Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A "cat" in the house!

I know, there have been plenty of new additions to the house with the Bat.  And now it seems that there is a cat - or a kitten!

For the 2015 year, I'll be training and participating in events as a Vanderkitten VIP, which is basically the Vanderkitten Brand Ambassador-type program.  I admit that I was super surprised.  I'd been looking at VK gear for over a year and was planning on getting a kit.  When I saw that they were soliciting applications for the 2015 VIP program, I thought "Why not apply?  I have nothing to lose."  So, I applied, hit "send" and didn't hear from the company for a while.  Then, last week, I got an email informing me that I had been selected as a VIP.  Whoo-hoo!

The company's slogan is "Clothing for women who kick ass" and it supports women in a variety of sports, but focusing on biking (mountain, cyclocross and road).  It's a bit daunting for me to be included in such a group, but I'll try to rise to the challenge!  I'm definitely excited to connect with other women who are swim/bike/running.  While I lean heavily to the introverted side of things, I do find that meeting up with people, especially for training (serious or not), is energizing, and I'm hoping that I'll find a few more training partners and get to know some cool women.  All while sporting some great gear!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The post-Thanksgiving post

Gratitude is one of those ubiquitous topics at this time of year, and it probably should be more common, for me at least, on regular basis.  Also, I'm always a bit late with my Thanksgiving post (see last year) and the beginning of December is such a fun time as well with Michael's birthday, so a later gratitude/Thanksgiving post seems appropriate.

But I do have so much to be thankful for right now, and it's nice to remember that and take stock. First of all, we had a fabulous Thanksgiving break.  It was low-key, but just what we needed, a mix of social outings (we went out for Mexican food twice - how is that not a major win?!), plenty of fun activities and also some down-time.  Thanksgiving day was busy early on, as I went and "oversaw" students who were making food that we then delivered to The Midnight Mission, an organization in Downtown LA that helps homeless families and individuals.  I hate to admit this, but I was a bit grumbly before, not nearly as excited about helping out as I should have been.  However, once I arrived on Thursday morning and the kids came, something *clicked* and I realized that I was so lucky to be able to help out in this very small way.  Also, the kids really do most of the work - they just need an adult around in case there's an issue, like someone cuts off a finger (hasn't happened yet, knock on wood).

Once I returned home, we had a low-key Thanksgiving dinner, just the two of us, but then met at some friends' for dessert which was fantastic - a nice buffet of pies, bread pudding, cookies and we brought a pear and apple crisp with whipped cream.  We followed up Thursday with a trip to West LA, looking for bike gear for me and finishing that outing at LACMA.  We really enjoyed the two exhibits we saw - Samurai: Japanese Armor and Pierre Huyghe (I'd never heard of the latter, but apparently he is a big deal, at least according to the NYTimes, and so is this exhibit;  I must admit that I looked up information about Pierre Huyghe after the exhibit, but maybe that's the point of going to a museum?).

Returning to work this week was a bit brutal, but knowing that we have Christmas break right around the corner has helped!  Also, celebrating Michael's birthday gave us both something to look forward to. It was pretty low-key in terms of gift-giving, but we went out to dinner on Saturday at a new place that, as they say, knocked our socks off.  I'd read good reviews of Bäco Mercat, but really had no idea what to expect.  It's funny, when we lived in Silverlake, we rarely ate at places in Downtown and usually headed further west for a "fancy" night out.  Now that we are further east, the idea of going so much further west seems ridiculous.  Fortunately, a lot of great restaurants have opened up Downtown, so we are happy to explore at least one of those new, hip and happening places.  And, holy crap, it was amazing - one of the best meals I've had.  EVER, I think.  It was that good.  I don't even know what kind of food I would call it because some dishes had a Middle Eastern tang, like the fried squash blossoms and the sunchoke dish that we ordered (sunchokes are amazing, by the way, as I discovered last night), but then other dishes definitely leaned to Asian influences, like the peppers and kale and the duck confit, which I could only describe with superlative after superlative.  And I don't mean to forget about the drinks and desserts.  The drinks feature "shrub", which Jonathan Gold, the LA Times and LAWeekly food critic, describes here:  "Shrub is an artisanal thing, the bartender's equivalent of the array of jams and preserves flooding Etsy at the moment."  I also loved that it was a very casual place - and fantastic for people watching!

The other major gratitude this week?  RAIN!  Yes, it rained in Southern CA, like a real storm.  While it certainly doesn't solve the drought, it came as welcome relief and we might even get some more rain this week (please, please, please).  The best thing about the rain?  Going for a run in the days following the storm.  Southern CA is at its best following a storm.

And, finally, a nice social ride today.  I've been trying to amp up training a bit, but haven't wanted to be TOO focused at this point about 2015.  An easy, 90-minute ride just for fun was perfect.

So, lots of small moments to enjoy and take in and appreciate.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bonding with "the Bat" (aka The Sweet Ride)

So, the Sweet Ride (the Cervelo) has an official name - the Bat.  When I first had my eye on the Quintana Roo and a few other bikes, a part of the appeal, other than the price, was the color - black.  As much as I've liked my Trek, I haven't loved a white bike.  I realize that this is the most insignificant detail when it comes to purchasing and owning a bike, but I really liked the idea of a black bike, in part because I already had a name that I thought would stick - the Bat.  But then, I ditched the idea of the QR and opted for yet another white bike because of minor things like fit.  So, I considered other names for it, but somehow, once I started riding the Cervelo, the Bat seemed even more accurate because of how compact I feel when I ride.  So, the name has stuck.  It's even better in Spanish and is actually one of my favorite words - Murciélago. Also, there ARE albino bats and such a thing as an Honduran white bat, so maybe "the White Bat" isn't too silly.

This is not a real bat.  Source.

Anyway, the Bat and I have been spending some quality time together, and things have improved since our first outing (meaning - I haven't fallen).  However...  I realize that I sound like a broken record, but it is taking me a while to get used to everything about this bike.  I've adjusted, more or less, to the shifters being at the end of the bars, and the new saddle has greatly improved my riding experience, but it's still hard for me to get out and ride more than 2 hours at this point.  I think that I've been accustomed to a much more comfortable ride, one that let me ride in several different positions and to ride more upright, obviously.  With the Bat, it's hard to sustain any position other than aero (at this point), and I'm not super strong in aero.  My final point is that I don't think that I'm a faster cyclist on the bike even though everyone else whose blog I've ever read has raved about how they suddenly became speed demons with their tri bike (the Internet lies!).  So, I envisioned suddenly riding 1-2 mph faster without much effort, and I haven't found that to be the case.  Mind you, I'm comparing my current times to those from May and June, when I was actually in decent cycling shape.  Okay, maybe that's an unfair comparison?
So, the adjustment period continues.  As does finding all of the right 'gear' - hydration system/s, bento box, places to put/carry my tubes and other necessities.  I haven't been able to simply swap everything that I had for my Trek, and I continue to shop around to find the stuff that works for me and for the bike.

I definitely don't mean to complain.  After all, I've actually been putting in time in the saddle since this purchase, so it's motivated me to get back some of my bike fitness!

And you can see how different my fit is.  Michael now says that when I'm riding the Trek it looks as if I'm on a carriage.

We'll see whether or not I'm a faster cyclist with more time on the Bat, but I have noticed a difference on the run.  While I'm not running tons of miles off the bike at this point, I am faster, and not because of my fabulous run fitness these days.  It still feels just as hard to run off the bike, especially the first mile, but when I look down at my pace, it's faster than I would expect.  So, this might be a very exciting development - but I'd better learn to ride long on the Bat.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A new sweet ride!

So, last Saturday, this happened:

Although it would seem to be an impulse buy, that isn't the case.  First of all, I've been looking at tri bikes for the past 18 months.  Maybe even 24?  While I really do like/love my Trek and have no regrets about 'racing' my first irondistance event with a road bike, as I thought about 2015, it seemed like investing in a tri bike wouldn't be a waste of money.  I didn't want to be one of those people who buys a tri bike for one race and then never rides it after said race.  Plus, my road bike really is a good bike, so I was conflicted about adding yet another bike to my growing collection.  

After many conversations, I felt good about the decision to commit to a tri bike, so then I started looking around seriously - mainly online, but looking to buy, not just to look.  Then, two weeks ago, when we went to Tijuana, I stopped by Nytro, a shop in Encinitas that specializes in triathlon, and did some serious shopping. Going into this process, I wasn't considering a Cervelo at all, but was looking at Quintana Roo.  So, they got me on a Quintana Roo after taking my measurements, and made some adjustments and then more adjustments, and then I went out for a ride on it.  I didn't ride very far, in part because I was so nervous about riding!  It was a completely different experience - I'm so used to the fit and feel of my Trek, and while I was still riding a bike, I found it difficult to relax and get comfortable on the bike and I couldn't climb on it at all (also, I was nervous about falling or something, scratching the bike and then having to buy it!).  While I really wanted to like the QR, I had serious doubts about buying a tri bike after that test ride.  

Meanwhile, the guys at Nytro had set up the Cervelo for me, so it was ready for a test ride.  I spinned on it in the store, and it immediately felt better than the QR.  So, I took it out for a longer ride (but was still freakin' nervous!).   I wasn't ready to buy it at that point, but I put a refundable "down payment" which took the bike off the floor.  

After thinking about the bike for much of last week and reading a ton of reviews about the P2, we then went back south last Saturday (I realize that I live in the LA area and yet I bike shop in other cities - don't ask).  I took the bike for a LONGER ride which was good; I was less nervous so I could enjoy the ride quite a bit more.  This definitely helped me make the decision to pull the trigger and buy the bike!

The maiden voyage:

And then, last Sunday, I decided to get out and enjoy the sweet new ride.  It was a gorgeous day - perfect for a ride.  And things were going well as I rode along PCH from Malibu to just south of Point Mugu (during said ride, I realized how out of biking shape I am!), and then things felt off - maybe a flat tire?!  No, how the hell could I get a flat on my first ride on my new bike?  But, yes, I did have a flat tire.  

I stopped, pulled over and checked out the tire - of course it had to be the back tire.  And, somehow in all of my flustered frustration, I ended up toppling over, still clipped into the bike!  I've definitely fallen over while clipped in, but it's been a while and I've never gotten as scraped up as I did last Sunday!  The one positive is that I had the foresight when I bought the bike (with 650 wheels) to get tubes, just in case I got a flat.  So, we managed to change the flat fairly quickly and then finished up the ride.  At that point, I felt quite deflated - not only was my elbow banged up so it hurt riding aero, but the saddle was KILLING me.  

(While the bike was still a maiden; that is, before I fell while clipped into it)

Fortunately, the scrape has healed, and I'm none worse for the wear - nor is the bike.  And the saddle was no surprise - trying out the bike, I was about 99.9% certain that I'd need a new saddle.  After Sunday's fairly short ride, I knew that I either had to become a nun or get a new saddle.  The first option was out, so, I took it to the bike store here to inquire about different options.  When I rolled in the bike and explained my woes, the salesguy said "That is not a good saddle for women".  Good to know that I'm not the only one!

This past week, I rode the bike several times on the trainer (first time on the trainer since June, cough cough), and then Michael and I went out and rode the San Gabriel River bike path today.  This, by the way, was after an aborted attempt to go to Joshua Tree to ride yesterday.  We turned around at Highway 62, the road that leads to JTree, because the wind was insane - we even took the bikes off the bike rack on top of the car because the gusts were so strong.  So, the ride today was a welcome change from all of these mishaps - I did not fall, it was fairly stress-free, and I was able to really appreciate the new bike!  I'm still not super fast and need to get used to riding aero, but I feel that I can accelerate quickly and easily, without making a huge effort.

I still have plenty to learn as I acquaint myself with my new bike (whose name I'm deciding on), and there are other decisions to make, but I can say, without a doubt, that it is a sweet little ride!  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Recent getaways - the CA coast and Tijuana

The fall is often a hunker-down-and-work time for me, but we had two short albeit significant (for us) trips in October and November.  Last month, we took advantage of a long weekend and went on a short camping trip up the CA coast, just north of Santa Barbara.  As I recall, it was a hot weekend, so this was a great way to escape the heat, and it's always nice to be close to the coast.  We didn't do much except tootle around - eating good food, hitting Morro Bay, and stopping in to taste wine at the dog-friendly Alma Rosa Tasting Room (they used to have a great barn outside of Solvang that served as the tasting room - we missed that, but the wine is still good and we appreciated that Gus could hang out).
Gus, sunning himself

Michael, hanging out

Our little campsite

Ooooh - the California Central Coast - hard to beat at times!

And the big adventure for us was going to Tijuana, MX last weekend for Día de los Muertos with a tour group called Turista Libre which offers unconventional tours of Tijuana.  I've been to Mexico quite a bit, especially if you count all of the trips to the Texas border towns, but in the past 9 years, Michael and I haven't traveled south of the border here in California at all.  Most of it, to be honest, has to do with the fact that the situation in Mexico isn't 100% stable, and we aren't comfortable driving and exploring on our own, which is really too bad.  It's such a beautiful country and has so much to offer, which makes me even sadder that we can't (or don't) travel much south of the border.  Given our tentativeness, an organized tour seemed to be the best way to venture south, and on Día de los Muertos?  Major score!  I've never been to Mexico on or around Día de los Muertos, but we certainly talk about it in our Spanish classes, so this was exciting.  

We spent Saturday night around San Diego - just north, in Del Mar - and headed south Sunday morning.  We met up with the group right on the border.  The French teacher from school was actually the person who told us about the tour, and she and her husband also came along.  It was funny because as we were driving through San Diego, Michael kept asking me "Do you feel like we're close to Mexico?", and I kept saying no, no, no.  But once we were right on the border, I got out of the car and it definitely felt like the border (duh, it WAS the border, but there is just that feel that you have).  So, our guide, a US writer who has lived in TJ for the past 7 years, met us on the US side and then we crossed the border, got on a bus and headed to Puerta Blanca, Tijuana's largest cemetery. Before we left for the cemetery, our guide gave everyone on the bus a shot of mezcal.  Now that's a way to get your day going!

Our guide - with face painted for Día de los Muertos.

Hanging out by the bus

The cemetery

At the cemetery, a local folklorist told us the story of Juan Soldado, a local legend, which was entertaining (well, she was entertaining), and we also saw how families celebrated Día de los Muertos - visiting the cemetery, cleaning tombs, bringing flowers, and spending time as a family with their deceased.  

After taking in the sites there, we loaded up on the bus and headed to the Mercado Hidalgo - something like a food court, but better (obviously).  We mainly wandered around and looked at all of the different products - some edible, some more decorative.  

Lots of sugar skulls

The market's altar or ofrenda- to see what everything means, you can look it up here
It is definitely a complex process.

And more sugar skulls to take home.

Post market - on to dinner.

After spending the afternoon in the cemetery and then the mark, we headed to El Taller, a restaurant that specializes in pizza.  We had the mole pizza which was good.  Not quite as much mole flavor as I expected or hoped, but still pretty good.  

And then we had a bit of an adventure crossing the border!  Not really, but we found out that the Tijuana crossing line was a 3 hour wait for pedestrians, and then we still had to drive back to Pasadena, so we took a cab to another crossing which was a shorter wait, and then took a cab back on the US side to our car.  Fun times!  

The one negative about the experience was the sense that we were such tourists.  Don't get me wrong, we WERE tourists, but to go with a group, well, it highlights that touristy feeling.  Also, you can't choose everyone else (or we couldn't), so we encountered a few annoying people.  I had to bite my tongue at least once.  But, in general, we weren't on top of the other people and mainly could explore on our own, but when we were on the bus and at dinner, I couldn't shake the sense that this must be the experience that people have on a cruise ship.  

Despite that, I would definitely recommend Turista Libre to someone who wanted to go to Tijuana as a first time experience.  I wish that we were more confident about traveling in Mexico these days, but the situation there is just so unstable.  I definitely felt that we were in Mexico, so that was fun, and it was great to be there for Día de los Muertos and to experience that, even in such a touristy way.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Running in LA (a race report! with zero photos!)

Although nobody walks in LA (sorry, couldn't resist), plenty of people were out there this morning, running the streets of downtown LA, and I joined the throngs to participate in my first RockNRoll event.
Fun times!  Source

I always like the idea of a fall race, but it's usually a painful process to get there.  This year, that particularly seemed to be the case, and I blame it on warmer-than-usual months of August, September and October.  Still, I knew that if I didn't commit to a race, I'd delay getting back into any sort of fitness until who knows when.    I had the option of a free entry thanks to California Triathlon, which made the decision easier:  Rock'n'Roll it was.

Committing to the race was easy, but recommitting to running was a challenge.  August was a slog-fest - every single run felt slow and hard, no exaggeration.  I finally seemed to find my running 'legs' at the end of September/beginning of October and felt a bit more confident about this race, until two weeks before the race when my body started to fall apart.  It's funny that I've never (knock on wood) had major issues with phantom pains during triathlon taper, but almost every time I'm gearing up for a half-marathon or other race, I seem to struggle.  Last week, I had a knee issue which freaked me out a bit.  Once I decided that my knee was fine (actually, my ART doctor told me it was), I then came down with a nasty case of laryngitis that developed into a full-blown cold.  So much for that last long run.  Finally, no joke, I went to a spinning class this past Thursday and afterwards, my right foot/ankle area was swollen and a bit twitchy on Friday and Saturday.  

I knew that while I'd seen some speed at a few track workouts, I hadn't put in the miles for a really solid race, and that was okay.  I had zero interest in chasing a PR at this point.  But, I was talking off my big mouth at this Tuesday's track practice with a few other people who were also running and predicted my finish time between 1:45-1:50.  I had no idea why I blabbed that much, probably because I was running fast mile repeats with them and I felt overly confident.  Or oxygen wasn't flowing well to my brain, so I was being overly stupid.  Whatever the case, once I said that, publicly, I had to commit to that time.  Such a dumbass.

Anyway, that's the pre-pre-race story.  

As for pre-race, we had to pick up the packet on Saturday, and as much as I kind of hate the day-before-the-race-mandatory-pick-up, Michael and I ended up spending some time in downtown LA.  I'm embarrassed to say that I don't remember the last time we'd been downtown, but suffice it to say that it's been a while!  Anyway, I checked in, got the goods (tshirt, race bib) and didn't really pay much attention to anything, which continued to race day, to my regret*.  I know that a lot of people ooh and aah over expos, and I understand the appeal, but I'm always hesitant to go drop major bucks on anything.  So, I refrained from spending money and we made a beeline out of the convention center and went to LA's Grand Central Market which has, over the past few months, gone through a revamp and (because of this?) has become super hip and happening.  Again, the last time I went to Grand Central Market was probably 18 months ago on a school field trip.  Wow, has it changed!  When we first walked in, I couldn't believe the line of people waiting to eat at Eggslut.  I thought that I was in a Portlandia episode!  And I must admit that I kind of want to eat there now...

We had actually already eaten a decent-sized brunch, so we ended up getting a new battery for my watch and we got some mole paste at one of the vendors.  I can't wait to make mole at home!  Despite the uber-cool vibe that has changed Grand Central Market, most of the old vendors are still there, which is good to see, and they are thriving.  So, the change seems to be favoring them too.

And race day:
First of all, when my alarm went off this morning, I woke up immediately but thought "Why the fuck did I set my alarm for 4:30 am?!  I'm a moron!".  And then I remembered - oh, yeah, a race.  I honestly considered going back to sleep, but decided that I'd regret that decision.  So, I got up and did all the pre-race stuff.  Plus, I actually arrived early enough to get on-street parking.  Total score!  I hate paying for parking, so it was kind of worth it to arrive well over an hour before the race started.  And then, it was the waiting game until around 7:00 am.  Start time!  Well, almost - I wasn't, shockingly enough, in the first corral.  

But I didn't have to wait too long to start which was nice.  So, I crossed the start line and tried to figure out what I pace I should be running that I could sustain.  8:20's?  Sure, that feels fine.  Also, I was surprised to see a number of people that I knew racing, and while it's nice to say hello and cheer people on, I realized today that I don't like to "race" with other people.  Not that I'm competitive with them, but I like to zone out and focus on my own race.  Good to know.  

The race course was okay - it was fun to run around downtown LA, at least for the first 6 miles which took us over to USC, where we ran around the Coliseum (that was probably the highlight), and then we ran back to the Staple Center area and from there did another out-and-back.  I felt really good until about mile 9, and at that point, I decided that I need push it a bit harder.  That's all well and good, but right after I had that little pep talk with myself, I then had to haul up a bridge (or hill, however you want to look at it).  Also, my Garmin miles were further and further off the race miles, which was pretty frustrating at that point.  But I kept trucking along, was happy to hit the turnaround on the bridge, and at mile 10, there was the usual "only a 5K to go" line.  However, those last 3.1 miles sucked.  First of all, according to my watch, it was longer than 3.1.  Also, I had changed my goal pace at some point in the race, so now I had to pick up the pace over those last 3.1 miles to feel "accomplished".  Somehow, I managed to sneak in just under 1:45 which felt pretty good.  Actually, it felt terrible at the time - in fact, I kept telling myself "This is worse than the IM run".  Obviously, going slow and steady after a long swim and bike is much easier for me than trying to run a fast (for me) half marathon on limited training.  Who knew?

Once I finished, I thought that I might be sick but managed to keep my stomach together.  In general, the finish line food left me fairly unimpressed.  As a whole, the race was well-organized, and it was sort of fun to run through some parts of LA that I normally wouldn't venture.  However, the post-race food left a lot to be desired.  The one MAJOR bonus was that Noosa was there giving away yogurt - and they let people take as much as they wanted.  I now wish that I had taken more than the 5 small containers...

Final thoughts - It was definitely not my best race nor my favorite race, but I'm glad that ran it.  There were plenty of people sporting Halloween costumes, so that was entertaining, and there was good music scattered throughout the course.  It did feel very local to me - despite being a larger race than I usual run, I managed to see quite a few people that I knew, which was quite fun.  And I was happy with my final time, which I ended up pushing myself to get.  The irony there is that I put the wrong band on my shoe (put the tracker on my gear bag), so according to the results, I didn't even run!  I feel like a bit of an idiot, but it also makes me laugh.  There are worse things in the world than not having an official finish time.  The medal is super silly (Halloween-themed), but I really like the shirt, so I'll call it a 'win'. Also, all of my phantom pains?  Gone on race day!

And so ends my 2014 "racing season".  I'd say that there were some good milestones.  I didn't race a lot, just a handful of times, but they were all quality races, in one way or another.  Even this one, which I kind of shrugged off, did give me the chance to push myself fairly hard.  And I'm not in the best shape at the moment, but that's okay too.  I suppose I'll enjoy the challenge of building that back.  

*I totally blame my timing chip snafu on my lack of focus. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Overcoming the post-Ironman sloth

Or motiving the post-Ironman sloth?  How to motivate this guy?  He actually looks pretty content being a sloth.

Since we returned from our road trip at the beginning of August, I planned on using the time before school started wisely and productively.  I would get my shit ready for school AND I would try to rebuild some sort of fitness 'base'.  Today being the first of September, I have to report that I accomplished neither goal.  I should be ready for classes on Wednesday, so that is progress, and last Friday, as I struggled through a very slow and hot run, I decided that I was officially sick of sucking so much - at least at running.  I can tolerate my less-than-stellar physical prowess when it comes to biking and swimming, although yesterday was a major wake-up call in the pool (this is what happens when you take 2 months off from swimming: you get slow).

The lack of schedule has been a treat in some ways, and I was determined that I'd enjoy the freedom that it brought me.  I can't complain because I committed myself to a daily nap, more or less, and a few other activities - reading some excellent books, cooking a few new dishes en casa (we made this pad thai which wasn't like restaurant pad thai but was really good), watching movies rather than TV series, and attempting some form of strength training a few times throughout the month.  

I also realized that it had been over a year since I'd explored any trails around Los Angeles, except for those on which I run, so we took advantage of our mid-week freedom and went on two very different hikes.  The first one was on the west side, just north of Santa Monica, up to Parker Mesa.  We realized, at some point, that we had done this hike years ago but had taken a different approach.  This approach, recommended by ModernHiker.com, was actually much more pleasant because there is a lot of shade at the lower part of the trail which was great for both the ascent and the return.  

Here I am at the top - made it!  It was fun to look out on the coast.

The second hike, Mt. Baden-Powell, represented more of a challenge as the second-highest peak in the Angeles National Forest.  The trailhead is 50 miles east on Angeles Crest Highway, which gave it something of an "adventurous" feel.  While 50 miles isn't technically THAT far, when you're on a windy mountain road, it requires patience.  The bonus was that when we arrived at said trailhead, I couldn't believe that Los Angeles was so close - it felt as though we had truly "gotten away" from the city and even the hamlets in the foothills seemed quite distant.  Baden-Powell is no meandering path - as soon as you step onto the trail, it ascends for about 4 miles and 2800 feet, mainly via switchbacks (someone said that there are 41, but I didn't count).  It was a steady march up for us.  Again, we felt lucky that there was so much shade - the trees offered great cover until the very end, where we finally ascended above treeline and were rewarded with some great views.  
Great views at the top!

Jen, another teacher, accompanied us.  She hiked 110 miles of the John Muir Trail, so she's a badass.

One of the rare shots with Michael and me together!

It was really great to spend some time on the trails at the end of the summer.  With triathlon taking over my life a bit, especially this past year, we've limited our hiking adventures.  These two hikes served as a good reminder that there are so many places to explore or to return to (such as Mt. Baldy!).  

I rounded out the month by finally getting back on my bike this past week.  Not that I pushed myself too much, but it was a good way to be social and active.  Also, I challenged myself to not suck entirely - to try to pass a few people at the Wednesday brick night, and I was successful!

Photo courtesy of California Triathlon - This is the 'before' photo, clearly.  

Eventually, I'd like to return to something that resembles 'training', but I have zero desire to race for the next few months.  A part of me wonders if I should sign up for a race so that I have some sort of a goal to work towards, but I have yet to pull the trigger on that.  I've realized that I am not one of those people who constantly trains - I think I can sustain about 6-7 months of focused training, and then I need a major break for physical and mental reasons.  While "not sucking" serves to motivate me a bit, I would, one of these days, like to get back to the point that running is no longer a painful endeavor and that I'm feeling less sloth-like in the pool and on the bike.  It has been interesting to see how much my strength, speed and endurance have all taken a hit during my two-month-long training hiatus.  No doubt, the more I put off training, the more I'll suffer when I finally recommit.  

So, here's to that training thing.  We started off September on a positive note, getting up early-ish and riding PCH from Malibu north.  It wasn't a long ride by any means, but it felt good to be in the saddle and was the perfect way to end the summer!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The final road-trip round-up!

After 6 weeks away from home, we returned last Sunday - and it's taken me about a week to settle back into "life".  I still have the luxury of a summer schedule, so that did make the week much easier than if I had jumped right back into a rigid routine.

After our trip to Canada, we then, in a not-so-logical-geographical-manner, headed west to Seattle and Bellingham to visit friends and family.  Our visit to Seattle was seriously laid-back, consisting of nothing but eating, drinking, sleeping, reading, and hanging out with good friends.  While the trip to Canada was pretty awesome, I wouldn't describe it as "relaxing" (traveling with my parents never falls into that category!).  We did explore just a bit - visiting the Ballard Locks, in part because of the great blue herons that were nesting there (more on the herons at the Locks).

Fun picture of the Locks working; not a great photo of Michael

After Seattle, we headed north to Bellingham.  The last time we visited B-ham was 2 years ago in June.  Let me say that July is a much better time to visit this part of the world!  This was also a relaxing stay, although my cousin did have some plans for us!  First of all, we went to an outdoor concert the day we arrived and saw the March Fourth Marching Band which was a fantastic way to spend our evening - the band was GREAT!  It was definitely more than a band with people on stilts that were dancing and performing for the crowd.  We also spent time on the water - my cousin and I went for an open water swim at Lake Padden, and we were able to enjoy sunsets and even kayaked for an afternoon.  

Here I am with my cousin.

Michael and I enjoying the sunset

After our WA state visit, it was time for Colorado!  So, we trekked back to Idaho and then south - driving through Utah and Wyoming before hitting I-25 south to Colorado, where we spent time in Boulder and Breckenridge.  In Boulder, we tried to be a bit more active than we had been in WA, running low miles at slow speeds and biking, stuck on the wheels of faster cyclists.  It was rough getting my legs and lungs moving again, especially at altitude, but probably good for me!  I can't say that I was back in any sort of "training" mode since plenty of nights had elements of this:

We rounded out our Colorado visit with a trip to Breckenridge to see my aunt and uncle - it is definitely part of our summer tradition at this point since we've visited them the past 3-4 summers there.  The weather thwarted our plans to hike Mt. Quandary, one of the easier 14-ers, but we finally managed to make it to Mohawk Lake, a hike that was rained out when we attempted it 2 years ago.  We made it to lower Mohawk Lake last time, but this year we climbed to the upper lake - definitely worth the final push as it offered a beautiful lake, alpine meadows and dramatic granite 'walls'.

For the final leg of our trip, we headed to the San Francisco Bay area for a friend's wedding in Marin.  There was a bicycle theme, since the bride and groom are both really into biking:

Also, their dog was the ring-bearer!  In addition to the wedding festivities, we spent the morning at Point Reyes and found a dog-friendly beach that was a great little walk for all of us.
Gus and I at Limantour Beach

Finally, we head back home last Sunday - I don't think I've ever been so ready to return to our humble abode as I was last Sunday.  We felt really lucky that we had the opportunity to be on the road for so long and to see so many friends and family members and visit wonderful places, some new to us and others old, familiar haunts.  But, it also made me appreciate returning to my space and my bed!

Monday, July 21, 2014

On the road 2014 - Banff and the Calgary Stampede

Greetings from Boulder, CO!  It is HOT, HOT, HOT, but we are still enjoying our time in Colorado and, in general, visiting friends and family, seeing new places and returning to familiar and favorite haunts.  I admit that a part of me looked forward to a massive road trip as a way to avoid post-Ironman blues.  While the travels kept that particular malaise at bay for a while, I think that the "what is next" thoughts have started to creep in and unsettle me a bit.  More on that later...

For now, a quick recap of our travels between Coeur d'Alene and Boulder, which, I should add, have not followed any logical path from a geographical standpoint as we headed north to Canada and then back west to Seattle and Bellingham and then east again to Colorado.  If we were to retrace our steps on a map, it would look like a big tangled up ball of yarn.  Despite the lack of logic geographically, timing-wise it worked.

Our first post-IM stop was Banff, Canada where we spent 3 much-too-short days.  To be honest, Banff was never on my list of places that I *had* to visit, but now that I've been there, I can only hope that I'll return one of these days.  We spent our first full day there, July 1st (which was Canada Day) trying to recover from a long day of either racing or spectating followed up by a long day of driving.  It was nice to sleep in, relax, watch the World Cup, and sleep some more.  I finally felt hydrated enough to enjoy some champagne too!

I am no longer wearing that wristband, by the way!

I fully expected that I would come down with some sort of a cold or infection the week after the race, but I ended up being the only one of us who did NOT get sick.  With my parents not feeling great, Michael and I explored the Ice Fields Parkway on Wednesday.  It claims to be one of the most scenic drives in the world, and that might be true - the scenery was amazing - towering mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, alpine lakes, peaks and valleys that seemed to go on forever.  

Hanging out with Gus

One of the many amazing lakes we saw


This makes me feel pretty insignificant in the world.

And on Thursday, with my parents well-rested and feeling a bit better, we explored Lake Louise, which is super touristy by the lake, but once you get on a trail and leave the hotel and the shops behind, it offers some good hiking and is well-worth it.  There are several good hiking options - a short stroll to an all-day excursion, but we wanted something in-between, so we opted for a hike up to Lake Agnes, where there is a tea house.  Again, this is a very popular hike, but even with a relatively late start time (around 9:00 am), we didn't find the trail too crowded.  
Lake Louise

On the trail to Lake Agnes

Exploring around Lake Agnes

We then drove some of the Icefields Parkway again, just so that my parents could take in the amazing views.
Lots of oohs and aahs.

Finally, on Friday, we packed up all of our stuff and headed to Calgary for the Calgary Stampede.  When we started to plan this trip, my mother mentioned the fact that she had always wanted to go to the Stampede.  Well, how could we not go, being so close and the dates working out?  So, we 'stampeded', which apparently is a verb in Calgary.  I knew almost nothing of the Stampede beforehand and had zero expectations.  All I knew was that it was a rodeo - the largest in North America.  There are tons of activities, most of which we missed, but the rodeo was well-worth the trip.  I have been to a rodeo before, and while it's not really my 'thing', this one was very entertaining.  While I'd love to return to Banff and explore more of that area, I'm not sure that I need to go back to the Stampede.  Still, it was a fun experience to share with my parents, and it closed out a week full of surprises and new experiences for all of us!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ironman CdA Wrap-up (post-race, recovery and other odds and ends)

This is the FINAL Ironman blab from me, I swear!  With over two weeks since I crossed the finish line, I've had time to "process" the experience - and to recover from it.  No easy feat there, I might add.

While I mentioned in the race recap that so much of the race is a blur (seriously), I do remember crossing the finishing line and feeling happy and relieved that I accomplished my goal!  But, when I stopped running, realization that my body hurt SO MUCH quickly set in.  While I ran the marathon just fine, apparently I couldn't walk without pain.  After getting the race swag (t-shirt, medal, cap), I hobbled over to the food area where there was a nice buffet - pizza, sandwiches, chocolate milk, cookies.  Sadly, none of it appealed to me.  I took a bite of pizza and could barely swallow it.  Feeling extremely cheated by my inability to stomach the food, I ended up drinking more chicken broth and a sprite.  So much for a post-race food fest, something that I had looked forward to during most of the run.

The other thought I had crossing the finish line was "How the hell will I meet up with Michael and my parents?".  Fortunately, my mother's tendency to wear flamboyant colors (being from Texas and all) solved that problem - I easily spotted her red fleece and pink jacket. So, we reunited quite soon, and there was a lot of chatter from them and from me.  It had been a long day for all of us!

I actually think that my dad is smiling more than I am here.

As much as a part of me wanted to see more finishers cross, I was exhausted and ready to return to the hotel room and sleep.  We returned to the hotel room, but sleep did not come - a combination of being too keyed up and of being so sore that every time I moved, something new hurt (I know that I'm making a big deal out of how freakin' sore I was, but I heard someone on the course saying "The only thing that doesn't hurt are my earlobes and fingernails" and I totally agreed with that statement).

The day after the race, we packed up all of our stuff and headed north to Canada where we all (parents, Michael and I and Gus, our dog) spent a few days in the Canadian Rockies.  Spending 7 hours in the car on Monday probably wasn't the best way to recover, but it couldn't be helped, and once we arrived in Banff and got settled, we all relaxed - finally!  I felt pretty 'fragile' and super dehydrated until Tuesday or Wednesday following the race, but managed a short little hike on Wednesday and then a longer hike on Thursday.

Views from our drive up to Banff

My mom and I posing.

Short hike along the Icefields Parkway

Although traveling with my parents post-race wasn't the most relaxing way to recover (ha ha - understatement there!), it was great to explore a new area and to share something more than the IM experience with them.  It also forced me to get out and be a bit more active than I probably would have been otherwise, and I think that the low-key walking/hiking did help my muscles remember that they could function.  

My body is finally coming around - I've actually gone on a short and slow run 2 days in a row (yesterday and today), and I went swimming last week.  Biking is supposedly the easiest on the body, and we have plans to get in some saddle time this week and next in Boulder, CO.  

Final thoughts about IM CdA:
First of all, I'm really happy that I signed up for this race - the idea had been floating around in my head since I finished Boulder 70.3 in 2012, an idea that appealed to me but was also terrifying!  While it was "my" goal, I also appreciated the support of friends and, of course, Michael.  He encouraged me to sign up, then he encouraged me to get a coach, bikes with me on quite a few occasions, and he often encouraged me to get out the door to train, telling me (quite rightly) that I'd feel better after my ride/run/swim.  A friend from work often swam with me in the mornings and evenings, and sharing a lane with her humbled me every single time, but it was great to have the motivation.  While I didn't train a ton with the tri group, California Triathlon, I've enjoyed being a part of that group, and I've learned a ton from different members which helped me with my training and while I was out there on the course.  Finally, I know that I've mentioned time and again how much I enjoyed working with Beth, who pushed me just enough to have a strong race but didn't let me overdo it.  It was a luxury, in many ways, to work with a coach, but I was glad that I made that investment, and I learned so much from her and from the training plans that she gave me.

A few random details about equipment/fueling/other odds and ends:
  • I know that I was tempted on more than one occasion to invest in a new bike (so bright! so shiny! looks so fast!), but I am glad that stuck with Sunshine, my still-new-to-me Trek Madone which is a great bike.  The decision to add aero-bars was great, and I like the fact that I have another position for riding, even if I don't ride aero as much as an expert.  I wasn't the fastest cyclist out there, but I passed people who had nicer bikes and there were plenty of people with older or heavier bikes who passed me.
  • Fueling/hydration had been a bit of an issue at Boulder 70.3 and Vineman 70.3, but I felt that I really nailed it down at Wildflower this year, so I was hopefully that I'd manage to keep on top of my fueling and hydration.  I ate a good breakfast, ate some Honey Stinger chews before the swim, and then tried to settle in during the first hour of the bike and eat and drink.  However, the long climb into the headwind made it difficult to eat and drink on as regular a basis as I would have liked.  I hoped to eat 2 Bonkbreakers, 2 Uncrustables, 3 Honeystinger chew packs and then enjoy some oreos and corn nuts from my bike Special Needs bag, but I ended up not eating one of the uncrustables and only eating the corn nuts (they were pretty awesome though!).  As for hydration, I had 2 bottles on the bike - one of Osmo (yes, everyone raves about it and I am a convert), one of gatorade and I had more Osmo to mix with water and another bottle of gatorade at Special Needs.  Again, I opted out of that second bottle of Gatorade and stuck to Osmo and water for the last part of the bike ride.  I was really worried that I'd bonk on the run, but I think that I can handle going a little lighter on fuel rather than eating too many calories.  Still, having to go to the bathroom multiple times (some were legit stops and others were precautionary) was no fun.  I did have some immodium on me, so I popped one of those early in the run.  I don't know if I really needed to do so or if it helped, but I lived with that decision.
  • What would I change? Obviously I'd like to have had speedier transition times, especially T1.  Also, thinking about hydration, I stuck with old-fashioned bottles, but it would been nice to have an aero bottle with a straw.  Finally, I've heard so many great things about the ISM saddles, and I'd love to be just a bit more comfortable on long rides and would be open to trying a different seat.

FINALLY, the overall race experience - I know that there is a debate about race branding, and a part of me hates that the Ironman Corporation has such a monopoly on the 140.6 and 70.3 distances.  I certainly welcome other races and other brands that can compete with the I-dot races.  That said, I appreciated how well-oiled the Ironman machine is and the experience that it delivered on race day.  It's a long day out there, so it was nice to not have to think about a lot of the details.  Also, I've mentioned the volunteers before, but they seriously make the race experience so special for the participants.  From people helping me undress and dress, to volunteers who held my bike for me, to all of the aid stations scattered throughout the race - the volunteers were awesome! 

I still don't have an easy answer as to the "why" for doing an Ironman (or iron-distance race), but I know that I like a challenge, and it was a great experience to have this big, scary, personal goal.  Every year, I have to submit professional goals and work towards those, and it was satisfying to have such a big goal on a personal level.  In some ways, I think that this is how my mid-life crisis is manifesting itself, and that is certainly a possibility, but I don't think that it's a negative manifestation.  I've learned how to push myself, I've developed greater confidence in my abilities swimming, biking and running but also in other aspects of my life.  Finally, triathlon, not just Ironman, has added a texture to my life that keeps me from being too complacent, too satisfied, and has allowed me to explore and to find different adventures.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ironman Coeur d'Alene - Bike and Run

The bike
Once I exited the swim, I experienced the joy of wetsuit strippers and then easily found my bag for T1 and headed to the women’s changing tent.  What a scene!  A volunteer directed me to a chair where "my" volunteer helped me out (I hope to say more about the volunteers at some point – they may have been one of the BEST things from an organizational and emotional standpoint about the entire day).  I planned on a full change of clothes and am still glad that I made that decision because I wanted to be comfortable on the bike.  I have NO idea what I was doing in transition for 16 minutes however!  Of all the parts of the day, that is the only one where I can say “I wish I could do X differently”.  But, I also think that I took a long time because I was pretty cold coming out of the water and I wanted to collect my thoughts and make sure that I had everything before I set out on the bike.  So, 16 minutes later, I was finally ready to ride!

FINALLY getting my bike from transition!

 Michael and I had driven the bike course on Friday, and I had ridden the shorter segment on Saturday morning, so I was somewhat familiar with it.  The course is basically 2 segments – one shorter one and then a longer one, both out-and-backs that we repeated.  On another day, I think that I would enjoy the course, you know, if I were riding 112 miles just for fun!  As I started the bike leg, I was still happy that I had survived the swim and moved on, so I really did not think much about the reality of riding 112 miles.  I broke it up mentally, knowing that I’d be good for 56 miles (a half-iron distance), and then I’d hit special needs and then it would be a mere 60 miles more or so after that.  My pie-in-the-sky goal was sub-6:50, possible on an ideal day.  Sunday, however, was not that day!

Riding along the lake

The first 16 miles or so were pretty fun – they took us through town, which was really great with all of the spectators lining the streets and cheering for us, and then we rode along the lake – this was mainly flat with a few easy rollers.  The real work began around mile 18 or so when we started the first real climb, into a headwind.  If I had thought about the bike course during the swim, I would have confronted the reality of a windy ride, but I pushed that thought away whenever it crept up, telling myself to focus on the bike when I got to the bike.  Well, I got the bike, and the wind was brutal for one section – basically, miles 20-40 or so.  I just put my head down and tried to stay steady, but I did worry about two things:  a. getting enough food and drink - it is hard for me to take in calories in those conditions; b. what if we had a head wind coming back into town too?! 

Once we hit the turnaround and there was a nice tailwind (duh), I settled in and tried to get in calories, hydrate, keep a faster pace and enjoy this part of the course!  Riding back through town, I saw my ‘spectating crew’, which was a nice surprise and really lifted my spirits.  At that point, I also knew that my sub-7 goal was definitely out-of-reach, but I decided to focus on finishing the second lap as strong as I could. 
Coming back through town.

As we headed back towards Highway 95 (the windy section) I couldn’t decide if was better to be completely ignorant about the headwind or not.  I was dreading the next 20 or so miles, and apparently I was not the only one since, as we made the turn onto 95, the guy in front of me said “This is the road that leads to hell!”.  Okay, glad I’m not alone in my suffering.  Fortunately, I knew that we just had to reach the turnaround, and I told myself that I could get through 20 miles, even 20 hilly and windy miles, and it helped to see the mile markers pass, even if they passed slowly!  I focused on how I was feeling and, again, I told myself that the most important thing was to finish the bike with energy for the run.  I also told myself that once we hit the turnaround, it would be an easy cruise back into town – 20 miles with a tailwind, mainly downhill, just get to the turnaround.  Finally, I told myself to be grateful that, while I was slow on the bike, I was pretty strong on hills, so that worked in my favor.  My other moment of gratitude and empathy came when I saw a guy in front of me pull over the first lap, get off his bike and start rubbing his calf – well, that guy was still pulled over on the second lap.  I saw him on the second climb, and it made my heart break a little for him.  It also reminded me that, as brutal as the wind felt (or was), I was lucky to be out there.   Once we hit mile 100, I did start to count down the miles – okay, less than 10, less than 8, less than 5…  After a final climb, we were back in town and cruising to T2 in 7:27:35. 
I did get comments that I was smiling - I don't think too many people did.

The run:
While my bike-to-run transition was pitiful too (7 minutes plus some change), it doesn't bother me nearly as much as T1.  I did a full-on-change, sacrificing a speedy transition for comfort on the run.  In the transition area, I had tried to see where I was time-wise (could I still finish under 14 hours?), but mentally I couldn't do the math.  Total brain fail there.  So, I told myself to not worry about the swim and bike legs - they were over, I survived them, and now all I had to do was run a marathon. Starting the run, my legs felt pretty good, and it was a boost to see my parents, Michael and family friends as I started the run portion.

The plan going into the run, as crazy as it sounded to me, was to stick to 9-minute miles.  Beth encouraged me to visualize a 4-hour marathon and told me “I really think that this is possible for you”.  Like the bike portion, I couldn’t think about running 26.2 miles, a feat that I hadn’t accomplished in almost 18 years, so I focused on getting to certain parts of the course and being as consistent as I could. 

The run course, like the bike, was beautiful, and I reminded myself of my good fortune to be in a beautiful part of the world.  I worried about going out too hard or too slow, so I stuck to my plan and tried to nail those 9-minute miles, even with frequent bathroom breaks thanks to some stomach issues.  To be honest, the run at this point is a bit of a blur – I just told myself to keep moving, a bit like the Little Engine That Could, and I seemed to keep a steady pace.  It didn’t feel fast to me, but at times I had to rein myself in when I saw an 8 on my Garmin.  At the end of mile 6 or so, there is a nice hill that you run up and run down, hit the turn around and then run back up and down – I had planned to walk it, but I decided that I’d run as much as I could.  So, I did!  I had ups and downs during the first lap and probably stopped in the bathroom at least 5 times, but I held that steady pace.  Around mile 11, we were heading back into town, and I totally got a second wind and decided that maybe the rest of the marathon would be easy.  While that was not the case, I ran through town, saw my parents and Michael and gave them a big smile, and then headed back out for the final 13.1 miles. 
Still smiling at the half-way point.

 As I started the second half, I knew that this was where things could really go south, but I wanted to keep moving forward.  I told myself to get to mile 20 - that was my goal once I got through town.  The bathroom breaks continued, and I also quit taking in any nutrition/hydration except for cola, chicken broth, some water, and pretzels.  Yep, that was my fueling for the final 14-16 miles, but it worked.  Somehow, repeating “turn-o-ver, turn-o-ver” to myself, counting my steps in groups of ten, and thinking about the finish line all helped me continue to move forward.  I hit the big hill around mile 19 or so, and while I slowed down going up it this time, I kept pushing forward – up the hill, down the hill and then only 6 more miles to go!  A 10k – how many 10ks have I done?  My favorite distance?  Yes, I could do this! 

I was incredibly happy and thankful during those last miles, as I counted them down to 5, to 4, and as I did the math – 50 more minutes, now 40 more minutes – and it bolstered my confidence that I would finish strong!  When I hit the final miles, I told myself “No more walking!” and I really tried to push it, even running up the final small hills into town, and then turning onto Sherman Ave – wow, what an experience!  The crowds line the street and cheer on all the participants – it is just fantastic! In the days leading up to the race, so many people told me to take in the experience.  It’s crazy because so much of it still seems like a dream, and yet, running those final blocks, I felt as though all of my energy focused on this one goal – running across the finish line.  I saw my parents and Michael again, waved, and then headed towards the finish line, which was amazing.  I will say this - an Ironman finish really does make you feel like a champion, no matter what your time is.  People are lined up, cheering for you, and it is an incredible moment.

Running towards the finish line

At the finish!

While I just missed my 4-hour marathon, I slipped under the finish line with a run time of 4:11:55!  I thought that my ‘goal’ time of 13-14 hours was shot after my swim and my bike (and slow transitions), so I'm proud of myself for not dwelling on those times.  I just focused on each part of the day as it came to me.  This tactic helped me out on the run, when I just kept moving forward, and I realized at some point on the run that I could actually finish within my ‘goal’ time.  I know that there is a bigger picture to all of this and that a time, a number, shouldn’t determine the sense of pride, satisfaction and the emotion that one feels when crossing a finish line, but I was damn happy to finish in 13:31:50!

While I experienced plenty of physical discomfort and much frustration at different times during the day, IMCDA taught me so much – throughout the day, I found myself humbled and filled with gratitude.  Just like the training, race day surprised me – not because of the course or the conditions, but because of the physical and emotional pain and joy that people experienced and the fact that pure luck sometimes comes into play.  I don’t know how to summarize or neatly conclude this experience.  So many people say that an Ironman changes you forever, and I have yet to sift through that, but it gave me the chance to work toward a big goal, to push myself, to learn about myself and my limits.  Ultimately, it was an amazing experience and, a week later, I'm still grateful that I made it to the finish line on a strong and positive note, and I'm so thankful for the people in my life who supported me and for the many volunteers and spectators on race day who helped make it such a great experience.

The ubiquitous post-race finishing photo