Monday, March 28, 2011

Last long ride... cut a bit short

I was very happy when I woke up Saturday morning that it would be my last long ride in Tucson.  There are a couple of stretches of road that have been involved in all of these rides that I have no problem knowing I'll never have to ride down again.  I was physically and mentally pretty darn tired, but of course off I went, a little after 6am which was perhaps a bit earlier than advisable considering the daylight situation at that time, but I just wanted to get it over with. 

Things were uneventful, as usual, as I spent most of the time just thinking about hours later when I'd be comfortably sprawled on the couch taking a nap.  My thoughts then drifted to the fact that I had not suffered a flat tire the entire time I've been riding here in Tucson.  Well, unless you count the one I got when I was checking the tire before heading out for a ride in January, and I pulled a thorn out of the tire which promptly deflated.  But an at-home tire change is a lot different than on the fly.  And considering the fact that I flatted a couple of times week it seemed when I was in Phoenix, I was amazed.  There's plenty of glass on the roads and rough pavement and all sorts of obstacles.

I should never have thought about that, because as I was riding I suddenly felt like something wasn't quite right.  Now, this happens sometimes when I feel like I might be flatting, but I'm not.  Maybe if I don't look at the tire, it will stay inflated.  Except finally I glanced down at the front tire and saw that it definitely didn't have as much air in it as it did when I started.  I thought back to a few minutes before and remembered hitting a bump or something awkwardly and wondered if that was the culprit.  So I pulled over and checked the tire, which was quite deflated though not completely empty.  I didn't see any glass or anything in it, and then went to fix it. 

Except I didn't have anything to fix it with.  My saddle bag was conspicuously absent.  Oh, great.  Now what?  At the time I thought maybe it had fallen off somewhere, but it only occurred to me a few hours after I got home that it had obviously been missing for a week.  On last week's long ride one of my rear bottle cages broke clean off.  Guess what was attached to it? 

The only good news was that I was twelve miles from home instead of fifty.  I thought for a minute, try and ride it back?  Like I said, it wasn't completely empty.  So I got on and started pedaling, but immediately it just seemed like a terrible, terrible idea.  Let's not forget that aside from the rough pavement I'd have to cross a few cattle guards to get home.  Cattle guards on a wheel rim did not seem like a good idea.  So I stopped again and then just sort of stood there for a few minutes, wondering what my next move should be.  I had my phone in my back pocket, but it occurred to me that was pretty useless as I didn't really have anybody to call.  Makes me wonder why I've tossed it in my pocket for all these rides these past few months. 

Well, fortunately as I sat there with zero ideas popping into my head aside from walking my bike home twelve miles, a guy pulled up on his bike and asked if I was ok.  He was on a hybrid comfort bike, so even if he had tubes or something they wouldn't have fit.  But he did actually call his wife and she came and got me and brought me home.  This is actually the third time in my life I've had to accept a ride from a stranger in a dire flat situation.  The first was actually back home, I was about fifteen miles out and I don't think I had my phone.  My family was all away I think and I had run over something and destroyed both tires and a nice couple stopped and offered me a ride.  The second time I was in Phoenix, riding in the middle of nowhere on a cold, rainy day in January when I got my second flat.  I was in the middle of changing it and this woman stopped and insisted on bringing me to a bike shop or something.  I could've been stuck 30 miles from nowhere with no more spares and decided to take the ride even though I didn't need it... at least not yet.  I think I bought like six spares when I got to the bike shop so I'd have them to carry with me for the rest of the ride.

Anyway, I've definitely been lucky in this aspect so far.  But it gave me another reason as to why I am immensely tired of being here by myself.  And if I don't have more than seven channels to pick from soon I'm going to have to kill somebody.  Probably me, because I don't know anybody else.  I am so looking forward to hitting the road on Thursday!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

And now one week to go...

Well, it appears I have not updated for a week.  Not that there has been much to say about my glamorous life as a loner triathlete training in Tucson.  I had a couple of frustratingly restless afternoons outside of the training last week due to extreme boredom, but this week I seem to have settled in pretty well.  After the training is done for the day I sift through my collection of DVD's I brought with me (I miss cable and my DVR!) and spend probably 15 minutes deciding which movie to watch for the 5th or 50th time, depending on which movie, only to fall asleep about ten minutes in, no matter which one I chose.  So really I should probably just start putting in the first one I see, because it doesn't matter anyway. 

Two things occurred to me this week: 1: a week from Saturday when I do the California 70.3 it will be my first half ironman in a year, coming off that race last year.  That's ridiculous.  Last season was scarily devoid of much actual racing if you don't count those two Ironmans I did.  It was like a non-season.  I was supposed to race Timberman in August but it was decided that it would only serve as an exercise in futility (and finisher hat and medal collecting) so I abstained.  I feel like I haven't been at a race start line in a couple of years and it only just occurred to me that it's time to start worrying about the water temperature next week (upper 50's... brrr....) 

The second thing that occurred to me is that this is the start of my tenth season in triathlons.  That is just crazy to me.  I graduated college, spent my first summer running just to keep in shape and riding my bike occasionally, and then the following summer had signed up for my first race, a sprint, and then jumped into Timberman (back when you could sign up like six weeks before) and learned a hard lesson in being prepared for the distance.... and doing a half ironman when it's 95 degrees out.  It was all just a fun way to stay in shape and do some races here and there and now it has become the main focus of my life.  It only took a couple of years, a Kona qualification and ultimately an Ironman "win" to get to that point. I used to show up at races and not know a soul and now I can show up almost anywhere in the U.S. it seems and wind up running into someone I've met along the way. 

There have been countless yards of swimming, as well as miles of biking and running.  Honestly, it does sometimes make me wonder if there are better ways to spend my time, but I still seem to keep coming back, even through the setbacks of the past few years, so I suppose I'll continue. 

Yes, I'm still ready to get out of Tucson in spite of the ever-perfect weather.  The past few bike rides I've gone on I keep thinking to myself, ok, I only have to ride down this road a few more times!  And I couldn't be happier about it.  I will not miss riding by the coyote carcass in Marana that has been there literally since the first ride I went on when I got here.  It sort of amazes me that it is even still identifiable as a coyote, but it looks almost the same as when I first saw it in January. 

I go back and forth with being excited about California.  Over the past few years it has seemed to be a pretty good indicator of what kind of season I'm going to have.  2006?  Solid race, leading to the best season ever.  Did not race in 2007 because it was too close to Ironman Arizona.  2008?  Unable to start because a week-and-a-half earlier I messed up my SI joint on a run and limped across the country anyway in the hopes of maybe magically waking up race morning to find things had gotten better.  Instead I spent the day on the sidelines watching my friends race, leading up to most of the worst performances of my career (to that point).  2009 I wound up bettering my time from 2006, faster swim and bike but slower run, and finally came around to have some decent performances at Mooseman and Lake Placid and another Kona qualification.  The problem there is that it's useless if you don't get to the start line healthy, and a stress fracture ensured that my day in the lava fields would be over after 114.4 miles. 

That did not set me up to be in the best of mental states going into the 2010 season.  And somehow I showed up in California just not into it.  And my race performance showed it.  I had a mediocre swim and bike and admittedly pretty much gave up on the run.  What happened after that?  Oh yeah, back to back new personal worsts for the Ironman.  By hours, in fact.  And, well, life got in the way at the end of that mess and left me feeling a little less than enthusiastic heading into the preparation for 2011. 

But, well, I already paid for a few races and I can't seem to figure out what else to do with my time aside from swim, bike and run, so I decided to keep my plan of leaving town for the winter (I don't recall when I actually decided that initially, only that I knew I would shoot myself in the head if I had to spend another winter of Saturdays in the basement riding for 5 hours at a time, almost didn't come after September but ultimately decided to go for it) in the hopes that it would give me a head start in the right direction.  

So, that remains to be seen, but as you can tell I feel like I have a lot riding on April 2nd.  Even better though than just getting out and racing again will be finally seeing some old friends who always come out from New Hampshire.  I've always enjoyed that race, too.  Not so much the cold water, but a fairly tough but fair bike course and an easy flat run along the beach.  Sometimes on that run you forget you're in a race.  And while I'm not a fan of what WTC has done to many of my favorite races by buying them and changing them, California has always been the same and I've always expected that sort of big event feel from it, so it doesn't bother me.  Although I'm not a huge fan of being in wave #18.  Can I show up an hour after everyone else is supposed to?  No matter how they arrange it, the women never get to go in one of the earlier waves. 

But until then, a few more tough training sessions, a little bit of resting, eating what feels like my millionth plate of egg whites and vegetables and a nice, six-hour drive to prep me for the 3-ish day drive to Florida and the day-and-a-half drive from Florida back to NH.  Oh, speaking of which, another thing I realized this week was that after all is said and done, I'll have been in 25 states during my little adventure.  Or maybe 24, I can't figure out if on the final drive home I have to go through Delaware or not, but still.  Not bad. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Two weeks left in Tucson

It's hard to believe that two weeks from today I will be leaving my winter training camp.  Although it feels like it was a year ago that I pulled up to my temporary home on that chilly first day of the year after driving across the country.  Somewhere around the halfway point of my trip I started to feel like it was never going to be over, but suddenly the end is sneaking up on me.  At the same time, though I'm leaving here in two weeks, the reality is that I still won't be home for over a month, so in that sense it still feels like an eternity!

There are things I will miss and things I won't.  I'm really looking forward to getting back to my old training routes, what with the less traffic, rolling hills and vastly superior pavement.  I'm looking forward to having more than 7 channels on TV.  I'm definitely looking forward to seeing my friends and family again and having near-daily human interaction instead of mostly only conversing with the lady who checks me in at the pool and the cashier at the grocery store.

At the same time of course I'll miss never, ever having to worry about whether or not it's going to rain when I go to ride my bike.  Seriously, 3 months, usually 6 days a week of riding, and I think twice the weather was questionable, but it just happened to work out that during those instances, which never covered entire days, I didn't have to worry about riding in the rain.  I will also miss living 90 seconds from the pool and the lack of humidity.  And these 85-degree days in March aren't so bad, either. Oh, and I am for sure going to miss TV running on central time.  For someone who goes to bed at like 8:30 usually, it's great when prime time starts at 7 and I get to watch some of it.  And watching the Oscars is way more tolerable when it ends at 9:30.  Also gotta love the fact that they don't change the clocks here!

I will not miss living in someone else's place.  It worked out fine, but it still just isn't that comfortable living somewhere that isn't yours.  And having to keep my bike inside on a second-floor walk-up, which at times is ok, other times, after a tough 6 hours of riding, those stairs seem like Everest.  Especially when trying to balance myself in bike shoes while carrying the bike.  I will also not miss the fact that I swear 85% of the vehicles that drive past me while I ride are white pick-up trucks.  I don't know why this annoys me, but it does.  There are way too many white pick-up trucks in Arizona.

So now I just have to finish out the last couple of weeks.  The weather has been amazing, but I'm tired of my training routes here.  I also have to make sure that I ration out the last of my food so I don't leave anything behind because I hate that!  I have to eat a lot of chicken and ground turkey in the next two weeks.  Oh, wait, that's what I eat mostly anyway.  These last couple of weeks will also give me a chance to finally finish off that box of Powerbars I'd been eating that I just realized expired two months ago.  That's not as bad as the gels that expired in November, but I'm not dead yet!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mt. Lemmon

Probably any cyclist or triathlete has heard of Mt. Lemmon.  It is, according to some, one of the "best" climbs in the United States.  Mt. Washington back in New Hampshire is considered another, although I have to tell you that that is probably the one route in which I'd actually rather do the run than the bike.  I just can't even imagine riding my bike up a 22% grade.  I think I'd begin going backwards and never be heard from again. 

While Mt. Lemmon cannot boast the steepness of the 7-ish mile climb to the top of New England, it certainly makes up for it in duration and altitude.  In fact, I just found a list of the hardest climbs in the US and #1 is Mt. Washington and Mt. Lemmon comes in at a paltry #9, so I can see I have a long way to go before I even consider my home-state climb.  A look at the numbers tells me that Mt. Lemmon ascends 5400' in roughly 26 miles.  Mt. Washington ascends 4586', obviously less, but does so in a mere 7.6 miles.  Ouch.  Someday, maybe if I'm feeling crazy enough I'll try it.  If I chop off one of my arms maybe first, or have removed some of those pesky internal organs that seem to serve no purpose other than giving me extra weight to carry uphill.  They still don't really know what our appendix is for, right?  I've been lugging that thing around all these years for nothing...

Anyway, being in town for three months in such proximity to a legendary climb makes it seem almost sacrilegious not to do it, so I finally broke down and went for the ascent.  To be fair, as recently as two weeks ago I couldn't have ridden up at all because it snowed and only cars with chains on the tires were allowed, so I guess it's not so bad that it took me ten weeks to head over there.  One concern since I'd be heading up to an altitude that I've only once ever been at, not counting airplanes of course, was the possible huge temperature difference from the bottom to the top.  Fortunately, the weather has been unseasonably warm around here, in the 80's, so the chances of it being frigid at the top were almost nothing. 

The climb never got particularly steep, and the only reason I ever got out of the saddle was just to change positions for a while rather than because I needed to stand up in order to keep moving forward.  It is, however, pretty relentless.  I recall one or two spots where I kind of, sort of went downhill, but for the most part it was 21 miles of up, up, up.  Each mile slowly ticking off as I passed those green mile marker signs lining the highway and coming up far too slowly.  Until I reached about mile 12, I wasn't sure I really wanted to keep going all the way to the top.  There were also signs each 1000 feet we ascended, the first of such I noticed was 4000, and the last of which was this one:

The only other time I've been that high was when I went skiing at Steamboat Springs in Colorado.  Or at least I think it was that high, I'm not entirely sure.  I really have no idea if the altitude did anything to make the climb seem any harder than it should've, my heart was beating just as fast at 4000 feet as it was at 8000, it's just that my legs were probably burning more by the time I got to this point since I'd been climbing for what felt like an eternity. 

As I neared the top there were some shadowed areas that still had some snow, remnants from the freakish little storm we had a couple of weeks ago.  But with all of the going uphill at a whopping 8mph much of the time, I certainly didn't feel cold.  Maybe until it was time to turn around and start heading down.  You know a stretch of road is tough when it takes you well over two hours to go in one direction and maybe forty minutes to go back the other way.  Fortunately the chilliness of the descent didn't last long as I got back into the 80-degree temperatures pretty quick.  My legs were immensely grateful for the break. 

I also snapped a couple of other photos:

I believe this one I took at windy point, after climbing a particularly steep section.  Down there you can see the road that I had already ascended, probably not too many miles back but certainly a whole lot lower.  I believe this is somewhere around mile 14, Windy Point.  Contrary to its name, when I went by it was not windy.  I do know that I spent a lot of that climb though contemplating turning around and riding back down.  Nobody would have to know, I would think to myself.  But then I also thought to myself that this could be the one chance I ever had of climbing up, and I knew that when I went to bed last night, I was going to feel a whole lot better if I had climbed it all than if I had turned back halfway up.  Besides, it had been quite a while since I did something that really seemed difficult to me in that way, so I knew it would be good for me. 

This is essentially the same picture from a wider angle.  All in all, it was a pretty good day.  And anytime I am not enjoying it I have to remind myself that any time spent out training, no matter how painful orFor sure I still don't feel like the athlete I once was, but we're slowly moving back in that direction.  I still on occasion feel like someone who snuck in for a little while only to eventually become an outsider again.  But at least for now I'll keep plugging away. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Six months

Six months ago today was the worst day of my life.  Or the culmination of the worst four days of my life.  Like anything, sometimes it seems like it was a much longer time ago and other times it feels like it was just yesterday.  As you can imagine, I still think about my dad all the time.  Sometimes it's just memories of the regular stuff and sometimes I can't help but think of all of the things we went through with him at the hospital leading up to the end.  Given where I am and the fact that I wouldn't expect to see him here makes it a little easier.  It's just that when I call home I only talk to my mother instead of one of those three-way calls with Mom on one phone and Dad on the other, telling me that training better be going well because he wants to go to Hawaii.  Recently I was e-mailing with my brother and I asked him if every once in a while he ever just thought, wow, did that actually happen?  Because I do it all the time, and so does he. 

I don't know why it suddenly occurred to me that today marked six months, but I wish it didn't.  As a result, it was not a good day.  And I can't decide if it's better or worse that I don't have anyone to talk to.  I'm not sure I'd want to talk about it even if someone was available.  But anyway....

Let's not talk about that anymore.  The remainder of my rest week was uneventful and boring.  I got really restless without anything to do.  Although I did at least take the time on my second day off to cook up some food for the week.  It's much easier to eat what I need to eat when I've already cooked up and stored a bunch of stir fry that only needs to be reheated.  Boring?  Yep.  But it gets the job done.  I also ran a race this weekend.  I haven't toed the start line of a race since September 5th.  I was definitely not excited about it, although I also wasn't dreading it completely, which was a good sign.  It was a low-key, small local 10K.  I've run very few 10K races in my career.  The last one was one of my many, many unmitigated disasters of the 2010 season, though I tried to blame it on the bear that crossed the street in front of me around mile 5. 

Well, there are no bears in Tucson.  At least none that I'm aware of.  I had to get up at 5:30 to eat breakfast because for some reason the race started at 7:30.  Little early for a 10K, but oh, well.  I had my pacing and tried not to think about the fact that most of my teammates run that pace for their recovery runs.  Not to mention my previous ability to run a marathon not much slower than that, but whatever.  I lined up with the rest of the racers on a bright and sunny 50-ish degree morning and took off. 

For I think the first time ever, I did not go out way too fast.  That is not to say I couldn't have run the first mile faster, but for once I was able to hold off and hit my splits dead on for the first couple of miles and it didn't feel too bad.  Just for reference on my poor pacing ability, you would not believe the amount of half marathons in which I've run the first mile in about 6:30.  I've never broken 1:30, though.  There was a 5K being run at the same time and of course after my first loop I would've loved to have stopped, but I still had 3.1 more miles to go.  Of course it got tougher the second time around, after a brief delusional period in which I wondered if maybe I'd be able to pick it up for the last mile or two and beat my goal.  My pace slipped only slightly, my legs were burning and I was breathing way harder than I thought I should be considering the pace, but at least it was almost over and I could tell there was no way I was going to crash nearly as badly as I did in the last 10K I ran. 

While the course was quite flat compared to most races I run, the last mile was mostly (though only slightly) uphill, which made for a painful stretch and my slowest mile, but in the end, I was incredibly close to my goal and could at least be happy with that fact.  Given my time that would put me way behind every single runner I know back home apparently I actually came in second in my age group but left before the awards.  I wonder what I would've won?  It's been about five years since I got an award for a run race.  But let's just say that the competition wasn't exactly deep.  Had I run the 5K, I would've come in third and won cash.  And I wouldn't have had to run any faster than my 10K pace. 

So that was the "big" first race of the season.  Again, I'm tired of running slow, but at least executing a race well made me feel pretty good about the effort.  It's also quite nice when your stomach doesn't give you troubles and there are real bathrooms with no lines instead of porta-potties with huge lines.  Often makes me just want to do these sorts of races exclusively from now on. 

One other "fun" thing that happened to me this week is that my computer got a virus.  Who gets a computer virus anymore?  Apparently I do.  I couldn't open a word document, an excel file, any web pages, nothing.  My anti-virus software was useless.  As was the extended protection plan I bought for my lap top from Best Buy.  Nope, still costing me $200 to get it fixed.  If my brother-in-law was around I'm sure he could fix it.  But I can't wait another six weeks to get it back.  Makes me want to go into the computer fixing business because that price just seems absurd.  Better than the computer screen quote they gave me a few months ago, which was $700, or exactly the price I paid for the computer in the first place.  Fortunately I got it fixed elsewhere. 

So that's it for now.  I'm tired and I've barely really even gotten started again with the training block.  Only a few weeks to go until California and leaving Tucson behind.  While I've enjoyed my time here and I'm glad I did it, I'm feeling ready to get back to my old training routes.  I miss trees.  And less traffic.  And rolling hills and good pavement.  And having more than 7 channels on my TV.  And my family and friends.  But for now I will take consolation in the fact that it's going to be 80 degrees out for the rest of the week.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hello, Rest Day

I have spent the last several days looking forward to today, my first day off from training in a month.  That is not to say that every day has been hours and hours of swimming, biking and running, as one day every week is always incredibly light and there are a few days in there that involve, say, less than three hours in the saddle, but there is nothing that can really rest you mentally and physically like waking up in the morning and not throwing on the swimsuit and driving to the pool, not loading fluids on the bike and gels and Powerbars in the jersey pockets and hitting the road for a ride, and not lacing up the run shoes and gazing at my Garmin for an hour or two. 

I've learned to value these rest days, especially when, like this time, I was really feeling the fatigue built up over the last few weeks and knew how much it was needed.  Of course, when you are alone in a city without any of your friends, your rest day starts to get old around, say, 9am.  I can appreciate lounging in front of the TV after four hours of workouts, but for some reason I have a hard time just sitting around all morning when I haven't done anything.  I will say though that it was nice to wake up this morning whenever I woke up and not feel like I had to jump out of bed and head to the pool.  I haven't minded my swim workouts lately, but it is less appealing to strip down to the bathing suit to jump in the pool when it's 35 degrees outside.  Yes, I know, I've only been here two months and I already think that 35 degrees is cold.  If it gets that warm in NH people start busting out the shorts. 

I also had decided yesterday to take care of any errands I'd been putting off, like an oil change that turned into a new radiator hose (can't let the car repairs slide when you still have to drive about 3500 miles in the near future) a trip to the post office, a little grocery shopping and canceling my gym membership.  No, I'm not done there yet, but if you're in a temporary situation like this you learn from experience to give a lot of notice on that so that they don't charge you an additional month that you won't even be there to utilize.  So that left me without much to take care of today.  This is a good thing from a rest standpoint, because the rest day loses its usefulness if you spend the entire time on your feet running all over town doing different things, but it can also leave you a little bit stir-crazy, but I'm hanging in there so far.  It is only 1:00, though...

What else?  Oh, when last I blogged it had snowed.  Well, the forecast for the rest of the week goes as follows:  78, 80, 80, 78, 78, 75... etc.  That's more like it.  No more of this cloudiness or snow or rain nonsense.  I have to say, while I love New Hampshire, I swear I do, it's going to be tough to go back to a place where it rains far more than one day a month.  What I won't miss are traffic lights, terrible pavement at times, broken glass on the shoulder, unreal amounts of white pick-up trucks on the road, lack of trees and lack of rolling hills.  Let's not get into what I will miss or I may start to wonder why I'm coming back.  Oh, wait, I also won't miss spending so much time by myself!  I know this has been good for me and I was fine with it for a long time, but I've had about enough of that now. 

But, now that I can post pictures, I forgot I have another one.  This was the sunset on my balcony the first day I got here:
Not bad, right?  Well, I think that's about enough of mindless ramblings in the midst of my extreme boredom for now.  But beware, there is another rest day coming up on Friday...