Thursday, March 25, 2010

Headed for SoCal

I'm at the airport with nothing to do but sit and wait, so I might as well write something, right? Well, all major crises were averted yesterday and all things considered it is probably a very good thing that the pipe explosion didn't happen 24 hours later, when the house would've been left unattended to flood until the well was dry. I'd rather have a stressful pre-travel day than let the house be completely destroyed. Would've been nice to have neither, though. So all of my carefully laid out stress-free pre-travel plans were completely shot and I wound up packing up my bike at about 5:00 instead of like 11am, as originally planned. I almost panicked because almost without fail something goes wrong as I pack the bike, usually it is that I can't get my pedals off or some other stubborn, overly sweated-on bolt and it requires an emergency trip to some bike shop where someone will help me then and there. Fortunately, with only a little bit of blood, the pedals came off this time. However, the skewer on my front wheel refused to come off. I won't be racing on that wheel, so I had to steal a skewer from my road bike, but all should be ok. As I type this I am realizing that the magnet sensor for my bike computer is still on that wheel. Oh, well. We can't have everything. Of all the things to forget, that's a pretty minor one and I'll take it.

So this is the first race of the season, which is incredible. It has been my season-opener for two of my successful seasons, and two years ago it was also the first race I had ever signed up for and had to not start due to injury at the beginning of that awful year 2008 that I am still trying to block out from memory. In 2006 it was the beginning of my best season ever, and last year it was the beginning of my comeback that went pretty well up until I got that annoying stress fracture.

I'm definitely hoping for good things, and people keep asking me if I'm ready. Honestly, I never, ever feel ready for this race. Let's face it, it's March in New Hampshire. Up until a week and a half ago I hadn't pedaled a single stroke that actually took me anywhere. I'd been running in tights on icy streets, layered up and waiting for some warm weather. I've been swimming back and forth in a 25-yard pool five days a week and have no recollection of what it feels like to swim in my wetsuit. Speaking of which, I had to go back to my older one because the newer one (3 years old) has a busted zipper. Hopefully it still works adequately or else I'm in trouble, because the water is going to be pretty darn cold. At least it doesn't look like it's going to be the 53 it was in 2006 when I somehow managed to have my slowest half ironman swim since the first one I ever did. Nice timing.

So, am I ready? I have no idea. I do know that if this isn't the race of my life I will not be devastated. I've got bigger things on my plate to worry about than this. And from what I remember of racing there, really no matter how I'm feeling I'm just going to be happy to be out running in the warm sun along the Pacific Ocean. It's supposed to be fun, right? This one usually is. And if I happen to turn out a good performance in the process, then all the better. See you in Oceanside.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pre-Travel challenges

Tomorrow I am leaving for California to do my first triathlon of 2010, the California 70.3. At the moment, that is the last thing on my mind. In the past several years, I've traveled quite a bit for races. I'm used to it, I do it all the time, so it doesn't phase me or stress me out. I had my little plan set up for today to get everything done with nothing else to worry about. That is always when disaster strikes, isn't it?

It started simply enough. Last night I arrived home after dinner at a friend's house and saw some movement out of the corner of my eye in the kitchen. Oh, look. A mouse. Excellent. Mice don't seem to fear me, as I've made eye contact with them in the house on several occasions, though none recently. There has been an exterminator and a few six-month guarantees, none of which ever last six whole months. Fortunately, there are two mouse traps. Unfortunately, nothing to bait them with (unless they like Powerbars?) so I had to bother my broken-footed sister who was already upstairs in her pajamas at home but was nice enough to let me come over and borrow some peanut butter. Well, I guess take would be more accurate than borrow, as I don't intend to give it back (and I'm pretty sure she wouldn't want me to) Traps are set, so far no sign of any mice. At least the peanut butter is still there.

Ok, having mice in the house doesn't freak me out too much because so far they have never come into my bedroom... or at least as far as I'm aware. So I went to sleep as normal, only to wonder if the house might be overrun with rodents when I left for San Diego in 36 hours. This morning, after inspection of empty traps, I was off for my last swim before the race. No issues there, the pool was amazingly uncrowded for a Wednesday (last week there were no lanes) and I was back home with a few minutes to spare before checking in online for my flight tomorrow. Gotta get those A boarding passes on Southwest.

But wait, while hanging my swimsuit up to dry in the bathroom, I hear water dripping... only it's not coming from my suit. I look behind the toilet and see that there is water dripping from a little pipe back there. Ok, not coming out too bad, but it sure could accumulate while I'm gone. I out a towel down, thinking maybe it will stop in a minute. It doesn't. There's a valve there so I decide to try turning it. One way does nothing, the other way does equally nothing. I go to turn it a little further, but instead, the apparently-rotted through pipe simply breaks off completely and water proceeds to spray out in all directions in a sitcom-episode fashion. I didn't know pipes actually did that.

The only plumbing skills I possess are plunging an occasionally blocked toilet and being able to reattach the chain in the toilet back if the toilet keeps running. Neither of those things were going to help me in this situation. Step one, towels spread out all over the floor. No help there. I start to wonder if there is some finite amount of water that is going to run out eventually or if it is just going to keep coming and coming until I do something about it. Yeah, it doesn't seem to be slowing down at all.

Normally in this situation I'd call my father, but he is currently on vacation in St. Martin with my mother, and virtually unreachable. Instead, I called my uncle who lives next door who came over and thankfully shut the water off for me. Add that to my new list of plumbing skills and definitely my go-to defense should this situation happen again. Of course I am hoping it never will. Upon going to the water tank I see the water that has poured down through the ceiling into the basement through the insulation and flooded the floor. Immediately I am grateful that this was not the upstairs bathroom and this flood did not occur in the kitchen.

This is where it sincerely pays off to have a father who owns a construction company. I called them up and got a plumber and a guy to clean up the water right away, which is all taking place right now as I sit here and wait until I can finally get started on those last few pesky workouts I need to do before I can do laundry, shower (those last two provided there is water at some point today) and pack. This is certainly not an added stress I needed just before I left, but I guess it's a good thing that this leak occurred before I left or else the basement might literally have become a lake without someone here to shut off the water.

So yeah, I am not really thinking that much about the race at this exact moment. My training? Who knows? Who can ever tell this early in the season? Somehow I tend to pull things off better than I think I will, but at the moment it still just feels like I've been stealthily training in my basement and I'm only just now going to emerge into the light. I did get to ride in shorts once last weekend, and finally had a couple of decent run workouts to finish it all off. I was desperate for this little taper, too, so I have enjoyed it thus far... until this whole added part with mice running loose in the house and the possibility of getting to do bike AND swim workouts in my own basement. Hey, it would cut down on those gym membership fees.

Looking forward to a change of scenery!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Zahr women and our broken feet

Don't worry, I am still intact as of now. If you know my recent history, you'll know that I suffered a stress fracture in September, four weeks before Kona. Oddly enough, a few months earlier, my mother managed to brake a bone in her foot when she slipped on some ice. Well, even more of a coincidence is that yesterday my sister somehow managed to brake her foot while jumping rope with my niece. Talk about a freak accident. In Mom's case, it meant a knee-length boot for several weeks that she often chose not to bother to wear. In my case, it was a much more simple velcro shoe that was actually understated enough to sort of look like a sandal as I limped around Hawaii. In my sister's case it means 6 weeks in a full-on cast and crutches. Yikes. Apparently my mother and I are lucky that we did not injure the 5th metatarsal, as it is the worst one to brake because it takes the most time to heal. I don't know how we all managed to do that in such a short span of time, but it's kind of crazy. I just hope that this pattern doesn't continue, especially since this winter instead of braking something my mother decided to injure her knee and require a little surgery. I think the rest of us can do without that. The only really good news in my sister's case is that she is due to get the cast off just before her family trip to Disney World.

What else? Not much aside from amazing weather - I mean, how often is it this nice on St. Patrick's Day? It's been in the 60's and as sunny as can be. It rained enough for the entire month just over the weekend, as evidenced by the random lakes where there were no lakes I keep passing on my bike rides. And this weekend I will play a game called let's see which parts of my favorite bike routes I can actually ride and which ones were washed out by floods during my long ride. It was so strange to run in shorts today and be totally warm in the sun. Hopefully my skin absorbs some of it. If nothing else, I'm sure I can certainly use the vitamin D.

Oh, and still trying to adjust to this clock change. It's driving me crazy. Last night I managed to fall asleep really early, but it only lasted me until 12:45am and that was pretty much it for the night. I wish I'd known that lying there with my eyes closed would turn out to be a futile effort, maybe I could've gotten out of bed and done something constructive. Hopefully this means that tonight I'll actually sleep through the night. But hey, at least the clock change means the weather is improving.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Back to the trainer and changing the clocks

I was fortunate enough to enjoy another outdoor ride this week, but the rain moved in earlier than predicted. Actually, it seemed that every prediction on the timing of the rain was off in one way or another. Thursday I had thought was supposed to be pretty nice, but the rain moved in early and back to the trainer I went. I also had my first track workout since September, which I recall clearly as a solid (for me) set of half-mile repeats 72 hours before that awesome season-ending stress fracture.

The track and I do not get along very well. I guess really running and I lately don't get along very well either, but at the track the issues in our relationship are magnified. The good news I suppose was that the snow was no longer on the track, as it has finally disappeared for the most part, which is more than I can say for the past couple of years, when the mountains of record-breaking snow took an eternity to go away. After the first couple of quarter-mile repeats, of which there were 12 total, I finally settled into a pace that I guess was good for me, but also one that I'm pretty sure most of my friends can hold on a casual 8-miler (or even more). Yes, this is why I choose to do 99% of my workouts alone.

So the rain continued on Friday morning, but then it went away, and it was supposed to come back on Saturday morning, meaning that my long ride would once again be indoors. I guess the good part about this was that I was able to double as babysitter for my 7-year old niece when my sister dropped her off while she went to her spin class. Fortunately she is old enough to entertain herself and wasn't relegated to the sweat pool of my basement, but rather the living room and an endless supply of Hannah Montana. As a side note, can I just say that I am anxiously looking forward to a time when Miley Cyrus is no longer famous? Seriously, this girl gets to present at the Oscars?

Ok, anyway, after an eternity of going nowhere, I headed out for my transition run on dry roads, because once again the forecast was wrong and instead of raining in the morning, I think I heard the first drops at 4:30 in the afternoon. So I missed another outdoor ride... except that my bike still lacks functioning brakes, as the cables are on order and obviously I don't really need brakes on the trainer. So maybe an outdoor ride wouldn't have been such a good idea. At least without having gone skiing on Friday this ride went a whole lot better.

This brings us today, which is one of my least favorite days of the year: the clock change. I don't mind the one in the fall, which gives us an extra hour, I just hate this one, when it's taken away. Along with the fact that I need to somehow squeeze in a ridiculous amount of stuff into this one, shortened day. It required my getting up at 5 to start my workouts, which only just yesterday was 4, and spending yet another night being kept awake by strong wind and wondering if any of the remaining trees around the house might fall on it. Seriously, after the ice storm last year and the wind this year, I'm really not sure how any of the trees around here are left standing.

There are two things making today more difficult in addition to the clock change. First is the fact that I'm going down to Boston this afternoon for a QT2 swim workout, which means I have to leave at 1:30. Second is the fact that today is the "split long run" which requires a break (now) between the runs and the inability to get everything all done at once nice and early. It's hard enough as it is, but let's add to the fact that I have to muster up the motivation twice today to head out and run when it is pouring rain, windy and in the upper 30's. As I type this I'm currently wearing three pairs of pants, a t-shirt, a long-sleeve shirt, a sweater, a hooded sweatshirt and a winter hat. So as you can imagine, I'm just super excited to get out and run again in this weather. Especially now that my shoes are already soaked, as is my one decent rain jacket. Not that anything I'll be wearing is going to remain dry for long anyway. Sometimes I wonder if I'm being tested for some reason.

All this on the annoying clock change day. I've always felt that the clocks should change on like a Monday afternoon around 3. Why do we have to lose it on a Saturday night? I also miss the morning daylight already. Ok, so now I'm just whining. Maybe I'll just eat a peanut butter Powerbar before my next workout. That always makes me happy. If only I could have it before a nap instead of before a second run. Don't worry, one more week and I get a little rest before California 70.3. Hopefully a little sleep will make it all better.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

One outdoor ride saved me from insanity

I have to admit it: This weekend, I hated pretty much everything about triathlon. I think the only thing that I didn't despise completely was the tasty chocolate chip peanut crunch Clif bar I ate on my long ride. Every other second of that 11-hour training weekend was pretty much misery.

Part of it was definitely my own fault, and I'm not just talking about in the very obvious way that I'm the idiot who signed up for my 11th Ironman and let my coach talk me into doing the one in the beginning of May when I have to train in New Hampshire. No, it was my fault because I decided that amidst all of the other training I had to do, I should finally squeeze in at least one day of skiing this winter, which up until then I hadn't been able to do. I really do enjoy skiing and even taught it full time in the last winter of my life that wasn't spent mostly Ironman training, so the thought of missing an entire winter wasn't that appealing. The weather was supposed to be good, the conditions looked decent, my dad asked me if I wanted to join him and a friend, so I said sure, why not?

So Friday morning began with a 4:30 wake up call. Not just because of the skiing, but because I had to squeeze in 4000 yards and a nice, hard 20x100 before showering, changing and driving north to the parents' lake house. The swim workout went well, and I was out of the pool at about 6:06am, on the road at 6:25, at the house at 7:30, back in the car at 8:00 and at the base of Loon Mountain at 8:45, on the gondola at 9am. And that was only the beginning.

There wasn't a cloud on the sky or more than a whisper of wind, and although they hadn't seen much snow in a while, the conditions were pretty darn good. After one run of feeling a bit tentative, I immediately remembered how much I like skiing, and, more accurately, like flying down hills at high speeds and started my best Lindsey Vonn impression for the remainder of the day. We were up and down non-stop until 12:30, when I realized that I had just gone 5 straight waking hours without eating or drinking, which never, ever happens, and needless to say was starving and incredibly thirsty. Oh, and I knew I had more training to get done, so we called it a day.

After a wonderful lunch of salad, chicken and broccolini (I wish more restaurants would serve that stuff, I love it) at some random restaurant in town that we were the only customers in, it was back to the lake. Oh, but now it was time to get out and run, so at 2:30, I hit the road for that. The good part about that was that I believe it was the first run of the year in which I did not have to wear gloves. I didn't waste much time after that before it was back in the car to drive home and get in my trainer ride. So at 6:30 Friday night, after a ridiculously long day, I was finally done.

The weather on Saturday was supposed to be pretty darn nice. Normally, I would probably have gone outside. I'm usually the last one to give up on riding outside in the fall and the first one to jump outside the minute the roads are barely passable. Well, one or two rides last fall that involved incredibly uncomfortable cold and having to stop at a friend's house to thaw my water bottles made me have to change my standards for riding outside, but Saturday's weather certainly qualified. The problem was, I was fairly certain that my bike just plain wasn't ready to deal with an outdoor ride just yet. Had I not finished everything so late on Friday, I might have had the strength to prep my bike for outdoor riding, but once I was finally clean and dry at 7pm it just didn't seem like it was going to happen. It was probably going to be fairly chilly much of the morning, when I'd be doing most of my riding and I wasn't sure if I'd want to deal with that. Also, I was fairly certain that after an intense day of skiing, my six-hour ride on Saturday might not go so well, and maybe I'd be better off on the trainer and not attempting to climb hills for the first time since November or maybe even October, I don't really remember.

I was right about that. I was on my bike earlier than I care to admit and I'd say it took me less than twenty minutes before I started wondering how in the world I was going to get through that ride. I've done enough of those long rides to know that they don't often get to me like that, and usually all I really need to do is get through the first half and then I'm fine. Saturday was nothing like that. I must've seriously considered just getting off the bike and forgetting about the whole thing at least a dozen times. I'd stop pedaling and sit there for a minute or two, telling myself that I was "riding down a hill." I'd think about how I'd done what seemed like a million of these long rides over the past 5 years, and surely stopping this one after three hours wasn't going to hurt. My heart rate was too low and my legs were too tired. Somehow, mercifully, the time always does manage to pass eventually, and somehow I did get through, but it wasn't pretty.

The problem now? I still had to run. Oh, crap. As I walked upstairs from the basement, again, I thought what could it hurt if I just skipped it? But like usual, I mindlessly changed into my run clothes, knowing that at least once I was dressed for it the chances were pretty good I'd actually go out and run. I checked my e-mail first, hoping that maybe someone had sent me an urgent message that needed a lengthy reply, but that didn't happen. The only thing left was to put on my shoes and go outside.

I ran about 20 steps and then stopped dead in the driveway. Again thinking, why am I doing this? I started walking back to the garage, made it about halfway, and then turned around and started running again, knowing that at the end of the day, I'd be much happier with myself if I just sucked it up and did it. I suppose I was right, but even the pleasant weather didn't do much to make me enjoy that run. All I know is there was sweet, sweet relief when I was done, and after my shower, I fell asleep on the couch for two hours.

Sunday was slightly better from a mental standpoint I guess, mostly because my bike ride was at such an easy effort and the sun was out for my long run, but the run kind of sucked and I had to stop at my old junior high to drink about a gallon of water from their water fountain a little more than halfway through. I guess I forgot that it's finally warm enough to carry a fuel belt without having to worry about basically sucking on ice since the bottles are frozen. Oh, and I absolutely could've sworn I had one gel left in my cabinet of sports nutrition. For the first time since 2005, I was completely out. Yeah, that didn't help either. I survived, and spent the rest of the day with my legs up.

Yesterday was the blessed recovery day with nothing but a swim. I slept until 6:30, which for me is kind of a big deal. I did my swim, didn't slip on the floor on the way there, and got to save my legs for today. Today was a great day. I don't even feel the need to talk about my swim and run workouts, which both went pretty typically. I just want to talk about riding my bike. I spent much of that 6-hour ride on Saturday wondering why I continue to torture myself like that year after year. What the heck is the point? Why am I not hanging out with my non-athlete friends, sleeping in and maybe meeting for greasy brunch at 11am and maybe going to the movies and eating giant tubs of popcorn? I was mentally shot. It's a crappy place to be, but it happens. The worst part about it was that I knew I really had no right to feel that way. As it stands, my life is headed in exactly the direction I had wanted it to go, so why was I so miserable?

The answer was simple: too much time in the basement watching bad movies. All I needed was to go outside. It took me some time to get my bike ready for outdoor riding which included changing the rear tire which had been nearly shredded after four months on the trainer, cleaning and lubing the chain which had gotten awfully squeaky after I sweat all over it 10-14 hours a week, and I figured adjusting the front brake, but that turned into just get ready to not use it at all because apparently at some point that cable had snapped. Oh, well, I could make it on a fairly short ride with only my rear brake. I only had to stop twice anyway. The rear cog shifter was incredibly sticky and I didn't really have use of all of my gears, but I couldn't have cared less. It was just so nice to be riding outside, and so much more gratifying to pedal my bike and actually go somewhere.

I felt like I was absolutely flying, and just like on skis, I enjoy going fast. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, it was a little windy, but it was about 50 degrees and it just felt fantastic. Even a couple of little things, like wearing my favorite sunglasses which had been lost for over a year but finally found, and wearing the new jersey I had forgotten that I'd bought in November at the Pearl Izumi outlet but hadn't yet had a chance to use. That ride absolutely saved me. I spent the last couple of weeks wondering why I do this, and I had forgotten that when you're not stuck pedaling nowhere in your basement doing what I like to call "pretend training" it can actually be pretty fun. First ride out, 20mph average. Now, I've certainly gone that fast in training before, but the first ride out is usually more in the 16-17mph range, so needless to say I guess I was a little excited to be out there. I have done zero hard bike workouts (the exception being that indoor time trial a few weeks ago) because we're focusing on doing extra hard run workouts due to my suckiness in that regard. Why does running not come that naturally? Eh, who cares, I'm just glad that outdoor riding is here! Bike is in the shop now, getting all fixed up so I have all of my brakes and all of my gears. Can't wait to do it again. It was just what I needed just in the nick of time.