Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Calm Before The Storm

I've been a little quiet around here, primarily for one life has been (wonderfully) quiet lately.

Leg Four of my homeless/couchsurfing adventure has brought me to Naperville, IL. I've written before about how much I've enjoyed coming out to Naperville, hanging out with Liz, Chris, and Max, and getting in very good training that is not always easy or possible in the City. A while back, while figuring out what to do with myself in the time between when I left my job/rented out my condo and when I do my Ironman, I gathered up some courage and asked Liz and Chris if they may be open to the idea of me staying out there for the few pre-Ironman weeks. I'm not good at all at asking for favors and this seemed like a huge imposition, so I was extremely stoked when they very, very kindly agreed. Friends like that are really hard to come by. I'm lucky.

So, for the past week and a half, I've been camped out in the guest bedroom and living the life of someone who has extraordinarily too much time on her hands. My days are pretty simple: wake up; get breakfast; drink coffee (nope, not giving it up for my upcoming race, been there, done that, NOT doing it again); hang out with Liz and Max; lounge on the couch with a book (i.e., read for a little and then usually fall asleep); swim or bike or run or some combination thereof, sometimes with Liz, sometimes not; eat (much, much better than normal); go to bed at a reasonable hour (as in before midnight, regularly, something I never thought I'd be able to say). I punctuate the days with some trip researching/planning, some emailing, some perusing of gossip websites, maybe a little thinking about my upcoming race, but really, that's about it. Oh, and every other day or so I run a couple errands. Just a couple, though. I'm pacing myself.

Max's current obsessions are rocks and kitchen appliances. Here, as an ever responsible babysitter, I allowed him to combine them by filling the food processor with rocks. I think I'll definitely be pitching in for a new food processor pretty soon.

So really, I'm just being lazy. It's amazing. I feel guilty every once in a while, like I should be doing something other than just being a bump on a log who also exercises a little. Like, I don't know, something productive for society? Or something that stretches my brain? But I get over that pretty damn quick. I took a huge leap of faith by walking away from my job and giving myself this down time. I know it's a temporary situation and soon enough I'll be busy traveling, and then after that, I'll be back to the work grind. So I refuse to let myself ruin my break by feeling guilty for it. And to the friend, who may or may not be reading this, who told me (nicely) that I was "a disgrace to gap years," because I'm not off hiking every mountain in the world (yet), well, all I can say is, my year, my life, and I'm doing it my way. And I'll get to my mountains...after I finish this little 140.6 mile race.

Plus, a slowed down life means that I'm recovering from my workouts better, my stress is at an all time low (evidence: I've stopped biting my fingernails down to little nubbins and I've actually started reading for pleasure), and I'm happy. Not bad things. I really like it out here. It's comfortable. There was apparently a Suburbanite hidden below my City Girl exterior. Liz and Chris may get sick of me pretty soon (or perhaps they're sick of me already) but until they tell me that they've had it with my lazy bones napping on the couch, eating all the food, and winding up the kid, I'm sticking around, enjoying the company, playing "rocxsh" with Max, and of course, sharing my iPad/"melmo" (so named because I have an Elmo app that's been a hit). And maybe I'll continue trying to influence one or both of the adult members of the household to drink with me from time to time. Maybe.

As for the triathlon stuff, it's going well. Last weekend, I headed up to Madison with my training group, participated in a 2.4 mile open water swim race, followed by a 116 mile bike ride, topped off with a 10K run. It was my longest workout day ever, and it went well. A couple days later I knocked my last long run out, surprising myself by holding an average pace that was better than my marathon PR pace. Now, it's all downhill (phew) until race day. I'm not far enough removed from the pain of the long workouts to really feel like I'm tapering, but technically I am. Make no mistake, though, the taper crazies will come soon enough. Or maybe, now that I'm rested and stress-freeish, they won't. That'd be nice.

Part of the Well-Fit Ironman Training Group, before our Epic Saturday


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Outdoor Divas Sprint

I wrapped up my Tour de Colorado on Sunday the best way I could think of....a race! After a mercifully light week, training-wise, which allowed me the time to take in all sorts of Colorado sights (some pictures below), I headed up to Longmont, Colorado on Saturday to get ready for the Outdoor Divas Sprint Triathlon. I signed up for this race want back in June, a point I only mention because it was sort of meaningful for me.... up to that point, I'd talked a lot about taking a leave from work and traveling for a year, but it was all just talk. Once I finally pulled out my credit card and registered for a race in Colorado, the trip became a reality. It was a really big first step, even if it seems somewhat inconsequential now.

Pre-race, I drove up to Mt. Evans

Goats on Mt. Evans

Anyway, the race. This was an all-women's triathlon, which I knew would make it a little more laid back and almost party-like than the typical triathlon. It was also just a sprint (750 meter swim, 12.4 mile bike, 5K run), which in the midst of Ironman training, should have been just a drop in the bucket. But I'll admit to a huge amount of pre-race anxiety...mostly due to not having any idea how a high intensity effort would feel at altitude.

But a little pre-race workout eliminated some of the nerves, and I spent the rest of the day Saturday getting my bike emergency fixed** (someone needs to stop me, now, from ever trying to do any sort of mechanical things to my bike, even something as little as changing wheels, as it just never seems to end well for me), shopping (someone needs to stop me, now, from shopping), and then hanging out with Melissa, her husband Michael, and their adorable kids, Gabby and Fletcher, who very, very kindly allowed me to stay in their guest room the night before the race to spare me the hour-and-a-half drive in the morning.

** Thanks, Colorado Multisport, for the quick and friendly repair!

We were up and at 'em early on Sunday, and thankfully, I woke up feeling calm, ready, and a million times less anxious than I'd felt the day before. We made the short drive over to Union Reservoir, set up, warmed up, etc., etc.,... and before I knew it, the race had started and my hour+ of intense pain was underway.

After my less-than-stellar swim in the last race I did and two weeks of really sucking air every time I tried to swim at altitude, I had no idea how my swim was going to, but I took off hard and immediately found myself in second place, right behind Eney Jones. My pre-race google-stalking (come on, you do it, too) revealed that Eney was an NCAA champion swimmer, a top pro triathlete in the 80s, and still a record-holding open water swimmer who invented her own pull buoy, so I fully expected to be behind her and was happy to keep it close... for 125 meters or so. She quickly pulled away, and I just kept reminding myself to keep working, faster, faster, faster, this is a race and it's only 750 meters. I exited the water second in my wave (and ended up with the 3rd fastest swim time behind Eney and Melissa, who still rocked despite having to swim over the masses in earlier waves....amazing), and was completely and utterly gassed. As in, I'm ready to be done now and seriously, I still need to bike and run? gassed. I think, however, that was exactly how it was supposed to feel.

Onto the bike, and within a half mile, I moved into the lead. This....was huge. Leading a race was an absolute first for me, I never expected it, and frankly, as I moved to pass the lead woman, I hesitated for a second. I didn't know how to lead a race! I didn't even know the course! (Suddenly, I was haunted by the frequent reminders by my coach, before many races, to scope out and know the excuses, I just didn't do my homework this time.) But I quickly snapped out of my apprehension, realized that if I was going to have an opportunity to lead a race, this one was a pretty cool place to do it, since there were no men and I'd truly be the first one coming through, and threw down the gauntlet.

The rest of the bike was just straight up fun. Don't get me wrong, I rode really, really hard. I was breathing so loudly, partly from the effort, partly from the altitude, and every time I felt like I had another bit of effort I could give, I gave it. My body was screaming at me. BUT, I had a lead motorcycle with me. That cracked me up. He'd chat with me, fall back a little, come back, give me updates on where I stood, then, when the course got crowded on the second and third loops, he'd drive forward and honk his horn to try to clear a passing lane. I loved it. I felt a little like a rock star. Yeah, yeah, it was a womens' sprint race, hardly Kona, but I can't lie, it felt amazing and I was having a blast. You gotta start somewhere, right?

As I entered T2, the fun just increased. Now, instead of a lead motorcycle, I got a narrator. I think the announcer was getting JUST a bit bored at that point, so he decided to narrate my every move through transition. Like, "now she's putting on her running shoes. And now her visor. And....she's off and running!" Except, let's just say that if there's any part of my race that does NOT need to be highlighted, it's my transitions. Particularly that one. Although he did mention that I appeared to be "fumbling" with my race number, I am extremely grateful that he omitted the fact that I completely botched the attempt to get my feet out of my cycling shoes at the end of the ride, and came running into transition all shoe on, one shoe off. That's skill right there.

Off on the run, and thanks to my narrator, I knew I had a good-sized lead. But, at first, I ran scared. My legs just didn't really want to be running. I felt uncoordinated and clumsy. But I just tried to turn it over faster and faster without falling on my face. As with the bike and swim, I could feel the altitude and knew it was making me breathe a lot harder, but I had expected it and just ignored that cue and kept moving forward. The course was an out and back on a dirt/ semi-paved road, and the highlight, just at the top of the one hill (which kicked my sea-level-living butt but was no big deal to the Colorado folks) was the aid station, manned by the twelve gentlemen pictured in the 2012 Colorado Firefighter calendar. Awesome.

When I got to the turn around and was able to scope out the competition, I saw I still had a pretty good lead, and from that point forward, it was just a mental game to keep running faster. But mostly, I was just having a lot of fun. In that last mile or so, I admit that I was a little less focused on my race that I usually am, and instead, more observant of what was going on around me. I really appreciated the cheers I got, from people on the sidelines and from other competitors heading out on their run, and I took the effort to respond and smile. A lot. Could I have run a little faster? Definitely. There was another gear there, and I admit that I didn't shift into it. But I was having a ball and I relished every moment of that run. So no regrets, at all.

In the end, I ended up winning the race by 3 and a half minutes, my first real win, and walked away incredibly refreshed and enthused about triathlon. I loved this race. It just didn't have the intense, even cutthroat atmosphere of some other races I've done. Instead, it was more of a celebration of the process...just being there was considered a victory in itself. It was refreshing. I haven't done this sport for that long, but I know that in my short time as a triathlete, I too have been guilty of getting too bogged down in the details, the data, the results, the competition, and forgetting that racing can just be really, really fun. And heading into the last stretch before Ironman, I really needed that reminder.

Of course, I may have loved this race a little more because of the prize I got - a bottle of wine. And in the goody bag- a beer glass. That's what I'm talkin' about.

Some more random pictures from my last week

Every swim I did in CO was in a different pool. Here's Golden.

And Lake Dillon


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Blood, Sweat and Tears

We're now about five weeks out from Ironman Wisconsin, which means that I'm at that point where, more than a couple times, I've look ahead at my training schedule and either laughed (ha ha, good joke, like there's any way I'm going to be able to do THAT) or had a minor anxiety attack (no way, THAT is going to kill me). This last weekend was particularly dread-inducing, as I was scheduled to do 9+ hours of training, including the longest bike ride of my life and a 20+ mile run. At altitude, no less, without being entirely adapted thus far.

But before I even started to think about how I was going to physically handle this cruel and unusual punishment that I actually pay someone to send my way, I needed to find some suitable routes to log my miles. Enter the magic of Twitter. I told Liz I was looking for good routes, she and Jen put out a call on Twitter, and within minutes, Melissa, a Boulder triathlete, had reached out to help. After I told her what I was looking for -- a LONG route that was challenging but not too challenging, since I come from the land of flat and am not used to altitude -- she created a 100+ mile route that showcased Boulder and even sent me detailed notes pointing out highlights ("grab a beer in this hippy town, or maybe not, you're riding long,") and potential hazards ("watch out for rattlesnakes").** Triathletes are nice.

**(She told me later that there are often mountain lions on one part of the route, but she withheld that information so that I didn't get too scared. GOOD call).

Saturday morning came, I left "home" when it was still dark, and got to Boulder when it was light. And off I went, over rolling hills, through small towns, up and down moutain roads, in and out of canyons. The scenery, as expected, was amazing. The roads were flawless. Major climbs weren't frequent (thanks, Melissa!), but the ones I encountered were for real. Melissa warned me about one of them, a climb up to Carter Lake. She said it was "short but steep," but promised a reward of a general store with snacks at the top. I'll do anything for snacks, so up I went. In a couple minutes, when I was nowhere near the top, I realized that a "short" climb means something very different in Colorado than it does in Illinois. But, as promised, there were treats at the top (never mind that all I bought was water, I'm testing a fuel plan that, very unfortunately, does not include either Red Slushees or gummy bears), and a pretty lake, so it was all good.

Carter Lake

More pretty views

All good, of course, until 100 miles in, when the meltdowns started. There was one at 103 miles, when I started whimpering loudly after I turned a corner and saw (yet another) hill. Suddenly, I was sick of my ride. My shoulders hurt, my neck hurt, I was tired of climbing, tired of stop lights (there were only, like, 6 in my whole ride, so to be whining about that was just silly), tired of the wind, tired of the mental effort it took to keep trying to find my way on an unfamiliar route. I was just tired. Then, I almost ran over a rattlesnake. That was enough to snap me out of it...for a little. At Mile 113, the whimpers came back, this time with a couple tears thrown in for good measure (of course, these were toddler tears... you know, tears that come not because anything is wrong, not real tears, just tired, time for a nap tears). I was so close, but so far away. Suddenly, every mile seemed like it was taking 20 minutes, and I just wanted to be off the bike. Now.

Finally, after 118.5 miles, including only one wrong turn (that's big for me, as I'm slightly directionally challenged), I was done. I got off the bike, slogged my way through a 30 minute, very painful, oxygen-deficient run around the Boulder Reservoir, cleaned up, and hightailed it to the nearest Chipotle, where I dug into a carnitas burrito bowl with absolute reckless abandon.

The most emphatic "No Trespassing" sign I've ever seen

Then, Sunday rolled along, and a long run loomed. There's a certain type of anxiety only reserved for long runs, and of course, I dealt with the anxiety the way I always do... by avoiding the situation. I spent the day pushing off my long run, finding other things to do and excuses for why I needed to wait. I slept in. I joined Betsy and Clare at brunch, then figured what I really needed was a short nap. Short nap became long nap. Then, of course, there were Very Important Things to read on the internet. YouTube videos I just had to watch. Emails to catch up on. Finally, at almost 6:00, I resigned myself to the fact that I couldn't avoid this run forever, got in my car, and drove an hour to Denver, where I'd scoped out a long, crushed-gravel trail.

The site of the longest 21 miles ever

If my bike ride had been hard, my 21 mile run went to a whole new level. The first hour was OK. I was keeping it easy, and surprised myself by actually hitting the same pace I'd hold at sea level. Hour 2 got a little more hilly and a lot more difficult to keep hitting the same pace. I started panicking a little, looking ahead to and envisioning a very painful final six miles. But, I pushed on.

By the end of that second hour, it was getting dark. I looped back to my car and grabbed a headlamp, and got back on the very, very dark path. My legs were killing, the fatigue had set in, and when I saw a set of glowing green eyes staring out at me from the side of the path, I was pretty sure I had started hallucinating. Then I looked a little closer, and I realized I was in a staredown with a coyote. I was pretty sure that coyotes didn't attack humans (wikipedia has since confirmed that coyote attacks on humans are rare) but it certainly brought my heart rate up a bit.

A mile later, when I was even more sick of running, even more fatigued, I spotted four sets of glowing green eyes. One coyote may not attack, but will a pack of four?? I didn't want to find out, and frankly, it was an absolutely terrifying sight. With every muscle in my body screaming in protest, I picked up the pace and tried to get back to my car as quickly as possible.

Finally, I hit mile 19, and started feeling a little relief-- two miles, I can do this. As always, famous last words. A half mile later, the gravel path I was on rose up to meet a small stretch of concrete, I lost my footing, and wiped out. Hard.

At that point, laying on my back on a dark running path, I had my final meltdown of the weekend. I knew I was bleeding. I'd landed hard on my elbow, the same elbow that randomly swelled up to about the size of my head last time I crashed on it. I thought I'd felt a hamstring pull when I was going down. Who knew what I'd done to my problem knee. I laid there, staring at the sky, and I lost it. I was afraid to move and see what damage I'd done. I had a very definite fear that I'd just ruined my season. Mostly, I was terribly frustrated at my inability to get through a workout anymore without issue.

After a few minutes, I gathered the courage to get up, brush myself off, and assess the damage. Fortunately, it wasn't too bad. A few bruises. A skinned elbow. But my legs felt OK, and I finished off the rest of the run without incident.

Monday morning, I woke up, after a fitful night of sleep punctuated by "oh, ow, ouch" wakeups every time I rolled onto one of my new bruises, feeling like I'd been beaten from head to toe by a mallet. I lazed around for the morning with Betsy and Clare, watching the Olympics, then went to a pool and tried to "swim" a little to work out the soreness from the weekend. 1100 VERY slow yards later (I think the old lady sidestroking in the next lane was keeping up with me), I called it a day, played with Clare in the lazy river for awhile until I got too cold, lounged in the sauna, ate a delicious lunch of pulled pork and sweet potato fries, and then got home and took a two-hour nap. This a Monday for me these days. Rough life. Such a rough life.

Looking back, this was definitely a memorable training weekend. There were great highs, great views, and many moments when I felt awesome and couldn't get over how lucky I was to be out in Colorado, doing what I love. But then, there were the meltdowns, too. Although they comprised only a very small portion of my training time, it was those very low lows that really stood out. I'm told occasional meltdowns during training are totally normal, and actually, good practice, since there will be quite unhappy moments in Ironman and it's important to know how to work through them. Doesn't make them fun, though. And doesn't do anything to build my ego. I want to believe I'm a tough chick, able to take whatever is thrown at me, and crying during training.... doesn't really fit into that picture. But if it makes race day a little easier to deal with, then I'll tell myself I'm OK with it.

What I would not be OK with, however, is ever again encountering a pair of glowing green eyes in the middle of the night while running alone. THAT is a vision will haunt me for a long, long time.

I have no pictures of the coyotes since I was trying not to get eaten, but here's a random picture of YET ANOTHER herd of elk, just hanging out where they don't belong (e.g., a soccer field). I counted 48 this time.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Mountain Living

Today marks the fourth day of the Colorado stint of my travels. I've been staying in Evergreen, CO with my friend Betsy, her husband, Jeff, and Clare, their 2-year-old. Betsy's one of my oldest friends. We go way back to age group swimming, starting at age 8 or 9. We didn't really care for each other back in those days, probably because I was a bit of a brat (or maybe a lot of a brat), but our paths continued to cross as we grew, and we learned to like each other (most of the time, anyway). In high school, we were both lifeguards at the same pool, working with cute college boys who may or may not have been willing to buy us beer, and we may or may not have gotten into a fair amount of trouble as a result. I'll never tell. We both went away to college, but then found our ways back to Columbus, and ended up being roommates for our final year at Ohio State. Then Betsy moved to Colorado and got married, I moved to Massachusetts and started law school, and our friendship has become one of fairly infrequent emails and phone calls with occasional visits.

But that's the thing with good friends. Lives get busy and you may not talk to each other for months and months, but when you reconnect, it's like nothing has changed. It's nice.

The last time I came out to Colorado to visit Betsy, she was pregnant and living on the end of a cul-de-sac in a subdivision in suburban Denver. Now, she has a daughter who's almost two-and-a-half, and lives in a house in the mountains. Things change. When I first floated the idea of coming out to Colorado for a bit, Betsy told me that they'd moved "a little outside the city," but I had no idea what I was in for. They are legitimately mountain people. As in, you need to go several miles up a windy, steep, dirt road to get to their house. Dodging deer, elk, and whatever other wildlife I've yet to see. All I can say is, good thing I brought an SUV. I'd be stuck on the side of the road somewhere if I hadn't.

If you think I'm joking, take a look at these pictures.

I was driving up to Betsy and Jeff's house from "downtown Evergreen," and saw this herd (pack?) of elk just hanging out in a random yard on the side of the road. I counted 28 elk, and I'm not even exaggerating. Of course, being the city girl whose experience with wildlife is basically comprised of childhood trips to the zoo, I pulled over and started snapping pictures. All the locals drove by and rolled their eyes at me, like it was no big deal. And when I walked in the house all excited and said, "Betsy, you'll never believe what I just saw," she answered, without skipping a beat, "a pack of elk on the side of the road." Duh.

Anyway, my trip so far has been filled with hours of amazing training, and, because my hosts live so far from anything, also hours of driving on terrifyingly windy, hilly, mountain roads to get to said training. And my driving is terribly slow....I'm not used to the roads, I don't really want to tumble down a mountain, and who knows what other lions, tigers, or bears could pop out. This seems to really irritate the natives, who have no trouble navigating single-lane, hairpin turns at 11% grade without braking.

I've been hitting up all sorts of training locations -- Aurora, to swim and ride around the Reservoir; Boulder, where I did a ride that included a hill that I very, very seriously contemplated getting off my bike and walking up; Lakewood, for an awesome, 5:30 A.M. open water swim in a private lake; Centennial, for lap swimming; and right here in Evergreen, 8,000 meters about sea level, where the altitude truly kicked my ass during an hour-long run. I've taken lots of pictures because training in such beauty is just such a novelty for me (and maybe, with respect to Evergreen, because I needed a little break to try to find some oxygen, and taking a picture seemed like a good excuse).

I almost called it quits on my trip when I saw this
The Aurora Reservoir
Boulder Reservoir
Evergreen, picture break to catch my breath
OWS in Lakewood
Storms roll in quick here
And aside from that time, I've been hanging out with Betsy, Jeff, and Clare, my new little buddy. Here she is:

She wanted to try on my Garmin. We'll get her doing intervals pretty soon.
She's quite the chatterbox, cute as a button, loves Disney princesses (duh), and is always up for playing. And when it comes to potty-training, let's just say, she's gifted (we learned this at Jeff's softball game, when Clare's potty-training progress was up for direct comparison against another little girl going through the same process. Clare's competitor is 4 days in and not quite there. As for took her nowhere near 4 days. Winning already.).

Tomorrow, I head to Boulder to try and ride 120 miles without collapsing or running out of oxygen. It could get ugly, but at the very least, I'll have some amazing views to see!