Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hello Again, Mount Lemmon....

... you rotten bitch, you.

Just kidding, of course. I can't blame my embarrassing lack of biking stamina on Mount Lemmon. Tim and I rode up there this morning. I think it's been about a year since I actually rode all the way up Mount Lemmon. And yes, I DID reach the top that time, even though I wanted to quit when I got to the final mile of the road to Ski Valley. (I would have quit, honestly, except that I was moving so slowly that it was impossible to unclip without falling over, so I had to just keep going.) That day was a triumph, since climbing Mount Lemmon is a milestone that every Tucson cyclist must pass. But I hadn't climbed it since then, or even gone up it at all since the ill-fated Mount Lemmon Marathon. (26.2 miles of fun on a stress fracture. Wheeeee!)

I had been lazy on the bike, and in the pool, during the last few weeks leading up to Boston, so knew I wasn't in the greatest shape, especially for hills. I did manage to ride 30 miles on both Thursday and Friday, and felt pretty good when I woke up this morning, so figured I should at least be able to make it to Molino Basin, which is not quite 6 miles up the mountain and just 2000 feet of elevation gain. We set that as our goal. (Our earlier goal was going to be Windy Point, which is halfway up the mountain, but thank God we got a late start so I did not have to suffer the shame of abandoning a goal -- because there was no way Windy Point would have happened for me today unless someone drove me up there in a car.)

We rode from home and were almost 10 miles in when the climb started. In the first 1/2 mile I was already gasping for breath and in my easiest gear. Tim was on his mountain bike and dropped me immediately. Oh, the shame. Every so often I would try in vain to shift to an easier gear, like one might have appeared while I wasn't looking. Didn't work. I wanted a drink but was moving so slowly that I was afraid any movement like reaching for my water bottle would unbalance me and make me fall. I could have run this hill faster than I was riding it. Not only were my legs dead, but -- and I would put this delicately but I don't know how to do that -- my crotch felt like sandpaper from the previous 60 commuting miles, all of which were done in jeans. I did have on my bike shorts this morning but still, with every pedal stroke I became more and more convinced that my seat had been turned into a cheese grater -- sharp side up.

Tim waited for me at Babad Do'ag about 3 miles up. He could see how much I was suffering and asked if I wanted to go back. I snapped at him that NO of course I did not want to go back, so we kept going. He dropped me again and I started moving even more slowly than I had been before. I wouldn't have thought forward motion on a two-wheeled vehicle at that speed was possible, but it was. (Actually, even slower motion than that was possible. I know this because I did actually pass one other cyclist -- an old woman or maybe an old man -- couldn't tell -- on a mountain bike with a gigantic backpack.)

The last couple miles up to Molino I remembered vividly from the Mount Lemmon Marathon. Interestingly, I remembered exactly the place where I decided to drop out and also the place where I decided to keep going. That was a cheery thought because no matter how much I was suffering today, it couldn't hold a candle to the suffering in the Mount Lemmon Marathon. That was by far the most painful endurance event I have ever done. I sure hope nothing ever tops it.

I got to Molino and felt better right away once I stopped. Then I realized I now had to ride down, and at that moment I would have gladly kept going the remaining 20 miles to the top if it meant someone would appear at the top and drive me down. I HATE riding downhill. I'm scared of it, period. It is terrifying to think of riding faster down that road than the cars can drive, on a two-lane highway with no bike lane. I'm afraid of all of the following: getting a blowout, sliding on a patch of gravel during a turn, hitting some road debris I didn't see, getting hit by a stupid driver, getting my tire into a groove in the road that makes me fall, zoning out and crashing into the side of a hill, and having my brakes burn out. The only way I will ride down hills is riding my brakes. (I am afraid of DRIVING downhill too, so don't think this is something that will go away with practice.) I hate this downhill because it is long, and by the time I get to the bottom my hands have always frozen into brake-squeezing claws. I'm sure this reduces the life of my brakes too. And it is beyond embarrassing to be passed by dozens of other cyclists who are not afraid.

I did, of course, make it to the bottom of the hill intact, except for the crotch problem which didn't get any more comfortable on the rest of the ride home. But, seriously, how do I stop being afraid of downhills? I plan on riding Mount Lemmon every single weekend and going higher every time, but that's going to be rough on my brake pads and ego unless I can find out some way to stop being such a baby.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Going Car-Lite

Tim and I are doing an experiment. I'm taking it very seriously and hope he is too. (If he isn't, I hope this blog post will make him.) We have decided to try going car-lite. In other words: we have two cars. Both of us bike commute much of the time. Both of us feel fat and want to get skinny. Both of us wish we had more disposable income. And I, at least, have a growing dislike of cars and a growing envy of the residents of cities like Amsterdam and Davis where getting around by bike is as easy as can be. I have aspirations towards becoming a politically active bike pest. So we came up with the great idea of trying out the idea of being a car-lite couple, where we only have one car.

Of course, getting rid of either car is a big scary step and we are nowhere near ready to do anything that extreme. So we decided to do this experiment first and just see what happens. Our experiment is this: see how long we can go with having one car in the driveway at all times. That means if he drives to work, I have to bike, and vice versa. So far if I count the days of my Boston trip, and I definitely do, we are on Day 6. Not bad!

Today is his day with the car. So I biked to work and home to let the dogs out, and now am about ready to go out to dinner. Since he's got the car and he's at WOG, I have to bike to dinner. If we weren't doing this experiment, naturally I would've driven, since I already rode 22 miles today. But in the interest of being car-lite, I am going to bike it instead. Isn't that cool? Don't YOU want to be car-lite, too?

Of course, even if we go for months like this, it would be no little thing to give up a whole car. For one thing, which one would go? Logic would seem to say his, because he still has a car payment and mine is long paid off. But he loves his car. But my car holds all the dogs. But his car has heated seats. But my car can fit both bikes at once without taking wheels off, and big Home Depot purchases like wheelbarrows and things. But his car gets twice as many miles to the gallon. And so on. But that's a problem to deal with later -- for now, I am just going to ride as much as I can and enjoy the smug feeling that goes along with burning calories instead of fossil fuels.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Boston -- Completed.

There are lots of things in life that are fantastically hyped up and then turn out to fall far short of expectations once you actually experience them. The Boston Marathon was not one of those things. Everything about it was just as awesome as I had anticipated and looked forward to. My race more or less fell apart, but that really didn't do anything to change my overall impression of the awesomeness of the whole experience. It was worth all the hard training to qualify and the obscene amount of money the trip cost and everything else. It would have been cheap at twice the price! That's how awesome it was.

My flight got into Boston and I picked up my rental car at midnight on Saturday. It was rainy and windy and just generally disgusting weather. My hotel was in Weymouth, a town about 15 minutes south of Boston. I picked it because it was 1/3 the cost of a hotel room in the city. It was nothing fancy but was totally acceptable except that there was a little raised lip between the bathroom and the rest of the room that was the exact same color as the carpet. I didn't see it and kicked it so hard with my bare foot I felt like I could have fractured all 5 metatarsals at once. Luckily, no major damage was done. I told myself not to do that again -- and then promptly did it again the next morning. I worried obsessively that maybe I had broken something that would come back to haunt me in the race, but actually I had no foot or leg trouble at all in the race. My trouble was all about my stomach. But more on that later.

The next morning was cold and grey. Ewww, I remember this East Coast Grey from when I lived on the East Coast. I was glad it wouldn't be hot for the race, but even as excited as I was to be in Boston, those grey skies and still-leafless trees made me so homesick for blue skies and hot weather. The weather did get a little better that day but was cold and windy pretty much all day. The forecast for race day was also for wind, and I assumed that naturally it would be a headwind.

The expo was jam-packed. I could barely move. Number pick-up was easy, but it was not possible to move around inside the expo itself at any speed faster than a shuffle. The crowds activated a feeling of incipient agoraphobia I didn't know I had. I managed to buy my quota of official souvenirs -- the jacket (of course), a cap, and flip-flops -- and graze my way through all the exhibits, grabbing big handfuls of free samples and stuffing myself with all different kinds of energy bars and chews, yogurt, and recovery drinks. Conventional wisdom says you shouldn't eat too much at an expo. I say, that is at least one meal that I can count on eating for free in an otherwise very expensive weekend.

After the expo, I wanted to go see Plymouth Rock because it was the only tourist attraction I had somehow missed in my years of living back East. I typed "Plymouth Rock, MA" in my GPS and followed the directions mindlessly. Turns out they sent me to a tiny town called Rock Village, MA. I realized something was wrong when the GPS announced that I had reached my destination and I couldn't see the ocean or any tourist activity at all. Oops. I found out where the real Plymouth Rock was -- 20 miles away, in a different direction. The drive over there was through tiny little New England villages. Now, I don't like the East Coast, as I think I have made clear already, but it would be un-American not to love these adorable little 150-year-old houses, each one on its own little cleared piece of land with forest on all sides of it. I forgot how relaxing it can be to just take a drive for pleasure and look at pretty scenery. It was a perfect pre-marathon activity. (Plymouth Rock itself, by the way, was a major disappointment. It's just a big old grey rock sitting in a pit at the end of a road clogged with hundreds of tourist cars and overpriced rip-off shops. Even the marker at Plymouth Rock admits that they don't even know for sure whether this actual rock had anything to do at all with the Pilgrims. Probably not! Since it wasn't identified until 120 years after they landed. But anyway, it was the last remaining thing I wanted to see in Massachusetts, so now that is one more East Coast state I will never have to return to.)

After that, my friend Kris arrived from New Jersey. We drove right back into Boston for dinner. We walked around for a while and wandered through Chinatown and finally got so hungry we decided to just pick the next place that wasn't Chinese. That place turned out to be Jacob Wirth, a restaurant that has been there since 1868. Kris had a veggie burger and I had macaroni and cheese with buffalo chicken. That sounds questionable, but, oh my God, it might have been the best dinner I've ever had. Kris was equally enamored of her veggie burger. We didn't even talk during the meal because we just wanted to be alone with our amazing food. It'll be a long time before anything tops that.

After we ate, I went to Jolene's hotel in Cambridge to drop off a cheap blanket for her and James that I picked up at Walmart. It was for the start line the next morning because I heard it was going to be cold. I met her in the lobby because her hotel didn't have parking. The funniest thing about her hotel was that there was a uniformed valet guy out in front, and he kept blowing on his whistle for no reason. At first I thought he was blowing at us to get out of there, but soon I figured out that he was just doing it randomly. He would stand there, look around, and then, "TWEET! TWEET!" We tried to figure out what could possibly be the purpose of that, but did not succeed.

Race day! I was up at 4:30 a.m., out the door by 5 to catch a 5:35 train into the city, where I would then catch the shuttle bus that would get me to the start line. I had to swing by McDonald's on the way, of course, for my traditional race day breakfast of Egg McMuffin and hash brown. I left early because I didn't really know where the station was, didn't know about parking, was worried about the train, et cetera. As it turned out, those things all went off without a hitch. I was in Boston at 5:55 a.m. Buses started loading at 6:00. This race is a point-to-point course, and we were heavily discouraged from driving anything to the start line. They really wanted us to take the buses. Even though my suggested bus boarding time was 6:30-7:00, I got on the bus at 6:00 anyway, figuring it would be better to get to the start and just wait there.

That was a mistake! It was freezing, with an amazingly cold wind blowing. I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts with a throwaway fleece on top and my cheap WalMart blanket. Pretty much everyone had warned me about the cold at the start. I blew them all off, like, "Yeah-yeah-yeah, I know cold start lines, it'll be fine." Well, I stand corrected. I DO know cold start lines, but I have never before had to stand at one for 3 1/2 hours. The wind in Hopkinton was amazing. It was like a knife that cut straight through the fleece and the blanket and my running clothes. There were giant tents set up on the fields of the high school where Athlete's Village was located, but no real shelter. I walked around and around looking for somewhere, anywhere, where there would be some shelter from the wind. Finally I found a spot between the dumpsters and the wall of a building, and huddled up there. The thought of ANY more time in this cold, let alone 3 more hours of it, was unbearable. I honestly didn't know how I would make it. Then I started wondering why I hadn't worn a hat. How stupid was that? I tried not to think about how 60% of your heat is lost through your head.

The wind was cutting through every little bit of open space between me and the dumpsters. Some guys showed up and found a bunch of flattened cardboard boxes in the recycle bin. Shamelessly, we pulled them out and sat on them, and then pulled more out to make little box shelters over our legs. Then another guy made the real discovery. He looked in the dumpster and saw that apparently the entire Hopkinton Tennis Team and Hopkinton Golf Team had thrown away their perfectly clean team jackets. There was a dumpster full of them. We all pulled them out and piled them on top of ourselves. I tied one over my head like a shawl and finally felt like maybe I would make it till the start. I couldn't believe they had just thrown all those perfectly good clothes away -- do they not have homeless people in Massachusetts? (Or did they just not want homeless people wearing Hopkinton jackets?) Anyway, sheltering in boxes and wearing throwaway clothes... all we were missing was a fire in a trash barrel and we would have been indistinguishable from bums under a bridge.

Eventually I had to get up to go to the bathroom. I surrendered my boxes but kept my jacket tied over my head. While standing in the Porta-Pottie line, I laughed thinking that I had brought the official marathon program with me to read at the start. I had pictured myself flipping through it idly, reading all the articles. I had never considered the fact that my fingers would be too frozen to turn pages.

I kept eating in Athletes Village because I was so hungry. I had a Power Bar, a bagel, and a banana, which is way more than I ever eat, but -- I was hungry! Even with all that food, as I was walking to the start line after the first wave of runners left, my stomach felt empty. That is never a good feeling as you're heading out for 26.2. Looking back I think I burned an incredible amount of energy shivering in Athletes Village for 3 1/2 hours.

I was in the first corral of the second wave, and it was so, so exciting walking to the start line and thinking of all the running history here, and how pretty much all of the greats in running had touched this start line at some time. I was completely proud to be there, and was happy to have one day in my running life where I, a decidedly non-elite runner, felt elite.

I was in a corral with much faster runners than me. I had managed to pull off a 3:24 to qualify, but that was strictly a one-time thing. A "fast" marathon for me is in the high 3:40's to low 3:50's, and an average one is right around 4 hours or just a little over. So I did know enough to hold back and let everyone, and I do mean what felt like absolutely everyone in my entire wave, pass me on that first mile. It was a screaming downhill and, even going slow and being passed by everyone, I was still way too fast. I have to say that right from the beginning, I did not feel good. I felt hungry, for one, fat, for another (18 lbs. heavier than when I qualified!), and stiff. My calves hurt, already. And it became obvious very fast that I had been smitten by the words "net downhill" when applied to the course, and had just underestimated the steepness of the uphills. The elevation chart had looked so innocuous. It was hard to reconcile the image of the elevation chart in my head with the reality of the hills that were quickly draining me on the course.

I managed to stay right on pace for qualifying again up until the half, mainly because I knew people were tracking me and I wanted to give them a good show at least to the half, but I knew from the start this wasn't going to end well. I had been feeling progressively more nauseous coming up to the half, so much so that I couldn't even really enjoy the "Scream Tunnel" at Wellesley. Too bad because that was probably one of the coolest parts of the race. For anyone who doesn't know, Wellesley is a women's college right in the middle of an adorable little New England town, and the course is lined with Wellesley girls screaming their lungs out and holding signs saying things like "Kiss Me; I'm a Senior!" or "Kiss Me; I'm From California!" or, my favorite, "Kiss Me; I Like Kissing Women!" Believe me, I would have but I was too afraid of puking on them.

After I passed the half, I had to walk because of nausea. The whole rest of the race varied between uncomfortable and miserable. GU helped temporarily when I took it, but within a mile I would be feeling lousy again. I have been afraid to look at my Garmin but am pretty sure I walked a huge chunk of Miles 14-17. I realized that somehow I was having an electrolyte problem, but wasn't sure exactly how that had happened. I tried drinking some Gatorade, but it was so disgustingly sugary that any electrolyte benefit was cancelled out by the sugar. Finally I got to a medical tent and asked if they had any salt. At that point if someone had handed me a salt shaker I would have taken the lid off it and upended it and dumped it in my mouth, but all they had was chips. I grabbed a handful of chips and forced them down and, miraculously, I felt better almost right away and was able to start running again, albeit slowly. I could care less about my time now and decided I would walk whenever I felt like it because I didn't want to end this race sitting on the curb and puking into the gutter. I was able to run for a little while at a time, like 2 or 3 miles, but nausea always came back and then I had to walk until I got to another medical tent and got some more chips. I actually ran up Heartbreak Hill and didn't even notice it until I got to the top and saw the banner that said, "The Heartbreak is Over!" I missed seeing the Johnny Kelley statue, which was a bummer. Oh, but I have to say how grateful I am to that adorable 17-year-old Boston College freshman, who saw my hat and said he was from Tucson and he was going to walk with me until I felt better. I told him he better watch out because I was about to throw up. He said it didn't matter and that he had seen hundreds of people throw up and he would hold my hair back if I wanted. My hair was in a ponytail and didn't need holding back, but still, how cute of him to offer.

I managed to jog most of the last 2-3 miles, although as the crowds got deeper and deeper I worried more and more about where I would throw up if I had to. Finally when I passed under the giant Citgo sign I knew I probably wasn't going to throw up if I only had a mile left. And then when I turned onto the home stretch on Boylston and saw the unbelievable crowds there, all I could think about was that I was about to finish the BOSTON MARATHON. That pushed all thoughts of nausea out of my head and I managed to thoroughly enjoy that last stretch. And crossing the finish line was one of the best feelings I've ever had in my life. I swear I will be thinking of that on my death bed. I had a lousy time of 4:14 but that was completely irrelevant; all that mattered was getting the medal and hearing everyone's congratulations and enjoying the excitement of having the entire city out supporting the race. I always thought qualifying for this race would be more exciting than running it -- since it took me 16 tries before I finally made it -- but I was wrong; NOTHING in running has ever been more exciting than running the Boston Marathon.

That having been said, I have decided that I will have to qualify again and come back and run it right. That is, do all my long runs on hills, weigh 15 lbs less, get to the start line later and bring more blankets and clothes, and carry salt with me. I'll probably have to do it next summer or early fall since this fall I'm planning to do my first 1/2 Ironman. Meanwhile, I am totally switching gears for my next marathon. I guess I'd better get some trail shoes and learn how to carry my own fluids because I'm doing the Pikes Peak Marathon in August.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Being "Ready" for Boston

I totally stole the whole idea of readiness for Boston from Jolene based on one of our long run conversations, so, in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, thanks for the idea, Jolene!

Every time I get close to a marathon, people start asking me if I'm "ready". Since this marathon is Boston, and therefore a big deal even to people who don't know anything else about marathons BESIDES the Boston marathon, I get that question pretty frequently: "So... are you ready?"

Well... yes. In most ways, I am definitely ready. Even though my training has more holes in it than almost any other training schedule I've ever followed (lots of weeks with only 3 days of running and maybe 2 or 3 days of swimming/riding total), I can tell by my long runs that I'm in good-enough shape. I've choked on a few shorter runs, including that dismal "run" last week that was supposed to be 11 miles home from work but turned into 1.3 miles of jogging, 2.7 miles of walking, and 7 miles on the bus, but I did that on shorter runs even when I was training for San Diego, when I was the most in-shape I have ever been in my entire life. One thing I have found to be true, in training for and completing 18 marathons so far, is that my performance on race day will reflect my performance on long runs. If most of them were slow with lots of walk breaks, that's how my marathon will look too. If most of them were steady and relatively painless (I say relatively because long runs are always at least a little bit painful), I can pretty much expect that that's how my marathon will be too. And for San Diego, when all of my long runs were fast and fairly easy, guess what, I had a fast and fairly easy marathon too. I had a great training partner this time around, and our long runs were pretty much all just slightly over the BQ-pace of 8:23. They felt pretty good for the most part, though any time I pushed harder (like into the 8:15-8:20 range) I could definitely feel it in my body, and it hurt. When I was training for San Diego I could do all my long runs at or around 8:00 pace without too much trouble, so it didn't require any stretch of the imagination to be pretty sure I was going to qualify then. But never mind -- that was then, and I was single then and could be totally selfish about training time and could force myself onto a diet so severe that almost all my body fat melted away. My lifestyle is totally different now, and although overall it is certainly better, I'm also 15 pounds heavier than I was in San Diego, and believe me, that makes a difference.

So I am ready for Boston in the sense that I know I am able to turn in a decent performance, probably around 3:50-ish if nothing goes wrong. That's actually better than I thought I would be able to do back in December, when I was still suffering from a stress fracture and the Mysterious Female Trouble and wasn't sure I'd be able to run at all, let alone run fast. So I am definitely counting my blessings and not complaining. I guess it's even not impossible that I could qualify again for Boston. Not LIKELY, but not impossible if I have a great day on what looks like a relatively easy course. But the other thing about qualifying again is that I just don't have the drive to do it. In San Diego I HAD to qualify -- I had made it into a sort of metaphor for something else I really wanted and didn't get, and in my head it was like, if I qualify, that's like making up for the thing that didn't work out. Whereas, for this marathon, if I qualify, it will be great, but, truthfully, family and friends and I myself will be just as proud of me for getting to Boston in the first place whether I qualify or not. I just don't know if qualifying again is worth physically pushing for or not. We'll see how I feel on race day, I guess.

I am definitely mentally ready for it. I always thought that the moment of qualifying would be the best imaginable moment in my running life, but now that it's almost marathon time I am pretty sure that qualifying will pale in comparison to the actual event. When I qualified, I was in a sort of trance over the last few miles, and was not really aware of anything happening on that dismal, empty Fiesta Island except for the clock ticking and my feet pounding faster-faster-faster and, at the end, my calf muscles spasming so badly that onlookers probably thought I was having a seizure. I was too busy trying not to throw up in that hot, smelly Sea World parking lot and worrying about how long the shuttle line was and how long my dogs had been locked up in the motel room to really process what had just happened. In Boston, I intend to be fully present for the entire experience, even if it means I run at a slow pace. I just want to enjoy every bit of it. Yes, that includes buying a Boston Marathon jacket, which I fully intend to spend way too much money on and wear for the rest of my life. I am excited about the whole thing and wish time would go a little bit faster to get me there sooner. (And I wish I had put some of that energy and excitement into the logistics of hotel room, transportation, etc, but better late than never.)

So, am I ready for Boston? I think so. I may not see Iron Woman anymore when I look in the mirror, but I have to remind myself that there's a lot more to life than being Iron Woman. No matter what my time is when I cross the finish line in Boston, I'm coming home with a finisher's medal, and that is good enough. (Reminds me of that joke: What do you call a graduate of Harvard med school with a C- average? Doctor. A Boston marathon finisher with a time of 5 hours is still called... a Boston marathon finisher.)