Thursday, March 29, 2012

Getting Chased and Getting Ready For the First Race of the Season

Tomorrow I'm hopping in the car to drive to Galveston from Birmingham.  Now, when I planned this whole thing I may not have realized that the two are separated by seven hundred miles.  Ouch.  I did at least base it on some knowledge given that less than a year ago I drove across the country and in one day I drove from just west of Houston, very close to Galveston, to Clermont, FL which is well beyond Alabama.  I guess I failed to notice how much further north Birmingham is from Mobile, where I drove through.  These stupid states outside of New England are way too big!  Anyway, it will necessitate at least ten hours in the car.  And then it will require I drive it all again on Monday in the other direction.  Not really looking forward to it but at least there's no bike box fee.

The rest of the training has been going decently.  I've been pretty tired this week and not been allowed to taper so I am very much looking forward to resting a bit next week.  Saturday was a fairly eventful ride.  It started simply enough, and I went out alone now that I know my way around.  The weather was nice and things were going well.  I came upon the really fun road I remembered being chased by several dogs on, and this week instead of just three I somehow found another admirer and set a new record with dog chases in a single ride at four.  At least none of them caught me on uphills and I was always able to get away.  I considered next time going out with some pepperoni in my pocket to throw for them to go after instead of me, but then it probably wouldn't take long before they start waiting for me just because they know I'll have treats.  I could wind up being chased by an entire mob of dogs.  I'll just keep outsprinting them, I guess.

The dogs were not the only issue on the ride.  Anyone who rides a bike has stories about passing motorists that for some strange reason seem to hate cyclists.  You'd think a cyclist murdered their family or something and now they hold a grudge.  I have no idea why these people go out of their way to do obnoxious things or how, exactly it makes them feel better about themselves.  One constant seems to be that these drivers are always in pickup trucks.  It never fails.  I don't know what it is, but I have never been harassed by anything but a pickup truck. 

So Saturday I had been riding for about three hours and had zero trouble aside from the dogs on some nice, quiet roads, occasionally being passed by cars and trucks who wouldn't even have to slow down to get around me because there was never any traffic.  Well, I was coming up on a house on the side of the road I was riding on and a truck pulled out in front of me towing a dune buggy or something like that.  Okay, fine, he didn't cut me off or anything, just got out in front of me and was on his way.  Well, two of his buddies were behind him in the driveway towing their own four-wheelers or whatever super-duper important thing they had to do that morning.  They didn't get out before I passed.

It didn't take long before I heard a car horn.  I'm no stranger to the occasional horn maybe to warn me that they're coming or timed just right to blow in my ear as they pass by (again, how does this make them feel better) but this was a new one because he just sat on the horn.... and sat on it, and it kept going and going and going...  It must've been at least a minute straight.  There were no other cars.  This was one of those roads where the white line on the side basically is the side of the road so there was no shoulder to ride on.  After plenty of obnoxious honking I finally waved them on, wondering why in the world they hadn't gone by already if they were apparently in such a hurry. 

So then they pulled up next to me and of course they can't just go by and be on their way, so the guy in the passenger seat yelled something about staying off the road and I yelled something about wondering where the heck I was supposed to go given there was no shoulder even though of course I wanted to point out that it was amazing to me that after dozens of cars had passed me for hours without incident suddenly they were incapable of moving over the yellow line a little to go around me, especially since they were obviously in such a hurry.  Eventually they finally pulled away, and then yet another friend in his pickup behind them pulled around me and hit the brakes a bit I'm sure to make me nervous before speeding off with his friends. 

Seriously, just, why?  What is with some of these people?  Oh, but then I kept on riding and only about two miles down the road there was a gas station.  Guess who was there?  Yep, filling up their toys for the day.  I turned around to head back the other way for a couple of minutes, hoping by the time I turned back they'd be gone.  Except they headed back down the same road in the other direction.  I was more than a little concerned something would get thrown at me simply for being on two wheels but all I got was a quick honk and a wave.  I'll take a dozen more dogs chasing me over that.  The crazy thing is I know where at least one or a few of them live since I saw them pull out of the driveway.  Maybe on my last long ride in Alabama I'll leave a surprise in their mailbox.  That incident really ruined at least the next hour of my ride, but I finished up okay.

The rest of the week has been spent getting the final training in for my first race of the season.  I feel like I haven't raced in about five years.  Seriously.  It's very strange.  I will say that I feel a bit better about things than I have in a while.  Not so much that the race is going to be great, but that at least things are headed in the right direction and there might be some hope for me.  My bike is all tuned up thanks to Bike Link in Hoover, most of my stuff is packed, directions are ready to go and I just have to get up insanely early tomorrow to get my workouts in before spending the entirety of the rest of the day in the car.  That is gonna be rough.  But at least I get to see some of my friends and maybe, just maybe, have some fun racing.  If nothing else I get to race the same course as Lance Armstrong.  My dad especially would probably think that was the coolest thing ever.  Speaking of whom, tomorrow would've been Dad's 66th birthday.  Happy birthday, Dad.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Some Sun and Some Storms

Training continues here in Birmingham.  The pollen continued to coat the streets, the trees, the cars, the people... I mean, I saw people running with things tied around their mouths/noses to avoid the pollen.  The lack of rain meant the pollen wasn't going anywhere.  I've had some pretty good workouts.  Last weekend I went on a long ride making the mistake of following someone who maybe didn't know exactly where they were going.  To be fair, apparently a road had been redone and something that used to parallel the interstate suddenly became interstate for a few miles, blocking the connector and requiring a very roundabout way to get where we needed to go. 

The good news is that I have a good sense of direction and once I was told what I needed to do in order to get back I made it in spite of being told a few incorrect things.  I also managed to get chased by not one, but three dogs.  All at separate times from separate yards.  I don't usually get nervous when a dog barks at me from a yard because they usually stay in said yard.  This time, a distant bark suddenly became snapping teeth right on my back wheel, so I had some unscheduled all-out sprints in the middle of the ride but I managed to escape unscathed. 

It's been pretty darn warm here, up in the 80s for the most part.  Although apparently it has been about the same back home.  This time last year I was talking to my mom on Skype and seeing snow piled halfway up the windows in the background.  Now I'm hearing about people going to the beach.  Oh, well. 

As far as the training itself, running is slowly but surely getting faster and for some reason I can't explain swimming is going exceptionally well.  I'm doing most of the same workouts, swimming the same volume, but blowing away times on some workouts I've done a dozen times before.  Let's hope this translates to my open water swimming next weekend. 

The sunny, clear weather gave way to some storms yesterday.  Actually, I hit the trainer yesterday.  Storms were supposed to be rolling through and I had a sort of insane workout day on tap and while I might have otherwise taken my chances and gone outside, thunderstorms down this way are a little different from back home, so I didn't want to mess around.  The result was finishing biking and going outside to find the roads still dry, but it did start to rain a little on my run and then started absolutely pouring by the time I was showered and sitting with my feet up.  Also, it's quite possible that it would've rained somewhere on my bike ride since I would've been off miles from home, so even though I am not a fan of the trainer, I don't regret my decision.  Also, I finished up my workouts yesterday with that feeling of wondering how I was even still managing to move forward, but at least I finished.

And this morning I had my first instance of pool closure due to thunderstorm nearby.  I was awakened to some pretty major thunder and lightning at about 5, left for the pool at like 5:35 after it was just raining a bit but then had to wait until six before they opened it.  What is the deal with that ridiculous rule?  Oh, well, at least I got my swim in and managed to run in not too much rain even though I was stuck on the trainer again.  Good thing because there was more pouring and more thunderstorms.  But at least my car isn't yellow anymore, especially because the paint is silver. 

Tomorrow it's back to another long ride and hopes that the thunderstorms spare me from their wrath.  There is only a slim chance of seeing one, so let's just hope I stay dry.  I am definitely looking forward to my recovery day on Monday.  No full taper for Galveston but I'll get a break after which will be much needed!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Yeah, They Were All Yellow...

That was what was in my head a lot today.  Why?  Because lately I've been all yellow.  No, not because I'm jaundice or sick, but because of the pollen!  It's not that unusual to see a decent amount of pollen back home... in May.  But I think it's safe to say I've never seen it at these levels.  If I were allergic to it I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to breathe.  It's not really that big of a deal, it's just kind of amazing to me that I'll finish a bike workout with a film of yellow on my arms and legs, yellow bike shorts, yellow jersey, normally black bike tires pure yellow.  Let's not even talk about my car. 

Anyway, training continues, as usual.  I don't think I've been anywhere new since I last wrote but I'm enjoying the routes that I have so far here.  The weather has also been really nice.  Monday was a little chilly, but since then it's been close to 80 and getting on the humid side.  Definitely good training weather, especially for the specific races I'm preparing for.  I'll admit I'm a little scared that Galveston is in two weeks.  Possibly partly because it means I have to drive 700 miles to get there.  And then do the same to get back.  Yeah, when I planned the trip I definitely didn't fully grasp just how far Birmingham was from Galveston.  Can't fix that now.

Well, this blog has gotten rather boring because that's about all there is to say for now.  Training is... well, training.  Oh, I did manage to sort of invent a recipe the other day that turned out quite well.  Stuffed peppers with ground turkey, onions, peppers, shredded zucchini, garlic, spinach, tomatoes, chickpeas and a sauce that was just a can of crushed tomatoes seasoned with some basil and oregano.  Sprinkle some feta on the top and yeah, definitely a worthwhile experiment.  Better get the cooking in now before the training volume explodes and I don't have the energy to stand at the stove anymore. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

One Week In...

I've been in Birmingham now for a week and I'd say things are going pretty well.  There were definitely some differences upon my entering this state that made it apparent that I wasn't in New Hampshire anymore.  One was a huge Confederate flag by the highway on my way here (not in Birmingham, somewhere on the way) and another was a billboard that said something to the effect of: "If you don't go to church the devil is gonna get you!"  Not kidding, there was even a little cartoon devil to further illustrate the point.  Also of course is that everyone has a southern accent except me.  And yesterday when it was in the 40s early in the morning the other women in the locker room were talking about how freezing it was and that when it gets that cold they wear tights under their pants.  I'll say that I've been known to wear long underwear under my pants to work a couple of times, but on those days the temperature was somewhere in the single digits.

Now, aside from those few things - and the fact that they have supermarkets called Piggly Wiggly - I have to say that I have been incredibly surprised by how much a lot of this place reminds me of home.  The terrain is similar, the trees are similar, the mountains, the roads; it all could be things I'd see at home.  In that sense, it's been quite nice.  The problem I've often encountered with going somewhere warm to train is that while the weather is better, the roads aren't so great.  Traffic or stoplights or road conditions or no shoulders or any number of things might make it feel quite inferior to riding back home in June when the snow is long gone.  But I'm really happy with the road conditions here. 

The other day I went out and rode in a state park with hardly any traffic and it reminded me a lot of a road I ride out to Waterville Valley, including passing the golf course.  And today I went on a nice stretch of road with little traffic, great pavement and rolling hills while riding by mostly farms and rural houses.  It definitely beats the awful pavement, vacant desert and occasional stray dog chasing you that Tucson had to offer. 

It hasn't been incredibly warm yet, but that is likely to change quickly.  Today was cooler but the temperatures for all of next week and as far as I can tell look to be in the 70s and 80s.  That said, it looks like back home the temperatures are going to be in the 50s and 60s instead of the low 40s as it normally would be this time of year, so after escaping last winter, that was horrible, this winter is almost making me feel like I sort of wasted the trip.  That said, I'm sure New Hampshire would not be able to help me out with the oppressive heat and humidity that I'm sure to encounter when I get to Texas. 

Wow, I am incredibly boring lately.  There's really nothing exciting to say.  Oh, people like to hear about food, right?  This week I cooked up some chicken stir fry with peppers, onions, broccoli and snow peas, and a batch of the famous turkey/pumpkin chili.  I've also purchased the ingredients to make some stuffed peppers.  I'm sort of improvising those and making that one up so I'll let you know how it goes.  Seriously, that's all there is to say.  If I could be more interesting I would be, sorry!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Finally In Alabama!

After seven different hotels and two houses, not to mention lots of driving, I finally made it to what will serve as a long-term residence in Birmingham.  The car has been emptied, my clothes are in drawers, it's almost like living like a normal person.  On Saturday I opted not to hit the road at the crack of dawn which meant that a couple of hours into my drive up I-75 and onto I-10 I hit some rain.  I had been staring at incredibly dark clouds for almost the entire time but had been spared until I got west of Tallahassee.  It was then that the skies opened up. 

First it was your typical, annoying rain.  Then it rained harder.  And then it rained a lot harder than that.  And then I started wondering if I was still on the highway because I could hardly see a thing.  Given the fact that my destination did not have a deadline, I decided to take a little driving break and see if the storm might blow over and I could then drive the rest of the way minus the rain, steering wheel death-grip and fear of not making it to Alabama alive.  I was forced to drive a couple of miles before hitting the next exit where I went and hung out at a McDonalds for a couple of hours.  Please don't judge, it was either that or Dairy Queen.  And Dairy Queen doesn't have yogurt parfaits. 

I hadn't hung out at a McDonalds I don't think since college, so it was a pleasant surprise to learn that they had wifi so I could look online at the weather and see the horrible line of storms I was in the middle of, complete with flood and tornado watches.  I was definitely glad I had decided to pull over for a bit.  It took a solid ninety minutes for me to feel like it might be safe to head out again and while there was definitely still rain, it was not the kind of rain I had been subjected to earlier, so I could press on without the fear of death.

The rest of the drive wasn't that fun.  It's like, if I know I'm going to be driving all day long I don't care.  But when I'm finally getting close to my destination that last three hours is just painful.  Especially when about a hundred miles of it was on one of those highways that I could at times actually drive a decent speed on, but also occasionally spent extended stints stopped at red lights.  But, finally, I made it. 

Things are good so far.  I'm staying at a nice place with my new friend Kelli, another triathlete and general triathlon enthusiast.  We have a mutual friend who put us together and so far it's worked out just great.  The weather isn't as warm as Florida, in the 60's mostly so far, but nice.  Apparently I can assume it will get pretty warm pretty fast, which is what I need to get ready for Texas.  It's funny, I never gave much thought to what it would look like around here but it actually looks fairly similar to home.  You know, without the snow. 

Not much else to say about it, really.  Training has been fairly low-key because just about the minute I got here my rest week started, but it's been good to give me some extra time to sort of get my bearings and stuff.  I'll be swimming at the local Y and I've been shown some nice places to run and ride and there are more options there to come.  I will say that being here with someone is a lot better than being alone in Tucson!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Finally On My Way to Alabama!

Wow, can it be true?  Am I really about to settle in to one place for more than a couple of days?  The answer, finally, is yes.  I'm writing this from a hotel... somewhere between Tallahassee and Orlando.  It is probably some sort of personal safety issue to announce my specific hotel and room number at this very moment, right?  It doesn't really matter.  The point is, I'm finally on my way to Birmingham.  And I'll get to sleep in the same bed for more than 3-4 nights for the first time in close to a month. 

I spent a couple of days with Kim Schwabenbauer (I think I spelled that right, but please forgive me if I didn't!) who had come down to stay with her mom in Ormond Beach for a few weeks to escape Pennsylvania winter and get some good training in for her inaugural pro season.  She noticed I'd be in Florida, we talked about doing some training together, and given my nomadic lifestyle as of late it was pretty easy to go on over.  It's funny how this sort of thing goes sometimes.  I didn't know Kim before this.  We were on the Mark Allen tri team together for a year or two maybe, but I'm not sure we'd ever met.  I recognized her name and we were facebook friends but that was about it.

It's amazing how sometimes people just go out of their way to be nice to you, and so accommodating and welcoming.  And it's funny how sometimes you can so easily talk to someone you just met because they are one of your "people."  Kim mentioned this too.  We both understand the early bed times, not ever really bothering to do anything with your hair because the next workout is a couple of hours away and the way that occasionally intense hunger sets in and you must eat now or risk a cranky tantrum that can't be rivaled by even a toddler who is told she can't have dessert. 

The only down side was that we didn't really get to train much together.  My "running" being what it is I'm not much good to anyone as a training partner there, but we were at least able to bike and swim.  The weather was very warm and great for biking, the roads were pretty good, and the outdoor pool was gorgeous and everyone at the YMCA was nice and welcoming.  I also got to stay for a dinner party at the house last night.  Even after just a short time being away from home and off on my own it's just so nice to enjoy that kind of evening, so I'm glad I had the opportunity to be a part of it.  Thanks, Kim!

But, then it was time to move on again.  Very early this morning I got up and drove back toward the Disney area to meet a good friend from home who happened to be here on vacation.  I met her at her hotel for a run before we got cleaned up and headed over to Universal Studios.  We were going to hang out either way, whether at the park or just the pool at her hotel, and in the end we decided to do the park... especially knowing that we'd have time to do the pool later.  It was a hot day at the park, but a soaking ride on some stupid thing that drops you from great heights into the water will help that.  We got to do all of the good stuff and were done by 1:30.  Not bad.  I don't know if I'd bother to go to those places if there were actual lines.

After that we had some pool time, including a ride on the waterslide with her niece, and then it was time for me to hit the road.  I originally thought I'd just stay somewhere near there for the night, but decided I could at least knock out an hour or two of the drive to Birmingham before finding somewhere to stay, so that's what I did.  It's kind of sad to be leaving Florida just because it's been so toasty warm (except that freakish day at camp when it was 30!) and it's not so bad to be able to swing over to Disney or Universal to kill some time.  But it will be so incredibly nice to actually stay in one place for a long time.

It's funny to think that at this time last year I was about ready to start pulling my hair out because I was so sick of being alone in Tucson and my trip was almost over.  Now it's barely begun.  I've got a couple of months to pull myself together for some good racing in 2012 and I think I've set up a great situation to make that happen.  So I guess all that's left is to... make that happen.

Tomorrow I'll hop in the car and drive the rest of the way and then unpack it!  Let the real training begin...