Several friends and food critics and Zagats all highly recommend this casual but foodie-haven, known mainly for its pastrami. And the fries and shakes are pretty damn good too.
It is definitely one of those "up-scale" fast-food places that serves good food and even boasts a nice selection of beer. The beer selection tempted me, but then we opted for a shake as our liquid pleasure. Once we dug into our pastrami sandwich and fries, I wondered how and why we had waited so long! The food was so great that I would seriously consider a return within the next week or two. As for the shake - also good and very different. They have standard options (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry), but we chose the ube shake. Ube is a purple yam, and it give the shake a purple tint. The shake was good - VERY sweet. I am glad that I tried it and can report to a friend that I have now experienced the Oinkster's ube shake. Next time, however, I might go for a beer.
Here is the pastrami sandwich:

After inhaling our food, we found ourselves in a serious food coma. A nap was the only viable option for the afternoon, so nap we did!
Today will be less laissez-faire. I do need to work through some papers, but dinner might involve a new recipe while sipping on a dirty martini. The perfect evening before I challenge myself to an open-water swim tomorrow!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why a Tri?

So, the 2011 Wildflower Triathlon is JUST over a week away. I kind of want to throw up when I think about it, but that's okay, there's nothing like a nice case of nerves to motivate in one way or another. This will be my first and could possibly be my last triathlon. Not to be negative about it before the race even happens, but injuries have plagued my training. I am officially getting old, and my body likes to remind me of that fact!
However, while I have not enjoyed every moment of the training (like the flat tire yesterday afternoon), it has been a cool experience to FEEL myself gain strength, some power, and maybe a bit of confidence in the water and on the bike. As I consider whether I should continue running in the long term, I do hope to continue to swim and bike, even when I am not training for anything.
As for the question of 'WHY'... Since moving to the west coast years ago, I saw many friends and colleagues compete in triathlons. I experienced varying degrees of fascination and also envy when they recounted their exploits, believing that because of a bum knee I would never be capable of the swim/bike/run experience, never part of that exclusive club. Post-knee surgery, I didn't think "Oh, I now want to compete in a triathlon", but the idea slowly formed as one of those bucket-list items, a life experience that would offer a great mental and physical challenge and an opportunity to suffer plenty and learn something about myself. Oh, I could quell the envy that was directed towards other people and maybe win some bragging rights! So, full of hope and gusto, I signed up for the Wildflower Tri - Olympic Distance - waaaaay back in December.
These days, the bragging rights hope rarely comes into play. At this point in the game, or training, I just hope that I don't lose a tooth when a person kicks me in the face in the swim. I would also REALLY REALLY like to finish the swim, to not have a flat on the bike and to survive the wicked hills that everyone talks about it. If I can complete the run, that will be the icing on the cake, the cherry on top of the sundae, the bbq sauce on the meat. I find myself frequently wishing that I had trained better, smarter, harder, but this is where I am now. Also, realistically, I am not sure how I would have trained that much better.
Also, I'm quite certain that I would not have wanted to train that much more. So much for being hard-core! While I've increased strength and endurance (I think and hope) and have enjoyed the challenge of training, I've missed more walks with the dogs than I would have liked, have often left a warm bed and another warm bodyon a weekend morning, and we have yet to enjoy our first spring hike of 2011 because of my egotistical training schedule! I'm splitting hairs here, because I do believe that the pay-off will be - and already has been - worth it.
Still, there will be perks when I back off the swim, bike, run schedule. I might, however, miss my wicked metabolism...
Is it all worth it? Yes, at this point, but we'll see how next weekend goes!
As for this weekend, I do have swim, bike, run on the docket, but a massage is thrown in the mix. I can't wait!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Fever and other craziness

Yesterday, when the person who is more or less "dean of faculty" said to me, "Oh, I'll be ready for our meeting in a minute", I knew without any doubt that I am over-committed and have been juggling far too many mental to-do lists. I had double-booked my 1:00 time slot. I also realized this morning that I double-booked a time this coming Thursday. Fortunately, I can correct Thursday's screw-up, and the double-booking yesterday ended up working out, but I think that I need to keep a to-do list for the next few weeks.
The problem is that I usually have about 3 on-going mental to-do lists, and I can keep them straight. At the moment, however, I have a surge in major activities and events, so my mental lists have almost doubled going from this:
- AP Class
- Level III Class
- Other "stuff" going on (house, doctor, bills, social...)
To this:
- AP Class
- Level III Class
- One administrative job stuff
- Transitional administrative job stuff
- Training stuff
- Camping weekend stuff
- Other stuff

Is it any wonder, then, that I feel like this:

Fortunately, I did have the good sense earlier in the week to anticipate a major crash and burn. While I would have liked to AVOID that crash and burn episode, at least I was able to end the week with some major down time. When the day ended (with a fun class, thank God!), I returned home and decided that I was not going to work out for two reasons: a. my left leg felt exhausted. Not to parse the parts of my body too much, but I do pay attention to my left leg and how that is feeling because it can affect my overall energy; b. I wanted a nap.
So, I took a nap, then woke up and walked the dogs which is always a positive experience. After the walk, Michael and I headed out for a very exciting night on the town! I got a pedicure, and he wandered around as he patiently waited for me. The pedicure was the usual great experience - I read trashy magazines while someone rubbed my feet, trimmed them up and then painted my toesies. I picked a pinkish-orange color that is unusually bright for my taste, but I still like it this morning. The major bonus was that the nail place was serving cosmos! I forgot about that perk but did not hesitate to respond in the affirmative when they asked me if I wanted one.
After liquid refreshment and freshly painted toes, Michael and I ate dinner at an Indian place that we are fond of. We will occasionally order take-out from this place, and we've eaten there once, so we were confident that it would be an enjoyable experience! Also, since we don't eat out too often these days - at least not for dinner, we thought that would make the experience a double treat. Overall, the evening did not disappoint at all! The food was great (we thought), service was very relaxed, and we sat back and enjoyed the night, talking about our summer plans.
It was a great way to kick-off the weekend, which has, so far, been pretty fantastic. I woke up on the early side for a Saturday and cranked out a nice swim. We hit up the Farmers' Market this morning and stocked up on fruit and vegetables for the week (hello there, fresh, young garlic!).
We're leaving soon for a spin class, and then it will be an afternoon full of grading. That, obviously, is not so fun, but the morning has provided a bounty of energy and "ME" time, so I think I'll be okay with grading on a Saturday afternoon!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Swimming along

Source So, while I have no hope nor plan to look like Mark Spitz in this lifetime (or the next), nor to perform like him, I am happy to report that I have learned not only to be comfortable in the water but have increased strength and endurance. Whether my training will have prepared me sufficiently for the Wildflower Tri at the beginning of May still remains to be seen, but at least I can say that I've made a good effort. One of these days I'll get around to writing about WHY try for a tri.
In the meantime, I will briefly talk about swimming. It's funny because my older two brothers were really 'into' swimming when I was a kid, and I have fond memories of eating Frito Pies at swim meats. If you don't know what a Frito Pie is, I'll educate you. My entire family spent many a weekend at all-day meets. I, however, never swam competitively or on a team. I knew the strokes and enjoyed the water, but the competitive spirit of swimming was never a part of my experience.
Back in December, when I signed up for the triathlon, I decided that swim lessons might help me swim more efficiently. My stroke was not strong, and I had major breathing issues. I ended up taking 2 different 4-week classes at the Rosebowl, and the classes really transformed my swimming experience. First of all, being at the Rosebowl Aquatics center is fun by itself - there are tons of people of different sizes and ages, lots of activities, different teams and groups that meet. With the exception of one of the coaches/teachers whom I did not like, I have enjoyed the other coaches/teachers who have asked me what I wanted to work on. It has humbled me slightly to have a twenty-year-old kid encouraging me, nagging me or yelling at me to swim better or faster, to push myself, to breath better. As a teacher, I must say that I envy these kids/coaches the reward to easily see the results of their coaching. Seriously, they would tell me to tweak one thing or another, and after one 50 I breathed better or had improved my stroke considerably. Thanks to the practices, I have built up some stamina. Speed might be another issue altogether, but I can work on that with time and more practice. In addition to the physical challenge that swimming has presented and the small, incremental victories (which will hopefully pay off on May 1), the experience of being a student and being in a class is both refreshing and hard for me. I am definitely a people-pleaser AND I'm very competetive by nature, so I want to swim harder and faster and prove that I am a good student. At the same time, I am not a great swimmer, so I have struggled with that fact which is quite clear to the coaches and to me.
One final thought - I could not have improved on my own. Maybe I could have increased stamina, but swimming would have continued to be a major chore rather than an opportunity to learn and to improve. As an adult (in my own experience, at least), I'm open to new ideas and experiences, but it can be difficult to really commit to them. Taking swim lessons and pushing myself to improve my *mad skills* has required a certain commitment on my part and an open mind, something that I don't always exhibit. So, yeah, it's been about swimming, but I've also loved the other experiences that I've gained from my swim lessons. AND... I might take an advanced swimming class, even when the triathlon is long over!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Latin is not dead!

See, togas! I wore a toga this weekend, and it was NOT because of a frat party! Non, non! Rather, it was probably one of the biggest nerd-fests that a person can find outside of a computer science convention. That would be: the annual Latin Convention for the Junior Classical League (just the state convention, not national).
I wore my toga with great pride for about 30 minutes, during the "spirit competition" and I tried to shout lots of Latin slogans. A difficult task because I know just about zero Latin.
As painful as it is to lose a weekend thanks to chaperoning an out-of-town event (loooonnng bus ride on Friday and today), I admit that I enjoyed seeing so many kids amped up and excited about Latin and classical history and culture. They were probably most excited about missing school and hanging out with their friends and very cool teachers all weekend, but that's another matter. While I did not participate in gladiatorial combat, I did sit in on a lecture about Nero - whether he really was as much a crazy, brutal tyrant as we think or whether we have taken an unfair view of his reign. While the lecture was a bit dry, I did find it rather interesting. No verdict on history's unfair portrayal of Nero, although the lecturer did make an interesting psychological case - that a family history like Nero's would push anyone to the brink of insanity.
I also took advantage of this weekend to dig deeper into a book that has been languishing around the house, rather ignored. I read I, Claudius for the second time over Christmas break and then stalled in re-reading the sequel, Claudius the God. This weekend, however, seemed like the perfect time to return to it - not only because of the long bus ride, but also because of the thematic and historical nature. I haven't finished it, but have made excellent progress and am enjoying it the second time around!

Despite all the fun over the weekend, it was so nice to return home sweet home!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pain free!

Finally - at long last! Fingers still crossed, however!
Today was the first time since February, no joke, that I've felt normal. WHOOP! Don't get me wrong, it rained, so my left knee ached, but it was the old, familiar ache, not a sharp stabbing pain or throb. This, my friends, is what I call progress and also modern medicine.
Not to complain too much, but I really had a "Fuck My Life" moment last week: The foot injury that nagged me for February and much of March had improved gradually, and then at the end of the month, I could walk quite well - briskly and more or less with a normal gait, putting pressure on the entire foot. However, an unfamiliar pain in the knee came out of nowhere and sent me into a major panic. I knew that it wasn't my ACL, which was a good thing, but I also couldn't figure out what the pain was. I even looked into canceling or postponing my participation in the triathlon at the beginning of May. I also cried at a certain point.
In terms of injuries, I usually like to self-diagnose and then wait and see. However, since I was in full-on panic mode, I called the knee doctor and made an appointment for this past Monday. Once I arrived at the clinic, I felt kind of guilty and silly for making the appointment and taking up his time since I knew that he wouldn't be operating on me. However, we do have a "relationship" established, so it seemed logical. And it WAS the knee that he repaired. After only a 45 minute wait (not bad!), he walked in, rather concerned to see me. He tested out my knee, twisting and prodding it, only to conclude that my knee graft felt GREAT! He was pleased as punch about that. I was about to worry that my visit was all for naught and that he would say, "Come back later when you have a real issue", and then he offered me a steroid shot.
Did I want one? Does a monkey like bananas? Okay, maybe some of them don't, but this monkey will absolutely take a cortisone shot.
He instructed me to not do any exercise for two days and to ice the knee regularly that night. Thank god for that advice because I had totally planned on a spinning class, and I was tempted to attend, despite that warning. For most of the evening, I cursed the cortisone shot which just made my knee hurt like hell. Today, however, I have no weird, sharp, stabbing pain in the back and outside of the knee! I am actually walking like a normal person! I've also become a true believer in the power of cortisone - that shot was AMAZING. Transformational. I heart cortisone.
I also think that I might even RUN and not walk the run portion of the triathlon. Okay, we'll see about that, but hats off to pain-free living!
As much as I'm putting on the happy, positive face, I will say that it's been incredibly frustrating, trying to deal with my emotions and with the injuries. As small and nagging as they've seemed (or been), they also turned into something of a bogeyman, chasing me down. I'm tired of these phantoms, real or not, and would like to return to full strength and full speed ahead.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

All good things come to an end

I have to figure out what to wear tomorrow since Spring Break is officially over and I need my 'game face' to get through the day! Sometimes, it helps me to look slightly fashionable, but I suspect that even that ruse won't help me much. I will, however, try to remember what a great break it was - not only the trip to Paso Robles, CA but also the days following my parents' visit, days which were blissfully unscheduled and perfect for afternoon naps.
I must finish with my Paso Robles trip report, which I left off Monday evening. So, Tuesday morning...
I woke up on the early side, prodded Michael out of bed, scarfed down a banana and yogurt and then we headed to Lake San Antonio. On a friend's recommendation (this a colleague who has twice competed in and completed the Wildflower Tri and is more or less my personal trainer - she also loaned me the wetsuit), I decided to do an open water practice swim - at the place where I will, maybe, be swimming for the ever-more elusive triathlon. I tried to NOT freak out when I saw that the temperature outside the car was FORTY FREAKIN' TWO DEGREES! I think it budged a degree or two during our ride to the lake, but it was pretty chilly when I stripped down and then geared up in the wetsuit. With zero confidence, I headed into the water (I swear my ass looks huge):

I swam out, maybe 100 yards or so, but realized that my breathing was so screwed up that there was no way that I could do anything resembling an open water swim. So, I turned around and paddled back to the banks of the lake and caught my breath. My dad (who accompanied us) and Michael watched me with concerned amusement as I told them, "I'm okay, I just need to focus and do this again". I still wasn't totally calm, but I felt better about the swim and headed back into the murky, dark water. While the swim was not a total failure, I also cannot call it much of a success. I never did get my breathing down or felt comfortable with my head in the water. Both of these issues are more than slightly problematic for the race. On the other hand, I am glad that I KNOW that they could be issues, and I feel that I will be better prepared in May. Or I hope that I will be!
It wasn't a great swim, obviously, but at the end, I was either tired enough or comfortable to at least focus on my strokes. It is also reassuring to know that I can handle the cold water - the wetsuit definitely works! It is so strange swimming in it, but I suppose the entire experience is quite new for me. Finally, at least I ended with something of a smile - of relief, perhaps, but a smile nonetheless:

And, it *is* a beautiful place to be swimming, so I will try to remember that thought even as I'm struggling through the swim on May 1!