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.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pool and track etiquette

It was my first week of classes, which could be the subject of a very bland blog post.  (I panicked.  I wrote a syllabus.  I made last-minute photocopies.  I broke several pieces of chalk.)  Instead, I'm going to write about etiquette at the pool and the track.

The pool: I read a great article once about lap swimming etiquette, and it scared the daylights out of me.  I am doing well to execute all my flip turns without a noseful of water, so worrying about the correct way to pass another swimmer is, um, terrifying.  But then I realized that article was for serious swimmers at a serious pool.  I swim where I work, and while there are occasionally good swimmers there, many times I am one of the fastest swimmers in the pool, and I spend virtually all my time on the dark side of 1:30 pace. There are masters swimmers some mornings, but they stay in their own lanes, where the high-level etiquette referenced above applies.  Theirs is the etiquette you might need for attending a state dinner; I'm just looking for the etiquette you need to eat at Friendly's.  (Which also requires some fortitude, because as you may know, Friendly's does not have a liquor license.)

So today when I went to our pool halfway through lunch hour, it was packed, and I had no choice but to join two other swimmers and circle swim.  One of the swimmers was the daughter of a friend of mine--she's a good swimmer, and very pleasant.  The other swimmer was also pleasant, but he was pretty slow.  Like I lapped him when I was doing single-arm drills.  I am not mocking his pace--good for him for getting out there and swimming, and I am just as slow compared to an accomplished swimmer.  Also, I credit him for being friendly when I asked to join his lane.  But it is kind of hard to circle with someone that far off your pace.  And then to top it off, partway through my warmup, he started coming down the wrong side of the lane.  I stopped, he realized his error, laughed apologetically, and said, "I'm like a rat in a maze!"  At which point I mumbled something friendly-sounding, swam to the end of the lane, and hightailed it into a different lane.  Because while this was sort of distracting during a warmup, I had immediate visions of starting the hard part of my set and plowing headfirst into him, requiring an embarrassing swim rescue by a guard who would no doubt turn up next semester in my class.  The perils of swimming where you work.

The etiquette point: even at Friendly's, you should chew with your mouth closed.  Or more specifically, I think my pool needs some kind of vague lane categories if it's going to be busy enough for circle swimming.  Like "Fast" vs "Slow."  Or "Can remember to stay on the correct side of the lane" vs. "Kind of meandering randomly."  Both models are fine, in my book, but I don't think they mix well.

The track: This should be easy, because we don't have our heads down in the water.  And yet I'm mystified by people who don't seem to see the signs that tell you "Walkers and joggers should use the outer 2 lanes."  All tracks I've used have some kind of sign like this, and I think all tracks I've used have on occasion sported walkers in lane 1.

Last week there were a few people on the track when I went at 6:30 to do my intervals, and one of them was an older gentleman walking in lane 1.  I almost said something to him, but then I started thinking about how he was probably there recovering from illness or surgery, and how it was great he was exercising, and really, couldn't I just pass him when I needed to?  Here I have to explain that I was doing 200's, which are, as a friend of mine would say, all rainbows and unicorns.  When I'm doing 200's, your dog could pretty much pee in my water bottle, and I'd be OK with it.  If I'm doing mile repeats, you might look at my water bottle the wrong way, and I would cry.  (I had a hard interval workout on the bike trainer last winter, and my husband came into the room to check on me and breathed, and I was so furious at him I could barely speak.)   So I decided I would wait to say something to this guy (I've seen him there more than once) until mile repeat day.  Which, if I'm lucky, will not come for awhile.  Plus, I noticed that once a few other people started doing harder-paced stuff, he moved out a couple lanes.  And I chatted with him briefly during my cooldown, and he was quite nice.  So probably I'll never say anything to him, because really, do I want that karma?