Sunday, October 2, 2011


Over a month since I last posted. What happened? Work happened. Enough said.

At the end of August my husband, John did his first ironman at IMKY. I took the kids down separately to watch the race and because I've always wanted to go to Kentucky one of my college roommates lives in Louisville. Here Patrick is in the Cincinnati airport, waiting for the bus that was commandeered to take us to Louisville after our plane developed mechanical problems.

The kids were thrilled to ride "a real bus." I was not thrilled to find out it smelled like every other bus, i.e. bus bathroom overlaid with cloying cherry air freshener. But it got us there.

My roommate, Elizabeth, and her husband Dave were excellent hosts, alternating between schlepping me around to see John and entertaining the kids with their 3 kids, even when Patrick became slightly sick. I feel like Patrick is always sick on this blog. Here's a picture of him a couple weeks ago, hiking, just to show that sometimes he's healthy and vigorous.

The morning of the race Eizabeth and I got up early to see John before the start (he wisely stayed in a hotel, away from sick children and chatty spouses). IMKY is of course never wetsuit-legal, so he wore his favorite suit for the swim:

I feel like wearing this suit is a public service, because it relaxes so many other competitors. There were a lot of people taking pictures of him. I am a little scared to try googling "unicorn rainbow suit" and IMKY." Here he is at the start, jumping in by the big red buoy:

Elizabeth and I waited around to see him come out of the swim (in 1:01! what a stud!) and run into T1, then risked getting arrested by an overzealous volunteer when we crossed the race course (with at least 45 seconds' buffer) to see him go out on the bike. Of course he didn't see us either place, as it turns out.

We went home to find a sad and sick Patrick, expertly doped up on Tylenol by Dave (who is, after all, a pediatric surgeon), and we put him back to bed. I didn't want to leave the house again until he woke up, so we alternated between obsessively tracking John's bike splits online and playing piano duets.

This a great shot (courtesy of Charlotte), because it captures not only our intense dedication to the 4-hand version of The Battle Hymn of the Republic but also the super-classy TV Dave was watching in the next room. If I look deadly serious, it's because once in college I hit a wrong note (OK, it was like the 20th time I'd hit this particular wrong note, which was a natural after one of those incidental sharps or whatever you call those), and Elizabeth hit me in the arm. Hard. She was a multiple-time All-American in the 100 and 200 fly, so her hits packed a wallop. I still flinch every time I play that particular piece.

But I think Elizabeth has mellowed with age. Here's our reaction to one particularly challenging passage:

When Patrick woke up, he felt a lot better, so we all went out to catch John coming in at the end of the bike. We got there in time to see some of the top men and the very top women. Still, some of us found it less than scintillating.

Some of us were more interested in mugging for the camera.

Before we knew it, John came by on the bike, looking pretty happy. I even have a picture of this, because after taking several pictures of my hand as he came into and out of T1, I decided to hand the camera over to Elizabeth for the rest of the day.

Post bike we dropped the kids back at the house with Dave, and Elizabeth and I went out to the run course. She stayed to see John go by the first time (it's a 2x out and back), then went home to feed and entertain my children while I stayed out to catch him two more times. Apparently Patrick was feeling fully better by then, because during dinner when Elizabeth asked him what his middle name is, he said, "Booty!"

The run at IMKY was much less hot than last year, but it was still hot, sunny and humid, at least the part where I parked myself. I have to confess I was worried, when I decided to go down and watch John do this, that I would end up with the urge to do an ironman myself. I think it's possible that, had I seen only the start, the bike and the finish, I might well have gotten that urge. But seeing the run--I spent long enough there to see a lot of runners on both their first and second loops--killed any chance of that. I have a ton of respect for everyone who does these races, but holy cow, what a sufferfest. John was actually one of the happiest runners I saw there--he was doing a combination of running and walking, but he was downright chipper whenever I saw him.

Elizabeth came down to pick me up, I went home to say good night to the kids, and we headed back into town so we could see the finish. Here is John within seconds of the actual finish line:

For the record, he didn't see us here, either.

John had a great experience and now of course wants to try it again, so apparently he's doing IMLP next summer. I will train accordingly, because frankly, I got really tired sitting out there on the run course, had sweat stinging me in the eyes, and felt like I didn't fuel properly.

We came home from Kentucky to a horrendous two weeks of work stress. (I actually have no idea if John had a stressful time during those weeks, because I basically ignored my family for the entire time.) My training, which was already kind of dicey during the latter part of the summer as I struggled to get everything done, turned to total crap. The last week before my final race of the season, Pumpkinman, I averaged 4 hours of sleep per night and didn't do a single workout. I seriously considered just bailing on the race, but in a rare moment of lucidity during that time, I decided that the race would be my reward for getting my Big Work Thing done (the race fell 2 days after my big deadline). I would go up to Maine Friday afternoon, get a good night's sleep in a hotel, and just enjoy the race even if it wasn't going to be a peak performance.

Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but 20 years ago, the idea of a race as relaxation would have seemed ridiculous to me. I used to dread races, especially the ones that hurt (which is pretty much everything when you're a middle distance runner, obviously). I suspect this explains my rather limited success as an athlete at that time. But for real, I so look forward to racing now, and I so enjoy even the somewhat painful moments within the race, that Pumpkinman was the light at the end of my work tunnel that kept me going through that last miserable week.

My main goal for this race, other than just enjoying it, was to have a good swim. I warmed up enough beforehand to pick a shoreline sighting goal for the first buoy, which was directly into the sun, so I could avoid the kind of swim I had at AG Nationals. I went out hard on the swim, so hard that after I rounded the first buoy, I felt really, really tired. Like the kind of tired you feel when you haven't slept all week, for instance. But I focused on sighting, swam I think straighter than I have all season, and then slogged my way up the big hill to T1 sounding something like a panting rhinoceros.

The bike felt good. Early on I passed the woman who'd been racked next to me (I had gotten to T1 just a few seconds after her), and then another woman from our AG passed me. I went back and forth with this 2nd woman for awhile, until she dropped me on the only significant climb on the course. I simply had nothing left on that hill--it was one of those times when you look down and feel a little like crying when you realize you're already in your easiest gear.

I felt good at the start of the run and in fact the whole way through it. I passed the woman from the bike within the first mile, and she said, "You just helped me PR on the bike!" which I thought was a very nice thing to say. I offered some encouragement and then tried to pass as many people as I could. In the last mile the first woman I'd passed on the bike passed me back like I was standing still. She cheered me on, and I really tried to pick it up and stay with her, but there was just no way. But I stayed positive, ran as hard as I could into the finish (I felt last year like I lollygagged a bit in the last half mile), and ended up 3rd in my AG (really 4th, but the 1st woman was first overall). I'm not posting any pictures, because I'm too cheap to buy them, but trust me when I say that my face on all the run pictures definitely shows that I was working hard.

Last year I had the race of my life at Pumpkinman, and this year I was less than 2 minutes off that time, which frankly seemed like a miracle given my state at the time. My swim was almost 45 seconds faster. That woman who passed me like I was standing still? She ran exactly 1 second faster than I did the year before, in the process winning the "fastest amateur run split" award I took home last year. I am totally impressed by myself to think I could ever have looked that fast, because that woman was FLYING when she passed me!

And best of all, I accomplished my other less-publicly-stated goal of qualifying for next year's AG Nationals, so I don't have that hanging over my head at the start of next season.

Still reading? Because the next week I took part in a race I've wanted to do since college, the Josh Billings Runaground. My friend Alicia, who has shown up here several times (often puking at the finish line, come to think of it) organized a relay team featuring our super-awesome coach Martha on the bike, Alicia on the kayak (she's an actual kayaker, in addition to her other talents, like biking faster than I do), and me on the run. My big contribution was to come up with our team name, You're About to Get Chicked. Does that sound cocky? Like maybe I was asking for comeuppance? Hold that thought.

This race is a logistical maelstrom. It has a mass bike start for a draft legal bike leg that is frankly frightening, since many of the racers in it have no actual bike racing experience. Martha prepared by watching video of the bike course. Alicia went out the day before to get out race packet, scout the location, and come up with a foolproof plan to get kayak, bike, runner, biker and kayaker all to our separate starting points in one car with time to spare. I prepared by making us a killer playlist for the roadtrip. Martha liked it.

We dropped Martha off in the parking lot of a Price Chopper in possession of our all-important pink relay wristband. My biggest goal for the day was not to drop that wristband during the kayak-to-run transition. Yes, you can guess how that worked out. Here Martha and I are psyching out the competition at Price Chopper. Except none of them were actually looking at us.

Martha did a fantastic job on the bike, avoiding a nasty crash in her pack at about 10 miles (reports of bikes in the air, general horrificness) to finish as the first woman with a slight lead on another (much younger) rider from our club. Here is Martha, preparing to hand off that fabulous wristband:

And here is Alicia, who extended our lead slightly on the kayak, because she is a tremendous paddler, all this while yelling (in a totally supportive and nurturing way, obviously) at the clueless paddlers who cut her off on the 2nd lap:

When she got to shore, Alicia threw me the wristband, first dunking it in the water to improve its torpedo-like qualities. And I dropped it in front of everyone. So I ran off, cursing to myself, while squishing a wet and sandy wristband onto my arm. But I was focused. I knew some of the women ahead of me were wicked fast, and I knew there were some super-fast looking chicks behind me as well. That became more obvious when one of them flew by me within the first half mile--wait for it!--like I was standing still. Come to think of it, maybe that should be the title of this blog post. I soldiered on, though, and I felt terrific, despite the fact that it is a ridiculously hilly course.

I wasn't sure where the finish was--Martha was supposed to park herself 1/4 mile from the end and yell at me (per my instructions), but unbeknownst to me, she and Alicia were rushing to get the kayak and the bike back to the car. So I didn't know it was the end until I saw the finish line, at which point a guy sped past me, I turned to him and said, "No way, man!" and passed him back, laughing. I was so happy-looking that the local newspaper decided this was the shot to run with the big story about the race, with the caption, "Finish strong, finish with a smile." Here's the shot that made me a temporary celebrity in Berkshire County:

Take-away points here: 1) still doing that freakish thing with my hand; 2) still sporting our super-awesome pink wristband; and 3) I, who had just run the 10K for my relay, was laughing about out-sprinting someone who'd done the entire race on his own and still crushed me in overall time on the 10K. But you know, I sort of can't help myself with that finishing kick thing.

We ended up 2nd in our division (all female kayak), with 1st of course going to the team whose runner dusted me with a sub-40 10K. (So yes, running for team You're About to Get Chicked, I got chicked.) Did I mention this was a super-hilly course? She wasn't the only sub-40 woman, either. They grow them fast out in the Berkshires. Plus I noticed that she, and many of the women who ran faster than I did, were sporting the kind of running shorts I will call "hot pants" for lack of a better word. Compression shorts that are short, not tri-short length. Can anyone out there explain to me how these work? Don't they ride up? Because the lesson I take from this is that if I need to be faster (and clearly I do), maybe I need to wear hot pants, but the last thing I need is a giant wedgie.

I was spent after this little 10K jaunt, but I was quickly revived by a chicken wrap:

We received nice mugs for our second place finish, and then just because this race is so awesome in every way, they fill your mugs with free beer. (Or Bud Light to be more accurate, but close enough).

My caption for this photo is "Who's the one-eyed giant?" (me.)

Finally, the Fest: Last weekend was BikeFest, a series of group rides and a lovely post-ride barbecue sponsored by my club. I asked Charlotte if she wanted to try the 8-mile "family ride," and she did, and then we acquired a friend of hers as well. Neither of them had ever ridden more than a mile or two at one time, and Charlotte has a new bike that is still a little, shall we say, challenging for her. Plus I have already documented my near-paralysis when faced with supervising my child riding in traffic.

But I went to my happy place, shepherded them through the ride, and actually we had a terrific time. They were total troopers, with no complaining. Judiciously apportioned shot blox had a lot to do with this. Is it wrong to feed 8-yr-olds something advertised as "margarita flavor?" Don't answer that. We had to walk up part of one big hill, but that was actually fortuitous, because we got to watch a fox in a nearby field:

The runner disappearing up the road is one of my former students. It was fun to see her, too. Here are the girls riding along, right after I yelled at some SUV that flew by us at 45 mph. I didn't let that distract me from taking a picture while riding, though.

We had a lovely time at the barbecue afterwards, while the girls watched BMX stunt riders and I chatted with various friends (including of course the intrepid Alicia).

And thus ends this massive update. I have a few running races sprinkled throughout the fall, much navel-gazing about my evolving goals for next year, and, you know, work.