Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Emergency Vet

How do our cats always know when it's Christmas Eve?  Two years ago my husband spent most of Christmas Eve at the emergency vet hospital with our younger cat, Tristan, who had split a claw and was hobbling around the house leaving festive little bloody pawprints everywhere.  This year on Christmas Eve morning our older cat, Joker, was sick.  Since Joker is 20 and sleeps most of the day, it's a little hard to say how we knew he was sick, but trust me when I say he seemed more lethargic than usual.  So just as I was planning to be super-efficient and combine a cookie-delivering trip with a stop at the Y to go swimming, I changed plans and headed off with Joker to the emergency vet.

We are so lucky to have this facility relatively close by (two towns north), and it is staffed with friendly, competent people who don't even seem to be pissed that they're working on a holiday.  They are also the kind of people who know what to tell you when you call them and say, "My dog just ate a porcupine."  Because that happened during the couple hours I spent there, for real.  But let me say, you walk through the door, and it's like there is a giant vacuum sucking all the money out of your wallet.  By the time we were done, either I'd bought a new car, or I'd gotten medical care for my cat--not clear from the checkbook.  Joker spent the night there on an IV to get rehydrated, and although we don't know yet exactly what is wrong with him, something is up judging from his bloodwork, so we'll go to our regular vet tomorrow and get him checked out.  Since he's 20, I'm not optimistic about this.  I am not as unemotional as I sound--I've had Joker since 1995, so I've lived with him longer than with anyone else in the family--but I'm practicing my game face for the kids.

Here is Joker in super close-up, recuperating on our bed:

Yes, he has crazy whiskers.

Since the vet situation kind of killed my chance at going swimming (although I did manage to get the cookies delivered, and I also brought some back for the vet hospital when I retrieved Joker on Christmas Day, because I am a huge believer in karma, and paying them a second mortgage wasn't enough to assuage my guilt at making them work on Christmas), I decided on the spur of the moment to ride my bike outside when I got home, before our friends came over for Christmas Eve dinner.  It was an awesome ride--I went for just over an hour and got home just as the sun was setting.  The pending sunset was actually a great motivator to keep my speed up, even though I (shockingly) remembered to put a light on as I headed out the door.

Other than the whole possibly-dying-cat angle, Christmas was great.  And in my ongoing effort to keep perspective on such things, I kept reminding myself that if someone in the family had to spend the night at the hospital on Christmas Eve, probably the 20-yr-old cat would be my first choice.  And now to top it all off, we're finally getting our first real snow of the year.  Today I went back to the Y and got in that swim, which was my longest one ever in my whole life.  Mostly because I haven't been swimming for most of my whole life, but whatever.

I'll end with a picture I took last week of the shed at the farm/B&B up the street, where Charlotte goes once a week for an after-school program.  The woman who runs the place is wonderful and a ridiculous perfectionist, so when I showed her the picture, she said right away, "Oh, that string at the bottom is falling off."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Back in the (slightly raised) saddle

Yesterday my winter training began, and not a moment too soon.  It did not help that my time off coincided with a serious bout of PMS, all of which combined to make me nearly unbearable to those who live with me, work with me, or just happened to run into me on the street.  I snuck in a short run on Saturday and a short trainer ride on Sunday just to keep from becoming truly homicidal, and yesterday I started for-real training.

My first workout was in the pool, and I used fins for the first time.  I thought I was going to plow headfirst into the wall on my kickset, which was a nice for a change.  Normally kicking brings me back to my days of Red Cross swimming lessons as a kid, when I was always the last kid across the pool with my kickboard.  Maybe if I'd been allowed to use fins, I wouldn't have failed Advanced Beginners twice.

Today I went back to Fitwerx for a re-assessment of my bike fit.  It was fun to go back there, but not so fun to drive to Peabody, which for me involved a trifecta of 495, 93 and 128.  Those numbers should strike fear into any New Englander.  Sort of like hearing the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 if you're on a trans-Pacific flight.  But I made it there and back unscathed, and I have an updated bike fit.  Here's my before and after shot:
The super-nice and super-fast Dean also coached me on my head position, which you'll notice looks way more aero in the right (after) shot.  Now, if I could just get a front wheel. . . . 

In my free time I have started reading The Perfect Mile, an account of the leadup to Roger Bannister's breaking of the 4-minute mile barrier and (I think, because I'm just there now) the later showdown between him and John Landy.  I knew the basic story beforehand, but it is fascinating to get all the details.  The book is really well written, and it has an interesting focus on the development of sport at the time away from the amateur model (personified by Bannister) to something more professional.  Bannister's example is pretty inspiring to anyone who is trying to combine a full-time career with athletic pursuits.  The book also confirms my previous suspicion that I have a total crush on Roger Bannister, or at least the younger version of him, since he should be 81 or so by now--still very cool, obviously, but just a little creepy in the crush category for a 40-year-old woman.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


My training plan for last week and this week is empty--it just says "Chillax" across it.  (Because my coach and I are both middle-aged, we think it is funny to co-opt young people's slang.  Because we're middle-aged, we are at least a year behind on the lingo.)  And I have to say, chillaxing is freaking hard.  Or as the kids say, hella hard.  I am really trying not to do anything at all, to give my body a complete and total rest.  The fact that it's the end of the semester and I am behind in my grading and swamped with meetings would seem, in theory, to make it easier to skip working out, since I don't have any free time anyway.  But in practice this is totall bulls***.  I am cranky and out of sorts from not working out, and it feels like the structure is gone from my day.  On the upside, though, my legs feel great.

I did sneak in a couple very low-key bouts of exercise.  Last Wednesday I rode my road bike for 40 minutes outside, mostly just to prove I could--there was ice on the reservoir, and I have never ridden outside in December before.  On Thursday I did a really easy 40-minute run with a friend at work.  I am keeping up my strength class on Mondays, and on Sunday night I hopped on the trainer for an easy spin for about--you got it--40 minutes.  Today I think I spent a total of 40 minutes snacking on the Munchkins that one of my colleagues brought for her class.

Last week I spent well more than 40 minutes drinking beer with some of my triathlon teammates.  We discussed critical topics like which races we are aiming for in 2011 and how it really feels to race in a bathing suit.  (This last issue is critical because we may also have decided, aided by the beer, to all race our favorite local sprint tri in our funniest bathing suits next year.  Possible with Jackie O sunglasses as well.)

This past weekend was my son's 5th birthday.  He is obsessed with Star Wars, despite having never actually seen a Star Wars movie and having no actual clue about any of it.  But I made him Star Wars cupcakes with this awesome kit, and now we have little Princess Leia and Han Solo cupcake toppers making lovey dovey eyes at each other in the Christmas cactus on our kitchen windowsill.  We also got him this, so I had fun making stormtrooper pancakes for his birthday.  And my sister got him this "light saver":

So far he hasn't noticed that we don't have the batteries for it yet.

My daughter had her dress rehearsal for the Nutcracker this weekend.  She is a lamb, and no, there aren't actually lambs in the Nutcracker.  But it was deemed that there were no appropriate roles for her age group this year (already been Polichinelles, too young for party girls), so lambs were invented.  Apparently lambs who must wear black eyeliner and mascara, which I now must buy for her, because a friend of ours wisely put the kibosh on sharing eye makeup among 10 walking pinkeye cases waiting to happen.  I mean no disrespect to those who are really into kids' ballet, and I love Charlotte's ballet teacher, but really--lambs have to wear eye makeup?  Here is my favorite lamb after she kept the braids from dance in all day, which gives her the Hermione look she is dying for:

I know, she's cute, but really, what she needs is black circles around her eyes.  Kind of like this.

And finally, we got our Christmas tree.  It's not decorated yet, but it's up, and my husband and I have sworn a blood oath not to let it stay up too long and dump all its needles on the floor this year.  Here we are riding off in a cloud of gasoline fumes to retrieve our tree:

I would have included a picture once we actually had the tree on the wagon, but at that point it was all I could do to keep Jedi Patrick from lunging off the wagon.  The Force is strong in him.

Monday, December 6, 2010

How was your race?

Here's a question for you: If you do a race under less-than-optimal conditions--like you are actually doing it as a workout of sorts, or you're under the weather, or you just have a crappy race for whatever reason--can you answer the "how was your race?" question without giving that detail away?  I want to be a person who can do that.  But I'm also the first to admit it can be really hard.

There was a 5K in September that tons of people I know did, and I felt like utter crap so ran a pretty so-so time.  And when people asked me how I did, I said something along the lines of, "I felt like utter crap, so I ran a pretty so-so time."  And then I felt like a big loser.  First of all, most of the people asking me were not hard-core runners, so when they found out what my actual time was, it didn't seem so-so at all to them.  So I pretty much just made them feel bad--"I ran what I think is a crappy time, and I still beat you."

Second of all--why on earth should I care?  What if people think I had a good race and still ended up with that time?  Would they think less of me?  And what if they did?  One of my favorite bloggers, Ange, had a post today that kind of relates to this, about why we do what we do in racing (and other things).  If I'm racing so other people can be impressed by my times, that's sort of sad and pathetic. (Plus if that were my goal, my times should really be better, frankly.)

There are very few people who need to know the real story or who would care if they did.  My coach needs to know, and while my husband doesn't actually need to know, part of the marriage contract is that we listen to each other go on in excruciating detail about races, workouts, and particularly dysfunctional meetings at work.  (Not that we actually said this in our vows, but it's an understanding we have.)  So those are the two people who need to know.  And I very much like that "coach" and "spouse" occupy the same space here--goes to show just how hard a job it must be to coach people like me.  Some of my running/triathlon buddies might be legitimately interested in the ins and outs of my races, as I am in theirs, just because we're all caught up in the same thing.  But there's a difference between talking about the details of your race with someone who shares your obsessive interest and making feeble excuses to someone to save face.  When it's not clear anyone else thinks there is face to be saved.

On a lighter note, speaking of obsessive, my mother called me the other day to ask me the following: "Is it OK with you if I describe you and John as 'obsessive runners/triathletes' in my Christmas letter?"  Putting my years of therapy to good use, I said something noncommittal like, "You should do whatever you like--it's your letter," as opposed to what I was really thinking, which was more along the lines of, "Sure--is it OK if I call you a narcissist in mine?"  Maybe that's not such a light note, come to think of it.

Here's a picture from the 5K Sunday:

The guy to my right (I'm in the snazzy pink shirt, thanks) is a friend of mine--he had passed me about a quarter mile back and is in the process of kicking my a** here.  I am jealous of his excellent form in this shot, never mind his very much NOT over 21 minutes finishing time.  I would also like to go back in time and tell myself that, if I really want to get down this hill fast and get myself to the finish under 21 minutes, perhaps I'd like to think about LEANING FORWARD, not back.  Just to be clear, this post has nothing to do with my race Sunday.  I felt great, raced hard, etc.  And hey, look--my hands look normal!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

End of the season

I had two races right at the end of my season, and since they were only a week apart, I didn't manage to write about the first one before the 2nd one happened.

The first one was a 6-mile race on Thanksgiving weekend; it's billed as a "cross country" race, but it's on flat dirt roads, so I think that's a slight exaggeration.  It's a great race, though--huge, beautiful scenery, and tons of runners.  I had a somewhat conservative HR plan that I followed, and I felt great.  I ran hard without utterly killing myself, although as is always the case, it's hard to run a race and not be pretty close to vomiting during the last mile.  My time for 6 miles was 42:38, which if you're keeping track (which I am) is faster than the 10K equivalent I ran at Tufts earlier in the season.  The HR plan was pretty much exactly the same, so I'm no scientist (oh no, wait--actually I am), but I think that means I'm in better shape.  It was ridiculously windy, which was noticeable during the parts of this run that are across narrow causeways on the reservoir.  Somehow all the larger men who were impeding my progress during the first mile (my fault--I started too far back) were nowhere to be seen when I needed them to block the wind for me.

Between now and then, many things happened.  My son woke up from a post-hockey practice nap and built this "sculpture garden" in our den.

Not surprisingly, this used up all the Scotch tape in our house.

I went for a bike ride the day after the race, and I believe this is officially the latest I've ever ridden outside.  Here is a picture from the ride:

Talk about some stark November beauty.  This is one of my favorite roads to run or ride on (January Hills, for you locals).

This past week I went to Boston for less than 24 hours to be on a panel at the yearly meeting of the organization that accredits colleges and schools in New England.  What is interesting about this is that they hold the meeting at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, which is one of the more chichi hotels I've ever stayed at.  There is a hotel dog in the lobby--you can sign her out for walks, or just scratch her ears, like I did.

The room our panel was in is, like the rest of the hotel, seriously Rococo.  I am only busting out the "Rococo" label to show that it was, in fact, a wise decision on my part to take a year of art history in college instead of a year of physics.   Otherwise I might not have properly appreciated this:

That's my colleague, erstwhile panel chair, posing on the stage that we unfortunately did NOT get to use for our presentations.  I am Facebookphobic (too many of my students there), but rumor has it this is his current Facebook photo, with the caption, "Does this shell make my a** look big?"

After our panel I got in a nice easy run along the Charles before heading back out west.  I ran on one of my favorite parts, between the Mass Ave and the Longfellow bridges.  I don't so much like the part next to Storrow Drive--nothing personal, Storrow Drive, but you are way too exhaust-y and loud.  (Actually, I guess it is personal.)  But you can veer off on the river side of the little pond thingies and run in near solitude in the middle of a weekday, modulo a few aggressive Canada geese and their ever-present goose poop.

Back home I tapered and tried not to get sick.  I woke up a few days with a slight sore throat and dosed myself heavily with Emergen-C.  And I slept a lot, or at least spent a lot of time in bed, where our older cat did his best to keep me awake by trying to sleep with his whiskers in my mouth.

Yesterday Charlotte and I drove into Boston (OK, actually Somerville) for a baby shower.  Here is Charlotte in Davis Square beforehand.

A few years ago someone somewhere (I am too lazy to Google this) wrote about Davis Square as the Paris of Boston.  I guess that fits, if Paris has a Dollar Store and Dunkin Donuts.  In other words, if you haven't actually been to Paris.  Here I have to confess that I have never really succumbed to the so-called charms of Davis Square--I'm more a fan of Union Square (where I used to live) and Inman Square.  In general, while I get all nostalgic for my Somerville days when I visit there, I am also driven completely insane by how freaking long it takes to drive anywhere with all the traffic.  The solution is obviously not to drive, but we had no choice, coming in from the boonies as we did.  The shower was fun--got to see some old friends (how long had it been?  long enough that one of them is a completely different gender than when I last saw him), and Charlotte and I crushed everyone in the shower game, which was matching celebrity baby names to their parents.  When someone I'd actually just met tried to enter at the last minute to beat us, I told him, "Second place is the first loser."

Which came back to bite me in the a** today at my 5K, where Charlotte apparently trotted out this line to our friend Tracy while they were watching the race.  I think Tracy shut her up before anyone heard her.  I tried to explain later that trash talking is OK at a baby shower but not at a race, although a different friend I relayed this to later wondered if maybe I had that backwards.

The race: it is huge (a couple thousand runners) and full of fast people, so I was probably like the 200th loser.  I will not kid you: I really wanted to break 21 minutes.  And I didn't.  Official times are not out yet, but by my watch I was 21:06ish.  My race went pretty much exactly as planned.  I went out in 6:48 and then dropped the pace a bit to 6:42 for the 2nd mile.  After the 2-mile mark there is a long uphill, and I think this is where I lost the key ground.  The last half mile is flat and downhill, and I ran as hard as I could.  Or so I thought at the time, but you know how when you miss a goal by under 10 seconds, you think, "Really?  Could I not have pushed just a little harder at the end?"  Of course at the time I thought I was going to hurl up a lung, so maybe not.

I have big 5K dreams, but they are proving hard to make a reality.  The 5K and I have a long and not-so-loving history.  I ran a 20:04 in my 20's, the year of my breakout races that was followed quickly by my worst injury ever.  I ran a 20:29 in one cross country race in college.  And probably other than those two races, this race today was my fastest 5K.  I suspect part of the issue is that, even in the late fall when I switch to a run focus, my volume is not huge--when I ran 20:04, I was running 40-50 miles per week. Don't get me wrong--I think this is what has kept me uninjured, even with a left knee that sounds like it has Rice Krispies in it and has a documented hole in the cartilage under the kneecap.  But my workouts suggest going under 21 shouldn't be that unreachable for me, so I suspect part of it is just getting better at racing.  But now I have a whole winter to think about that. . .

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Right, left, whatever

In my last post I described the goofy behavior of my right hand while running.  Only if you look at the accompanying picture, it's actually my left hand.  Though in an earlier picture it's my right hand.  Conclusion: both my hands look goofy when I run.

Speaking of looking goofy, today I swam early in the morning, before teaching class.  The master's swim group was there, being coached by my college's swim coach (the college where I work, that is).  When I was about halfway through my own little workout, the coach showed up at the end of my lane and said, "Two things."  Then he proceeded to tell me two things I was doing wrong with my stroke.  But he didn't just tell me--he had me stand there and practice some stuff with my stroke, then a couple minutes later he came back and had me do a little swimming while he corrected my form.  And then he gave me some drills to do.  How awesome is that?

My swim is pretty clearly the weakest link in my triathlon, but in the past couple years I haven't given it a ton of thought.  I've worked at swimming, and I've improved a lot, mostly because I started from a position of total ineptitude.  But I think I'm at a point now where I need to be a lot more intentional about it--there's stuff I need to fix, and the returns aren't going to be as big if I just keep plugging away with what I'm doing.

It was really stark for me to watch my last triathlon performance of the season on Zumtri--if you haven't seen this, it allows you to watch yourself race as a little red dot that starts with all the other racers, so you can see how you're faring at any given time compared to everyone else in the race (or compared to specific other racers, if that's your thing).  My red dot started out so happy and peppy looking, and then it got totally spanked by all the other dots in the water.  It looked like my red dot must be wearing a flowery cap and doing the sidestroke.  I wanted to smack it on its spherical red self and tell it to get a move on.

Of course it's not quite that bad--there were plenty of other earnest dots plugging away at paces as pedestrian as mine or even slower.  It's just that all the people I ended up near at the end were leaving me dramatically in their wake.  I could have a very different race if I were nearer to that front pack.

All of this went through my mind as I continued my workout, feeling how much more water I can pull when I don't do the weird foldy-in thing I was doing with my left arm.  But mostly I just thought how nice it was of the coach to take time to help me out.   I suspect it might be hell to stand on the side of a pool and watch the myriad ways civilians like me screw up our swim strokes.  I also suspect that "Two things" really stood for "Out of the 18 obvious things you're doing wrong, here are the two most egregious."

Three more days of work before Thanksgiving break.  This red dot could not be more ready.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The palsied right hand

I referred to this in an earlier post, and I think now is the time to set the record straight.  I run with my right hand in an awkward position that one of my college teammates described, in a totally non-PC way, as "palsied."  I mean no disrespect to any individuals with actual neurological conditions that affect the way they hold their hands.  But in my case, I have no such excuse--I just run with my hand in a dorky position.

The fateful day that this particular running flaw was identified was a lovely, late fall day in the Berkshires.  We were doing a longish run, and as usual I had settled into a pace that put me somewhere well behind the lead pack of runners.  Two of my teammates and close friends were with me.

One of them, Gwen, said, "Have you ever noticed that when you run, your right hand looks kind of palsied?"

I looked down and saw that she had a point.  I corrected it.  I focused on keeping my hand normal.  I tripped over a tree root (we were running on a trail in the woods) and fell.

We were at the midpoint of about a 7-mile run.  Blood was gushing out of a wound on my knee.  I pulled myself together and started jogging back.  Gwen and our other friend, Sue, stayed with me.  Several minutes into it, Sue said, "The blood running down your leg is making me kind of queasy.  Would you mind running behind us?"

I ran behind them, alone with my gushing blood, back to campus.  I hobbled up to my coach, who saw my blood-soaked leg, sock and shoe and exclaimed, "Cool!"  I went to the trainer and got it cleaned out, but the verdict (and I have to say, this was ALWAYS the verdict for my wounds) was that there was not enough skin left to stitch anything too.  I had a gaping wound for a couple weeks, and of course it got infected and oozed green stuff, and I still have a scar this day.  Although it's hard to see, because it overlaps with a hurdling scar.

Is this a story about the dangers of messing with natural running form?  About the timelessness of friendship and how your best friends can cause you to be maimed for life and then get all queasy at the sight of your blood?  I'll leave that to you to figure out.

Here's a more recent picture of Sue.  Note her perfect, unpalsied running form.  B****.

Oh, OK, here's my bizarre hand again, in the same race Sue is running above (our alumni meet):

Apparently the form holds even when I'm waving to my fans.

And on an unrelated note, here is a still shot from my sideline interview Saturday with Charlotte and her friend.  The NESN reporter is named Katie, and I really liked her coat.  She confessed that she had to wear the scarf no matter how hot it got, because she'd contracted a horrible rash from her perfume.  Stories like that make me glad I'm not a television reporter.

Plus, you know, hard to hold a mike with that palsied hand and all.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I am kind of a closet football fan.  I don't watch it much any more, but I watched a lot of football in my youth, and apparently this has a lasting effect.  I grew up in Central PA, about 2 miles away from this particular monstrosity of steel and concrete (although it wasn't quite this big when I was a kid):

The population of the town I live in now would fit into this stadium, and there would be lots of leftover seats.  I have lots of memories of working outside with my dad on Saturdays in the fall, listening to the game on a round, yellow Panasonic transistor radio.  (Which, it only occurs to me now, is apparently named to distinguish it from the "vacuum tube radio."  Which you have to admit is kind of hilarious.)  We would hear the cheers for a touchdown on the radio, and then several seconds later, we'd hear the soft roar from the actual stadium.

When I was in high school, against the better judgment of our cross country coach, most of my teammates and I also played powderpuff football in the fall.  I was a safety, and this is the only thing that has ever caused me to regret my gender, because after a taste of playing safety in flag football, I wanted nothing more than to be an actual defensive back.  I knew that, "When the linebackers screw up, the chains move; when the secondary screws up, the scoreboard changes."  (Do people actually say that?  Apparently, yes, at least in Central PA, and I'm guessing in Texas as well.)  My hero was Ray Isom, the 5'10" safety for Penn State who was a phenomenal hitter.  He was once quoted in the local paper as saying that he knew a particular hit had been really good, because it took the receiver awhile to get up.  I understand on a rational level that this is sort of a horrific thing to say, but on another level, I wanted to be just like him.  And for what it's worth, the most efficient way to get a receiver's flags in flag football is to knock her to the ground first, take the flag second.  Just saying.

So today I went to a totally different kind of football game, the annual Williams/Amherst game, aka "The Biggest Little Game in America."  It was a perfect day--almost too warm for football, actually--and the game had the perfect outcome, i.e. Williams won.  The game was a lot closer than the final score of 31-16 suggests--Williams didn't put it away until the 4th quarter.  There was a lot of hype (in a relative, Division III kind of way) this year, because Williams came into the game undefeated.  They also have a new head coach, who by all accounts is pretty awesome.  And I'm not the only seemingly normal person who becomes transformed a little bit in the heat of an exciting football game.  Sometime in the 4th quarter my friend Traci, a generally mild-mannered mother of two and all-around upstanding citizen, observed that, "It's not enough just to beat them--we need to break their spirit."  Here is Traci in the stands with my face-painted daughter:

My daughter had a major thrill at the start of the game today.  Through a random series of events I was scheduled as one of the sideline interviews for the game--every year they pick a couple people related to each school and interview them during a lull in the game.  I brought Charlotte and a friend of hers along, and at the end of my brief interview, the NESN reporter asked them each who they were rooting for (she knew that Charlotte's friend was an Amherst fan).  So they shouted out "Williams!" and "Amherst!" and then the reporter said, "Back up to you, TC."  (All you good Red Sox fans know who TC is, obviously.)   The girls were thrilled to be "on TV" (though it's debatable whether or not NESN really qualifies), and I was relieved they were there to class up my interview.  I am actually unable to watch the interview, because I start to vomit just thinking about it, but I made my husband watch it, and he says I came off as "earnest and boring," which is probably the best I can hope for.

And in other, less media-friendly, athletic news, both the men's and women's x-country teams at Williams qualified for nationals today. Go Ephs!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


The off season is time for goal setting, but technically I'm not in my off season yet.  I'm aiming for one more running race (with another one thrown in beforehand more as a training exercise).  But as I read other triathletes' blogs and reflect back on my own season, I can't help but start thinking about next year.  I have some goals forming in my mind, but for now I thought I'd post what I'll call goal-lets: little goals.  You could also call them "goalkins," or "goalitas."  Or not.

1) Perfect the shoeless bike mount: This year I learned to get my feet out of my shoes on the bike.  I have practiced the reverse, getting them into the shoes on the bike, and I'm reasonable at it.  But I haven't developed enough confidence in my mount to do this in a race yet--all my practices (and by the end of the season I started every ride this way) consist of stopping, making sure the shoe is in exactly the right position, then mounting.  I want to get that down (without the stopping part) so I can do it in races. This will just require oodles of practice--I am not the most coordinated person, and I have what I like to think of as a rational fear of falling.

2) Learn a reasonable beach start: When a swim starts off with us on the beach, my approach is to saunter in behind the first line of swimmers in my wave, wait for a spot to open up, then sort of flop into the water.  I sense something a little more aggressive might help me here.  Again, I'll need some practice, and I'll need to round up other people to practice this with.  So if you're a local and reading this, get ready when the ice thaws. You know, like the middle of May.

3) Don't cut corners on swim workouts: I am a total rule follower, and as I discussed in my last post, I follow my coach's orders kind of like an automaton.  But sometimes (I'd say about half the time) on swim workouts, I don't have time to finish--I'm squeezing it in between meetings, so to make my meeting I cut 100 or 200 yards off the workout.  This is lame.  Or, as Kara Goucher would say, "Sha-lame."  So this year, I'm planning better, getting my a** to the pool when I say I'm going to and not 15 minutes later because I stopped to answer an email, and I'm doing the whole workout.

4) Know the race course: One of my larger goals for this season is to do a better job of identifying ahead of time which are my A races.  But once I've done that, I'm not doing an A race without having previewed the bike course.  My best bike last season--arguably my only good bike last season--was at Pumpkinman, where I drove the bike course the night before.  (I actually rode one other bike course a lot before that race, but although I see that USAT thinks this other, local race was a better one for me than Pumpkinman, I rode part of that bike with my rear brake rubbing on the wheel, so I'm leaving that out of any analysis of relative bike performance.  Except that I get a pretty low mark there for careful pre-race mechanical examination of the bike.)  Most of my races are within an hour of so of home, so there's really no excuse not to take a short trip on some weekend before and actually bike the course.  Besides, my husband is training for an Ironman, so what's he going to say, "No, you can't be gone that long for a workout?"

5) Do more time trials: My cycling club runs a weekly time trial.  I always intend to do lots, and this year I did 3.  That's lame.  I want to do every time trial that's not right before an A race (or when I'm out of town), and if I need to switch up the rest of my training schedule to accommodate this, I think I just should.  I think my biggest limiter on the bike right now (OK, other than the fact that my maximum sustainable power is frighteningly close to my weight) is that I'm inexperienced at biking hard for a long time.  I felt like I finally got it right at Pumpkinman, but I need to get it right before September next year. So more time trials.

6) Race in a tri suit that doesn't make me look like a cow: OK, I know that's a slight exaggeration. Also, by designing myself a cow-spotted swimsuit that says "MOO" on the a**, perhaps I've lost some credibility here.  But I've said it to a couple teammates, and now I'm putting it in writing: next year's tri suit needs to not have the light color on the outside of the hips.  Here's exhibit A:

I understand that guys don't want to have anything but a dark color on the inside part of the shorts.  But honestly, spend 5 minutes with any fashion magazine, and you'll learn that this colorblocking scheme is quite the opposite of slimming.  Or just look at a few of us on the team who have actual hips.  Which are easy to spot, because they're highlighted in light blue.  So this is a plea to the 110-pound men who apparently design our club kit: how about navy shorts and a mostly-light-blue top?  Thanks!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The dreaded Mile Repeats, or Why I Need a Coach

Yesterday's workout was 4 x 1 mile repeats at what I hope is my actual 5K pace or maybe even a little slower.  Mile repeats scare me--they take long enough that I have time to think during each effort, and that's not always a good thing for me.  But anything that scares me, workout-wise, also excites me a little bit, because it's a chance to see what I can do.  So I headed into this workout with sort of pre-race jitters.

The weather was dismal.  I don't mind cold, and I don't mind rainy.  But cold and rainy, I mind.  I would have preferred it just dip a few more degrees lower and start snowing.  Snow it did not, so at the last minute, as I walked over to the gym to change between office hours and a meeting, I decided to do the workout on the college's indoor track.  To me this is a step up from the treadmill, but only just.  An indoor track is great for racing 600 meters (or even better, 600 yards) on, and that's about it, in my mind.  I gave myself 2 minutes to hate the indoor track, and then I got over it and focused on the workout.

The best part was that, just as I was finishing my warmup, my Santa duathlon friend (who works here part of the time) showed up at the track.  He had no plan, and like the crazy endurance athlete he is, said "yes" to the question, "Do you want to join me for some mile repeats?"  He warmed up while I did the first one, then joined me for the middle two, then toddled off to ride the stationary bike for awhile.  It is good to have friends who will jump over their lactate threshold with both feet at a moment's notice.  The company really made a difference, and the workout kind of flew by.  I hit my pace, kept my form under control, then toddled off myself to a meeting where I supplemented my recovery drink with the refreshments provided: cheese and crackers plus little cannoli.  Not the best recovery meal, but the working athlete sometimes makes compromises.

What did I think about during those mile repeats?  I thought that this is why I need a coach.  Not everyone does, and not everyone needs the same kind of coach.  Some people like to write their own training plans.  I certainly like to understand what my training plan is supposed to accomplish, and I like to read about training to see if I can get ideas for how to improve.  I like being able to develop a plan with my coach, so I can put forth my ideas when I have them.  But I really, really need someone to tell me what do to.  I need to trust that person, so I can go into a workout like yesterday a little nervous but with the faith that I really can do what she's told me to do.  If it were up to me, I don't think I would have come up with 4 repeats instead of 3, and I am not sure I would have thought I could hold that pace.  But what's even more critical for me is that, even if I had come up with that workout, when things got hard partway through, I would have had doubts.  Doubts that I could keep it up the whole time, doubts that maybe I'd overestimated my fitness, my toughness, whatever.  Having a coach I trust eliminates that.  I just accept that she knows what I can do, and I do my best to do it.

The trust thing is, I suspect, the hardest part.  I've been lucky to have a lot of great coaches, from high school through college through running clubs until now.  For me the best coach is always someone who believes I'm capable of a little more than I think I am.  But the coach can't just be a pollyanna--s/he actually has to be right, and there's certainly a way to be wrong here.

The other thing I need a coach to do is to tell me when to rest and how much.  Left to my own devices, like I suspect the vast majority of endurance athletes, I would overtrain.  I feel guilty taking rest, but if my coach tells me to do it, I do it.  And she tells me to rest a lot.  This has actually helped me get better at reading my body, so that now sometimes I take rest on my own initiative, but it's important to have that feedback from someone I trust.

All of this makes me laugh, because in most areas of my life, there is nothing I dislike more than having someone else tell me what to do.

And just to clarify, I'm pretty sure (though I haven't asked her) that my coach would not advise me to refuel with cannoli.

OK, speaking of laughing: in my race report about the Tufts 10K, I said that I laughed when a woman I passed near the finish passed me back.  In case you didn't believe that, here's the photographic evidence, taken right after I reacted and started to pass her back:

OK, it's sort of a combination laugh/grimace, but work with me.

Here's where it really crossed the line into full-on grimace, I think:

. . . and here's where I gave my slightly-too-vigorous high five to Joanie:

Nice palsied-looking right hand for me, but we'll leave that for another day.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Glowing skulls, gale force winds and errant body paint

This weekend I did a duathlon that involved all the items in the title.  I'm going to give away part of the ending and tell you that, sadly, the skulls didn't actually glow as advertised.  The glowing is really more of a "serving suggestion," to use a cereal box analogy.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  First, let me set the stage for this race.

On Thursday afternoon I took the train down to New York for a chemistry symposium.  A colleague in my department went as well, and our trip can best be described as "The Keystone Cops Go to New York."  Typical exchange from our trip down: "There are two train stations in New Haven?"  "It looks that way."  "Do you know which one we want?" "No."  I took out any number of pedestrians in Manhattan with my poster tube (this is after the poster tube spontaneously disassembled and somehow managed to goose me in the middle of Grand Central), we followed my iphone to the wrong address, and yet somehow we arrived at our opening reception only 40 minutes late.  We spent all day Friday in a meeting room with this view:

The symposium was fantastic, and we wisely latched onto someone from Yale to guide us back to New Haven Friday night.  I got home around 11 pm, following a solid 24 hours of a diet based on hors d'oeuvres and white wine.  (I thought avoiding the hard stuff was a rather notable sacrifice in honor of my upcoming race.)

Saturday morning my kids did a fun run in our hometown.  Patrick did the "kids' dash," which had eerie overtones of a bad concert stampede.  He stayed upright around the dicey corner, though, and here he is (yellow and green shirt) storming his way to the finish:

Charlotte did the kids' 1-mile fun run.  She saw this last year and asked to do it, so starting a few weeks ago I took her out in the neighborhood for a couple jogs.  We started with run/walk and progressed over three outings to jogging a 1 mile loop.  I am not a big fan of actual training for young kids, but I thought it would be useful for her to know how long a mile feels and how to pace herself.  Honestly, I figured she would finish but be dead last or close to it.  I prepared her a lot for this.  And wouldn't you know it--she was near the front.  Here she is kicking it in to the finish:

She was actually the first girl , and she came in ahead of most of the boys.  I think I underestimated her competitive streak.  Best of all, she finished with a huge grin on her face.

Saturday night our friends' son had his bar mitzvah.  The last time I went to a bar/bat mitzvah I was 13, and like all the other girls there, I was wearing a Gunne Sax ensemble.  Suffice it to say, the 13-year-old set is a little less demure these days.  The kids had a fantastic time at the afterparty, but it was not exactly an early pre-race night for me.  When the alarm went off at 5 the next morning, the whole duathlon thing seemed a little less inspired than when I'd first signed up.

So why did I sign up?  For fun.  Or pHun, as we like to say in the chemistry department.  This is a race that encourages costumes.  A friend of mine wanted to do it.  And they were giving out skulls as prizes for first in your age group.  The skull thing nailed it for me, so I signed up and came up with a costume.  I figured if I wore a costume, I would remember that I was doing it for fun, and maybe I would also forget that I haven't been on my tri bike since my last triathlon in early September.  I think I went 1 for 2 on those goals.

For the costume I succumbed for the first time in my life to the heinous trend of "sexy fill-in-the-blank" and bought a form-fitting firefighter's dress.  You say sexy, I say aerodynamic.  I wore it over my tri shorts and running bra, and in a true stroke of destiny,  I already had day-glo skeleton socks that matched the trim on the dress.  I painted flames on my legs at about 6 am, but tragically the face paint I used wore of on the pants I was wearing when I warmed up, leaving me with just a few random orange streaks that looked suspiciously like a bad self-tanner application.  (Or so I have learned from careful study of the self-tanning literature, aka US Weekly.)  As you can see for yourself, I think I managed to de-sexy the costume pretty well.

My friend went as Santa.  He probably lost himself 2 places in his AG by pausing in T2 to swap tights for his Santa shorts, which he didn't want to wear on the bike.

Enough about the costume--onto the race!  It was freaking windy.  I have never been so scared on the bike.  That is really all I want to say about the bike, except to note that not riding in aero position for about two months really does make a difference, and it's not a good one.   Also, while I very much appreciated my friend's insistence on taping over the valve holes on my tri-spoke wheels, I suspect that aerodynamic advantage was negated (and then some) by my flapping skirt.

The runs went great.  There's a little timing weirdness at this race, which doesn't use chips, so that I think they folded T2 into the 2nd run.  But by my own watch I was only 15 seconds slower on the 2nd 5K than on the first, and even better, my combined 10K time was faster than my actual 10K time at Tufts last month.  I got passed on the 2nd run by a woman I had passed at the end of the bike--I tried to stay with her but utterly failed.  It turned out she passed me for 3rd overall, so I ended up 4th, but in the best stroke of luck in a long time, I still got 1st in the AG for the skull.

My friend is making an angry face because he only got a medal.  Shouldn't have done the costume change, dude.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Actual girl on aforementioned cow bike

First, it occurs to me that I should credit the title of my last blog--it's a book by Dan Savage, of whom I am a huge fan.  There's really nothing about Gomorrah, literal or figurative, in that post.  I just can't say the word "slouching" any more without thinking of the rest of that phrase.

But the big news is that I finally got a picture of me on the cow bike, and it's now at the top of the blog.  It was either that or rename the blog "Cow bike on a Civic."  The picture is from Pumpkinman, and while it's from transition and therefore not all impressively aero, it does show the cowness about as well as any picture from that race.  Plus it amuses me that you can see, since my feet are out of the shoes, that I painted my toenails to match my tri suit, which is something I do sort of obsessively for races, for reasons that are unclear even to me.

This seems like a good time to answer the obvious question: Why a cow bike?

The main reason is that I went to a college whose mascot is a cow.  In fact the mascot is a purple cow, but I went with classic Holstein black and white and got Parlee to make the lettering purple instead.  I also went to college in the late 80's/early 90's, when cow pattern first started to a be a really big thing--maybe it was Ben and Jerry's, or maybe just a general reflection of the unsubtle 80's aesthetic.  Either way, I have always loved cow-patterned things, and I had dreamed for awhile of someday getting a cow-spotted bike.  So when the time seemed right to get a tri bike, I swallowed my pride, told the nice people at Fitwerx that I wanted it to come with cow spots, and the rest is bovine bicycle history.  Oh, and I also designed myself a cow swimsuit at Splish.  But that's pretty much it for now.  Except that obviously my kids had to ride in this.

And I have to say, the cow bike makes me smile every time I ride it.  It makes other people smile (and laugh) too, which I'd hoped for.  It really is a seriously nice bike, but I like having something to counteract all that seriousness.  (Other than the arguably spazzy way I ride it, obviously.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Slouching toward Gomorrah

Last weekend was my college cross country team's yearly alumni meet.  It's actually a regular (though small) home meet, with a JV 5K that most of the alumni run in.  And it's kind of an exercise in humility, since not only does one realize how slow one is relative to actual college runners (even the JV at Div III, which was as far as I ever got as a college runner), but one has the added bonus of running behind groups of younger alumni who are chatting away about their exciting 20-something lives while one drags one's 40-year-old body along with a serious amount of 5K-worthy huffing and puffing.  As my classmate and good friend said after the race, having just come off her first marathon (in which of course she BQed like the former All American she is), "You forget how a 5K is just tongue out the entire way."  Indeed.

My coach was there to watch, because her nephew is a freshman at my alma mater.  Although I pointed out she was not supposed to be working, apparently she couldn't help but critique my running form, and her verdict is that I am slouching too much.  I think this is what she means:

I'm the one sort of hunched over in front--where "front" is a relative term, translated as "in the front of a small pack near the back of the race."  Come to think of it, I look like this in a lot of race pictures, so I think I need to work on my posture.

You'll note that I'm smiling here.  Funny, though, how there's kind of a wide margin of effort for a 5K--from all out to somewhat-hard-but-smiling-for-the-camera--where it all hurts pretty bad for the last half of the race.

And here we older alumni are, post-race, outside the newer, swankier version of essentially the only bar in town.

The old version of the bar burned down a year or so ago.  I know some alumni are going to be all nostalgic for the old version.  Call me middle-aged, but there's something to be said for a bathroom that you don't need a Hazmat suit to enter.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My picture in the Globe!

Well, sort of:

I'm the blond woman with the 6-pack abs out in front.  Kidding.  On the far left of the picture, with a tree branch hanging over my head, I'm jogging along in a lemon yellow, kind of high-necked tank top and sunglasses.  My left hand is crossing over my chest in an unseemly fashion.

Tufts 10K Race Report

Here is the summary, in case you are pressed for time: everything went great about this race, except for the finishing time.  Which is, in hindsight (the kind you get after 7 hours and two glasses of wine), probably what I should have expected.  But I like to dream big, even when said dreams are not actually grounded in reality.  Reality was 45:20.  Dream was better than last year's 43:54.

Here is the long version: I try to run this race every year.  I ran it twice (I think--this is sort of pre-internet at the start) when I was in grad school in Boston.  I think I didn't run it again until I came back to MA for my current job--I ran it the year after having my first child (pumped at a friend's apartment on Beacon Hill, did the race, came back and pumped again before heading home), skipped the year I was hugely pregnant with my 2nd child, and have done it ever since.  I love this race.  I love that it is often the US 10K championship, so when I am headed out toward the BU bridge on Memorial drive, I run right past the best runners in the country (and sometimes in the world).  I love that it is flat and fast.  I love that once I saw Bill Rodgers cheering for us on Charles Street. I love that it covers ground I ran all the time when I was in grad school--it feels like home to me.  I love that it successfully combines an elite race with a huge horde of women, many of whom are far from elite, and creates a race that works for all of us.  There were supposedly over 8,000 starters today, and except for a bit of a clusterf*** getting to my starting corral, it didn't matter--I had clear ground from the start (they have seeding that actually works if you're seeding yourself faster than 8-minute pace).

And of course, I love that this is the site of my all-time 10K PR, which is by far the PR I'm most proud of, and of course I am just dying to tell you it: 41:13 in 1994.  It was the result of massive (for me) mileage, training for cross country with wicked fast runners in a Boston running club, and it came out of nowhere and felt easy.  And then I overtrained myself into a vicious knee injury, but that's a (boring) story for another day (or maybe for never, come to think of it).  I dream of getting back to that time.

But you know, my race today FELT just like that race.  It was about 4 minutes slower, as it turns out, but  it felt the same--kind of effortless through 4 miles, then putting the hammer down progressively for the last 2, complete with a totally respectable finishing kick.  That the end result wasn't quite what I'd hoped for has got to be just a result of where I am in my training, so I'm accepting that and moving on.

Here's how it went down.  I drove into Boston this morning and got to my favorite parking garage just after 10.  I had my yearly conversation with the parking attendant about how, since it's a holiday, they really ought to offer holiday rates ($12 for the day instead of $39 for anything over 3 hours).  He pointed to all the other cars, and said, "Lots of people are working."  "The state offices are closed," I pointed out.  "My husband works for the state.  He has the day off."  (Which is why, as we have this discussion, he's at home with 2 children under 8, settling in for a day of fun and bickering.)  We amiably agreed to disagree, I locked all my valuables in the car, and headed off to the Boston common.

Somehow, in a race with 8,000+ runners, number pickup is always a breeze there.  I got my stuff, found a shady spot, and sat down to people watch for the better part of 45 minutes.  I took a photo for two mothers who were about to do the race, each with a stroller containing multiple children.  I drank Heed.  I stretched lightly.  I used my favorite bank of Porta-potties, though I was slightly disappointed to see that, unlike in years past, other runners seem to have figured out that this bank exists.  A little after 11, I started my warmup, which again included some interval stuff, since apparently my body likes that.  I ate a caffeinated gel.  And then at "first call for 7-minute pace," I headed up to Beacon Street.

Where the aforementioned clusterf*** was in full force.  It's always a madhouse, but this year part of the herd decided to scale the grass hill and climb over the railing to the one staircase they let you out of, so it was worse than usual.  No biggie--I figured they wouldn't start the race without us, and once I got up to Beacon Street, it wasn't hard to cross to the other side and jog down the sidewalk to my corral.  On the way there, out of 8,000+ runners, I managed to bump into a friend from my hometown and say hi and good luck to her.

I found my corral, which was as usual sparsely populated (plenty of women will seed themselves at 8:00 pace, but apparently 7:00 pace scares people off.  As it should have me, apparently), just as the Boston City Singers launched into the national anthem.  And then we started.

For the first mile I was supposed to keep my HR at the top of Z4 (in a Frielesque sense of the word).  I tend to go out too fast, and my HR also takes awhile to equilibrate, so this was good advice. I went through Mile 1 in 7:05 and felt terrific.

My instructions were then to keep my HR in Z5a through Mile 5.  This required me to IGNORE everyone around me--I got passed a lot in the next couple miles.  But it actually felt like the right 10K pace to me--pretty easy, but quick.  I felt like I was running 7's.  In fact, into a headwind, I was running more like 7:30's.  But I didn't actually know this, because since I had a HR plan, I ignored the splits.  This took a little doing--no looking at the clocks, no listening for the time that was called out, and no looking at my watch except to occasionally check the HR.  I  had some idea I wasn't quite at 7-minute pace, but I really did let go of it.  Last year I had specific splits in mind, and it nearly made me bleed out my ears, because with the headwind I would increase effort, watch the split go up, and go nuts.  This resulted in my dropping a 6:40 around Mile 4, which didn't do much for my Mile 5 and Mile 6 splits.  So I resolved to ignore the output and focus on the input for a change.

Just before mile 3 we turned around so we now had a tailwind.  I figured this would impact my splits in a positive way.  Ha.  I ran another 7:30ish mile.  Not that I knew this at the time.  For most of the first 3 miles, people (women, in most cases--though there are a few guys who run this, oddly enough) passed me fairly regularly.  I just let it go.  And then when I got to the Mile 4 marker, and I still felt really good, I increased my effort.  Not a ton--my average HR for that mile went up only 2 bpm--but enough that I started passing people back as we went over the Mass Ave bridge.  I also knew that they take some of the race photos here, so I was inspired to stand up straight and not look like a pathetic slacker.

When I hit Mile 5, I gave it everything I had, as per my instructions.  It hurt, but in a good way--I knew I could keep it up, and by this point I was passing people pretty regularly.  I passed back a lot of the women who'd passed me in mile 2 and 3, and that felt good--I truly felt like, if I'd gone out faster, I would have been one of them instead of me.  No one passed me after Mile 4.  Two of my friends came out to cheer me on along Commonwealth Ave--I had hoped they would, so I was looking out for them.  (To be honest, 2 years ago I went out way too fast and felt like total s*** at this point, so I was, um, fairly grumpy when I saw them, which made me wonder if they'd ever come back to cheer me on again.  But one of them is still paying back her karmic debt for not coming to cheer me on when I ran the Boston Marathon in 1995, so I guess she had no choice, even though she's 6 or 7 months pregnant.  Thanks, Rebecca!)  I had enough energy to wave, and to flip them off when one of them yelled, "Run faster!"  Which amused all the other spectators.

The finish of this race, if you haven't done it, is a festival of long straights.  First you have the long straight down Commonwealth, where you can count down the blocks by the alphabetical cross streets.  Although today I actually felt so good, I didn't even do this--I just focused on the green blur of the Public Garden in the distance and tried to mow down the runners between me and there.  Then there's the short  bit on Arlington, a short bit on Boylston, and the long straight down Charles.  I worked hard at "chunking" the finish--that's a term I think I read on the USAT website about dividing your effort up into manageable chunks, though I like how it also evokes the feeling one has during the last mile or so of truly wanting to, um, chunk.  But today I just focused on one piece at a time.  When I made the turn onto Arlington, apparently I had just passed someone named Annie, because someone cheered for her and said, "Only 2 turns left."  I focused on that, and made myself accelerate at each turn.  (Which is a relative term here--turns out my big surge at Mile 4 had given me a 7:20 5th mile.)

When I hit Charles, I picked it up once more and focused on the crosswalk about halfway down.  I told myself I would do one final pickup there.  And when I did, I passed yet another woman who had passed me earlier.  And she responded and passed me back.  I kind of laughed, because I was so surprised (although I suspect at this point in the race, it sounding more like chunking), and then I dug down and passed her back.  And when I say "dug down," I mean that I really had to do that thing where you kind of dip your head down to accelerate.  Only maybe you don't do that.  And I really hope they didn't snap a picture then--I know they get pictures down that last straight, and those have never been my most flattering ones--but pretty or not, I found that extra gear, passed that woman, and passed one more as well.  I definitely have an ego thing about my kick, and it's almost certainly unjustified at this point in my life.  But I still have the mindset, if not the actual fast-twitch muscle, of a middle distance runner, so it's kind of a point of pride that no one should beat me on a finishing kick.  For me the trick is to commit to it in the first place, but once I've done that, I'm all in.  Someday soon I'm going to try this out on a 25-year old and it's not going to go well for me.

And then I almost took out Joan Benoit Samuelson.  Because the other thing I love about this race is that Joan runs it, kicks most of our asses, then stands at the finish line and high fives all us pedestrian types as we cross.  I have been known to gush incoherently, "You're my hero!" because she totally is.  I started my running career, such as it is, in the early 80's, so I kind of grew up with Joanie.  I also went to a NESCAC school, just like she did.  And there the similarities end.  But she is just. Freaking. Awesome.  She ran the Chicago Marathon yesterday--in 2:47:50!--and then ran today's race in what was for her a fairly slow time (40 minutes and change), then took up her usual high fiving position.  And because I finished with a hard acceleration across the line, I hit her hand, um, a little hard.  But you know, despite her elvish looks and what I figure is about a 40-pound differential between us, she's actually quite tough (hence, you know, the 2:47 marathon yesterday), so she absorbed it without incident.  Phew.

Final 1.2 miles: just a hair over 7:00 pace.   Average pace: 7:18/mile.

I think I've said enough about the meta-analysis of my total time.  But I will also say this: I read blogs of other runners, and I am totally inspired by them, and these other runners write of immense amounts of suffering they undergo during races.  As I mentioned above, I am a former (now REALLY former) middle distance runner.  I ran cross country, but frankly, I sucked at it, because I have never been good at that suffering thing.  I am actually a much better distance runner now than I was in college, because despite the 40-year-old body, I've gotten a little better at suffering.  (And no, it's not the whole childbirth thing--I had an epidural both times.)  And although I was generally kind of a mediocre middle distance runner, when I did race well, it was because I could tolerate suffering for like 2-5 minutes, max.  I can tolerate a lot during that time, and at one point I had some leg speed to go with it.

But if I am truly suffering at Mile 2 of a 10K, it's just not going to happen.  I want to be tough, and I want to be able to be all Zone 5b or 5c for the whole thing, but it just ain't happening.  When I ran 41:13 (oh, did I already mention that time?  Silly me), it felt effortless.  Only in a sense, obviously--had it truly been effortless, I would have stepped it up and broken 41 minutes.  I gave that race everything I had that day, and I feel like I gave my race today the same.  But for me, that means a gradual build--when I do that, I have the legs, stomach and lungs to give it all for the last mile or so.  When I don't, I am what the kids today would call a hot mess.

Maybe this is an excuse, although I do think there's something to the science of HR zones and what anyone can sustain for a given length of time.  But for me, the path to getting faster is simply to increase the speed I can go in those zones, as pedestrian and unexciting as that sounds.  When I run well, it really is a weird combination of effortless and hard, until the last mile, when it's just hard.  But fun.  In a sort of chunky way.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hatfield Harvest 5K

As I alluded to in my last post, I did a 5K last weekend and was underwhelmed by the results.  After talking to my coach, I decided to jump in another local 5K this weekend, the main goal being to test out whether it would help me to do a longer, harder warmup.

What I learned is this: yes, I definitely feel better after a more intense warmup (sort of like an abbreviated track workout without the track).  In fact, I felt so much better that I breezed through the first mile probably 15 or 20 seconds faster than I should have, which didn't really seem like an issue until about mile 1.5.

Here's how I looked at about mile 2.9:

It's a little hard to read my expression, but I think it says something like, "S***, I took that first mile out too fast."

If you look hard, at the far right of this picture you can also see a runner in a green shirt.  About 100 yards later, she passed me, about 200 yards from the finish.  I said, "Good job," and resigned myself to finishing as the 3rd woman (it was a very small race).  Then I did a double take (only without actually doing any double-take type movement, because that would have required me to expend energy, of which I essentially had none at that point), thought "What the f*** am I thinking?" and dug as deep as I could to pass her back.  This left about 100 yards of staring at the finish line straight ahead of me, trying to keep up my kick, trying not to think about how much I wanted to throw up.  I resorted to running through Adam Lambert's "If I Had You" in my head, and promised myself I'd get to the finish line before I had to mentally sing the line about "girls in stripper heels."  And I did, but probably only because there's a bit of instrumental bridge before that part of the song.

After both Ms. Green Shirt and I were able to stand upright and walk (thankfully, we were NOT wearing stripper heels), we congratulated each other.  It was close to a PR for her, and while not quite that for me, my race was definitely 10 or 15 seconds faster because of her, and I was perfectly happy with the time.  Unfortunately, I had to hightail it out of there to take the kids to my son's preschool potluck, so I could not stick around to collect the pie I think I might have won.  (It's possible I won a bag of potatoes instead.  Awesome prizes, either way.)

Other thoughts about the race:

1) Most of it was on dirt tractor roads through fields and/or along the dike by the Connecticut River.  Beautiful and fun, but I don't think very fast.  By mile 2 it was really taking it out of my legs to deal with the uneven terrain,  puddles,  etc.  Not that I'm complaining--it was a gorgeous course, and it certainly gave me something to think about other than the Darth-Vader like sound of my labored breathing.

2) I loved the low-key vibe of this race.  The starting "line" was the end of a driveway where the pavement started.  The course was well marked, with bored-looking (can you really blame them?) boyscouts at all turns.

3) I ran into several people I knew at the race.  The best was the guy who sheepishly admitted that his wife didn't know he was doing it--he told her he just went out to pick up applications for them for another race in a couple weeks.  We agreed that if the odd 5K is the biggest secret you're keeping from your spouse, your marriage is probably pretty solid.

4) The first-place woman was also first place overall.  Gotta love that.

5) When Adam Lambert says he's "got the right amount of leather," exactly what is that amount?  Is it safe to assume that Adam and I have different calibrations for this?

As you can probably tell from the photo (on the off chance you don't live around here), it was an astoundingly wonderful fall day.  The only bad part of the whole day was when, on our way to said potluck with a crockpot full of black bean soup on the floor of the passenger seat (you can see where this is going, right?), someone pulled out in front of me and forced me to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting them.  The resultant tsunami of black bean soup required a lot of cleaning out of the car, and I still fear there is soup in places I can't reach.  While my kids assured me, "But it smells really GOOD, Mommy," I have a feeling they're going to rethink that in a week or two.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mountain Day

Today was Mountain Day at the college where I work; the President cancels classes and, in theory, we all head out to enjoy the outdoors.  In reality many of us (students and faculty alike) catch up on work, not to mention that staff don't get the day off.  But I try to do something outside every Mountain Day, and today I had brought my bike, so I turned my planned short ride into a slightly-less-short ride.  It's not close to peak foliage here yet (or at least I hope it isn't)--there is a lot of yellow and the occasional red or orange tree, but it's not what I would call classic fall. Still, it was a gorgeous day, and my ride mostly looked like this:

It was also an exciting ride because I wore a new cycling outfit.  The shorts are sort of a dark fuschia with white highlights--not exactly a butt-minimizing design, but kind of snazzy in a frightening sort of way.  Thing is, the shorts don't have grippers on the legs, so 5 minutes into the ride they had bunched themselves up into hot pants.  Which didn't really bother me, but I suspect the other residents of Western MA might prefer to see less of my upper thigh.  Still--and I say this with a whole lotta love--I live and work in an area where I can be pretty sure that a middle-aged woman riding in fuschia hot pants is not the oddest thing most people have seen that day.

I went on another beautiful ride this past weekend, out in the Berkshires.  I rode through three states (MA, VT and NY), which sounds impressive until you look at a map.  I started as part of a group ride and finished on my own, and I took this picture of the mountains (and part of my ziploc bag flapping in front of my phone):

At the end of the weekend I ran in a 5K sponsored by my college, and I would love to write a great race report about that, but that would require me to write about someone else's race.  My race was lame.  I kind of knew going into it that it wasn't going to be great--I was coming off a late night of festivities, I had the kids there to do a little kids' race so didn't really get to warm up--but honestly, I think my "not so great" should be about a minute faster than it was.  I got a side stitch, which as one of my friends pointed out sounds like an excuse from junior high track--"Coach, I can't finish, I have a cramp!" So enough about that.  It's still a very fun race, though, because a lot of students and colleagues do it, and the kids had a great time running, getting their faces painted, and coating themselves with cotton candy.  Plus a couple of my friends had great races, so at least I could bask in some vicarious satisfaction on that count.

I am sort of mystified by the contrast between my ability to run decently fast (for me) in a 5K at the end of a triathlon and my complete inability to do the same for a regular 5K.  Is it a physiological thing about the warmup?  Is it a mental thing, because in a triathlon I get to pass a lot of people who started before me?  Both?  If I can pull it off with scheduling, I am going to experiment a little this weekend, but I'll wait to say more until I see how that goes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hard Tuesday

My Tuesdays this semester are heavily scheduled, in my generally-not-so-scheduled work life--I teach class from 9-10:20 and lab from 1-4:50.  Normally I can use the time in between, at least in part, to prep for the lab.  Normally I also do a hard running workout on Tuesdays, and I leave the house before anyone gets up to do that before work.  But today was my daughter's picture day at school, so I had to stay home to help her with her hair.  (Although at the end of the day, she informed me that she'd had to adjust her ponytails anyway, because I made them too high.  It is a good sign that it is finally dawning on her that I am not so good at doing hair.  Hence my own short haircut.)

So after the first class and a meeting, I headed out to fit in the track workout before lab.  And let me just pause here and note that I appreciate the flexibility of a job that lets me do this.  I work a lot of hours at night, but no one bothers me if I head out to do a track workout at 11:15.  And wow, what a workout!

I had 6 800's at what I think is optimistically 5K pace--like the 5K pace I dream about when I'm bored on a long run.  Only when I dream about it, it doesn't hurt quite as much as this did.  I had short rest (200 jog), except for after the 4th one, when my coach gifted me a 400 jog, and I believe I set a new record for slowest 400 ever jogged.  I managed to make the pace, plus or minus a couple seconds, each time.  And at the end I felt that I'm-about-to-throw-up thing I feel at the end of races.

I was sort of relieved about that, actually, because one of my favorite bloggers, Steve in a Speedo, recently posted a back and forth with his coach about just this--how if you're not feeling that bad, you're not working hard enough.  I started to feel inadequate, since I couldn't remember feeling that bad in a workout for a long time.  But now that I nearly barfed on my shoes today, I feel all happy again.  Funny how that works.

And then I got to go teach lab for four hours, which was probably good for my legs (no sitting down), but was a little exhausting.  We started out by going down to the pond on campus to measure dissolved oxygen content, and when I bent over to take my reading, I nearly passed out when I stood back up.  Still, as a chemist who spends most of her experimental life in basement rooms looking at instruments, it was fun to do a little outside chemistry.  Plus our experiment involved solutions changing colors, and really, nothing makes you feel like a chemist quite like color changes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tailwinds, downhills and magical thinking

Today I had a hardish run workout, and I did it on a bike path near where I work.  I know this bike path goes slowly uphill on the way out, and therefore (yes, I'm quick like that) somewhat downhill on the way back.  I am not above using this occasionally to my advantage in workouts, although today it didn't really matter, since the hard stuff was by heart rate.  But what I noticed today, for like the 2,018th time in my running life, is that while the slight uphill is noticeable in the moment, the slight downhill really is not.  Had I not just turned around from running uphill for 20 minutes or so, I would've sworn I was on a nice flat when I was really coasting slightly downhill.

Which brings me to the bike.  This summer I had several workouts where I headed out on a flat section of road near the Connecticut River--anyone who lives out here knows what I mean (Tuesday night TT course)--and the wind is variable day to day, but usually present in some direction.  I would be doing some workout where my HR was not all out, and invariably I would be coasting along without much effort, look down and see that I was in one of the hardest gears, see something like 25 mph on my bike computer, and immediately conclude, "Wow!  I've just had a real breakthrough in bike fitness!"  I would then spend the rest of the first half of the workout congratulating myself on this breakthrough.

Then I would turn around.  And hit a massive headwind.  And struggle to keep the pace above 17 mph.  And, had I not been afraid of falling over, I would have slapped myself on the forehead and said, "OH!  That was a TAILWIND!"

And then I would repeat this the next week.

The thing is, it ALWAYS feels like there's a headwind on the bike.  Because there is, whether or not there's a net tailwind.  (I'm sure there's a physics/fluid mechanics term for this, but I'm just going to make one up.  There is always a local headwind around, appropriately enough, one's head.  Even if there's a gale force wind pushing at one's butt.)

But it's not like I am totally stupid.  I do learn from experience.  So by the end of the summer, my internal conversation on the way out would go something like this: "Wow!  I've just had a real breakthrough in bike fitness!"  A minute later: "Oh wait--this happened before, and it was just a tailwind.  And in fact, now I see that all the flags on main street in Hatfield are pointed directly away from me.  There must be another tailwind today."  30 seconds later: "Yeah, but it doesn't FEEL like there's that much of a tailwind.  I must have had some kind of serious breakthrough in bike fitness anyway!"  After the turnaround: "Wow--where did this vicious headwind come from?"

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Best Triathlon Ever!

OK, that's a little hyperbolic, because I've only been doing triathlons for 3 years, and I've only done sprints and olympic distance races, mostly in New England.  But I have a new BFF of a triathlon, and it's the Pumpkinman sprint.

It didn't hurt that I had what was probably my best race of the season, and it certainly didn't hurt that it was a day like this:

(You can't quite tell from the photo, but it was in the 60's or maybe low 70's, and dry.)

But really, this is an amazing race.  I had read a little about it, and then I realized the race director was a woman I had met at a couple local triathlons last year.  She was friendly and competitive, two qualities I can relate to, and I had a feeling she would put on a great race.  And indeed, she does, which is probably why she won NE race director of the year last year.  The race is both competitive--an elite wave, good competition, a crack team of volunteers--and fun.  Fun as in pumpkin men and other festive decorations; all kinds of cool awards including for local athletes and splits; and a gorgeous venue.  Plus very good post-race food, including this:

Yes, I took a picture of my post-race whoopie pie.  It was awesome.  And because these are a Pennsylvania Dutch thing (or so wikipedia says), I consider myself an expert, having grown up on the outskirts of Amish country.  But enough about that--onto the race report.

The Swim: This was a 1/3-mile swim, in a nice lake that was kind of silty, which I like because you can't see all the weird stuff on the bottom.  I was in the 6th wave, which meant among other things that by the time we got lined up on the beach, they had stopped playing "Smoke on the Water" and had moved onto Pink.  I met blogger Donna, who did a nice Christine-from-Seinfeld dance routine before we got all serious in the last 30 seconds before the start.

I felt a lot more crowded than I have in other races this season--I bumped into a few people, and 2/3 of the way through I found myself playing Luke Skywalker to a trash compacter room made up of two other swimmers from my wave.  I couldn't figure out any way out of that one but to slow up and let them pull ahead, so I did.  But it was basically fine, and I felt good.  My split has me at a decent pace for me if you believe the course length.  I never believe swim course lengths, but this race director seems like the type to get it right, so I'm buying it.

T1: Pumpkinman is famous for its Powderhouse hill climb, which is a monstrous grassy hill up to T1.  They give a prize for the fastest split (M and F) up this hill.  Suffice it to say I was not in contention for the prize.  But it was a hoot.  Here it is after the race:

It looks (and feels) even steeper in person.

The Bike: This course is a hard one--I'm saying that based not just on my personal experience, but on the times posted by other people.  I had taken the time to drive it the night before when I went to early check-in, and I'm glad I did.  No huge climbs, but a lot of little rollers, and a lot of winding stuff, turns, and rough road.  The night before I was all full of bravado, telling myself as I drove the course in my Honda with the cow bike bouncing on the back, "I won't have to use my small chain ring at all!"  In the harsh light of day, with my butt actually on the bike, I did in fact use my small chain ring on occasion, but definitely less than I normally do.  Because I knew virtually all the hills were quite short, I was a lot more aggressive about standing and climbing hard than I normally am, knowing I wasn't about to crush my legs and then turn the corner to see a wall of hill.

My HR stayed consistently higher than it did during my last race, which was a good thing, given my previously discussed tendency to lollygag on the bike.  I was passed early on by one woman; I kept her in my sights for awhile then lost her.  I think I was passed by 1 man--most of the men's waves went off before me.  I had one great pass that I have to attribute to the bike--I had come up on two women, passed them, got passed back by first one then the other at the end of one of the longer climbs, and then we came to a downhill.  And here's where the fancy bike and race wheels paid off, because I just flew past them on a downhill and got enough momentum to get up the next roller fast, and I never saw them again.  I sometimes feel cheesy for having "bought myself some speed," but whatever--that is one fast cow.

One scary thing during the bike--a guy crashed on this wooden bridge, and by the time I went by he was lying on the ground with an EMT over him and another volunteer directing us around him, and the ambulance just up the road.  But I found out today that he was fine, which is a huge relief.  I also saw 4 or 5 riders by the side of the road with flats, and each time I said a little thank you to the biking gods for not sending me off with them, although once I saw the aftermath of that crash, a flat didn't seem like such  a disaster after all.  Yikes.

T2: Not much to report--got shoes off on the bike without embarrassing myself and headed out on the run.

The run: I felt pretty great--just kept my cadence up, and I had a lot of people in front of me to pass, which kept me going during that painful middle section where my mind sometimes wanders.  I passed (I think) the woman who'd passed me on the bike, plus a few others, and I just tried to pass hard and keep going (with a "good job" when possible, and I don't think anyone didn't say something nice back.  Triathletes are ridiculously gracious competitors.)  To be honest, I didn't have a smashing kick--I was just kind of beat, and I sort of wish I'd rocketed down the long grassy downhill to the finish.  But it was still an awesome finish--you do a loop around the outside of transition, then across to the grass and down this big hill with a lot of spectators.  I learned later that the 1st place guy had held off 2nd place by 3 seconds, which must have been an awesome finish to watch.

Overall: I was totally thrilled to see on the results (which got posted I think before my HR settled down out of Zone 4--have I mentioned that this is a capable race director?) that I was 3rd in my age group.  At the awards ceremony, I found out that this was actually good for 3rd overall in the amateur (non-elite) division--in other words, the top 3 places were all in my age group.  So yeah, we 40-44 year olds are pretty damn fast.  And as another unexpected bonus, I got an additional award for the fastest run split by an amateur woman, which I snagged by a whopping 3 seconds.

But for me the best part about my race was the bike.  While I was in no danger of winning fastest bike split, for the first time I was what I would call "in the mix" on the bike.  I am used to being kind of midpack on both the bike and the swim and then moving up a lot on the run, and certainly that was still true to some extent.  But there were a couple women ahead of me with slightly slower bike splits than mine, and my time was sort of in the same solar system as many of them.  Normally I've been a couple to a few minutes back of everyone ahead of me on the bike, so it's great to see that margin coming down.  In case you're wondering, I think "midpack" would still be an accurate description of my swim, but I'll take it for now.

I had a great time at this race, even though I didn't really go there knowing anyone.  (A friend who lives up there had planned to do it with me but bailed at the last minute.  In his defense, he has a crazy work life, and he felt bad enough to buy me a nice dinner the night before, so I forgave him.)  I did run into the two guys who fitted me for and sold me the cow bike--one of them was the aforementioned winner with the 3-second margin, and the other placed in his age group.  They are very nice about the cow bike, which I think struck them as seriously odd when I first told them what I wanted, and I have to confess I was pathetically relieved that I pulled off a respectable race in their presence.  In general I'm always amazed at how friendly triathletes are--I met nice people in the food line, in transition (the woman who turned out to beat me for 2nd place by less than a minute was the same person who zipped up my wetsuit for me), and even in the portapotty line.  So all in all it was a big warm and fuzzy experience (except for the traffic on 495, but I won't spoil a sunny blog post by discussing that, or why the state of NH feels the need to charge you every 2 minutes for driving on their highway), and if I can pull it off, I'm going back next year.