Sunday, September 30, 2012

Peer pressure

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Keeping my day job!

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 21, 2012

September happenings

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

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

Source - LA Times

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Malibu Tri: The race that was!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 13, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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