Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A bumpy, lumpy road

First, another race report: the Holyoke St. Patrick's Day 10K. About 6,000 runners, and probably the same number of spectators, many of whom appeared to be drunk (but a happy, enthusiastic drunk, not a mean drunk). This is a very hilly course--you go up and up, then come crashing down. How much up and down? I was keeping about the same HR for the first 3 or 4 miles, and my splits were 7:28 (flat), 8:16 (uphill), 8:07 (uphill), 8:15 (uphill), 6:22 (um, downhill), 7:18 (some down, some up). My splits were almost exactly the same as last year through the first 5 miles, but my last mile (plus 0.2) was significantly faster this year. Not because I'm in better shape, mind you, but because last year mother nature sprung a 70+ degree day on us for the race, and I was a hot, cranky, sweating mess. This year I felt good. At least until the final stretch, where the smell of grilling hamburgers was almost more than I could take. Apparently it really was more than my friend Alicia could take, because she hurled in the finishing chute.

I really have nothing else to report on the racing/training front, and in fact I don't have another race scheduled until May 22.  (No, I'm not doing that May 8 season opener--I sobered up on that one.) I rode my bike outside once, and other than the half mile portage (thanks, Nancy!) over an uncleared section of the bike trail, plus the resulting fun of chipping ice out of our cleats with sticks, it was awesome. This past weekend I had thought about doing the bike portion of my brick outside. I even recruited my super-fast friend Madeline to do it with me, and then the night before she called to highlight the phrases "record cold" and "high winds" from the weather report, so I went to Plan B and set up an extra trainer in our guest room. There Madeline and I enjoyed some not-too-intense intervals while Patrick sat on the bed in his storm trooper costume and explained intricate plot details of several Star Wars movies to us. It really just heightened the whole riding-your-trainer-in-March experience.

After our brick I refueled with a classic recovery meal of chocolate chip pancakes, requested by storm troopers and others.

I drank Recoverite while I made them, so I think that counts.

March is just an awesome all-around experience in Western MA this year. If you look closely here, you can see some brave tulip shoots making an appearance in our front yard.

Suckers. And no, it looks like we didn't do a lot of garden raking before the snows hit.

So why a bumpy, lumpy road? Well, the obvious reference was to the bumpy (i.e. hilly) race. Then I hit another bump, literally, when I managed to drive my car too far forward into a parking space and pretty much rip the front bumper off. Yes, the same car whose trunk was hit in December. Frankly, I was a little shocked to realize how flimsy one's front bumper is. Was. Only it is again, because I paid $150 the next day to have it reinstalled, including the random piece of styrofoam that fell off at the site of the incident. Seriously, I mail packages with more protection than my front bumper seems to provide the speeding missile in which I drive my children.

And then the lumpy finale of the kind every woman loves, which is to say I found a lump where you don't want a lump. It is all good and apparently benign, and while I rationally knew it would probably turn out that way, of course I spent the weekend imagining melodramatic scenarios of my children growing up without me. So I spent most of my "work" day Monday in one or another medical office, and I have this to say about said offices: really, could you not shell out for a couple decent magazine subscriptions? When I am waiting for a mammogram, here's what I don't want to read: health-related "magazines" with articles about new cancer treatments. Here's what I do want to read: People magazine. And for people who can focus in such situations, a nice New Yorker or Atlantic would be great. But me, in that situation, I pretty much want to find out what Miley Cyrus is up to.

The other magazine everyone seems to favor (meaning they must get it free) is Parents. Or maybe it's Parenting. Whichever one always has the cover headline that loosely translates as "Freak tragic accident that probably won't ever happen to your kid but that you can now lie awake worrying about." Because I couldn't bear to read about cancer, instead I got sucked into an article about 7 and 8 year old girls with eating disorders. Which is great, because now that I'm done worrying about which of our single friends would make a good mother for my kids when I'm gone, I can go back to worrying about my daughter falling prey to the same illness that killed my sister in law. And please know that my dark humor here is, as usual, just a cover for real, sometimes paralyzing fear. And that I spent a lot of time thinking about people whose lumps don't turn out to be benign. But for real: People magazine. Or Glamour. Thanks.

To bring this back to the realm of triathlon, though, I would like to report that my athletic narcissism was not completely obliterated by this little reminder of my own potential mortality. (Or more pragmatically, by this little reminder that maybe I should get a physical exam every year like I'm supposed to.) When the mammographer (is that a word?) was showing me my photos--and she was awesome, by the way, as was the ultrasound technician--she said, "Wow, you have a ton of pectoral muscle!" And I was, of course, totally stoked.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Signs of spring

Nah, no croci or bunnies here.  But even more exciting, as I drove out of our neighborhood on my way to work today, I saw this:

I knew right away what it was, and my heart skipped a beat: the trail of the street sweeper!  Clearing the side of the road of the 6 inches or so of crap made up of sand, cinders, and I'm guessing pieces of the big chunks of road that have been removed during pothole formation.  There's a lot more work to do, but this gave me hope that I will be out there on my bike soon.  I was at a stop sign when I took this, and sure enough, when I turned the corner, I saw the sweeper itself.  But safe driver that I am, I decided not to pick up my phone and take a picture while driving.

Here's another sure sign of spring, from last night:

Yes, I actually like--no, love--Shamrock Shakes, and I don't want to hear any s*** about it.  Although even I could do without this new addition of whipped cream and cherry--it's a milkshake, for pete's sake, not a sundae.  There are probably 3 people in the state who like these.  I say this because I've found that, a couple months from now, if you ask, most McDonald's will still have them.  I don't want to think about what kind of mix they use that lasts that long, but I will tell you that last June I stopped at a turnpike McDonalds west of here and got a Shamrock Shake. So apparently there's not a big market for this item.

Here's one of the other 2 people in Massachusetts who like them:

When I met Nancy about 8 years ago, there were some clear signs we were destined to be friends: daughters born on each other's due dates, the same platonic crush on our pediatrician, shared love of running and biking, tendency to wear stripes, absurdly competitive streaks.  But the Shamrock Shake thing really sealed the deal for me.

My own Patrick claimed that Thursday was a "hard day" for him, because his friends at preschool kept running up to him and telling him it was his special day.  No, I don't understand that, either.  But he seemed to have recovered by this morning, when he saw me off for work like so:

That's a "bow" made of some long-dead glowstick thing, plus a knight's hood.  And yet with all that ridiculousness, my eyes are drawn to that ugly, ugly hunk of dirty snow and ice behind him.  Is there anything uglier than this leftover snow in March?  (The obvious answer: the leftover snow in April.  Please, God, no.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

So that's what a race feels like

Two weekends ago I did my first race of 2011. This is a local 10-miler, which is pretty much the longest running race I'll consider doing these days, and it's pretty hilly. Here's what I said about it a week or so in advance on the discussion board for our triathlon team:

I'm doing it if the weather isn't a disaster and if the roads in Shutesbury have lost their covering of several inches of ice.

For the record, the weather was kind of a disaster--snow storm that morning--and the roads had lost most of their ice and replaced it with a mixture of slush, snow and mud. My husband was leaving for Iowa that morning, and I had a babysitter lined up to take care of the kids during the race. This was complicated by the fact that our regular babysitter is training for her first marathon, so she was doing the race as well. (Note to self: pick lazier babysitters.) Babysitter #2 (who is no slouch herself, athletically) called the night before at 10:45 pm to alert me that she was throwing up and had a fever. (Note to self: pick babysitters who don't work with children regularly--in fact, better if they avoid all contact with other humans and human germs.) So the morning of the race I waited until a civilized 8:30 am and called my friend Nancy to ask if I could bring the kids to her house before the race. I did a really fun warmup of shoveling wet snow and slush off our driveway, ditched the kids at Nancy's, and headed over to the race, which conveniently starts and finishes a couple miles from our house. Clearly the whole "I'll do the race if the weather isn't bad" thing was a total front. 

This is the 3rd time I've done this race. Last year I had a pretty good race (for me) and finished just under 1:19. To me the worst part is the last mile and a half. Right before the 9 mile mark you head up a pretty decent hill, then turn a corner, pass the 9-mile mark, and go up some more. Then it's a quick downhill on your already-shredded quads, followed by a long uphill that starts steep and gets more gradual as you go on, then gets steep again just because it can.  This is followed by a quick downhill to the finish, only you have to run around the parking lot of my daughter's elementary school before you're done, in one of those finishes where you run right by the finish line, stare longingly at it, and go on for another 200 yards or so. Here's the elevation profile of the end of the race:

I'm not sure what all that bumpy stuff is about in the flat parking lot at the end--maybe they've updated google maps to include all our local potholes, one of which ate my hubcap the other day.

Here's what I looked like last year at about mile 9.25:

Understand that, as bad as I look there, I knew the camera was there, so this was my "photo face." Which gives you some idea of how bad I was hurting at that moment.

This year I followed the same overall race strategy: run conservatively for the first 5 miles (which gets you through the majority of the uphill parts of the race), then run as hard as I could for the last 5 miles. According to the race photos this year, I also adopted a new strategy based on the idea that if I closed my eyes at about mile 8.5, the big hill in front of me might disappear:

That didn't work, by the way.

I finished almost exactly 5 minutes slower than last year. Judging by the times of other people whose training I suspect is more consistent than mine, I think 2 minutes of that can be written off to the road conditions, which leaves me about 20 seconds per mile slower than last year. This seems sort of reasonable, given that my run volume and intensity are both lower this year, in an effort to keep base building longer and peak for the end of August. If it sounds like I'm rationalizing, I am.

How did it feel?  Painful and awesome. It was fun to have that feeling of pushing myself close to the edge and hanging on, since my workouts right now are more on the mellow end of things. It was fun to be out there racing with a lot of other crazy New Englanders, even if most of them appear to be training for a spring marathon and kicked my a**. Including Babysitter #1. It was not fun to have such painful quads afterwards that it was 5 days before I could walk down stairs normally, but this is what I get for racing 10 miles without having run longer than 8 beforehand (and that 8 was an outlier for me in terms of distance). And who am I kidding, really--I think my quads felt that way last year, when I had been running more.

On the home front, our yard appears to be the home of a major North American glacier.

But look closely!  What's that strip of greenish/brown stuff at the edge? Could it be. . . our lawn? (For those of you who know us, or who have seen our yard, you know I use the word "lawn" loosely.) We have some weird microclimate going on wherein our snow levels are at least twice as high as the levels down the hill a block away. In other parts of town the snow is almost completely gone after the brutal rains of last week, but our glacier is persistent. (I tried floating this microclimate theory to one of our neighbors yesterday, and he clearly just thought I was crazy.)

To wrap up, my husband just reminded me of another fun intersection of triathlon training and home life, in which he went to put lotion on our 5-year old and instead started coating him with chamois cream. Allegedly (because I wasn't around to witness this), he realized his error and wiped him off before the menthol starting doing its thing. Not that I want to think too hard about why one would want a tingle from one's chamois cream, come to think of it.