Sunday, January 30, 2011

One month down, and still no rain

It's kind of amazing to me that I've been here for a month already.  Even better, this week I really felt like I was making progress.  That is especially good considering the fact that over the past, um, many months I've felt as though I was going nowhere and sometimes even going backwards.  I can't tell you the last time I saw a 1:25 run on the schedule and didn't approach it with absolute dread, but that was finally not the case this past week or so. 

Swimming has even been going well, which is another amazing feat considering the fact that back in 2004 I made some great strides in swimming, as evidenced by the fact that that year at Timberman, after the race my father told me that he could no longer pick me out of the crowd of swimmers from fifty yards out in the water because I no longer looked like a flailing mess.  My Ironman swim time then was better than it was this year, and pretty much the same as it's always been.  So to see some good splits in the water is quite encouraging. 

As for the bike, well, that's coming around, too.  It's a very different kind of terrain than what I normally ride.  Back home it is usually quite rolling, punctuated by some sharp, steep climbs and maybe a few slow, steady ones here and there.  Here it's either flat or very long sections of slightly up followed by very long sections of slightly down.  I'm sure I could find some serious climbs, but I believe the temperature is in the 20's atop Mt. Lemmon right now, so I think I'll wait on that.  Anyway, the point is, biking is starting to feel pretty good, too.  Biking has always come pretty easy to me, and while the first bunch of rides out here were less than stellar, the last couple of rides I've gone on have been quite encouraging.  The only annoying part is that my heart rate is pretty low which means I have to work a lot harder.  Annoying at times, but also means that I'm becoming stronger and more aerobically fit, so I guess I'll deal with it. 

These first four weeks were all big training weeks, so I am very, very ready for a rest week.  I'm definitely getting plenty of rest between workouts because I don't really have anywhere else I need to be but my legs are definitely starting to feel the cumulative fatigue of the near-100 hours of training I've put in over the past month.  But it should also be noted that coming into this season I don't think I've been more well rested since I started training in the first place eight years ago or whenever it was.  Maybe nine now?  Of course I did not enjoy the reasons for the extended physical and mental break, but as a result I just don't feel the same kind of burnout I'd been feeling for quite a while.  I don't think it's normal for me to be able to say that when I'm doing weekly six-hour long rides in January already, but even yesterday I felt like I easily just could've kept on going. 

The last time I did this, coming out to Arizona to train, I was coming off what was and still is my most successful season ever.  I thought it was going to kick-start even more improvements and set me even further ahead.  Well, it didn't.  I got a little bit overly focused on high expectations and wound up being disappointed in my race at Ironman Arizona.  When I look back on it now, it seems ridiculous that I would've been disappointed in a result like that, but I was.  But I also remember starting up with that big training in January when I was in Phoenix and wondering why the heck I was doing so much so early in the season.  I was already burnt out after racing Lake Placid, Hawaii and Clearwater and not really taking a break at all.  It's nice to be starting out much fresher, even if I am way less fit now than I was then. 

Also, in case I hadn't mentioned it before, I vastly prefer Tucson to Phoenix.  I picked Phoenix last time because that was where the race was, so why not train on the course?  The truth is, find any stretch of barren, ugly highway with a slight incline and maybe that goes past a dump and you have the Ironman Arizona bike course.  You don't need to train on it to do well on it.  There are no tricks or turns, just desert.  Not even pretty desert, really just dirt.  But on that trip I did ride my bike down to Tucson one weekend and decided immediately that I'd picked the wrong city, and I knew if I ever returned, that was where I was going to go. 

I still see on the news every morning how bad the weather is back east and it makes me wonder how I ever make it through with my sanity.  This week alone I spent over 16 hours on my bike.  Can you imagine trying to find 16 hours worth of entertainment to fill the time while pedaling nowhere in your basement?  I've already exhausted almost every movie I ever even thought I might want to see on Netflix.  I vastly prefer the outdoor version, even if it means that currently I am sporting a tan only on the lower half of my face.  It remains to be seen though whether or not I make this a yearly event. 

Now, of course Tucson isn't perfect.  Like I said, some of the roads are in pretty bad shape and there is an extraordinarily large amount of broken glass scattered on the shoulders of the roads.  Not to mention the dead coyote I've been riding past in the same spot all month long.  Oh, and while the outdoor pool is nice and all, I did just see that it's supposed to be in the 20's at night this week due to a little cold front, which means I will be getting in and out of the pool and using the outdoor (well, unheated, of course there are walls and stuff) changing room for my morning swims.  That's not going to be super fun.  But, well, I suppose I shouldn't complain too much.  After all, it still hasn't even rained.  Supposedly it might tomorrow, but we'll see. 

Anyway, everything is just going really well.  I spent most of my last excursion like this sort of waiting for it to be over, and this time I'm just sort of amazed at how fast it's going by.  My mom and my aunt are coming out to visit in a couple of weeks which should break up the trip nicely.  Maybe I'll even venture by car past the 4-mile perimeter that includes all of the grocery stores and pools I need.  Whole Foods is four miles away, Trader Joe's is two, and any number of others are even closer.  The pool takes about a minute and fifteen seconds to drive to.  I might walk there, but you know, there's a big hill and the fact that it's really cold in the morning.  Besides, even with that I still haven't had to put gas in the car since the day I arrived in town.  And I believe I already told you what terrible gas mileage the Xterra gets. 

I apologize once again that there are no pictures to go along with this.  When my mom comes I'm having her bring my camera cord so that you can finally see where I've been.  Hot air balloons every Saturday morning when I start my ride, mountains in the background, pretty sunsets, not bad.  Don't get me wrong, I love New Hampshire, but I'm currently really, really glad that I came out here.  Especially when I almost changed my mind back in the fall.  I saw four coyotes this morning on my run again, all separately at different times.  Considering the fact that back home I've come across bears these little guys seem a lot less intimidating, and equally as uninterested in me. 

I guess that's about it.  Very excited for my rest week and my once-a-month day off.  I just have to come up with something interesting to fill that time with.  So far what I've come up with is washing my sheets.  Very exciting.  I never said I led a glamorous life, but it's getting me back in good shape which is really the entire point of this excursion.

Monday, January 24, 2011

New swimsuit and warm weather

Last week I had an 800 time trial in the pool scheduled for Tuesday.  I pushed as hard as I could and wound up with a time about a minute slower than my best.  Now, while that time would usually come well into the season after lots of speedwork, being a minute off seemed like a bit much.  I recorded the time in my log, noted it was slow, but my coach told me it was not bad.  After all, it was about 15 seconds faster than the one I did last month.  But then I thought to myself, maybe it's just time for a new swimsuit?  So, after my workouts on Wednesday, I made my way to Sports Authority and checked out which suits were on sale, found one in my size and took it home.

Thursday morning I hopped in the pool for a set that began with an 800 steady.  So, off I went.  And, without working particularly hard, that 800 was a bit faster than my all out 800 on Tuesday.  Yep, sometimes all it takes is a new suit.  And I know you're wondering, and I saw the old suit in the mirror and it didn't look that bad, it was just that the outer layer of fabric had really started to create sort of a parachute effect, apparently.  But at least swimming has gotten a lot easier now and that suit is definitely in the trash.

What else?  Well, I have been watching the news in the morning and noting how much of what I'm seeing is based on the weather and how unbelievably cold and snowy it is all over the country.  Then I look out my window and wonder why I ever bother to put up with that.  Ok, I get it, I enjoy a good snow storm every once in a while and didn't even mind the blizzard that occurred right before I left to come out here.  Actually, it's probably good that it postponed my trip a day to prevent me from getting here too early.  But when you log onto facebook and at least four of your friends back home have posted pictures of their car thermometers reading -9 or whatever and you go swim in the outdoor pool and know it's supposed to be 70 again today, well, it's hard to argue that this is the much better place to be right now. 

I honestly almost feel guilty about it, even though it's not like it's my fault it's so cold there and it's so warm here.  Of course, the trade off is that you have to remember I am completely alone out here.  I'm doing fine with it so far, although I know eventually it will really start to get old.  But hopefully by then it will be time to come home, and I'll get a bit of a reprieve because my mom and my aunt are coming to visit in February.  I think after all of this next winter my mother might be the one who spends next winter somewhere warm.  Seriously, if all you have to do is find somewhere warm to go, why do we even put up with it at all?

Other than that, lots of training going on, of course.  Also on my run yesterday I got to add coyote to the list of wildlife I've come across while training.  At this point there's not a lot left for me to run into.  Fortunately he did not appear interested in me at all, and after we made eye contact he just trotted off leisurely in another direction.  Been logging lots of miles on the bike, a decent amount on the run and lots of time in the water.  I will say that I am definitely looking forward to my rest week next week, though.  Although I do notice that I definitely am much more aware of how alone I am on the days with less training, but maybe I'll try to think of something fun to do. 

Anyway, that's about it.  Enjoying the warm weather, not feeling like I'm missing out on the snow and cold and training, training, training.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tucson is much warmer than New England

I have toolbar on my internet browser that includes a little weather icon that shows me the temperature and a sun, clouds, rain, snow, whatever the weather may be.  Of course it was originally set for New Hampshire, and I didn't bother to change it when I got here.  On Saturday morning I woke up and saw that it was two degrees out.  By the end of my long ride it was in the low 70's here.  And today, when once again it was snowing and sleeting and freezing raining back home, it was about 75 on my ride.  That's actually a bit unseasonably warm for this time of year around here, but I will definitely take it. 

So, as you can imagine, things are going pretty well.  It's quite apparent based on the weather reports and 20" of snow in one storm that I made the right decision by coming here.  I'm already working on my funny tan lines, most notably the one on my face, where you can certainly tell which part of my face is covered by my helmet and sunglasses on every ride.  I'm getting used to riding the rough pavement that is the only downside really to riding in Tucson.  It's not the entire ride, but some good stretches.  I've found some roads that have made me feel like I'm the only person left on Earth, been chased by a couple of stray dogs, and on Saturday mornings I usually see some hot air balloons out for a ride early in the morning. 

Of course, I'm sure everyone has heard by now what happened here in Tucson just over a week ago.  I was long gone on my bike ride and had no idea anything was going on until I returned that afternoon and turned on the TV.  It's definitely strange to think that that morning when I was riding out that shooter was at the Walmart down the street trying to buy his ammunition.  And a reporter came by the pool one morning because apparently the judge who was killed swam there in the mornings, and the little girl who died was also a member there.  Both of their funerals were at the church about a half-mile down the road from me.  In fact, an ill-timed run of mine had me dodging hundreds of early arrivals and news vans. 

Anyway, enough about that.  I'm sorry I don't have pictures to upload.  More accurately, I don't have a way to upload them.  I will say that it is pretty here in a very different way than New Hampshire.  And I like it a lot better than Phoenix.  I had a decent swim this morning and a good ride this afternoon and now I'm very much enjoying having my feet up.  Yep, things are going pretty well.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Almost a week in....

Well, so far I am enjoying my stay in Tucson.  I am sure I am happier here than I would be if I had stayed at home through the winter.  Don't get me wrong, I'm going to be glad when it's time to come home, I'm sure, but for now, this is a good change for me.  It's nice to be able to go and ride outside.  It's a little rough in the mornings when I wake up and have to strip down to my swimsuit on a pool deck when it's 35-degrees outside and the lifeguards are dressed how I would be if I were going skiing in below-zero temperatures, but of course once I'm in there it's fine.  And since the drive is two minutes, when I'm done I can be home and in a hot shower in no time! 

I really lucked out too with the condo I found to sublet off Craigslist.  Of course, that kind of "shopping" can be risky, but in my case it worked out quite well.  Except for one, minor thing....  the guy left behind his fish.  Ok, not a big deal, right?  This was one of those bullet-proof goldfish that somehow had been thriving for the last 14 years.  I had a goldfish once when I was a kid.  I won it at the school carnival and it died after a few weeks, like most goldfish tend to do.  We gave him a proper burial at sea; and by that I mean we dumped his bowl in a nearby stream rather than your typical flushing him down the toilet burial.  We had a dog and a hamster who fared better, but that was my only experience with goldfish.

I know that sometimes there are freakish ones who do live a long life.  I had a friend in high school who had a goldfish that she had gotten in the same fashion that I did, winning it at the carnival.  Except her fish lived for something like ten years before it finally died.  And for some reason I've yet to figure out, they kept it in the freezer for a while.  So I was told that the fish would be here, but he was only fed once a month and I wouldn't have to do anything to take care of it.  The guy I'm subletting from had a change of plans and wound up not leaving town, but fortunately still honored our agreement and was letting me stay here while he stays somewhere else for the duration, and he would be able to come by once a month and feed the fish.  Good, nothing to worry about there, right?

So maybe a grand total of 36 hours after my arrival, I walked by the fish tank and noticed that Lovie (yes, Lovie) was lying on the bottom in the corner.  I don't know a whole lot about fish, but I am pretty sure that that is not normal fish behavior.... at least not when they're living.  So, great, the freakin' fish is dead, pretty much the minute I moved in.   This was reminding me of the Bubbles the hamster incident in November all over again (though Bubbles would've been a much more appropriate name for the fish, no?) I am apparently the new angel of death.  And come on, even I was wondering if I'd done something based on the fact that the fish died almost immediately upon my arrival, in spite of the fact that all I'd done was walk past it a few times.  The guy I'm renting from thought nothing was wrong when I first e-mailed him, apparently the fish gets pretty inactive once he eats and gets full.  I knew different.

So, finally, after a couple of days and the fish finally floating to the top of the tank the way that most dead fish tend to do, it was finally accepted that after 14 years (how many is that in goldfish years?) Lovie was dead.  I offered to take care of it, because frankly, it's kind of creepy having a 6-inch dead goldfish floating in the aquarium every time I walk in and out of the condo.  So I took care of the memorial services (flushed him down the toilet) and had a brief flash to that episode of the Cosby Show when they had that nice funeral for Rudy's goldfish.  Maybe I should've gotten dressed up? 

So anyway, aside from that little incident, things are good here.  The weather has apparently been unusually cold, but for someone from New Hampshire, when it's in the 50's in January, we consider that a good thing.  But temps have gone up and the mornings aren't below freezing anymore.  Training is slowly picking up, not feeling great yet, but who feels great in January?  It's nice to be able to focus on nothing else. 

So, with no more pets left in the house to die, it should be smooth sailing from here on out, right?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Welcome to Tucson

Well, as you can imagine by the fact that my last post was a few days ago and only 200 miles from Tucson, I made it.  I opted not to get up at dawn for the mere 3-hour drive and instead took my time and wound up arriving around 2:00.  Oddly, there was snow on the ground much of the early part of the ride and into the Arizona state line, but fortunately it was gone by the time I got to Tucson.  Once again the drive was painless, and although the weather wasn't normal Tucson weather as it was only in the 40's, the sun was out and of course it is due to warm up, so I wasn't concerned. 

First step was going into my new condo.  I found it without issue, and thanks to Google street view I knew what to look for.  I found the place from an ad on Craigslist, which we all know can be risky, but seems to have worked out ok.  Turns out the guy I'm subletting from has a sister who lives about 20 minutes from me back in New Hampshire, so she was the middle man in the key/money exchange, which was nice.  Also made me feel pretty secure that I was probably not giving the guy a check only to get scammed. 

So anyway, in I go and the place is quite nice and has a great view.  I really wish I could show you said view, but I forgot the cable that downloads the pictures from my digital camera to my lap top, so it will have to wait until I maybe go buy a new one.  I do want to keep this interesting and share some nice pictures.  But I can't just yet.  Of course even though the drive was as painless as could be considering the duration, and I really hadn't felt that tired, it was like as soon as I arrived I felt exhausted and the prospect of unpacking the car felt like someone had just asked me to do a double Ironman.  But of course, it had to be done, so I lugged three months worth of stuff upstairs.  At least I tend to pack light, so probably brought less than most might in my situation.  I did bring my cold weather riding and running gear, though.  I packed similarly when I was in Phoenix in '07, and while the majority of the time it's pretty decent, I know that sometimes it can get pretty cold. 

At that point I was torn between collapsing and the fact that I had no food with me.  The thought of getting in the car again seemed awful, but it had to be done.  At least there is a Super Walmart right around the corner.  I saved the big shopping for later and opted just for some essentials to get me through a day or two.  Then it was time to collapse for a bit.  On Sunday I ventured out for some workouts and signed up for where I'll be swimming for the next three months.  There is a YMCA less than a mile down the road with a gorgeous outdoor pool.  To top it all off the place is $30 a month cheaper than my gym back home and there was no joining fee due to a January special.  I feel silly signing up for a new gym on January second, I feel like saying no, I swear it's not a resolution thing! 

So I was set and ready to go.  Yesterday morning I was up bright and early and drove the 3 minutes down the road to the Y and hopped in the pool.  The pool itself is a nice 82 degrees, although the 30-degree air is a bit rough when it comes to getting in and out.  Still, a small price to pay when you get to swim under the stars.  I realize I could've waited until later when it was warmer, but that's not the way I like to do things.  A nice weight workout and I was done early for the day and ready for some more serious grocery shopping. 

Today it was back to the pool again and then I had a pretty substantial ride to get in.  Of course I didn't really know where to go, but I'm pretty good at Google.  So I searched Tucson bike routes, found a couple that were near enough to where I live and off I went.  It's not incredibly warm here just yet, maybe in the 50's, but as long as the roads aren't snow and ice, I'm probably doing pretty ok.  And to top it off, I didn't get lost!  I nearly lost a water bottle that was pointed out to me at a stoplight by a passing motorist, but otherwise it was a good start.  The roads here are not exactly in the best condition, but again, the weather is decent which is a lot more than I can say for things back home.  And the roads were pretty quiet, which is obviously a good thing.  So the beginning of my adventure is going pretty well.  Only 12 weeks to go.