Saturday, July 27, 2013

Easy riding in Boulder

No, not that kind of riding, although he is obviously enjoying life, rolling past us somewhere in Utah.

This is more our speed!  As per usual, we've enjoyed the great roads and easy routes that Boulder offers to all sorts and levels of cyclists/bikers.  I wasn't too sure how happy my legs would be post-Vineman and at altitude, but about a day after our arrival, we were heading north of town, enjoying rolling roads and country vistas (lots of cows and barns!), and I was pulling Michael and his brother on the uphills and catching a wheel on the descents.  The weather has been gorgeous, so that has encouraged us to hit the roads on two wheels.  Michael's brother will usually take us on some great loops in the morning that he knows well and with which we are somewhat familiar by this time.  One of the best rides of the visit was an afternoon jaunt which took us south.  It had rained earlier in the afternoon, so we had pretty dramatic views of the Flatirons post-storm.  The last part of the ride took us through 'downtown' Boulder - our guide told us that it was the Tour de Boulder as we rode along the University of Colorado campus, by the Pearl Street Mall and through fun neighborhoods with older houses.  We'll miss these rides, but Breckenridge awaits, as does Vail Pass!  And biking at an even higher altitude! 

Taking a break in Hygiene, CO

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pre- and post-Vineman happenings

When I signed up for Vineman many many months ago now, I think that one of the main draws for me to this race was the timing and the location.  It seemed like the perfect time to visit Sonoma - during the summer, when I have time off and we can really make a road trip out of it?!  Sign me up!  What was nice about rolling the race experience into a family adventure is that 1) it distracted me from the race anxiety the days leading up to the race and 2) it made the trip about more than just this race.  Michael's great about supporting this 'hobby' of mine that has increasingly become more demanding, but it is nice to make these trips about more than just one event.

With that in mind, we planned out quite an ambitious road trip - spending a few days in San Francisco before the race and a day in Sonoma afterwards and then heading east to Colorado for 2 weeks.   It's funny because we used to head north to San Francisco at least twice a year, but slowly many of our friends have started to move away from the city, so we visit it less and less.  Also, we love traveling with Gus and Milo, but that can be somewhat difficult at times. This time, "the boys" were pretty happy that we included them - and so were we!

Ready to hit the road

We have discovered that San Francisco IS a great place to visit with the dogs.  We usually stay in an dog-friendly apartment thanks to VRBO.  I briefly made a reservation in a dog-friendly hotel, but then I remembered that in addition to the dogs, we had two bikes, all of my tri gear, and stuff for Colorado.  We would have looked like gypsies moving into the hotel, so we opted for an apartment.  When we go to the city with our dogs, we all spend lots of time walking around parks so that the mutts are exhausted (a tired dog = a happy dog).  We also allow them certain 'privileges' that they don't enjoy at home, such as being on the bed!
A very happy Milo!

Views of the Bay as we walked around the Ferry Building

Being city dogs

And enjoying the countryside!

After spending Thursday in San Francisco and visiting a friend in Berkeley, we headed to Marin on Friday, hoping for warmer weather (I've now lived in Southern CA too long to remember how cold the summer months in San Francisco are!).  We also took a nice, dog-friendly hike to Kehoe Beach which they really enjoyed (I know, I'm sporting some great-looking footwear here).  They loved the beach but couldn't quite make it into the water - so much for that labrador/water dog part of their mix!

We left the city on Saturday morning and sent the boys to a kennel in Sonoma - they were extremely unhappy about that decision, but it made things easier for us, logistically.  Saturday and Sunday were Vineman-focused (I've blabbed enough about that already), but we gave ourselves Monday to explore Sonoma a bit.  This was our first time in Sonoma, which is kind of crazy since I've lived in CA for over 10 years now.  We really enjoyed the experience and hope to return before too much time passes.  It felt a bit more rural and less "polished" than Napa, whether that is true or not.   We visited two wineries on Monday - enjoyed a private tour thanks to a colleague at Hafner, a very small vineyard, and also had a tasting at Robert Young.  The afternoon called for a big fat nap followed by a quick walk through Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve which was just a few miles from Guerneville.  We would have never made it there, but a friend recommended the visit and it was so worth it as we walked through a grove of redwoods.

We left Sonoma on Tuesday morning, promising to come back to hike, visit the coast and enjoy more of what the area has to offer!  As we headed east, Sonoma felt quite far away, especially crossing into Nevada, where we traversed the state driving Highway 50, dubbed "The Loneliest Road in America".  It was a long day but much of it was a beautiful drive.  We spent the night in Baker, NV at the Silverjack Inn.  

Twilight in Baker - a lonely town along the loneliest road

We discovered yet another place that deserves a longer visit - not so much Baker (this motel is about all that there is!), but Great Basin National Park which is just a few miles away and offers wonderful views, great hikes and varied terrain.  Plus, it's one of the least-visited parks in the US, probably making for some solitary moments. Sadly, this was not the trip to explore the area - we continued our trip east on Wednesday, suffering through sights like these...

Driving through Utah

...before rolling into Boulder, CO where we've enjoyed some 'active' rest days - plenty of biking, eating, drinking and napping!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Swimming, biking, and running in Sonoma - Vineman 70.3 Race Recap

So, I can't really believe that Vineman is over (almost a week ago!) - after hunkering down in June and trying to focus on what was to me a 'big event', I'm on the other side, thinking that it wasn't THAT big of a deal.  Easier to say that now than a week ago!

We arrived in Sonoma on Saturday, and all the nervous excitement that I hadn't felt throughout the week suddenly spilled over, especially when we arrived in Guerneville and I saw all these intense athletes biking and looking much more competent than I on their much nicer bikes.  At that point, I decided to focus on my breathing and on not throwing up for the rest of the day!  Since I was coming to the race totally cold - no prior knowledge of anything - it seemed like a good idea to drive the bike course, at the very least, before checking in and all of that fun stuff.  We slowly made our way from Guerneville to Windsor High School, winding through vineyards and up and down hills, feeling the bumps and turns in the road along the way.  I kept thinking "Hmm, this seems like a long way to bike!" and finally Michael just came out and said it.  I refused to freak out, reminding myself that I had survived this distance last year and obviously I enjoyed the experience enough since I signed up for a race of the same distance again.  Or I was just crazy and a glutton for punishment (also possible).

Race day preparations and other provisions

My official 'gear' for the day

And the race:
Despite a less-than-stellar night's sleep and some pre-race anxiety, I was excited for the day to start, and while I kept thinking about what I *should* have done to better prepare, I also felt hopeful that I would have a solid (for me) performance out there.  The early start time for my age group definitely favored a good outcome or, at the very least, survival, and so did the weather, which looked to be chilly throughout the morning but warm by the time I got to the run.  It seemed to be just a quick moment, really, between the time that I set up my gear and the time that I needed to be on the beach, heading into the water.  As my wave was allowed in the water, I reached down and realized that I didn't have my timing chip - HOLY CRAP!  I almost started to freak out and to cry.  Instead, I went to the official table right by the start line, told them that I forgot my chip, and they had a new one for me within a minute - so I was in the water with my wave.  Shew - that could have been a total clusterfuck if I hadn't realized that I had forgotten the chip.  Fortunately, the waves were 6 minutes apart, so even with that little snafu, I had plenty of time to get comfortable in the water before my wave was officially off and swimming!  And despite a serious lack of open-water swims this 'season', it went well.  I was relaxed throughout the swim, even after my timing chip issue, probably because there seemed to be very little body contact.  I felt like I was in the second half of my wave, but I decided that I couldn't worry about that too much - I just wanted to have a fairly strong and even swim which seemed to be the case, breathing easily and moving well through the water.  Swimming in the Russian River was awesome!

Body marked and ready to go!

The swim start!

Exiting the swim, finding my stuff in transition, taking note that my bike wasn't the last one there, and getting ready for the next leg seemed to take forever.  I didn't look at the time when I made it to my bike, so I wasn't sure how long my swim or transition took.  It was still really chilly and I longed to put on my arm-warmers, but I didn't want to waste any more time in transition than I had to (it still took me FOREVER).  I stuffed all my crap into the official plastic bag that they had given us and then I stuffed that bag into my transition backpack to give to Michael as I exited the transition area.  I opted for the hand-off so that I wouldn't have to worry about all of my stuff making it to T2 - obviously I didn't have much faith in myself or in the Vineman organization.  This cost me some time, but I could live with it.  After handing Michael my pack, I walked my bike up the small hill and mounted then - that was a race-day decision, based on a conversation I overheard between these two guys, one of whom said to the other 'No way would I try to mount at the base of the hill'.  Maybe I could have managed the hill, but I'm usually so awkward as I try to mount the bike, that I probably would have fallen just getting ON the damn bike.  Therefore, walk the hill it was.  And then I was off to enjoy 56 miles of biking!

The long walk with the bike...
Still walking uphill!

I don't even remember too many specific details about the bike except that there were scattered moments when I looked up, took in where I was (vineyards, rolling hills, quaint towns, more vineyards), and reminded myself of how fortunate I was.  I also prayed to the triathlon gods that the flat tire I had on my last 'training' ride would somehow safeguard me from a flat tire on the course.  And there were other moments when I cursed myself and the decision that I had made to participate in this event.  By the time I hit some of the landmarks that I remembered from Saturday's drive-thru, I felt pretty confident that I would finish the bike feeling strong, albeit somewhat slow, and when I started to feel negative, I countered those thoughts by saying to myself "Shut up legs" (which I stole from Jens Voigt).  Probably the final few miles were the worst, just because they weren't that scenic but still had plenty of bumps and I was at the "I-want-to-be-off-the-bike" point.  I was so happy when I saw Michael towards the very end - well, he yelled at me or I probably wouldn't have seen him - and when I hit the final stretch, making the turn that marked the way to the dismount.
Biking in and...

Running out - plenty of energy in the legs at this point!

Yes!  Off the bike and on to the run!  Like T1, getting to my pile of stuff seemed to take a very long time.  I thanked the person who had tied a pink feather to the part of the rack where I had stashed my run gear because it would have probably taken me an additional 5 minutes to locate it if I hadn't spotted the feather.  Bike racked, shoes exchanged, helmet off and hat on, I grabbed nutrition for the run and was off.  As I headed towards the run start, I realized that I had not grabbed my salt tablets and decided not to return for them.  Maybe a mistake, maybe they wouldn't have made much of a difference, who knows at this point?

At any rate, I started the run with a great pace but I tried to force myself to slow down.  My goal for the run was to negative split - hold the first part of the race at around 9:00 minute miles and then speed up at the end.  Well, that plan did not work out for me - live and learn.  I held a strong pace for first half, some of which I ran with an acquaintance from Cal Tri.  It was REALLY nice to see a familiar face out there, and he was super nice to slow down and run with me for a bit.  He also warned me about one of the bigger hills along the run which I appreciated.  So, a great first half for the run, but then mile 7 came along, and I started to seriously dog it!  My body was aching.  Also, I took in water, gatorade and 'cola' at the aid stations and tried to eat chips and fruit, but had a hard time with food - could not manage most of the fuel that I had stuffed into my pockets.  My pace slowed way down, especially at mile 9, but I kept running along, even though sometimes it seemed like a shuffle.  When I hit mile 11, I told myself that I could do anything for two miles and was determined to pick up the pace.  And then mile 12 - I was ecstatic!  My overall pace had totally dropped from the first half, but I wanted to end with a bit of pep.  It helped that I saw Michael and lifted my head up to smile, and then, almost at the end, there was a woman with a 40 (or 41 or 42) on her calf, so I pushed myself to pass her.  Finally, I came up on the finish line and saw that I could slip in just before the clock turned over to the next minute.  It wasn't a pretty finish nor did it lend itself to a good photo, but I was oh so happy, especially when I looked at the time and knew that I had a PR by almost 10 minutes on a more challenging course than Boulder!

That's either a smile at the end or I'm gritting my teeth in pain.

I felt pretty out of it at that point - kind of deliriously happy and exhausted at once -  but was able to get some food and sit and eat a few bites of pasta and some chicken and fruit.  I should have just had a huge plateful of oranges, they tasted so good!  Once I felt a bit less dazed, I met up with Michael, gathered my stuff in transition, and we walked to the car, surrounded by other people who had endured a day of fun and/or suffering, personal triumph or frustration (or some of both) and by the people who supported them.  By 2:30 pm, we were sitting in the Bear Republic Brewpub in Healdsburg, splitting a burger, fries and drinking beer (which we did not split!).  I think that at that point I was truly happy with and grateful for the entire experience - being in Sonoma, racing in such a beautiful place, having a good race, being lucky that Michael comes along for the ride, and stuffing my face in a blissful post-race stupor.  Life couldn't have been much better at that moment!

A few final thoughts and the numbers:
Compared to my first foray into the 70.3 distance when I had zero expectations and knew that just finishing would be a personal accomplishment, I felt a bit more nervous about meeting the expectations that I had set for myself for this race.  While my training wasn't perfect by any means, I had worked hard, especially throughout June, and I hoped for a PR.  Who doesn't?  I thought that a PR would be possible, but I also knew that shit could go wrong, so I tried to keep some of my hopes and expectations in check.  I also recognized that there were some key steps that I had omitted - not previewing the course and things like that - which could  possibly cost me in a major way.

Ultimately, I raced well for myself, in part because of almost ideal race day conditions.  I finally had a sub-40 swim.  I would have loved for an even faster leg (duh) but no complaints.  I knew that the bike course would be a challenge, not necessarily because of the hills but more because of the less-than-great roads in some parts.  My dream goal was sub-3:10, but I knew that I would be happy with something around 3:15.  I ended with 3:17 and some change, holding a 17 mph pace for the course (17.2 for the first half; 16.9 for the second - I'm happy with the consistency there; it's still slow, but I'm getting faster incrementally).  The run was NOT consistent - I ran an 8:24 pace for the first half, which then slowed to something like a 9:36 pace for the second half.  Oops!  Talking to other people, that seemed to be the trend, and I still hit my goal, running a sub-2 hour half-marathon on a somewhat hilly course.  Overall, I was happy with my swim/bike/run performance!

As I said before, I had some really negative thoughts while I was on the course, especially the bike, and I think that I have a lot to learn about 'racing' this distance.  Fortunately, these dark thoughts didn't seem to affect me too much overall, even though I told myself that I was an idiot for being out there and that this whole triathlon thing must be a mid-life crisis and that this would probably be my last race ever (seriously, I said that to myself at one point).  I wish I could say that I was positive throughout, but that was not the case!  Maybe next time?   Also, I think that I could have / should have stayed more on top of my nutrition.  Perhaps some of the negative thoughts were a product of hunger?  While a slower second-half run was the trend, I think that I could have pushed a bit more if I had felt less depleted out there.  Live and learn - fueling and nutrition may be the "fourth leg" of this triathlon business for me, especially on longer courses.  At the same time, I also know that I pushed myself a bit more than I did last year, so maybe I need to get used to what that feels like for longer periods of time.

Finally, on a somewhat serious and somewhat silly note, I love my smash kit.  It's kind of obnoxious (I think), and I can't believe that I paid the amount of money for it that I did.  However, it is really comfortable, doesn't chafe, and lots of people complimented me on it throughout the day, even a young, cute 27-year-old-guy who zoomed past me on the run.  I did learn something very important about tri suits - once you are away from the tri community, wearing a tri suit in public is a definite no-no, even if you are just running into McDonalds to change so that you can look more presentable elsewhere.  Talk about weird looks and raised eyebrows!

This was a painfully long recap, but so was the race!  I am now enjoying some R&R in Boulder, CO and contemplating my next move...

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Full on summer and taper mode

June felt like a busier month than usual, although we didn't leave town like we often do, saving that for the month of July. Busier, I suppose, with work-related obligations which ended once July rolled around and my summer school class ended.  This past week, therefore, presented me with the opportunity to fully appreciate vacation/summer mode, especially with the 4th of July on Thursday.  Summer mode incapsulates many things, but one of the major aspects of summer for me is that there is a large percentage of my closet that I will not have to touch for the next two months.  It's funny because I like to look somewhat "nice" or professional for work, but when I don't have an obligation that moors me in a certain way, I throw all fashion concerns out the window.  The other indication that it's absolutely summer?  I spent all of Monday and Tuesday reading The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, which is not the best book I've read but definitely a great read.  It starts out with a group of friends who meet at summer camp - how much more of a summer book can you get?  I also can't remember the last time that time sort of stopped and I ignored most obligations in order to just read a book.  Okay, maybe it was last summer with the Game of Thrones series.  In June, I sat in on two Shakespeare classes that our English department is offering for the adult population (alumni and parents and, with me, faculty), and while I loved reading The Merchant of Venice and King Lear, I can't see myself picking up Shakespeare on my own this summer!  However, there are plenty of options out there, so I don't think that I'll be bored or lack good reading material.

As my days have opened up, I've hit the metaphorical descent in my training - I'm pretty much coasting from here until, gulp, next Sunday.  I hadn't even thought too much about counting the days down, even though I have read the race program, a 24-or-so page document that includes my start time, at least twice.  Then, this morning, as I was making coffee, I thought "I should be on my bike at this point next week, if all goes well!".  I logged in my final long-ish training day yesterday which might be a bit close to race day, but I'm not scientific in my approach to these sorts of events.  Also, I felt pretty good, especially on the 6-mile run post-ride, which I needed - I was sluggish and 'off' my previous run, so this was nice for a final bric.

It seems a bit premature to talk about training since the point of training, I suppose, is to be ready for race day and who knows how the race will go.  That said, I think that I'm ready for race day, at least at this point, and there certainly isn't anything that I can do now.  As per usual, it was far from being a 'perfect' cycle, and there are a few goals that I had which I totally missed (a 60 mile ride, for instance; hit 400 miles on the bike in June).  However, I have stayed relatively healthy, and after my lovely bout with plantar fasciitis in December and January and then a calf issue in May, I don't consider that a mean feat (I was just tempted to make a bad pun about plantar fasciitis and mean feet - ha ha).  So, even if I don't perform as well as I would in an ideal world next weekend, I am quite grateful that I've made the workouts that I wanted and intended to make and that I've enjoyed most of the training!  Fingers crossed that I don't come down with a weird summer cold or something else.  Barring that, I should be good to go next week!

And the other training goals that I did not hit - more strength training and better nutrition.  One of these days, I do hope to incorporate agility and strength training into my repertoire, but it clearly did not happen this time around.  And nutrition?  Well, nutrition while training has held up, and I haven't had any terrible moments this year like I did last when I didn't eat soon enough post-workout.  However, I did sort of hope to make better decisions at other points during the day/week - you know, lay off the ice cream, eat a few less chips, drink more water and less beer/wine/margaritas.  With the exception of the alcohol, I've felt like quite an adolescent (or who knows - plenty of adolescents do imbibe, so maybe I should include alcohol as part of the adolescent diet), eating less-than-ideal food stuffs.  Perhaps the low point was Monday when I ate two servings of ice cream in the afternoon.  Oh, and when I ordered guacamole fries the other day, intrigued by the name, only to find out that they are fries with a huge blob of guacamole on top.  Definitely not the healthiest option.  Ah, well, win some, lose some.

In the meantime, we (or I) are starting to prep for our trip.  I am looking forward to Sonoma - this is our first time to that part of the world, and I can't wait to hit the road this week as we head north to San Francisco and then on to Guerneville!