Thursday, April 30, 2009

The packing procrastinator - likely last entry before St. Croix

I'm leaving tomorrow for St. Croix, and since just about the last thing I want to do while I'm there is spend a whole bunch of time sitting on a computer in a hotel lobby, this will probably be the last I'll write before my race. Tomorrow at 7:10am I will be on a flight for Philadelphia, where I will get on another plane to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then on to St. Croix. It would be smart for me to be packed by now, but of course I am not. The thing about packing is that it really takes the same amount of time no matter when you do it, so why start early? Actually, I would say that it probably takes less time the longer you wait to do it. If you start packing a few days ahead of time, you probably take your time, maybe change your mind on some items, mull over which clothes to bring. But, if you find yourself with about an hour window in which to be packed, you are surely going to make the most of that time. You pick some clothes and put them in there and off you go. I don't think I've ever been somewhere and suddenly wished I had say, one specific t-shirt that I hadn't packed. You make a list of the important stuff, and the rest is interchangeable.

It gets even easier when going somewhere tropical like Hawaii or St. Croix. You don't have to pack for different weather possibilities. I just checked the weather outlook, and there is pretty much a 9-degree swing the whole time I'll be there. 75 at night, 84 during the day. So a couple of pairs of shorts and some t-shirts and I'm good to go, aside from the tri gear, of course, but that goes without saying.

So enough about packing. It's time for the second tri of the season. It was only a month ago that it was snowing around here, and suddenly the weather has been great and tri season is here. To look at my race line-up it almost feels like the season is practically over already, and it's not even warm enough yet to do open water swims. I managed to get a bit of a base tan over the past week while training in these warm temperatures, but I'm sure I'll burn somewhere that will make the flight back extra fun.

I really can't believe that it's time to race again already, and already my second half of the season. I realized thinking about it that this is the first half I'll be doing that I haven't done before since 2006. I get kind of stuck in a rut of doing the same races, so this will be pretty exciting to do something completely different. In this case, really different. No wetsuits, rough roads and incredibly tough bike course, and I'm pretty sure brutal run course as well - if not just for the terrain, then for the heat and humidity. You should see how salty I get when it's in the 60's, let alone around 90.

Today I am more excited than nervous, and yesterday it was the opposite. I still have more weight to lose, but certainly a whole heck of a lot leaner than I was back in November. Aside from the inevitable performance boost from that, it is also a good confidence booster. I must say though that I am looking forward to eating a huge breakfast on Saturday morning! I love pancakes. But for now, I recently polished off a huge spinach salad with some turkey, tomatoes, cucumbers and salsa as the salad "dressing." Most of the reason it was gigantic was because I figured I might as well used up the last of the baby spinach before I leave, and that was really my last chance. Also looking forward to some sort of post-race treat, although I'm not sure what yet. Hopefully I will finish the race still feeling ok instead of being completely destroyed from it. I mean, you're always going to be tired at the end of a half (if you're not, you didn't do it right) but there is certainly a difference between being tired and feeling like if you lie down you might not be able to get up again.

Anyway, time is running out for the whole packing thing as we speak. And I think I'm going to have to get up at 3:30 tomorrow to get in a short bike/run before a shower and heading to the airport, so maybe I should stop wasting so much time typing. But let's hope that things go well!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Am I in St. Croix already?

Oh, no, I'm not. I'm still in New Hampshire. It just feels like it could be St. Croix out there. Probably less humid, but it was in the 90's today. Fortunately the weather was fairly cool overnight and I was quite comfortable sleeping with my window open - something I had forgotten how much I missed. There's something so soothing about hearing peeper toads outside your window on a spring or summer night. Makes me feel like summer vacation as a kid, when you had nothing to worry about for the next day, just contemplating what sort of fun adventure you might have.

Equally comforting this morning was awakening at 5am, when I usually would out of habit, only to roll over and go back to sleep until 7 because today was a rest day. I don't get a whole lot of rest days, and it is due to their rarity that I am usually able to fully enjoy them. Too many of them and I'd just get restless and bored and be completely unable to relax due to all of that pent up energy. I don't feel nearly as fried as I normally might due to the short time between these last two races, but maybe that will make me feel fresher this weekend.

It warmed up quickly today, got into the low 90's. The winds have picked up now this evening and a cold front is blowing through, but it was nice to feel some heat even if I didn't get a chance to go out and train in it. There will surely be plenty of time for warm-weather training in the near future, provided of course that it does in fact get that warm again.

You know, I really thought I had something more interesting to say in this post. Turns out, I don't. So I'll spare you any more boredom if you actually managed to read this far.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I'm not ready to taper yet!

I have no idea where the last 3 weeks went. I had an extensive 4-week build plus another week of taper to get ready for California. Now I've been left with a few days of post-race recovery, one week of limited running due to some knee issues but plenty of biking and swimming, one week of full on training, and that brings us to now, time to taper. The problem is that I don't feel ready to taper. Not at all. I could really use another week of training. Sure, I had a tough weekend of training and I certainly appreciate a little bit of rest, but I just don't feel as "on" as I did before California, I think. It's so hard to tell though. I know I was exhausted and ready to taper then. I am pretty sure that running was going better. I am fairly certain that biking has gotten better in the past few weeks, but who knows what will happen this weekend.

Yesterday was another unseasonably warm day. I was up around 6 and it was already in the mid 60's and fairly humid. That's warmer than it normally would be during the warmest part of the day in April. I had a somewhat different training day, running for an hour, later biking for 2 hours and then another hour run. I started the first run early to get it out of the way and it was definitely warm out. I only run without biking before about once a month, so it took me a while to feel normal when I went out there, but eventually I warmed up and it wound up being ok. It's hard to judge based on pace because I was of course running on roads I haven't been running on. This particular road pretty much either goes up or down, so who knows if things are going well or if I really am getting slower. Still waiting for that day when the running just really comes together and seems easy and fast. I am a slow runner on a team full of super-runners.

Anyway, after that run I decided to see if the lake might be tolerable enough to stick my legs in for a bit. The water is currently somewhere in the low 40's. Not so great for swimming, but quite good for icing the legs after a tough run. We used to play this game as kids on unseasonably warm days when it was warm enough to take the boat out but there might just still be snow in the woods (I saw a few patches hanging on during my bike rides) where we would see who could tolerate sticking their foot in the icy water the longest. The winner typically didn't have to suffer for more than about 30 seconds. It just makes you ache from being so cold.

I made my way down to the dock, kicked off the running shoes and started with my feet on the ladder. Ok, not so bad. One step down. Ok, tolerable. I made it in pretty much until my knees were submerged, but couldn't really go any further. Although it would've been nice to have soaked my quads, due to the nature of the ladder there is sort of a point of no return where it's really all or nothing. So it was either knee-deep or chest deep, and I don't think I would've survived the latter. However, a few minutes of below-the-knee soaking still felt kind of nice.

After a quick breakfast and a change of clothes I was ready to embark on my bike ride. I decided to take the opportunity to ride with my father. Back when I first started riding we used to ride together all of the time, but we haven't ridden much together in recent years. One of the main reasons for this is that when we are together on the weekends my rides have almost always been in the 100+ mile range, something he is just not willing to participate in. I don't really blame him. If I wasn't in training, I wouldn't ride that far either. But yesterday was just supposed to be two hours of easy riding, which is pretty much just his kind of ride. It was still nice and warm, although cloudy and kind of windy. It was slow and easy, just as I wanted, and we stayed together somewhat, although I would often drop him on the hills.

After that, it was time for one last run. The same exact route I'd run twice in the last two days, and I would be doing it again. Only this time, when it was over, I could collapse in a heap and just relax. Once again, this one started pretty crappy but wound up pretty good, so I'll take it. Done just in time for a shower and lunch and sitting on the couch with the Sunday paper. I always think it would be nice to sleep in on weekends and not rush out and do my workouts, but when it's noon and I've done everything I needed to do and can lie down and relax guilt-free I remember why I got up early to get things done.

I definitely did not feel the same level of anxiousness to get the weekend over and done with that I usually do, just aching for a rest day and week. Doing 6-hour bike rides isn't a big deal anymore. Funny how in the beginning of March those long rides can leave me uselessly couch-bound for the rest of the day, but the more I do them, the less of a big deal they are. Probably why I don't feel ready to rest yet. Well, that and the fact that I feel like due to the little running break I didn't get a chance to really improve my running since the last race, only enough time to catch back up hopefully to where I was. I hate falling behind. I wasn't supposed to have to deal with that anymore.

So tomorrow is supposed to be about 90 degrees out, so that should make me feel nice and ready for St. Croix. Fortunately or unfortunately I won't get a chance to train in it since tomorrow is a rest day. I can tell you that tomorrow morning when I roll over and look at the clock and see 5am and know I don't have to get up I'm going to be very happy about that. I really can't believe that I'm racing this weekend or that I'm going to St. Croix. But I guess that's what I'll be doing this weekend, whether I'm ready or not!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A taste of summer

It is late Saturday afternoon as I am typing this and it is somewhere in the neighborhood of 83 degrees outside with bright sun. And it's April. You might be wondering why if it is so nice outside I am wasting time typing on the computer. Well, I spent at least 9 hours outside today. I don't mind sweating but don't so much like it when I am dripping while just sitting still reading a book. And I think my winterized skin has seen enough sun for one day. At least the redness would indicate as such.

I decided to spend the weekend up on Squam Lake in Holderness at my parents' house. The training terrain is great and the weather was supposed to be fantastic. The dock is in the water - and some years there would still be ice on the lake - the boat is in the water and it's nice to ride and run on some different roads. I started my ride early this morning, on the road a little after 5:30 by the light of the gorgeous pink/orange skies of sunrise. Admittedly I was not really that excited to go out and ride. This tends to happen when I don't quite get enough sleep. I'm certainly not sleep-deprived, but even a tad under 8 hours tends to leave me feeling less-than-perky. And as usual, it always seems to take forever for just the first half of the ride to pass, but once I hit the 3-hour mark, it's like, only 3 more to go? No problem.

It was a chilly start, in the low 40's, so I was stuck with arm and leg warmers, gloves and a skull cap under the helmet. When I ride here I usually start out with a 30-ish mile loop around the lake and then stop off at the house for a quick bathroom break and water refill before continuing on north for a nice out-and-back. The loop around the lake has some great hills on it and just constantly moves up and down with pretty much zero flats. There are a couple of options as to which roads to ride, and normally I ride the longest possible route, but lately I've been taking the shorter route - not because I was being lazy, but because although shorter, it is way harder. It's not quite the beast, but I think it's good training for it. And it seems like it's getting easier, so that is certainly a good sign.

After the quick bathroom break and water refill... and discarding of my bike gloves because I tore a giant hole in them when I took them off.... it was time for the rest of the ride. Sorry to say that the most interesting wildlife spotting today was a wild turkey, although I did see some miniature horses, but it doesn't really count when they are fenced in someone's yard. It stayed pretty cool for quite a while, but eventually it was like a switch was thrown and I was suddenly very warm. I got to utilize my jersey pockets by stuffing all of those long sleeves in them. I would like to thank the genius who came up with that. Finished up with some hard riding, and wound up averaging 1mph faster than the last time I did nearly the same route, so I guess that's a good thing.

Not over yet though, time to run! I always dread that run, because after six hours on your bike it usually sounds a lot more appealing to just stop, shower, eat and nap (not necessarily in that order) Nope, gotta run. Otherwise I'd have to start doing bike races. For some reason though I like tris, even though I have quite inferior running and swimming abilities, but anyway... Aside from incredible thirst, the run actually went pretty well. It was nice and warm by then, probably approaching 80 anyway, and it's always nice when you feel surprisingly good.

Then I got to stop. I love starting early because by 12:45, I was done with 7 hours of training. Nice. The water is a little too cold for my favorite thing to do after a workout like that, which would be standing in the nice, cold water. It's the kind of cold that is just painful, not helpful. But I did get to lie in the sun eventually and get a little red. Good prep for St. Croix though, right? So, very happy with today's workouts.

On another note, Thursday was my last Bikram yoga class in my intro special. I was really into it up until that last class, then I was just annoyed. There were a whole lot of new people in the class, and they looked to be high school kids. I started last week and suddenly I'm the veteran. I have no problem with the instructor taking extra time to explain the postures. What I do have a problem with is the instructor obviously cutting the postures short, cutting the overall class short, turning down the heat and eventually even opening a window. I actually started to feel cold and clammy late in the class. I like that it's hot in there. It's one of the reasons I'd started doing it in the first place. I want some consistency. I realize that it might be hard for some their first time doing it, but you just do what you can and try to get used to it. Don't alter the class. So now I actually am not sure I want to go back. We shall see.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

So many things to look forward to

I've got so many fun things to look forward to in the next couple of months that I am almost starting to feel guilty. First, there is the trip to St. Croix, which I am heading to in just one short week, amazingly enough. Actually, first is this weekend, because it is supposed to be in the mid 80's for 3 or 4 days in a row. Incredible how that can work out sometimes. I can almost already see the horrid tan line I'm sure to finish my bike ride with. You know, that one that will never go away for the rest of the summer, no matter how much you try to even it out. The coming race also means that I get to taper and maybe sleep in a couple of times. Oh, and did I mention getting to hang out in St. Croix? I've never been to the Caribbean, unless you count the ride at Disney World.

Speaking of Disney World, I've also got that to look forward to as mid-May I am going down there with my family. I turn into a 12-year old again when I go to Disney World. We went four times as a family when I was a kid, and we always had a blast. But we haven't been since 1996. My brother, my sister and I have all been down at least once since, on our own separate trips, although never for an extended period of time. Our parents haven't been in 13 years. My 6-year old niece went with my sister and brother-in-law two years ago and my 3-year old nephew will be making his first trip. One whole week, and I absolutely can't wait. We travel well as a family, because we can have fun together, but if someone wants to do something else, nobody really cares. We can just do what we want. Which is good because I'm sure I'll have to squeeze in a lot of training while I'm there, so if anyone has any advice on where to ride my bike, please let me know! The only thing about the trip that does not make me happy is that I just learned that Space Mountain will be closed for the next 7 months. I think that might just be my favorite ride, so it won't be quite the same without it, but I'm pretty sure there are a few other things there for me to do. I'm also looking forward to being there with my niece and nephew because it is so fun to experience that stuff with kids and see their excitement.

Anyway, not long after that excursion it is going to be time to kick off the New Hampshire tri season with Mooseman on June 7th. That's always a lot of fun. Well, last year it definitely was not, but I'm going to be in a different position this year. I think. Late June we have a team training weekend with the QT2 crew, 4th of July, Ironman Lake Placid, Timberman... I almost feel like summer is already over if I get too far ahead of myself. Basically, lots and lots of fun stuff to come!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fenway fun

If you are not from New England, chances are you have no idea that yesterday was Patriots Day. Around here it's a pretty big deal. If you're from Boston, you probably didn't even have to go to work. I know when I was in college there it was always a day off. And what a fun day it is. Not only is it all patriotic, I guess, but it is also the day the Red Sox play an 11:05am game, and more importantly, it is the day of the Boston Marathon. I had no idea what a big deal the Boston Marathon was until I lived there. I hated running, so I certainly didn't pay any attention to it. My college dorm was less than a mile from the finish line, also on Boylston Street overlooking Boston Common. I remember my freshman year looking out my 12th floor window and seeing the finishers walking around in their shiny silver blankets, unsure of exactly how they were still capable of walking after running 26.2 miles.

The following year my sister ran the marathon for charity, so of course I went to watch. My sister is not the fastest of runners, but to me, what she did that day was both incredible and insane. And I couldn't believe how many people went to watch, or how many people actually ran in the race. Of course I've come to appreciate the race a whole lot more for what it is now, so it makes it more interesting to watch.

Yesterday was a fun day. I went to Boston with my parents and my brother to go to the Red Sox game and to check out the marathon. I like going to Red Sox games, but actually never made it there last year, so this was a nice change. I can't really handle night games anymore due to my early bed time, so the game time was perfect. It's also fun to go to games with my parents and my brother, because it always just brings me back to when the four of us used to go to games when I was a kid. My brother went to the same college I did, so we both know Boston very well from living there, and way back in the olden days my parents also went to college in Boston. They've always loved going there, which is one of the reasons they made a point to come to my college basketball games, just as an excuse to go to the city and go to dinner. But ever since they bought their house at the lake they haven't been going there very much, so they were both really excited to be walking around Boston.

The game was great, although it felt so wrong to me to go to Fenway and wind up eating a Luna bar I had in my sweatshirt pocket. Not quite as tasty as popcorn or a roll with chicken, peppers and onions, or peanuts, or ice cream, or.... I could go on. I'd say Fenway Franks, as I used to love them, but I think I'm done with hot dogs for the rest of my lifetime, so although they smelled kind of good still, I didn't have a hard time with avoiding those.

You can definitely tell it's a holiday in Boston. On the walk to the game there were people eating breakfast at a few outdoor restaurants and enjoying their beers... at 9am. After the game you walk less than a quarter-mile to see the marathon running by at the sign for 1 mile to go. There must've been a lot of happy marathoners there. The race used to start later, so after the Sox game you used to be able to catch the elite runners, but now that they start it earlier, by the time we got there the clock said 4:11. But let me tell you, those people still looked like they were running pretty well.

Boston is a race I'd like to do one day. I had some delusions that I was going to somehow get in and run it back in 2003, just after I moved back from Los Angeles. I had actually planned on running the LA marathon, but I moved home 5 weeks before it and didn't go back. So I thought maybe I'd jump into Boston, but if I was going to run it, I wanted a number. And that just didn't seem like it was going to happen. Ever since then I have been training for Ironman races and surprisingly, running a marathon is not such good training for an Ironman, so I still haven't done it. However, when we were on the T and seeing all of the runners making their way down the stairs and cramming into overcrowded subway trains, I must say it wasn't really a big seller for me. Great running weather for it though, pretty overcast and in the high 40's. Strangely, the past couple of years it has been unseasonably warm on race day - like in the 80's, which is definitely not so good for runners.

So that was my fun day. Today it was back to the training, on the trainer for some intervals. I'd have to do the trainer anyway, but it worked out that it was crappy and rainy today. I also made it to yoga again today, which I'm never excited about on the way there, just because by then I'm usually so tired from the swimming, biking and running that came before, but at the end I'm glad I went.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Long rides, long runs and bloody socks

This weekend was pretty good as far as the training is concerned. And let's face it, with all of the training my weekends entail there really isn't time for much else aside from lying on the couch, eating, sleeping, and washing all of the clothes from the workouts. Yesterday was of course long ride day. I hit the road at 6am, a little later than I probably could've based on the daylight, but I wasn't in a real rush except maybe to beat the rain that was supposed to move in during the afternoon. I had my loop all picked out, knowing that it would take me less time than I had to ride, so right away I decided to take a little detour at about mile 5 to go do this really fun, long, steep hill to help add to the time and get some extra hill work in. I wish I had a camera with me for when I got to the top. The road flattens out just before you ride the last bit to the top and there are several farms up there, but beyond that you're just looking out over the scenery below. Quite beautiful first thing in the morning.

The climb was a fun way to start the ride, although I am positive that it is nothing compared to the beast I've heard so much about. Longer, but I didn't even have to stand up, which I know will be happening when I get to St. Croix. Oh, and it was also above freezing to start, warm enough for me to forgo the shoe covers and just go with leg and arm warmers, and certainly warm enough that frozen water bottles were not going to be an issue. There really isn't a whole lot to say about the ride except that it went well and I felt good and was certainly faster than the last time I rode it. I saw snow twice: once in a parking lot in the shade where there had obviously previously been some pretty impressive snowbanks, and once at Crotched Mountain ski area, where it hasn't entirely melted but was sure a lot quieter than it was the last time I rode when I was freezing and people were skiing up a storm. No moose sightings this week, but I did come across like 7 roadkill porcupines throughout the ride, an unusually high number, and a pack of wild turkeys which is pretty common.

After the ride it was time for a transition run, even though I always just love the idea of finishing a long ride and collapsing immediately to the couch, but I picked a sport where that just doesn't make any sense. So off I went. It was slow, and running still just feels awkward after my brief hiatus, but I got it done. I bloodied my sock thanks to a nice blister that has formed since I started running in a new pair of shoes, but of course that just means that I'm working hard, right? That, or my shoes don't fit right. Then it was time to collapse on the couch. Sweet relief.

After Saturday's long training, I always wake up on Sundays really amazed at what I still have to get done and seriously wondering my ability to get through it. My legs just feel tired, I feel tired, I'm thinking about regular people who will be in their pajamas most of the day, eating a big breakfast in front of the TV and intermittently napping. Or maybe going out to brunch. Not me. Not that it's anyone's fault but my own. And sorry, I've just been thinking a lot about pancakes lately because first of all, they are one of my favorite things. And second, for some reason in the midst of trying to get down to race weight I torture myself by watching a lot of Food Network, and yesterday they did a history of pancakes and I wanted them more than ever. I guess I'll have to get by knowing that I'll have some in just two short weeks. Even if pancakes should be at least a weekly occurrence, but anyway....

I got up at 6 this time, thinking maybe I'd get started early, but I moved awfully slowly, and didn't wind up heading out until almost 8. First up was an easy bike ride, which I seriously took very easy. I also visited a Burger King for the first time in a few years, but this time it was only to use the bathroom. I used to love Whoppers, and maybe someday I'll have one again. After the bike ride, I had to go and do my long run. It must be an amusing sight, me moving so slowly from bike to run, so obviously not interested in running at all. Any time I don't run for even a brief period of time, like say that 6 days I just had off, I start to dread it. It's like I completely forget how to do it and it seems ten times harder. But I knew I had to.

It wasn't pretty, but I did get it done. And it is getting better. But my legs didn't have much in them. My heart rate was too low because they couldn't keep me moving fast enough. I had some delusions that maybe after all of that I might make it to another yoga class this afternoon. But after a couple of hours on the couch, when I went to stand up to maybe change and go, my legs told me that I wasn't going anywhere. Probably not such a bad decision.

Tomorrow will be fun though. First of all, Mondays are easy swim days and the only days I don't have to bike and run. And second, I am headed down to Boston for the Red Sox game and maybe to catch a bit of marathon action afterward. The timing doesn't work out so well since they moved the start earlier, so I won't get to watch any of the elite runners or really even anyone running less than 4 hours or so, but it's still cool to watch. I still remember when I was in college and my sister ran it and I went down to see my first one. My brother-in-law jumped in to run the last four miles with her. My mother told me that maybe next year I could jump in and run the last four miles with her. "Are you crazy? I can't run four miles!" Yeah, things have changed a bit since then.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I ran today

After a six-day layoff, I finally got out again for a run today. My knee has been bothering me since the race, and I managed to run last Thursday and Friday but it seemed to be feeling worse, so I took some time off. I'm in a position now where I have a hard time differentiating between pain that is okay to run through, and pain that is not okay to run through. Also, after last year's barrage of injuries and extended running layoffs, I tend to get a little bit overly nervous about every little thing that goes beyond typical race soreness, etc. For the knee, I've been doing some exercises, taking a ridiculous amount of supplements to promote healthy joints and cartilage and such, and foam rolling. Have you ever foam rolled? The first time I ever tried it at a race expo, I actually started laughing because it hurt so much, but I was in public so I couldn't cry. It is no wonder that I walked away without spending a bunch of money so I could inflict that kind of pain on myself on a regular basis. However, now that there is an issue, I am determined to roll three times a day. Ouch.

I had taken a few running steps and such, and I knew it still kind of hurt, but I wasn't sure if it would get worse. I was supposed to do another run today after my bike ride, and although I've kind of enjoyed finishing my bike rides and not having to run, I'd also much rather be a good runner again, so I decided that I would go out and try it for at least 30 minutes of the 65 I had scheduled, barring any serious pain. So after a successful ride, I found some brand new running shoes in the closet, which I figured also might help, and I headed out for a run. Well, it definitely hurt some, but not a ton. It hurt every step to start, and occasionally I'd take a bad step that would hurt a whole lot more, although it was not as bad as it was last week, so that's a good thing. But then, after maybe two miles or so, things started to loosen up, and without even realizing it, I was running without feeling anything at all. I'd still take a bad step every once in a while, but I didn't seem to be making it worse, which is the most important thing. I'm going to see someone about it tomorrow, so hopefully after that I will get it completely healed so that the rest of the season can go well!

So aside from the supplements and exercises, in just three short days I have become a yoga junkie. Bikram yoga, to be precise. I've gone each of the past three days, and although adding another 90-minute workout to each day is never that appealing when I think about it before, I have always been glad that I've gone. And I do think it's helping. I thought it would get boring because it is the same poses each time, but I actually like that I know exactly what I'm in for now. There are a couple I can't do because of my crappy knees. And yesterday I was talking to my mother and my sister and apparently the knee thing is some sort of genetic curse, because nobody in my family can kneel and sit on their heels. But for the most part, I can do the whole thing. Early in the class today I suddenly felt a little queasy and got nervous that three days in a row might have been pushing it, but a sip of water later and I was good to go the rest of the time.

It's not something I'm planning on doing every single day forever, but given that I paid for 10 days unlimited to start, and I read that the more you do it in the beginning the quicker you get the hang of it, I might as well go as much as I can to start. Also, I think I will always make it the last workout of the day, because first it's a good way to sort of wind down (not that it's all easy, but it tends to be easier than a run) and because I'm not sure I could adequately rehydrate for another workout that might take place soon after. Plus, so far I've been treating myself to a nice, fruit smoothie when I get home after (and after a much-needed shower) I mix them nice and thick with frozen fruit so that it's almost like ice cream. Mmmmmmm....

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Yoga, anyone?

I decided to try something a little bit different today as a supplement to my other workouts. Many triathletes. while typically quite aerobically fit, have pretty lousy core strength and flexibility. I had always considered myself not to be particularly flexible, although apparently I'm not as bad as I thought. Core strength, however, I know is seriously lacking. I can't tell you how many years I've been saying to myself that I want to make yoga a part of the routine, or at least do it for a while in the off-season. Up until today I had done yoga I think four times that I can remember. Once at a camp in California where they had us all do it, and the instructors had to correct probably 60% of the poses I was doing. Twice when my friend Lisa hosted yoga nights at her house, but that was just before I moved to Phoenix so I only got to go the two times. Then once in September when another group of friends got together for yoga.

So I had some concept of what I was getting into, and I knew it certainly wasn't easy even though so often you see it on TV and it really just looks more like people stretching a lot. More often than not I get the shaky legs and/or arms going on from trying to hold a pose. However, I decided to go one step further and go for the hot yoga, or Bikram yoga in this case. There is a studio quite close by, the classes are 90 minutes and if nothing else maybe it will help me get used to sweating a lot in preparation for St. Croix. This all took place after a nice, hard trainer ride this morning, so today was filled with lots and lots of sweating.

I bought myself a yoga mat, feeling that a $25 investment there might make me more inclined to do it more often, and off I went. I thought that 90 minutes in there would seem like an eternity, but it actually went by pretty fast. And the ridiculous sweating wasn't so bad until the very end. My knees left me unable to perform a few of the poses, and I suspect that would be the case even if I wasn't currently suffering from some patella pain that is still keeping me from running (but getting better) My knees have not been happy for some time. I bought a 10-day unlimited trial to start, and I intend to take full advantage of it to get some core strength and sweat things out a bit more for the next couple of weeks. Hey, it can't be bad for me, right? I really have no idea if it makes a difference that it is really hot in the room or not. I do know that pretty much either way I sweat like crazy, but at least this way everyone else does too. My only objection is that the room is carpeted... which seems just plain gross, but I tried to ignore it.

Other than that, weather is fantastic today, looks to continue the rest of the week. My knee seems to be getting better even if I'm not running on it yet, but I can still get my biking and swimming in. And now I'm starving and have to find something healthy to eat and fill me up!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter, kind of

So today I guess was Easter, although I didn't really notice so much. It didn't pass quite as unnoticed as Easter 2007 when I was living in Arizona and had nowhere to go, one week before my Ironman and I recovered from my last, hard 50-mile bike ride with a trip to Cold Stone, but it certainly did not involve me sitting at Easter brunch and eating lots of Cadbury chocolate egg-shaped things.

Obviously I mentioned yesterday that my knee is not happy with me at the moment, so although Sunday would normally be long-run day, it was determined that skipping it might be a better idea. This, unfortunately, does not mean that I could just lie around in my pajamas all morning, even though that seemed like a really good idea to me this morning. Nope, instead the time would be made up on the bike, and the time I missed on the transition run yesterday would be made up with swimming. I'd almost rather have spent an extra 45 minutes on the bike... almost. This presented a problem, as I awakened this morning in my parents house up on Squam lake, which is approximately 70 miles from my pool. At least my gym doesn't care about Easter, either, so I didn't have to worry about shortened hours. I did, however, have to worry about getting there, and getting in what was now going to be a 4-hour bike ride.

The plan was to ride at the lake and then drive down. This, however, did not seem like it was going to work out quite like I wanted. For one thing, it was windy out. I mean really windy. Like windier than I ever experienced in Kona. But unlike Kona, it was also cold. It was so windy that the wind actually blew the ice away, so the lake is now open water, and that water looked like the ocean on a stormy day. Bright and sunny, but still not so inviting. I sat and debated my plans while I drank my cup of tea and did the Sunday crossword, wondering what might be the best option. My preferred option was to stay right where I was all day, but that obviously wasn't going to happen.

Normally I'm one of those people who will go out and deal with almost any weather. I'll run when it's snowing like crazy, I'll do my long rides in the rain when it's 40 degrees out, I'll fight the wind. But when I finally went outside to see what it really felt like, I almost immediately knew that there was no way I was going to want to spend 4 hours riding in that weather. Maybe an hour, maybe two, but four? No, thank you. The windchill was down in the teens and the temperature itself was in the 20's. I did that once in December, and it was just incredibly unpleasant. So, it was time to formulate a new plan that involved riding the trainer, which was also about 70 miles south. So I decided to drive home, get my swim stuff, go swim, go back home and ride the 4 hours in the basement. I haven't done a long ride like that on the trainer in probably at least 6 weeks now.

I made it home pretty quick, in spite of a more-than-usual presence of state troopers on the highway, got my swim stuff and was off to the surprisingly crowded pool. I actually lucked out with a lane as someone was leaving just as I got there. I had a pretty good swim and then headed home. I hit the trainer at 12:30. Had I been home all day I would've been done swimming by 7:30, on the trainer at 8 and done by noon, but that's just the way things go sometimes. Mom was serving Easter at 1. I was pedaling away until 4:30. Oh, well. Everyone understood. And with my relatives, I don't think there was anyone there who I don't see anyway on an almost-weekly basis. Plus, she was having her standard ham, beans and potato salad, which isn't really my kind of meal. I used to love ham, even after I asked my mother when I was a kid, "how do they get the ham out without hurting the pig?" and learned the awful truth. But I really don't eat anything that comes from a pig anymore. Because, well, they're pigs. Not that pigs eat pigs to wind up the way they do, but still. I never liked bacon anyway. And baked beans? While regular beans I like, I don't really want to eat anything that comes with a cube of pork fat in the can. Potato salad used to be one of my favorite things. Only the homemade kind, because any supermarket version was terrible. My grandmother still does it the best. But as of late I've just become overwhelmingly aware of the fact that essentially it is potatoes mixed with mayonnaise, and, well, that just seems gross. I used to be the kind of person who would order extra mayo on my sandwiches. And seriously, I used to wonder why exactly I was fat.

So what the heck was that bit of rambling about? Oh, right, I skipped Easter for an indoor bike ride. I do not regret my choice to ride indoors. However, I had forgotten how much harder it is when you really have to keep pedaling the whole time. It was good to use the computrainer though so I could see my wattage and keep the heart rate where it was supposed to be the whole time, so it was certainly a good workout in that regard. Only issue was that otherwise this would've been a recovery ride, but without the run, I was stuck with some real work! I made a judgement error though in preparing my fuel, and as a result I was pretty drained by the end of the ride, but at least tomorrow is an easy day.

So now I'm sitting here, not full of ham and potato salad, but instead full of supplements that hopefully will aid in the quick healing of my knee, which is also currently wrapped in an ice pack. Really hoping that it goes away quick, and I'm certainly doing all that I can to make sure that happens. For now though, my ride has left me overwhelmingly sleepy, so I think I'm going to be getting to bed as soon as the ice comes off!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Moose encounters, long rides and skipped transition runs

My plan to escape to the north to avoid the rain worked flawlessly. I awakened this morning at 6am to see daylight and a complete lack of rain. It was overcast, but did not look threatening. I was concerned with how cold it might be out there, but since I was wearing my coldest weather riding outfit, minus the face mask, and it was above freezing, I was surprisingly comfortable. Yes, once again I was riding in the high 30's and eventually low 40's, but given that I was able to ride some really tough hills, not face much traffic, only deal with 2 traffic lights in 90 miles (one of which I just take a right turn at, so it almost doesn't count) and a great St. Croix training hill I'm going to think of as "Beast, Jr." then I guess riding in New Hampshire isn't so bad. I mean, how many other places are you going to come across the self-proclaimed "Shugah Guy" selling pure maple syrup out of the back of his truck? Or ride by lakes with ice still on them, snow in the woods, and a few die-hards still out skiing? I happened to ride up to Waterville Valley and things are still looking pretty good up there.

Oh, but of course the other fun part about riding up here is your chance of running into some interesting wild life. The chances increase dramatically the earlier you venture out, and starting a little before 7 was on the late side for me, but apparently that didn't matter to the moose I came across. This is at least the third time I've seen a moose on a bike ride up around here, always in different spots. This time I was on route 113 in Sandwich (the town, not the food) I was riding up a hill so I wasn't going all that fast, and right there on the left side of the road was the moose, staring at me. For some strange reason anytime I come across these things instead of running away from me, they always start running up the road in the same direction I'm heading. I haven't tried ramming one with my bike yet, but I'm guessing the moose would win. So I just rode sort of slowly until it finally wised up and made a turn towards the woods and was no longer a threat for a collision. If you've never seen one up close, they're HUGE. Bigger than horses by quite a bit. This one had no antlers so it was a little less intimidating, but still. A couple of summers ago on that same stretch of road I came across a black bear. I have met up with bears a couple of times also, but they seem to be better at running away from you than the moose, thankfully.

Anyway, the rest of the ride went by fairly fast even though my speed was pretty slow. The route I chose was hopefully harder than what I'll face in St. Croix, although the conditions were just a tad different. The sun did come out after about 3 hours though, so that was nice. Upon my return the plan was to do a transition run, but even while riding I was thinking that just might not happen. That knee pain I think I mentioned seemed to not be doing so well, not a big problem on the bike, but it didn't seem to have healed miraculously in 24 hours, and my hopes were not high for the run to happen. So when I finished up, I didn't even change my clothes before I threw on my shoes to take a little test run. It didn't take long for me to decide that running was probably not such a good idea. I mean, I can make it several steps with no pain at all, but then I'll take a step that hurts enough to stop be in my tracks. It hurts just below my kneecap, pretty sure it is the patellar tendon. I don't know exactly what the problem is, but I really hope that it's not too severe and doesn't stop me for long. I'm a bit less panicky now after the other little setbacks I've encountered, but it sure would be nice to spend a whole season without any aches or pains like this!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Recovering and dealing with less-than-SoCal weather

I've been back home since just after midnight on Monday night/Tuesday morning. The return flights were pretty painless, including an hour in Vegas where I resisted the slots at the airport (my first time there) and a nearly full flight from Vegas to Manchester where the only empty seat was the one next to me. Sweet. Luckily on Tuesday my only priority was to get some of the sleep I'd been missing out of, and I got off to a good start by awakening at 9:30. Seriously, to me that might as well be 1:00 in the afternoon. In the summer I can be on mile 70 of a bike ride by then. But on Tuesday, I was perfectly content to stay in bed.

On Wednesday morning the plan was to meet my friend Kevin to swim at 6am. I wasn't so excited about getting up that early, but I figured I might as well try to get back on my normal schedule as soon as possible, and I did have to get in 4900 yards. So I set my alarm for 5:30, and by being in bed and asleep at about 8:30, I thought I'd be ok. Except the next morning I woke up and thought to myself, is it normally so light out at this hour? Oh, guess not, because it's 6:45. Oops. A couple of days before I left for California the power went out, and apparently when I reset the clock I was off by 12 hours. So my alarm had been set correctly, it's just that my clock thought it was 6:45 at night. Luckily, meeting someone to swim isn't like meeting someone to play tennis. They can still do it if you're not there. I still felt bad showing up an hour late, but we did get to swim about 1000 yards next to each other.

That day was also my first bike ride outside since I'd been back. Nothing special, just an easy 90 minutes. I put it off quite a bit while I waited for it to get warmer outside since it was only in the low 40's. Well, I could've waited all day, it still wouldn't have gotten any better. I did not enjoy riding in such cold weather after being teased with the warmth and sun of Oceanside. No sun, a little breeze, just not that much fun. Oh well, April doesn't tend to be the best month around here, either. But at least the snow has almost completely disappeared.

That night I was so tired I went to bed at 7:30... and slept until 7:30. Nice. 12 hours of sleep sure feels good when you need it. Yesterday was another bike ride, although this one I got to do in shorts because it was sunny and in the 50's. I was a tad chilly at times, but it still felt pretty good to be out there in shorts. Later in the afternoon was my first run since the race. In my race report I think I left out the part about my left knee bothering me. It didn't happen often, usually only on the steep downhills of which there aren't many, but it did bother me some. It was sore and a little swollen in the days following the race, but I hoped that it wouldn't bother me once I started to run. Well, it did. I made it through, but the knee wasn't happy much of the time. Hopefully nothing major, but it certainly isn't going to make the training any easier for now. I'm sitting here typing with ice on it. I'm not incredibly worried about it, as this knee has given me trouble off and on for the past year or so, but has never stopped me from running, just been more of an annoyance, and always goes away.

I actually managed to get up at 5:45 this morning for my swim, which was a good start. My swim, however, did not go so well. It might have something to do with the fact that last night after my run, I got in my Endurox recovery drink, took a shower and then fell asleep and forgot to eat dinner. I realize that being as light as possible for St. Croix is going to be a key factor in my race performance, but not eating dinner is probably not the best for my training. Also likely explains why post-swim I had to sit down for a few minutes before I could muster up the strength to stand up and take a shower. Went on another bike ride and another short run that didn't make my knee feel good, and that was the training for the day.

I am now up in Holderness at my parents lake house, getting ready for another long ride tomorrow. The weather isn't looking so good, but it seemed as though the further north you go, the less it might rain, so I am 70 miles north. Of course, now I run a bigger risk of running into possible snow, but I'm taking my chances. Needless to say, I am concerned tomorrow I might have trouble blogging about my ride because my fingers are likely to be numb for an extended period of time. But the other good thing about being here is that there is a hot tub, so that should help in the event of my near freezing to death. But hey, the good news is that the ice is melting off the lake, and this time last year I am pretty sure the ground was still 100% snow-covered due to a record-breaking winter, and certainly the lake was still solid ice. I actually saw a couple of people out in kayaks hugging the shore line... because everything else was ice. I am not that hard-core, but it should be fairly soon that I can take out a kayak. I'll wait until there is zero chance of running into ice burgs though.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

First race of the season: off to a great start

I've had about 32 hours to recover from my first race of the season. I am not sure if this post will turn into a detailed race report, as I am sitting in the sun at an outdoor coffee shop at Oceanside Harbor, where the weather is gorgeous, but I just wanted to get some of it out there at least to start. Last week I mentioned how excited I was for the race, but it seemed that the closer the race got, the less I was looking forward to it. I was almost dreading it. I think that feeling of dread is something that had become ingrained in me all last season as I showed up at every start line feeling woefully underprepared to race, based on injuries that led to lack of training time. I have never been the type of person to not show up trained and ready to race, but there were a number of factors that were just out of my control last year. So not looking forward to racing became the standard, and apparently I forgot what it was like to feel ready. At the start of last week I felt ready, but then we got closer and I wasn't so sure anymore. I also think some of it was a lot of rough nights sleeping for no apparent reason, but that lack of sleep likely left me more cranky than usual.

But let's pick up with Friday, after the whole chain/cassette fiasco. One nice thing about my new coach, Jesse at QT2 Systems, is that he not only tells me what to do to train, he tells me what to eat. Everyday eating as well as fueling for races. While my day-to-day nutrition has changed under his guidance, my pre-race nutrition, with the exception of breakfast the morning of the race, really hasn't changed. It's nice to know that you were at least doing something right all these years. I love to have a big breakfast the day before the race and then let the amount of food being eaten sort of taper off as the day goes along, so I almost don't even have to eat dinner if I don't feel like it. I knew I had to get something down, so I opted for the same "dinner" I had the night before I went out and had my best Ironman ever. The magic dinner? Cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter. Yum. I munched that down fairly early and called it a night as far as food was concerned. My roommates ate a big pasta dinner at about 7:00. Not that that's wrong, it's just not something that would appeal to me. I hate going to bed on a full stomach, and we were all in bed not long after that.

I actually slept pretty darn well, considering it was the night before a race. I think it took me a while to fall asleep, but once I was asleep, I stayed that way until probably 10 minutes before my alarm went off at 4:30. My swim wave went off at 7:33am, so I had three hours to go. That meant it was time to eat an insane amount of apple sauce (coach's idea, not mine) a banana and a protein shake. I used to be more of a bagel or english muffin kind of person, but hey, I'll let someone else decide what I'm supposed to eat as long as it works. The other nice part about the light dinner is you eliminate that second, third, and sometimes even fourth trip to the bathroom before the race you might otherwise have had. Although in this case, our condo is so conveniently located to the start that we were able to walk down, set up our transition areas, and then come back to the condo and hang out for about an hour, use a real bathroom, put on our wetsuits and walk back down to the start.

It was a chilly morning, but of course coming right out of a pretty brutal New England winter, just about anything feels warm, even if it is in the 40's. The low here is the high back home. Even though my wave went off so late, the pros started at 6:40 so we had to be out of the transition and lined up not long after that so we wouldn't be in the way when they came out of the water. I had heard that the water was about 59, which is a far cry from the 53 or 54 it was the last time I raced here, in 2006. I know that little 5 degrees doesn't sound like much, but believe me, it is. I watched the pros running out and only a few of them looked cold, so I thought I'd be ok. It was quite a long wait and got a bit cold at times, although again, nowhere near as bad as 2006 when it was raining while we waited and I spent the whole time shivering uncontrollably.

Our time to get in the water came rather quickly, and I think I still wasn't that excited about racing. What am I doing here? Why do I keep doing this to myself? All of my races last year were so miserable I forgot what it was like to have fun during one of them. I stood at the water's edge with my swim wave, #16, women 30-34 (even though I am NOT 30 and do NOT like the age-up rule, but DO like the woman who put my age on my calf and said she could put 29 even though I'm not in that age group, and I wasn't going to argue) and put my feet in the shallow water just off the boat ramp. My first thought was that it actually felt pretty darn warm. Then I thought that it was either just because it was the shallow part or because about 1700 people were already in the water ahead of us and nearly all of them peed when they got in there.

The wave in front of us began and it was time for us to make our way to the start line and get a very brief warm-up swim. The initial few strokes were a little chilly, as was putting my face in the water, but once I got going, it was really fine. I was actually incredibly relieved at how nice it felt. And out of nowhere, a sense of calm came over me. I was ready to go. I had trained, I wasn't injured, I still have some weight to lose but am by no means out-of-shape and I was ready to go. I lined up at the front of my wave, even though I know I probably don't belong there but keep hoping for some of my swim training to pay off and give me the miraculous swim that never, ever happens, and awaited the air horn. And then we were off.

Within seconds I remembered how much fun I have racing. It was looking like a gorgeous day, the water wasn't too cold, I was feeling pretty good and I got to do a race at a gorgeous venue with some friends. I almost knew right from the beginning that it was going to be a good day. If nothing else, I knew I was going to enjoy the weather. The swim start wasn't too rough and I had no trouble sighting for the first half. I somehow inevitably find myself swimming alone in these races, even though there are hundreds of other people in the water, I am never near any of them, and it doesn't appear to me it is because I am off course. I don't know what it is. I opted not to look at my watch at all and just kept on swimming. The water was murky so there wasn't much to look at, and when we turned to head back towards shore I was completely blinded by the rising sun. I actually stopped for a second and pulled my goggles off of my face to find the next buoy. From then on, I just followed the splashing in front of me and hoped that those people were headed in the right direction. I somehow would stumble upon the buoys, only noticing them when I was about ready to run into them, but I have no idea whether or not I stayed on course. I had no idea how I was doing, but for a while I thought maybe pretty well since I was swimming through waves in front of me and never seemed to see any red swim caps of my wave-mates anywhere near me. However, as usual, I was disappointed to see yet another 35-minute swim time on my watch. I can't seem to shake that outside of Mooseman, even though I know I can swim faster than that. But at least at no point in the swim did I start getting annoyed that it wasn't over yet, because I was actually enjoying myself.

T1 is quite a long affair. You run up the boat ramp and then all the way to the back of transition and back through to your bike. You really notice how long it is when you watch the pros, such as Andy Potts, exit the water and run right by you and it seems like 5 minutes go by before you finally see them coming back on the other side to get to their bikes. Most of the bikes near mine were gone, which is fairly common, especially this time given that most of my rack actually started in the wave ahead of me. It took me a minute to get myself together, but then it was time to get off and tackle the bike course.

I had debated the day before about whether or not to wear arm warmers or something for the bike, since I knew it would be pretty chilly that morning. Three years ago I actually took the time to put on a long-sleeved jersey, tights, a skull cap and gloves. You'd think I wasn't the one who had just come from NH, but I was just so sick of being cold on bike rides, and I didn't want to deal with it in the race. This time though, I knew the sun was going to be out, and there is something about racing that makes you a whole lot less cold, so I decided to skip them, thinking I'd probably be shivering for about 30 minutes or so, but eventually I'd be fine. But from the moment I started riding I was nice and warm and very glad I didn't bother putting anything else on.

The start of the course is prett flat and winds through these narrow bike paths. It can be a little rough for those of us who are way behind the waves and also not good swimmers, but good enough bikers to have to pass a whole lot of people, so it was crowded there for a while. The wind seemed to actually be blowing at us from onshore, so I thought maybe the last section of the course back to the coast would be aided with a tail wind. But no time to think about that just yet. I felt great for the most part. I let the disappointing swim go pretty quick, because it was still two minutes faster than I went last time, and just concentrated on riding. I just felt like I was cruising, passing everyone I came across and moving through the field. I wondered how long I could keep it up and how much speed I was going to lose once I hit the hills.

The course is beautiful, as it winds through Camp Pendleton military base, where civilians are normally not allowed. Nobody can pre-ride the course. About halfway through, the hills began. Up to that point I was holding a pretty good pace, I knew over 20mph. Gravity is still not my friend at this point when it comes to climbing, but I just concentrated on getting up and over each hill as it came along. The big hill to start actually didn't seem as bad as I remembered it, but I think it just surprised me so much last time. I had, however, forgotten how many more hills are hiding behind it. Many of which don't even look like real hills, but certainly feel like it as you grind up in your easiest gear at 10mph and watch a few people pushing their bikes up. Luckily we did eventually get to a point where the hills were through, and I really pushed those downhills and flats.

I remembered from three years ago that the last flat section was painful due to a serious head wind. I could've sworn that it wasn't anywhere near as bad this time, but my fellow competitors tell me that yes, it was windy out there. So maybe my new bike really is that much more aero, or maybe my new aero helmet, or maybe the lack of all of those extra layers of warm clothes, I don't really know. I just know that the bib numbers of the people I was passing just kept on getting lower and lower as I moved through the field, and the wind didn't seem to be affecting me that much. I had expected my average speed to dip below 20mph due to the hills in the second half of the course, but that didn't seem to be the case. I was amazed and happy to approach the finish of the bike before I knew it, getting off in 2:40 and averaging just a shade under 21mph. The goal time I was given by my coach was to ride a 2:57. Ok, I think I beat that one. I just hoped it wasn't at the expense of my run.

T2 was quick and painless. First thing I noticed was there were no bikes on my rack, which in T2 is a much better thing than it is in T1. Socks and shoes, visor, flip the number from back to front, grab a gel and start running.

Ok, running was definitely not my strong suit last year... or really even the year before that. Last year I'm not sure you even could've called it running most of the time. My "best" half marathon of any kind last year was the Big Lake half marathon, which I did two weeks after I started running post-6-weeks of no running at all, and somehow ran 1:56. Next best was actually the first half of my marathon in Lake Placid in a little over two hours, just before I had to give up and limp most of the rest of the way. My Mooseman run split was I think about 2:20 in the blazing heat. Then, the unbelievable 2:53 at Timberman, culminating with a 6:16 overall finish. To say I was due for a good race would be a horrendous understatement. But I didn't know what to expect here.

My goal time, which was given to me, was I believe 1:41-1:43. I was to go out in 7:25, NO FASTER, and then settle in and hold on as long as I could. I felt pretty good to start, but really, I don't remember much what it feels like to run well. I thought I held back and was pretty conservative, and I hit the first mile in 7:20, proving that pretty much no matter what I do I go out too fast. That included a quarter-mile of running in sand, which is no easy feat, especially when it is soft sand. I was surprised at how good I felt, and how relaxed I was running. I wasn't so much trying to run fast as I was just trying to stay completely comfortable and under control, and tried to stay conscious of my run form. The miles ticked off in under 7:30 and I was torn between waiting to fall apart and getting ahead of myself and thinking maybe I'd shatter my goals. But there was still quite a ways to go. My heart rate was also lower than what I normally run a race like that at, so I took that as an encouraging sign as well.

If nothing else though, I was just plain having fun. I haven't had fun in a race (aside from a tiny sprint last summer) in a while. I mean, I cried on the run at Timberman last year, just because I was that miserable. And I only cry about twice a year, so you know it had to be bad. The weather was gorgeous, the sun was shining, the course was lined with amazing spectators and volunteers who went out of their way to cheer you on by name, the scenery was gorgeous as I ran along the ocean, I actually felt good, how could I not have been having fun?

The time went by incredibly fast and before I knew it I was already at the turn for the second loop, in 49 minutes and some amount of seconds. I was slowing a bit, but I didn't feel like disaster was imminent, and I wasn't getting passed by hoardes of people as I had become accustomed to in 2008. In short, I was starting to feel like my old self again, and it felt good.

I knew I was slowing down, but I didn't feel nearly as beat up as I normally might at that point in a half ironman. I really felt like all of my training was seriously paying off. For a brief moment I thought maybe I'd break 5 hours, but as I got closer I figured I probably wasn't going to make it, but it wasn't going to be much over, either. I was feeling ready to be done, but not nearly as ready as I often might have felt at that point. Although I swear it took forever to see that sign for mile 12! I even found myself able to kick it up a little for that last mile... or more likely, one of those times where you feel like you're kicking it up, but it really just feels like you are because it is that late in the race, when in actuality you really aren't moving that much faster. I even passed some people. Really on the run the only people I got passed by were the men 30-34 who were the only ones unfortunate enough to start behind us in the swim waves.

I neared the finish and I was just elated. I crossed in a little over 5:02, vastly exceeding my goal time of 5:15, a little slow on the swim, way faster on the bike, and dead on for the run in just under 1:42. I have not done better than I expected to in a race since I won Lake Placid. That is a long time to have disappointing results. Even more amazing to me is that I was 6 minutes faster this year here than I was in 2006, and we all know how well that season turned out. So needless to say, I am pretty darn happy. Really, truly looking forward to the rest of the season and all of the improvements left to be made.

I grabbed my stuff and was back at my condo probably 15 minutes after finishing and able to take a shower right away, which is just a great way to go, and then could watch the people approaching the finish from our balcony. Reflecting on the race, there is nothing I can think of that I might have done differently to be faster. It really just went perfect. Sure I'd still like to be faster, and later on this season a 5:02 is not going to cut it for me, but given where I am now, it's great. I'm thrilled, and it's a good feeling.

But now the sun is setting on my last evening on the west coast, and I have to go think about getting my stuff together. I'm sore, but not terrible, managed to get in a bike ride today and hoping for one last one tomorrow and maybe even a little swim if I have time. Then it's time to get ready for St. Croix in four short weeks!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Night before the first race of the season

I can't write much because access is limited and I should be lying on a couch or something right now, but tomorrow is the big day. We arrived an hour late and got to our condo at 11:30pm, or 2:30 in the morning according to our internal clocks. I opted to skip dinner and go to bed instead. I guess that worked out ok, although I hardly slept a wink anyway. Not a good start. But I had a great breakfast with some pancakes, which are one of my favorite things so I can't complain. We checked out the expo, and although the merchandise tent seems to have tripled in size, the freebies are pretty much nonexistent. Remember when they used to give away samples of everything? Now they give samples of nothing. It started out cloudy and even a few drops of rain, but once the sun came out it was gorgeous and warm, so very nice way to spend the day.

After registering and some lunch, I just wanted to take my bike out for a quick spin to make sure it was working right. It only took one pedal revolution to know I was in trouble. It sounded like the chain was grinding against something, only it wasn't. It's a problem I had been having only when climbing in my smallest gears, but now it seemed to be happening all the time. I was not happy given that first of all, the race was in 15 hours, and second of all, I had just brought my bike in to get tuned up and you'd think my mechanic would've noticed something wasn't right. It took a closer look to see that the chain was not taut against the chain ring. So I had to ride back to the expo in my normal clothes and my aero helmet, which was a comical sight for sure, and the guy told me that performance wise, since it wasn't skipping, I could get through the race. Well, I didn't want to do it that way, I wanted a smooth ride. So he told me I'd need the new chain and probably a new cassette. But then they had no 10-speed chains left, so I had to ride a mile or 2 down the road to another shop, buy a chain, and come back so they could put it all back together. Not a great way to spend the final hours before the race, but I was surprisingly calm through the whole thing. And my bike hasn't been so smooth in a long time.

For a minute I was trying to think about another race I knew I had some fairly major repairs done last-minute, and wondered if maybe it was a good omen. But then I remembered it was Lake Placid in 2007 when I got my shifters replaced two days before the race, and then I scraped up my new shifter when I flipped over the handlebars halfway through the bike. Let's hope that is not the case for tomorrow.

So maybe now I can relax and get some rest. I really don't know what to expect for tomorrow. I was excited before I left, but now I'm just kind of feeling like although I've improved a lot from where I was in the fall, I'm still just nowhere near good enough yet. Definitely tired of mediocre performances, and I'm afraid that might be all I can do. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. I'd like to remind myself that it's only April, but I'm sick of making stupid excuses. Still just have to do what I can. Now to get in a last bit of food and hopefully finally get some sleep!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Coming to you from free wireless at the Phoenix airport

I love free wireless, especially when I chose to bring my computer with me on the trip. I'm in Phoenix... sort of. You know, when you're at the airport you're not really much of anywhere. But I did recognize some things as we flew in from 2007 when I lived here for four months to train for Ironman Arizona. I saw the Fountain Hills fountain spewing several hundred feet in the air and fondly remembered passing it on my favorite training ride up towards Rio Verde past McDowell Mountain Park, the home of the one and only duathlon I've ever participated in... and my only attempt at racing in an elite wave (I was coaxed into it and it did not turn out well!) Saw Papago Park where I would occasionally run, and of course Tempe Town Lake, site of the IMAZ swim. Not exactly as pristine as Mirror Lake. My flight, of course, has been delayed. So far only by 30 minutes, but you never know how bad it might get. Luckily the long flight from Manchester all the way here went off without a hitch, even if it was a full flight. Seriously, is there any such thing as anything but a full flight these days? But only an hour flight to San Diego, so it'll all be over soon.

It is crazy to me that I actually have a race the day after tomorrow. This time last year I remember meeting up with the friends I was staying with, whom I had not told I was injured. At the time I thought maybe, somehow miraculously my back pain would go away and I'd be able to do the race, but really I think I knew it wasn't going to happen. I limped over to greet them when they arrived on another flight right after mine and of course they noticed I was walking a bit off and I had to tell them I might not be able to race. I played the role of support crew and cheered my friends on and took some great pictures, but aside from not having to get in the cold water, it really sucked not being able to race. Then I spent a whole season of races sucking more than I had ever sucked before. I showed up to the start of every race expecting failure and almost every time getting something worse than my worst-case-scenarios. It was epically bad.

So it's a bit different going into a race and actually having some form of expectations for an actual good performance. Not great, but pretty good... I think. I mean, you never can tell really until you get out there. But training has been going pretty well lately. But having these expectations now has made me suddenly more nervous. Earlier in the week I was getting unreasonably excited just about getting to race, but suddenly I'm like, wait a minute, now I actually have to race well. Do I remember how to do that? I might actually feel good while running, which hasn't happened in a race for me in a couple of years. Seriously. I also had a dream last night that the ice had just melted on a local pond and me and some friends decided to go for an open water swim. Then I started to get nervous about the swim start. What, like I've never done that before? Suddenly I feel like a newbie all over again. But anyway, nothing I can really do about it.

Oh, and can I just talk about my New Kids on the Block concert the other night? Oh, what fun that was. Really. I think everything I loved in my childhood should make a comeback, because it is just so much fun to go see something like that and think about how your 10-year old self would've absolutely loved the experience and you're still able to enjoy it now. Also, it's crazy how you can hear songs you haven't heard in 15 years and had forgotten existed and you suddenly realize that you know all of the words. Where has that useless information been hiding all that time? Somehow it's still there. New Kids were the only boy band I was ever really into. Wait, actually I also liked the Monkees, oddly enough since I was about 20 years late on that one. When I was 8 I actually got Davy Jones's autograph and had my picture taken with him. Yes, I am awesome.

The crowd at the concert was obviously mostly women about my age, although there certainly were some much younger girls, teenagers, and it made me wonder what the heck they were doing there and how they knew the songs. There were also some obviously reluctant male counterparts to many of the females in the audience, very few of which stood and screamed along with their girlfriends. As for the New Kids themselves, I thought it was funny how Donny, who has since become a pretty serious actor, slipped right back into Donny the bad-ass mode. And these guys of course come from Boston, so New Hampshire is sort of like coming home for them. Donny must've said "Manchester" about 100 times, and I never noticed when I was a kid that he really is not a particularly good singer. Jon still looks like he hates every minute of being out there, and I wondered mostly if his microphone was even on most of the time. Danny still showcases his breakdance moves, and well, I didn't really notice much else because who ever looks at Danny? Jordan still has a great voice and had what my friend referred to as the "gay Michael Jackson moment" when he sang a song with his white, button-down shirt open and blowing in a wind machine. And Joey is still my favorite. Although it was funny to hear him sing "Please Don't Go, Girl" in his adult voice when of course you're used to hearing him sing it as a 12-year old kid. Still great. But aside from John, they just all looked like they were having so much fun, so it was a fun time. I really love nostalgia.

But now I need to walk around or something because even though it is 6:20pm here in Phoenix my body is just now starting to realize that in spite of the desert sun coming through the windows, it is almost 9:30 back home and past my bedtime. Ugh, it's going to be a long night.