Sunday, May 22, 2011

Shamrock Duathlon

Finally, an actual race report! But first, let's set the stage with my prerace preparation yesterday.

At 9 am I took Patrick to teeball, where I had the honor of working the air horn. Every 15 minutes I had to blow it to tell the teeballers to change stations. This was sort of stressful, because I would be deep in conversation with other parents, half watching our children not catch fly balls, and then I would panic and check my phone to see if it was airhorn time yet. Very demanding, this advanced teeball parenting.

In the late morning I took both kids to the Amherst Fair, which is one of those traveling deathtraps that sets up on the town common once a year. This year it was made even better by being plunked down in a vast sea of mud. Patrick actually lost a shoe in the mud at one point, something I failed to notice as I hurried him along. Luckily some other parent had the presence of mind to stop me and point out that I was trying to drag my son along without his shoe.

Patrick is not such a daredevil--the little flying dragons are serious business to him.

Despite being classically first-child cautious in all other areas of her life, Charlotte is a thrillseeker at the fair. She insisted on riding the Pharoah's boat; you can make her out as the red speck next to her blue speck of a friend.

I made her sit in one of the middle rows, because I had visions of her little self flying out of the end. I mean, really, how tightly regulated are these things?

We wrapped up the fair with some awesome nutrition.

Let me spoil part of the rest of this post with some foreshadowing: check out Patrick, whose hands have touched a bazillion gross surfaces, shoveling cotton candy into his mouth. . . .

While we were at the fair, my husband was taking off for an 8-day conference in Scotland. Or as we like to say, "conference." Let me add to the foreshadowing by saying that, for a long time when our kids were each babies, every time I went out of town for work, one of them got sick. Oddly enough, they always got pinkeye. Or so my husband claimed--I was never actually around to see the pinkeye.

We finished up the afternoon at Charlotte's soccer game, then drove across the river to pick up our first-time babysitter, Emily. We had a nice dinner and then came home, where I got the kids to bed, Emily retired to our guest room, and I set about getting ready for my duathlon the next morning. I'm a little out of practice, but I managed to get everything together, get my bike on the car, and get to bed before 10.

At about 10:30 I heard Charlotte get out of bed, which she never does, and start sobbing in the bathroom. I went in to see what was wrong, and she said she didn't feel well.  She had no fever, didn't throw up, and in the end I decided she was just thrashed from a sleepover the night before, plus all the fair and associated excitement. She went back to bed and was out pretty quickly.

I went to sleep in that fitful way one does when one's alarm is set for 4 am, not to mention when one thinks one might have a sick kid in the next room. At around 2:30 I woke up to the sound of Patrick crying. This is less uncommon--he is not a great sleeper, and once every week or so he has a bad dream and wakes up inconsolable. I went into his room and comforted him, and he was kind of sweaty, but you know, he's always sweaty when he sleeps.

I went back to sleep, which really wasn't sleep at all, so that I was already awake at 4 when my alarm went "off." Only it didn't really--I need to check to see if the volume is all the way down or it's just not on an actual station, but there was no sound. Lucky for me I'd been awake for an hour and a half already. I got ready to go and checked on the kids once more, because I half expected someone to be sick so I would need to stay home. But everyone seemed fine, sleeping peacefully, so off I went.

But I'm leaving out one detail. Sometime between 2:30 and 4 am, it occurred to me that I might not have registered for this race. I had gone back and forth on whether or not I wanted to do it, and then I decided I would for sure (before it dawned on me that my husband would be on another continent at the time). But I couldn't remember if I'd actually signed up. So before I left I searched my email, and sure enough, I could find no confirmation. This gave me extra motivation to get to the race early (I knew they would have at least some spots for race-day registration), and it also motivated me to get off the highway at one point when i realized I'd left my checkbook at home, so I could get enough cash to pay for the race.

All of this is to say: I didn't feel at any time today like my head was securely in this race. I was half wondering how the kids were (I called home at 7 am but didn't get an answer, and I checked again 10 minutes before the race start to see if I had any messages). Until I got to the race venue and managed to register (because no, I hadn't ahead of time), I was half wondering if I was going to get 1:20 from home and have to turn around without doing the race.

Once the race started, though, I felt reasonably focused. For the first 5K I tried to keep my effort and HR in an appropriate place for the 1st 3 miles of a 10K, which is, after all, what I was going to run.  My first 2 miles were 7:15 pace, which seemed totally reasonable, and then for reasons that are beyond me, my 3rd mile was apparently slower. I got in and out of transition without any completely clownlike moves, and I was off.

The bike was interesting--it started off with a series of small uphills, short enough that I could stay in my large chain ring, stand a little if necessary, and keep momentum. Then at some point (the details of the bike are pretty fuzzy in hindsight) the climbs became longer, and the small chain ring and I spent some quality time together. My HR got pretty high on the uphills, and for awhile I was good about keeping it up on what passes for flats on this course. I got passed by a couple women, but I think I passed most of them back, although at least one of them (we'll call her "Braids") ended up on the winning side of like an 18-pass narrative. I had the same kind of back and forth with a couple men as well, but I actually kind of like that, because it keeps me focused. Although one of them had an annoying habit of taking the downhills way out on the left, and my bike was faster than his, so eventually I had to yell at him to get out of my way. I did see some pretty egregious drafting, and I worked hard to avoid it myself; there were a lot of penalties in the final results, so someone was paying attention.

The downhills: there are some crazy descents in this race. Thankfully the roads were dry, and I really have to tip my hat to my bovine bicycle friend, because I passed a number of men who are clearly heavier than I am.

So that's all sunny and positive, and I have to say I don't know too much about how I did in any absolute sense, because results aren't posted yet. But I am pretty sure my bike was not that great. About two thirds of the way through, I felt like I just lost focus. We'd gone through all the major uphills, my legs were tired, and I just let my HR drop on the flatter sections instead of hammering. I was kind of done biking, which was unfortunate, since I had several miles left to go. I was chasing Braids and a pack of men up ahead, and then they just sort of pulled away from me. In hindsight, this was also about the time that I heard a funny noise from my rear wheel. When I went to pack up my bike after the race, my rear tire was completely flat. Did I have a slow leak during part of the race? Probably I did. But you know, I really think the bigger problem was mental--I was just kind of phoning it in. Possibly on a flabby rear tire.

But enough of that downer. The second run was good--I love running off the bike, and while I have no idea what my splits were (I didn't look at them at the time, and I have some issues retrieving files off my watch. The main issue right now being that I'm in bed, and my watch is somewhere else, and my legs hurt, so I don't want to get up and look for it), I think I did OK. I passed a lot of people and didn't get passed at all, except by one person, which I need to acknowledge is because all the really fast people were already ahead of me. Eventually I caught up to Braids and passed her, and I said, "Great bike!" and she said, "Thanks--I love your bike!" I tried to get past her decisively, because anyone who can form a complex thought like that at this late stage of a race scares me from a competitive standpoint.

The one person who passed me did it in the last mile--I had passed her on the bike, so I knew she'd beaten me on the first run, and she looked like a runner. I will give it away now and say that she ended up beating me, but for me the best part of this race is that I almost fought her off. First I stuck with her after she passed, which I never do. She looked back a couple times, so I knew it was bugging her that I was there, and that seemed like a good thing. About a half mile from the finish I felt like I had another gear, so I passed her back. I quickly put a couple guys between us, and then I tried to hang on. She passed me back with, as it turns out, about 200 yards to go. The thing is, though, I hadn't scouted the end of the course. Because I was, you know, calling the babysitter to see if my kids were sick or not.  Yes, I'm blaming my kids for this. It's actually not clear to me if I could have taken her had I known how close we were--my legs were utterly fried. I'm putting my odds at less than 50/50.

I thought the woman who passed me was in my age group, but I was wrong--she's in the 35-39 group. So it turned out I won the 40-44 age group, for which I received, wait for it. . . .  a small sword. No, really. It goes really nicely with the ceramic skull I won at a duathlon last fall.

And if you are a careful reader, or even just awake, you have guessed it: Patrick is sick. I called the babysitter after I finished, and sure enough, he woke up with a fever. Emily handled it like an utter pro, and Charlotte managed to find both a thermometer and the Children's Tylenol, so by the time I got home Patrick was on a good Tylenol high and fully appreciative of the sword. He has since come down off that high, sadly:

Charlotte is, indeed, fine, at least for now. Aside from some ridiculously sore legs, I am mostly unscathed, except for obviously feeling like the world's worst mother for going off to do a race and then finding out I left a sick kid at home. Also, less traumatically, I have what looks like a belly button piercing gone wrong but is actually chafing from the zipper on my new tri uniform:

I was inspired to post this by Steve in a Speedo, who often posts scary pictures of his blisters and other unsightly things, but you know, I think that's pretty definitely the last time I'm posting a picture of my (frighteningly pale) abdomen. And while the zipper clearly needs some surgery, the new tri suit is overall awesome. My complaints about last year's model were heard, and the new color scheme is way more attractive. Here's a photo my friend Alicia's husband took of us after the race:

The was before I got back to transition and my phone, and found out I was getting another medal for Worst Mother of the Year.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Putting the Rain in tRaining

In case you haven't heard, it's kind of wet up here in the Northeast. On Sunday I was supposed to do a brick consisting of a 25-mile run with some hard efforts, followed by a progressive 3-mile run. I got home after our Commencement ceremony, and it was raining lightly. For reasons that are still not clear to me, putting the bike on the trainer never entered my head. I looked at the radar, saw a mass of rain hovering over us, with another big mass headed our way, and did some serious magical thinking to tell myself, "I think it might clear for my ride."

Thirty minutes later, the trainer was looking, in hindsight, like a terrific idea. The ride was beginning to feel more like a swim. I had to ditch the glasses pretty early on, and I got such eyefuls of water that eventually it started to feel like I'd been crying. My eyes were still puffy the next day. Come to think of it, maybe I was crying. Nah, but I did think a lot of curse words to myself as I struggled to get my heart rate up while not wiping out as I careened through massive puddles. The run was fine, although my transition was a bit of a lollygag, because I had decided that if I didn't change socks, I would totally lose my s***. Somewhere around mile 2.5 of the run I could even feel the soles of my feet again.

The good new is that my bike wasn't all that filthy, because it was sort of getting a constant hosing down during the ride. Apparently my frame has several drain holes in it, so it seems unlikely I'll be carrying extra pounds of water around during my duathlon this weekend.

This morning I went to my club's 6:15 track workout, and hardy souls that we are, 6 of us showed up in the rain to do 1000-meter repeats. I blame myself for the rain, because one of the thoughts that kept going through my head Sunday during my ride was, "Running in the rain isn't so bad--it's just the biking that sucks."

Of course the rain also sent our Commencement ceremony inside, which is always a slight disappointment. I sort of like the indoor venue, though, because it's the indoor track, where my freshman year of college I qualified for ECAC's in the 600. In fact, I think the whole procession would be much more fun if we did it as a run. And maybe we should also award faculty raises based on finishing time.

This might have been my favorite Commencement yet. Last year Rachel Maddow was our speaker, and she was terrific, but our speaker this year was quietly inspiring in equal measure. We had a fantastic crop of graduating seniors, including some who've worked with me for multiple years and/or taken multiple classes with me.  Here I am after the ceremony with a very cool young woman who graduated cum laude; she was a student in Smith's program for non-traditional-age women, a single mom, and did so well in my class this semester that I could pretty much use her exams as answer keys.

Here I am with two of the students from my lab, plus one of my colleagues, who has a much cooler set of robes than I do, because she got her PhD in Europe:

The leis are from the student on the right; she's from Hawaii, so her family draped us all. I am keeping my lei at work for now, because if I take it home, it will be 2 minutes until my kids start fighting over it, and a matter of hours before our younger cat starts obsessively eating it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Losing it

No one who knows me well--or at all--would describe me as an organizational genius. I am often one step away from total chaos. But that's an important step, and usually we (my family and I) manage to avoid it. Take this weekend, for example.

Yesterday afternoon I picked the kids up early from school to head an hour and a half west for the installation ceremony for a sculpture dedicated to one of my favorite professors. We made it to the ceremony just in time, where we met my husband, who had come out earlier under his own steam (for reasons that will become apparent later). The ceremony was lovely, the kids were reasonably well-behaved, and I got to see some old friends. After the ceremony we took the kids out to dinner at the local diner, then returned to the house where we were staying, where my husband blew up the air mattress, made beds, etc. and the kids did gymnastics in the tick farm, I mean the yard, while I went to pick up the babysitter.

The babysitter was a lovely college student we'd never met (recommended by friends), and the kids immediately dragged her into their combination gymnastics/tick hunt. We left them in her care and hightailed it off to the swim team reunion my husband was in town to attend. We saw more old friends, drank beer, and got home (where the babysitter had done a wonderful job) and in bed by 11.

At 7:15 this morning the kids and I were off to head back over the hills to our real home, with a stop in the neighboring town at 9 am for Patrick's tee-ball practice. Afterwards we ate brunch, made an emergency stop at the drugstore for anti-itch cream for a crop of mosquito bites (hopefully not tick bites) on Charlotte's knees, and ran home, where Patrick and I changed into nice clothes and Charlotte changed into soccer clothes. We dropped Charlotte at a teammate's house, and then Patrick and I drove across the river to attend a couple Commencement receptions at my work. I managed to carry on several actual conversations with students and their parents, accomplished by feeding Patrick a steady stream of crackers, cookies, eclairs and other ridiculousness from the refreshment table. He also demonstrated his excellent conversational skills, which can be summed up as, "Enough about you--back to me!" Because really, when your child is graduating from college, what you really want to do is talk to her adviser's 5-year-old about his blossoming tee-ball career.

Patrick and I left by 4:30 to head back across the river to soccer practice, where we picked up Charlotte and the aforementioned teammate, who is now ensconced here for a sleepover. My husband is still out in the Berkshires at his reunion. Although he did show up here midday for a Commencement reception of his own at his (different) institution. Tomorrow morning he will get home before I have to leave the house at 8:20 to get back over the river for the actual Commencement ceremony.  And then after Commencement I will hightail it back here to do a substantial brick workout.

The point being: so far (am I jinxing this?) we are managing to get through what is a logistically complicated weekend for all of us. But life is not always so smooth.

Thursday I had arranged to meet a friend for an easy bike ride over lunch hour. When I went to get dressed for the ride, I realized my bike shorts were still 10 miles away, hanging on our drying rack. I have forgotten glasses, sports bras, water bottles--but this was the first time I'd shown up without shorts.  (I've also come to work in workout clothes for an early morning swim or run--I've done this more than once--and neglected to pack underwear for the rest of the day. But in at least one case I've solved that problem by going to the house of a friend who lives near work and stealing her underwear. But I digress.) I was already about to be late to meet my friend, who has an actual job, with, like, time commitments and stuff. So I kept on the skirt I was wearing (a recent hand-me-down, and fortuitously sporty, from my friend Nancy), got otherwise kitted up, and headed out on my cow bike. I convinced my friend to detour past the closest bike shop, where I got a new pair of bike shorts, and where they graciously offered to hold my skirt and underwear while I rode. (It turned out these fit just fine in my jersey pockets, though I was sort of distracted during the first part of the ride by the worry that my rolled-up underwear was peeking out of my jersey.)

This might be a sign that I'm losing it--"it" being that tenuous grasp on whatever you want to call this side of chaos. But I'm hoping it's just an end-of-the-semester thing, and it will dissipate when I get all my grades in, catch up on my sleep, and get more into the rhythm of biking and all the equipment one needs to do it.

Finally, thanks to Dena and Dave for their helpful hair advice after my last post. Special kudos to Dave, who acknowledged his own hairless status but still came up with a creative (though totally ridiculous) solution.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Time Trial

As promised, here is my brief report from last night's time trial, which will have to suffice as a race report until I do an actual race.

This was a flat, 18.4-mile course, out and back on the same course used for our short time trial. I've done the short one, and I think my best time on that is 25:26. That may be my only time on it, actually. Last night I did the 18.4 in 51:43, and as someone else pointed out, we never really saw the matching tailwind to go with the brutal headwind. You can always count on some bike geek to quantify these things, and sure enough, someone reported an increased in average speed of only 0.5 mph on the way back.

I rode to the course from work, warmed up a little bit and tried to get my HR up to where my coach said it should be. I failed. In the actual TT my HR drifted steadily up to about where it was supposed to be for the first half, but I'm still in that place where my legs feel totally maxed out while my HR looks like I'm sitting on the couch, eating potato chips.

For this race you start yourself 30 seconds after the rider in front of you, and we're supposed to go in rough order of slowest to fastest. I argued unsuccessfully with my friend Alicia to let me go ahead of her, but she went first, and then proceeded to beat me by about 30 seconds. I was trying to catch up to her most of the way, but often I couldn't even see her. And then sometimes I thought I saw her, only it was a road sign. I got passed about halfway through the out portion by the guy who started behind me, who is very friendly and cheered me on as he left me in his dust. Next came my coach, beautifully aero, speeding along, and whopping and hollering at me. And that was it until a bit after the turnaround, at which point some of the super-fast guys went by me like I was standing still.

I felt like I got into a good rhythm, but at times I definitely felt like I wanted that missing gear between the one where I was spinning over 95 rpm and the one where I couldn't make it above 80 rpm and wanted to cry. We'll call that nonexistent gear my "Goldilocks" gear. I wish it existed. But obviously the solution is for me to get stronger and be able to use the next highest one. Right, and also not to cry while doing so.

The worst part of all was that, by 3/4 of the way through, it was apparent I'd chosen the wrong bike shorts. My crotch felt like it was on fire. Not in a Lindsay Lohan sense. But seriously, every time I hit a bump (and that was a lot of times--thanks, New England winter for our crappy roads!), I winced. A couple times I may have even dropped an f bomb. Loudly. Apparently I wasn't the only one feeling this way, because afterwards we had a group discussion about the merits of chamois cream for women. If any readers have advice on this, let it rip.

Speaking of advice, I do have a race coming up, and I have a very serious dilemma. I have not had a haircut in several months, and my hair is currently at one of those super-annoying in-between lengths. Never mind that it looks like crap in real life--my issue is that I don't know what to do with it during a duathlon. When I run I make a ponytail on top, then grab up the rest in a back ponytail that catches the tail end of the top thing. Ugly, but effective. I ride with my hair down, because it's under a helmet, so who cares. But what do I do when I need to do both? Normally, I keep my hair short enough that I can stick a couple barrettes in the front, and I'm good to go for biking or running. But the back is too long--it's going to be a nasty, sweaty mess if I try to run like that. It's not long enough for  low ponytail. And I can't have a ponytail on the top, or my helmet won't fit on. And there's no way I can fit in a haircut before that race. So what do I do? Would french braids work? Two little ponytails out the back? Help me out here--someone must have a solution for this. Understand that I don't mind looking like a total dork (OK, obvious--I have a bike with cow spots on it). I just need my hair off my neck and out of my face.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Someday my race will come

It feels like I haven't raced in forever, and that's probably because it's true. A couple days ago I checked my calendar, realized I have a duathlon coming up in two weeks, and decided I should probably get on my tri bike before then. So I celebrated Mother's Day with a 40-mile ride on the cow bike, and while I've been on the thing all winter on the trainer, I can verify that this is apparently not the same thing as actually riding it on the roads. Everything felt fine except for my arms, which were aggrieved at being asked not only to support my upper body but also to steer the bike and generally keep it upright.

In all seriousness, though, aside from some complaining in the arm region, I was amazed at how comfortable the bike felt. I've been riding my road bike outside for the last month or so, and while it's much nicer climbing on that bike, the tri bike is really just more comfortable for me. I think this is because I bought it after being fit for it, as opposed to my road bike, which I bought from some fairly stoned guy at a bike shop when I had never really ridden a road bike before. You can only do so much with that kind of fit.

In other training news, track workouts for my tri club have started out--the second one is tomorrow morning.  I am going to be all hardcore and also do the club's 19-mile time trial tomorrow night, as part of my crash course in getting reacquainted with biking fast, or at least with biking hard.  I will post if I have anything interesting to say about that. Like if I manage not to come in completely dead last, for instance, which is sort of my MO on these time trials. In my defense, however, there are a lot of ridiculously fast guys around here who just happen to be old enough to be my father. If my father had had me when he was 40.

The rest of my Mother's Day was spent pretending I didn't have a massive pile of grading awaiting me--our finals ended Friday, and I came back from a trip to Ohio to the reality of senior grades being due today. I'm now pretending that the bulk of my class wasn't made up of sophomores and juniors, and that the pile I have left isn't much bigger than the pile I already finished.

After my ride, while my husband went out for his ride, I took the kids to a park downtown for an impromptu picnic. If you're thinking of lovingly made sandwiches and homemade cookies, think again--we went to Subway. And I let my son eat Doritos.

We did a whole bunch of yardwork, by which I mean I cleared out more gardens while my kids played hours of some game that required them to hit me with errant balls a lot. I was reminded again of one of the central unanswered questions in my life, which is this: if we can't grow a lawn to save our lives--and believe, me, we can't--why is it that the grass grows so well inside my gardens, where I don't want it?

Today when I drove Patrick to school, we passed this scene at one of the student rentals in the neighborhood:

(Yes, I stopped and pulled over to take the picture.) Patrick looked at it in wonder, then said, "They must have been celebrating Mother's Day."