Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Uninspired Triathlete In Michigan

Yup, I live in Michigan now, and between packing up my whole house, driving across the country, moving into the new house, and starting the new job, my workout schedule AND my diet have gone to hell. Luckily my scale broke in the move so I have not been able to see how much damage this month has caused, but I know it's significant. Fortunately it is still so cold here that layers of clothes make everyone look fat, so it's hard to tell who really is. But it has been over 50 degrees two days in a row and soon the truth will come out.

I actually like Michigan. Even the weather. I know this will shock people who have been listening to me bitch and moan on the 12 days a year Tucson isn't sunny and when the high temperature drops below 80, but it's true. The cold, the dark clouds, the snow, the wind all make me feel like I'm living on another planet. If Arizona has an opposite, it's Michigan. The weather changes all the time and without warning. Right now, since it's almost April and the end is in sight and I have only been here a few weeks, I enjoy it. Ask me again next February if I'm still enjoying it; the answer might be different.

As far as running and riding (forget swimming -- I no longer even make a pretense of being interested in that), there are lots of good things and one major bad one. The major bad thing is that road riding does not appear to be nearly as popular or as safe as it is in Arizona. I live about 20 minutes north of Detroit, and my work is a 20-minute drive north of where I live. Between my house and my work, there is no major thoroughfare with a bike lane or even a shoulder (except for small, isolated stretches). There are smaller roads but none of them go through. The road surfaces themselves are horrendous. Tucson roads, even roads like Euclid near the U, are far superior to roads in my area. Even driving on the roads is uncomfortable. This morning I was drinking coffee while driving on I-75 and went over a bad section and spilled hot coffee all over myself. I would expect that, say, on a dirt jeep road or something, but not on a major interstate. I have not seen one single cyclist on the road since I've gotten here. (I've seen a few on the sidewalks but usually riding the wrong way and with lots of plastic shopping bags hanging from the bars.) The traffic is high-speed and high-volume and I am afraid that, because they're not used to seeing bikes, they're not going to be as aware of them as drivers in Tucson are. I have mostly resigned myself to the idea of not ever bike-commuting. That's not all bad because I can bring Frieda with me to work, and I wouldn't be able to if I biked. I'm sure there's somewhere in lower Michigan with bike lanes, so I may just have to... gasp... DRIVE my bike somewhere in order to ride it. I can probably kiss my 4026 bike mileage goal goodbye, though.

The running is much better. My first "long" run here was 14 miles, in my part of town. This might have been the flattest run I ever did. The elevation was at all times between 635' and 650'; there were no hills anywhere in the route. Not even an incline. I like the running in Rochester, where I work, better. There may not be mountains in Michigan, but there are definitely hills. Leader Dogs is at the top of a big hill that I always run down at the beginning of my run and up at the end. (I usually have a tail wind coming back, so I don't mind the hill much.) There are a lot of trail systems in northern Oakland County, where Rochester is. So far I have been on the Paint Creek Trail and the Clinton River Trail. Both were crushed asphalt surfaces. My feet feel like they have died and gone to heaven. I cannot think of a nicer running surface than crushed asphalt! (Except maybe pine needles.) The roads may suck but they know how to make trails out here!

The change of scenery is also invigorating, although also slightly disorienting. (When there are no mountains and there is no sun, and trees surround you, how the hell do you know which way is west?) I have been taking Frieda with me on my post-work runs, and she saw running water in nature for the first time in her life. It was the funniest thing -- she actually froze in her tracks when she saw it and even hackled up! That's my suspicious shepherd for you. Then when I dragged her down to show it to her and she sniffed it and decided it was harmless, she got giddy with excitement and starting spinning in circles. When it gets warmer I'm going to take her to a lake and teach her to swim -- I can't wait! Anyway, that is one more thing I like about running out here. It is best for me by far to run immediately after work. If I go home, I have lost all motivation by the time I get to my house, and if it is cold, or wet, or anything else, I just won't go out at all. But when I go to collect Frieda from her kennel at Leader, and she comes out all full of energy and dying to run, it is not that hard to get excited about it myself. Frieda is a great running companion. She knows the rules of running with me now and never breaks them.

This morning I went on my "long run" of 16 miles with a group leaving from the Hanson's running store in Lake Orion, a little town about 10 miles north and west of Rochester. I had looked at that town when I was here on my interview, but decided it was too far from the city to live there. I may have now changed my mind. If it can support both a running store and a bike store, it's good enough for me! And apparently all the worthy outdoor recreation is north and west -- NOT by Detroit. The run I did this morning was 2 laps of a 7-ish mile loop. Scenery was trees, farms, frozen ponds, rolling hills, and some lakes. Running surface was (mostly hard-packed) dirt road. The people from Hanson's had marked the course and had four water stops out there, which was awesome. There is also a local running club in Rochester. They run on Thursday nights and I am definitely going next Thursday. I went on my first hash run ever last weekend in Ann Arbor. The people were fun and I am glad I finally got to experience one of those runs, which I've heard about my whole running life, but I don't think I'll do another one. Only because the beer:running ratio is a little too close to 50:50 (or maybe even over, in favor of beer).

So that's the current state of training out here. In April I'm meeting Kamran from Tucson in Indiana to be his crew for an ultra, and on my birthday I'm running the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. Still trying to decide on which other marathons to do this year: Indianapolis, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Steamtown, Philadelphia are all possibilities. I would like to try to keep up with this blog more but since I am also keeping a thorough daily training journal at Leader, I doubt I'll do more than one blog post a week max. We'll see.