Friday, June 29, 2012

Bittersweet - Back in sunny CA

It comforted me yet made me a bit sad when I woke up in my own bed this morning, surrounded by familiar details (such as dogs sniffing up at me when they sensed movement in bed rather than the usual sleep rhythm - how do they know it?!).  After two fairly long days in the car, Michael and I both welcomed the familiar sites along I-5, such as the lovely town of Grapevine, almost rejoicing when we merged onto the 210 Freeway, and we would have been ecstatic if we hadn't been so tired when we finally opened the door to our humble abode.  Milo and Gus did not make the trip with us, so their wagging tails were at attention as they greeted us with a mix of joy and suspicion.  For the rest of our short evening, they seemed to alternate between excitement and distrust, glad to see us yet nervous that we'd leave them again.  They were, however, quite happy to join us in our bedroom when we finally called it a day, so I think that they have forgiven us for this momentary abandonment.

Regarding the trip - more to come on that, photos and all.  It is hard to summarize and to not gush ad nauseum, but it was a fantastic trip - one of our 'best', if I could rank them.  Heading south on Wednesday felt like someone was yanking a part of me out, I hated to leave that part of the world that much, as we took our leave of good friends with whom we had reconnected and to whom we had to say our good-byes.  That was the bittersweet aspect of the trip, because it made me so happy to see these people and so sad to leave them.  Throughout the trip we saw different people, but on Wednesday, we had made our final "visit", so that was the hardest good-bye.  Our route on this trip was a bit circuitous - we made different stops along the way as we drove north to Oregon, then snaked our way to the Oregon coast where we disconnected from the world before heading north to Seattle, then on to Bellingham, then crossing the border to Vancouver.  Our final stop before the long drive south was east to Leavenworth, WA.  The return was, without a doubt, the most difficult part of the trip, as the excitement that pushed us on had transformed into anxiety and impatience to return home.  The long summer days suddenly shortened, and we knew that we were closer to home.

That is a summary of our route, but says little about the WHAT - the experiences and the activities.  It is hard, for me, to quickly summarize all of that, but I will say that we walked along half a dozen beaches, if not more; ate more than our fair share of excellent, local (when we could get it) seafood, lost count of the totem poles that we came across, consumed pounds and pounds of cherries (I kid you not); perused many a farmers market; fell in love with Oregon and Washington beers - IPAs in particular; stopped to take in one view or another and pinched ourselves when we couldn't really believe it; honed our local pie expertise; drank numerous cups of coffee (and only went to Starbucks once!); enjoyed the bounty of our friends' gardens at dinnertime; and stayed up far later than I am used to on most evenings as we gabbed and gabbed with friends.  I would also consider this to be one of our more active trips as we walked, hiked, biked or ran in every single locale that we visited.

Now that we are home, it is easy to return to a pat routine, to get lost in the day-to-day minutiae, to worry about next month or next year, or to focus too much on small details that, in the bigger scheme, don't really matter that much.  While this was no Kerouacian experience that involved hitchhiking, the elements and a few survival skills, it did allow us to step outside of the usual rhythm of our lives and to reconnect with several people that we know from different moments of our lives.  Being home has its own advantages, as we connect with friends here and spend time with the dogs (and I train for some race), and hunkering down a bit will energize us for our next trip - which will be coming up soon!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Road Trippin' 2012!

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest! Summer definitely snuck up on us, and suddenly our summer plans were no longer "plans" but a reality. I finished up a few loose ends on Tuesday, and then we found ourselves in the car, heading north early Wednesday morning. While we travel plenty by car these days, it has been a few years since we've taken an actually road trip. You know, the trip is about the drive, the journey, the experience, not the destination. As over-used a metaphor as it is, it is nice to think and reflect about all the possibilities, the openness, the freedom to stop and explore.

Heading north on Wednesday, we moved at a good clip through the San Joaquin Valley, not stopping until we put some distance between ourselves and home. It's a fairly boring drive until north of Sacramento. Around Redding, Mt Shasta pops up - or looms- in the distance, at first a bit of a shadow and then making its presence more than known. At that point, it seemed that we were true travelers, that we had entered another another time. We just left that morning, but time and space did not obey the usual rules. Surely we'd been on the road for two days already if not more?

Despite the long day on the road Wednesday, it was more than worth it to spend the night in Klamath Falls, OR, a sleepy town just north of the state border. On Thursday, we headed west to the coast where we spent two completely relaxing days. We walked on different beaches, watched seals and sea lions, and took in one dramatic view after another.

Life is moving at a different pace these days, and it is a welcome, if only temporary, change.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Low expectations, positive outcome

It still surprises me that I participated in an Olympic tri yesterday - TriEvent's "Championship" race (because I am a champion?) and that apparently I have a new  PR for that distance.  That is, if I want to consider it a true Olympic tri or not, seeing as the bike leg was 1km short of 40km.  I'm still mulling over the race and the experience today, but nothing about it is weighing me down or filling me with a sense of regret or frustration about the experience.  So, on that note, I'll give it two thumbs up!

Going into the race, early yesterday morning, I had no idea how I would perform - or if I would perform.  I signed up for the race because it was local and because it was exactly 8 weeks out from the Boulder race, so the timing was perfect.  In the past two weeks, I've ramped up my training, so I did not taper at all - in fact, I had a pretty hard week on the bike.  Saturday morning, the day before the race, Michael and I returned to Malibu for a nice ride up PCH.  We logged in just under 30 miles, which did not kill my legs but definitely gave them a work out.  My body, apparently, did not deal well with the ride - on the drive back from Malibu, I crashed.  Not literally, because someone else was driving the car, fortunately, but it was not a good experience to be shakey and feel physically weak, and it left me full of doubts about whether I should even do the tri on Sunday.

I decided to play it by ear - if I felt awful at any point during the race, I would swallow my pride and take a big fat DNF.  I shelved all plans to go "all out" or to try to hit a certain time, my main goal being, if I finished, to feel good at the end.  In terms of races, I felt unprepared, and not just because of Saturday's bonking.  I had no idea what the course was like, except that it was in San Dimas, home of Bill and Ted (his fact made Michael more than willing to accompany to the race, hoping to catch a glimpse of San Dimas High School), and I hadn't devised a race strategy.  Great!  

It ended up being a fairly relaxing morning getting there around 7:15), checking in and racking the bike and starting to race at 8:10.  The weather was pretty much perfect - June gloom starting out which would probably burn off by mid-morning.  It was a small and definitely local race, so we arrived with enough time for me to check off all of the "to-do" items before racing, but I did not have enough time to analyze, set goals, or even put my race face on.  I racked all of my stuff, finding a small amount of space and squeezing in, and then it seemed like I needed to put on my pink cap and GO!

The swim was held in a reservoir and was easier than the last two open-water swims I've done, both in the ocean.  Once the horn blew, I jumped in and it felt great to be in the water, although a bit warm for a wet suit.  My breathing was awesome - 3 to 4 breaths per side, but I didn't feel very fast.  Apparently I wasn't since I came out of the water about a minute slower than I did at Wildflower!  Ah well.  When I exited, I heard people calling my name, but I didn't think that it was MY name.  Apparently I did have a cheering section - a colleague's son was racing, and she and her daughter cheered for me.  It would have been nice to see them and wave, but I'm always a bit out of it when I end the swim.  Just getting to the transition area for me tends to be a major triumph.

But I did make it to the transition area and out of it in record time, I think!  I did not rush the transition, even chatting with Michael who stood right outside the area, snapping fun pictures of me (see below). It seems that the swim-to-bike transition has become a less arduous task.  More practice might actually be helping me!

Then, onto the bike - there were still enough bikes in the transition area that I did not barrage myself with negative thoughts.  Also, I reminded myself time and again, this was not an "A" race but just a good opportunity to practice for Boulder.  The bike leg was three laps - the same course, three times.  Plenty of ups and downs and turns and one stretch of a really bumpy road, it did not offer much in the way of scenery or a relaxing ride.  I think that two laps would have been tolerable; by the third, all I wanted was to GET OFF THE BIKE.  Not because I was tired, but the course just did not inspire me.  That sense was aggravated when my chain fell off at the end of the first lap and then mid-way through the second lap.  I probably lost 4 minutes, maybe more?  Add to that the fact that I decided not to shift into the big gear - that was the moment when I dropped the chain both times, so I couldn't pick up any traction on the downhill or much speed on the flats.  Still, staying in the small gears seemed like the better option, rather than stop once or twice more on the ride.  When it fell off that second time, I wanted to kick my bike (mature reaction, I know), but I tried to react in a somewhat mature fashion, advising myself to be patient because my time was not that important, my goal was to finish on a strong note.

I pulled into the transition area without dropping the chain a third time, and then it was all about the run - I was more than ready to get off the bike and to not worry about the chain.  A bit like the bike course, I had zero expectations or assumptions about the run.  Just finish it feeling healthy and strong, that was goal number 1, which would mark a great difference between this Olympic tri experience and 2012 Wildflower.  I'm not about to break it down mile for mile, but I will say that I felt FANTASTIC during the run.  Most of it was on asphalt which I did not enjoy, but it didn't kill me.  I could have pushed it more in some places, but I chose not to do so, which is a different experience from not being able to push it.  I crossed the finish line with a smile, and a new PR for an almost-full-Olympic tri!

Overall, I did not love this race, and I would be reluctant to sign up for it next year, not even for an ego boost or to see if I've improved.  However, I did appreciate that it was local, so we did not spend extra money on a hotel/motel, and it was great to return home by noon.  I am still so new at this 'sport', and each race gives me a bit more experience, which I sorely need.  Looking back, I feel good about the experience, but not because of my final time.  Rather, I ate properly during and after the race, so no crazy 'crashing', and I feel good enough today to head out for a run around 6:00 pm!  

The one negative from the day - we did not make it to San Dimas High School for a photo shoot.  Michael will have to wait until another day!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday run - Arroyo Seco

Well, after tweaking my knee last Wednesday night, I ran again last Friday morning but found that the usual knee pain had transformed into something beyond the usual minor discomfort that, once I got going, worked its way out.  Fortunately, I had already scheduled an appointment with the ortho for Tuesday.  My last cortisone shot was back in October, and I knew that I, or my knee, would be due for another one sooner or later.  I had actually canceled this appointment two times in May, but felt that a cortisone injection would quite possibly help me through the summer training season.  Thank goodness for that decision!  The doctor expressed some concern about the knee and muttered those three dreaded parts of the alphabet that mean nothing when examined separately but taken together, inspire fear in my heart - MRI.  If things didn't improve within 6 weeks or so.

The shot was Tuesday afternoon, and I more or less followed the doctor's orders of not too much activity for the days following.  This morning, however, I bounced out of bed, determined to just try out my knee.  If I experienced sharp pain like last Friday, I would stop and walk and try to grimly accept that my knee was f-ed.  The plan was a slow and easy 4-mile run along the Arroyo Seco, one of Pasadena's gems.  I don't often drive to run there and am usually content with different routes that I can take to and from my front or back door.  However, the trail along the Arroyo beckoned this morning, and I stuck to my plan of a nice, slow, easy run.  It was the perfect way to start our Friday morning, and my knee fully cooperated!  Big relief there! Major happy dance when we returned to the car!

Post-run, I went to the chiropractor who snapped my back and taped my knee.  Might as well add something else to the fix-the-knee-mix!  As I left the office, I commented to Michael that in terms of running, I am more like Humpty-Dumpty than a sleek, well-oiled machine.  He suggested duct tape to keep me together.  Maybe I'll invest in some.

I'm not sure if it's the smartest decision to continue to run, but for the moment, I'll take the great efforts to which I have to go in order to stay somewhat mobile.  This morning's run made me feel so alive and appreciative of where I live and all that I can do, creaky knee and all.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Confession: competition - a four letter word?

Yes, I can do my arithmetic and see that there are more than four letters in the word "competition", but in a figurative sense, for me, at least, this concept can provoke a less-than-healthy response, leaning to the profane.  As much as I like to think of myself as a laid-back, take-it-easy individual, I'm not sure that is the case.  And my husband would definitely snort either in surprise, shock or disbelief if he heard me use such terms to describe myself.

So, yes, competition.  Over the past 2 years, since getting back into running and then delving more into other activities (triathlon), I've enjoyed being able to participate in a nice range of events.  These events - well, we can call them 'races' - have often inspired me to push myself out of my comfort zone, but, for the most part, they've also been fun experiences, sometimes taking us to explore different places, mainly here in Southern CA.  I tell myself that my experience of the race has nothing to do with the competition aspect of the race, or the event, that I can - or should - judge my performance based on different criteria.  First of all, did I enjoy the experience or not?  If I did, what made it a "fun" event - the course, the other people, the *vibe*, my mood?  Secondly, if I did enjoy it but especially if I did not enjoy the experience (or part of it, such as Wildflower 2012), what did I learn from it?  It may seem silly to analyze a race experience in such a way since I try not to take the running plus other sport thing as more than a healthy interest.  Considering the time that I'm spending on these endeavors, however, I might as well spend some time to reflect on an experience.  After all, I do make goals, whether I acknowledge them or not, and I invest not only time but also money in this "hobby".

With that in mind, I often try to move the competition idea to the back burner, either ignoring it or pretending to do so.  However, in the last two weeks, two events have led me to see that my competitive drive certainly hovers just under the surface and sometimes asserts itself with full force when provoked. The provocation is rare, especially if it's a race at which I know no one and have zero expectations of myself or other people.  That happens to be the usual experience, as I don't coordinate races with hundreds of my best friends.  Occasionally, however, my social/work life and the running/racing life intersect, and I will actually know people at a race/event.  Gasp!  It's usually really fun to wish each other well and cheer along the way or at the end.  Even more fun to grab some grub and libations afterwards!

In the last two events, however, I found that participating with someone with whom I work did not lead to the supportive, cheering, "go you, go me" attitude to which I am accustomed.  Instead, it worked up my competitive edge, which totally surprised me.  Surprise because this is a younger, far more athletic person than I.  I work with her, and all she talks about is her running and racing and training experience/schedule.  Lots and lots of talk.  Let me also say that she is young and cocky and immature in some ways.  And she definitely gets under my skin.  She is not in my age group, so I don't compare myself to her in terms of performance.  99 times out of 100, she'll kick my ass. However, we were both racing Mt. Wilson a few weeks ago.  When I passed her within the first mile or so of the Mt. Wilson trail, the notion that I could actually BEAT HER on this race fueled me on.  I knew that I needed a good margin on the uphill because she would make up major time on the downhill.  Which she did - she cruised by me, but at the end, I crossed the finish line right behind her.  When the official results were posted, however, I saw that I beat her.  Yes, I delighted a bit in this fact, despite knowing that it was probably a fluke event that I would never repeat.

Then, last Wednesday, while on the trip with the students, two other teachers and I went into Santa Barbara to participate in an aquathon - 1000 meter swim/5k run.  This person from the Mt. Wilson race was one of the three.  Now, I fully planned to view the swim-run as just a good opportunity for a brick workout.  Not a race.  I hoped to have a good, strong swim and then an easy 5k.  Well, the swim kicked my ass, but I knew that I exited the water with a strong time gap between this other woman (girl?) and me.  So, when I got to the run, instead of taking it easy, I freakin' booked it.  I'm not sure what my official 5K time was since I did not have a stopwatch and my "official" time included a lousy transition time, but it was probably around 24 or 25 minutes.  Did I beat this other person?  YES!

Now, the more important question - was it worth it?  The answer is more complicated than the simple and overly exuberant exclamation above.  Did it give me bragging rights?  Sort of, but I did very little with them.  Did it momentarily fill me with a petty sense of pride?  A definite yes, but let me stress the adverb there.  In addition to that fleeting sense of one-ups-manship, I did break one of my own cardinal rules - to never race twice in the same week, or within a week's period.  My body - my knee(s) - can't handle it, and that is a fact.  Did this race prove said fact?  Yes, it did because I tweaked my knee a bit running hard on the downhill and have been paying for my foolish, prideful decision to go hard just a few days after the Mt. Wilson race which had already put my body through the ringer.

So, I'm trying to stave off this impulse to race, race, race at every opportunity.  Or, if I plan to race, I need to go in with a strategy, stick to it and not ignore what good sense is telling me.  I hope to remember all of these platitudes this Sunday.  I have an Olympic Tri, a local race, and I want to use it both as a race but also as good training for Boulder.  No guts and glory, leave it all behind, bring my uber-competetive face to the starting line.  Just a smart and hopefully fun race!

I am still smug about edging out this other woman in two races?  Yes, I am - and my ego has certainly ballooned a bit.  I don't see competition as being inherently bad or evil, and I doubt that I'll ever beat her at another race again in my life or hers.  But it was awfully satisfying to think that a 40-year-old woman can still take on a 26-year-old hotrod for that rare race out of all of them and come out ahead!

Monday, June 4, 2012

TRD - Total Rest Day

Or "True Rest Day".  Whatever.  All I know is that today fulfilled my notion of a true/total REST day.  The first of the month!

Despite the exclamation point, I feel somewhat conflicted about taking what seems to me to be yet another rest day.  Jotting down last week's schedule, I noted that both Tuesday and Thursday fit the 'rest day' bill since I did not swim, bike nor run.  However, when I gave it a bit more thought, I realized that Tuesday was "a pack up my gear, head to a camp ground with a few dozen students and some of my colleagues, proceed to settle in for a few days, and then participate in some fun activities such as sailing and evening yoga" type-of-a-day.  Restful, not really at all.  Thursday followed an evening aquathon and also involved several miles of walking to the beach twice and spending far too much time in the sun.  While neither day would qualify as a "good-work-out" day, I also hesitate to claim them as rest days as there was little that I could describe as truly restful about them.

Today, however, is a different case.  While I did not laze around in bed, unless the 6:00 am hour is late, I did not have to rush out of the house.  A relaxing cup of coffee and breakfast while I listened to NPR's morning edition allowed me to enjoy the morning, even as I finished grading a final stack of exams.  I followed that with a lunch out with a few colleagues to review the year - definitely a necessity, especially accompanied with french fries!  The evening has rolled around as I sip a Racer 5 IPA and work on a few more odds and ends for the close of the academic year.  This seems like the perfect day to acknowledge that I've more or less survived the year!

As the next weeks roll by, I do need to get back to a major training plan.  I keep ignoring my proverbial "elephant in the room", that little race in Boulder, CO that is about 8 weeks out.  In the meantime, I plan to fully enjoy the rest of the evening before a little swim/bike action tomorrow morning!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

June - a time for ends and beginnings

I'm back from the annual school camping trip - annual for me, at least.  Some people go on more than one trip per year with different classes, but this is my sole commitment.  I tend to feel conflicted about the trip, as it's usually tons of fun, offering a variety of activities, such as a ropes course and surfing, and a great setting, but it is also exhausting - precisely because of the activities and the setting.  I return from it feeling either windburned or sunburned or both and physically tired after late nights (for me) and long days spent outside.
This year, everything about the trip went smoothly - kids were great and the weather was perfect (not too hot, not crazy wind, sunny and pretty mild), so I have nothing to complain about.  After all, the trip the did showcase plenty of highlights.  Perhaps more importantly, the trip offers a moment to get away from work and life - while still working - and think about the year, about the students whom I teach and the school where I work.  It also, for me, signals that the year is drawing to a close.  There are many endings to the year and this is merely one of them, but it might be my favorite moment to spend time with colleagues and students and reflect on the year.  Nothing like early morning walks to the beach to appreciate life.
Even with all of the excitement and beauty, I fully welcomed the return trip home yesterday.  On cue, June gloom appeared yesterday morning - after days of lovely mornings, low clouds gathered around the campground and hills and hid the coast, which made it a perfect day to run, even with a creaky knee.  And then I was more than ready to return home. Upon crossing the threshold of our house, I dumped out all of my dirty clothes (or all the clothes that I took with me which were dirty, whether I wore them or not), showered and took a nap in a comfortable bed.  Civilization at its best!
This weekend, despite grading and school obligations, like graduation, has felt like the beginning of summer.  It is a bit warm in these parts, but the morning sun did not welcome us until almost noon - probably because we went to Malibu for an early, open water swim (me) and a fantastic ride on the coast (both of us).  I almost bailed out on both of those when, as we were driving north on PCH from Santa Monica to Malibu, the rain started to spit down on us.  Yes, I would be getting wet for the swim, but a cold, wet ride did not appeal.  Despite those reservations, we were both happy that we ventured west on an early-ish Saturday morning and stuck to the plan.  After the ride, we hit Lilly's, a place that we discovered a few years ago just by chance and return about once a year.  The breakfast burrito hit the spot - we split one and I'm sad to say that I wolfed my half down in about 2 minutes.  While I had to return home to grade exams, it was a wonderful Saturday morning and made me feel that summer is here, whether the calendar says it is or not.
For us, the summer will be busy with visiting friends and family and traveling near and far, depending on one's definition of those distances.  I am also daydreaming of afternoon naps, plenty of reading, hikes and walks and afternoon cocktails.  The months are full of promise, yet a part of me already senses that the months will pass too quickly.
Still, before the days grow short again, cheers to summer!