Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Year in Review

For someone whose life tends to revolve around racing and training, when you basically have what amounts to a non-season there's not really a whole lot to talk about.  I guess I could've been incredibly upset at being injured (it's happened before) but instead I decided to accept it for what it was and take the opportunity for a physical but more importantly mental break from training.  Heading into 2011 I thought maybe jumping head first back into the swing of things would make me feel better and forget the awful end of 2010, but I think I underestimated how affected I was. 

But while 2011 certainly had some low points, I also did kind of a lot over the span of the last 365 days.  Last year on New Year's Eve I was driving from some random Days Inn west of Oklahoma City through the middle of nowhere Texas where I had to take a planned detour from my initial route because there was so much snow on I-40 it was closed.  So instead of going west and then south it was decided I'd go south and then west.  I had to get off the interstate and drive some very lonely roads but it actually cut 100 miles off my trip.  I went through Roswell, New Mexico without getting abducted by aliens and went up through some towns in the mountains through the snow and cold before stopping for the night at a Holiday Inn in Deming, NM.  I stopped early that day because I couldn't get into my condo in Tucson until noon the next day and there was no reason to keep driving. 

So I rang in the new year in a hotel room mostly watching Saturday Night Live reruns on VH1 and eating room service.  Honestly, I quite enjoyed it.  And on New Year's Day, I found my new home for the following three months.  The condo was nice, quiet, less than a mile from a YMCA with a gorgeous outdoor pool and after only three miles on busy roads would have me out of town in the middle of nowhere for my bike rides.  It's only too bad that the guy's fish died less than 48 hours after my arrival. 

I figured out how to get around pretty quick and began what I had hoped might be the training I needed to get back where I needed to be.  It was a lonely three months but I got in a lot of good training and even took a side trip to Los Angeles, where I hadn't been since I lived there in 2003.  I really wish there wasn't so much traffic and smog out there because riding along the Pacific Coast Highway is gorgeous. 

I raced in California which was disappointing and didn't hold the same fun that it usually did.  It wasn't until afterward that I realized it was the first race I'd done that I couldn't call my dad and tell him about it.  Overall, that was not a good day.  I spent the following week in Santa Ana staying with one of my best friends from college and her husband and two daughters.  Got to swim in another gorgeous outdoor pool in Irvine for a week and ride and run on some different roads. 

After that, I hopped in the car and drove almost the entirety of I-10, some of which has 80mph speed limits because it is so desolate I guess they think that we should be allowed to get through there faster.  So desolate, in fact, that there aren't a whole lot of gas stations.  Don't you think if there isn't going to be another gas station for, say, 40 miles, there should be some sort of sign to warn you?  Well, fortunately when the car stopped moving forward I somehow lucked out that it happened at an exit - the first in quite a while - that involved a campground and a gas station two miles down the road.  I did not make that mistake again. 

I drove on to Florida to do a training camp with friends and enjoy the novelty of actually being around friends and having people to talk to.  Then I finally drove home and after 8000 miles of driving all over the country, I was back in Bedford to the cold and rain of mid-April.  Not to fear though, because a month later I was back in Florida - but this time I flew.  I took myself to Disney's Hollywood Studios, had a very disappointing race that I later realized was probably that disappointing because I did it on a foot with a stress fracture, and then followed up the race that evening with a visit to the Magic Kingdom with some other QT2 teammates who had raced that day.  Watching fireworks while riding Thunder Mountain will take your mind off a bad race pretty quick. 

After some more training spent wondering why my foot was bothering me so much I did something I'd never done before and pulled out of a race in the middle without having planned on it.  My only other DNF was Kona in 2009 but I knew I had a stress fracture going in and wouldn't be running.  I had run three miles and decided that there was definitely something more going on with my foot than just a little tweak.  X-rays confirmed my fears and I spent the next three months in a stylish walking boot. 

I didn't do an Ironman for the first time since my first one in 2004 and didn't bike or run but kept swimming in the lake.  I finally bought a new car after saying goodbye to my little Sentrayoutube videos. 

I got to drive the boat a whole lot and spend plenty of time at the lake.  I did a sprint race at the end of the season and wore the boot for a run and later took the boot to a wedding.  I went out on the lake at night with my mom, brother and sister and we spread some of Dad's ashes so he could see the house. 

I finally got the boot off and started running again for what felt like the first time ever.  Had to say goodbye to my "nephew" golden retriever Marley after a very quick onset of liver failure.  I got back onto a training plan for the first time in months and even signed up for another Ironman in 2012.  And that's basically all I've been doing since, trying to get back into shape. 

Looking back, it seems that I accomplished absolutely nothing over the past year.  But I did see a whole lot of the country and hopefully got the break I needed so that I can really go for it in 2012.  I especially have to get on that if the world is going to end like they say.  But I'm a little skeptical of that. 

As for resolutions?  I don't really do those.  But I do have some thoughts in the back of my head about what I'm going to do with myself.  I feel like I've been sort of dormant for a while, and I think it's time for that to end.  I've at least got my plans on where I'll be headed soon enough, and I'm just glad that this time it involves other human beings. 

So if 2010 was the worst year ever, 2011 was mostly me recovering from it.  2012?  Well, who knows?  But I guess I'll find out soon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas and Christmas Eve Outdoor Riding

Christmas is over and I think I may finally be caught up on sleep.  It's kind of sad, really, I don't even have that much 'work' to do on Christmas compared to most and their playing Santa or being heavily involved in the cooking of elaborate meals (I cooked precisely nothing) and yet over that span of days I was exhausted.  Christmas showed up quick and almost unexpectedly as the lack of snow doesn't make it look all that much like Christmas. 

Saturday was Christmas Eve, but also for me it meant long ride day.  The fact that there has been no snow means that the roads have remained dry and clear.  I have always preferred outdoor riding to the trainer in almost any circumstances, although admittedly my bike had been on the trainer for a couple of weeks in spite of a few rideable days.  Once I moved it in I didn't feel like moving it back out again and I was temporarily enjoying the lack of extra laundry - one cold bike ride can often involve wearing what would amount to an entire load of laundry by itself - and the mindlessness of riding on the trainer. 

However, I wasn't having fun trying to pick out what to watch and pedaling and only thinking about how much more time I had left to ride.  So for some reason I decided that on Christmas Eve I would do my long ride outside.  Part of it was just the fact that I'm not sure I'd ever been able to ride outside, and I always feel like I'm actually doing something riding outside as opposed to the trainer.  As the day approached, it was apparent that it was going to be really cold on Saturday.  It's been sort of warm lately, so this was kind of a shock.  By cold I mean low 20's.  But I did not let that deter me, and just for good measure, on Friday night I had everything laid out and ready to go to ride outside - bike ready to go, bottles mixed, nutrition in the jacket pocket, several layers of clothes ready to go.  After all of that, I figured I wouldn't chicken out the next day if only because I'd have to put in the extra effort of setting myself up to ride inside.

Saturday started very early for me.  I set my alarm for 4:55 not to work out, but to drive a friend to the airport.  The airport is very close but he always seems to have the 6am flight when flying home for holidays or whatever, so it's a pretty early start.  I was home before 5:30.  I have to confess that at this point I did my "transition" run before I went off to ride.  I will ride in the cold, but I will not ride in the dark.  I had a forty minute run to do and I thought it might be better to get it done then instead of just sitting around until 7:00 when it was finally light enough to ride.  I know, I know, it was backwards but I also thought there was a strong chance I'd be so cold after riding that I wouldn't be able to handle going back outside to run, so better to just get it done.

As I ran and noticed how cold it was I contemplated moving inside, but once I warmed up I decided it wasn't that cold and maybe it wouldn't be so bad.  It was quite peaceful running so early in the morning on Christmas eve in the dark with no cars and many houses all lit up.  Upon my return the temperature check was 21 degrees and it was kind of windy, but I was determined to go outside to ride.  So a quick change and I hit the road at exactly 7:00 to an amazing sunrise. 

What does one wear to ride when it's that cold?  Lots.  Let's see, there were two pairs of ski socks, which only fit because my dad left behind an almost-new pair of bike shoes that are normally too big for my feet, but work quite well with two pairs of socks, shoe covers, bike shorts for the padding, a pair of long underwear bottoms underneath insulated Pearl Izumi tights that normally keep me perfectly warm when it's in the 30's.  Up top I had two Craft winter base layers, a thick and well insulated cycling jacket, heavy-duty gloves that I also inherited from my father, and that I had actually gotten him for Christmas a few years ago, a balaclava that covered my head, ears, neck and the lower part of my face, plus a Craft windproof hat on top of that.  I probably should've weighed the amount of clothing I had on, because I think it might have been like twenty more pounds.  I typically wear less layers when I go skiing. 

And off I went.  I was nervous at first, sort of wondering if I'd want to turn back soon or if I should stick close to home in case I needed to come back sooner instead of going on the long loop I had planned.  But I decided not to give myself the option, so I rode the route as planned.  My fingers got cold immediately, but after a few times pulling my fingers out of the finger slots and balling my hands in fists inside the gloves that problem went away.  My toes started to get cold almost immediately and if you've been skiing you know that once the toes are cold, they will stay cold until you stop and take your boots/shoes off and warm them up.  So after spending some time futilely wiggling my toes around to try and warm them up, I resigned myself to the fact that I'd just have numb toes for the next four or so hours. 

I just had to keep riding, though.  I rode past a ski area with the snow guns blasting and people enjoying their Christmas Eve ski.  And somehow I survived the ride although, full disclosure: I stopped 8 minutes early.  I was finished my loop and decided that I was probably better off stopping.  Once inside I started peeling off some initial layers and found some ice formed on my jacket and balaclava.  It had "warmed up" to 25 degrees while I was out.  I can't tell you how glad I was not to have to run.  I microwaved my bottles to turn them back to liquid and promptly drank the entire contents along with my Endurox.  Then it took me another twenty minutes to get all of those layers off before taking a nice, hot shower.  After that I put on a whole lot of clothes, shivered for a while and promptly got back into bed so I could warm up and take a serious, much-needed nap.  I'm not sure I'd do that again if given the choice, but I was sure glad when it was over.

I could hardly stay awake that night when Mom had her annual Christmas eve gathering.  It's pretty casual, paper plates and all the same relatives mostly that we'd see the next day.  Christmas itself wasn't anything hugely exciting, but it was nice.  We always convene at my sister's so it's fun to see my niece and nephew being all excited about Christmas because it's not really that fun when there are no kids around.  The last thing I did before going to my grandmother's was go for a little run, which was much warmer than the day before.  I didn't know where I was going to run yet but decided to take a little detour running up to the cemetery to say hi to Dad. 

Nana's house was nice, as always.  I believe that was the 55th Christmas at that house, and of course I've been there every Christmas I've ever had.  It was probably the same exact meal as every other time, but why mess with a good thing?  We don't get fancy.  And that was that.  Now just back to the same old stuff and getting my training done without having to worry about holiday gatherings.  It's been an interesting year for sure, and I'll recap that later.  For now I'll just say I'm really, really glad that I am not about to hop in the car and drive to Arizona.  I mean, I'm excited for heading south later, but going so soon after Christmas is not fun!

Monday, December 19, 2011

QT2 Holiday Party and Coach Meeting

This weekend was incredibly busy, and also marked I think my third Saturday night in a row out, which is closing in on a record for me considering Christmas eve will also be busy.  Tiring, but fun.  I got up early on Saturday morning to get a run in before driving down to Mass for our coach meeting.  These meetings are time consuming, but also quite helpful.  I always feel like I (and most other people) get way more out of things when there is face-to-face contact and conversation.  And as usual I learned a lot that can help me not only as a coach but also as an athlete. 

That six hours went by surprisingly fast and then I got to spend some time hanging out with Colin Kropelnicki - the youngest QT2 team member right now mostly managing walking around the house with some couch climbing to mix it up - we headed over to Maggiano's in Boston.  Since I went to school right around the corner from there I am familiar with all of the street parking and luckily found a nice spot on Charles street that only cost me an hour and twenty minutes worth of parking meter fees before it was shut down for the night rather than $25 or something similar to park in some garage somewhere.  It pays to have a car that isn't much bigger than a rollerskate as you can park just about anywhere. 

Enough about that, though.  The party was a lot of fun.  It's fairly rare that I get to go to a party like that that's full of "my" people, so it's great to really be able to sit down with almost anyone there and have something to talk about.  Although I do have to admit that the team has gotten so big that there was one table in which I only recognized like one of the ten people sitting there.  But then again since most of these people I'm used to seeing in their training attire sometimes it's tougher to figure out if you've seen someone before when they're suddenly not wearing their bike helmet or a Headsweats hat.  Either way, I did get to meet and talk to some new people and catch up with some people I hadn't seen in a while.  I swear, after not racing all season I feel like I hadn't seen some of those people in years!

It's great to talk to some of these people and hear how the team and the coaching has really changed them.  I heard from more than one person who had lost like fifty pounds, now looking super fit.  People who had tried and been successful at their first Ironman and just loved the program in general.  Sometimes you come across triathlon teams that generate a certain kind of vibe that can be somewhat off-putting, but I definitely don't think this is the case with the QT2 team.  It's just a really great group of people. 

I managed to extract myself once we were forced to leave Maggiano's (due to what time it was, not because we had become too outrageous to handle - though if given a few more minutes some people may have crossed into this territory) a lot of people headed to the bar across the street but I had definitely had my fill of fun for the evening knowing that I still had to drive back to NH, so I hit the road.  It's funny to think about when I first started racing and I'd make up my training plan based on some book or something I read on the internet and I'd show up to the race and not know a single soul except my parents who had come to watch.  I wish I'd had this kind of group when I first started. 

Now it's just back to the grind and getting ready for Christmas.  I will say I feel like someone has taken over my body because as of last week all of my presents were not only bought, but wrapped.  My previous present-buying "strategy" involved going to the mall the last Saturday before Christmas - you know, when it's totally not crowded at all - and stay there until I had something for everyone.  This time suddenly I was starting at the beginning of December and had everything ordered and arrived so early.  The weather has been unseasonably warm though and other than October of all times there hasn't been any snow, so I keep forgetting how close Christmas is and really how close I am to heading south for the winter.  I better get used to driving a lot again, although at least now I'm in a car that goes 350 miles in a 10-gallon tank as opposed to last year's 250 miles on 18!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Weekend Away: Army/Navy Game

I travel a fair amount, but it is incredibly rare these days that I do so for something other than a race.  Even rarer that I get to head to the airport without toting a 50-pound bike box and pay an extra fee no matter what airline I'm flying on.  So it was nice to have the opportunity to do it this past weekend. 

My uncle Matt went to the Naval Academy and played tight end for the football team "back in the day."  So for him and his family and friends it is usually an annual thing to attend this game.  This year, for the first time, the game was held at FedEx field, where the Redskins play and also very close to where my cousin Trip lives with his family, so some of the rest of us decided to make the trip.  $49 fares on Southwest and a house to crash in made it an even easier decision. 

Friday for me began at 4:30am in a scramble to swim, get my long ride in, and transition run with just enough time to get cleaned up and throw the last few items in my backpack before catching the plane at 1:40.  Rushing around and my nutrition being sub-optimal made that particular bike ride feel like I was trying to climb Everest or something.  I haven't even gotten to the real long rides.  Even cookies 'n cream Powerbars weren't helping.  But I managed to survive and get to the airport to board the short, though hour-delayed flight down to Baltimore. 

We had a fairly quiet evening before heading off to bed to rest up for the big day.  Saturday was early for me, sneaking out before anyone else was up to get my run in.  It always makes the time go by faster to run someplace new, although I did fear I might have been lost as I tried to retrace by route back.  Their neighborhood has a lot of streets that loop around a lot, so at least to me it seemed like certain streets actually intersected more than once.  But I did make it back without overdoing it too much. 

We hit the road at about 9:45 for the relatively short drive to the field to join 90,000 people for the game.  This was nicer than a Patriots game in that it didn't take us an hour to go the final two miles to the parking lot.  It was a sunny but quite chilly day, down in the 40's which feels a lot worse when standing around instead of, say, running.  We spent a couple of hours tailgating, which as a non-drinker I don't really understand.  Why is it fun to stand around a parking lot and eat and drink?  Can't you do that at home in your living room for a couple of extra hours instead?  I guess this is why I'm not into football that much and not a guy. 

Eventually it was time to head inside.  I went in first with my mom, whose knee has been bothering her so she thought she'd be slow.  Also, the president was at the game so security was pretty thorough and entering the stadium took a little while.  We made it inside without posing a security threat and I actually paid $6 for a hot chocolate that probably cost them twelve cents to make.  I really think as a society we should all band together against ridiculously overpriced concessions.  How does popcorn and a soda cost $1 if you buy it at Target and $10 at the movies?  Anyway, I wanted it more for a hand warmer than anything so I guess I got my $6 worth anyway. 

Then we found our seats.  Oh, our seats.  I'll admit I've been relatively spoiled when going to professional sporting events by usually having pretty decent seats.  I did sit way, way, way up high at Fenway recently but even from there had a decent view of the game.  And I've been in the last row at the Garden and while it's far away, again, I could make out what was going on.  It's a very good thing that I didn't care about watching the game, because we arrived to something like this:

That picture isn't actually from Saturday, as the end zones were painted with Army and Navy, but you get the general idea.  The overhang was so low you couldn't see sky or even many of the fans on the opposite side of the field, and a good portion of the field was blocked from view by that giant pillar there.  Oh, but it's okay because they put TV's in there so you can see all of that stuff on the field you wouldn't be able to see otherwise.  How are stadiums designed with such seats and how are they even allowed to charge for them?  We also got to pay four times the face value.

Well, again, since I didn't really care about the game, the seats were far more funny than infuriating.  We were all interested in watching the jets and helicopters fly over, which meant we had to find somewhere else to stand to actually see the sky.  Us and the dozens of other people who couldn't believe what their seats looked like when they got to them.  This caused a lot of random people yelling about standing in their way and not being able to get through aisles to their seats and just a lot of unpleasantness.  It amazes me the kinds of things people choose to get worked up and angry over.

Well, we did survive seeing the fly over without getting into a fight and even saw the president out on the field tossing the coin before we headed back to those uncomfortable but very expensive seats so we could sit in the cold in our little stadium cave and essentially watch the game on those TV's and just kind of look around laughing about the situation and wondering how early was okay to leave.

Turns out eight minutes to go in the first half was deemed appropriate, and that was our stint at FedEx field.  Originally we had planned to get Patriots tickets since they were playing the Redskins there the next day.  I can't even tell you how glad we were that that plan never materialized!  We went back and had a nice casual dinner at my cousin's house and warmed up before watching Rudolph while discussing with my cousin's 11-year old son that the whole special actually sounds racist if you think about it. 

On Sunday we took a brief driving tour of DC headed up by my cousin Trip where we saw all of the good stuff without having to leave the car.  I saw a lot of that stuff up close thanks to a basketball tournament in 1992 where we all played tourist while wearing our hideous, yellow polyester uniforms to see the Lincoln Memorial and such.  This was much better.  My mother pointed out that the last time we were there I spent the whole time complaining about being hungry.  Come on, I was twelve!

The boys spent the afternoon watching football while the girls went to the mall to do a bit of shopping.  It's always good to be at the mall with your mom around Christmas.  And after a bit of a delay thanks to a flight attendant who appeared to have had too much to drink and needed a replacement, we made it home.  It was definitely a fun little visit in spite of the terrible seats.  And fortunately an experience like that lets you know that you don't ever have to agree to anything like that again! 

Now it's just back to the regular stuff.  Tough start to the week with getting home at midnight on Sunday, but going to bed at 8 last night helped.  I've been on the bike trainer more lately instead of outside which isn't as much fun, but BST workouts are less painful when you get to watch Christmas Vacation while you do them.  And in less than two months I'll be in Florida, so who cares, right?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Threshold Test Fun

Any of you who know what a threshold test is know that it is not the most fun thing in the world, but it can at least give you some good data points to go on.  It helps set heart rate zones and you can compare them to prior results of yours to see how you're doing in relation to other times.  You get on the bike and the resistance increases until you literally cannot pedal anymore.  It's exceedingly uncomfortable at the end, given the fact that the heart rate (or mine) is usually in the 190's.  But for a while at least it's not so bad. 

We haven't done one of these for me in a couple of years.  Last year was more than sort of a mess on my end and the year before we would just use the data from some indoor time trials to figure out basically the same information.  But, well, it was time again.  After giving so many of these and watching other people suffer in those final moments when I start to feel really bad that they might throw up on my floor, it was my turn to suffer a bit. 

I drove down to Jesse's last night, of course nervous as anything as I drove.  I'm always nervous when I go, which is kind of stupid because I am always feeling better about things when I leave.  Before Jesse I had a coach I wouldn't talk to that often, but we did talk sometimes.  Not one of those times did I feel any better about the training than I did before I talked to him.  That is just one of the reasons that it is so nice to have the coach I have! 

Right away I hopped on the bike and did the usual warm-up.  I really had no idea what to expect from this test.  The first time I did one of these was at the end of 2008, when I first started with QT2.  I was in the worst shape of my tri career after a terrible, terrible season and I hadn't trained much in the fall.  The test was brutal, my heart rate was outrageously high and I lost it after not pushing all that many watts.  A couple of follow-up test went quite a bit better, but that first one is the most memorable. 

This time I was sort of expecting something similar to that first test, or maybe a little better.  The summer of the broken foot made my quad muscles disappear.  The test started, and as usual, it was pretty painless for a while.  I had no idea what wattage we started at and then no idea how long it would take before it started to get difficult.  It's amazing how the hard part in these tests really sneaks up on you.  You go from totally fine to gasping for breath in a matter of like two minutes.  So of course that end part was not so fun, although still less painful than the end of an indoor time trial, but the results were better than expected, which was nice.  I don't think anything relating to my triathlon performance in, oh, two-and-a-half years has been better than expected, so I'll take it!  It actually matched my best of these tests with QT2, after three months of training, and was 30 watts less than my best ever which was done in 2006, before my best season ever.  Except that one was February, so I'm feeling good about this. 

We made some adjustments to the schedule based on the results, and I get to do a lot more intensity instead of base due to my extraordinary aerobic capacity.  That's not a huge compliment, since extraordinary aerobic capacity means I have vastly inferior anaerobic capacity, so that's what all the extra intensity stuff is.  Really my physiology is best suited for like, a double Ironman, but, well, no thanks. 

All in all it was a good meeting that left me really starting to feel good about where things are headed this season in spite of my still feeling fairly out of shape.  The threshold test doesn't lie.  And today I'm just irritated that I rode the trainer thinking it was going to rain all day, only to find out that there was going to be an extended period of the afternoon that would not only be dry, but also around 60 degrees!  Oh, well.  I'm skipping winter anyway so a little trainer riding won't hurt me.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

First "Race" of the Season

The past several years I've had a real aversion to road races.  I guess triathlons kind of, too, but road races especially.  And even more so in the very beginning of the season.  I know they're good for me but as running has become my arch nemesis once again, they are not at the top of my list for fun things to do.  Aside from the fact that I always wind up running into some friends I hadn't seen in a while and didn't even know would be there. 

This being the rest week, I was supposed to do a race.  It's my second block, and I never even mentioned the word race in October, so no races made it to the schedule.  Probably a good thing, since even just a few short weeks ago I was even worse off than I am now, and any finish time I'd have been able to conjure up on my badly underutilized running legs would've surely sucked the last of the tiny remaining shreds of my faint belief that maybe, just maybe, if I keep working hard, I can be a decent runner again.  Yesterday almost did it, but not quite. 

I was at least fortunate in the fact that the weekend a race was needed there was a 5K conveniently located a couple of miles away, at 3:00 in the afternoon, on a flat course.  It was actually the same start line as the Cigna 5K, but fortunately not the same course, because that one cruelly ends on a nasty little hill that makes you almost certain that you can't possibly finish that last little tenth of a mile.  The weather was actually perfect for racing, and, as an added bonus, the first 1000 people to register would be given a free Santa suit to run in.  So I made quite sure that I waited long enough for well over 1000 people to sign up before I handed over my $30.  Come on, anyone who knows me in real life knows I'm no fun.  I think it was a wise choice because those Santa suits clearly were not made for running, as evidenced by several pairs of shredded Santa pants I saw at the finish line on other competitors.  Looks like they won't get to wear those for their kids.

I headed downtown in the afternoon to sign up and pick up a number by myself, but then ran into a few people I knew.  Sometimes I forget how many people I actually know.  I spend so much time by myself, I just have to remember that not a lot of those people I know hang out at my house or are willing to bike with me outside when it's 27 degrees out.  I even got offered a Santa suit in spite of my being somewhere around the 1400th person to sign up.  No, no, that's okay.  I think I'll be fine in, you know, running clothes. 

I had zero expectations, no idea what pace to run or anything.  To be honest, I hadn't run with my Garmin in months.  Frankly, I didn't want to know what the paces were.  I thought from a mental standpoint I was better off feeling accomplished for simply going out and being able to run again rather than being upset with myself because I was "running" 12:17 per mile or whatever.  This is not optimal when you need to develop a pacing strategy, but whatever, it was only three miles, right? 

It was a bit chilly when we lined up, but again, perfect once we actually got moving.  There was a sea of Santas all dressed in red, and I opted to go and stand up close to the start line.  Not because I thought I would win (might have happened if this was a run only for people 90 and over, plus Molly, but that's not what this was) but because there was hardly anyone up there.  The course was out and back down Elm Street in Manchester, which has an almost indiscernible incline on the way out, and therefore decline on the way back. 

As we started, I realized I had forgotten to put on my heart rate monitor strap.  Although in a 5K it's more for informational purposes.  Like, "Oh, hey, my heart rate is 197.  Good to know, because it felt like my heart might explode, and now I know I'm right!"  But this time I didn't have that information to go on.  I did have my average lap pace to look at and... nothing specific to aim for.  Let's say I knew anything under 7:00/mile was going to be too fast (didn't used to be... even for a half marathon!) and anything over 8:00/mile was probably too slow.  It started telling me I was averaging 12-something, then 11... so obviously something was off to start.  So I just settled in to what felt sort of, kind of "comfortable."  Then a minute or so later I glanced down to see 6:49 and thought, well, no, I know I am not in a position to maintain that.  No way.  A quarter-mile in and I felt like I had already blown my pacing as I started to taste blood in the back of my throat.  It's a taste I associate always with the first basketball practice of the season in high school.  As in, when suddenly I have to run and breathe hard after months of being out of shape.  Well, obviously I've been running recently, but certainly not this hard.

I had a building in my sights that I decided maybe I'd really pick it up from to finish strong.  Of course when I got there, with only a quarter-mile to go and the finish line in sight but still looking painfully far away, I decided I just wanted to make it to the end without throwing up or pulling any muscles and stopping so I could try and breathe in some fashion that didn't hurt my throat so much.  I used to line up at 5K's and wish they were half marathons.  I was not designed to go hard/fast.  I can go forever, but these short races require a need to endure a different kind of pain that I just don't tolerate well.  But this time, I was glad it was a 5K.  If only because I'm not sure I would've been able to run much further! 

Each mile was 15 seconds slower than the last, so from my own personal 'awesome' pacing abilities, that actually wasn't so bad.  And I (barely) managed to squeak out something just a tad better than my fastest marathon pace.  Great, right?  I read all the time about people who are "so far off my game" or coming back from some terrible injury and still feeling so "slow" and "fat" and "out of shape" but they still win the race or maybe "only" come in second and ran 5:30's.  I don't work like that.  For me, time off makes me feel like I'm starting all over again, back when I was 21 and started running on the treadmill at 220 pounds just to get in shape for my last college basketball season.  It took me three years to get kind of decent at running.  I still live in fear that it will take me three years from now, and I don't have the time or patience for it anymore! 

So let's just hope that that was not indicative of what I can expect, but rather just a starting point.  It's so hard to see beyond it though, no matter how often I try and say that sort of thing to other people.  Just do the work, it will get better.  Why does it sometimes feel like that doesn't apply to me?  Anyway, I spent the rest of the night with a hacking cough from all that heavy breathing and once again wondering to myself if seriously once a week (or maybe more) I should just go out and try to destroy myself by running as fast as I can for 3 miles or whatever, so maybe eventually it feels easier.  Of course I know that is probably just a recipe for some new injury - the foot didn't hurt at all, by the way - but it still just makes me want to go out and do all of those impulsive, impatient things that I am pretty sure don't actually work, but sure seem like they should. 

So, that was my Saturday.  Got beat by a bunch of Santas and threw away my unused free beer at the after party tickets.  I bet someone just cried when I wrote that.  Yep, I turned down free beer. 

Wait, I almost forgot the fun part of my week, though.  I went surfing.  I've got this very neglected surfboard I got for my 21st birthday that gets used here and there and really not much since I started racing.  Well, I got invited by some people to go and was reluctant at first, given that the water was 48 degrees and I don't have a winter suit.  But then I thought, but I do have two wetsuits.  Yeah, tri suit under my old, too-big-for-me surf suit worked out quite nicely with my other Blue Seventy cold gear.  And I gotta say, those webbed gloves are so awesome for paddling into waves I might just wear them even if the water is warm.  It was almost too much fun.  I say too much because now I want to go more and while I wasn't really cold, I did lose feeling in my feet for a while and I'm just not sure how long into the winter my two wetsuit plan would get me.  See, I don't understand when everyone thinks I'm crazy for doing thinks like surfing or biking when it's really cold out.  It's not like I wear the same stuff I do when it's 75 degrees out!  You have the right clothes, you don't have to be cold.  Except your lips, I'm sorry, but those will always be cold.  And sometimes your toes...

Sorry, it's Sunday night, time to mentally prepare for another week.  And next weekend headed to DC to watch the Army/Navy game.  Always nice to get on a plane without a bike box!