Monday, May 28, 2012

The annual camping trip - 2012 version

Now that I've lined up the numerous bags (3 packs, 1 tent, 1 sleeping bag, plus some other random stuff) to tote all of the stuff that I *must* have for a total of 3 nights and 3 days, I don't ask myself why don't I go camping more often.  It requires SO much stuff.  And I have no doubt that I will have forgotten something.  Plus, I am not even schlepping pots and pans and other items that are often required for camping.  I am, however, taking my wetsuit, two towels and plenty of other odds and ends for the trip.  Thus, the gazillion bags!

This is the annual camping trip that I take - or have taken for the past 3 years.  Gasp, this is year four, so I must be turning into something of an "old-timer" on this particular trip.  It is not for pleasure, although there are many fun moments, as I head north with fellow teachers and a large group of students for a final hurrah to the year or to the high school career.  As I piled up clothes and gear, it did make me wonder why I no longer camp on my own - or with Michael as a great way to travel and experience new and familiar areas.  I admit that I do prefer to spend the night on a bed, but there is something so wonderful about being outside, so close to the sky and to the earth, in a tent.

The last time Michael and I camped together was this trip, and just looking at the pictures makes me want to go back and do it all over again.  It also makes me wonder when did I stop hiking and camping so much.  Oh, yes, the swim, bike, run training and racing thing which can often take over most and all free time which I have to dedicate to 'training'.  It also requires that all of the money I spend on gear, well, I spend it on THAT sort of gear rather than on a new filter for a water bottle.

But pulling out the tent and the backpacks and my lovely Thermarest does make me feel nostalgic.  It is definitely time that I go camping without my colleagues and students, as much as I like them, and without it being a work obligation.  After all, putting the 'work' limits or expectations on camping changes the meaning of the experience all together.  And I would like to return to the true meaning of camping.  You know, struggling with the tent, cooking dinner in a small pot and eating out of said pot, falling asleep as soon night falls while listening to the quiet that surrounds you.  Soon, I hope!

For now, however, this trip signals the end of the academic year, and it is a nice way to bring so many different aspects of the year to a close.  By Thursday, I will feel anxious to return, but I look forward to being so close to the coast that I can easily run or walk there, perhaps practicing some easy yoga at sunset and having all of my meals prepared for me.  There are worse things in life, especially when I can take in beautiful scenery and sneak in a few moments of relaxation.  Now that is camping!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Happy three-day weekend!

Yes, the ubiquitous it's "Memorial Day weekend and I have to write about it!" moment.  Still, there is much to comment on - the end of school is very near and we had a great race yesterday.  And it IS a three-day weekend.  Life is pretty damn good!

Regarding school - before I slip into a state of "irrational exuberance" about the fact that classes ended on Thursday afternoon, I should remember the words with which someone cautioned me  - the year isn't over yet.  But, in terms of classes, it is!  I said adiós to my classes on Thursday, and now all that remains of the year are exams to grade, a trip with the seniors, lots of ceremonial moments, and final meetings.  See, almost done!

It is even more perfect that the last day of classes more or less coincides with this weekend which is a true three-day-weekend for me.  I say "true", because I have almost zero work!  This stands in stark contrast to last weekend, which was a three-day weekend for me because I took a personal day on Friday, but then I spent several hours at school on Saturday and Sunday.  This weekend has involved and will continue to involve friends, food and fun.  (Yay for alliteration; too bad that I'm using it at a first-grader's level)  The fun truly began yesterday morning, if you can use that word to describe a killer 8.6 mile trail run.

Yes, after some training and plenty of anticipation, Michael and I woke up on the early side for a Saturday morning and headed to Sierra Madre for the Mt. Wilson Trail Race.  It was a beautiful morning - the rain from yesterday cleared out the air, and it was sunny with wispy clouds still hanging a bit low.  A perfect beginning for a race day!  After my illegal running of the race last year, I had my sights set on a legitimate run this year.  I feel like somewhat of an interloper because it's a race with a very long tradition, being the second oldest trail race in the state of CA, and I still consider myself a newbie to SoCal and hate to think that I might have taken someone's place who had raced it for 20 years straight.  I did not, however, volunteer to give up my bib, and was excited to participate in the event, especially since Michael and some friends were running it, which lent the race experience a much more 'community-feel' than my usual races.

In terms of race strategy and expectations, I hadn't spent hours of agonizing over this race although I did feel plenty nervous as we lined up at the start.  Nor had I given too much thought to my race strategy.  A part of me was tempted to run slowly and just enjoy the experience, but then another part of me wanted to RACE it!  The latter part seemed to have greater persuasion because once we started, I decided that I needed to push it up the initial uphill which leads to the trail, in order to be in a better position once I hit the trail, as passing requires some strategic maneuvering on the ascent and descent.  At a certain point on the uphill, I began to worry that I was pushing it too much and would run out of energy.  However, the incline surged up, so it then became a game of run when I could and walk to save energy, especially since walking was faster than running at many moments on the trail - at least for the group that I was with.  As per usual, I passed plenty of people on the uphill.  I wasn't sure what my time would be to reach the top, so hitting that point just under 60-minutes was a total surprise! Yes, 4.2 miles in 58 minutes isn't speedy, but considering the elevation gain, I was happy with it.  Reaching the half-way point meant a nice, long descent with a few uphill bumps along the way.  Also, people running downhill had the safer position of being on the mountain side which is also a major bonus!   As for the descent, I got passed by probably 40 people that I had managed to crawl past on the uphill, but this race, for me, is not about ego, so I did not mind one bit that people passed me.  I was actually very  happy with my downhill run which, for me, was a good pace.  Coming off the trail, we hit pavement - it is strange to suddenly find yourself on a street after the miles on a trail.  The only issue I had at the end was the small uphill coming off the trail - my calves started to cramp up!  I've never had cramping issues on a run, so that was not fun.  It comforted me that I was not the only one experiencing issues, since another woman stopped and stretched out her calves.  Once we turned the corner of the street and headed downhill again, the calf-cramping issue abated and it was run, run, run to the finish!  I crossed at either 1:36 or 1:37 plus some seconds which was great - I had hoped to finish around 1:40, so that was a better race than expected!

After getting some water and an orange, I then waited for Michael whom I sighted once he was on the final downhill - I ran partly down with him and then peeled off to talk to some students who had gone to the race to cheer different teachers on.  They had even made signs for me in español!  Michael had a good race, and so did other friends - it was a good day for everyone!  It only improved when we had a beer at the beer garden afterwards.  Perhaps half-way through the beer, we decided to take the celebration on to Amigos, for Mexican food and, of course, margaritas.

Looking back, I think that the day might just meet my definition of a "perfect day".  A hard but fun race with plenty of cheering on other people, shared food and drink, and finally a big fat nap in the afternoon.  This definitely puts me in the mood for summer!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Slugfest 2012 is over!

Just so that this is all clear, my definition of slugfest has less to do with this:

And much more to do with this:

The only thing missing is a beer or a huge margarita!

Let's just say that last week and the weekend provided me with ample opportunity to eat and drink and  indulge myself.  I got a massage (although holy hell it hurt!) and am currently sporting some light turquoise toenails thanks to a good friend who treated me to a pedicure.  Other than the awesome color, I also caught up on all of the gossip magazines while at the nail salon.  Apparently I live under a rock since I didn't know that Jessica Simpson was preggers.  Hmmmm, interesting?  I suppose that I should head to the nail salon if I want to keep up on my celebrity gossip.
Sunday rolled around, and I promised myself that I would get in a bike ride since it had been since May 6 that I'd spent any time in the saddle.  It was, however, hot as hell, even in the late afternoon.  Yes, I suck, but I'm over it because on Monday morning, I managed to crawl out of bed at around 5:00 am and I hit the pool.  Then, I finished off the day with a run, a good one too, especially for a Monday. I think that the lazy week (or week-and-a-half) was a necessary break, but I'm looking forward to a race this Saturday and yet another in June.  'Tis the season, so I'd better banish my slug-like tendency until August rolls around! 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Snakes on a trail - Mt. Wilson training run

I hope that someone picks up the obvious reference to a bad movie:

Other possible and perhaps better titles would be "One snake on a trail", "Margaritas - the perfect post-run recovery drink", or "Getting my running mo-jo back"!  Our third and final Mt. Wilson training run lifted my spirits and and restored my faith in running to no end.  What more could I ask for in a run and in a day? 

I did find some irony in the experience - after a rough run last Sunday, I dreaded setting out Saturday morning at 10:45 am - definitely on the later side.  For much of my spring running, I viewed the few Mt. Wilson training runs as good training for Wildflower.  Yesterday, I realized that Wildflower may have been good training for Mt. Wilson!  When we began the long ascent, I grumbled internally but soon found  myself enjoying the trail, despite the challenge of it.  I did not worry about my time or pace but just focused on footfall, how my body was responding to the trail, and passing hikers in a courteous way.  The only glitch came close to the turn-around point, Orchard Camp.  I had hit the part of the trail where it evens out and is nice and shady, so I started to pick up my pace a bit, and then a hiker, coming down trail, warned me about a rattlesnake on the trail.  YIKES!  Since our speedy running partner had already made it up, we couldn't let a snake deter us from making it to the turn-around point.  I ran back to Michael who was a bit behind, and then we ran/walked the rest of the way - I hoped that there would be strength in numbers!  No sight of the snake for us, nor did we hear a rattle, but Rob encountered him (or her?) on his way up - the snake separated the trail, creating a bit of a quandary for the people on the trail.  Obviously we all made it up and took a bit of a break by an impressive tree before beginning the downward run. 

Once we met up in the lovely town of Sierra Madre, we had to make a decision - what to do post-run.  We considered a cafe, a bar, and then we settled on Amigo's!  The afternoon unfolded as we shared good food, drink and conversation.  I felt mellow and happy, surrounded by great energy and enjoying the post-run euphoria that I usually associate with runs.  This wasn't, by any means, a fast run, but it was a good, hard run that allowed me to lose myself in the experience of running and then follow it up with a sense of a shared experience.
I'm not sure how I will "do" when it comes to the official Mt. Wilson trail race, but I'd like to hold on to this memory and to appreciate and respect the run, no matter what! 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Final reflections on Wildflower 2012

Now that I'm finally rehydrated after a few days and can think with more clarity, I've had time to mull over Wildflower and think about what I nailed and what aspects of my race or my training that I could improve upon.  First of all, as I've said before, it was different to go into this race with expectations and goals.  While I stated that my main goal was to enjoy myself, I certainly wanted to improve my time which I actually accomplished by a decent margin, and I need to acknowledge that and give myself props.  The swim, my transitions and the bike were all better than last year's race, and even better, I didn't make any major or minor gaffs, like breaking my good pair of sunglasses (that happened at the Santa Barbara Tri).  I did enjoy both of those legs and pushed myself more on them than last year, giving myself good margin of improvement there.  In addition to focusing on swim and bike performance and improving upon that, I was also psyched about the goggles in which I invested and in the tri top - much better than last year's!

As for the run, which turned out to be my 'bete noire', I've spent plenty of time thinking about that leg and also trying to reframe the experience to some degree.  When I went back and looked at my times, I saw that I was about 2 minutes slower than last year which could hardly be defined as "terrible", especially considering that it was still my strongest leg.  That is according to all of the statistical data that the kind people at TriEvents provide.  However, it frustrated me to no end that I found myself walking as much as I did and that I ended the race without the elated sense of triumph that I experienced last year.  Perhaps that was a one-time deal?  I'm not sure, but I've looked at my 'official' race photos and I look completely beaten at the end.  Yes, I ran in the finish, but with a sense of urgency to be done, no celebratory spirit.  This experience really drove home the fact that I depend on a strong run to feel at all like a competently active and somewhat athletic person and that I always assume that I'm going to have a strong run as the third leg of a tri ("strong"is  within my own framework of the meaning of the word).  So, I ended the race feeling pretty bad physically and that shadowed, to some degree, the other 2 + hours of it during which I felt fine.  Looking back, I can say that my training was solid and I definitely had more bike-run bricks this time around, but I rarely trained in 85+ degrees weather.  Also, I don't think that I ate or drank nearly enough on the bike during the race, which is often an issue for me, but I need to be more aware of that, especially when it's a hot day.

In other ways, Wildflower was a great experience, much like last year.  The distance is great for my body which felt quite good on Monday and even better on Tuesday when I had totally re-hydrated. I love the energy, and I love the way people - even competitors (at my level, at least) - cheer each other on, even if they are strangers.  The shared experience is one of triumph and suffering, elements that touch on so much of the human condition.  I also love how beautiful the course is, how you know that you are almost home free on the run when you see the lake again, and I want to be able to appreciate that aspect every time I participate (which will hopefully be a regular thing).  The level of competition is also something that I don't normally experience at other events in which I participate.  Will I ever be at an event at which Julie Moss and Chris McCormack make an appearance?  Probably not!  Finally, I'm a huge fan of the t-shirt and the finisher's medal, so that's an added bonus, especially as I walk around the house with my medal around my neck...

The "final" final reflection does have me looking forward to my Boulder race which is officially 3 months away.  That gives me time to kick up my training, but this also brings into sharp relief the need for me to focus on this race and to not assume that I can pull off 70.3 without amping up my training in a serious way.  Thinking about the next race and then the next one - I know that I'm not basking in a sense of contentment over Wildflower.  A part of me wishes that I were or that I could, but I'm also at peace with my performance and, I'll say it again, believe that this experience might (or should) make me a smarter and stronger swimmer, biker, runner.

Speaking of runner, I'm off to scamper up some hills in my awesome Wildflower t-shirt!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Respecting the race

Wildflower 2012, the 30th anniversary of the event, is officially over, and I am left with mixed feelings about my performance.  Not about the event which was amazing and inspiring and makes a part of me wish that I still had it in my future rather than my past.  At the same time, there is much about yesterday that I would not want to repeat any time soon - okay, not "much" but about 4 kilometers of horrible running (or walking, really).  I realize that I am beginning at the end, so I'll back up, but I will say that I probably learned more in this race than I have in any over the past 18 months that I've returned to "racing" as a fun little extracurricular interest.
I may have to wait on the deep thoughts post until another day, but I'll share some of the blow-by-blow and entertain people with photos. 

So, to back up to Saturday, Michael and I screeched out of our driveway early Saturday afternoon.  I spent the morning with students reviewing for their AP exam - fun times!  My mind was definitely not focused on them as I kept looking at the clock, anxious to lock up the room and get the hell up to Paso Robles and Lake San Antonio!  We made great time, arriving at the lake around 5:30.  I picked up my packet and tried to soak in some of the energy buzzing around the expo.  Sadly, I did not get a hat this year because they had sold out of the cool colors - major bummer.  But I picked up my packet - for a moment on Friday I panicked that I had not really registered.  I love it when my mind plays tricks on me!

We spent Saturday night in Paso Robles - enjoyed a great meal and crashed pretty hard on the early side.  At some point during the day, I wished that we were camping, but that was a fleeting moment, confirmed on Saturday night when we both fell asleep about as soon as our heads hit the pillos.  Sunday was a more relaxed morning than I've experienced for many races.  I woke up super excited, and it was fun to see all of the cars driving from Paso Robles to the lake with bikes on their rack or in the back.  My wave started very late, but I had to have everything in place at least by 9:00.  My goal was to hit the transition area by 8:30 which we managed easily.  Just like last year, I walked my bike down the f-ing hill.  Actually, I think Michael carried it down and I hauled my backpacking backpack, schlepping all that gear. Once we arrived at the transition area, the excitement really hit me - the "YES, this is IT" moment.  I found my assigned place, and I did enjoy that racking the bike and setting up my transition area did not feel so foreign.  Last year, everything intimidated me, so I appreciated a slight sense of familiarity (no expertise, however).

I then hung out with Michael - we watched the start of the race which was awesome, all those fast young people!  At 10:20, I decided to get ready. Body marked, wetsuit on - it's time!  Well, almost.  

And then wait around before the swim.  And wait around some more.

By the time our wave was called (10:40 - talk about a late start!), I couldn't wait to get in the water!  We could swim out before our official start, and the water felt great.  Couldn't I just keep swimming?!  I got out and then waited those long 2 minutes or so until our wave started.  As we were standing around waiting, they played "Hammertime" by MC Hammer, and the announcer said "You should all remember when this song came out - you were in high school or college!"  Ah, thank you for that memory!  And then we had 10 seconds left and then we started - into the water!  The swim ended up being my favorite leg, to my surprise, probably because I felt fairly strong going into the water and coming out of it. 

T1 was an improvement over last year's terrible transition times, but I did get disoriented because a group of relay people were standing right in front of my bike and I got lost - couldn't see the numbers.  When I realized that I was in the right rack, it kind of pissed me off that they happened to be in my way.  And were then clueless when I tried to get to my stuff.  Grrr!  At any rate, I managed to whittle away about 2 minutes from last year's transition time.  I did not, however, have a graceful mount - it took me forever to clip in!  And then it was up, up, up Lynch Hill.  

I had forgotten what a beast that ride is.  Obviously it's nothing compared to the Long Course, but the hills come at you relentlessly.  While it's great to speed the downhill, the climbs are tough.  However, I was thankful for them since, once again, I could pass people on the ascent.  The bike was a stronger leg than last year, although I looked down at 35 km and knew that I was pretty far off my "dream" time.  Still, I kept pushing and gave Michael a smile (now I look at this photo and I think "Should I be in my drops?").

Finally, the run.  My T2 time was great for me - under 3 minutes, how did that happen?  Oh, laces!  Yes, I actually bought some cheap-o speed laces.  I think these are for children, not athletes, but they worked so I could slide into my running shoes and take off running!  That was what I did for about the first 4 kilometers, I ran.  And then I hit one hill after another, and I walked.  And walked some more. I pushed it occasionally, and then went back to walking.  At a certain point, I realized that there was no way that I would match my 10k pace from last year, but my body did not have the energy to match my mind's determination to get moving.  Nope.  My feet hurt, it was hot, my legs were tired, it was hot, and the run was killing me. Did I mention that it was hot? I was, quite frankly, suffering on the run.  Finally, at around 7 kilometers, the course evened out, and I could jog along.  I saw Michael and maybe gave him a thumb's up?  Maybe a thumb's down?  I'm not even sure, but it lifted my spirits to no end to know that the finish line had to be near and to know that he'd been there cheering me on.  I may have lost a few seconds by getting a smooch from him, but it was a necessary break.

From this point on, the downhill slant pulled me to the finish line.  It helped that spectators were yelling "One more mile to go!".  I am quite confident that the last mile was a sub-8:00 minute pace, although I really couldn't tell you for sure.  What I do know is that my legs managed to find the strength and energy to get down that hill and then cross the finish line running.  

Once I crossed the finish line, I actually started crying - this must be the race at which I cry every year.  Last year, I was so emotional on the final hill, amazed that I was at Wildflower and could finish.  This year, I believe that I shed tears of exhaustion and relief and a final sense of accomplishment when they put that damn finisher's medal around my neck.  I often view finishers' medals with a certain dose of skepticism, but this medal felt so well-deserved after the run.  

I did not achieve my 'ideal' race goal, not in terms of time and performance, but I also feel a sense of satisfaction that I don't often have when I sign up for the casual road race or a race that I don't know and of which I don't have any expectations.  Here, I did have expectations for myself, and they were crushed.  And not in the way that I would have chosen - that I 'crushed' my time and had bragging rights.  No, that did not happen.  However, I know that I improved my performance on the swim and the bike, and I pushed myself on the run as much as I possibly could.  I earned my medal, t-shirt and towel (yes, they gave us a towel that I plan to frame as soon as I can!), and I ended the race with far more respect for every single person who suffers while racing and for this race in particular.

One final thought for now - I certainly plan to make it three years in a row!  Wildflower 2013!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Goals for Wildflower weekend

Now that I've gotten in a final swim, bike and run before Sunday and have stopped freaking out (for now), it gives me a moment to reflect and breath!  I'm a bit superstitious and believe that if I boldly declare ALL of my goals, then they'll be jinxed.  So, no major soul-baring here, but I can elaborate on training and general thoughts.
First of all, compared to my total cluelessness last year, I am in a better position.  I know what to expect in terms of the course and the event overall.  Las year, I experienced plenty of excitement over the unknown quality of it all, which brought its own fun to the mix.  I am, however, happier to see this as a "known known" a la Rumsfeld.  In addition to some experience under my belt, I also trained better over the past few months.  Last year, I had no control over the fact that I couldn't run for two months, but it has come as a relief to stay healthy in this year's training cycle. So, when my primary goal was "just finish", that seemed pretty appropriate.  I also spent way more time in the saddle and have been on plenty of rides that were well over the 24 miles that I'll do on Sunday.  While the bike continues to plague me in terms of speed, I do feel more comfortable in the saddle.  It also helps that I sort of *love* my new bike!  And the swim? I would give my training a 5 out of 10 here, but despite limited time in the pool and doing open-water swims, I shouldn't panic.  That right there is a confidence booster, and I should shave some time off the swim.
As for those goals...  In an ideal world, I'll definitely shave time off last year's 'race', but I recognize that there are so many 'what ifs' and so much that is out of my control.  Last year, some guy crashed into a friend who was racing the long course - she ended up with a concussion.  So, I want to keep in mind all of the factors that I just can't control and be okay if I don't have the race that I "want".  However, there are a few areas that I should use to my advantage.  First of all, faster transitions.  Not that I'm aiming for a sub-2-minute transition, but last year it did not bother me that I was applying sunscreen while everyone else hauled out of the transition area.  This year, I think it will.  I would like to push myself more on the bike - that's a given.  

But, most importantly, I would still like to look like this when I am finishing the race:

You know, smiling and giving a thumbs up.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A belated May Day!

I'm a few days late to the "welcome in the month of May" party, which is fine because I was not in much of a welcoming or party mood on May 1st or even yesterday, both of which were grey, rainy, and just dismal days in general.  This wasn't an early showing of "June gloom" but all-day drizzle that put me into something of a funk.
Now that the forecast has cleared up and it's Thursday, I feel more prepared to embrace the month and all of its possibilities, good and bad.  Since my calf issue seems to be waning, I can spend some mental energy positively thinking about the weekend and the month.  Because there ARE more positives this month than negatives.
While I'd like to ignore the elephant in the room and not mention two "W" words at all (work and Wildflower), that would be silly.  So, in regards to the first topic, I will say that I feel something of a let-up in terms of stress.  I have tons of administrative crap to tend to over the next few weeks, but we're on the downward slide in terms of content and even school days.   Because of that slight sense that the end of the year nears, my thoughts have started to wander to June and a trip that we just started to officially plan, after talking about it for the past few months.
As for the second "W" which looms - Sunday is race day, and I'm finally over the mental and physical slump I experienced earlier this week and am now looking forward to it.  Michael has reminded me time and time again that I am at a different place than I was last year, in a positive way, and I'm now getting excited just thinking about the energy of the race and how beautiful it is there.  I admit that I've also planned out my dinner on Friday and Sunday night, and I can't wait for a nice meal Saturday night in Paso Robles.  Yah, we're obviously not camping after last year's aborted attempt!
Not that I'm looking too much beyond this weekend, but there is another race at the end of the month that will be a great way to almost-officially kick off the summer months.  Throw in a friend's weekend visit mid-month which will include good food and drink, I think that we are set!