Monday, March 31, 2014

Spring Break 2014

To say that returning to work today was a challenge would be an understatement, but I can't imagine that any more time off would be good for me!  Not that I would complain about days filled with naps (I think that I took one every single day of my break - bliss!), but then they would be commonplace, and why should that happen?!

I spent most of my time hunkered down at home, but between training, catching up on grading, and napping, the week passed by pretty quickly.  Gus and I bonded over stretching and strength training.
He also took lots of naps with me!

Michael spent part of the week in Boulder, CO, visiting family, but before he left town, I met up with some colleagues for a quick drink and then we finally made it to LACMA to see the James Turrell exhibit, catching the tail end of it.  I had been skeptical and not super enthused about seeing this exhibit, which was totally idiotic of me because it was one of the coolest exhibits I've seen in the longest time.  James Turrell - what a genius!  And not just because he has won a McArthur genius grant.  The way he looks at the world - whoa!  Totally blew my mind.  

On Thursday, I headed down to San Diego, where I picked up Michael, and we enjoyed a few days down south.  We drank great beer, randomly stumbling on Station Tavern in San Diego which was awesome, and then we mainly hung around Carlsbad/Encinitas/Oceanside, returning to familiar haunts from our last time there, back in January - El Callej√≥n (great margaritas but not as much fun as the first time we went), Pannikin which I just learned is an "institution" in the area and has some of the best muffins I've ever had, and Union Kitchen and Tap.  

I also took our bikes down, so on Friday, after a walk on the beach with Gus and a great breakfast at the aforementioned Pannikin, Michael and I set out on what I promised would be a 3 hour ride MAX. 
Rough times at the beach!  The typical dog photo, I know!

I had discovered one of the "best rides of San Diego County" on line - from Carlsbad to Camp Pendleton up the coast.  Well, it ended up being much longer, mainly because we got turned around a few times (mainly at Camp Pendleton) and did not make the right turn that would have taken us to the coast.  Plus, we hit major traffic several times AND I had a flat!  I kept thinking of Gilligan's Island - "a three-hour tour...".  Despite all of those mishaps, it was a fun day, but that ride pretty much WAS the day!

Finally, I woke up early Saturday morning and headed to Oceanside, T1 - to help out at Oceanside 70.3.  Despite the crazy early hour, it was a fun morning and the time passed quickly.  We were checking people who were going into the transition area for the first hour or so, then, once the race started, we were helping people at the bike mount line.  I've never actually seen all of the leaders get on the bike, so that was fun - or would have been had I been able to recognize anyone!  Also, that mount line was crazy busy!  I don't think that I've ever been at a race that had so much traffic at the mount line.  Or maybe I have but I don't notice it racing?  Our major job at the mount line was to check for bibs - if people did not have a bib, they could not ride on Camp Pendleton, which meant that they couldn't finish the race.  So, we gave people bibs if they were leaving without one.  Here I am in "action" (I think I gave Thom, in front of me, the bib who then stuck it in a racer's kit):

In addition to the bike mounting issues, there was some crazy stuff I saw that morning - first of all, a guy who had not picked up his packet the day before strolled up wanting to know where to get his packet.  Ummm - did you not read any of the information that sent you?  And spectators who were trying to sneak into transition?  

We finished up around 9:00 and by the time the last person had mounted his/her bike and I walked to T2, the lead male racers were starting the run.  I did not spectate all of the run, but I did get to see the first couple of guys.  They were so fast (I know, stating the obvious, but seriously!).  

After that, it was time to return home.  The weekend ended on a more low-key note as I prepped for the week and fit in a long run and ride!  It was definitely a great break, and while I ended it feeling physically tired from training, it also let me recharge.  Good thing as we have the final push over these next 8 weeks!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The "I" word

As I type this out, I'm keeping my toes crossed and praying to the running gods so that I don't totally jinx myself by mentioning this ubiquitous topic, the "I" word being injury.  It seems, based on two solid weeks of running - including 2 longer-than-60-minute runs - that I am well on my way to recovery!  Not that I'm back to full speed and strength, but I can chug along with a pretty low heart rate these days.  To be dramatic about it all, this comes as a huge relief for me and I feel a little less desperate about the 26.2 miles following the swim/bike portions of IM CdA.  Shew!

I'm certainly not the first nor will I be the last person to deal with an injury during a major training cycle, and I can't say that it came as a huge surprise that I found myself a bit side-lined.  It was a major frustration, yes, but when I think about the past few years, I realize that 18 months is the longest healthy stretch I've managed and I don't know how intense my training was during those 18 months.  So, no, not really a surprise.

One curious detail - the past two injury cycles, both 'came on' about a week after racing, which makes me wonder about my approach to training and/or racing.  While plantar fasciitis was frustrating, it also seemed to progress along in a predictable fashion and I could easily tell how I was doing based on the pain when I first got out of bed in the morning.  This time around, I had quad tendonitis which did not manifest itself during most activities (walking, swimming, biking, skipping, jumping) but within 10 minutes of a run that started out without any pain, I would find myself hobbling along.  For much of February, I would begin each run with an optimistic attitude, thinking "This is the one!  I know that I'm better!" and the runs did get a little longer and then a little longer, but there wasn't a moment when I was immediately better, much to my frustration.

Fortunately, I continued to see Dr. Choy, whom I discovered last year for Active Release Therapy and is my go-to guru whenever I have weird aches and pains or crazy tightness.  I've continued to see him for occasional tune-ups, but I became a regular patient for about a month there.  Seeing him not only helped me out physically but also mentally - he assured me that things were progressing and that I just needed to be patient.  He also kept encouraging me to run (not to the point of trauma, but to see where I was/how the pain was/when it set on), even when I felt like resigning myself to the elliptical for the next 4 months.

I've also been quite cautious with my pace, not pushing too much, and also the terrain, sticking primarily to trails for almost all of my runs at this point.  Saturday took me on a nice group run, and I even went a bit further than expected.  Coming back, I crossed paths with a VERY healthy looking coyote!  That was an unexpected encounter!

In addition to running mainly on trails, I've developed a love/hate relationship with ice baths - they hurt so much but then my legs feel so good afterwards!  Finally, I have tried to keep my eye on the long-term goal rather than my short-term reality.  While my pace feels slow to me, it is probably faster than the pace at which I'll run the CdA course.  If I have to stop to stretch or walk a bit, it does not stress me out.  And, I am just happy that I can run these days, as slow as I'm going!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

2 weeks, 2 rides, plenty to learn

Shew, this was my last weekend with an "event" until Wildflower!  As much as it's been fun to pack the weekends with race, ride, ride, I am looking forward to a steadier approach to the weekends.

After the excitement of the Desert Tri and then last weekend's awesome Solvang ride, yesterday's Malibu Canyon did feel a bit more low-key, except for the 4:20 wake-up call.  As soon as my phone went off, I thought to myself "I don't want to do this", so I hit the sleep button and enjoyed 9 more minutes of bliss.  When the alarm rang the second time, I managed to drag myself out of bed and I was at Zuma Beach in Malibu by 6:15 so that I could pick up my ride packet.  Then I went back to the car, drank coffee and waited.  And waited some more...

Zuma Beach - Not a bad place to wait around

I had signed up for the Malibu Canyon Ride just a few weeks ago, mainly because I had a free entry and figured it would be a good experience.  Plus, it was a local event.  After last weekend, when I *loved* everything about the ride, I was looking forward to this one as well, but the course profile made me really nervous.  In fact, I had initially planned to ride the metric century but dropped to the 50-miler because I felt so intimidated by 8,000 feet in 62 miles (in comparison to 6,000 in 50 miles - gulp). As people kept arriving and I was soon surrounded by a population of spandex-wearing individuals, I figured that it was time to get down to business and get ready to ride!  I was still unsure of my ability and how the day would go (nice personal vote of confidence), but I saw quite a few people whom I knew which, for some reason, bolstered my spirits.  I don't usually sport too much "team" apparel, but I did for this ride, and it was nice to identify other CalTri people.
Teammates - Sort of...

The start was a bit more organized than Solvang - only because I was actually there for it - and the 100-milers went out first.  Around 8:30, the metric century and 50-milers got our start.  We were off!  
We headed south for the first few miles on PCH, and then swung left up Latigo Canyon (Latigo means "whip" in Spanish - yes, it definitely whipped plenty of people's butts!).  That was the first climb of the day - and it ended up being the easiest one too.  I enjoyed it, except for the part when the road was a bit narrow and tons of Porsches cruised by us, apparently on their Saturday ride.  The second climb was a beast - I felt like crying at least twice, I definitely cursed it on multiple occasions, and I probably would have unclipped and walked if I could have done so without falling over.  Also, during the second climb, we had crappy road conditions - on part of the ascent and part of the descent.  It wasn't as bad as last weekend, but it did not make for an enjoyable ride for part of the way.

This is somebody else's image - he sent it on to me; my Garmin only read 6,200 elevation gain; regardless, it was a long day of climbing!

I hit PCH at mile 42, and if I'd had an easy left-hand turn, I probably would have headed straight back to the finish line and my car.  But, there was a ton of traffic, I didn't feel like stopping and dealing with it, so I hung a right and cruised along PCH for a few more miles before heading back to the car.  Which got me to 60 miles!

Last week's and this week's rides were vastly different - in the experience and the terrain (except for some of the bumpy roads that I did not enjoy).  Both were beautiful rides, although I did prefer the wine country of Solvang and, on the whole, the consistent ups and downs rather than the crazy-hard climbs of the Malibu area.  The people doing this week's ride were much more "serious" about it all.  But I had significant take-aways from both of these experiences.  First of all, I am no longer intimidated by the whole group ride dynamic - I'm not fast, but I can hold my own, especially when I'm climbing!  Also, same as last week, the hardest miles were not at the end but somewhere before then.  By the time I'm at those last 5-10 miles, I start to feel better - probably because I know that I will end soon - and I relax a bit on the bike.  Finally, a major take-away from both of the rides - I need to get my fuel in order!  I feel that I'm just not very smart about eating and drinking enough before I start the ride and also during the ride.  Again, peanut butter and jelly, which I kind of dislike in general, is a great go-to food/fuel, so that has been a nice discovery.  However, I need to carry something salty, like pretzels, because I find myself craving salt like crazy.  Also, along the same line, I should include salt tablets in my bike-bag or bento-box.  Just put them in there and pop one or two on occasion.  It was a very warm day (I cannot believe this weather!), and I did not feel prepared for that.

Finishing this ride felt like more than an accomplishment than last week's - it was a harder ride, physically and mentally.  But, I also had some major rewards at the end.  Wading into the Pacific Ocean was such a treat for my legs!  Also, I was still craving salt, so stopping for a coke (in a glass bottle) and BBQ Fritos to keep me "up" for the drive home - a total win.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Not quite "sideways" in Solvang

And that's a good thing since the point of the weekend was not to re-live scenes from Sideways but to have our own epic experience at the Solvang Century Ride (and Metric, which was our plan).  This was one of those events that I thought about doing last year but I just did not feel prepared, not even for the Metric or Half-Century.  This year, however, we signed up in January after a round or two of margaritas with someone (Hi Rob!) who rode it last year and convinced us that we should definitely ride it this year.  The funny thing is, I had already made reservations for us back in the fall, so I guess I was already planning on the ride!

Solvang is a little town north east of Santa Barbara that makes the most of its Danish heritage.  I'm not sure about windmills and Denmark, but Solvang would have you believe that they are an essential part of Danish architecture!  The last time we were in the area was a few years ago, just passing through, so it was a chance to return to the Santa Barbara area and enjoy the weekend!

Our get-away was reminiscent of the week before, when I kept changing my mind - should we stay or should we go?  Michael, again, voted for the weekend away, and I was easily convinced to go but still a bit skeptical about the ride and whether it was a good decision to go away two weekends in a row -  living on the edge!  And while I feel that I'm paying for it a bit today, what a great weekend!  We did have to make some adjustments in terms of our plans.  We took Gus up with us, and he has been one stressed out doggie since Milo's passing - freaking out every time we leave him.  So, Michael opted to hang out with Gus while I rode.  Not the ideal solution, and I totally owe him for taking care of Gus on Saturday and for letting me have the experience of the Solvang ride, but we were also happy to know that Gus was okay.

Despite participating in triathlons for a few years now, this was my first organized ride - not race, and I woke up on Saturday somewhat nervous about the ride but nothing like I feel before a triathlon.  Talk about a stress-free morning!  I kept reminding myself that there was no set start time and that I should just enjoy the experience.  That, fortunately, was not hard to do at all!  There was great energy as people wandered over to the official start line and took off - whenever they wanted (again, this was such a novelty to me).  Also, there was a greater range of bikes, attire and people which made me feel so relaxed.

Once I finally settled on what to wear (arm warmers, check, vest, check...), gave myself a little pep talk about riding solo, I took off - over the start line, through the quaint streets of Solvang, just riding along...  The first 24 miles or so were really great - easy rolling hills, nice roads, beautiful countryside.  Some sights were memorable - I passed an ostrich farm, Alma Rosa, a winery that we visited our last trip up here, and also an Icelandic horse ranch (they are so small and cute!).  Others just blur together - the vineyards and rolling hills.  I felt good when I hit the first SAG stop but also didn't mind getting off the bike for a pit stop, eating some fruit and I also grabbed an Uncrustable to snack on.

At that point, I felt great and actually regretted that I hadn't signed up for the full Century, and my good spirits - mental and physical - stuck with me until about mile 38.  At that point, we were riding along a stretch of farmland and different parts of my body were going a bit numb.  So, it was with relief that I hit the 2nd SAG stop - where I took another Uncrustable and ate more fruit.  Less than 20 miles of the official ride, easy stuff!  Ha!  I did not realize that right after the SAG stop, we would hit a major climb and deal with crappy road conditions.  After creeping along for 2 miles or so (hey, at least I didn't walk my bike!), I felt like I was inches to bonking, and I started to curse myself for being such an idiot and for not fueling properly.  Fortunately, the climb evened out for a bit, so I unclipped, drank the rest of the bottle of Osmo that I had and ate a few gels.  That seemed to help tremendously, as I finished the climb and started the downhill.  Sadly, the downhill, which I had anticipated with pleasure during the climb, ended up SUCKING.  Most of the roads on the ride were pretty good, but this part was sub-standard, to say the least.  I white-knuckled it for the entire descent but made it down safely, which was no mean feat (apparently one rider lost control on the descent).  Things finally evened out around mile 50, and from there to the finish line, I relaxed and enjoyed those final miles. It was hard to ride past our motel to get to the finish line and then ride a few miles back to our motel, but, hey, I wanted an "official" finish!

 Once I met up with Michael and Gus, who had enjoyed their morning by touring all of Solvang, we were ravenous, so we filled the rest of the day with lunch, a nap, a walk, and dinner.  And plenty of good beer, especially at the Firestone Walker Taproom in Buellton.  

This is not an official finish line photo but I was done! We had lunch in Los Olivos, and Michael took this quick photo of me - to remind us both of my past life in 4H.

Technically, this ride was part of Ironman training, but I had SO MUCH FUN.  It did not feel like training, or maybe it reminded me that training and racing do not have to be work, they can and should be fun.  Ooh, what a concept - training and fun are not mutually exclusive!.  Even the challenging climb and tricky descent left me feeling happy about being out there, riding my bike.  It's hard to describe what a treat the ride was or to articulate the why?  Maybe it was the scenery?  Or sharing the experience with random people who were also ridiculously happy to be out biking on a lovely Saturday?  Or just being outside, on two wheels, in a beautiful part of the world?  I'm not sure, but I'm already looking forward to the Solvang (Metric or Full) Century in 2015!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Good or bad, racing is upon us!

With February ending on a very sad note in our household, I wanted to cancel any and all plans that we (or I) had already made for the next few weeks, which included the first triathlon of the season and also an organized bike ride.  Michael, however, convinced me that I should go to Palm Springs for the Desert Tri for a number of reasons.  Some of these included: a. I had already paid for it; b. my coach would be there.  I still had my doubts, partly because I was still feeling so sad about Milo, but also because of the weather (stormy) and because of my shitty running over the past month.

When Saturday morning rolled around, we had already committed to heading east, and so we did, driving through plenty of rain.  The negative thoughts continued to roll around in my head, even as we pulled away from the storms.  By the time we reached the desert, it was actually gorgeous - dramatic clouds and light, but not raining.  It seemed that all of my doom and gloom and worry about the weather was for naught!  I met my coach there and we ended up riding one loop of the course, which is extremely flat.  Then I traded bike shoes for running kicks and took it slow and easy for about 10 minutes.  I was not feeling confident about the run at all and even broached the subject of how to prepare to walk the marathon in an Ironman with my coach (I'd been reading up on it, and there is plenty about a run/walk strategy but not much about a walk strategy; no doubt she was thrilled to be working with someone who just broke down physically so easily - sigh.  Add to that, the fact that I fell right in front of her on my bike because I couldn't unclip.  Seriously, it's been YEARS since that has happened - how embarrassing!).  

Despite the slow run, I felt good about having a practice ride/run, and we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in Palm Springs, which is kind of a weird place.  Maybe CA is just full of strange places?  I'm not sure, but it ranks up there in terms of a strange combination of people.  Plus, who would have come up with the idea of the desert as a great place to build a town/city?  And populate it with golf courses that need tons of water?  

After dreaming on Saturday night about only completing one lap of the run because I was so slow (nice anxiety dream), I managed to get up and get all of my gear and other crap together, making it to transition with plenty of time to spare, or so I thought.  There would have been plenty of space on the rack except that some people were taking up a luxurious and ridiculous amount of room.  What the hell?!  Also, a bunch of port-o-potties ran out of TP, which was kind of funny because then it was obvious who just needed to pee and who had other "business" to take care of.  

Fortunately, I did take care of everything and by 7:30, I was down at the start, waiting with the other pink-capped ladies for my 7:42 wave to go off.
Photo - Thanks to Beth Walsh

And we were off!  I actually enjoyed the swim - the water felt great, there wasn't tons of contact, and when I popped my head out of the water, I could take in the desert - it was a pretty course!  I wasn't very fast but made reasonable time, and, after struggling a bit to get my wetsuit unzipped, I was soon on  the bike!  

I knew, from the day before, that it was a flat, flat, flat course, which does not favor me (I kind of like hills to push up and then cruise down).  Since my running was shot anyway, the plan was to really push it on the bike, something that I have NEVER done or tried to do.  Armed with my handy-dandy heart rate monitor, I focused not on MPH but on heart rate.  I can't say that I enjoyed the ride all that much, especially considering the packs of people drafting off each other, but I felt good about the fact that I stayed focused!

Finally, the run - never have I dreaded a run so much!  I hadn't thought about it too much on the bike, but managed to at least start out running.  And then I hit mile 2 and then mile 3, rounding out the first lap while slowly chugging along.  On almost any other occasion, my splits would have sent me into a frustrated state, but I was just happy that I was still running (or jogging) and that the miles were actually sub-10.  Amazing!  I started the second lap, fully expecting to slow down and walk, but somehow, my leg tightened up but never to the point of pain.  I even picked up the pace on my last mile and cruised over the finish line, a far happier camper than I had expected.  

Photo also thanks to Beth Walsh

My overall age group ranking is nothing to write home about, but this race bolstered my confidence way more than I had anticipated, and I was grateful to be outside, swim, bike, running in a really beautiful place.  There wasn't much more that I could have asked for, at the end of the day!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Milo: A tribute

Just over 5 years ago, we lucked out with two amazing dogs: Milo and Gus.  Over the past years, we've shared many moments and adventures with them, and they have filled our lives with much laughter and happiness and our hearts with joy.

Mike and Milo - One of our early walks with him - a bit too hot and too far, but he was such a trooper.

Milo and Gus came as a well-balanced pair - Gus relying on his cuteness while lacking brain power, Milo being a bit too smart for his own good at times (always sensing when we were leaving on a trip days before it happened and then worrying whether he would go with us or not).  He was an affectionate dog, coming over to give us love on a regular basis.

And so, it was with profound sadness that we lost Milo last week.  Our life feels much emptier without our very good boy.

My words can't express all that we felt and feel about Milo, but John Muir puts it quite well:  "Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way."

Milo - You certainly made our life better, and you will always have a place in our hearts.