Sunday, May 26, 2013

DNS - Ojai Half

This weekend feels a bit bittersweet - classes ended on Thursday, although it is a false ending, in the sense that there are many other moments that mark the official "end" of the year.  I hoped to head to the lovely town of Ojai, where we have never been in our years of living in Southern CA, and run the Mountains-to-Beach half-marathon this morning.  Since I'm writing this post at 8:00 am, you can be assured that I did not run a 30 minute half-marathon or complete any other superhuman feat.  I did cook up some great pancakes, but that's about it this morning.

After Wildflower, I took it really easy for one week and then returned to physical activity, but I did not feel very confident that a half-marathon would do much for my left calf.  It was a mild strain, but I was nervous about a race with considerable elevation loss in which I would absolutely want to push it.  Nor did I want to spend part of much of the race walking.  I realize that some people don't mind the walk/run method, and I've spent plenty of time walking up steep hills in a race, but for this race, such a technique did not appeal at all.

The good news about not focusing on the Ojai half after Wildflower is that I have spent a decent amount of time in the pool (not great, but decent) and I'm back on the bike!  Most of my riding this month has been in the form of traveling to and from school a few times.  Not a lot, mind you, but it felt great to bike to work, seeing the bike as a form of transportation rather than recreation or fitness.  Eventually, I would like to transform my old road bike into a commuting bike - not a major transformation, but at least get the right pedals!

But, back to the Did-Not-Start designation.  I don't have too many of those, mainly because I try to be fairly prudent with race registrations, and if the circumstances were different, it would be a much more bitter pill to swallow, for instance, if I wanted this to be my "it" race.  Instead, I have questioned why I even signed up for the race.  "It seemed like a good idea at the time" does not quite justify the fee, but it actually sounds better than "I really wanted a new PR", which is probably closer to the truth.  I've been running well this spring and thought that I could boast a faster time, especially on this course.  Perhaps the main regret is that it would have been a fun way to see Ojai, and Michael and I planned to take the dogs up to Ventura on Saturday and enjoy a weekend with them!

There will be other opportunities to do that, and to eventually get that 13.1 PR.  Maybe!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What is this 'relaxing' notion?

What IS this R-word?  This week, for a number of reasons, a ton of stress somehow floated away.  I wish that I could take all the credit for this and brag about my awesome ability to manage my stress, but that is not the case.  External factors have played a major role in stress reduction, but I'm not complaining!

I also think that last week I finally wrapped my brain around WHY I was gritting my teeth all the time and being a fairly unbearable person to live with.  Yes, there was the usual work anxiety which comes at this time of the year with the AP exam looming (I am thankful that I don't work at a truly high-stress job because I would obviously have multiple ulcers).  However, home stuff was stressing me out, and, on top of that, I was nervous about Wildflower, even though I swore up and down that I wasn't.  Or, if not nervous about Wildflower, I was worried about getting my workouts in and felt like I was being a total asshole because I wanted to prioritize working out, grading papers and planning classes, and also I aspired to be a decent person to share a life/house with, but I kept failing pretty miserably at that goal since I was super tense and not a fun person for several weeks.  I think the breaking point came last week when I accused another person in the household (the dogs were exempt from this accusation) of eating the last of the granola and then I went and cried.  First of all, this other mysterious person had NOT eaten all of the granola, we had a new bag because god forbid we actually run out of granola - gasp!  And secondly, I obviously needed to get a fucking grip on my life.

While I'm still a bit stressed about home stuff, especially because our dogs now have fleas and we're on a major offensive as we fight the infestation (we're blaming the neighbors' yappy dogs for this too - why not), I've experienced a sudden and major reduction in anxiety.  It's amazing!  Classes continue, but I can feel the year coming to a close, especially now that my students have survived their AP and felt pretty good about the experience.  Who knows what their scores will reveal about this confidence, but it's nice for them to sense that they were prepared for the exam.

I've also taken a major step back from exercise/training/working out, whatever you want to call it.  The previous two years, I bounced back from Wildflower pretty quickly, but I've spent this week focusing on major rest.  Some of that is not necessarily by choice - my *awesome* run last week apparently resulted in a calf strain.  Nothing terrible and it's feeling better as each day passes, but I was sporting a limp, especially walking downstairs, Monday and Tuesday.  I'm signed up for a half-marathon at the end of the month, but I've decided that if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen - I'm not about to freak out about it.

The lack of grading combined with lack of exercise = lots of free time!  So, I've finally been to school events to support students, have cooked dinner more nights than not, and feel less irritable in general.  This is also coming on the heels of spending a great night with friends and their two-week-old baby boy and then, waking up this morning and not *having* to do anything today.

While this blissful moment probably won't last too long, it's a good reminder that I really need to incorporate more unscheduled moments in my week, if I can.  Not that I'm all work/no play, but sometimes even the play feels scheduled, rushed or forced.  I'd like to take advantage of this down time - do some reading, watch some movies, catch up with friends, and maybe even tackle some yard work!

And a side note to all of this: I hope this didn't come out as "Oh, I'm so busy! My life is complicated!".  It's probably busier than some people's lives, a lot more chill than others'. And I'm aware that I've made the choice for all of these stressors, some of which I handle better than others.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wildflower 2013: And the third time is NOT a charm

So, I was somewhat ambivalent when I signed up for this race back in January, but when I finally embraced it the idea, I did it thinking that this would be my third and final Wildflower Olympic race and I hoped that it would be this "epic" experience.  HA!  What is funny about this race is that I seem to forget, every year, even though I have a record of last year's experience and the previous year, how fucking hard it is.  And there seems to be something every year to make it a challenge.  Last year, the heat.  This year, the wind - OMG - the wind!  Oh, Wildflower, you never fail to be amazing and heart-breakingly disappointing at the same time!

Before I spew too much negativity about the race and my sucky performance, I'll say that it was great to get away.  As we left Saturday afternoon, I felt as though I was leaving a load of stress behind.  I turned off the phone, and we settled in for an easy drive to Paso Robles where we had a great dinner and a low-key night.  We woke up Sunday morning and headed to Lake San Antonio.  Yes, I really should camp one of these days, since that is, supposedly, part of the 'essential' Wildflower experience, but for now, I kind of enjoy not dealing with a tent and camp food while also stressing out about racing, to be totally honest.

In addition to the course being a bitch, the weather comes into play in one way or another, usually in the form of heat.  I knew that the weather forecast called for wind and possibly rain, neither of which made me feel happy or confident, but I thought that I would at least have a good run.  Also, it would be a better spectator experience for Michael who spends most of his time in search of scarce shade.  We arrived earlier than usual so that I could pick up my packet and all of that jazz.  It seemed as though I had everything in my backpack, so I headed down the hill on my bike, a trip that was an experience in itself as some guy crashed on the way to transition and there were several emergency vehicles that I had to weave around.  He was bleeding, but I heard him say that he wanted to race.  That didn't exactly settle my nerves which had started to kick in.  Once I picked up the packet, it was time to head to transition - wow, it finally felt real!  I don't think I'll ever get over seeing the lake and the huge transition area, even if I continue to do this race until I'm a little old lady.

So, I set up my transition, got body-marked and then spent the next few hours trying to stay calm, hydrated and watching other waves start.  We went back up to the car and then waited, waited, and waited some more.  I kept thinking, "10:40 is a very late start".   Plenty of time for pictures, apparently.

(I've no idea why they body-mark the hands, but it made it convenient getting in and out of transition because the rest of me was covered up - it was chilly out!)

And the transition area, where my bike was literally blowing in the wind on the rack.  That did not make me feel very confident.

After watching the first waves start and waiting around and watching some more, I suited up around 10:00 am and was ready to hit the water.  Or so I thought...  Let's just say that the smile didn't last too long in the water.

Okay, I'll cut to the chase - the race.  The swim was a soul crushing experience.  It was the roughest one I've ever experienced, even compared to the handful of ocean swims I've done.  Not only was it rough because of the conditions, which almost made me throw up (no joking), but I couldn't, or didn't, sight for shit, so I definitely lost some time as I tried to correct myself at least twice.  Also, the body contact really bothered me this time around.  As shitty as the swim was for me (five minutes slower than last year), I was thankful that it wasn't my first tri swim.  If that had been the case, I would probably have never done another race again.  Pathetic, I know, but it took some people OVER AN HOUR to swim 1500 meters.  

Here's proof that I survived the swim!  

I was so thankful to be out of the water that I didn't even think about what the wind might mean for the bike.  I didn't even think about the bike, I actually wanted to DNF right then and there.  Yes, I admit it - I wanted to quit.  The only reason that I went and got on my bike was that I couldn't leave the park until 3:00 pm anyway, so I'd be sitting around feeling like a loser for hours.  I figured that I might as well be biking and running to distract me from the fact that I'm a loser.  

So, I hauled myself onto the bike and headed up the first hill which was definitely harder than I remembered, a recurring theme throughout this entire race!  I'm pathetically slow on the bike but in the past I've enjoyed the course because it's beautiful and fun.  The wind, however, presented an additional challenge - partly because I had a death grip on the bike which meant that I could barely take in nutrition because I was afraid that I'd lose control and totally crash.  And partly because it just slowed us way down.  Most of my thoughts throughout the bike ride were pretty negative - along the lines of "last time ever", "fuck this" and "I hate myself".  I finally inched close to the transition area and gave Michael a wave or a smile.  Or I was just gritting my teeth.

 If I hadn't hated the ride so much, I would have felt quite disappointed about my time, but, like the swim, I was just glad to have the leg over.  And so it was on to the run.  I was determined that, at the very least, I would have a good run.  And I did - for me, it was amazing!  I knew that the cooler temperatures would help, but I was a bit concerned about the nutrition or lack of nutrition on the bike (it wasn't terrible, but definitely not great).  I was fairly conservative the first few miles, but once I made it up the hardest hill (somewhere in mile 3, I think?), I knew that I could pick it up.  I hoped to go sub 53:00 for the run if I didn't blow up. 

I realize that I look slower than the guy behind me, who was in a relay, but I ended up smoking him at the end.  I was kind of excited about that.  The girl behind him, however, kicked my ass at the end, but she was in a younger age group and had started the race earlier than I, so I didn't care.  Again, it's the little things...

I ended up with a sub 52:00 run which was great for me - while not entirely canceling out my struggles everywhere else, it put a positive spin on the day.  I felt damn happy when they put the medal around my neck.  I was, however, fairly incensed that they had run out of pasta as a post-race food/snack.  At that moment, I went back to cursing the entire day.  What the hell?  I know that I'm slow, but I wasn't dead last in my heat and not on the course - there were plenty of people still out there.  And don't we slow people deserve pasta just as much as the people who are winning the race?  Or deserve it even more?!  

Somehow Michael found me at the finish line chaos and surprised me with this shot.  It's a nice mish-mash of people in various forms of layers and undress.

I finished the race content that I survived the swim and bike and pulled off a decent run.  Talk about lowering expectations!  I went to Wildflower aiming for a course PR, a goal that I totally failed by a whopping four minutes.  A massive, epic fail.  One would think that this would upset me, and even I expected to curse myself the entire 4 hours back to LA (or Pasadena), but somehow I felt okay about the experience, even better than last year when I did end up improving.  One of these days, I would like to feel really good about my performance at this event, but this was not the year.  And maybe there never will be a year when I don't critique every aspect of the race, with the exception of the magical first year when I was a bumbling idiot and just happy to finish.  But, even after promising myself that this would be IT, the last time, I'll probably sign up again next year, drag myself to the start line and then complain about the entire experience. 

So, final thoughts on Wildflower:
- It really is harder than I expect.  Every damn year. 
- I felt pretty silly wearing a new kit that is totally obnoxious. 
- I need to commit to training with the local tri club instead of just running once a week and doing volunteer stuff with the group. 
- I'm never going to improve on the bike unless I spend more time on it with fast people. 
- Medals are stupid, but I wanted to wear this medal on Monday morning. 
- This was not the ideal way to celebrate 5 de mayo (a fake holiday at any rate, but still..).

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Careful what you wish for!

Ah, May first finally came and went, and I did very little to acknowledge it, but I must say that I am glad that April is over and that May is here!

With its arrival comes, of course, lots of busy-ness, but some of it happens to be of the "play" variety, which makes me quite happy.  This weekend, of course, is Wildflower.  I will spend Saturday morning reviewing with students as they prep for their AP, and then we'll (we being Michael and I, not the kiddos) get in our car, fully loaded with fun items like BodyGlide and other stuff, and head to Paso Robles.  As each year passes, I seem to take Wildflower a bit more nonchalantly, or at least in stride, although it is still a BIG deal in a lot of ways.  What I mean about my laissez-faire attitude is that the first year, we went up on Friday and spent a really fun weekend up in the Paso Robles area.  Then last year, we went up on Saturday and I picked up my packet and bought a hat and got all excited about the race the day before it.  This year, we're not even going to the park on Saturday, but will roll in early Sunday morning and I'll do packet pick-up and race the same day.  Not a relaxing weekend getaway, but that's life.  We will enjoy a nice meal on Saturday night at Artisan, a kick-ass restaurant in Paso Robles, and I can't wait for that!  As for my more relaxed attitude, it might bite me in the ass on race-day morning when I discover that I've forgotten something essential, like my helmet.

As for Wildflower, I'm finally feeling excited about that race and about the whole "it's racing season" thing.  I'm an avid weather watcher, especially because last year's race was so hot and I suffered so much due to the heat, so I've been keeping my fingers and toes crossed, hoping that it wouldn't be hot as hell this year.  I figured that if the temperature stayed under the mid-80's, I would be okay.

Well, apparently my prayers to the weather gods worked because we're now supposed to deal with rain and wind.  I can't wait!  I realize that the weather channel is NEVER wrong, but this has dampened my hopes just a bit, certainly for the bike.  Now, I'm hoping that I don't crash on the bike and make it to the run.  I think, if I make it to the run, it should be a good one, especially if it's not too hot and rainy.  I haven't experienced a rainy Wildflower, so this should be interesting!