Friday, December 21, 2012

End of year odds and ends

Usually we get out of school for winter break around mid-month, so it's been a longer haul to make it to the 21st, especially since Thanksgiving was on the earlier side.  But, when twelve o'clock rolls around tomorrow, I will not dilly-dally, as the expression goes, but will head home immediately, and then we will hit the road - Colorado bound!  We have some new gear for this trip - skis - which we found in September at a remarkable Labor Day sale.  I still can't believe the deal that we discovered, and I've never ever skied with such nice equipment.  We had a great time skiing last year, even though we just went to Eldora, the local ski place outside of Boulder which does not merit rave reviews.  Still, it was so fun to return to the slopes to ski - after ten years, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it, even if I just stuck to blue runs!  Keystone, where we'll meet up with my family, should offer more options, as long as the snow is good (which it hasn't been great, but good is better than nothing).  But tomorrow, the car loaded down with dogs in the backseat, skis on top of the car, plenty of crap in the trunk, we start the trek east!

I do wish that I were leaving all work behind, but that is not the case.  Sadomasochist that I am, I assigned essays and gave tests this week, so these will accompany in my travels.  However, all of my college recommendations due on January 1st are finished, so that is a huge relief.  And, having some work over breaks is par for the course.  Even with a bit of grading, the next few weeks will be filled with plenty of celebrations!

As I've kept this trip in mind as a starting point for the holiday season, I suppose I haven't felt 100% in the "holiday spirit".  By no means have I felt ba-humbug, but certain traditional gatherings and events have felt more like obligations than usual.  That said, I've also enjoyed a few recent discoveries which I'll share, in no deliberate order:

- Neruda once wrote a series of poems Odes to Common Things, and one is "Ode to Socks" ("Oda a los calcetines").  I would write an ode, quite different from his, to my now-beloved Strassburg Sock.  I do think that it is helping with my PF 'condition'.

- After a long absence, we returned to Mijares, a Pasadena Mexican restaurant/institution, this week and enjoyed the food, drink and company!  While we love Amigo's, especially the margaritas, it was nice to change it up.  Also, the food was excellent, and I may have to return JUST for the machaca (shredded beef) - so good!

- In recent years, I've become a huge dirty gin martini convert, but I recently discovered whiskey drinks.  A dangerous find, I know, but especially on the colder nights that we've had, whiskey, apple cider and bitters is a great combination!

- Finally, I stumbled upon this fascinating interactive media article yesterday.  NYTimes take on an outdoor adventure gone awry, a bit like Kraukauer's Into Thin Air. The article, "Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek" is fascinating!

Anyway, it's now Friday morning, so everything that was supposed to happen 'tomorrow' will be happening quite soon!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In limbo

While the religious definition of limbo does not describe my condition, considering the in-between quality of not quite being able to run yet not being injured, "limbo" seems like a fitting description.  After a mere two weeks of dealing with what is probably a mild flare-up of plantar fasciitis, I hoped that a run yesterday would prove productive and possible.  I was, unfortunately, quite mistaken, so I'm back to waiting around while still trying to be thankful that I can continue to be somewhat active (walking, spinning, swimming, probably biking if I'd get my ass on the bike).

I have scoured the interwebs with information about plantar fasciitis and have found zero consensus.  Probably the most fruitful discovery was that PF is often called "the vampire bite" of running.  I suppose, like a vampire's bite, there is no quick and/or easy solution - at least not for most people.  I've read dozens of sites, half of which advocate minimalist running shoes or barefoot running, the other half  advising a shoe with more stability.  Some people have success with PT, some don't.  For myself, I have yet to go the PT route, but am using a tennis ball (thanks ChezJulie!) to stretch/work the foot muscles.  I also invested in the Strassburg Sock and try to wear it when I'm hanging around the house after work, over the weekend and to also sleep with it at night.  I still suspect that my running shoes are the culprit - or partly - so I did go out and buy new shoes (which I can't wear yet!).  Finally, I've forked over money for two ART sessions (active release technique), and that has helped, but I'm not yet convinced that it is worth the money.  

In the meantime, I'm trying to be patient and look at this episode as a reason to take a break from running, with the hope that I'll be able to bounce back fairly soon.  I had considered some sort of a race in February - a trail race or a speedy-for-me half-marathon - but I've reconsidered that thought because I don't want to force the issue.  Not running has brought me back to the pool, which is never a bad thing, and although I'm not as dedicated as I would like to be, I've had several nice early morning swims and have amped up my yards a bit.  It's also been nice to opt for some lazy weekends, as much as I like getting out and doing 'stuff'.  Today, I chose baking pumpkin bread over swimming, and I can definitely live with that decision! Ideally, I'd like to return to running in January, but if not, I'll continue to focus on swimming and might reacquaint myself with my bike saddle.  Ooh, such a concept!

It hasn't been TERRIBLE not running.  Not yet.  Ask me in another month, but for now, my quality of life hasn't suffered, even though I miss the ease and convenience of walking out the door to do a loop around the neighborhood.  I do hope that the PF won't interfere with skiing as, for the short-term, that is more important to me than running.  I'd rather be able to ski in Colorado in just a few weeks and again Mammoth in January than run right now!  

Come February and March, I'll have a dramatically different take on the situation if it hasn't been remedied in one way or another, and you might find me in both minimalist and crazy maximalist shoes, in a desperate attempt to heal.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wait wait!

I know that some people keep a "bucket list", but I've always hesitated to put to paper (or type out) a list of things that I want to have experienced before I kick it for good, partly because my preferences have changed so much in the last decade, so why try to dictate life experiences for the next 10 - 20 years, and even the years beyond.  However, I've been a huge fan of the NPR show "Wait wait don't tell me" for a while now, and if I had a bucket list, seeing a live taping of the show would be on the list.

Or it would have been on the list - because it is no longer a 'pending item'.  Michael and I went to Downtown LA last night to see Peter Sagal, Carl Kasell and 3 panelists as they recorded the show live!  We nixed birthday presents to each other this year, hoping to eliminate more "stuff" in our lives, but we remained open to the idea of celebrations.  His birthday was this week, so when we learned that NPR/KPCC would live tape the show at the Nokia Theater, we thought "Why not?! What a great way to celebrate."

So, we actually went out on - for me - a school night!  Living on the edge, I know.  Before the show, we went to The Edison, a swank bar also in downtown LA.  I appreciated the idea of the bar, trying to recall a bygone era, and it was a fun experience for an evening.  Cool interior, and our expensive drinks were really great, even though they were small!  I did enjoy the black-and-white silent movies that they played on different walls.  I was fixated on one wall which played movies by Georges Melies,  whose work the movie "Hugo" featured.

After that, we headed to the Nokia Theater.  Despite living in LA for 7 years, this was our first foray to the Nokia Theater (we've been to Staples all of one time).  We weren't quite sure where to go, but we completely judged people on their fashion sense and followed those who looked as though they listened to NPR.  Bingo!  I had no idea what to expect and was actually nervous that the live taping would somehow let us down, but it actually lived up to my expectations - and even exceeded them.  It was strange yet fun to see Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell and also the panelists on stage.  One of the main reasons that we (I) bought the tickets on impulse was because Paula Poundstone was one of the panelists, and she was a bit like she comes across on the radio - awkwardly rambling at times and razor-sharp at other times.  After checking out her website, I saw one of her most recent tweets:  'Congress just banned the word "Lunatic" from Federal Legislation.  They replaced it with "fuck wad."'  Yes, I'm immature enough to find that quite funny.

It was a really interesting experience which I'm not going to describe very well.  I thought that it might feel forced or stiff, but the panelists were definitely "on".  Also, Peter Sagal - he's the dude.  Okay, Jeff Bridges is "The Dude", but Peter Sagal's stamina over the 2 hours of the taping was impressive.  Also, he and Carl stood the entire time, at separate podiums, while wearing headphones and a mike.  Kind of crazy! Oh - they were also dressed professionally, coat and tie, which seemed so traditional of them.  Probably one of the most interesting aspects of the taping happened at the end, when he, Carl and the panelists had to retape certain parts that weren't "clean" (I know nothing of radio-speak, obviously).  After the taping, they took questions from the audience, but at that time, I was falling asleep (it was 10:00 pm!), so we hit the road.  My only wish or regret for the night surprised me in retrospect - the guest was Hugh Bonneville from the show "Downton Abbey", and I think that I like his character on the show more than I liked the actor on stage last night, sad to say.

By the end of the night, our faces hurt from laughing for almost 2 hours straight which is not a bad way to spend an evening!  I'm curious to hear the episode tomorrow (or the podcast - whenever) to find out which jokes make it on to the program and how they piece it all together.  I'm not sure if that will detract from the experience of seeing the taping - I'll find out.

And I'd definitely see another live taping again, and if someone is a fan of the radio show, I'd recommend the experience!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Conversations with my body

I'm not sure if other people "talk" to their body.  I hear/read about the importance of listening to your body, but most of my conversations tend to be pretty one-sided.  In fact, my gut reaction to the whole listen-to-your-body ethos is to roll my eyes.  Personally, I tend to talk, and I expect my body to listen.  This has probably been the case for a while, although the conversation has changed over the years (my adolescent conversations bemoaned typical adolescent themes, which I won't go into here).

As I've entered the almost-middle age period and try to maintain an active lifestyle, most of the conversations are bargains that I make.  They follow these lines: "Okay, just get through this training cycle and then you'll get a nice break!" or "I promise that I'll go to the chiropractor AND get a deep-tissue massage, so don't be angry with me!" or "Don't get a cold now, wait until it's more convenient, please!" or the biggie "Just get through one more month and then I'll go to the knee doc and get a cortisone shot".  So, yes, I wheedle, plead, cajole, and make deals so that my body stays functional.  Usually I follow up on the deals in one way or another, and it does seem that I have a nice team of people that keep me going.

I think, however, that 2012 has been a pretty high-intensity year for my 40-year-old body, and it's performed for me - with the exception of bonking on the 30K trail race, but that was a mental problem as much as it was physical.  At some point, I had promised myself to take a nice long break from running after the trail race, and I did take a week off before testing out my legs this past week.  The two runs went well - they felt slow but weren't terrible.  However, the aftermath of each run was not exactly pretty.  On Monday night, after a 5.5 mile run, my hip and back started hurting.  Hmmm....  So, I took a few days between and then went on a short run on Friday.  Again, I hammered out the miles without a big deal, but then the same weird hip/back pain flared up afterwards.

So, Friday night, I promised myself that I would get to the chiropractor within the next week and try to see what was going on, but I wasn't overly concerned.

That was until yesterday morning, when I woke up and could barely walk because of a stabbing pain in my right heel on the bottom of my foot.  What was this?!  Pain that continued throughout the day and allowed me to walk, but with a hobbled gait.  After checking out my symptoms on the interweb (always trustworthy), I self-diagnosed plantar fasciitis, a common yet, from what I gathered, fairly debilitating condition.  I know several people who deal/have dealt with it, and I'm aware that it is no light matter.  Maybe it's something else, but I'm about as sure as I've been about any self-diagnosis thanks to internet information.

So, fine, I'm officially "listening" to my body.  Yes, I'll take a break from running, and I'll pay much closer attention to stretching and icing, and I have an appointment for Monday afternoon to deal with my body in general (hips, knee, ITband, foot issues).  I had already planned to spend more time in the pool this month, so this gives me a good push to do so.

Taking a longer-than-planned break from running does not make me a happy camper, but I'll take it if I can run pain-free in the long term!

And, yes, it seems that I'm finally listening to my body.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thought for the day

Yes, deep thoughts, I know, very Jack Handy-esque.  But, after hearing on the news this morning about the billions (maybe that number is wrong, but I swear it isn't) of dollars that Americans spent over the weekend and finding that to be somewhat depressing, I was cheered when I opened up an email from Patagonia and saw this image:

As it turned out, we eschewed all sales on Friday and throughout the weekend, and we ended up finally taking a trunk full of clothes and other household items (old wedding presents that we've never used, for example) to donate on Saturday.  It was nice to clear out some of our stuff and to not add to our possessions!  To be honest, we did not do either one deliberately, it just turned out that way, but avoiding the sales did seem like the sane and rational option to both of us.

I have yet to take the pledge, hypocrite that I am, and we're hardly purists when it comes to consumerism.  But it does seem that we're downsizing this year in terms of Christmas for other people and birthdays for each other (we stopped giving Christmas presents to each other when we got married).  Downsizing, at least, in terms of "stuff".  We have plenty of activities planned, and we'll certain enjoy these experiences which are not exactly cheap, but no stuff.  We would like to buy new bike shoes and pedal systems at some point within the next two months, but I'm hoping that will be the extent of my personal shopping for a while!  I've also resisted signing up for a bunch of races, despite all of the deals that have cluttered my inbox in recent days.  Although they seem so appealing (and the prices are right in many cases), I'd like to be thoughtful rather than randomly signing up for a race just because it seems like a bargain.

So, here's to a little less consuming this holiday season?!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Switching things up a bit

This is a happy Thanksgiving week, in more ways than one, and I've definitely felt gratitude towards much in my life.  The week has been remarkable for the low-key nature of it, and I've been looking forward to that for a while!  We traveled the last two years over Thanksgiving, and as much as I love going elsewhere to see family and friends, staying at home has given us the chance to be pretty lazy and indulge in a few activities that are rare treats.  First of all, going out on Tuesday night for four-and-a-half hours!  The three of us who ran "together" on Sunday (together is a loose term since one member of our little cohort finished over an hour faster than I did!) met up for celebratory margaritas at Amigo's.  Again, not the best Mexican food in Pasadena, but how I love that place!  On Wednesday afternoon, we went to the Arclight Movie Theater in Hollywood, always a great movie-going experience, and saw Skyfall.  I've been a Daniel Craig as 007 fan, and this movie lived up to the reviews, some of which were rave and others a bit more subdued.  While I wouldn't say that it was the best movie ever, it did entertain us, which is really what I expect from a James Bond movie.  Also - Javier Bardem as the bad guy?  He's so good in that role!

Thanksgiving day was a nice celebration - nothing too crazy, which I definitely enjoyed.  We ended up having a friend join us for our meal, and it was good to have the company as we drank champagne and a decent cab.  We opted for duck breast rather than turkey, but had a minor moment of panic when we thought that we had not packed the duck breast in the grocery bag.  Crisis averted - it was in hiding in one of the drawers in the fridge!  However, I had forgotten a bag of fresh cranberries for our dessert, but that was an easy mistake to repair since the store was still open.  While I like to tuck into a huge array of typical Thanksgiving food, it was great to have a smaller, more manageable meal.  Probably the most traditional aspect of the day was watching on and off some of the football games!

Even though I have yet to test out my legs on pavement or trails, we did go spinning yesterday and today, during which we both felt somewhat out-of-shape as we panted and pushed through intervals and sprints.  I am also going to return to the swimming pool this weekend!  I originally planned to take a two- to four-week break from running after the trail race, but then I started to fantasize about proving to myself that I really CAN manage a 30K trail race and found one that looks equally parts terrifying and exciting.  For starters, the elevation gain is even more than the last one, which then makes me think that I must be crazy to even contemplate this race!  But, I do think that my plan to take a major break from running is out the window, unless I go for a run and find it way too painful, which could possibly happen.

As I research different race options, I actually am trying to show some restraint and not sign up for another trail race immediately. Or any race, for that matter.  For now, taking a break from any sort of "training" will, I hope, allow me to start 2013 with a sharp focus.  So, while I'm back in the pool, sort of back in the saddle, and will certainly continue to run, there is no training and there are no 'events'.  A revolutionary concept - to have no plan!  It sounds pretty appealing at the moment.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Serious fun": Santa Monica Mountains trail race

So, our race bibs had the tagline "Serious fun", reminding us of why a fairly small group of people had arrived on the early side of a Sunday to do something crazy like run a 30K or an even longer distance.  Throughout much of this race, I completely forgot the fun part, and even now I would say that a more appropriate description of my experience is "Fun if you love suffering".

Because suffering is what I did today.  I certainly don't consider myself a badass, but I can usually hold my own in a race if I've trained.  This race humbled me far more than anything that I've done recently - maybe even in all my very limited racing experience (even Wildflower in May and certainly harder than Boulder 70.3).  I often say that I'm just happy that I finished, but let's be honest.  Really, I'm not happy to "just finish".  I like to have a sense satisfaction when I reflect on my performance and know that I ran a good and smart race and finished strong.  As for today, I have zero satisfaction about my performance, except that I'm still a bit surprised that I finished the damn race.

To back up, the race for the 50k and 30k participants started at 8:30.  The 30k course was made up of two different 'loops', or lollipops, the first one being 12k and the second one 18k.  The 12k loop was tough - challenging, rocky uphill and downhill trails.  Also, there was one stretch that should have been fast and easy, but because of the rain yesterday it ended up being muddy - and a sticky mud.  I kept stopping to scrape the mud off my shoes because it felt as though I was carrying around an extra two pounds per leg!

Once I returned to the start line, I then began the second loop - the 18k.  I finished the 12k in over an hour, but I felt good about my pace.  We had a long climb for a few miles, but the trail was a lot easier than the 12k loop, so I was confident that I would have a strong 18k.  I felt that way until about mile 11.5.  At that point, I had hit a nice downhill slope and should have picked it up, but I just could not make my legs go.  So, I asked myself "What is going on" - a rhetorical question because I felt clammy, cramping, and weak.  I started walking on the downhill (how lame) and even sat down a few times.  I knew that the aid station was up ahead and I just had to walk another 1/2 mile or so which, in any other circumstance, wouldn't have bothered me.  However, this was the longest half-mile walk of my life.  Meanwhile, tons of people were passing me which drove me crazy but there was NOTHING that I could do about it.

Finally, I made it to the aid station.

Ah, the aid station.  I hoped that there would be paramedics there or a huge crew, ready to deal with any and all problems.  Ahem, this is a trail race, and a tiny one at that.  There were two guys managing the aid station, but even then I hoped that one of them would call an ambulance for me - or do something dramatically helpful like drive me back to the start/finish line.  I had accepted that this would be my first DNF, and I didn't even care because I wanted the experience to end.

Well, no such luck. Instead, they jumped into action, making me sit in a chair, giving me two salt tablets, a cup of regular coke and some boiled potatoes with salt.  I was too fried to say "no, I need a doctor!".  When I eventually felt a bit more energetic, I apologized for all the trouble.  Again, the volunteers were great and assured me that it happens to everyone, at least once.

After a 15 minute (or longer?) break, I shuffled off, thinking that I must really be crazy to continue, but what choice did I have? Also, I noted that I was feeling better with each step, and eventually I caught up with a few people who had arrived at the aid station and then continued on while I was still 'recharging'.  I kept ticking off the miles and feeling a bit stronger and more confident, even on the uphill.  Once I turned onto the trail that would lead me down to the finish line, I felt incredibly happy and relieved, despite the fact that I still had a few more miles of downhill to navigate.  For a brief moment, I hoped to push it on the descent and try to pick off one or two people, but I then settled into an easy pace and accepted the fact that just finishing would be quite a feat at this point.

So, I crossed the finish line at 4:17.  Woo-hoo!  I thanked the organizers and told them that the only reason that I made it back was because of the people at the aid station.  I also saw those guys - they seemed surprised and happy that I had made it back so "quickly".  It was obvious to me that their concoction - salt tablets, coke and potatoes -was some sort of holy trinity of trail running.  I think that I was one of the very last people running the 30k to cross the finish line.  I won't lie - that hurts my ego a bit, but considering that I didn't even think that I would finish, I'll try to find some satisfaction in that.

So, final thoughts on the day?  I'm glad that I ran the 30K, despite the fact that the race shredded me.  It was a new distance, and it challenged me more than I could have expected.  I learned an important lesson - fuel, fuel, fuel on real food during longer trail races.  I'm not sure what happened, but I know that I'll be more careful in the future.  Also, I hesitated to wear the Garmin, but I opted for it, and I think that it helped me continue when I was in my meltdown mode.  Otherwise, I probably would have sat on the side of the trail and given up completely.  A major positive - the race was beautiful, although I wish that I could remember more of the great views and the wonderful trails (especially that 18K loop).  I'd love to return and hike some of the trails and actually take in the scenery!  Finally, it was a really tough race.  I knew that the climbs would be serious, but I trusted my training, perhaps naively, because it was all much harder than I expected.

But, I'm alive and well now and don't feel too terrible after 18.6 miles and 3200 feet of climbing.  Looking back, I'm also happy that despite my meltdown today,  I remained relatively healthy during the training cycle.  I am not, however, about to sign up for a 50K, or even a 5K, at the moment!

*Sorry this was so long!
**Sorry that I have no photos - no energy at the end!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Running tomorrow!

Okay, after my mini crisis on Wednesday when I was doom and gloom and feeling sorry for myself, my eye has improved enough each day that I think that I can safely run tomorrow!  After embracing the notion that I wouldn't be able to run, I now have to switch gears and get into that "race" mode.  Although calling this a race is, perhaps, abusing the meaning of that word.  I recognize that I'll be going slow, for much of it.  While it won't be as brutal as, say, the Mt. Wilson race, in terms of elevation, I will have to sustain the ascents and descents for considerably more mileage.  So, the race/run will certainly challenge me, even if I take it in a slow gear!  It should be a beautiful day - or a wet one, if today's rain doesn't clear up by tomorrow.  Obviously I'm gunning for the former, and the idea of great views was one of the reasons that I signed up for this run/race.

Today, then, is a bit of a rest day.  Well, the entire week has been a bit a rest week, in terms of running (or any physical activity, for that matter), but this is "intentional rest".  I did go cheer on our students who raced today - go cross country!  They were super fast - oh, to be young again!  But at the moment, I'm watching the UCLA/USC game, looking at a pile of papers, and listening to our dogs snore.

As for tomorrow, most of my gear is ready to go.  The question that still remains - to run with the stupid garmin or not?  In many ways, I really do enjoy the information that garmin gives me, and sometimes I push myself a bit more because I'm looking at my time.  However, this is not a road race, and, as I mentioned earlier, I cannot focus on speed tomorrow.  Like the tortoise, my goal is a slow and steady pace and, hopefully, a strong finish.  At the same time, I'd love to see the data, see my elevation gain/loss and, if I sign up for the same race next year, to be able to compare.  Oh, garmin, how you confound me!

So, the jury's still out.  I'll probably decide as I line up at the start!  Speaking of the start, I do appreciate that I will be showing up to run tomorrow, and I'm excited (and nervous!) about the experience!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Motivation - totally worth it

This weekend served as a nice reminder as to why I should NOT succumb to my couch potato tendencies, as much as I would like to just lie around and do nothing.  On both occasions this weekend, when I wavered and then finally got out the door, I was ultimately rewarded with the chance to enjoy a beautiful day.  So, reminder to self - don't be a lazy slob!

Before I give myself too many pats on the back, I admit that I ditched a Saturday morning run, even though I was the one who sent out an email earlier in the week trying to drum up interest.  So, total fail on my part (Rob - sorry about that!).  I will say that it was nice to go to the farmers' market, walk the dogs and run a few errands.  However, by Saturday afternoon, I was regretting my decision, especially after I watched the 2012 Ironman World Championships on TV.  Totally inspiring.  Plus, the weather was gorgeous - I couldn't ask for a better afternoon for running.  So, I finally laced up my shoes and hit the trails.  I set out around 2:30 and finished around 4:00.  While I missed the companionship that the morning run would have given me, I will say that the light during the afternoon hours was just amazing - almost like something out of the Hudson River School.  I finished the run tired and kind of chilly, but quite happy that I had a few miles under my belt for the day.

Yesterday afternoon, the opportunity to be lazy for the afternoon once again presented itself.  We had plans to go camping in Malibu for the night, but more than once I entertained the thought that we could just spend Sunday en casa and then go to Malibu for a hike early Monday morning.  Somehow, we opted to get our camping stuff in the car and head west.  Once we hit the road, we were both so happy for the change of scenery.  Even though Malibu is not that far away from where we live, it has such a different feel, so it does seem that we're getting away from our humdrum lives, even if it's just for a morning or an afternoon.  We camped at Leo Carillo, not exactly a place to go for solitude! There were some younger kids having a fun night! But, it makes up for that by allowing people easy access to the water and a lovely beach to watch the waves, birds, surfers and the sunset.   This was truly LA camping - we didn't bring food but opted to grab dinner out after the sunset and then return to our campsite to drink wine and go to sleep. Which we did by 8:00 pm or so!

Overall, not a bad place for a quick jaunt, even if the wind kicked up and our tent hit our faces for most of the night!  Waking up, getting coffee and taking yet another walk on the beach was an even better reminder of why this was all totally worth it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Going longer

As the date of my impending trail race nears, I've had plenty of time (mainly on the trails) to think about the concept of going longer.  I would say going "long", since for me this really does feel that I'm pushing myself to max miles per week, especially considering that I'm a total mileage underachiever, but for other people, my long runs barely count.  Still, it's all relative, and October did see me ramping up my mileage significantly.

This 'ramp up' has been kind of fun and kind of scary.  I've had a history of injuries, and I hoped to avoid that situation, obviously.  My knee can be temperamental, and often a cortisone shot can fix it.  I had one in June, and I'm trying to maintain the status quo until January, so I didn't want to go that route quite so soon after the last one.  I would say that running 3 times a week is my sweet spot, and even if I'm upping my mileage, I can stay healthy if I'm not an idiot about it.

As for the longer runs in October and on Saturday, I can't complain about any of them.  At times I set out hoping to barely hit 10 and found myself finishing 12 or 13.  I often felt quite lucky while on the trail, not only because my body was cooperating but also because we've had some amazing fall weekends!  The light has changed, and this weekend especially I enjoyed moving between the shade and the golden sunshine.  I also felt completely spooked on one run - two weeks ago, it was an unusual, dreary day and I hit the trails for a solo run.  As I crossed a stream or two and then ran through some high grass, listening only to my breathing, I did think that it would be the perfect setting for Kujo or Jason or Johnny or any other horror/suspense-movie villain lying in wait...

This Saturday marked the longest run that I've completed in ages - maybe 10 years or so?!  We couldn't have wished for a perfect day - sunny and crisp at 9:00 am, it warmed up but was never hot.  It was great to run (and shuffle) most of the 15+ miles with a partner who patiently waited for me as I huffed and puffed along behind him.   This run reminded me of the importance of patience while running.  We set out climbing and worked our way up the El Prieto trail around JPL.  It's not a terribly difficult trail, but I wouldn't describe it as easy either, especially because I felt that I had to be so aware of mountain bikers zooming downhill.  Once we hit the fork in the road, heading to Brown Mountain, the trail became less rocky and the grade eased up a bit.  I hit a few moments during miles 3-4 when I questioned whether I could go much further, but once we hit miles 6 - 10, I could actually enjoy the experience! Again, pushing through the tough miles allowed me to appreciate those 'easy' miles and also the views that the higher elevation offered!  By mile eleven or so, it occurred to me that I could run for another hour or so, but by mile 13, exhaustion had begun to set in.  At this point, Rob and I split up - I was on my own for the final 2 miles or so.  The first solo mile went well.  I felt that I was slowing down, but I kept up a decent pace.  The last mile, however, felt like my Waterloo.  My body ached (legs, hips, back) and I was just damned tired.  Fortunately, it was the final mile, so I pushed on and managed to hit the 15.5 mile mark.  Yippee!

Again, it was a long, SLOW run, but it felt almost luxurious to be out on the trail for several hours, just taking in the day, measuring the twists and turns of the trail, trying to cautious about bikers heading up and down trail (at one point, I was totally lost in thought and when a mountain biker and I almost collided, I was as startled as a deer and, very un-deerlike, yelled "Fuck!"), and also losing myself in the movement of the trail and of myself and contemplating the idea of an even longer run.  There was a definite ebb-flow quality about this run as I clocked some painfully slow miles which were then followed by a few decently speedy miles.  Hitting 15 miles did mark a bit of a milestone for me, and I'm looking forwarding to the full 30k in just a few weeks.

I will say that running longer does open up the question - can I go 'long'?  Is another marathon (last one being Philly, 1996) a possibility?  A part of me thinks that I could definitely run a marathon, no problem.  That would be the overly-optimistic persona that does reside in me, but I also try to listen to my more reasonable voice when it comes to matters of running.  I honestly believe that I've managed these longer runs because they've been on trails.  While trail running is hard, it also slows me down, and I think it's easier on my knees and other joints than the relentlessness of pounding out miles on the pavement.  So, what is funny about my idea of going long is that I would lean more towards a longer trail run and, for the moment, put aside any thoughts of marathon madness.

All this is hypothetical, at any rate.  We'll see how I run in Malibu and, more importantly, how I feel during and after the race!

Friday, November 2, 2012


Am I the only person who is pretty damn excited that it's November?  Is it terrible that one of the reasons that I'm so looking forward to the month is due to a long weekend (Veteran's Day weekend - we have an in-service that is pretty creative this year) and, of course, Thanksgiving.  While we love traveling and visiting family and friends and all that this entails, we have zero plans for Thanksgiving weekend, and I cannot say how appealing that is to me.  Lame?  Maybe, but also indicative of my need for a total break.

November 1st, yesterday, came and went with two notable items for me.  First of all, I finished 18 student recommendations, a record for me.  Shew!  Most of the recommendations were quite good, some were even excellent, but a few were probably weaker than they would have been if I had been able to take a day or two more with them.  I know that I nailed some of them, but I do wish that I'd had a day or two more for the final 3-4 letters.

The second item of note is that I signed up for this event:

So excited about Vineman!  It's crazy that I signed up for a race that is in mid-July.  Even crazier that it sold out yesterday - the first day that registration opened.  After many conversations about 2013 with myself and with Michael ("I want to do an Ironman, I can't do an Ironman, it would be great to do an Ironman next year, this is a ridiculous idea for about a thousand reasons but I can think of a one or two great reasons...."), I - we - decided that such a goal was not a viable option.   So, I've set my sights on two long-course races.  I'm waiting to sign up for the other one, but my impatience got the best of me for Vineman.  Turns out, that was a good thing!  

As for the "why" - well, a lot of it has to do with timing.  At the moment, I plan to head south to Nicaragua again in August and while I loved my experience at the Boulder 70.3, I don't want that race to cut into the Nicaragua trip.  I will, however, still have time once summer break starts to both ramp up my training AND taper before the race in mid-July.  Also, Vineman seems like it will be a great venue. California wine country - why not?!  And the course sounds great.  

I can't wait for July, but in the meantime, I'm focusing on my trail race November 18th.  I pushed myself in October to run longer (and slower).  This definitely isn't marathon training and makes me realize that tackling 26.2 would be rough (and I have no idea how I did it so many years ago) as  I find that setting out on the double digit runs is daunting for me!  I maxed out at a 13.5 mile long run two weeks ago, and I plan on a 15 or so mile run tomorrow.  I'm excited and nervous about it and am trying to remember what a friend said -  think about it as a fast hike. 

So, fast hiking, here I come!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October weekends

The month of October has slipped by, and if I were organized or had children or planned to dress up like a slut, I would write something about Halloween.  However, I actually forgot that today was Halloween until I saw the school bulletin decorated with fun bats, cats and witches.  I have spent much of my time, the past few days, trying to finish up all of my letters of recommendation for my students as  the November 1st deadline looms, so that has made me feel that I've been living in some sort of a time warp, thinking about last year and writing about my students' performance in the past tense.

I discovered the past few weeks that I've definitely been a 'weekend warrior' this month - living for the weekends, trying to make the most of them, and sometimes suffering during the week.  This is not my typical modus operandi, and I think that I paid the price, getting sick for the second time in 2012!  What frustrates me about this is that I was sick in August.  I consider myself to be fairly robust, but catching a cold twice in the past two months makes me question my physical resilience these days.  I could, perhaps, be getting older too!

On to other topics...
October has presented us with some perfectly wonderful autumnal days - last weekend (the 20th/21st), we enjoyed cool and wet mornings which even inspired me to make a huge vat of soup and bake some bread.  But, after a few glorious days with highs in the low 70's, the mercury would rise again.  This past weekend was a true Indian summer weekend - I couldn't believe how warm it was and I kept swearing at the weather gods.  End of October, enough of this heat!  I didn't feel it too much because I spent the weekend in La Jolla, CA with my mom, aunt and cousin.  We agreed a few months ago to try to meet up for a 'ladies' weekend' (although my cousin and I definitely eschew the title, it still seems like an apt description of the getaway for all of us).  They arrived on Thursday evening, and I headed south on Friday afternoon, traveling by train which was such an unexpected treat.  First of all, not having to deal with Friday afternoon traffic - yes, please!  And more importantly, once the train was south of Santa Ana, it hugged the coast and the trip offered up some gorgeous views.  I planned to grade while traveling, but I spent most of the time staring out the window.

Being in San Diego/La Jolla was a lot of fun.  Despite my 7 years in the Los Angeles area, I've rarely headed that far south, so this trip allowed me to get a better sense of the area.  People rave about San Diego, and I can see why - a part of me would like to pick up and move now!  Especially if we could somehow live close to the coast, preferably in La Jolla...   I can't even say that we did much in the area, but that may be why it appealed so much to me - I was able to do almost nothing, yet I still came away with an appreciation for the area.  Not that we did "nothing" - we ate at a great little restaurant on Friday night, Sea Rocket Bistro.  A friend of mine recommended it, and we enjoyed the experience - it felt very local (translation: we were the only out-of-towners there), and my cousin and I really liked the focus on fresh, local and sustainable seafood.  I also enjoyed the IPA that I had - San Diego might compete with the PNW for the 'beer nirvana' reputation.  On Saturday, we spent the morning in La Jolla at the Museum of Contemporary Art which was a jewel of a museum.  Not very large, we could easily get around it and see the collection.  It offered up wonderful views of the coast, and the collection is excellent.  The one downside for the weekend was that my aunt had a 24-hour bug, so she felt pretty terrible all day Saturday.  My cold also flourished, but despite that, I managed to get in two short runs both Saturday and Sunday morning.  Not only did I enjoy beautiful scenery but I also felt the power of the scientific community as I ran by UCSD and also the Salk Institute.

I did, however, eat and drink too much and sleep too little, so I'm ready for a weekend to catch up on sleep and to 'nest' a bit - lots of grading, a long run, and definitely a nap or two!

Friday, October 19, 2012

The black hole of October

Perhaps I have said this before (or said it about different months), but April is definitely NOT the cruelest month in my life.  I would have to say that October trumps it by a large margin.  I was feeling pretty good about the academic year, even about going away for a weekend, but then last week hit and the metaphorical wheels sort of fell off the wagon.  I could blame the sense that I've fallen into a black hole on the hours of meetings through which I had to sit the past two weeks, or I could blame back-to-school-night, indisputably the low point of every year (even though I really don't mind talking to parents and doing the dog-and-pony show, it's just having to be "on" that is exhausting).

However, I think that losing power at the end of last week for over 24-hours tipped the scales.  Yes, this is definitely one of those first world problems, I recognize that, but I swear, it seems that if the wind blows, if it's hot, if it's cold, if we sneeze, then the transformer blows!  While not having power can be fun for a few hours, the romantic quality of reading by candlelight soon loses its appeal.  We ended up going to a bar on Thursday night so that I could grade papers, and Michael could draw.  On Friday night, I graded papers at a cafe while Michael went to class.  When we returned to our house around 10:30 pm, the power trucks were heading out, and we saw lights on the block!  It is amazing how appreciative we felt on Saturday.  Our dogs, by the way, were a bit freaked out with all the commotion while the power company was working on the street, and one or both of them ended up peeing on our kitchen floor.  As Michael said, the workers scared the piss out of them.  Pobrecitos!

This week hasn't sucked quite so much (aren't I positive), but I developed an eye infection yesterday - just on the eyelid, but it grosses me out.  While it doesn't look terrible to other people, I feel like my left eye is almost swollen shut.  Hopefully the anti-biotic eye ointment* will do the trick sooner rather than later, and I'll feel like my old self.

In the meantime, it IS Friday night - hooray!  I can't believe how exciting my plans for the weekend are - to write at least 10 letters of recommendation.  Ah, the joys of teaching high school seniors, all of whom seem to be applying to a school with a November 1st deadline.

In addition to feeling overwhelmed by work stuff (thank goodness I don't actually have an important job), I've been stressing about getting enough miles and staying in shape in the pool and on the bike, to a small degree.  Finally, I said "Screw it!"  I'd like to stay in top form - whatever that is - but I've also decided that focusing on the trail run in November is enough of a goal at the moment.  We'll see if I turn into a fat slob after that!

*Ointment - one of those words that I just hate the way it sounds.  "Slacks" is another one.  These words should be banned!

Monday, October 8, 2012

CicLAvia: Sunday ride

Yes, a bit late with this, but it's only Monday (and so nice to have a Monday off!  I almost caught up on grading).  Since we had a three-day weekend, we tagged along on a Sunday brunch ride - one that included our participation in CicLAvia, a fun way to experience downtown LA on a bike, in solidarity with thousands of other cyclists (and a few rollerbladers and skateboarders too).  Mike and I joined up with a group of riders that meet on a regular basis, and apparently the number swelled to a total of eleven people on the ride yesterday!  The 9:30 am meet-up time allowed us to have a somewhat leisurely morning before we headed out the door to Lucky Baldwin's in Pasadena.

Once we all met up, we left Lucky Baldwin's, and headed west to LA via South Pasadena and other neighborhoods.  Just like the last time we participated in the Sunday ride phenomenon, the best part about the experience was passing through neighborhoods that either we'd never seen or that we'd never experienced in such a "close" way - somehow being at an intersection in a car doesn't allow you to take it in to the degree that being on a bike does (for instance, different thoughts were: Jack-in-the-Box tacos - how can that even stay open when there are probably 15 better taco options in this neighborhood; oooh, train tracks - don't get stuck; what a nice road - it must be newly paved; damn, where did the paved road go?).  Our paths crossed that of a rooster right before we enjoyed a short bike path along the Arroyo that is a hidden gem, and then through the Montecito Heights and Lincoln Heights neighborhoods before heading into LA.  Michael's comment about the ride was that he felt that we'd passed through at least 5 different countries.  Yep!

We passed the old LA Brewery and other industrial areas, and suddenly we found ourselves in Downtown LA - a mere 10 miles or so from Pasadena!  Our first stop was a cyclocross competition at Los Angeles Historic State Park.  I biffed it on my own sweet ride as we turned into the cyclocross area - nicely done.  Fortunately, only my ego was hurt; just a few bruises elsewhere.  But the cyclocross was so much fun to watch and probably even more exciting when one is actually participating in the event!  Maybe in my next life...  From the cyclocross event, we headed to the heart of Ciclavia in Downtown - and what a zoo!  TONS of riders of all ages, sizes, bike types, socio economic backgrounds.  The spirit of the event was awesome.  For me, the actual experience was, on the whole, not ideal.  First of all, it was super crowded, so at times it took us forever to just go a block!  I was nervous about hitting someone or about someone hitting me, so navigating the masses of people made it a challenge.  Also, I remembered that I really don't like crowds and avoid events because of that dislike/phobia.  But, being downtown with tons of cyclists, looking at the buildings and the architecture and then turning down Figueroa and biking all the way to USC - well, that was all pretty damn cool!  As our fearless leader noted, what is ironic about Ciclavia is that on most weekends, Downtown LA is completely dead, so it's a really great time to ride a bike there.  Not so much when there are thousands of other cyclists crowding the streets!

USC was sort of the turn-around point, so we cruised back to Downtown and then returned to Pasadena.  The return trip was a bit harder with more uphill, but it also felt nice to lose the crowds and pick up the pace a bit.  Even though we hadn't biked along at a fast pace, we had been on the bike for many hours, and my body was tired and ready for a break.  Which soon came in the form of a beer, cheesy fries and eventually a sandwich back at Lucky Baldwin's.  Ah - the perfect post-bike spot!  And the day couldn't have been more ideal - sunny and warm but not hot, so we could sit outside as we enjoyed the post-ride moment.  Which lasted, by the way, for several hours!  By late afternoon, Mike and I decided that we needed to finish our ride - the final leg home, which, unfortunately, is mainly uphill.  Still, we managed to push through those final few miles.  By the end of the day, I was tired, sunburned and a bit dehydrated but definitely in that very happy spot.

I'm not sure if I want to participate in the next Ciclavia, but I'm glad that I experienced it once and I can't wait to head back to Downtown LA on a non-Ciclavia weekend!

And while I'm lame and didn't take any photos, plenty of other people did!  So, here's the event:

And of cyclocross:

Ah - good times for all! 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hitting the trails in October

Despite the fact that the weather on October 1st, topping out in triple digits, did not seem to indicate a change of seasons and a new month, by the end of the week (yesterday and today), the temperatures dropped by 20 degrees.  Hooray - it FINALLY feels like fall around here!  It seemed to take long enough, but I honestly think I think that I forget every year how miserable I was the previous year in September.  This year, September's heat seemed particularly obnoxious, perhaps because I was, in theory, trying to kick-start my running mojo.  At a certain point, I decided that my mojo would just have to wait until October.  First of all, the weather.  Secondly, we seemed to be ridiculously busy in September as I returned to school and we had a busy social schedule.

Going out of town last weekend did not help the 'busyness' feeling, but we could not avoid that trip.  Someone in my family had a significant birthday, so, being the dutiful daughter that I am twice a year or so, we traveled to south Texas for a weekend of revelry.  And what a weekend it was - filled with the usual activities: drinking too much; going to Mexico to shop, eat and drink margaritas; fighting/arguing over politics; shooting squirrels with the bb-gun; and playing around with my nephews (my niece is officially a teenager and I'm not sure that "playing around" is possible).  We also saw a soccer game in which my nephew suffered two injuries - he got the wind knocked out of him when a ball hit him right in the belly and he also chipped a tooth when he took a header.  Fortunately, he's a pretty resilient little guy, so neither one slowed him down too much.  I also went for a run on Sunday morning (that would have been physically impossible on Saturday morning when I felt that someone had hit me over the head with a sledgehammer - so much pain!).  Considering how flat it is where my parents live, you would think that I would have kept a fast pace, but I was definitely taking it slow.

While this week started off a bit rough around the edges as I recovered from our trip (it takes me at least a day or two to catch up) and tried to not be too angry about the heat, I also managed to hit most of my workouts and even got in THREE workouts before work - two early morning swims and one run.  That is a minor miracle for me!  I also hit the trail this morning, motivated and accompanied by a drinking/running mate, and I managed to slog through a 12-mile (or so - don't entirely trust the Garmin) run.  I hoped to hit 10 miles, and while those last two were pretty rough, it gives me a small confidence boost as I think about the 30k.  It won't be a fast race, which was confirmed today as I reacquainted myself with trail running and had to take it easy on both the uphills and downhills, but running on trails is such a different experience from pounding out the miles on the pavement, in both a mental, physical and even philosophical sense.  Mentally, I find trail runs both more and less challenging - it is hard to see a 15-minute mile pop up on the Garmin, but then it's great to enjoy the sense of getting away from the noise and busyness of the highway - and even just local roads - even if it's just a for a morning run. Physically - the tricky terrain can present problems (I almost turned my ankle twice and had visions of being airlifted out), but I always feel better after a trail run than after a run around the Rose Bowl, for example.  My joints creak and ache less, probably because my body is constantly adjusting to the rise and fall and twists and turns of the trail, and probably because I can't run as fast as I would like.  Finally, the philosophical aspect - well, I'm not sure if I want to fully wade into that topic yet, but I approach a trail run with a different ethos than when I'm pounding out a mile or two or more on the road.  It is definitely about the process and not the final product!  At times, I found myself thinking that the run was really just like a fast hike - I could cover more ground than if I were hiking, but that was just about the only difference.  In the meantime, I crossed a small creek several times, stayed on the lookout for rattlesnakes, took in a deer that bounded off in the opposite direction, and on more than one occasion stopped to take in the scenery on a beautiful fall morning!

And now, thanks to having Monday off, rather than grade essays this afternoon, I'm headed for a big, fat recovery nap!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Peer pressure

One would assume that a person who is an adult, at least by most of society's standards, would be comfortable and confident in his/her decision-making capacity and would be immune to the influence of his/her peers.  That if, this person is signing up for a race and believes that the 30K would be fun but way too long and challenging (3,000+ feet of elevation gain), he/she would trust his/her better judgment and would go with the 19K (or 18K or whatever it is).  That this person would not succumb to people telling her "Oh, come on!  It's not that much more elevation that the Mt. Wilson run!  You can do the 30K!".  And she would not go home, after drinking margaritas, and sign up for the 30K.

But that is exactly what went down last weekend.  In my shame I didn't want to report on this until I fully wrapped my head around the fact that I just might get my ass kicked on November 18 at the Santa Monica Mountains Pacific Coast Trail Run (long title!).  I do think that it will be a gorgeous run, and I'm excited and nervous about the challenge of a 30k.  This will be the longest run since my 1996 (yes, I'm old) Philly marathon.  So, the plan for the next few weeks is to run at least three times a week (which isn't much for some people, but I've slacked off since August) and build up my long runs, incorporating plenty of hills and focusing on long, slow distance.

As for the 30K, I actually had been knocking around that idea, so I can't abdicate any responsibility, as much as I'd like to point the finger elsewhere.  In fact, a week before signing up for the race, I hit "reply all" when someone inquired about different people's interest in the Santa Monica run and said that I was in for the 30K.  I did not, however, realize to how many people I replied until several people at school came up and said "The 30K?!?!".  So, the seed had been planted well before a friend reasoned with me about the elevation issue.

As much as I'm nervous about the distance and the elevation and the challenge of a trail run, I also think that it will be great.  This is the only fall race for which I'm gearing up, which is a change from the last two years when I ran lots of different distances (5k, 10k, 20k, even a half-marathon) and focused on speed, to a certain degree.  I'll be happy with a good strong race in a beautiful setting and running a new and more challenging distance, for me.

Training started this past week, and my first long run in a while will be this coming Saturday.  At that point, I can decide if the decision was foolish or not!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Keeping my day job!

Yesterday, despite it being Saturday, did not feel like much of a break!  It was, however, a change of pace from usual Monday-Friday schtick, to which I'll happily return tomorrow!  To give some background, I've been a lackluster member of a "triathlon" club since January, attending the occasional run and on an even rarer basis doing something like an open-water swim or a bike ride with a group.   Despite my limited participation, when they were looking for volunteers to help raise money, I thought "Oh, why not".  The money will go to the Challenged Athletes Foundation and probably a local food bank, so this is all for a cool cause.  I did not love the idea of spending most of a Saturday at a UCLA football game helping to man (or woman?!) a concession stand, but they needed volunteers so I signed up!

Knowing the WHY did help me rouse myself out of bed on Saturday morning - after a fun night out, which made the getting up even more difficult - so that I could meet up with the volunteer group.  We all looked quite professional in that food-service-sort-of-way: black pants and a white-collared shirt.  Once we put on a black apron and and a hat, our transformation was complete!  I won't go into the details - much of the day reminded me of some of the stereotypes I have of the military - fairly bureaucratic, and not very efficient with a "hurry up and wait" mindset.  The company that "generously" allows groups to earn money was fairly incompetent - we were supposed to have cash registers, but the company did not give them to us.  They did give us calculators - none of which worked, so all of the people working the registers needed to rely on old-fashioned mental arithmetic.  This would have been a royal pain, but at the very least every item was a dollar amount.  You know, five dollars for a coke, five dollars for a hot dog, seven dollars for nachos, six dollars for water.  The prices were, of course, ridiculous, and my favorite part of the day was the fact that customers complained to us about the price point.  As if we were owners of the concession stand?  Couldn't they tell that we were doing not much more than menial labor?  (I don't mean to belittle the food service industry - this was definitely not high-end stuff and it wasn't a challenging task.)  About Sodexo, the company that actually does own the concession stands, I was more than happy to help out the club and raise money for a good cause or two, but it did bother me that I was helping this company earn a huge profit margin because they were obviously not paying us jack shit!  I'm very skeptical about their fair labor practices.  We were just volunteers, and they stipulated what we could eat - one soft drink, one bottle of water and one hotdog!  Despite the fact that watching the food prep all day totally grossed me out, I was more than happy to scarf down the hot dog.  Probably the worst part of the day was the clean-up - at that point, I was hot and tired (we all were) and ready to go home, and having to account for all of the hotdogs and hamburgers that we made but didn't sell was quite depressing.  Also, the "cheese" that accompanies the nachos is one of the most disgusting non-food processed items that is sold as food that I've ever seen in my life, and trying to clean it up when you don't have soap, water or a rag/sponge is a Sisyphean task!

Fortunately, we were out of there at 4:00, like they had promised, which came as a relief.  The other major relief for me was that I didn't see any of my students or any of my students' parents while I was serving this terrible food and swindling people out of their money as they paid too much for everything.  It wouldn't have been the worst moment of my life, and I've certainly seen students outside of the confines of the school yard, however I always think about that moment from the movie Mean Girls when some students see Tina Fey's character who is working at the mall and one of them says "Oh, I love seeing teachers outside of school. It's like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs."  

So, not my "ideal" Saturday, but it was a good experience.  It does make me appreciate that I work at a place that I like, where I can dress more or less as I choose (as long as I look presentable), and where I'm treated with dignity, on the whole.  I'm glad that I did my part, but everyone carpooling back agreed that we don't need to do that again this season!

Friday, September 21, 2012

September happenings

So, the month has been a bit of plus/minus so far - fast, plenty of events, both work and fun-related, and I'm feeling optimistic about the school year.  Thus far.  If nothing else, a student made one of the most hysterical comments that I've ever heard in a class in my life.  If/when I'm depressed at any point this year, I will have to remind myself of this moment.  (I would share, but it's a student's story, not mine, and sharing it would be so not appropriate; it suffices to say that the entire class was laughing hysterically - not AT their classmate but with her)

The other most exciting moment that has happened to me in a long time was seeing the Space Shuttle Endeavor as it flew to its new home here in LA.  I lucked out as it flew over the school where I work at 12:30 or so - during lunch.  Perfect time to see it!  I could not believe how amazing it was to see the shuttle.  I expected to be underwhelmed, but this was one of those moments when the actual event COMPLETELY exceeded my expectations.  This is not my photo, but I'm sharing:

Source - LA Times

It did make teaching more challenging for the rest of the day because I just didn't care. Somehow, conjugating verbs paled in comparison to the awesomeness that is/was the Endeavor!

Speaking of teaching and other aspects of my life, I'm giving myself a B (yes, I grade myself).  I'm still looking professional, although it's been damn hot with the heat.  I can't wait for cooler temperatures to arrive because I seriously lack professional clothes that are suitable for the heat!  In other parts of my work life, I'm feeling pretty good about the pace of the year and how 'settled' I feel and that I'm more or less staying on top of grading.  That could, of course, change within a day or two, but I'd like to maintain a positive outlook.  

The 'other aspects' are up and down.  I blame the heat on my lack of motivation in terms of the 'active lifestyle' front.  I did manage a run, a spin class and even an early morning swim (yesterday!) this week, but it is 4:00 pm on a Friday afternoon, and I don't think that I'm going to make it out for a run before I meet friends for margaritas.  I do think that once I sign up for this race, it will inspire me to pound the trails, but I have yet to sign up, obviously.  

Fortunately, the conversation over margaritas tonight should inspire me to commit to what might be my only fall race!  Whether I sign up for the 30k or 19k might depend on how much I've had to drink. 

Other possible topics over margaritas: how cute a certain baby is; the heat; the Space Shuttle; the election; and Alberto Contador's return to cycling.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Malibu Tri: The race that was!

Well, after all of my grunching, groaning, moaning, hesitation and regret over *having* to swim, bike and run yesterday morning, it ended up being a pretty awesome day, and I couldn't be happier that I ended my 2012 'season' there.  It's funny that I felt pretty calm and low-stress about the race on Friday night, sleeping amazingly well at the lovely Motel 6 and feeling energetic when the alarm rang at 4:00 am.  Maybe my devil-may-care attitude had something to do with that?

It was a pretty early morning for us, but not as early as if we'd spent the night at home, and I did appreciate the extra hour or so of sleep.  All of the race information warned us about parking, so I wanted to arrive early enough to not stress about that.  We weren't the last people there by any means, but not the first either!  Arriving in the dark and pumping tires and double checking gear under the light of a flashlight was not ideal, but it worked. By 5:30 am, I was headed to packet pick-up (where I learned that I was in the LAST wave) and then on to the transition zone.  As I set up my stuff, it did occur to me how complicated my gear and the transition zone used to seem - this time around, I kept thinking "Is this it?  What did I forget?!" because it all seemed fairly uncomplicated.  Maybe I've developed some comfort with all this tri stuff?  But I also had the feeling that something must be amiss!

By the time that we had to be out of the transition zone, I felt pretty relaxed (except for that nagging "what did I forget thought", and Michael and I could take in some of the Malibu scenery:

"Scenery" being the lifeguard station and the waves breaking!

And then it was time to get started!  For the swim, we had to walk down the beach to the start and would swim to the finish.  The walk south was great - it was such a beautiful morning and exciting to be in the mix of the crowd!

Michael and I had fun watching the elite wave start out, but as we watched the waves of people go out and battle with the ocean, my confidence eroded a little bit each time.  Getting past the first buoy, depending on how the ocean waves were breaking, seemed tricky.  Other women in my group were getting in the water, to practice their stroke or to get a feel for the water (Oh, yeah, that's what you're supposed to do...), but I stayed firmly planted on the sand because I was afraid that if I got in the water, I'd panic and not do the swim.  Talk about feeling like a rookie!  I kept thinking "If I can survive the swim, I can finish this race.  I know it!".  Great little pep talk.  The other thought that popped into my mind as I waited to start was my whole "respect the race" blab from a few months ago.  I was seriously feeling like an ass because while I was familiar with the olympic distance, I hadn't done an ocean swim since the beginning of June.  What the hell was I thinking?!  

Fortunately, the time to think rationally was over as it was time to line up and get ready to go:

Once the cannon went off, we headed into the water and the fun started!  Getting around the first buoy wasn't as terrible as I thought that it might be - although I did get a little off course.  And then we just headed north, keeping the buoys to our right.  I felt like I was swimming in one of those "Endless pools" because I had no sense of my pace or where I was in relation to the beach.  I took in a few mouthfuls of water, but I could see pretty clearly and there wasn't tons of contact - it was a relatively calm swim in terms of touching and grabbing.  I finally reached what was the last buoy - people were turning right, so I turned right, much to my relief and surprise - almost done!  With the swim, at least.  I exited the water, happy to be out of there and on to transition.  I wasn't wearing a watch for the swim, so I had no idea what my time was.  I had estimated that it would probably take me longer than usual, so I was hoping for 34-36 minutes, but, since the course had no clock visible (to me, at least) around the transition zone, I didn't even worry about my swim time.  I did note that I was not the very last person in my rack to be out of the water since there were plenty of bikes still racked - that is always a positive sign for me.

At that point, it was on to the bike!  I knew that it could possibly be a good bike leg for me, in part because of my comfort with the course.  Heading north on PCH from Zuma was a "known known", thanks to our many rides over the summer.  I had a dream-like moment on the bike when I thought to myself "Shit, am I wearing my helmet?!?!".  Obviously I did, but what a weird thought - it was indicative of the "Am I doing this" feeling that I had at different parts of the day.  Other than that mild moment of panic, it ended up being a great ride, although not super fast, in part because I did not push it at the beginning and in part because of two no-pass zones.  The no-pass zones totally sucked because they were stretches that would lend themselves to a fast pace except that a group of us got stuck behind a slower person.  Ultimately, not the fastest bike leg for me, but it was gorgeous and really pretty fun!  

I was so happy to be off the bike - not that I was exhausted or even that tired, but I knew that I had survived the swim and the bike, and that my legs seemed to feel good, so the FLAT run would be a nice way to end the race.  Also, I was right in the thick of a group of 40-something-women, and I hoped that I would be able to pass a few on the run.  Starting out on the run, I felt great and had a smile for Michael:

For the first mile, I ran at a pace that seemed too good to be true - easily maintaining 8:30, numbers that I hadn't seen in months!  I worried about starting out too fast, but the pace felt easy, my breathing was relaxed, and I was enjoying passing people.  So, I decided to keep it up if I could. Which I did - and by mile 3, I had picked off the women in my age group that were clumped together on the bike.  Success!  The last few miles were fun and fast (for me), and even though I was getting tired, I kept pushing myself and even cranked it a bit when I hit mile 6 and knew that the finish line was right around a corner or two and that I would finish the run under 50 minutes!  (Did I mention that the course was FLAT?!)

Michael positioned himself for a smile and a wave, right before I crossed the finish line at, what was total shock to me, under 3 hours for a nice, shiny PR!  I was so happy that I finally broke that damn 3 hour threshold, and I couldn't believe that I managed to do so at this race, of all of them.

After getting my medal, some water and food, I checked the results to make sure that I really did finish under three hours because it just seemed fairly unreal.  What pushed me over the edge? Had I finally mastered the art of the transition?  Was my bike leg faster than I thought?  Well, it turns out that my transition times still suck.  However, my swim time was crazy fast for me - under 30 minutes!  Obviously there was a serious current pulling us north on the swim, but when I saw the time, I just started laughing at how ridiculous my estimated time was.  Maybe it was a good thing that I had no idea how close I was to pulling off  a PR?  I'm not sure - I'm just delighted that it was such a fun and, for me, a fast race! 

Thinking about yesterday morning, I can't believe that I almost didn't show up to race - literally and also in a more figurative sense.  I recognize that I was a bit "off" my mental game going into it and didn't feel that I had much of an edge when I started the swim, but I didn't panic in the water, tried to ride strong on the bike, and I really pushed myself on the run.  This was such a pleasant surprise of a race, and, just as important as the overall time, I couldn't stop grinning throughout the race because I was enjoying myself so much.  I'll admit that I feel almost guilty about the PR because it felt so 'easy'.  I think about how focused I was for Wildflower, how much I wanted to be happy and proud of my performance there, and how that just did not happen, despite training hard and strong and despite improving my time there.  This race felt relaxed and serendipitous, and maybe I need(ed) to race just for pleasure in order to feel good about it?  I have yet to figure out what the perfect recipe is for me, but this is definitely a nice note on which to end the 2012 tri season!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Back into the swing of things, sort of...

The summer months, as much as I love them, often feel a bit unreal, as if I'm stuck in some Never Never Land.  Returning to the reality of work can be a jarring experience, however, there is also something comforting about a schedule - it's the scaffolding that keeps the minutes and hours and days and week in place and defines the ebb and flow of each week.  Usually, by the end of summer, a part of me needs the predictability of a schedule to set a rhythm to my life.  That said, the beginning of the year felt rough this time around!  My mouth was disconnected from my brain during meetings, so I have no doubt that I made a less-than-coherent statement or two.  As I endured the marathon of meetings that we have at the beginning of the year, I came home feeling depressed and fairly uninspired.  Not a great sign.

Fortunately, returning to the classroom, despite the stress that comes along with the first few days, has reminded me that, yes, I like teaching.  At this point, I feel less frenetic than last week and am finding the sweet-spot in some of my classes.  I've managed to adjust to the "look professional" expectation, and I'm building back my teaching stamina -  standing (or pacing, which is mostly what I do) and talking more throughout the day.  By this week, I have a better feel for my classes, and I've already survived several school events, so the year seems to be well underway.  In other areas of my life, I'm also trying to return to "normal".  Again, I often view summer as a break from the norm.  Now, we're on a budget (although a bike fitting with lots of upgrades did not exactly fit into that so-called budget, but I think that someone else will feel more comfortable on his improved bike!), so we are making an effort to curtail many of our evenings out.  Food-wise, this seems like a good time to try to eat more responsibly, so I'm weaning myself off the caramel sea salt ice cream habit that blossomed over summer.

I have also resumed some swim/bike/run activity, but my enthusiasm definitely continues to flag.  I would not mind that so much, in fact I would probably have given myself the entire month of September to focus on school/work, except that I committed myself to the Malibu Triathlon back in March.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I definitely have racer's-remorse at this point and cannot believe that I'm supposed to 'race' day-after-tomorrow!  To be honest, I'd happily do a no-show if the race hadn't been SO freakin' expensive (again, it seemed like a good idea when I signed up).   Not racing seems like throwing money away, so that is just not an option.   I am, though, still kicking myself for blithely signing up for this race those many months ago.  At the time, it also seemed like a great way to end my 2012 triathlon "season", but I did not predict the mental and physical exhaustion that would kick my ass at the end of August.  Maybe I should have, who knows at this point?

So, with my lackluster enthusiasm in tow, I'm going into this race with a completely different attitude than I've ever had for the whopping 4 previous tri's that I've done.  To say that I haven't really trained is not at all a hyperbolic statement but is quite simply the truth - since August 6, I can count on my hands the number of times that I've swum, biked and run.  While the bike and run don't concern me too much, the open-water ocean swim could present a challenge, especially because Malibu can be rough!  If I don't completely suck at the swim, I should survive the bike/run portions (although the last time I tried a brick, I ended up walking at mile 3 - so lame).  Needless to say, I've re-evaluated my previous goals for this race - whatever they were.  I'll be happy, I swear I will, with a decent bike ride and if I don't walk during the run.

I will say that the other positive from this race is that we are going to have a mini-getaway tomorrow night (in a cheap motel, very romantic, I know) so that Saturday morning doesn't start quite so hideously early.  Also, the weather has been miserably hot the past few days, so a day in Malibu will be a nice reprieve!  Finally, it really SHOULD be a gorgeous day and course,  and maybe I'll see some famous people?  Maybe I'll even beat some famous people?!  Oooh, the excitement just might kill me.

And then, after this, I'm going to start to plan out my fall 'training'!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Odds and ends - summer's over

This is going to be a potpourri of thoughts and musings provoked by the summer drawing to an official close this weekend.  Students are back on Tuesday, and I'm doing my teaching show starting Wednesday.  However, I officially returned to the land of adulthood and responsibility this week, attending meetings, taking notes with a purpose, and dressing somewhat more professionally than my summer garb.  While the look-like-a-working-person issue is not the most challenging aspect of the summer to work transition, I do have to make an adjustment, especially in the shoe department.  After wearing flip-flops 90% of the time that I had to wear shoes, my feet then suffer when they are suddenly confined.  Not that I wear uncomfortable heels or anything like that, but even my most comfortable of "comfort" shoes (yes, I'm an old lady) give me blisters.  

Overall, being back and seeing people - reconnecting with old colleagues and meeting new teachers - makes me feel optimistic about the year, but the meetings do fray my nerves a bit.  By the end of the day on Wednesday, I came home and crashed and felt completely depressed that the summer was over and the year was about to commence.  Fortunately, I have "snapped out of it", but I needed a low-key night in order to strengthen my resolve and shift my mindset to a more positive one.  Nothing like a beer, burger, fries and wings to lift my spirits.  In addition to seeing colleagues, there are several parent/trustee functions that I must attend (those obligations continue until mid-October).  Last night's "party" marked the beginning of these soirees, but at least alcohol accompanied the schmoozing!  It's easier for me to talk to high-powered executives if I've had at least a glass of wine or two.  

Now that the summer is over, I can think about what I actually accomplished over the past few months. I often view summer as a great opportunity to read good books, do some professional development, travel, hike, cook, go to the movies, spend time with friends and family, and explore a bit of LA and/or California.  This summer, as I've recounted ad nauseam, I focused mainly on the Boulder race and then Nicaragua, so the major event pressure was on the back end.  However, I did accomplish much of that list: read (not good books, but that is another issue), PLENTY of travel, not much hiking, a decent amount of cooking although few new recipes, good times with friend and family, only saw one movie at the theatre, and somewhat limited LA/CA exploration.  So, it all evens out in the wash I suppose.

As far as the summer books I read, I'm almost embarrassed to list them because the list is both brief and filled with plenty of fluff!
- First of all, the Game of Thrones TV series sucked us in at the end of the academic year, so I read Books 1-5 over the summer.  They are easy but long reads and completely like mental crack - so addictive and pleasurable at the time, but don't leave much of a lasting impression.  Still, quite fun, despite the fact that most of my favorite characters are now dead.  
I did read two "real" books this summer:
- Black Swan Green (link is to NYTimes book review) by David Mitchell.  Really enjoyed this coming-of-age novel set in 1980's Britain.  It does make me want to read Cloud Atlas, which is bolder, more complex and ambitious.  
- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.  I'd wanted to read this book for a while and picked up a used copy at a book store in Denver . It is beautifully written reflection on death, dying, grief, relationships, memory, and so many other themes.  
And another a fantastic adventure book about the Tour Divide, a mountain bike race from Canada to Mexico.  Be Brave, Be Strong by Jill Homer is not the best memoir I've read, but it fascinated me and I often found that I couldn't put it down.  
I'm also reading Canada (NYTimes review) by Richard Ford, his latest novel, and I'm enjoying it, but I find myself easily distracted.  I would like to finish it before the month of September ends!

In terms of other forms of leisure/entertainment, we did see plenty of movies, but I only saw one movie in the theatre, as I mentioned.  The movie selection for me was underwhelming, to say the least, but I did enjoy the one movie that we saw July 4th - Brave.  Not the best movie I've seen, to say the least, but I didn't resent the fact that I spent money to see it.  We seemed to trend to older movies this summer, mainly because the new releases just look terrible.  So, we re-watched a few oldies (Double Indemnity which is just amazing, Charade, which also held up; there were a few of them that were not as good as we had remembered, The Moderns being an example of that). We also took a chance on plenty of  movies, classics or not, that we ended up loving.  Some surprised us with their relevance today (Network was a prime example of that) or they delighted us for other reasons (Hopscotch and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three - the original, not the remake - fell into that category - although I think that Walter Matthau had much to do with it in both of those movies).  So, a light season of summer blockbuster hits for us, but plenty of satisfying movie watching over these past few months!

And now, I have started to turn my focus to the fall - the weeks have already begun to fill up with plans, events and some travels, and thoughts of school occupy my mind.  But I plan to fully enjoy this weekend as the last breath of summer!