Monday, October 31, 2011

"Race" Report: Lasse Viren 2011

Waking up groggy and with a headache on a Sunday morning (thanks the martini the night before - possibly?) did not exactly motivate me to hop out of bed, full of energy and ready to go.  But, I did haul my butt out of bed and started on the coffee and a somewhat healthy breakfast, hoping that this, along with an Advil, would better prepare me for the day.  Not the best start and it certainly did not forebode that the day would unfold splendidly!
By the time Michael and I were headed west, the sun was up, greeting a beautiful day, but the temperature stayed stubbornly around 48 degrees.  I kept my eye on the car thermometer, wondering how much I was going to freeze on the run or whether I should wear my old blue Patagonia top (circa 1996) for the run.   We found parking on PCH, ooohed at the scenery as we walked to Sycamore Canyon Campground, and shuffled along to stay warm.
The main thought running through my mind was not "Oh hell, I hope that I can finish this thing!".  If it weren't for the chilly weather, I probably would have turned over that thought time and again.  Instead, I kept looking at my watch, wishing that the 9:00 am hour would arrive sooner than later, so that I could get moving!  Finally, the hour arrived!  It was time to race, or merely run, depending on your definition.  I told Michael to expect me in 2 hours - I set the bar low for my expectations!  While I would be running along trails and through canyons, he planned to cross PCH and hang out on the beach.  I envied him for just a moment!  Putting aside such thoughts, I peeled off my top layer, begrudgingly, and tried to improve my position before the race organizer/announcer called "On your mark, set, go!".  No gun, just a running start.
As for the race?  It seems like a blur, but I will call it a 'race'!  I definitely started out on the slower side, unsure of the pace that I should try to set for myself, and cautiously feeling out the dips in the rocky trail as we wound our way through the canyon.  At a certain point, remembering someone saying "The first six miles are uphill and and the last six are downhill", I decided to kick it into gear.  My only chance of moving up was to push on the uphill - from experience, I can actually pass people on the ascent!  I didn't actually notice much of an uphill, more rolling hills, until I hit miles 5-6 when there was a nice, looooooonnnnnnggggg climb.  Lovely!  I stuck to my plan, pushed myself on the uphill and managed to pass a nice group of people, and then I kicked it on the downhill.  At that point, I was elated with my performance, and was ready to call it a day, but no such luck.  Many more miles remained...   Fortunately, my body and mental will/resilience (or whatever) held up over the last few miles.  I tried to enjoy the run, feeling the trail, especially when I returned to the familiar territory that I traveled the first few miles (it was a "lollipop" course), but by miles 10, 11 and 12, my mind was entirely focused on one thing: the finish line!
Which I crossed at 1:50 and some change.  I was psyched about finishing and being able to walk, and there was a nice group of people who gave me a few high-fives and/or hugs as we shared the post-race high.  We chatted over bananas, pretzels and other post-race goodies.   It was a low-key event on the whole, which made me appreciate the entire race experience that much more.  Even better - I love the t-shirt!  I can't wait to wear it!
Post-post race - a somewhat relaxing lunch at Neptune's Net, something of a seafood dive along PCH, just south of the race.  A nice cold beer and a plateful of fish and chips later, and I felt that life could not be more perfect on a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Unprepared, at best, but here goes!

I actually looked for another word on an on-line thesaurus, but things like "unrefined, unrehearsed, off the cuff, dashed off, extemporaneous" just did not seem able to replace how I am feeling about a little 20k trail run that I am undertaking tomorrow.  It is not 'unplanned' because I signed up for the Lasse Viren run four to six weeks ago.  At the time, it seemed like a good idea - and it wasn't even an impromptu, drunken decision!  I signed up when I was totally sober, maybe even on a school/work day!
But, here I am, the race is now tomorrow, and I definitely feel unprepared to run 12.4 miles of trail.
At the same time, I'm also pretty excited about the race.  It is a GORGEOUS weekend here in Southern CA, I've been slightly inspired by watching students haul butt at their cross country meet, and I know that I'll have some great views during the "race" tomorrow.  I'm hoping to get something like this:

Add to that, it will be something of a social experience since I know several people going/participating, so I can give myself points this weekend for being an extrovert! An all-around win-win situation.
Leading up to this week, I've felt a bit nervous about my knee which has a history and can be kind of tricky.  I scheduled an appointment with the knee doctor for Tuesday, hoping for the best but not totally confident that he would say, "Yes, you should keep running!".  Well, that was more or less what he said - he wants me to continue to be active (I don't know if that is so that I will continue to return to see him or if it is for my mental/physical health, but I'm not sure that it matters...).  So, based on that recent assessment, I have far more confidence in my knee, and I went out and enjoyed an short but awesome last night, a good way to top off a crazy-busy week.
So, despite my reservations about lack of training this fall, I am pretty psyched about the run tomorrow.  I have no aspirations to run fast, but I plan on enjoying it.  Hell yeah!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What happens in Vegas...

...doesn't always stay in Vegas!
I'm definitely 'lifting' an ad for STD (sexually transmitted disease, for those "not in the know") testing, billboards that I've seen around town.
It is, however, an accurate description of our trip to Vegas, Saturday to Sunday.  A quick trip, but it has had a somewhat lasting impact.  Maybe not long-term damages or major regrets, but I've felt completely "off" this week.  It doesn't help that we've been dealing with the car and I had a doctor's appointment that included a cortisone shot straight into my knee which knocked me on my ass.
But, back to Vegas, which was awesome but exhausting!  It's been five years since we've been to Vegas, so the quick trip over the weekend was, I suppose, overdue.  We arrived in time for lunch and ended up at China Poblano, a relatively new restaurant that is the creation of José Andres, a Spanish chef who trained at elBulli, that mecca of molecular gastronomy (now closed?).
As for China Poblana - we had a GREAT experience!  And it didn't seem like a very "Vegas" experience (whatever that it).  The idea is small plates, emphasizing, obviously, the cuisine of Mexico and China.  Some of the plates involved the fusion ethos, but others were pretty traditional.  We started out with some drinks that I could have sucked on all day long:

My drink has the corn husk as 'garnish' - it was awesome.  I don't know what it was, but it tasted great. Michael's margarita was served with salt foam, and it was a fantastic margarita.  The food was also damn good - we had a variety of Chinese and Mexican food:  a tamal wrapped in swiss chard rather than a corn husk or banana leaf; a yummy shrimp dish; a duck tongue taco and a beef tendon taco.  We definitely went out an a limb on the tacos, and while I can't say that I was necessarily crazy about the tacos, the flavors were interesting, to say the least.
We waddled out of the restaurant, back down the Strip, quite content with lunch.  And that was only meal number 1.
Dinner was pretty fantastic too...  Lots of courses, probably the best black cod dish I've ever had, an amazing cheese course, and a fantastic Sauternes that accompanied the cheese and chocolate at the end of the meal.  It was great to share the experience with my brother and his wife.  Also, Vegas on a Saturday night brings out an interesting array of people!
After a too-short night of sleep, Michael and I woke up early, determined to leave by 10:00 am.  With that in mind, we showed up bright and early as they were opening the doors to Bouchon, Thomas Keller's bistro in Vegas (yes, they have one in NYC and now in BH).  The server asked us about drinks and I went for a traditional cup of strong coffee - no breakfast cocktail for me.  As for the food at Bouchon - it more than lived up to my expectation of a great breakfast.  I honestly think that I had the best waffles that I've every had in my life - sourdough, light but dense...  And I ordered a side of bacon, and they brought something like an entire of PLATE of the stuff!  Someone else enjoyed his meal as well!

After stuffing ourselves again, we left Las Vegas around 10:30 and booked it back to LA.  However, we did bring a few things back from Vegas.  The extra pounds that we must have brought back!  And ta-da:

Extra goods from Bouchon!  A blueberry muffin that was pretty damn good, some bread pudding thing, and a pain au raisin.  I'd give two thumbs up, except for the pain au raisin, which needed more butter.  
Overall, no complaints about the weekend, although it is funny - as we packed up to leave, a wish to stay a bit longer fleeted through my mind.  Once we got in the car, however, I felt nothing but relief about leaving.  I also felt exhausted - not that we had a crazy, wild time, but the constant stimulation of noise, crowds, people drinking, shouting, celebrating, gambling, shopping is a lot for me to take.  Also, as we left, I realized that I had felt a bit like a lab rat - while we certainly stepped outside to walk down the Strip, it doesn't feel like you are "outside".  The crowds contribute to a constant sense of claustrophobia on my part.
So, all-in-all a success.  No gambling, so we didn't win or lose, which is fine by me, and we controlled any other impulse that the bright lights might have brought on!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sin City: Here I come!

I'm already prepping for the 24 hour visit that we have planned to Vegas - plopped down on the sofa, ice packs on my knees and a super dirty martini keeping me company!  It definitely feels like Friday, and I have zero complaints about that!
Tomorrow morning, we'll head out on the earlier side of noon and try to arrive around 1:00 - perfect for a late-ish lunch.  After we stuff ourselves (maybe at Bouchon if we are lucky), it should be time to check into our hotel and settle in for the afternoon/evening, during which we plan to eat and drink more.  We will also see some family, the "real" purpose of this quick trip, so I'll have a bit of bonding time.  Win and win!
As for Vegas, it is a bit like Whole Foods - a place that I love to hate, but for different reasons.  The whole premise of the city is fairly disgusting, and I'm not talking about the sex, gambling or the historical gangster piece.  No, I'm talking about the idea of building a city in a desert and draining resources of surrounding areas just so that the flashy lights, the canals and water shows, the pristine pools, and all the electricity pumping through can keep it up.
Talk about wasteful - that is definitely the bigger sin here.
And talk about hypocritical - I will definitely be crying into my drinks all night tomorrow!
While I think that 24 hours is just about the perfect time span to spend in Vegas, it won't give us the chance to visit my favorite part of that city:  Red Rocks Canyon.  It's actually outside the city, but almost worth a trip by itself.
Not, however, worth sitting in traffic on Sunday afternoon for hours and hours because I insisted on a hike to cleanse my spirit, tainted from the glitz and plastic fakery of Las Vegas.  No, I'll take all of that grime back home with me, along with a possible hangover!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Student presentations + Running = Not a great idea

After taking a few days off to rest the calf and the knee, I was determined that today would be the day:  run, run, run!  The weather cooperated for an afternoon run, so I tried to head out as soon as possible.  The calf felt pretty good, ditto for the knee, but there was another major issue that I hadn't foreseen:  my stomach.  Now, I have a very high tolerance for food, and I trust my stomach to digest without too many issues. Well, apparently, it (my stomach) has its limits, and I learned what some of those limits were today.
In fact, they seem to come in the form of multiple taquitos/flautas, tacos de carne asada, cake and also a sketchy churro (just one) con chocolate.  Now, this assortment of foods is not a part of my regular diet, but in recent days, I've definitely been eating more random 'stuff' than usual (yesterday, for instance, I ate empanadas, carne asada, tacos de pollo, tacos de pescado and sancocho, a stew thing).
Why would I do this to myself?
Definitely a sacrifice - the whole 'taking it for the team' concept.  In this case, the 'team' would be a class project, the ubiquitous "food as cultural expression" experience.
While I felt a bit like the calf, fattened up for slaughter, I also thought that I had waited long enough between my last bite of a churro and that I could fly through a nice, easy run.
Ha!  I did finish up the run, but not without having to stop a few times so that I wouldn't throw up while running uphill or down as multiple food stuffs sloshed around in my stomach and threatened, time and again, to do more than just "slosh".
I survived the run without puking on my shoes, so I'll count it as a successful venture on the trails!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday ride - Instant cure for a foul mood

After a week that was short (thanks to a 3-day weekend) but felt terribly long due to many after-work-obligations-for-work, the weekend finally arrived, and I couldn't have been happier.  I/we had major plans:  a longish bike ride Saturday morning and a longish run Sunday morning or afternoon.  It ended up that we switched the ride and run which worked out quite well.  I was, however, pretty pissed yesterday morning - we decided to do a ride around Irvine Lake in the OC (yes, we drive to ride and yes, I know that it sounds idiotic, but I do like to ride places that have nice wide roads, huge shoulders and rolling hills, and our little neighborhood does not offer these in abundance), but on the way down, about 30 minutes into the drive, I said "Shit, we have to turn around.  I forgot the helmets."  And I had forgotten the helmets.  This is what happens when you have gear scattered throughout the house.
So, we scratched that plan, returned home and opted for a run along the Arroyo.  I planned to run back home from our starting point, making it a 10-mile run or so.  As soon as we started out, I knew that it wasn't going to happen - my calf was incredibly tight.  Call me paranoid, but the last thing that I wanted was to end up stranded 5 miles from home (and no cellphone to call for a ride).  So, I tried to content myself with a 3.5-4 mile run, but it felt pretty lame to me.  What was even lamer was that I did not focus on the fact that it was a lovely Saturday and I had the good fortune to be out and about.  Rather, I stewed in my negative mindframe for the entire run, and then when I got home, I obsessed about tight calves and bad knees, looking up every possible website on both calf issues and osteoarthritis (the back of my knee is bothering me again and I like to self-diagnose).
I decided to focus on the possible ride this morning and found a great route - a loop that would take us to some nice rolling hills and not much traffic.  We set out, AGAIN, for the southland, and arrived at more or less our destination, which was shrouded in a very thick fog.  I'm happy to call myself a light-weight when it comes to the whole bicycling culture, and this is just one example of that.  Because it was a new and unknown route, I didn't feel super safe about biking in the fog.  I cursed and probably would have stomped my foot, if I could have.
Michael, however, suggested that we head to the coast since we at least know plenty of routes in Newport and environs.  We arrived in Newport and started to gear up.  I continued to curse because it was rather chilly, but he told me "You'll warm up" - that was a nice way of telling me to shut the f-up, which I needed at that point.  From Newport, we set out and more or less followed the route described here, which I found on the way to Newport.
Can I just say that the ride was AWESOME!  We were along a bike path for part of it, which was beautiful, and then we climbed a bit, only to be rewarded with a lovely downhill.  Nice shoulders and good roads for most of the ride.
Before heading back home, we stopped at A's Market, and treated ourselves to a scone and coffee.  The scone was just what we/I needed - fat and sugar?  Yes, please.  I did start to crash as we got home, as my need for protein kicked in.
Fortunately, all of this erased the crappy way that I was feeling about the entire weekend.  It's obvious that I need to adjust my attitude, but October may not be the best month to try to be all 'zen'.  Maybe I'll tackle all of this in June when I'm on summer break?
Back to my Sunday afternoon - I do have to dedicate a few hours to grading and planning, but knowing that I had a great ride makes that so much easier.  Here's to a good Sunday ride and maybe a great week!

Monday, October 10, 2011

An almost-perfect fall weekend!

"Almost-perfect" is kind of a lame way to describe a great weekend, but considering that I did spend a few hours (not nearly enough) sitting on my butt, grading papers, it would be hard to say that it truly was a chocolate-syrup-topped-with-a-cherry type of a weekend.  I'm now suddenly talking about sundaes, which have nothing to do with fall weekends.  Not even metaphorically!
Back to the perfect part of the weekend - it actually felt like a fall weekend here in Southern CA!  Not quite as much last year when we went to Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park and spent a night in one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.  I am a sucker for the alpine lake experience, no doubt.  We briefly flirted with the idea of a return trip, but homework for Michael called and grading papers definitely loomed over my head.
So, we stayed home and enjoyed a great 3-day weekend!  As I said, there was something autumnal in the air, which is definitely not always the case here in Southern CA during the month of October.  Often, the Santa Ana winds kick up and the temperature rises.  However, a crazy winter storm mid-week put me in a fall-ish mood, and the weather - cool at night and warm but not hot during the day - did put my mind to a change of seasons.  The Halloween decorations that have begun to pop up around our neighborhood and others also help contribute to that feeling of "fall is here!".
As for our weekend, we ate well, and we both worked a bit, but the best part of the weekend was spending time outside.  Since we nixed a camping trip, I entertained the idea of a great hike, and that WOULD have been pretty awesome.  However, I also considered our busy schedules these days and decided that a lazy weekend might be appreciated, especially by Michael, who has lots of late nights these days.  Still, we did get out and about, and we took advantage of the good weather!
Michael has started to run a bit with me, which is such a new and different experience, in a great way.  He doesn't identify himself as a "runner" (neither do I, for that matter...), but I think that he'll soon trounce me.  We've been running the occasional 5K around the Rose Bowl, but on Saturday, we ended up on the Arroyo Seco trail in Pasadena.  It's funny - I tend to run all of the horse trails that are accessible from our house - just a block or two away - but I almost never venture over to the Arroyo Seco.  After our Saturday experience, however, that MUST change!  It was a great experience, and Michael far preferred it to running around the Rose Bowl which does, I admit, get rather boring.  We did a 3.5 mile run or so, and then he drove home, leaving me to hoof it back.  The run home was pretty uneventful, although much of it was uphill - we're talking a few miles of lots of uphill pushes!  I decided that if it didn't kill me, it would make me stronger.  As I came to the end of my more-or-less 9 mile run, I thought "I can't believe that I ran 10 miles after a longish swim and bike ride!  I'm AWESOME!".  I almost never think of myself as "awesome", so that was a nice thought, brief as it was.
After Saturday's excursion, we ended up taking the bikes out on Sunday.  I am embarrassed to say that it's the first time I've been in the saddle since the end of August.  Crazy!  Especially considering that the Tour de Colorado should have inspired us.  It was a short but really great ride - my legs felt strong and fresh, even after my Saturday run, and there was NO traffic on the road, so I felt pretty safe.  Michael and I had fun chasing each other - sometimes he would lead, other times I would lead.  While we aren't biking enough outside, I could feel the results on the hills of the crazy-kick-ass spin classes that we've - not that I 'dominated' the climb, but I did enjoy the hills and felt strong enough to push myself, rather than just hold on until the end.
So, a weekend of good weather, good eats, and lots of time outside - I'll consider that a success!
Now I just can't wait for the next one!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The adult brain: Still learning

After spending a few years of my adult life in the education field (such a lame expression, by the way), there are certain buzz words in the teaching world that we banter around, for better or for worse.  A few of these phrases that came to mind this weekend were "teachable moment" and "life-long learning".
I'll start with the latter, considering that the years continue to move along and our brains, whether we like it or not, slow down a bit, not quite firing on all cylinders.  I don't put myself into the geriatric group, but I'm aware of the need to continue to learn, grow and stretch my brain and also my sense of self.  While life-long learning may include common concepts such as attending night or weekend classes, brushing up on language skills (oui, oui! which I'm not doing), reading a challenging book (that's also on my to-do list, but not currently happening),  I also like to include other aspects of life experience that don't fit into an easy adult-education-class box.  These vary from learning how to ride a bike with clipless pedals (shew - that was a long process) to adopting dogs and changing my life, to a certain degree, to accommodate them.  On occasion, I like to do a quick inventory to check on my capacity to learn or not.
Last week, I did experience a pretty major moment of insight.  After spending two different nights tossing and turning because of random work emails, I realized that when I'm angry, I tend to play super nice rather than show my claws and fangs.  Instead of responding with anger, annoyance or frustration, I tend to default to the "just be nice" mode, which, I learned in a short span of time, is NOT really effective.  Not that I'm going to become a major jerk and slam people with a scathing email, but I've now decided that I will wait until the next morning to reply to any tricky emails.  See, the teachable moment at work!
Over the weekend, the learning moments were more reminders or confirmations rather than experiences of major self-enlightenment.  We actually went out with different people on both Friday and Saturday night, perhaps a new record in my recent social life.  I can revert to my more introverted tendencies when school resumes, but this reminded me that I like people (shocker, I know!) and that it often opens up my eyes and broadens my experience to be social.  Friday night involved good Mexican food and strong drink along with said company, and on Saturday night we actually went to a music fest.  Not that I've *never* been to a music festival, but I confess that it has been a few years.  This experience was good and fun, and hit that learn-about-yourself note, or confirm-what-you-know-about-yourself note.  I felt very uncool and middle-aged.  WOW.  The uncool part I knew and I can embrace it, but the feeling middle-aged is new and not exactly fun.  However, I'm going to try to embrace that part too, since it is a sign of what is to come!  Aging, more grey hairs, creaking joints.  Okay, that's the negative - I know that there are many positives too!  Being wise, for example.
Finally, despite all of the evidence that supports the idea of learning from experience, it never ceases to surprise me that I just don't learn some things.  Or maybe it's selective memory?  At any rate, year after year, it never fails.  I survive September more or less swimmingly, and then October hits me like a ton of bricks.
So, yeah, that is where I am.  Learning, sometimes.  Not so much the other times.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Over already: the Dog Days of September

September seemed to pass in the clichéd 'blink of an eye', and it is now October.  While September is marked by highs and lows, as the school year begins, bringing with it the usual ambivalence - high hopes and excitement about the new year mixed in with some dread and also nostalgia for summer days.  Forever the optimist (okay, not really), I love the beginning of most months, the promise that they hold, but October is particularly promising, offering up the possibility that the weather might change and I'll have to pull on a sweater or fleece on occasion.  Probably the only time of the year that I find myself cringing at the beginning of the month is springtime, strangely enough.
The last week of September presented a bit of work stress which resulted in some very restless nights of sleep, or lack thereof.  I did, however, learn a valuable lesson that most people already know:  when I receive an email after 5:00 pm, I should not reply until the next day.  Just wait.  I also realized that I am so happy that I don't have a truly stressful job or life.  I think that it would kill me, or I would be so sleep-deprived that people would just take me for a zombie.
September was also a bit remarkable in that we settled into very new schedule at our house.  Michael is taking classes at night, so I find that the afternoons, after work, are packed as we try to walk the dogs, cook dinner, maybe go for a run or take a spinning class.  When he leaves for his classes, I then crash out on the sofa and try to plan and/or grade.  After a summer in which we spent so much time together, it is strange to be home alone for hours on end.  The dogs and I have bonded, but I think that they still prefer their male 'food-giver' to me.  And, despite my attempts to stay on top of my work load, I find it more and more challenging to do so.  It *IS* October now and the piles of quizzes and essays have gathered, and I am inching closer and closer to that edge of "I-will-never-be-caught-up".  Once I hit that point, I feel behind all year long.
Activity-wise, I'm still running but not swimming.  Also, I've avoided any true cycling since the Santa Barbara tri.  Lame, I know, but at first it was really hot and I wouldn't dream of biking in 90 degree weather, and now the days are growing shorter and shorter, especially as we try to accomplish so many things between 4:00 - 6:30 pm or so.  However, Michael and I have continued our spin class addiction and maybe even upped the ante a bit.  We have started to attend the occasional 90-minute Sunday class, which sounds like hell but is a great workout.  Because it is longer, we don't push quite as hard, so I don't even want to puke during the class.  Win and win.  I do, however, have a new teacher/trainer crush.  We had a random substitute for a class on Wednesday, and this guy, Ron, kicked our butts, making us do intervals for 45 minutes.  He was INTENSE - from his general demeanor (kind of like a drill sergeant with crazy tattoos), to his style (not using the mike but just barking out commands) and even the music he played (nothing nice and "poppy").  It was both awesome and awful, but I'm now obsessed with attending more of his classes.
Finally, we've eaten a good amount of Mexican food throughout the month, and last night was no exception.  We had a great night out on the town at one of our favorite Mexican places, Amigos, in Pasadena.  Good food, a strong margarita, great conversation.  What more could we ask for?