Sunday, June 30, 2013

Still not a "real" cyclist, but...

Last Sunday's non-race proved, once again, that my cycling skills leave much to be desired.  However, I have worked on them, really, and there have been small tweaks and moments here and there recently that "up" my would-be cycling chops, in my eyes at least!  And I do think that, year after year, I have improved on the bike, but incrementally rather than by the leaps and bounds that I would prefer.  So far, this year has been the year of the solo rides.  Because I'm still a bit self-conscious about my slow pace, I hesitate to join group rides.  And, because Michael's knee continues to sideline him from riding, my go-to partner from last year has been conspicuously absent on most of my longer rides.  I have found, however, that there is something relaxing about meandering along on the bike.  Perhaps this is why my speed isn't improving too much - I often tootle along rather than try to grind my way through a ride.

Still, I've hit a few milestones in recent weeks that I consider movement, inch by inch, to being a real cyclist one of these days.  First of all, I finally peed on the bike.  I know, too much information, and I'm not about to wax poetic about the experience or include details every time it happens, but being somewhere in the El Sereno part of Los Angeles and not a good stop in sight, the best option seemed to be to just pee on the bike.  The other milestone was my long ride today - 48 miles and about 4,900 feet of climbing according to the Garmin (so probably 46 miles and 4,500 feet, but whatever)!  Like my long run on Thursday, I was dreading this ride, and then before I left, I told myself how lucky I was to head out on a nice Sunday ride.  It was long and hot and slow, but mentally, it puts me in a good place as I think about the Vineman bike leg.  The route, Lower Big Tujunga up to Angeles Crest, is familiar from two rides in 2012, but this was the first time this year I'd ridden it and the first time going it solo.  It is a hard but wonderful ride as it feels so far away from Pasadena or Los Angeles but is easily accessible from the front door of our house.

I'd like to imagine that I looked something like this:

It was a long slog to the 2 (Angeles Crest Highway), especially with all those moments when I thought that I was almost there to only be disappointed as the road continued up, up and up.  I was happy to finally make it to the ranger/pay station - especially because I had a surprise in the form of Michael and Gus and Milo who had driven to that meeting point, making sure that I arrived safely and also trading a cold bottle (of water) for my empty one.  That was a nice break, but after refueling and stretching, I was ready to head on down.  I had survived the hardest part, and the descent was 9 miles of sheer fun!  Although a group of Porches passed me by on the climb up, it was early enough that there wasn't a fleet of sports cars or motor cycles zooming down, so that made the trip down, down, down much more enjoyable.  

In REAL cycling news, the Tour has started, and I missed today but definitely enjoyed the end of yesterday's stage which included some unfortunate bus manoeuvrings and a crash that involved some of the top sprinters - these were unrelated, by the way.  I love Phil and Paul who said that the bus situation was an 'embarrassment' for Corsica and also repeated what they say for every single stage "We've never seen anything like this!".  But a bus getting stuck - they probably haven't.

I'll probably miss more of the Tour this year than I would like (sad that I didn't plan my summer around watching TV from 4:30 - 8:00 am every day for 3 weeks), but Michael just sent me an excellent live feed from Australia that will probably be my go-to source when I can't see the stage.  Or maybe when I can!

Speaking of the Tour, after enjoying the Road ID commercials for much of last summer, I finally broke down and bought one, thanks to a hefty coupon that I had hanging around the house.  Seeing as I do run and ride alone for the most part, it's probably not a bad idea to have something with my name and at least one emergency contact number.  While I can/should include that information no matter what, I never did, except for my driver's license when biking.  So, I'm now more or less identifiable, should a mountain lion attack me on the JPL trails.  Hmmm...  That seems like cold comfort!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"You're just sleeping away the summer"

Such was the accusation that Michael threw at me today when I announced around 2:00 that I was going to take a nap.  In my defense, taking a nap after a long, slow, hilly and HOT run seemed like a great idea and an appropriate way to spend my afternoon!  Unfortunately, the hefty dose of caffeine in the huge Coke I consumed after the run prevented the anticipated-nap, so I finished reading "King Lear" which is definitely not good nap-time reading.  I don't want to ruin it for anyone who plans to read it, but just remember that it's a tragedy, so you can figure out how it ends...

Back to this running business though.  The month is almost over, but June gloom has, sadly, passed us by.  The days are now sunny and hot, all day long.  While I really enjoyed the cooler mornings for most of the month, I also know that running in the heat is par for the course at this time of the year, so I need to just deal with it!  Of course, rather than easing into it, I had a long run scheduled today and took the plunge, finishing up twelve slow and painful miles.  I'd say that I enjoyed most of the runs this summer, even when I was a bit tired and felt slow.  Today, however, I cannot claim that I enjoyed this run.  Perhaps this was a good reality check before Vineman?  For the first time in a while the run was just plain painful (sorry for the bad alliteration).

It probably did not help that even before I started out at 11:00 am, I was dreading the run! My two-hour class served as a great distraction, but once that ended, it was time to hit the trails, nerves or not.  I'm not sure if other people get nervous before long runs/rides, but I almost always do, especially when I know that they will be a challenge.  Maybe that's good, maybe not.  I'm not sure.  No doubt the fact that it was also already hot - or felt that way to me - did not calm my nerves.  Can I keep talking about the heat?  And starting out with tired legs (what's with this week?) and a very long hill didn't help the experience, but mile 1 actually ended up being my slowest of these many slow miles.  I really did expect the run to get easier, and I think that mile 7 felt pretty good, but not much about it was easy.  As the run continued, I kept making different deals with myself - that I could run 10 miles, and it would be okay; no, hit 11 miles; come on legs, you can make 12.  At my most optimistic, I hoped to run a whopping 13 miles, but ultimately I settled on 12 really hot and sweaty miles.

I definitely did not feel 'good' while running or even right afterwards, but this was a good reminder that I might have to suffer mightily during Vineman.  I picked out a tough course for the day - lots of hills and somewhat challenging terrain at times - so that makes me feel confident that I'll be able to handle an easier course, even if it's hot and even after a long swim and a long bike, but we shall see come race day.

I did, however, enjoy the large Coke that I, in a rather impromptu way, decided to get on the way home.  I haven't been to McDonald's in ages, but the golden arches beckoned and I couldn't resist - it seemed like a good idea at the time.  I'm still surprised that I didn't end up with an entire Happy Meal or at least some french fries, and I probably would have ordered something else, but the menu seriously overwhelmed me.  The Coke did hit the spot and gave me enough energy to make it through the afternoon, and I didn't even take a nap!

Although one might be tempting me right about now...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

This is not a race report

A few weeks ago, while volunteering at the Bonelli tri and wishing to be a participant rather than a volunteer and while thinking about my upcoming triathlon and my lack of racing this summer, I decided to up for a local race in Ventura.  I searched the interwebs, always a good place to find someone to agree with what you want to do, to confirm that it isn't a terrible idea to race 3 weeks prior to a so-called "A" race.  Plenty of people agreed with that assessment, so I went for it.  In part, I did want to have a good practice run of putting together the swim-bike-run pieces, and in part I hoped to take away the sting of the 2013 Wildflower race (which still bothers me, obviously!).  Now, the Ventura race is/was nothing like Vineman will be - a harbor swim as opposed to a dammed river and super flat bike/run legs as opposed to a hilly course.  But, still, it seemed like a good move, and would serve, if nothing else, to remind me about all of the gear and little details that are involved in this triathlon thing.

It's always amazing how much more relaxed I am when I approach a race with a "this-is-not-a-race" attitude.  Of course, this can also be a bit costly, as I realized this morning when we were almost late!  Michael dropped me off around 6:25 and I picked up my packet and made it to the transition area around 6:30, just enough time to set up, get my wetsuit situated, and be present for the athlete meeting at 6:50.  Shew!  One difference in today's race - Michael had some furry companions and I had two additional spectators:

Here I am with Gus and Milo!

And my three spectators.

We went back and forth about whether to take the dogs - they are older, it would be a lot of walking around and hanging around, and they'd probably rather just be home.  Boy was I wrong on all of those counts - they LOVED the experience!  Maybe we'll take them to Wildflower one of these years (if I ever go back).

Anyway, this non-race event...  The plan: Have a solid swim, try to push it on the bike, and negative split the run but don't go too hard and end up sore or, even worse, with something pulled.  As I stood around, waiting for my wave to start, I felt a bit of dread - the "oh, shit, here we go" thought.  Once I hit the water and maneuvered more or less to where I felt comfortable, my attitude changed - it was a GREAT swim!  Not my fastest, but definitely a solid swim - I didn't feel tired, although I did slow down on loop 2, and the Ventura harbor ended up being a fantastic place to swim.  Then, on to the bike!  The course was out, then three loops on roads going around fields, and then back to transition.  The first two loops were good as I held a steady pace. I slowed down on the third loop, consciously in part so that I wasn't dead for the run, but I also think that I was a bit tired and and sore as the week's workouts caught up to me.  Plus, I just lost my focus during the final loop which is something good to note.  I ended up with a decent-for-me bike but a pretty sad showing overall for a flat course!  I was very happy to turn into the transition and head out on the run, legs still feeling good.  My first mile was a bit of a mess as I was running way faster than I wanted to be, but then things settled down and I held a steady pace, ending on a strong, if not amazingly speedy, note.  

Ultimately, it was a solid performance, which is what I had hoped for.  The swim wasn't my fastest time, but I needed something to boost my confidence after the Wildflower debacle, and this did the trick.  The bike - oh, it's such my weakest link!  I didn't love either the run or bike, but the course was super well marked and the volunteers were excellent, so no complaints about that.  What is funny about all of this, however, is that I did walk away with a very slight PR for this distance, and I think it had to do with my transitions which, for the first time ever, did not totally suck.  Finally!  I also loved seeing Michael and 'the boys' out on the course, especially on the run, and I was glad that they were all having a good morning out there too.

The last plug that I'll give this race - great post-race food of hamburgers and hotdogs and beer.  Sadly, I did not take advantage of the beer garden, and I'm now kind of kicking myself for passing up a nice cold Sierra Nevada.  Fortunately, I can remedy that as soon as it's 5:00 pm here!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

That 'T' word

Training, that is.

After two somewhat lackluster months, which I'd really like to forget about, I decided that June would be *IT*, the month that I'd get my shit together and focus on Vineman.  Good thing, since it is, gulp, about a month away - just shy of 5 weeks at this point.  Yikes!  If that can't motivate me, I'm not sure what can.  Fortunately, June also brings with it a summer schedule that is much more conducive to training (and overtraining, I might add).

While it still seems that I'm a bit behind and probably can't quite make up for May and taking some time off thanks to my calf, I am staying clear of total panic mode.  My running, after easing back into it, feels solid to me.  Some runs are faster, I slog through others, but I'm definitely putting in the miles.  I also discovered the Cherry Canyon trails in La CaƱada thanks to the Cal Tri Monday run group, and those are just amazing - great trails and wonderful views.  I've only run on them twice, but each time seems like an adventure.  A slow one, but still!

As always, I can find plenty of gaps when it comes to my swim and bike training.  Now that it's summer, I have the luxury of time, so that is not the issue.  Rather, I feel so slow doing both which is frustrating, of course.  I am enjoying the more flexible hours to swim and/or bike and consider myself lucky, especially in the swim department.  Swimming during the day at the Rose Bowl usually affords me the opportunity to pick a lane, any lane, in either the long or short course pool - so, I can't complain about the conditions.  While that has been a treat, I am worried about the lack of open water swims that I have under my belt at this point, but I know of 2 upcoming ocean swims, so hopefully that will boost my confidence as July 14 nears.

Finally, the bike - I was feeling quite stuck at the 30-35 mile per ride experience around the Pasadena/Altadena/Montrose area, but on Saturday, Michael and I finally ventured west and biked PCH for the first time this year  It had been way too long (since last year - really?!), but he was getting over a nagging IT band injury, and I'm still reluctant to ride PCH all by myself, for a number of reasons.   It was a great morning to ride - super grey and a bit damp, but not too slick on the road.  As usual, we enjoyed the ride, although we could see and smell the effects of the Springs Fire around Leo Carrillo State Beach and La Jolla Canyon, even on our bikes - the burn area came right to PCH.  We headed north, just crossing the Ventura County line, and the return trip south was a bit slower, in part because we did take our time to admire the views, which included lots of surfers and also dolphins heading north!  After the ride, I went for a quick run (yay for bricks) and then we inhaled a plate of the best fried food at Malibu Seafood.  That was amazing!  I'm hoping for a few more longer rides by the beginning of July, so we'll see where that puts me in terms of bike fitness - or just confidence.  And, yes, we'll definitely be following the rides with good food and possibly drink.

I suppose the other nagging concern is the weather - as usual, June gloom has made these recent rides and runs pretty enjoyable, but I need to get out in the heat.  Who knows what the weather will be like in Sonoma in July, but I'd like to be somewhat prepared for higher temperatures!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tri-Events from a volunteer's perspective

Last year, I swore that I wouldn't participate in this event again, for a number of reasons related here, but I was a little wistful yesterday morning that I wasn't geared up in all sorts of spandex, schlepping a ridiculous amount of 'stuff' to San Dimas for an early Saturday.  Instead, I woke up even earlier than if I had been racing so that I could check in as a volunteer for California Triathlon, the group with which I occasionally associate.  Despite my very loose affiliation, I kind of like the volunteer opportunities that the group offers up.  Not that they are all fun, but there usually are moments of levity.  Also, as I've become somewhat more committed to the idea of triathlon and really do enjoy it AND as I recognize the need to connect with different people now that we really live here (having bought a house), I feel compelled to be more involved in the community.  I realize that the triathlon community is fairly exclusive, but it is a community of sorts, so I'm giving myself credit for trying to meet new people and have new experiences.

Last month, my major commitment with CalTri was helping out with the Girls on the Run 5K race in Pasadena.  I signed up to help out with aid stations, and then they put me in charge of aid station and course marshall. THAT was a learning experience!  Do you know how much people drink during a 5K race?  Apparently a lot, even when they are walking half of it (I know, I'm so mean).  This month, the commitment was at the race in Bonelli which, to be totally honest, I enjoyed way more than the 5K experience, probably because I was in charge of nothing, people just told me where to go and that was it!  It is interesting to see how much goes into a race, and even when I have issues with certain aspects of a race, being a volunteer does make me appreciate the logistics.

After helping out with check-in (I was a runner - grabbed the right color swim cap and the t-shirt size), I  was then assigned my major task for the day: trying to direct traffic.  As much as I'd like to not criticize a race, this one had the sprinter course run crossing the road right where all of the cyclists were turning to go into transition.  That was not a great job, especially because some of the runners basically told me to f-off, they were going and there wasn't anything I could do, despite my awesome "race official" orange vest and matching flag. Overall, it wasn't a challenging task, but I did feel responsible for the runners - making sure that they crossed safely.  It was also a great place to watch the cyclists go by once, twice and then turn in after finishing the third loop.

Perhaps the best thing about helping out?  I really wanted to be out there racing.  I'm even thinking about the Ventura Triathlon at the end of the month OR the Pasadena Half-Marathon, also at the end of the month.  And then another part of me is saying - just wait, be patient, and make it to Vineman.

Also, despite not *loving* the course last year and even finding issues with it as a volunteer, I definitely plan to sign up for the final Tri-Events race in October.  It might not be a 'great' race for me, but it is nice to support such a local race.  Also, I still feel pretty tentative about my connection to any tri group (the Groucho Marx quote comes to mind: I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member), but it was nice to see a few familiar faces and cheer people on.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Signs of summer

June, graduation, final meetings - all of these signal that it's summertime!  Plus, almost right on schedule, June gloom arrived in the Southern CA area.  It wasn't quite June 1st, but when I went out for a long run Sunday morning, the day was still quite gray and gloomy - ideal!  May seemed like a warmer-than-usual-month, with fires already breaking out in different parts, and I was skeptical that June would bring about the usual weather 'system', but it did, and I'm not complaining about the cooler mornings.

I have tried to already take advantage of the change of pace - Michael and I took Monday afternoon to go to LACMA and enjoy our membership there.  We saw lots of German Expressionism which could have been quite depressing, but we mixed in some late 19th/early 20th Century American painting and a Matisse cut-out exhibit.  By the time we returned  to the east side, it was the afternoon, but not yet evening, so we hit up The York, for a small but potent margarita.  Drinks on a Monday?  Yes, please!

Food-wise, we're enjoying a somewhat different menu with summer fruit and veggies, and I've already enjoyed being at home for lunch.  After less-than-responsible eating in April and May, both nutritionally and financially, I'm making a push to cook more.  This week has so far been quite the success with a white, veggie lasagna on Monday and a fresh corn salad with a cilantro lime dressing (recipe for the dressing is here - we cut down on the oil; we'll definitely be making this again!) last night, and some peach and blueberry scones today.  Not so successful is the plan to drink less beer/wine and eat less ice cream.  It is summer, after all!

After a few months of pretty lame entertainment, of both the reading and viewing variety, I'd like to be more deliberate in my choices over the summer.  It's sheer laziness that I haven't pushed myself to read or watch interesting books or movies lately.  Thanks to Michael's insistence that we watch Chinatown (again), I read a few commentaries about the last line of the movie ("Forget it, Jake; it's Chinatown").  Apparently, some people think that it connects to the death of Polanski's wife, so I started reading about that, which then led me to pick up Helter Skelter, which I'm currently reading (okay, not a great intellectual oeuvre but it's fascinating to learn about LA in the 60's and who doesn't enjoy reading about cults).  And all of this prompted us to watch Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired last night, which was an interesting documentary, to say the least.

Other plans for the summer include a trip to the Hollywood Bowl, finally, and plenty of hiking and biking, road tripping, reading, beach walking, hitting up a few more museums, cooking, napping, and training.  Not necessarily in that order.

Summer 2013, I'm ready for you!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

End of the academic year - Reminders to self

Ever since my students took their AP exam, multiple endings and good-byes have marked the final weeks of the year.  It seems to be a rather long march, as I tick off many "lasts" from my list: last day of seniors, last day of classes, farewell parties to colleagues, last day of exams, the end of the senior trip, graduation (finally!), and then last day of meetings.  That final day of meetings is yet to come, but graduation certainly marks a moment when, as a community, we breath a collective sigh of relief.  Not that I can speak for everyone, but I know that Sunday night, as the pomp and ceremony came to an end, I felt much lighter, and, as usual, I spent way longer at the faculty/staff post-graduation party than I intended, probably thanks to the coconut shrimp that is always the highlight of that event.

I don't think that I "do" good-byes or come to a sense of closure very well, and this year was no different.  For my younger students, there is a sense of comfort that I'll see them around next year, even if I don't teach them, but the seniors start to slip away throughout the spring semester.  It's natural, and I'm usually fed up enough with some or most of them that I can't wait to see them leave my classes (yes, teacher of the year award here).  But then I head off on the Senior Trip, and it is usually a really nice way to conclude the year with lots of activity.  This year, I did the ropes course and surfing the same day and the next day, I felt muscles in my body that I didn't know existed.  Overall, the trip is exhausting but fun, and I usually have a few great conversations with random kids, and I end up appreciating them, which is a nice change from how I feel about seniors for most of the month of April.  However, the final morning, I'm officially burnt out - tired of sleeping in a filthy tent (after only 3 days, I'm a lightweight), sorting through dirty clothes, and feeling sunburned - and just ready to get home!  Friday, I returned home and promptly took a nap, after shoveling a salad into my face.  So nice to eat greens after a few days of an almost total-carb diet!  The outdoor group that we contract for the trip calls this the "float and bloat" trip because it's pretty low-key and the focus is on having fun.  And stuffing ourselves, obviously.

After more greens, sleeping more in a bed, unpacking all of my shit and doing mounds of laundry (how does one manage to get so many clothes so dirty in a relatively short amount of time?), I started to feel that I was returning to my normal self.  By Sunday night, I was able to put on a dress and look somewhat 'together' enough for the formality of graduation. Not that it really matters what I wear since we strive to be academic in cap and gowns, same as the graduates.  Again, pomp and circumstance!

This is also the time of year that I can look back and evaluate the experience as a whole.  As I conclude this year, I've felt a bit conflicted about my teaching, classes and connection to students.  Michael has commented that my stress level has seemed, to him, lower than usual.  I'll take his word for it, but I can't help but wonder if I've just slacked off a bit more this year.  Have I also been more negative?  More disconnected?  More discontent?  Or do I always find myself swirling in these thoughts at this time of the year?  I suspect that the answer to that question is a resounding "YES", especially as I think back to other years, some of which ended with much lower points than this year (like the year that I made a student cry; I realize that none of what I'm writing makes it seem as though I'm a good teacher or caring teacher).  But, still, it can be hard to get to this point and be all sunshine and warm happy thoughts.

Which brings me to the topic of reminders - things that I really should remember for next year:

- First of all, don't make any major professional decisions in May.  It sounds crazy, but at the end of the year, I almost always think about switching schools, changing careers or taking a year off.  I contemplate any number of options and even look at job boards for the hell of it.  Again, I'm not winning teacher of the year awards here.  It's not that I don't like what I do, but I seem to suffer serious burn out by the end of the year.

- During graduation, I should dress more strategically under the gown because it gets really hot!  Also, make one more bathroom before the ceremony.  I didn't have to majorly pee during the ceremony, but it was still a nagging thought as I sat there for hours.

- Do NOT, under any circumstances, look at people in the audience during graduation, especially during the most-boring-speech-ever (how did this student end up as Valedictorian - so boring!), because if they make a face at you and you start to laugh on stage, it doesn't look good.  Fortunately, I didn't start to laugh, but that was only because I bit the inside of my cheek really hard.

One of these days, I'd like to end the year without all this ambivalence towards myself, students, colleagues, and entire place of work.  Maybe that is where the idea of closure comes into play - so that I don't feel quite so torn about the experience.  But isn't the bittersweet ending a part of the experience?  If it weren't bittersweet, what would that mean, especially as we celebrate and say good-bye to students and certain colleagues?

And maybe this is why I like the academic calendar.  As soon as one year ends, I can begin to think about the next year, wonder how to tweak a unit, or restructure a class, or improve a project, and contemplate my own performance and personal experience.  There is always the hope that I can improve!