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. . .