Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Walking and chewing gum

There's a reason I was a runner--and by "was a runner" I mean that the organized competitive sport I did in high school and college was running. (I was also a bocce player for a brief, championship season at Bell Labs in the late 90's. Back when there was really a Bell Labs that wasn't owned by French people. Although I worked for a French person there, oddly enough. I was also sort of a volleyball player for a year, if you count being on a team because they needed two women and I was one of only two women working in the physics labs, and keep in mind that this was a physics volleyball team, with the awesome laser-related team name "Stimulated Emissions," and I do have to point out that despite being physicists we won the intramural championship at the university where I was working that year.) But back to my original point--really, the only sport I did for real was running. And I think that's because I'm not very coordinated. (Just ask my Stimulated Emissions team members. But don't make direct eye contact, because, you know, they're physicists.)

Which brings me to swimming. One of the things I find challenging about swimming--aside from the fact that I can't just breathe whenever I want to--is that it requires me to think about multiple parts of my body at the same time. I understand that my goal is to get to the point where I don't need to think about them, but I'm not at that point yet. I find it hard to correct more than one form thing at a time.

The two major things I am trying to correct right now, based on my videotaping session and feedback last week, are 1) not over-rotating and 2) having relaxed hands that enter the water early enough and in a streamlined fashion (as opposed to being placed in abruptly, fingers up, as though maybe I want to stop the water from rushing at me).

Here's the video of me working on not over-rotating. From what I read, it seems like most novice swimmers have the opposite problem of not rotating enough. I am so special.

If you are astute and didn't fall asleep after a couple strokes, you might notice that my hand entry is weird. That's because, as I just said, I can't work on two things at once. So here I am with better hand entry, although now I'm probably about to flip over from my rotation:

If you have some swimming expertise, feel free to point out other things you think I'm doing wrong. Besides my questionable swimming fashion taste--the suit was on sale, folks, and it has penguins on it. The cap I bought full price, so really I have no excuse for that.

Thanks again to my coach for her excellent cinematography! I'm not sure how she made the pool look all greenish-yellow in the 2nd video, but it's kind of freaky. And thanks also for the coaching. When I swam yesterday and focused on these things, I swear I was about 5 seconds faster per 100 for the same effort.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

41 is the new 40

My birthday was last weekend. It seems sort of unimportant when I don't change age groups. Although this year does mark an age-group milestone of sorts, in that I believe my coach ages up out of my AG, which can only do good things for my chance at bringing home hardware in local events.

Unimportant or not, I am a big believer in birthdays and in telling everyone you're having one, so they feel the need to acknowledge it. As my late father used to say about turning another year older, "It's always better than the alternative."And yes, I realize that my modifier placement in the first sentence here implies that I, rather than my birthday, may be unimportant.  I was going to fix that, but then I decided to embrace the irony.

I got awesome presents, including a load of Smartwool socks from my husband. I love running in these in the winter, and it's also nice to have more socks I can shovel snow in, since apparently that's the main activity in my life this winter. He also had the good sense to get me some black running socks, which came in handy this week when I ran in the morning at work and forgot "real" socks--I wore running socks all day with my respectable work clothes, and no one was the wiser.

My mom got me the waffle maker I asked for:

My kids thought it was beyond hilarious to offer me this pile of "presents," which are blocks wrapped in silly bands:

I had to unwrap each one and pretend to try to open the blocks, which of course wouldn't open. Just as funny the 20th time as the first.

And my husband made me this awesome dinner,

seared scallops and watermelon with a sesame dressing over arugula, one of our favorite recipes from The Athlete's Plate, which is a great cookbook for endurance athletes who like good food.  I highly recommend purchasing it along with a spouse who will do all the cooking from it--this combination has worked really well for me.

In training news, this week I had a swim test: a 500 yard time trial. I am not going to publish my time, because it's sort of embarrassing. Let's just say most of the 8-yr-olds on the local swim team could beat it. But what's important to me is that I was 6 seconds per 100 faster than last year. OK, I'm sort of lying--it is mortifying to me to realize how slow I am, and I called my husband (a high school and college swimmer) and had to have him talk me down from a full-on anxiety attack about how I'll never be a decent swimmer. I also had a swim session with my coach, and she pointed out that I am over-rotating (and also have a bad hand entry), so perhaps fixing those things will help. And really, the improvement is good. I seem not to be someone who makes massive leaps in fitness/ability, so I am working to be happy with continual, if slow, improvement.

And now a totally unrelated story from the end of my work week. Friday in my class we got to the equation for Gibbs Free Energy, G = H - TS. I told my students, as I always do at this point, about the mnemonic my high school chemistry teacher gave us to remember this: Goldfish taste Horrible without Tartar Sauce.  (The "without" even gives you the minus sign. How awesome is that?)

On the spur of the moment I was inspired to tell them more of the story: at the time I learned this in high school, my sister was in college and dating a guy who, among other accomplishments, set a record in his fraternity for the number of goldfish consumed at one sitting, so that mnemonic has always had a special place in my heart.  (If my sister is reading this, she's probably mad I've written about this. But she's changed her name, so I think her secret is safe.) The class of 60 students laughed, then a moment later, someone asked, "Do you mean the crackers?" I stopped, put down my chalk, and asked for a show of hands for how many people thought I was talking about this kind of goldfish.  About half of them did.

About 10 minutes later, while we were in the middle of some fascinating discussion of entropy and spontaneity, a student suddenly asked, "Wait--were the goldfish dead when he ate them?" My students are so naive, it's really kind of touching.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day

I am from Pennsylvania, and yes, I have actually been to Punxsutawney. (Actually, you can tell I'm from PA because I know how to spell Punxsutawney. We had to do this in my 9th grade social studies class. I can also tell you which county has the world's largest fiberglass elk. Elk County, not surprisingly. Though that may have changed since 1984.) Phil predicted an early spring this year, which he almost never does. Phil is full of crap, by the way.

And I mean no disrespect to Punxsutawney, but did you know they did not actually film Groundhog Day there? It was not picturesque enough. Ouch. What I know about Punxsutawney is that the boys' and girls' athletic teams are called the Chucks and the Chuckettes, respectively. (Short for Woodchuck, because if this isn't clear to you, a woodchuck is the same thing as a groundhog. I assume you know this, but I also suspect my semi-rural upbringing may have given me a heightened awareness of rodent taxonomy.) Also, in 1985 when I went there for a track meet, while they did have an asphalt track (raising them a notch above Lock Haven, for instance, which was still stuck in the Cinder Age), the starting line was drawn in red crayon of some kind. Ouch again. All kidding aside, running high school track and cross country in central PA was a life lesson in the economic impacts of declining coal, steel and manufacturing industries. I suspect--no, I know--at the time we kids from the swanky college town made fun of the Chuckettes on our bus and mocked their crayon starting line. I cringe for my 15-year-old self. I would also like to remind her she got beaten by a fair number of girls from poor towns all through high school, crayon markings on the track or no. Anyway, it seemed to me that the producers of Groundhog Day could have pumped a little money into Punxsutawney, put on a fresh coat of paint, and shot the movie there.

Groundhog Day in western MA was, fittingly, a repeat of the 50 other snow days we've had so far this year. Including the one we had yesterday. It feels like a weekend. Only with more shoveling.

Patrick scaled one of our snow banks, then spent the better part of half an hour yelling unintelligible crazy things at the top of his voice.  I sort of had the same impulse.

Keep in mind that all the snow I shoveled had to go over the top of those snowbanks. And it was a nice heavy, wet snow today, topped off with a maraschino cherry of sleet.

What I found really helpful today was the news that MEMA (like FEMA, only better) thinks we might want to shovel the snow off our roofs.  You can read the helpful tips for yourself here.  But some of the highlights:

If not cleared off, snow piled high on roofs can act as a sponge, absorbing any rain, which we might receive, adding additional stress to structures.

Why, yes it can, MEMA! I know this because the snow on the ground, which I spent all freaking day shoveling, did the exact same thing. Also, your comma usage is deplorable.

In many other cases, roof ice dams have formed causing water build-up, leading to interior damage.

It's like you know me, MEMA!  Like you've seen the ice-clogged gutters on my house, the toddler-sized icicles, and best yet, the damp spot growing in the middle of my living room ceiling.  And while we're on the subject, I DO NOT DESERVE THE ICE DAMS.  I raked my roof like a fanatic with each storm.  And then after one storm we got freezing rain, and it filled my gutters with ice, and voila: instant ice dam.  But not because I didn't rake, MEMA.  In fact, today I raked part of my roof that I'd never raked, because it doesn't have eaves, so it's not subject to ice dams.  And you know what?  I raked that ice storm right off, because it was deposited on a foot of snow, so the whole thing just came off.  I should never have raked the roof before that ice storm.

If roof snow can be removed or ice dams broken up safely from the ground with the use of a snow rake (available at most hardware stores), do so.

Are you paying attention here, MEMA?  I did rake.  And I got screwed anyway.  But just in case, I spent like 3 more hours raking today, and I even managed to launch the rake up onto the 2nd story of the back of our house, using all my core strength, teetering on a pile of snow, and I took off some snow and ice two stories up.  I also got hit in the face with a big chunk of ice, and it made my chin bleed.

Protective headgear and eye protection is recommended.

Little late for that, MEMA.

Honestly, I am not so impressed by MEMA.  "Shovel your roof," they tell us, and my local paper reports this.  But if you read the fine print--or use your common sense--you realize, "There is no way I'm climbing up onto my 2nd story roof to shovel.  I will die."  MEMA agrees.  So all they've really done is make us all very, very anxious about our roof, without giving us any tools to solve the problem.  It makes me think that when Michael Brown left FEMA (he left, right?  Please tell me he left), he went down to the state level.  Heckuva job on my FREAKING ICE DAMS.

It occurs to me about now that this is ostensibly a blog about triathlons, not about ice dams.  So I will share that today, between bouts of shoveling, I rode my trainer for 50 minutes as instructed, including 8 1-minute simulated "seated hills," which I simulated with my threshold wattage.  I had a blast.  For one thing, I didn't really have to use my upper body, which was still shaking from the shoveling/raking intervals. (Oops, back to the ice dam blog.) Also, you know what? I kind of like riding the trainer. Not in the same carefree, kid-on-a-bike way I like riding my bike outside in nice weather, but something about plunking down and grinding out intervals of one kind or another really appeals to me. 

By way of explanation, this fall I taught a class in environmental analytical chemistry (NO, you cry! Please, more about the ice dams!), and I had my students read an EPA protocol for determining total organic content in water. It was endless and endlessly specific. They even told you how to round your numbers. (Or more precisely, they referred you to a reference book that tells you how to round your numbers. I don't want to ruin your day, but if your number ends in a 5, you don't always round it up. Sorry about that.) And as I read it, I thought about how fun it would be to have that job, at least for awhile. You have a long set of tasks to do, each one very precise and controlled, everything designed to test whether or not your instruments and methods are functioning reproducibly. It was awesome. Thirteen of my 14 students were horrified by the protocol, and one shared enough of my OC tendencies to think it was kind of neat. The trainer is a little like that--tedious, repetitive, and controlled. I love it.

OK, time to go sleep under my compromised roof and its @#$%%^*!ing ice dams.