Saturday, December 8, 2012

Fall 2012

And then fall happened. . . .

I took September off, then ran the Tufts 10K in early October.

I ran pretty much exactly the same time I ran on a much hillier course in March, but I felt great and had fun. After seeing this picture I felt like the woman behind me, who judging by hair color has a few years on me, is way more ripped than I am and makes me look sort of pathetic.

I didn't race at all again until November, when a super-fast friend of mine put together a masters womens' team for the USATF New England cross country championships, which took place about 30 minutes away. Here is our team looking all spiffy and cross countryish in our singlets:

It was a gorgeous day, a fun course, and we took 2nd overall masters team so won a whopping $100 for our club. After some deliberation, we decided not to quit our day jobs. But we're doing this again next year, even if the race isn't in our backyard. It was sobering to run a cross country race against many of the fastest 20-somethings in New England (they ran masters and open women together);  I came in 70-something out of 90-something total racers, and I had a pretty decent race for me. But there is nothing like cross country in the fall. We even did a team cheer at the starting line. (Which we sort of mis-timed, so that we were still cheering when the gun went off.)

Charlotte also did her first 5K this fall, a local English-style cross country race with hay bale barriers that she flew over like the gymnastic nymph she is. She asked me to run with her, but I was diligent about staying behind her and letting her dictate the pace, which was remarkably steady for a 9-year-old. I can't lie: my proudest moment was when, after we had just passed a couple girls she knows with a friendly "hi," they came back on us, and I watched Charlotte subtly put the hammer down and drop them for good.

Here we are after the race, when she has just had that first-time racer's experience of realizing that, as good as it looked on the table, the last thing you want right after a hard 5K is a cinnamon bun:

At the end of the fall I did the Hot Chocolate Run again. Although I sort of suspected this would happen going in, it was still a little disappointing not to dip under that 21-minute barrier again, but as always it was a terrific race. There were 5,500 runners, we raised over $225,000 for a wonderful local organization that helps victims of domestic violence, and I still ran OK for me. Here I am with Lisa post-race, both of us trying to smile despite being about 10 seconds away from hypothermia:

Lisa pulled away from me before the first mile, and I never caught her speedy self. I did manage to beat the two students from my class who ran, which was lucky for them, because as I told them at the start line, beating your professor is worth a sure 5% off on your final grade. I was also pretty happy with my outfit for this year, which I pulled together the day before with a last-minute trip to Target for socks:

What this picture doesn't show is that, by the 1.5-mile mark, my right sock had fallen down to my ankle, which was super-annoying and I'm sure cost me at least 10 seconds in the form of distraction. OK, maybe not.

And now it is winter (though it's 40's and raining as I write this, yuck!), and I am back in the pool and on the trainer. After 5 years with my super-awesome coach Martha,  I decided she deserved a break from me and I should shake things up and try something new, so I'm working with a new coach. It is exciting to try some new things, but at the same time I was looking for consistency of philosophy and general approach. If you're reading this and looking for a triathlon coach, I highly recommend Martha; she'll make you faster and a happier/better person at the same time.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The rest of the summer

As is always the case, summer started accelerating sometime around July. I started this post the night before AG Nationals in Burlington, but then my roommates and I felt the need to watch the bike course video, and. . . here we are in October.

I left off after my last race with a hint that I might sneak in an extra sprint for the swim practice. And what a smartypants I turned out to be, because of course the swim on my last scheduled pre-Nationals race was canceled due to high bacteria counts. More on that later.

I did the Witch City Tri in Salem, which had many good things going for it, not least of which was being located about 20 minutes from my good friend Susan's house. I stayed there the night before and hoped some of Susan's All-American running mojo would rub off on me. We took a self-photo, because this is what my x-country teammates and I always do.

I got exactly what I wanted out of this tri: a decently hard swim (in an ocean harbor) so I could practice sighting well and not losing the pack. I swam well, biked so-so (wet course with lots of turns, so mostly I was trying to stay upright), and then ran really well for me. This was my first sprint of the season, so it was nice to see I still had some leg speed. More on that later.

The next weekend was the Greenfield Tri, a local race that was the club championship for the 2nd year in a row. I had nagged and cajoled everyone on my team to do it, so when I came down with some weird pseudo-cold 2 days before, I did not feel bad enough to bail on them. The race course was changed this year to avoid the covered bridge that Hurricane Irene took out, which made both the bike and the run shorter--the run shrank from 7.2 miles (or something like that) to 6.5, and the bike went from over 30 to just under 22.

Now for the bacteria counts: high, so the swim was canceled. Bah. With no swim, who would see my toenails intimidatingly painted with the club logo?

(My teammates, as it turned out, because I took off my shoes to make them all look.) Brief race summary: short 200 meter run to start things off, then the bike felt pretty good, then the run felt good for about 3 miles, then the run didn't feel so good. Here I am finishing up the bike.

Thankfully, no (free) pictures on the run, since they all show pretty much how I was feeling. I managed to hold off my hard-charging teammate Lisa and our hopefully-future-teammate Jess to win the 40-44 AG. Here we are all--I can't help myself--mugging with our prize mugs:

And here's most of my team (I failed to get us all together at one time). We were victorious in the team title, although we didn't know this until afterwards, because after all that nagging and pedantic roster compilation, allegedly USAT-NE didn't get them the trophies or any other information about the team competition. When they finally did figure it out, they didn't even use that @#$%^&*! roster, which was actually a good thing, since we had one teammate who ran but forgot to sign up on it. So yes, our little club is the MA state club champion. Of course I think only 3 teams competed for this--they really need to move it back east, out of our provincial western wilderness. Also to some place that doesn't have to cancel the swim so regularly (grumble, grumble).

A special shoutout to stalwart teammate Joellen, who has been fighting an injury all season, but showed up to cheer like a madwoman (much the way she bikes and runs, come to think of it). The only thing keeping me going on the 2nd half of that run was her cheering from the bike. She lies really well ("You look great!").

After the race I packed up and headed off to Cape Cod to join my family for vacation. The drive down was kind of classic Cape horrible, plus I was feeling sicker by the hour, so by the time I arrived there I had a full on case of laryngitis and general lower respiratory blah. And here I made a decision: if I wanted to get better as quickly as possible to have a hope of pulling out the race of my dreams at Nationals, I needed to stay in bed as much as possible. And I decided not to. I didn't feel horrible, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice our one week of family vacation to try to crack the top half of my age group. That may sound kind of lame, but I was fine with it. So I played with kids, went to the beach, got in a little training (most of which, especially the running, felt horrible), slept a lot, and had a great time.

We were there with Nancy and her family, who have a house about a half mile from where we rented ours. Here are the kids with the view (ocean side) from the end of our lane:

Charlotte looked like a total surfer girl within about 24 hours. I think the blonde hair helps.

Patrick was still a little cautious about the surf, but eventually he caught on.

And actually, caution was totally warranted, given that a week after we left, there was a 12-foot shark spotted 5 feet off shore at high tide just one beach north of this one.

Speaking of sharks, longtime fans are, I know, wondering what happened to the whale shark. I think the original version underwent catastrophic deflation, but never fear, there is a replacement, shown here lounging by Nancy's husband.

Not shown is "Icy the Seal," our family's purchase to supplement the supply of cute but pretty much totally worthless (because they are very hard to stay on) pond toys. The flat rafts are much better for lounging, and also for racing (Nancy crushed me in a floaty raft race, drawing on her years of lifeguarding experience plus actual athletic ability). We also did a really big puzzle on the rainy day.

Way too soon, vacation came to an end. But soon it was time to head up to Burlington for AG Nationals, a vacation of another kind. I felt OK by the time I made the trip, but my training had been pretty crappy, and I still hadn't had a good run. So my goal was simply to have a good swim. Last year my swim there was abysmal, and I felt like I needed to redeem that.

I drove up Thursday and met up with teammate Lisa, who was doing the sprint the next day. Here we are checking out transition Thursday night.

The next day my coach and her partner drove up, so I met them for the bike check-in. Martha is kind of a triathlon celebrity, so it was hard for her to walk anywhere without getting stopped by old friends and competitors. But it turns out even a former pro can get stymied trying to figure out what to do with all those race numbers.

We tried to take a picture of ourselves with Lake Champlain in the background, with mixed results.

We had an exciting evening of watching the video of the bike course, followed by sleeping until Martha's alarm, still set from a triathlon the week before, woke us up at 4. Twice, because she had earplugs in and didn't hear it, and our real alarms were set for 5.

As any follower of triathlon news will know, conditions the morning of the race were very windy. Lake Champlain was choppier than any water I've ever swum in, but I was oddly calm about it. We all now know that, very sadly, a competitor died during the swim; while I knew (because Lisa and her daughters told me while I was waiting around for my wave) that someone had been taken away in an ambulance, I didn't know until much later that he had died. To state the obvious, something like that makes any concerns about how one's race did or didn't go so well seem just as trivial as they are.

Back to trivial: I got in the water for my swim and was sort of interested by how much I was bobbing up and down while I treaded water at the start, but I figured while this would slow me down, I could manage it. And I did--my swim was faster than last year, when conditions were much calmer, and when I got out there were still some other bikes on the rack. I felt calm and focused during the whole swim. My time comes out to 1:50/100 yds, and while I think I'm a 1:40 swimmer in calm water, that seems totally reasonable to me in those conditions.

I got out of town on the bike without incident, was feeling pretty good, and then just as I made the turn onto the interstate, I hit some rough pavement and then felt like I slowed down. For about a mile I thought I had a flat, and I was close to getting off and checking, but then I told myself if I had a flat, it would feel more dramatic than that, so I just kept going. I worked hard, but on every little uphill (and there are a lot on this course--it's very rolly, no big climbs), I felt like I lost momentum fast. I just kept plugging away, though, and despite the much windier conditions than last year, I came back into transition only a minute slower than last year, when I had one of my best bikes ever.

I took off conservatively on the run, given my issues in the preceding two weeks, and I felt pretty good. I picked it up as much as I could for the last two miles, finished hard, and ended up a good two minutes slower on the run than last year, which seemed about right. And then I went into transition to get my bike and found that the "flat" was actually my brake shifting against the rear wheel, which wouldn't even spin a full revolution. So I had just biked nearly 20 mph for 40K with all but about 3 miles against the extra resistance of my brake. Awesome.

Lisa and her girls, who had cheered relentlessly during the race, met up with me afterwards. Her younger daughter was fascinated with both the bike and the aero helmet, which Lisa herself has not yet given into (though she should).

I had a fabulous time in Burlington--I glommed onto Lisa and her family for dinner that night, cheered on Lisa in the sprint the next morning, then invited myself along for their family lunch as well.

Back to Massachusetts, where I worked out my anger at myself for neglecting to fully solve the bike-brake problem (various versions of this have been plaguing me for the last 2 years) by jumping in my club time trial the Tuesday after Nationals. I lowered my PR on that course by over a minute (on a ~13 mile course), and I surprised myself by fighting hard in the last two miles to re-pass three men who had caught me from behind. I credit the PR to them, because I rode kind of out of my mind in the last mile, even though I realized that just by catching me they'd already all beaten me. And also two of them are over 60.

Perhaps more productively, I went back to Fitwerx with my bike, and with some help from Parlee who had sent over new brake attachment parts (and actually a new brake--apparently I was not the only person to realize this brake was sucky and horrible), they fixed it up on short notice.

And finally--this is starting to get too long even for me--I took my bike, its new brake and myself up to Maine for the Pumpkinman sprint. I wanted to do well (last year I was sleep deprived and sort of lame there), and mostly I wanted bike redemption. My swim was good--not quite as fast as last year, when all I wanted was swim redemption, but faster than two years ago. I think I was the 5th woman out of my wave (and thanks to the race director for not sticking the 40-44 women last, the only time this year for me!), and apparently I had moved up to 3rd in the AG by the time I got out of T1. My bike was a PR on that course, and it felt great. I was breathing like Darth Vader the whole way, which was my plan. A woman in my AG passed me early on, and although she looked scary fast (she was so aero I couldn't see her head from the back), I kept her in sight, and eventually I passed her back. And then she passed me. And then I think I passed her again. And so on. . . .

Not long before the one significant climb on that course I got passed by both the woman from my AG and a woman from the wave behind us. This new woman had USA on her butt, and she looked very fast--she said something nice and chipper as she went by. But I did something totally unlike me--I said to myself, "I'm going to pass them both back on the climb." I normally do not think of myself as a climber--I feel too big and oaflike, and climbing, you know, hurts. But I got up a head of steam and barreled right past them both, and what do you know--the woman from my AG never caught me again. USA butt woman did, and she graciously said, "Nice climbing--you didn't even look like you were trying!" To which I replied, "Trust me, I was!" only I was still well above my ventilatory threshold so it probably came out as "Mmphhwumf."

My run sort of sucked, to be honest--I was cruising along (I think--no mile markers on this course) for about the first 1.5 miles, and then my legs checked out. I could see a woman ahead of me, I knew she was from my wave, and I was slowly catching her, but in the end I could not reel her in. She finished less than 20 seconds ahead of me for first in our AG (technically 2nd, but first overall was from our AG and got bumped up).

My overall time was faster than last year but still not quite as fast as two years ago, which I think still clearly ranks as my best race ever. That nice leg speed I found at Witch City? I think I biked it right out of my legs this time--there I was well under 7-minute pace, and here I couldn't pull my average even down to 7's. Looking at both my Olympic and sprint results this summer, I have to say, my run endurance is just not there when I really bike as hard as I should. I ran fast at Witch City because I loafed a little on the bike. I understand there's a tradeoff here, but I think I had it right at Pumpkinman--I think I made up more on the bike than I lost on the run, and I just need to get stronger so I can bike like that and run better as well.

But mostly I'm just so happy that I feel like I finally raced on the bike. I had strategy, I had the guts to keep someone who passed me in striking distance, and I just felt the whole time like I had a shot at beating people--even fast people--on the bike. It's taken me a long time to get there, so not a bad way to end the season.

The other lesson I learned: when I focus mentally on one portion of a race, to the point that I visualize it beforehand, think about it in the days leading up the race, have a specific plan for execution, then stick to that plan--well, that portion of the race goes really well. So the obvious thing to work on, it would seem, is teaching my brain to do this for ALL portions of the race. That should be possible, right?

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Tale of Two Races

My race schedule got off to a slow start this year. After Devilman in early May, I had a string of weekends made unavailable by various Commencements, my own 20th college reunion, and my husband's race schedule. The reunion probably did nothing to help my race readiness. But clearly the Class of '92 takes our parenting seriously:

To show that it wasn't all Bud Light and debauchery, here I am with my kids, one of our classmates, and his kids, after we all hiked up a mountain later that same morning:

At this moment my husband was busy riding his bike the 70 or so miles back to our home, and Kent's wife was wise enough to stay away from the whole reunion, so it looks like Kent and I are the happy parents to 5 children. None of whom have my hair color.

Finally, the last weekend in June, I was ready to race a local sprint. And then the day before I woke up sick--a weird stomach bug, body aches, plus a general inability to haul my sorry self out of bed. All day long I gamely drank water and told myself, "Maybe I'll feel fine in tomorrow." I eventually made it downstairs to the sofa, where I lay and watched reruns of House. Let me suggest that this is not a good show to watch when sick; by the end of it I was busy Googling "encephalitis symptoms." (Which I didn't have.) When, at 7 pm, I was unable to muster the strength to get out of bed and pack my bag for the race, I called it and didn't even set my alarm.

 I woke up at about 7:45 (the race had started at 7:30), and of course felt pretty much OK (though very weak and hungry). I sipped some coffee and then headed out the door to go catch the end of the race and cheer on my teammates and friends, since the whole thing is about 15 minutes' drive from our house. Here I am with some of them, plus my coach, who was also spectating, after the race:

First off, why do I never have any friends as tall as I am? My entire cross country team in college was 5'5". And I wonder why I feel like an ungainly oaf. But while my friends may lack a little in the height department (and to be fair, the 16-yr-old on the end there is actually taller than I am), they are a lovely crew. Several of them spent valuable breath and energy on the run asking me if I was feeling OK. I told them to shut up and start running harder.

I then had to wait another 2 weeks for my next race, an Olympic distance tri about an hour north of here. In the meantime, I lived vicariously through my children, who got to race every week in our local youth track program.

Finally, race day arrived. I had preridden the bike course the week before with some of my teammates, since the course was (thankfully) new this year. I wasn't even going to do the race again, because after two years I was sick of fearing for my life on the descents on the old course, which coincided with bike-eating ruts and potholes. But then they changed the course, so it seemed like destiny, and off I went.

I had big hopes for the swim this year. I swam hard all winter, and it paid off with much faster times for me in my pool workouts. I have been swimming regularly in open water this summer, both more frequently and harder than I ever have before. On race day the water was a balmy 77 degrees, so wetsuit legal, and when my wave started (the last wave of the day, the old ladies' wave), I swam hard to the first buoy. I could see some women had already gotten away from me, but I seemed to be in the front of the main pack. I rounded the buoy, and then. . . . at some point I seemed to be about 20 yards away from anyone else. The good news is, I had clear water. The bad news is, um, I was 20 yards away from probably where I was supposed to be. But I just picked a straight line from there to the next buoy and kept swimming. I felt like my swim went great--I was swimming harder than I usually do (my goal for the race), and I even drafted for awhile. I don't time my swims, because I don't want to get depressed by the time during the race, and this turned out to be a good thing. I left the water thinking, "That was a great swim!" In fact, it was 3 minutes slower than last year. Oops.

But blissfully ignorant, I charged into T1, made it out without incident, and tackled the bike course. There's not much to say about this part--I went hard, but not all-out-sprint-hard, and I was glad I had ridden it ahead of time. About halfway through I got passed by a women who looked about my age (I can't read ages on the bike), and we kind of leapfrogged each other for the rest of the bike. I felt OK about the bike, but I had no idea how it was actually going. I got a magnet installed on my race wheel this year, but apparently it was not close enough to the sensor, so I got no reliable speed information. In a truly awesome development, I had my bike computer on Auto Start/Stop, so the intermittent speed reading caused the clock to run all weird and slow, so even my time was off. I realized this after I went through the 5 mile mark in 14:56 (OK, 20 mph on an uphill section) and then the 10 mile mark in 23 minutes. As I neared the end of a 22-mile bike leg, my clock was reading 38 minutes. I realized something was wrong, and then proceeded to start cramming shot blocks into my mouth, since it was a ridiculously hot day, and the timing being off meant I hadn't taken in the electrolytes I had planned to. Oops again. I dismounted, if I may say so myself, rather gracefully, ran past a few (young) women into transition, and got back out again in less than 1 minute. And I found out from the results later that this was my fastest bike ever--I got close to 21 mph, when my previous Olympic best was 20.0.

The run was disappointing. I started out well--7:27 for the first mile--then slowed down. I don't know exactly how that happened, because apparently I was unable to take mile splits, but I just know that while I wasn't suffering nearly as badly as I was at this race last year, my legs were tired, and mentally I just kind of punted. It's an out and back course, and I could see that there was no one remotely near my age within a couple miles of me, so in hindsight, I think I just settled in. It's true that it was hot, and being the last wave in a race that starts at 9 am exacerbated this, but honestly, I was just kind of lame. Not much else to say about that.

I finished 2nd in my AG, which was a nice surprise, and although I felt cheesy getting an award with such a lame-ass run and such an abducted-by-aliens swim, the bike split made me feel more legitimate. I think one of my favorite things about triathlons is that, while there's always something to work on, in almost every race I can also find something to be really happy about.

I know how to fix the run (don't be such a lame-ass), but the swim mystifies me a little bit. I am relaxed in open water. I can sight pretty well. I am not fast enough to keep up with the fastest swimmers, but I'm also not nearly as slow as this time (and some of my others) suggest. In the spirit of that old adage about insanity being doing the same thing and expecting a different result, I need to try something different. In my next race I'm going to focus much more on following other people. I've always resisted this, because I don't trust other people to swim a good line, but it's become clear that while there's some chance I'll follow the wrong feet, following myself is 100% likely to lead to disaster on anything other than a straight out-and-back course. I may do an add-on sprint this weekend solely for this purpose, so stay tuned. (It's an ocean swim, though, so I need to remember to follow feet, not dorsal fins.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Almost a month ago, I raced in my longest tri ever--a "half lite" at Devilman in New Jersey. I think it is best summed up by this short exchange I had with my coach about 400 yards from the end of the race--she was standing by the side cheering, having finished (as 2nd woman overall), and I was chugging my way in.

Coach: "I think you may have found your new distance!"

Me: "Let me finish so I can come back and kill you!"

But back to the beginning. I signed up for this race in the heart of winter, on the theory that training for an almost-half would be good for my sprint/olympic racing this summer. My coach, her partner Lisa, my partner in crime Linda, and another woman who works with my coach ("Hot Stuff" to her friends) were all doing it. I never succumbed to peer pressure in high school ("What? Drink beer? How would I finish my calculus homework?!"), but now I'm making up for it. I signed up, then proceeded to ride my bike enough this winter and early spring that finishing a 40.3-mile bike leg seemed feasible.

My trip down to NJ started really auspiciously. Linda got a flight down, so I agreed to bring her bike on the back of my car, with mine stowed safely in the back seat. I backed out of my driveway, forgot that a) I had Linda's bike on the back, and b) we now have a basketball hoop at the end of the driveway. Crunch. Somehow I managed to hook her bike around the basketball hoop. I got it off, hyperventilated (not necessarily in that order), checked to see that wheels and such were still attached and moving, then drove straight to the bike shop to ask them to verify that I hadn't just ruined Linda's bike, which I think cost more than my car. It seemed fine, so off I went.

I stopped on the way down in northern NJ to spend the night with my college friend and former teammate Cherie. It is tradition for us to take an unflattering self-portrait.

The next day I made the second half of the trek down south. I texted Linda a photo from our hotel room, showing her that her bike was indeed safely out of my reckless clutches.

Then I drove 45 minutes more to Ocean City, where coach and partner have a lovely, if still somewhat unfurnished, house. We set about the critical task of painting our nails to be appropriately satanic.

Coach Martha is displaying her trademark focus here, while Linda is mocking us on Facebook. My favorite part of this whole nail-painting exercise was that I, who generally think of myself as a tomboy and inept with all matters cosmetic, was somehow tagged as the girly-girl here for having some ability to paint my own toenails without covering my foot in nail polish. Here is my handiwork:

In case you want to try this at home, I went with a bright red base coat, red glitter on top of that, and then a black crackle finish on the toes. Actually, don't try this at home, because it took a serious amount of chiseling to get that glitter polish off. Also, to state the obvious, it looks hideous. Lisa also painted one of Balto's nails, although it's sort of hard to see here:

We had a yummy lasagne dinner prepared by Lisa, then Linda and I retired to our hotel near the race site.

The big story of the race was this: there was a hatch of tiny, vicious, biting bugs in the field next to transition. We arrived and were immediately attacked, as was everyone else, while we waited in line for packet pickup. The entire pre-race time was spend trying to minimize bug bites. I have never been so happy to start a race in my life, because just getting into the water meant the bugs stopped biting. Here's what my arm looked like after the race:

The water, as it turned out, was both very cold (well below 70 I believe) and an alarming shade of dark brown. We watched the waves before us start, and it looked like a churning sea of mud. When we got in to start, I found that the bottom was some kind of weird cottony-feeling pillow of mud. I still get a little creeped out just thinking about it.

The swim was two diamond-shaped loops for a total of 0.8 mile, and the last 5/8 of my swim was pretty good. The first 3/8 were me running into traffic and then choosing to stop and breaststroke while it cleared out. Yes, I know this is dumb. I got out of the water for the long run to transition and just decided to forget about it; from the number of bikes on the rack, other people were having worse swims anyway. I don't remember my swim split, and I'm not looking it up, because it was slow.

The bike was way better than I expected, given that I've never raced close to this far. The course is pretty pancake flat, two out-and-back lollipops. I just kept my HR where I was supposed to and was pleasantly surprised to find myself passing a lot of people anyway. (Probably because my swim was so crummy, come to think of it.) It was actually kind of fun being in a race and not biking flat out. Until the last 10 miles or so, when I was tired of biking. But in the end I averaged 18.7 mph, which seems neither spectacularly good nor embarrassingly bad to me.

I came back into transition, where I easily got my feet out of my shoes to dismount. The same way I've now been dismounting for about 2 years. With never a single mishap. See where this is going? There was a slight uphill coming into the dismount line, and I was so focused on this that apparently I didn't take off enough speed. I hopped off the bike and immediately crashed in a spectacularly ungraceful way, right in front of a nice little crowd of spectators and volunteers. I got up right away, someone handed me the bottle that had popped out, and I managed to get myself moving toward transition. There was a pretty long run back in over grass and gravel, and I had knocked things around enough that my back wheel was no longer moving. So I essentially dragged the bike for about 400 yards, blood running down my leg to boot. Here's what my legs looked like post-race:

But I headed out onto the run with nary a worry in the world, because a surviving a bike crash (OK, more like a bike flop) with a couple scrapes seemed awfully lucky. My legs felt pretty good, and although I couldn't for the life of me figure out where the mile markers were, I am pretty sure I was running sub-8's to start with. I was passing people pretty quickly; I even passed one 20-something guy who was nursing a hamstring cramp and gave him one of my shot bloks, because I was feeling all happy and generous.

The run was also an out and back, also pretty flat. It was muggy and warm by this time, with not a lot of shade. About 2.5-miles into the 8.8-mile run, I saw Martha coming back in, right behind the 1st place woman, with 3rd place not far behind her. It's not my race to write about, but I will say this: in the thick of a close race, she took a couple seconds to swerve over to my side of the road and give me a high five, which gave me an incredible boost. She may hold the world record in classiness per ounce of body weight.

Everything was pretty good until I hit the turnaround, and about 100 yards past that, my legs seemed to be done for the day. They hurt, I was tired, there was a headwind. . . you get the picture. I don't have a lot to say about this, except that after a couple minutes of feeling sorry for myself, I just mentally reset myself and focused on running as hard as I could at any given moment. I don't think it was pretty, but I didn't get passed a lot, and once I sort of gave in to "this is what I have, and I'm going to work with it," I actually kind of had fun.

By about 5 miles my inner right thigh was hurting so much that I began to suspect I had pulled something on the bike; it wasn't until I pulled up my shorts for the picture above that I realized I had a massive hematoma brewing there from my fall. With about a mile and a half to go, a young (I thought) woman I had passed at the turnaround passed me back. We chatted a little bit (me: "Since you're wearing calf sleeves, do you mind if I ask how old you are?" her: "don't worry, I'm 28."), and I sort of vaguely hung with her. Right after my pithy little exchange with Martha near the end, I shrugged off my stupor and kicked my way past the 28-yr-old; I invited her to come along, but she just laughed. I ended up averaging 8:22's for the run, and I finished 5th in my AG. Here I am, plastered in little bugs, approaching the finish:

I have noticed that I have massively flared nostrils in all my race photos, which I take as a good sign--apparently I am getting oxygen through all available openings. Also, please note that my devil-red fingernails show nicely in this picture.

They had a lot of good food post-race, which we enjoyed while being re-attacked by the biting bugs, which had been thankfully absent during the run. Hot Stuff doesn't actually seem to be enjoying the post-race spread, but that could just be the bugs,

Martha got 2nd overall, Lisa won her age group by a landslide, and Linda recovered from a craptastic swim to take 3rd in her AG. Eventually we all made our way back to Ocean City and celebrated.

While it was not exactly beach weather, we walked the boardwalk anyway. I sort of hobbled.

On the left is Hot Stuff's friend Flash (no, I don't really know what is with the nicknames--I think it might be a Women's Studies thing, since they're both WS professors), who was injured but came down anyway to cheer us all on.

That night I let Balto sleep with me on the air mattress, and he feel deeply in love with me. Although rumor has it he started flirting with Linda pretty heavily when I left the next day.

The last thing I'll say about this race is that I had about 200 bug-induced welts on my arms, legs, scalp. . . yes, pretty much everywhere, and they lasted almost a week. I don't know what it is about my body chemistry, because everyone else was like, "Yeah, my ankle itches a little bit," whereas I was pretty much trying to flay the skin off my body with my fingernails 24/7. It was not pretty. But yeah, I'd pretty much do this race again, if I had that fun crew with me. Plus some Deet.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Where did March go?

Not to mention April. I am, as usual for this time of year, weeks behind in my work. But I'm now so far behind it seems pointless even to try to catch up.

When I last wrote I was about to do my first race of 2012--the ever-challenging February 10-miler near my house. My goal this year was not to completely shut down for the last (mostly uphill) mile. I'm not sure I accomplished that, but I did accomplish my less-publicized goal of not looking like I was about to pass out in the race pic:

To be honest, I think I made that goal only because the photographer was stationed a) earlier in the race than in previous years, and b) on a downhill portion.

I executed my usual plan of holding back the first 5 miles, then going for broke. I lost my friend Linda somewhere around mile 3, when I slowed down to drink water. I was on a mission to catch up with her when this picture was taken (somewhere around mile 6). Linda later described the middle portion of my race as "opening up a can of whup-ass," which is pretty accurate, only it doesn't specify that the ass I whupped was mostly my own. She came with me when I passed her, and I led us through a couple really quick miles. I managed a 7:07 between miles 7 and 8, and it's not even a downhill. And then I hit the final hills, and my legs completely abandoned me, while I watched Linda cruise off to her best finish ever. (She actually turned around at one point to wait for me on the hill, because Linda is pathologically nice, but I think she came to her senses when she saw how bad I looked.)

A couple weeks later I did the enormous local St. Patrick's Day 10K. I prepared meticulously:

I rode down to the race with 3 of my friends, all pictured here pre-race: Martha (Coach), Dena and Lisa:

We were doing our best to be decked out for St. Patrick's Day, because this race is an odd combination of elite 10K race and drunken spectatorfest, so you want to appease the spectators by dressing appropriately.

I have never run well here--one year it was hot, one year I was just lame, one year I don't really remember what happened. Dena, Lisa and I got stuck way the hell back at the start, somewhere behind the 9-minute pace sign, because they wouldn't let you into the corral (20 minutes before the start) except at the back of the race. I love this race, but they really need to check in with some other big New England races to figure out how to let people line up appropriately. My theory is that anyone who legitimately belongs anywhere near or in front of a 7-minute pace sign is going to be out warming up until the last minute, so we need a side entry into the corral. But we just chilled, and luckily so did everyone behind us. After the start Lisa and I spent about a mile working our way through people running way slower than we were, but I think this helped me in the end, because I couldn't go out too fast. And the good part was that for the entire race, we passed people. Like thousands of them.

My plan was to try to be a bit more aggressive on the roughly 4 miles of uphill at the start, and I was. I still had some legs in me for the screaming downhill after mile 4, and I did it in about 6:10. And then the key was the final mile--it is up and down, and Lisa and I went back and forth here (as we had the whole race, actually), which kept me moving faster than I might have if left to my own, pain-avoiding devices. We ran from mile 5 to 6 in about 6:46, and then Lisa dusted me in the last 0.2, while I tried hard to avoid throwing up from the smell of grilling hamburgers. I finished in 45:32, which for me on a hilly course is great this time of year. And then it took us about an hour to find Dena and Martha. After Martha collected her prize for winning the master's race, we refueled with an array of healthy food choices:

The thing is, since everyone around us was refueling with beer, fried dough and $5 margaritas, a little sodiumfest from McDonald's really didn't seem that bad. I am especially proud of getting Martha to drink her first ever Shamrock Shake, immortalized here.

The other exciting news from March is that I had a conference in San Diego, where I skipped most of one morning's worth of talks to swim here:

Since then I have been training with a particular focus on the bike, since in less than two weeks I am doing a race with a 40 mile bike leg. Which seemed like a great idea back in the winter, when I signed up. And it actually seems OK again, now that I've been out for a couple long rides on the cow bike and have gotten used to it again. We had a lovely spell of weather, now vanished, during which I had one particularly blissful 40+ mile ride. My friend Nancy did the first 15 with me, then peeled off into the distance:

An hour or so later I stopped at a scenic overlook to take this picture of the Connecticut River with Mt Sugarloaf in the background:

And even later I stopped one more time (really, I did ride hard in between all this) to take a picture of my favorite herd of cows, the Belted Galloways, aka "Belties":

After this ride I did a short, easy run off the bike, just to make sure this was even feasible. On my whole ride I had no problem with traffic--the few cars and trucks I saw gave me a wide berth, let me pull out to make left turns, and generally behaved like the good Western Ma people we all are. And then during my run, someone from a passing car pelted me with a half-chewed strawberry. It left a red welt on my arm. That was so uncool.

In other biking news, I've done two of my club's time trials already (which I think is as many as I did all last season), and last weekend I headed out in cold and windy weather to do my longest ride ev-ah. I didn't take any pictures, because I was too busy suffering through an endless headwind, plus I was grumpy that I had to go back to booties and tights after that one blissful week of riding in shirtsleeves. 

At some point in here Easter happened as well, which resulted in some very cute eggs that we mostly never ate, because none of us really like hard boiled eggs.

 And of course the other monumental event in March was a mother/daughter pilgrimage to this:

Not only did I love this series and hence the movie as well, but I find it offers me a useful perspective on things like attempting a triathlon with a 40-mile bike leg, which doesn't seem bad at all when compared to the Hunger Games. May the odds be ever in my favor.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mixing it up

I love routine. Every morning I drink my orange juice out of the same cow glass. We only have one, and it's mine--a friend gave it to me in grad school. Technically, you're supposed to drink milk in it, but I like to cheer myself up in the morning with the cow glass, and I don't want to drink milk then.

This week I dropped the cow glass and it shattered. I drank orange juice out of a regular glass the next morning, and it wasn't the same. Then a package came yesterday, and in it were some of these, bought (and express-shipped) by my awesome husband:

It is a little alarming how much this improved my mood. The 6-yr-old was alternating between barfing all over the living room carpet and keeping us up with fever-induced night terrors, and I was all happy about my new cow glasses. (He's better today, also.)

I do not love routine in my training. If I do the same workout too many times, I have nothing to think about except how I'm doing compared to last time, and I don't find these thoughts to be helpful. It's also pretty clear that the body adjusts to routine, so if I want to improve, I need to mix it up a bit. So mixing it up has been the theme of my winter training so far.

First big change: I've been riding outside a lot this winter--almost every week. Thanks, lame-a** winter! I've riddensome with friends, including a lot with Linda

and some by myself.

I've always secretly wanted to get my VO2 max tested but have been kind of scared to do so, but this winter I was pushed to do it because a friend of mine needed subjects for her dissertation study. Turns out the VO2 test was a cakewalk compared to the actual study. Here I am suffering on one of my two study rides (each of which was followed by 5K hard on a treadmill while a vampire someone took blood from my hand every 1K while I kept running).

If you think I look sweaty and miserable, it's because I was. This was before the bike started to feel unbearably hard, at which point all I could really think of (and talk about) was how much I hated my friend and her study. In fact, for a moment I panicked and thought that maybe this was one of those "fake" studies, and really what she was looking at was how much subjects complained and how much that impacted their performance. But really, in hindsight, it wasn't that bad. Here is my friend (the shorter one) along with her vampire assistant:

I know they don't look cruel, but don't be fooled.

And my VO2 is higher than I expected, so now I'm wondering why I'm not faster. Maybe this knowledge will expand the limits I inadvertently place on myself. Or maybe when I get it retested at another lab (because now I'm kind of a VO2 slut and am doing it wherever I can), I'll find out their instrument was miscalibrated.

I'm mixing it up in the pool by increasing volume slightly over last year and swimming most times with Linda, instead of by myself. Swimming with someone else is huge--it is pushing me to go faster than I normally would, and it is so much more fun. My coach has thrown in a few baby IM sets, and I can actually swim 25 yards of "butterfly" (I use that term loosely) without the lifeguard springing to her feet for an imminent rescue. But seriously, I took over 25 seconds of my 500 yard TT time from last year this time, so I think all this swimming stuff is paying off.

To be able to swim longer and also to swim regularly with a buddy, I joined the local Y, instead of swimming for free where I work (but where the hours are severely limited). This also means I can jump in a weekly spin class, which is another new thing for me. If I keep going like this, in another couple months I'll be doing zumba.

I did one run--my first ever (and before my friend made me do it twice for that @#$%^&*! dissertation study)--on a treadmill. This was in Indianapolis in January, when it was 3 below and I had brought only one layer. I made it 20 minutes outside and cried uncle. The treadmill confirmed my suspicion that I do not run on treadmills, but the experience also reminded me that my whole self-righteous and smug "Of course I don't run on a treadmill! I run outside! I'm a real runner!" thing is only because I live in New England, where even during a harsh winter, it's nothing like the midwest.

I still am not ever planning to do a half or full ironman, but I signed up for a "half lite" in May just to mix up my racing a bit, and because I thought it would be good for me. Also because all my friends are doing it.

I took time out of being all Sporty Spice to be like most of my fellow Americans and sit around and watch other people be athletic:

It was exhausting, really. Also loud. And all you people who think Steven Tyler didn't do the national anthem justice, you are just being haters.

First race of the year is coming up this weekend!