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!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back in the saddle

It was a great weekend - just what I needed to fully re-energize and recover from all of the travels and to begin to focus on the 2012-2013 academic year.  To kick off the weekend, I managed my first post-Boulder race work-out on Friday with a spinning class, which was the perfect reintroduction to the wide world of sports/fitness.  During the school year, I can't normally go to an 8:30 am spin class during the week, so this was a last hurrah for the summer, and Rod, the instructor, had us working with heart rate monitors.  Obviously this is an effective tool for training, and it made me think about yet another investment for the future but not the present.  I definitely pushed myself during the class, but focusing on my heart rate was a change, rather than just try to decide what it meant to me when the instructor says "You should be at a 5 in intensity".

The spinning class set a nice tone for a weekend full of cycling adventures.  And some misadventures with the news about Lance Armstrong breaking and dominating much of the cycling world news, despite the fact that 2 major races were going on (the USA Pro Challenge and the Vuelta a España).  I think that I read all of my free articles at between Friday and Saturday just to see what experts had to say, and obviously there is no consensus but plenty of buzz about it with opinions all over the place.  We also spent many hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday watching coverage of the USA Pro Challenge which concluded yesterday.  Saturday's race ended in Boulder, and we wished that we could have been a part of the throngs of people out cheering for the cyclists (Michael's brothers were there - I was rather envious!).  I've become a huge Jens Voigt fan, not because of this Road ID commercial (although I do like it), but his tenacity and his motto "Shut up legs".

In addition to reacquainting myself with certain muscles that I hadn't used in awhile, we satisfied our Mexican craving on Friday at Amigo's, a favorite, especially because of their pitchers of margaritas. We celebrated the birth of a special little lady, and we also celebrated the fact that her mom could drink with us again! Over the pitchers (as usual), a friend proposed the idea of joining him on his weekly Sunday morning brunch ride.  It seemed like a great way to get back on the bike - a no-pressure, social ride.  Yes, please, sign me up!  Yesterday morning, we rolled out around 9:00 am, heading east to Pasadena and then further east to the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area, a part of LA that we had never, to my embarrassment, explored.  I knew of its whereabouts, that it did exist, but biking there - that never crossed my narrow-bike-experience-mind.  Rob led the way, fortunately, because we traveled along surface streets, through towns that I usually associate with an exit on the freeway: Arcadia, Temple City, Irwindale - where were we?!  And then, after hitting a fairly industrialized part of the eastern landscape of the LA area, we made a few turns and suddenly connected to a bike trail!  It was a great day for a ride - calm, for the most part, and I saw, in much closer detail, parts of LA that I usually ignore or dismiss.  The bike trail around the Santa Fe Dam was a beauty - well-maintained and also well-used.  On the return, we traveled a different course, hugging a bit closer the Angeles National Forest as we headed to Pasadena via Sierra Madre.  Our lunch destination was another old favorite: Lucky Baldwin's where we restored our energy with some food and brew!  I also learned that a post-ride IPA beer is a great recovery drink, but then the 5-miles or so uphill to get back home don't feel quite so good.

The Sunday ride was the perfect way for me to enjoy Sunshine again and to get my legs spinning without too much pushing and pulling thanks to a relatively flat route.  Rob, our fearless leader, kept a kind tempo - he stressed that it was a relaxed ride which I appreciated.  For me, this might be one of my favorite rides of the summer, probably because I had such a different attitude going into it.  I have enjoyed the fact that Michael and I spent time on our bikes when we were in Oregon and Colorado, and we loved our explorations up and down PCH this summer.  However, many (all) of those rides served a fairly singular purpose - train, train, train.  I focused on speed, mph, elevation gain and loss, and on miles, mainly on miles, as I needed to add more each week to feel prepared.  So, the rides had more to do with going a certain speed and distance and less to do with enjoying the experience of riding.  Yesterday's ride was truly about exploring the city and sharing a Sunday morning (and part of the afternoon) ride with friends.  It made me think about cycling in a different way, one that is less about using it to push myself and more about fun.  I would like to add miles this fall, but more than anything, I'd like to shift my approach to cycling in general and go on rides not because I *have* to but merely because they offer possibilities of fun, socializing and exploration.

So, it is good to be back in the saddle, in both a literal and figurative sense, and I can't wait for my next ride!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Returning home: expectations vs. reality

So, returning to "real life" has just about brought me to me knees.  I consider myself a fairly resilient person who can, for the most part, quickly bounce back from travel, events, and/or a number of life changes without too much mental or physical wear and tear.  I worried about traveling to Nicaragua after the Boulder race, but gave no thought to the return from Nicaragua and how that would affect me.  Nor did I consider that a twelve-hour travel day on Sunday plus a sixteen-hour travel day on Tuesday would leave me feeling like complete hell on Wednesday.  Add to that the fact that I woke up on Monday, my head exploding thanks to a cold. All in all, the week has been a recipe for disaster.

Not that disaster has truly happened by any narrow or broad definition of the word/concept.  I, however, have felt somewhat crushed by the fact that my expectations have not unfolded in my return to "reality".  In the plan that I entertained, I would have rested well at the resort, eaten good food and maybe even gone on two runs.  Then, on Monday, after a long day of travel, I would bounce out of bed, excited that I was back in the States and ready to get in a final bike ride in Boulder - maybe even ride the race course loop as a final good-bye.  Wednesday morning, after a long drive from Boulder to LA on Tuesday, I would pull myself out of bed, motivated by the thought of going on a nice run while it was still cool.  On Thursday, maybe I would go for a swim or enjoy another run.  Add to all of this, I would spend 8 hours a day at school, starting to plan classes and catching up with people, finishing up the summer reading packet with careful notes.  I would look forward to next week - meetings starting, everyone back, feel the energy and the excitement of a new year.

Obviously, very little of this has happened.  I woke up Monday in Boulder and felt terrible thanks to a cold that fully blossomed.  We nixed the bike ride idea and spent Monday running errands and preparing for a long drive on Tuesday.  We returned safely to LA, for which I was happy, especially since our car battery died yesterday morning and could have possibly done so on Tuesday.   The drive was long, in part because we had a later start than we expected.  We locked ourselves out of my brother-in-law's guest bathroom and did not want to wake him up at 5:00 am to help us with the door (we did not have a wire hanger, but that finally did the trick!).  Thanks to the dead battery yesterday, we spent much of the day dealing with the car, which was somewhat a relief because it gave me a mental break from feeling that I needed to accomplish X, Y and Z.  I did go into work/school, and it was good to break the ice there - talk to different people, report on the trip, get ready to pack up my office and move.  Today was more of the same at school, as I boxed up all of my books, papers, files and "personal effects" and moved from one office to another. After a long lunch with a friend/colleague, I was exhausted and returned home and promptly took a long nap.

I realize that I'm still getting over a cold and have low-energy and that I am, in all likelihood, finally coming down from a "high" that has allowed me to get through the past few weeks.  Mentally and physically I pushed myself to this point, but the fatigue has caught up to me.  This realization does not, however, make me feel much better about my complete lack of motivation, and I hope that a few days of 'true' rest will allow me to re-energize before I have to be back on my game.

At the moment, I am trying to not panic because I've much of this week in a fairly lethargic state.  I've tried to hold at bay the annoying little voice that keeps saying "This was NOT the plan".  I will have to return to a plan soon enough (Monday morning!), but at the moment, I think that I need to give into this moment of pause and let myself truly rest from the summer.  As a teacher, I often try to squeeze every last minute out of the summer months, and this summer was not an exception.  I am certainly not saying "poor me, I've had a hard summer", after all, everything that I did was my choice.  I will say, however, that it has been full, especially at the tail end, and I am feeling the strain of that.

So, the plan for the next few days is to ease back into 'reality' while also resting.  I am going to a spin class tomorrow, and my body might hate me for 60 minutes and maybe for the rest of the day, but my mind will feel better, quieter, less anxious.  I will start to unpack my office and will enjoy the summer reading over the weekend (or finish it, at least!).  By Monday, I hope that I will be able to bounce out of bed.  At this point, my expectations are more in line with the reality of where my mind and body are (tired), but I believe that I will be able to transition to the new year as next week progresses and I return to a schedule.  That should prepare me nicely for September 4th, the first full day of class!

*Side note: I really kind of hate myself right now for writing this whiny post!  It totally smacks of "first world problems", you know, the I'm-so-important-and-so-busy-and-my-life-is-hell mentality.  But I am frustrated that I can't quickly find my rhythm at the moment.  It will come back to me, I know, so I just need to be a patient, a virtue that I do not possess!

**One more side note: As much as I complain about returning to reality, I am also incredibly happy to be home.  It is great to hang out with Gus and Milo and enjoy walks with them, I am trying to eat as much salad and other veggies as I can to clean out my system (Nicaraguan food is not high in fiber), and I have savored every sip of strong coffee that I've taken!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nicaragua: The all-inclusive resort experience

I'm back in the States, currently nursing a cold that developed while I was supposed to be relaxing on the beach while drinking piña coladas.  Perhaps I can blame my lackluster "resort" experience on the fact that I was starting to feel sick, but I honestly think that the 36 hours I spent at the Montelimar Resort confirmed what I had suspected for a while: that the resort experience is NOT my thing!

Before I go off on a long rant, I should say that there were some positives.  I caught two pretty great sunsets and enjoyed early morning walks on the beach, before it got too hot and steamy.  Plus, I splashed around in what is supposedly the largest pool in Central America.  Large it may be, deep it is not!  I pretty much walked the length of it because it might measure 5 feet at the deepest point.  At 8:00 am on Saturday morning, I was the only person in the pool, a rare treat!  Also, considering our group's needs/goals (traveling with kids, letting them unwind and play on the beach after 2 fairly intense weeks), the resort was more than suitable, and I did appreciate that it was popular with Nicaraguans and people from other Central American countries.  We were the only Americans there, so that at least felt authentic.

Those points aside, this is not an experience that I need to repeat ever again.  First of all, I felt completely trapped at the resort, wearing a stupid wristband that identified me and wandering from my cabaña to the restaurant, to the pool, to the beach.  While we had free range around the resort, it seemed as though we were locked inside a compound which creeped me out.  Didn't the Jim Jones cult live on a compound?  Then there was the food.  Overall, I found the food in Nicaragua to be great, and I ate more than my fair share of good meals and drank wonderful fruit juices.  At the resort, there was a buffet (of course), and everything tasted mediocre, even the fruit.  So, while the food wasn't bad, per se, and there was plenty of it, the quality of the food did disappoint.  The other issue for me was the heat and the humidity.  While I tolerated the weather in Managua because I had no other choice, to "vacation" where it's hot and humid goes completely against my better judgement.  I know that I'm not much of a beach person, in part because my skin just can't take it, so sitting on the beach all day or even playing in the water holds no appeal to me, and those were the principal activities offered up.  Well, not the principal ones - if I had wanted to, I could have taken a dance class, a water aerobics class, played some beach volleyball or water polo, all organized for my entertainment by the resort staff.  I eschewed all such group activities, opting to read for most of the day.  By Saturday night, I couldn't wait to get on the bus the next day to leave the prison.  I mean resort.

Feeling slightly under-the-weather did not, I'm sure, help the situation.  I honestly thought that I might be having an allergic reaction to Montelimar because I felt worse in the room than I did outside walking around.  Now that I'm sniffling and coughing in Boulder, I have to recognize that I was just getting sick, plain and simple.  But I liked to think that Montelimar had provoked my allergies and that I would feel better as soon as I left the gates and they cut off the wristband.  Also, one of the other adults was driving me bonkers and I felt trapped having to spend so much time with him too.  So, overall, I would give the resort experience a solid D.

I am sure that there are nicer places that offer better food and more activities that would be to my liking.  However, I don't plan to find out whether this experience was unique in piquing all of my pet peeves or if any sort of all-inclusive experience would provoke such a strong reaction.  I have a hunch that the latter is true, and I think that I will trust my gut there.

Overall, it is not bad that the relaxing, resort experience ended up being so anti-climactic.  There were  wonderful aspects to this trip that I would prefer to remember as the highlight.  It is also funny because, from time to time, it occurs to me that Michael and I should really "vacation" rather than "travel".  From this experience, I have taken note that I am clearly not a good vacationer - I need more of a purpose or direction to my trips, something greater than the desire to merely relax, unwind, work on my tan and drink piña coladas.  Travel must be more meaningful than that, or that is my way of thinking, and the good thing about this trip is that I have certainly taken away more from this trip than petty grievances towards a resort!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Recovery" in Nicaragua

As I mentioned earlier, I had an ambitious plan for August, a plan that included the Boulder race which would quickly be followed by a trip to Nicaragua, and I felt somewhat trepidatious about the outcomes of both of these experiences.  As I reported earlier, the race in Boulder went really really well, and I was more or less on a good high for about 24 hours.  Despite being tired, my body did not ache terribly, and I seemed to bounce back from the race without too many issues (could have pushed it a bit more, obviously).  I was, however, a bit concerned about traveling to Nicaragua after only one day of rest, and when I left Denver on Tuesday morning, I also felt somewhat resentful that I had to interrupt my post-race celebration by heading to the developing world to actually work! 

Looking back, however, I believe that it may have been one of the best decisions that I made.  While the Boulder race experience was awesome, it was a completely selfish endeavor.  I don´t think that selfishness is necessarily bad, but I spent plenty of time this summer (and in the spring) prioritizing my schedule and my "needs".  Being here in Nicaragua is not relaxing, although I am certainly not working out (unless physical labor counts as a workout), but it has allowed me to shift gears and to focus on different goals and to put other people´s needs and schedules above my own.  Even better, I have thoroughly enjoyed the country and am beginning to make plans to return on my own next summer to see and experience more of Nicaragua and its people and culture.

I must confess, however, that I am looking forward to the weekend.  We´ve principally been in the Managua area, and we head to the Pacific coast this weekend to a resort.  I´ve never been to an all-inclusive resort and have no idea whether I will like the experience or not.  I am, however, excited to be close to a beautiful beach and also enjoy what is supposedly the largest pool in Central America!  I also hope that they make a good mojito because I have visions of myself drinking several of them...

This might be my "true" recovery, not just from Boulder 70.3 but from the past 10 days or so!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mission accomplished!

There were obviously more momentous events that occurred yesterday, August 5, 2012, such as Curiosity's landing, but for me, crossing the Boulder 70.3 finish line marked an achievement of a personal nature.  I met most of my goals for the race, especially the hope to end the race feeling strong and healthy and, even better, with a smile.  Here's the proof:

So, I've jumped to the end.  I will say that after a few weeks filled with moments of doubt and then confidence and then doubt again, I could not have wished for a better day and a better experience.  One of the reasons that I signed up for Boulder is that this has become a second home to me, at least emotionally.  Michael and I were married here, and we gravitate to Colorado in more ways than one.  I've enjoyed exploring Boulder in so many ways, and I feel quite connected to the town.  To add to that, it's a beautiful place to be, to visit, to explore, and I loved the idea of swimming, biking and running with the Flatirons in the horizon.

But, to back up a bit, I'll start with the early morning wake-up call.  We were staying at Michael's brother's place which is a mere 2 miles or so from the Reservoir, so it made for an easy drive to parking and the transition zone.  I could not believe how calm I felt yesterday morning, and it totally surprised me that I did not forget anything major (just chapstick which I did regret).  By 6:20 I had racked my bike and set up my transition area (messy as usual), and then headed to the bathroom where I took care of business.  Then, Michael and I headed to the swim start area - time to get going!

The swim was wetsuit legal, thank goodness!  After some waiting around,  I suited up and we waited around some more.  We did watch the first two waves go out - Pro Men followed by Pro Women.  The Pro Men start was pretty stupid - about half of the group headed to the right of the buoys, and some of them did not correct.  I'm not sure what happened, but when my wave got into the water, they announced to be careful to go around the buoys on the LEFT (duh) or be DQ-ed.  I lined up around 7:10 and got ready to go!

The swim ended up being my worst leg in terms of anticipated performance, but I'm happy overall with it.  My sighting could have been better, but my breathing was great and I felt relaxed throughout MOST of it.  Some parts did seem a bit mercenary, especially some woman pulled at me pretty hard.  I'm used to the touching and bumping, but PULLING at me?  I was completely unsportsmanlike and kicked at the person - and then suffered a momentary muscle cramp.  Total karma, but I didn't care.    In other ways, the swim was beautiful - I could see the Flatirons which made for an awesome view, even while swimming!

Exiting the swim, I saw Michael which was awesome - there were tons of people, so I wasn't sure if I would see him.  Then, time to get on the bike!  My transition time took forever, probably because I lathered up with sunscreen.  One of my other goals (I had many minor goals) was to not get sunburned, so I wanted more sunscreen post-swim.  Taking off on the bike, I felt pretty good and waved good-bye to Michael (really, I did wave)!

And then I was off!  The bike leg went really well - I'm not super speedy by any means, but I did keep a pace that I was comfortable and very happy with.  While I think that I could have pushed it, I did not want to trash myself for the run.  Plus, I wanted to enjoy the experience, and on the whole, I did - the course, as I knew, offered great views of rolling hills, the "hogbacks" in northern Boulder, and farmland.  Even the boring part - along Diagonal Highway - was pretty scenic, and it was fun to pass a kennel and hear all the dogs barking!  The first loop felt like it passed in no time, and I kept a good pace (for me) for the second loop too, but my butt was DONE with the saddle by Mile 30, I would say.  Still, I kept pushing on and finally I turned into the Reservoir and knew that it was time to run!

I did feel good coming off the bike, and started the run at a good clip.  My first thought when I started the run was "Hey, maybe I can run the entire 13.1 course and not walk at all!".  I quickly banished that thought, reminding myself that I wanted to feel good at the finish line.  So, I did not push myself to whatever limit possible, a decision that I do not regret.  Even walking uphill and through the aid stations, I kept a good pace, especially for the first lap which I completed in about an hour.  I saw Michael as I started the second lap and gave him a wave and a smile.

As soon as I started the second lap, I knew that it was going to be a tough push, but I also knew that I'd make it, one way or another. I wished, for a moment, that I had put in one more longer training run, but ultimately, I'm not sure that it would have helped me THAT much more.  In addition to deciding to walk up the hills, the other great decision I made was to buy a smaller, hand-held water carrier.  Between aid stations, I either had water to drink or to spray on my head, and I think that it kept me going.  Also, I read about the ice-down-the-shirt-trick, and this also proved to be a go-to trick during that second lap - it seemed to cool me down and helped me move along.  By the time I hit Mile 10, I knew that I would be able to run in the final few miles, which were still very exposed (no shade for the entire run course!) but were relatively flat.  

The final mile was great - yes, I was exhausted, my feet hurt thanks to the rocky run, but I looked out on the Reservoir and the mountains and felt so emotional that I started to cry a bit.  I then told myself "Hey, you're going to be smiling at the finish, so no tears, not even tears of joy!".  I gave it a bit of a push at the end, passing someone in my age group in that last mile (yay!), and savoring the moment when they announced my name crossing the finish line.  Huge smile as they put the medal around my neck and gave me a cap, and feelings of joy and immense relief.

As I said, it could not have been a more perfect race for me.  I met my goal pace, more or less right between 6:00-6:30, and while I could have improved my time tweaking this or that, I am damn happy with the time.  As far as the different legs are concerned, my swim time was a bit slower than expected, but the bike and run were right on target, more or less.  Finally, I felt great at the end - yes, I was tired, but happy and still feeling good physically, and I did not suffer a sunburn!  

I must say that Michael was/is a trooper - while this was definitely "my race experience", he has had to put up with me for the past six months or so, and it lifted my spirits when I saw him out there yesterday.  I didn't train with a team or a coach, but I do feel that I couldn't have gotten to this point without his encouragement and, often times, his company on rides or at events.  He probably suffered more than I, as he waited around for me and got sunburned feet!

In terms of Boulder 70.3, the event itself - I loved the experience, but I know that there were several factors that accounted for such a positive reaction.  First and foremost, the weather cooperated.  Yes, it ended up being somewhat hot, but it wasn't miserable while I was out on the course, and I know that the run could have gone south if it had warmed up earlier in the day.  It also helped that I knew the course quite well, especially the bike portion, so it seemed familiar.  While this took away from the newness of the experience, it gave me a sense of familiarity that probably bolstered my confidence.  Also, I felt pretty good throughout the race.  While I did tire on the swim and the bike and my feet hurt on the run, I never thought that I couldn't make it and I knew that my suffering was minimal compared to that of other people that I saw on the course.  My training was certainly not flawless, but it was good enough for my goals, and I trusted the work that I had put into the race.  Also, I stayed on top of my nutrition - although I got so tired of drinking fluids and eating "performance" food on the run that pretzels and soda came as a welcome change!  Finally, the event was very well-organized, which it should have been (with the amount of money for an Ironman-sponsored event...), but it definitely helped to have so many aid stations, especially on the run, and such great crowd support throughout the race.  There are obviously some very serious athletes here in Boulder (professional and even "amateur"), and I was afraid that I would feel completely intimidated, especially on the bike, but everyone was great, and I had a fantastic experience!

I am looking forward to shifting my focus over the next few weeks/months, but I'm so glad that I signed up for this back in November and that I was able to focus, train, and enjoy the experience.  I thrive on goals and deadlines, and to have such a BIG personal goal was daunting at times, but, ultimately, fulfilling in so many ways.  Three summers ago, I was gearing up for ACL surgery, so to go from that to this, I can't be happier!

And, yeah, it is kind of a big deal for me to say that I've completed a Half-Ironman!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ready or not - a month of new experiences

August seems pregnant with lots of possibilities and plenty of unknowns!  I feel that I'm usually winding down my summer in one way or another at this point (although past summers would demonstrate how false that statement is), but things are ramping up!

First up - the now over-discussed (by me, at least) Boulder 70.3 which starts bright and early tomorrow morning!  My wave (Females 40-44) hits the water at 7:20, a time that makes me happy, although I can't wait for all the faster waves that start after my wave to swim over me.  Still, the earlier the start, the less time in the heat on the run (I hope!).  I do have a 'race strategy' in mind - basically, I'd like to be well-fueled and well-hydrated so that I don't crash on the run.  A piece of advice that I read regarding one's first 70.3 - "If you think you're going too slow on the bike, you're probably not.  You aren't going to finish first, so leave some for the run."  I realize that some people DO place when competing in their first half-IM, but I will not be one of those people.  The course is not very difficult in terms of challenging hills, but the run is very exposed and can be quite hot.  The weather cooperated perfectly today, supposedly hitting 80 degrees high, but the Weather Channel predicts that temperatures will be closer to 90, if not over it, tomorrow.  In addition to a 'solid' performance (for me - it's all relative), I am also gunning for a good finisher's photo.  It's been more or less impossible for me to accomplish that goal in other races, but it would be nice for this race!

Not to over-analyze how I'm feeling about the race, but I am, at the very least, confident that I can finish (barring crazy technical difficulties, like 2 flat tires).  Not that I want to be on the course for nine hours, but if worse comes to worse, if that's what it takes, then that's what it takes.  I can look back at my training now and think about what I wish I had or had not done, how I could have tweaked it, or ramped up the intensity, but there is nothing that I can change at this point.  I'm definitely a bundle of nerves and excitement, and my biggest hope is to enjoy the experience - have fun, be okay with some (or lots of) suffering, and finish strong, preferably with a smile.

I hope to rest as much as possible post-race so that I am ready to head south to Managua, Nicaragua on Tuesday morning.  It is a bit of a crazy schedule, as a few days of R&R would have been nice (although I've had plenty of those this week and a few more might drive me crazy), but I'm looking forward to being in Nicaragua with colleagues and students!  This will be my first trip to Central America (I usually go north, south or east of Central America), and I am trying to keep an open mind about what to expect. That is with the exception of rice and beans, which I know will form the bulk of my caloric intake while in Nicaragua.  It will be a fast trip, but, just like the half IM tomorrow, I hope that it will be a good, if not great, experience.  I expect that both of these experiences will take me out of my comfort zone and give me much to reflect upon as the summer comes to an end.

Both of these experiences have required a certain amount of preparation.  I feel as though I've dedicated plenty (too much?) of time and energy, both mental and physical, to the half-IM, but for Nicaragua, my preparation has mainly involved attending meetings, getting shots, and stocking up on basic necessities (like insect repellant, a hat, appropriate shoes...).  Preparations for the Boulder race started to feel 'real' this week, as I saw small signs acknowledging the event popping up all over town.  Then, when I went for my final swim on Thursday (that's right, I'm lazy), a huge Ironman trailer had arrived.  And, finally, it REALLY hit me yesterday when I checked in!  With the race looming, I've taken full advantage of the concept of tapering this week.  While I have spent some quality time swimming, biking, running this week, I also got a pedicure, took lots of naps, and watched the Olympics almost nightly.  I've filled the past two days with low-key activities like doing laundry, eating at the Mountain Sun (my current favorite brewpub), and watching an old black-and-white film, "Nightmare Alley".   For Nicaragua, my thoughts have wandered 'there' more often and I even packed my bag today, but it is still a fairly passive preparation.  I think that the experience will feel real when I arrive at the airport - or maybe when I board the plane?

Upon my return, I will have had my fill of new experiences and might be ready to return to the comforting routine of home and then back to school in September!  But until then, there will be plenty on my mind.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Boulder Stroke and Stride: Foiled again!

As the days tick by, I am trying to balance my anxiety about Sunday's race as I enjoy tapering - definitely more resting this week!  I did sign up for the Boulder Stroke and Stride, a weekly event that is either a swim/run or just a run.  It seemed like a good opportunity for me to squeeze in one more open water swim before Sunday.  Also, I participated in the event last year and my experience - or performance - was less than stellar.  I signed up for the 1500 meter swim + 5K run and then bumped myself down to the 750 meter swim.  It ended up being a challenging swim, not because of the conditions but because of the altitude.  So, I wanted redemption this year - I hoped to build my confidence for Sunday with a solid swim followed by a nice, easy run.

Unfortunately, things did not work out like I hoped!  The good news (I suppose) is that this had nothing to do with my performance in the water which was non-existent.  Seriously.  So much for that open water practice swim!  I'm actually surprised that I even went to the Boulder Rez yesterday - there were thunderstorms threatening all afternoon, and around 4:00 the sky opened up and it started to pour.  "Good!" I thought, hoping that the thunderstorms would blow through, leaving clear conditions for 6:00 pm.  By 5:15, however, the rain started again, along with thunder and lightening.  No way was the swim happening.  So, I geared up in running clothes and headed to the Boulder Rez, driving towards the dark clouds and not even sure about the run.  Once I arrived, I heard the announcer talking about the swim rules - GRRRRR!  The swim was happening and I did not bring any of my swim gear.  Nor did I have time to return for it.  Total fail!

Well, I still did the run, which was low-key, especially considering that there were about 12 of us who only ran the 5K.  I came in first in my age group - out of two!  I held a faster pace than I've been seeing lately, but I certainly did not go "all out".  So, I came home with a cool t-shirt, a failed swim and a somewhat slow run.  Not a total wash, but certainly not the experience for which I had hoped.

As I gear up for a swim in the Rez this morning (my last before Sunday!), I'm shaking my head at myself, but I've also shrugged it off, to a certain degree.  If the swim had not gone well, then, rather than building my confidence, it would probably be shot right about now.  I know that I can do a 1.2 mile swim - it might be slower than I would like but I think that much of Sunday will be a bit slower than I'd "like".

So, maybe I'll have the experience that I want at next year's Stroke and Stride - vamos a ver!