Thursday, November 13, 2014

What's Next?

I don't know what's next, but I feel so much more like myself now that I am actually running long distances again. I don't know how I let that year go by; I really don't. Anyway, I am thinking about my race schedule for next year. I seriously want to get this 50 States thing done. I started in 2005 and I think I can finish in 2019 or 2020, realistically. I mean I could finish sooner if I had unlimited money and vacation time, but, sadly, I do not. So here are the races I want to do next year, and if anyone wants to join me for any of them, please do!

Nashville Country Music Marathon in April. Maybe it is a little bit overly optimistic of me to think I will actually train over the winter to be ready for an April marathon, but I am going to try for it. One of the few states with a marathon I am excited about running. (I also want to do Oklahoma City in April, but not quite as much as I want to do Nashville, so I will put OK City off till next April.)

Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon in South Dakota, June 1. I've never even been to South Dakota, always wanted to go, and I'm just tired of waiting.

Hatfield-McCoy is June 13, so just two weeks after Deadwood. On the one hand, that would be crazy. On the other hand, I did Marshall U two weeks after Indianapolis and had a good run, and wasn't too sore. So it is a possibility. (By the way, the Hatfield-McCoy course runs through both West Virginia and Kentucky. 50 States rules say that when a marathon is like that, you can count it for either state you want. Of course I would count it for Kentucky since I already have West Virginia, which means I wouldn't ever do the Kentucky Derby Marathon, which is kind of a bummer, but… oh well.)

And last, I am planning to attempt another set of back-to-back marathons, Hartford/Newport, R.I., in October. I vaguely remember the total suckiness of the last back-to-back marathons I did, but am going to try it again anyway. It's been long enough since New Hampshire-Maine that the details of how much it sucked have kind of faded away, and I'm not going to go back and read my blog entries to remind myself. That would just be dumb.

Here is some news that is a bit of a bummer. I went to fill in my states on a marathon map, and found out I actually only have 22, when I have been claiming 23 all this time. I didn't really think it was possible to lose count, but I did. My total marathon count is 29. Why didn't someone stop me from running extra marathons in California and Arizona? (Not Colorado. Pikes Peak deserved to be run twice. It deserves to be run every year but I will not attempt it again until I live somewhere where I can get above 1000' elevation.)

That is about all the running news from here. Other than the fact that I am considering squeezing in one more this year, the Rehoboth Beach Marathon in Delaware December 6. When I was inside the stadium after the Marshall U Marathon, I ran into this girl I know casually from the Rochester running club. I had no idea she would be there since I haven't spent any time with the running group at all this whole year. She's a 50 States person too and had just qualified for Boston for the first time and was very excited about it. She also said she was doing Rehoboth Beach. That put it on my radar. It's expensive, probably cold, not my favorite kind of course, but still, it would be nice to actually be at 23 states by the end of this year if I can swing it. We will see.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

I Like Two-Loop Courses, Surprise! Marshall University Marathon Race Report

Let me be honest about something. I had written the first line of this race report in my head before I even got to Huntington, and it went like this in its original form: "This was the fourth in a row of mediocre small-town marathons -- nice for the community, logistically adequate, but totally lacking in any excitement for me as a runner." Then I actually did the marathon, and, wow! It is a really nice little marathon in every way.

I signed up for this race at the last possible minute, since I still wasn't sure whether there would be lingering effects from the Indianapolis Marathon two weeks ago. By last weekend I felt okay, so I went ahead and signed up, but not with very high expectations. The race reviews were generally good, but then again they almost always are, because (my theory) most people who write reviews pick their races based on the type of course they like, and they know the type of course the race is from reading previous reviews, so they are almost predisposed to like the races they enter. I, on the other hand, pick my races based on what's available at the last minute, how much money I can spend on travel, and which states I haven't done yet. So sometimes I end up in races that are not my type. I was pretty sure this would be one too.

I have to also say that I have never really liked West Virginia. (Sorry, Joan, I'm sure where you live is beautiful, but I've never been to that part.) I've been to four or five different places in West Virginia, and aside from the tourist part of Harpers Ferry, I have never found any part of it that didn't look exactly like what people outside the rural south thinks the rural south looks like. To me, West Virginia is one of those places, like the U.S./Mexico border, where stuff looks different the second you drive over a state line. Fences are rusty and sagging, sidewalks and streets are full of holes, porches have sofas on them and yard dogs are mean and the rednecks look like the dangerous kind. Huntington is kind of in the corner of West Virginia where it meets Ohio and Kentucky, and it didn't look any better than any other part of West Virginia I'd ever seen on the first pass. I was surprised by how big Marshall University was -- it looked like a real academic institution, which in my mind did not belong in West Virginia at all. Oh well, I was there to check off a state and not to look for a place to live.

It was cold, really cold, the night before, in the 30's with an icy cold wind blowing. Forecast was for sun on race day, but cold temps, low of 29. Luckily the forecast was wrong and it was 38 at the start line. There was plenty of free parking at the start, and we had access to the bathrooms inside the stadium, which was a total plus because they were heated. That is a serious luxury at a marathon start line. (Although it did mean I couldn't employ my usual technique for choosing a Portajohn line, which is to choose, not the shortest line, but the one where the last person in line is the most attractive guy who appears to be there by himself. Worst case scenario, you have a good view while you're standing there waiting; best case, you make a new friend!) The race started exactly at 7 (and let me say, it was nice having that extra hour this morning; the sun was actually up at race start).

This course was kind of like a figure 8 that the marathon loops twice. Well, kind of like a figure 8 except that the first part of the 8 was about 2.5 miles and the second part was 10.5. So, a grossly out-of-proportion figure 8. I had never done a double loop course and assumed I would not like it. I totally liked it, and wish all my other marathons could be double loops. The first part of the loop was strip malls and crappy houses close to the U. Huntington's roads are just like Michigan's, so watch your step. Once we passed the stadium again, we ran down to and through a park on the Ohio River. That part was very pretty, but then we got spit out into a 3-mile stretch of ugly industrial buildings. At least it was slightly downhill, although very slightly. The marathon is accurately advertised as flat -- amazing, considering the hills that surround it on every side. After that 3-mile stretch, we ran through "Central City" (which I am assuming is like Old Town Huntington) and then into another park. We were in this park, Ritter Park, for about 3 miles. The footing through the park was crushed limestone -- very compacted and such a relief for my feet! The park was pretty, with the path running right alongside a little creek (really more of a ditch) along the base of a really steep, wild hill, but it sort of had a scary, isolated feeling to it, like it would be the place where a local would dump a body. I wasn't worried about any body dumping today, though; there were too many people.

Once out of that park, we ran back up to Marshall U, with the slight uphill more than outweighed by a nice tailwind, and split off from the half-marathoners to run through the center of campus. It is a really pretty campus and actually reminded me a little of U of A, just because it was so pretty. The beauty took my mind off the fact that the half-marathoners were done while we were all going back for round two.

I had been feeling pretty good this whole time. My feet felt springy and nothing was hurting and the temperature was just right and I wasn't swallowing too much air this time. I figured the good feeling wouldn't last forever so I would just enjoy it as long as I could, but, surprise, it pretty much did end up lasting forever. I think that knowing exactly what was coming up helped a lot. None of the stretches were that long, so I knew I would feel like I was making good progress, unlike that horrible 6-mile out-and-back at Indianapolis. I did start to feel some blisters around Mile 21, but made up my mind to ignore them. I was wearing heavy winter socks and knew they were probably just bunched up and rubbing in the wrong places and would soon be rubbing again if I stopped and adjusted them, so I decided I would just let them rub.

I should have pushed harder to finish under 4 hours, but I just didn't feel like it, and got lazy in the last mile. I was thinking I was going to be about a half hour better than last marathon, and that was good enough and the actual number didn't matter. I did run the last half mile at a decent pace. The coolest thing about this race was probably the finish. As we ran into the stadium, volunteers handed us a football 100 yards from the finish, and we got to finish with a touchdown. That was admittedly cheesy, but also pretty cool. Ann Arbor's marathon finished in the stadium but there was definitely no football involved.

I felt fine afterwards. There was pretty amazing finish line food, chocolate milk and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs in addition to all the usual post-race food. I'm really not sore at all, except for some really random armpit chafing, which I have never had before. I guess it was the absence of hills or maybe I just had a good day. Maybe the secret of marathon training is to run them a couple times a month with only minimal exercise in between? Or possibly extended binging on Halloween candy? I don't know, but whatever the case, I highly recommend Marshall U. Marathon for any 50 Staters who haven't done West Virginia yet.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ouch… Indianapolis Marathon Race Report

You know that saying "The hay is in the barn"? Well, that's what I should've been saying to myself while I was driving down to Indianapolis yesterday, and I would've been saying it if it was true. There was some hay in the barn, but only enough to last until about January of a Michigan winter, or not quite halfway through. I could blame class, or The Crud I had back in August, or the absence of a running group to inspire me, but I'm not going to blame anything except myself and my seeming inability to prioritize training for any event at all.

This was my 28th marathon and 22nd state. Almost halfway done! It was also my first marathon in over a year. My last one was Lehigh in September of last year. How does a year go by without me doing any marathons? I don't know, but that really can't happen again, not if I actually want to finish 50 States and beat Thomas. Whoops, how did that get in there? Anyway, I picked this one for proximity and value. I think Indiana is a boring state and Indianapolis is a boring city, and my impression of racing in Indiana is limited to that night when I did one loop with Kamran while he was doing his 100-miler. Wet and cold and a little boring is what I remember of that course. Well, this one was a little wet and a little cold and a lot boring. I did not have the impression that this would be an exciting race, but I thought it would be an okay one. I mean, it has generally good reviews and I like changing leaves as much as the next person. I should've known, though, when I got halfway through the the YouTube course video and had to turn it off because I got bored watching it, that this would not be a great course for me.

Let me say that it would not be boring for a lot of people. Midwestern or Northeastern transplants who have moved to the Southwest and miss fall terribly every year would probably love this race. It's nothing but gently rolling hills and green grass and so, so many glorious leaves. I feel like we ran in showers of leaves the whole time. The weather is a roll of the dice this time of year -- on Friday it was 70 and sunny, and tomorrow it's going to be 40's and rainy, but today it was right around 50 and overcast with a few sprinkles basically the whole day, pretty much perfect marathon weather. For people who don't need any changing scenery, or any crowd support, or any glimpses of the actual city, this would be a great race!

Packet pickup was super easy, and the Expo, the race start, pretty much every single lodging option anyone could want, and pretty much every single restaurant option anyone could want were all located right next to each other in about a 5-mile radius. Oh, and everything was right off the freeway too. That was nice. The race start wasn't till 8:30 although the website said everyone needed to be there by 7:30. Paranoid because of last year's parking disaster at Lehigh, I was there at 6:45. (NOTE: According to reviews, Lehigh's logistics problems were all fixed this year, very good news since it was a great marathon except for those things.) There was virtually unlimited parking. I sat in my car and read for a while. I didn't get out of the car until 8:00, taking a guess at how much time I would need to stand in the Portajohn line before the race started.

My blood has definitely thickened since coming to Michigan. I was wearing shorts and T-shirt in 50 degrees and was a little on the chilly side, but not shivering while I stood in line. I was in line with a bunch of Marathon Maniacs, but I was incognito because I was wearing my SAR shirt instead of my Maniacs shirt. I listened to them discuss the race they had just done (Prairie Fire in Kansas) and the one they were doing next (Route 66 in Tulsa, two weeks from now). It was getting closer and closer to 8:30 and people kept jumping out of line because they didn't want to miss the start. The Marathon Maniacs and I were unconcerned; after this many marathons I do not care if I'm on the start line when the gun goes off. That's what chip timing is for, and I would much rather not have Portajohn time deducted from my chip time if I can get it in before the race starts. Today, though, so many people left the line that I was ducking under the rope for my corral at 8:30 exactly -- perfect!

The race takes place in and around Fort Harrison. I really hope that runners who live by this park know how lucky they are to have such a nice place to run! It is full of trails, both paved and dirt, and has a nice mix of hills and flat. The only problem was that I just didn't want to be there.

I had briefly enjoyed the atmosphere at the start line and was thinking how much I had missed races and runners and how I really needed to stop making excuses and start getting to know the running community out here… and then the race started and all I could think was that I didn't feel like doing this and couldn't I just go home? I felt like this all the way from Mile 1 to about Mile 5. Things got a little better after Mile 5, and I was feeling okay until about Mile 12. In this race, the half marathon course is the same as the first 13 miles of the marathon course, and the half marathon turns left and splits off just past Mile 12 to go back to the finish line. Just knowing that most of these people were going to get to be done, while I still had 13 more miles to go, made me depressed. Right past the point where the half marathoners split off, there was a guy holding a sign that read: "Pussies, make a left, badasses, straight ahead." To the guy with the sign: You, sir, are an asshole… and also hilarious. I laughed for almost a quarter mile, and hated the half marathoners a little less for being almost done. (Let me explain: a half-marathon is no small accomplishment; NO race is, not even a 5k. Every time I do a half, I reach the end wondering how I ever do twice that distance. I would never call anyone a pussy for doing any distance of race, and I don't think of myself as a badass for doing a marathon when I have friends who do 100-milers. It's just a little marathon black humor, if you ask me, and I for one appreciated it very much, and am pretty sure I still would've thought it was funny if I was running the half.)

The second half was pretty much one long -- really long -- out and back. It was at first mildly depressing, and then extremely depressing, to see the people coming back when the turnaround was nowhere in sight. It only took me a couple of miles to start feeling like I had had an acceptable first half and now if I wanted to walk I was just going to go ahead. Nothing was really hurting -- I mean, of course, nothing specific was hurting in an injury way, not that nothing at all was hurting. Everything was kind of hurting -- my knees, my internal organs, even a faint pain from my IT band, which hasn't even twinged in years -- but nothing outside of the usual pains. There was no reason why I couldn't keep running except for a strong desire not to. Out and backs are my least favorite things on a marathon course. I don't mind the "back" part, but the "out" part is pure torture. It's bad when they're a mile or two long but five miles sapped whatever spirit I had left completely. This one took place almost entirely on a road called Fall Creek Parkway, with the "out" portion being on the road and the "back" portion being on the gorgeous bike path. There were big, beautiful houses all along the route and not a spectator in sight, more cause for depression. The last worst thing was the headwind. Yes, it was causing the leaves to swirl down from the trees in a nonstop shower of red and yellow, but it was still a headwind. A chilly rain fell every now and then for a few minutes at a time. I wanted to be done with this, so badly! I contemplated all kinds of things -- thumbing a ride back, hiding in the bushes for several minutes, pulling off my tag, getting to the finish line and claiming it fell off somewhere -- but of course I didn't do them because I wanted the stupid medal and I wanted to do 50 States.

Finally I got to the turnaround at Mile 19.5. After that I was finally, finally able to sort-of run. A slow shuffling jog, really, but I will count it as a run. I did this off and on until I got to the last two miles, which were all uphill, and then I said forget it. I was tired and cranky and cold and my stomach and knees both hurt and just NO. No running. The 4:30 pacer jogged past me with less than a mile to go and said, "Come on! 4:30! You can do it!" And I totally could have done it -- I had like 16 minutes left -- but I just shook my head at her. Nope. So she kept going. I walked almost the entire last two miles although I did manage to jog the last tenth of a mile. Painfully. I finished with one of my worst times ever, 4:32.

I wonder if I'm ever going to care if I run fast again or not? I don't really have any running friends out here, so it's not like I'll feel embarrassed about a lousy time. People out here just think it's cool that I finished a marathon at all. I also think that if I really want to finish 50 States, I am going to have to start doing a few more marathons, including probably a few back-to-backs, and in order to save my body I feel like I will have to do them slowly. And also I don't have any way to really know what effect the amount of walking at my job -- at least 6-8 miles per day on most days -- has on my running abilities. Add to that the fact that I don't have any running group friends to push me -- I miss you, WOG!! -- and it looks like I might just be slow forever.

I am up at 3:00 a.m. with sore legs but wide awake and in a sort of post-race funk that has nothing to do with my lousy time and more to do with the fact that I don't know when my next marathon will be. I am thinking about maybe doing the Marshall University Marathon in Huntington, West Virginia in two weeks --it's one I can drive to, and with as slow as I was in this marathon, I could probably have enough recovery time to finish another one (though probably not with a better time). We'll see.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I Miss Mountains

This is the weekend of the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado. That is the one race that, for some reason, I can never get out of my head. I did it in 2012 and 2011 (race reports here, here, and here), and out of all of my race reports, those are the ones I reread the most, not Boston, not San Diego where I qualified for Boston after trying and failing to qualify 15 times, not either one of my two 50-mile races. There is something special about the Pikes Peak Marathon. My brain seems to have taken dozens of perfect-recall snapshots of that race (and then I also have this to remember it by). I remember how it felt standing at the start line looking up and up and up, at Pikes Peak all naked of trees and impossibly far away, and that brutal, breath-sucking climb out of town which I still think is the worst part of that course, and the moment when you break out above treeline and start picking through the boulder field, and the dizzying feeling of being on top and looking down and dimly thinking, if there's enough oxygen for your brain to think, that at least on the way down it will get easier to breathe with every step. That does not really sound like fun, and I admit it wasn't 100% fun while I was doing it, but even while I was suffering through it I knew I was doing something epic that I would never forget.

There are no mountains in Michigan. Where I live the elevation is around 600', and where I work it's between 800' and 900'. You can't even get to 2000' in the whole state of Michigan! There are nice hills where I work, lots of them, and I can get a nice roller coaster run just about anywhere I go around there. But I really, really miss mountains.

I grew up with mountains, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. I missed them while I lived in New York and New Jersey, but honestly, in both of those places there were so many trees everywhere that I felt like I was always in a green tunnel with limited views of the sky anyway, so I missed the feeling of open space more than I actually missed mountains. Tucson was a perfect combination of openness and mountains. Tucson was ringed by mountains on all sides, and one of my favorite things about it was that I could run up Mount Lemmon or Wasson Peak or Mount Wrightson or Rincon Peak and look down on the city from the north or the west or the south or the east. I didn't always love running in the mountains -- the heat! the rocks! the climbs! the snakes! -- but I always loved having run in the mountains. And those moments up on the peaks were glorious.

Michigan is better than New Jersey and New York in that there are not quite so many trees so close together, and it is still possible to see the horizon. I didn't run trails in New York, and I only ran one trail -- the Patriots Path -- in New Jersey (which always had kind of a Blair Witch-y feeling about it, to me, because of all the trees and how it was always darkish in the forest, even in mid-day). I have run a few trails here. The soft footing, the fact that trails nearly always seem to run along a lake or a river, and the ever-present cool breeze in summer are good things. But the absence of mountains makes trail running here seem almost pointless. In Tucson, you accomplished something with trail running. You climbed a big-ass mountain! I used to think of the difficulty of a trail run in Tucson in terms of how many thousands of feet of elevation gain there was. So, for example, a run where you gained less than 2,000 feet of elevation was no big deal, and a run where you gained 5,000 feet kind of was a big deal. A run like Pikes Peak, where you gain 8,000 feet, was a REALLY big deal. Out here, I guess you just have to go either super long (which I will never do; I don't have the time for that kind of training) or super cold (which I will also never do; I hate the cold too much) if you want to make yourself feel like a badass.

I miss mountains more than I hate winter, and that is saying a lot. One thing is for sure, if any part of my life in Michigan ever went south, I would be running back to a place with mountains as fast as I could.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

One More Marathon; I Can Do This

A few things I have figured out during the past six weeks of not officially training for anything:

1) If I'm not training for something specific, and don't have a paper schedule hanging up on the fridge, my training will be haphazard and I will skip a week at a time and justify it by saying that I'm not training for anything and am taking a relaxed approach to working out. If I am not faced with either doing the workouts so I can cross them off, or else having to live with the knowledge that I'm lazy and a slacker, I will not be accountable to myself and will do about 25% of what I should be doing. I need a paper schedule. If you don't, I'm impressed and jealous, but I do.

2) Despite my prior rationalizing of why I didn't need to be spending so much time doing something I didn't like, and should spend my time doing stuff I do like, the truth is that I do not like myself when I'm fat and lazy. Part of my identity is "athlete", and if I give that up, everything that I was trying to give more time to by cutting out workouts suffers. I think that even when I'm not enjoying training, it gives me the energy to enjoy everything else, in some weird way.

3) I can train for something without training obsessively. There is no reason at all that I need to do two to three hours of cardio every single day -- on top of this job where I do so much walking. No wonder I burned out.

I decided I will train for a fall marathon -- nothing crazy, just a regular marathon. Since 2005, I have done at least two marathons every year -- most years four -- and this year I haven't done any. I'm going to plan on the Indianapolis Marathon in October. Short drive, low entry fee, nothing terribly exciting or elaborate, but that's the kind of low-pressure race I want. At least it will be another state! Maybe this will get me more excited about getting back to trying to do 50 states.

I'm going to use one of Hal Higdon's schedules -- Marathon 3 -- which includes two days of cross-training (bike and elliptical for me -- no more swimming, EVER!) and three days of running, with a low total weekly running mileage. I totally believe high running mileage is unnecessary, considering  that I had my fastest marathon ever on less than 40 miles a week, and with all the time I spend on my feet at work, I really feel like I should be as nice to them as I can outside of work. I used one of Hal Higdon's schedules for my very first marathon, the Chicago Marathon in 2005, and following that schedule was a great beginning for all the years of running between then and now, so I figure there's no harm in going back to one of his schedules. (Of course, I also believe just about any schedule will work, given the variety of schedules I have followed over the years and the fact that I've done pretty well with all of them, so I just pick the schedule that matches most closely with the kind of training I'm in the mood to do.)

One thing about this schedule -- it is a 24-week schedule, and I started it at Week 13, so when I looked at the scheduled long run of 17 miles for this weekend, I was scared. I ran 21 miles last November and since then have not run more than 10 miles at any time. I know I ran 10 miles in Tucson in February, and also one day in June up at the lake, but I think that's it. It was shocking to realize that I'm not really a long-distance runner anymore! I have a theory, though, that when you've done as many marathons as I have, the body "remembers", even if you're not exactly ready for the distance. Happily, I was right, and today's 17 miles was perfectly fine. Well, it was slow, 9:30 pace, but I expect that, with as much extra weight as I have right now and as little practice as I've had lately with any kind of distance. Most importantly, I felt all right at the end and even felt like I could've gone ahead and done marathon-distance if I had to.

Even though I'm excited at the thought of having a race to train for again, I'm not going to register for this race until October when I know I've actually done the bulk of the training. I am too familiar with and resigned to my own flakiness to continue throwing money away on race entry fees until I'm sure I'm going to do them. I'd rather lose an extra $10 by registering late than lose $70 by registering early and then getting lazy or lame and deciding, Nah.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I Quit, and it Feels Soooooooo Good!

I have a theory about life and exercise, proven over and over throughout the past 10 years as I cycled in and out of the normal ups and downs of life, and my theory is this: the better my life is going in general, the worse my training is going. When life is crappy, working out is an outlet for all the negative energy that I would otherwise just sit at home and wallow in. It generates endorphins that make the crap feel not so crappy. Training for a race gives me the feeling that I can control something and be successful at something even if I have no control over, for example, the decision of someone else to walk out of my life. Those are all good things. But the corollary to this truth is that when life is going good, working out assumes a much smaller role and becomes much less important when compared to the things that are making life good.

Maybe this is not true for someone who actually enjoys working out, but we all know that I don't. Nothing more needs to be said about how much I don't, because I have said it all already. What has always kept me going is that being an endurance athlete is part of my identity, and having the body of an endurance athlete is part of it as well. But I am coming to believe that maybe other things are more important than that. We all have limited time to be alive, and even more limited time to be alive, healthy, and able to do whatever we want as long as whatever we want falls within our financial means. When looked at that way, I am beginning to think I can't justify any longer doing what I dread doing and don't get any enjoyment out of, when that stuff uses time that I could be using to do what I love doing and believe I am meant to be doing. Does that make sense?

What happened with my training schedule was that dread of it began taking over my life. I went to bed at night dreading the next morning's workout, and as soon as I had completed the morning workout I started dreading the afternoon one. I figured that would pass because it usually does once I get acclimated to the schedule. This one just got worse and worse. People pointed out to me that I did not have to do this, that no one was making me do it. I thought about how much I want to be able to some day say I'm an Ironman. I mean, it's one of my life goals! I only have three; can't I knock that one off? But life goals are subject to revision like any other goals. This one needed revision. (Besides, the pursuit of this one made it virtually impossible to pursue the other two.)

Making that decision, and tearing up my training schedule, was one of the best feelings I can remember. The freedom was pure joy. The fact that I can be sitting here writing in my blog with all the windows open on a beautiful, cool morning, drinking coffee and listening to the birds sing, instead of torturing myself through another dreaded ride or swim, is amazing. The fact that I can say yes when invited out for a drink is a big deal. Knowing that I can roll over in bed at 3:30 a.m. and know I don't have to force myself to put my swim suit on and drag myself to the pool is sublime.

I'm not quitting working out all the way. I couldn't; I can't get any fatter than I am right now just because I would have to buy all new clothes. I'm still going to run and still going to do long runs on the weekends and still keep on lazily pursuing my 50 States goal. Marathon training I can do, without too much difficulty. But no more obsessing over it. Instead, I am going to spend time writing (like I have every single day since I gave up the idea of the race) and training my dogs and enjoying the amazingness of my life here right now.

I think that is the smart thing to do, don't you all?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Questioning My Sanity Again

WHY did I sign up for this stupid half-Ironman again? I swear, this training is ruining my life.

I live in a constant state of dread regarding the training schedule, which is entering its highest-volume weeks. It has totally taken over my life. Eleven workouts per week, some of them very, very long. I hate the pool. I still suck at swimming. Not only am I not getting better, I am actually getting WORSE if I look at my times for the same distance between March and now. I hate riding on Michigan roads (because they are dangerous), but not quite as much as I hate riding on the bike at the gym (which isn't the same as road riding anyway) and I also hate driving my bike anywhere to ride it. For those who know how I just love to run (said in a voice of deep sarcasm for those who don't know how much I hate to run), it should be very telling when I say that the run is the thing I dread the least. Well, that was true until I got a giant blister on the side of my foot and finally accepted the inevitable and switched to the men's version of my Mizunos. Now I dread running too.

Saturday was a great day involving canoeing, an island, a hammock, and a shady and flat 10-mile trail run on a surface of crushed leaves. Paradise. I would've loved a repeat of Saturday on Sunday. Instead I was supposed to ride 50 miles, but it was raining in the morning and in the afternoon I was going to go to a new puppy welcome party. I turned over in bed and went back to sleep when the alarm went off Sunday morning and I heard the steady rain outside. Then, wracked with guilt over skipping a 50-mile ride, I headed to the pool before the party, figuring I would punish myself by doing the 2250 swim on the books for next week since I hadn't done the ride. (The rain, by the way, disappeared and was replaced by sun and cool breeze exactly at the time when I knew it was too late to start a 50-mile ride and still make it to the party.) Anyway, the pool was cold. 74 degrees. I swam 100 and got out. Forget it! I went and bought my new running shoes instead.

The next morning I made it 500 yards before quitting. But they were 500 yards of misery. I couldn't get my breath -- had to stop and stand up in the lane a few times, which I pretty much never do -- and pause at the end of each length to catch my breath again. I have no idea why that was happening -- unless maybe my brain just hates swimming so much that it was like, screw you, I am just not going to regulate your breathing anymore. I will regulate it again when you get out of this water and back into bed with a book where you belong.

After that swim fail I was really ready to quit. Just say screw the whole thing, eat the cost of registration, and decide I do not have to have Ironman on my bucket list anyway. I mean, aren't life goals always subject to revision? I have totally backed out on races and training before when there was too much else going on in life, and never felt the least bit of shame or regret about it. I allowed myself the day to fantasize about it, about how good it would feel to just tear up that training schedule and throw it in the trash. Michigan summers are like sweet dreams, beautiful but fleeting. Why not enjoy this one while it lasts by hanging out with the dogs, sitting outside and reading and writing, actually saying yes to the nine out of ten invitations to social events I turn down now? You know, doing the things I enjoy rather than the things I don't enjoy. There's a swim cutoff time in the race that, in all honesty, I am probably not going to make, considering I have never made it in the pool. If I bail out now, who cares about the swim cutoff? I ordered a wetsuit but am intimidated at the thought of putting it on, let alone using it in a real lake. I mean, how will I see where I'm going, what if I swim at Stoney and bump into, like, a detached finger from that guy who drowned in there last weekend? How about just send the wetsuit back and forget the whole thing?

I was supposed to ride 35 miles after work yesterday and that almost, almost did not happen. I sat at my desk as the work day came to a close and thought about how much nicer it would be to take the dogs down to Clinton River and let them swim, or read a book till I fell asleep. But then the thought of my winter coat of fat sprang to mind. I have lost 9 lbs of it, and even though I still have 8 more lbs to go, I feel so much better than I did in March. That thought got me on the bike and out the door. And once I was out the door, things improved. I did the whole ride on the Macomb-Orchard Trail, which is a flat, shady, paved multi-use path that goes out into farm country. By the end of the ride, I had to admit that I had enjoyed it and that it is impossible to get the post-workout feeling from anything else. Nothing makes me feel as virtuous as I feel at the end of a day that started with getting up at 3:30 to go to the gym before work, then walking six to eight miles at work training my dogs, then busting out another workout after work. True, I am so tired when I get home that I have to race to eat dinner before I pass out, and in the morning it feels like the alarm goes off two minutes after I have gone to sleep. But still... I am tired because I am Virtuous Ironman Training Woman! (Okay, Virtuous HALF Ironman Training Woman.) I figure that even if I don't make the swim cutoff, I will at least have survived that horrible training schedule, and gotten rid of a little more fat, right?

Besides, one reason I have this blog is as proof that liking to work out is not at all required in order to do even hardcore endurance sports. I mean, is there ANYONE who hates exercise more than I do or who would rather be ass-to-couch all day long? No! I HATE this sh*t... but I do it anyway. So. No bailing on the race yet. I will continue to train for it and get myself to that start line, and if I don't make the swim cutoff then I will have to reevaluate just how important it is that I some day be able to call myself an Ironman. (I.e., is it worth committing to a winter of swim lessons and focused swim practice. Ugh. I hope I just make the cutoff and do not have to answer that question.)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I Didn't Like That!

I totally believe that, no matter what we're talking about -- dog training, food, sex, or, here, triathlon -- that you should always try something before proclaiming that you don't like it. (Except for sauerkraut... I will NEVER, EVER, EVER try that, and I KNOW I don't like it even without trying it! Sauerkraut is an exception to my rule.) So yesterday I tried an all women group ride.


Let me be clear that I am not saying anything bad about Fraser Bikes, the shop that hosted the ride. They did a great job with the ride, and they also have a great shop. They set up a food tent and a bike first aid station for us at the turnaround point, they fixed me up with new cleats for a good price and put them on for me, they even gave me a free Gatorade from the cooler because I had to wait while they put on the cleats. I am sure that for a lot of people on the ride, it was, like, an epic event. I totally accept that it was my mistake that I ever would have thought this type of event was something I would enjoy, and I would never say that Fraser Bike sucks or this event sucked.

It was advertised as a free, no-drop 25-mile ride (celebrating Women's Ride Day) from the shop to Metro Beach. The wording of the announcement was something along the lines of " drop (so you'll never have to ride alone!)". I assumed that what this meant was that there was someone who would commit to riding with the slowest people in the back, but that everyone else would kind of spread out and go at their own pace. I also thought since the food tent at Metro Beach would be open from 9-10 a.m. that we could just stop by, grab a snack, and move on. I was wrong on both counts.

We headed out at 8 a.m. The shop had orange juice and bagels and yogurt pre-ride, which was nice. There were probably about 25 women there. Let me just say that in general, the more women there are present in any group, the less happy I usually am in that group. (The only exceptions to this are [thankfully] my workplace, which is like 5:1 women: men but with the highest concentration of awesome women I have ever seen anywhere, well over 90% awesome, and the Women of WOG in Tucson.) I like individual women perfectly fine but there is something about being in a group of too many women that puts my hackles up. I get quiet and critical and don't want to talk to anyone, and it's like I start with a mindset that anything the group talks about is going to be silly and uninteresting. Obviously I am the bitch here, not them, but rather than work on it and try to improve my attitude, I just  try to hang out with groups where men outnumber women. Really I wouldn't have even gone on this ride at all except that I needed a 25-mile ride and I really, really wanted to know how to get to Metro Beach on the Metro Parkway bike path, because this is supposedly a bike path that I can actually access from my house with a minimum of Michigan road time on the bike. So I figured, perfect, I can learn the route, take advantage of the free bike support, and just go at my own pace.

Not two miles after leaving the shop, the cyclists in the back stopped for some reason. The rest of us stopped, too, but further ahead. We couldn't tell exactly what happened, whether they were out of energy or had a mechanical problem or what, but as the minutes dragged on I got more and more impatient and annoyed. This should have been AT MOST a 2-hour ride -- and that would be taking stop lights and traffic into account -- and here it was 8:30 already and we hadn't even hit two miles. Not only that, even though we had beautiful weather for a ride, just sitting there in full sun was pretty miserable. It seemed like whatever the problem was, those people should just gracefully bow out. I know I would. Hell, I could have a mechanical problem ten miles into the ride and I would tell everyone to leave without me and I would somehow get me and my bike back to my car by myself. Even if I had to walk the ten miles in bike shoes or call a cab. I totally think it is wrong to make the whole group wait for me.

We finally got going again. I never did figure out what happened to whoever was having the problem, or even whether the person (people?) with the problem dropped out or stayed in to bring up the rear. I was riding towards the back of the group because it had dawned on me as we set out that I had not actually ridden in any proximity to anyone else since El Tour, and that was, like, two years ago. So my group riding skills were not great and I didn't trust my reaction time. It turned out everything came back and I did not have to worry about riding too close, not paying attention, et cetera. Which brings me to another thing I don't like about group rides. Why is it necessary, when, say, another cyclist or a runner approaches from the other direction, for EVERY SINGLE PERSON in the line to say, "Cyclist up!" or "Runner up!"? It's like a giant game of Operator at full volume -- in other words, an un-fun game of Operator. My belief is that if you're riding on a wide bike path with great visibility, at most two abreast, is it too much to ask to just, I don't know, look at the freaking bike path in front of you so that you can see there's a cyclist coming? And shouldn't you just, like, stay on your side of the multi-use path rather than taking over the whole thing so you can ride three or four abreast and chatter non-stop while you cruise at adult tricycle speed? (Okay, I am cranky, I admit it. The training schedule for Steelhead is getting ridiculous and I resent every moment of wasted training time because that's time I can't spend reading, writing, napping, or hanging out with Frieda and Duncan, and I think that resentment is the source of this cranky, bitchy blog post.)

I don't think my heart rate ever topped or even nudged 100. I thought about just saying, "See ya," and taking off, but I couldn't quite bring myself to be the one to do that. I should have; I should have just invented some event that I had to be home for at a reasonable hour. Instead I just slogged along in cranky silence. We waited at every light for the second half to catch up. It wouldn't have done me any good to move up in the group -- the leader just wasn't going any faster. And, judging by her amazing body, her bike, her wheels, and the fact that I never even saw her pedal her bike -- it looked like she and her bike rolled along on awesomeness alone, no work required -- she could have dropped me in a second. She seemed to be enjoying this leisurely ride even though she appeared capable of doing the route three times before the group had even finished it once.

Once we arrived at Metro Beach, I felt a little better. It was a gorgeous, breezy, Pure Michigan day and Lake St. Clair was huge, sparkly in the sun, and absolutely amazing-looking. The food tent was set up in the parking lot and we rolled up to it and stopped. My watch said 10.5 and I was confused; this was supposed to be a 25-mile ride. The guy at the truck offered food and water to everyone and then said, "You've still got a half mile to the point, you can fuel up now or when you come back." I wanted to ask why we stopped at the truck -- and were still stopped there! Why not just go to the point, turn around, and come back and eat and drink THEN? I must be missing something. After several minutes of standing, we finally rode off to the point, where we all posed for endless group pictures and then rode back to the truck and proceeded to kill almost half an hour there. I appreciated the banana and the opportunity to fill my water bottle. But I did not appreciate the standing, standing, standing while the group talked about pregnancy, Lululemon, vacations, and all sorts of other stuff in which I had zero interest. I didn't even try to participate. I read Feedly on my phone and thought every second that NOW was the time to apologize and leave, saying I had to get home. But I didn't. I told myself to just suck it up, finish the ride, and never do another one.

Finally we took off again. To add insult to injury, I had stupidly forgotten to restart my Garmin when we left the point after taking pictures there, so I was now behind on miles. The ride back was better than the ride out. We had a tailwind and we went a little faster than the first time. Like, maybe 10 mph instead of 8. Someone got a flat tire a mile from the shop and they called the shop SAG wagon to come pick the bike up. The rest of us waited until that was done. (If it had been me who flatted, I would've ordered the group to go on and walked the bike back myself.) When we got close to the shop again, I excused myself from the group to get my Garmin to 25 exactly. The freedom of being alone was glorious! Those were my favorite 2.5 miles of the ride.

I feel like I can barely count that as any type of workout, but honestly with the schedule the way it is now, maybe it was good for my body to have a "workout" where absolutely nothing but staying upright was demanded of it. Also, some good did come out of the whole thing. I found a bike shop I liked much better than KLM (not only a bike shop -- it also sells tri supplies, and the owner is an Ironman), and I now know how to ride to Metro Beach and know I can do it from my house for a nice, long, safe ride. I am definitely not doing any more group rides. I pretty much always hate them because I'm either too slow for the group, or too fast. (Usually, almost always, the first one. Trust me, I have no illusions about my ability or lack thereof on the bike. Among people who do any type of racing at all, I suck on the bike and have no technical or mechanical bike skills at all.) It's just going to be me and my bike from now on.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Training Update: Doing Good, Then Doing Nothing, Now Maybe Doing Good Again

I did so good for the first week -- no, eight days, I need every bit of credit I can give myself -- of class. I had purposely started my training schedule a week early so that I could have some "wiggle room" while I was in class, but for the first eight days I honestly thought I might not need it. I was inspired, I had energy, the weather was nice, I felt better starting the work day when I had worked out first... I was doing double workouts every day when I wasn't on duty, and I was sure it was going to last.

Then, something happened on Day Nine. I don't know what it was. Frustrating day with clients, maybe, or maybe just lack of sleep catching up to me, but I was faced with a 30-mile ride after work and I just plain didn't want to do it.

Okay, no big deal. I was a week and a half ahead in my schedule, so no harm in skipping a workout, right? I mean, that was why I had put all that room in my schedule to begin with, because there are ALWAYS days like that in class, and usually more of them as class goes on, so I was totally entitled to skip that one afternoon (an afternoon with perfect weather, by the way) and sleep all afternoon (and all night) instead. It was also okay to sleep in the next morning instead of going to the pool, because my body needed it, right?

Well, maybe it did, but that break in routine combined with some inarguably shitty weather for the next week or so was like a sledgehammer to my discipline. I would get up to swim a couple mornings a week, or go out for a run a couple afternoons, but didn't do any biking at all. I hate riding in the rain, and it really did seem like there was nothing but rain for a big chunk of class. A couple times I sucked it up and went to Lifetime and forced out 20 or 25 miles on the stationary bike, but you, me, and everyone else knows that miles on the stationary bike are nothing like miles on a real bike. I watched my cushion get smaller and smaller until, finally, there was no cushion left. It was obvious that I was never, ever going to make up those missed rides. The runs, maybe. I was going to Disneyland and California Adventure for a week and could totally run every day while I was there. The swims I was actually caught up on. I figured I could just let the bike go because I also happen to believe that the amount of training I do, or do not do, on the bike has the least effect on how fast I ride. The speed I ride seems to be mostly determined by how fat I am, and oh! I forgot to mention I had done really well with diet while I was in class. I told the kitchen only egg whites and fruit and salad for me, and that was what they gave me so that was what I ate. I finally lost about seven pounds of my "winter coat" while I was in class.

So I headed to California for vacation with all my running clothes packed. I had the best of intentions, really I did. But once I got out there, I was busy all day long. Every single day. We were staying at a house a mile from Disneyland (.6 miles if you took the tram, which I never did because the tram line was just ONE MORE LINE in a day full of waiting in lines, and it only saved .4 miles), and every day I walked to and from Disneyland twice a day. (Naps were absolutely mandatory at Disney. I can't imagine getting through one full day at Disney without a nap.) Between the four miles of walking every day, and the fact that I was on my feet all day long except for the 2-minute intervals of sitting down on rides after waiting an hour to get on them, I was completely exhausted at the end of every single day, and by Day Two I knew running was not going to happen while I was there, not at all, not unless you count the running I did when I knew I was about to miss that forever-long light at Magic Way and Disneyland Drive.

So! In total I missed four scheduled runs and six scheduled bike rides. To put this in perspective, the schedule has 59 runs and 59 bike rides. I have decided I can live with missing those. I will just do better from here on out. It shouldn't be that hard. My life is back to normal again, no vacations, no class, no new puppies, no buying a house, good summer weather coming up, none of those things that have derailed past training schedules. On my first "real" day back in Michigan (I don't count Friday, because I got home at 5 a.m. after a hideous day and night of screwed-up travel and slept almost the entire day), I managed a double workout, swim in the morning and 35 miles on the bike in the afternoon, and hopefully I can do the same tomorrow and Monday; we shall see. In any case, the race is still nearly three months away, so I have time to redeem myself, I hope.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why I Ended Things With My Swim Coach

A few reasons, actually. Now, I don't want to say bad things about this girl. (Although, how old was she, anyway? 16?) But it just wasn't working out for me and her.

First, and worst, she argued with me when I told her I sucked.

Am I alone in preferring an honest assessment of my skills or lack thereof? If I say, "I suck at swimming," it's not a global statement of all of my abilities. Swimming is just ONE of my abilities. Agreeing with me that I suck at swimming is not the same thing as telling me I suck at life or am a terrible person. My conclusion that I suck at swimming has been reached by considering all available evidence: 1) absolute lack of improvement over the past several years, 2) comparison of my swim times with Ironman and 1/2 Ironman swim times, and 3) my observations of the way that I feel when swimming (expending huge amounts of energy but barely moving at all). Those are pretty objective pieces of evidence, in my opinion. When someone says, "You don't suck! You're good!" after observing a sucky swim, both that person's knowledge and my ability to trust him or her are in jeopardy. If I can't trust her to validate what's right under her nose, how can I trust her to make me better?

Second, she never gave me an actual plan to follow, or any explanation of how I was going to improve, or even any drills. When I asked her for a plan, she gave me a flyer for the Master's Swimming program and told me I should go there. (Well, maybe I should. But it's at 7:30 at night and there is no way I'm staying out that late after a day of work.) Is it irrational of me to expect to get a plan or a schedule or SOMETHING from a coach who's being paid to help me?

Third, she told me that there probably wasn't anything to do to improve my kick so I probably just shouldn't worry about it. This was after watching me kick two lengths and telling me I kicked too hard with my right leg and not hard enough with my left, and that I should try to kick equally with both. When I tried to do that, I literally stopped moving forward at all in the water, and just floundered, kicking increasingly harder but getting nowhere, which caused her to give up. She also told me I needed to be kicking from my hips, not my legs. I understand this academically but have no sense of how to actually do it.

Fourth, I know that I would need thousands of dollars of lessons to make any kind of improvement. $400 in Tucson brought me marginal improvement which promptly disappeared when I moved away from Tucson and quit swimming. I don't have that kind of money and wouldn't spend it on swim lessons if I did. (These lessons were free. Well, they were not exactly free, but I paid for them with "Lifetime bucks", which is imaginary money good only at Lifetime and earned by referring friends to join.)

I remember my swim coach in Tucson. I don't remember his name, but I remember how good-looking he was, all tan and blond. He agreed with me that I sucked. He had a systematic plan for improvement. He was confident in his ability to make me get better. He was a grown-up, not a kid. He had actual workouts that he designed just for me. He cared about whether I improved or not, and if he was checking out the other lifeguards during my lesson he wasn't obvious about it. All of these are things I aim for in my own teaching. Being a teacher myself, I know crappy teaching when I see it.

I have decided that it is okay to be a crappy swimmer and still do the 1/2 Ironman. I will just accept that my finishing time will be worse than it would be if I weren't a crappy swimmer. Shrug. There are worse things. And luckily, the sport that I am the worst at is also the smallest percentage of the overall course, so it's much better to be a lousy swimmer than a lousy cyclist or a lousy runner.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Miles on Stationary Bike ≠ Miles On Real Bike, On Road

Here are the good things about today's ride, my first outside ride on my bike since October:

1) I did remember how to clip in. (I wasn't sure, going into it.)
2) I had 30 miles scheduled and was able to finish the whole thing.
3) I got to explore a new (to me) Metropark, Kensington, and it was beautiful! (Love our Metroparks!)
4) The weather. 70 degrees, sunny, perfect shorts and short-sleeve weather.

Here are the bad things: 

1) Remembering how to unclip when needed is not a skill that comes right back after not using it for months.
2) Hills on a real bike are not the same as "hills" on a stationary bike.
3) Wind in the real world happens. It doesn't happen in the gym, so I forgot how to ride in it.
4) I was too afraid to ride on the road in the park because, this being the first nice weekend day of the year, there were too many cars. Too many cars + too many potholes + road bike reflexes atrophied due to lack of use = having to ride on the paved path instead, where every adult tricycle rider, large family who likes to walk four or five abreast on the path (thus blocking the entire path) and person with little, nervous, ill-mannered dog on a Flexilead was also out, enjoying the spring weather.

So maybe I can blame my time of 2 hours and 14 minutes for 30 miles on the crowded bike path. But in reality I don't think that's entirely true. Refer back to previous blog entry on "fat". Those extra pounds make the bike harder. Also, while it is true that I have gone to spin class, which is a real workout, on and off throughout the winter... it may, or may not, be true that lots of times instead of going to spin I have just gone to ride the stationary bike at Lifetime, where I may or may not have set the difficulty level to "1" and watched episodes of Parks and Rec on Netflix while "working out". So maybe I am just a little fat and out of shape, too, and that is why I was so slow? 

Anyway, Kensington was a beautiful place to ride, and Island Lake, just on the other side of the freeway from Kensington, was even more beautiful. Island Lake is another park, and the bike path there was in perfect shape -- no cracks, just smooth pavement -- and nearly deserted. Too bad I missed the turnoff to Island Lake on my first loop around Kensington, but I'm glad I caught it on my second. 

I was actually hot at the end of my ride and had a sweat glaze on my skin. It felt amazing. I am very excited about spring but then again there is a snowflake on the forecast for Tuesday and a high only in the 30's. Sigh. Michigan, you be crazy!

Friday, April 11, 2014

White, So White. And Also Fat.

One thing I remember hating about the East Coast was how pale everyone became during the winter, fish-white and weak-looking. And one thing I loved about Arizona was how people were brown all year round. If I could pick the one look I wanted to achieve, it would be Arizona leather-skin ranch woman. I pictured myself at 60 with brown skin, maps of wrinkles around my eyes from squinting into the sun, long grey hair probably always tangled from being outside in the wind, and maybe a couple of melanomas to go along with all that sun. Well, here in Michigan after this brutal winter I have reached the stage where my legs and my ass are exactly the same color. It is depressing. This week is the first week of shorts and T-shirts (for running, anyway), and while I am very excited about that, the sickly, unhealthy pale skin is the opposite of exciting. Even when I'm out in the sun, I suspect that the sun in Michigan just doesn't have the strength to "toast" me properly. The sun is weak too. Yes, I know that sun exposure is bad and dangerous, but... but... but... I want to be tan and strong-looking like I was in Tucson! Maybe it's time for a tanning salon?

Or maybe it's time for a diet. I had my phsyical a couple days ago, and, while I actually feel about the healthiest I've ever been in my whole life, I was pretty horrified at the number on the scale. I am going to say it just because no one ever seems to post their weight when they are fat -- only when they are skinny and proud of it -- 167 pounds! A good weight for me is 150; a good, lean, racing weight is 145; my Boston-qualifying weight was 133. So I am now 34 pounds heavier than I was when I finished the San Diego Rock-n-Roll Marathon and qualified for Boston. This is the same weight I was at my fattest in recent memory, when I ran the St. George Marathon in 2008 and my weight was high enough to put me in the Clydesdale category! (I also got a time of 3:51 in that marathon -- not impressive, but respectable -- so, maybe, who cares?)

The actual effects of being fat are not so bad. I'm running pretty well, surprisingly, 8:00-8:15 pace most of the time, which makes me wonder how fast I'd be running if I were 30 or even 15 pounds lighter. Do my clothes still fit? Well, define "fit". I still wear all the same clothes, but I can't exactly put things in my pockets comfortably while wearing them, and I admit that the need to wear layers ended just in time. I don't look at myself and think I look terrible (unless I tried to squeeze into my skinny jeans, which I would not do). I think I look pretty good, actually. So if my clothes still fit, I'm running well, I like how I look, and all the important numbers from my physical are what they should be, do I really have a reason to stop eating at Tim Horton's and making a regular practice of having two dinners every night (the one post-workout, and the other right before I go to bed)? Maybe not! Everyone I run with has also got a good layer of winter fat on, and they don't ever seem inclined to skip the post-run beers, so maybe I should just accept that people in cold climates get fat in the winter?

I am two weeks into an 18-week training schedule for the half-Ironman in August, and it's going well so far, so maybe the increased activity by itself will burn off the fat. And eventually it will be warm here, supposedly. (I have seen 70 in the forecast; that's a good sign!)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

I Did It... I Registered.

I signed up for Ironman 70.3 Steelhead, and now I'm committed.

I have just embarked on an 18-week training plan for this race, which takes place on August 10, and already my body is sore and achy. I'm telling myself this is because I have essentially been idle all winter and the soreness comes from my body grinding itself back into shape.

It also doesn't help that I screwed up the first week of training by mangling the schedule. The schedule includes a total of nine workouts per week (three swim, three bike, three run) until, I think, Week Nine, when it adds one more swim. This means that three days a week are double workouts -- swim in the morning and run or bike in the afternoon. Those three days are supposed to be Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, with Friday being a rest day. I managed the Monday morning swim but not the Monday afternoon bike. (I had to take both of my bikes to the bike shop for tune-ups, and by the time I was done with that I felt too guilty about leaving my dogs in the kennel for too long and couldn't bring myself to leave them longer.) Tuesday I screwed up again, the same way, made the a.m. swim but not the p.m. run because I had a dentist appointment. Wednesday afternoon I finally got to the bike for the first time since October other than a couple spin classes here and there. Because both bikes are still in the shop, I had no choice but to do my bike miles at Lifetime. So, so tedious. Thank God for Netflix on my iPhone. Thursday was a double-workout day with swim in the morning and run in the afternoon. I have been slacking on running too for the past couple weeks. I was pleased to see I can still do close to 8:00 pace despite all my fat and lack of training, but sad too because it is now undeniable that my feet have expanded a size. The five miles I ran in the brand-new Newtons I bought in January gave me two black toenails. I am now positive that my feet have grown a size. I mean, I hadn't run a quarter-mile before they started hurting, so I can't even blame it on swelling. (I will not think about how I bought close to $500 worth of new shoes, including Merrells for work and two pairs of Mizunos and one pair of Newtons in January and now NONE of them fit and I walk around with toes curled up inside my shoes every day.) Anyway, Friday was supposed to be my rest day but because I had slacked on Monday and Tuesday, it now became a double workout day with 20 miles on the bike in the morning and four miles of running in the afternoon. My legs were toast and my toenails were throbbing as I headed out the door (in a pair of old, stretched-out but totally dead Mizunos) and I wondered if I would even get through the run at all. I did, and even stayed pretty close to 8:00 pace, but this morning I am so sore that walking the dogs hurt. And I have 25 miles on the bike to look forward to today and six miles  of running at Stoney with the triathletes tomorrow, and then back to double workouts on Monday and hopefully I will remember the pain of cramming bike and run into the same day and follow the schedule next week so that doesn't happen again.

Anyway! About the race. Steelhead is in Benton Harbor, which is a town in western Michigan. The swim is in Lake Michigan, which honestly looks just like the ocean to me when I'm standing on the shore. I have been to Benton Harbor once and wasn't very impressed with it -- I have vague memories of shabby neighborhoods and the nicest restaurant being the IHOP -- but at least I know there is a Red Roof Inn there so I have somewhere to stay with the dogs. Benton Harbor is not really a nice town, but it is close enough that I can drive out there to practice on the course before the race. Also, I don't have to fly so don't have to worry about shipping my bike. It takes place at a time far enough away from class at Leader that I won't have to worry about being distracted in my training, and it is an Ironman-brand race. That is important to me and I don't exactly know why.

The way I understand it -- triathlon people, feel free to correct me on this -- is that iron distance in a triathlon is 140.6 and half-iron distance is 70.3, but only races put on by Ironman can call themselves Ironman races. There are lots of other race companies that put on triathlons of the same distances, and I would never minimize the accomplishments of anyone who completed an off-brand 70.3 or 140.6, but for myself I want the name-brand. If that's shallow, I don't care!

This race has gotten generally good reviews with the exception being that the swim has been cancelled two years out of the past seven or eight due to rough waters on Lake Michigan. When that happens, the event becomes a duathlon. So there is somewhere around a 25% chance that I will finish all my training and still not be able to say that I finished 70.3. I decided that was an acceptable risk given all the logistical advantages of this race. (Plus, there is no denying that a part of me wouldn't be all that upset if the swim were cancelled. Hey, it wouldn't be my fault!)  

So, no marathons for a while and lots of pool and bike time. (As I look out the window at a new dusting of snow that was NOT in the forecast and think to myself, will it EVER be warm again?)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Triathlon... If Not Now, Then When? (Subtitle: Why Not This Year?)

I have had this blog for four years now and have only done ONE triathlon, and that was a sprint. Maybe I will never do one and should just give up the idea of it? But no. I only have three things that I would really like to accomplish in this lifetime: publish a book, get an OTCh on a dog, and finish an Ironman. Of those three, Ironman is, I think, achievable with the least amount of effort. I'm not doing anything resembling writing a book, and at the end of a day of training dogs, the last thing I want to do is train ANOTHER dog. At least I am still working out, and not completely out of shape. So what is stopping me from taking the next step towards that goal of doing an Ironman?

Quite a few things, actually!

1) Triathlon is SUCH an expensive hobby. The races are expensive and you have to buy gear for three different sports. Right off the bat, if I were to decide to do a triathlon here, I would have to buy, at minimum, new bike shoes (to accommodate my feet, which have inexplicably grown a size larger in the past year), new running shoes (for the same reason), a bike tune-up (bike has sat in the closet since November), a wetsuit (no open-water swim in a race without LOTS of practice open-water swims beforehand; no open-water swims in Michigan without a wetsuit), and a race entry fee ($275 for the race I'm thinking about, the Steelhead 1/2 Ironman in August). I took a pay cut to come to Michigan and totally do not have that kind of money to throw around! (Unless, you know, it's in pursuit of one of my life goals, in which case, screw it! I could die tomorrow and then wouldn't I regret saving any money instead of using it to do what I want to do.)

2) Open water, oh God. In Arizona open water is hard to get to. In Michigan I think I read somewhere that no one lives further than six miles from some kind of lake. The triathlon club does open water swims all the time. I have no excuse, except that I don't want to! I don't want to swim where I can't see that comfortable blue stripe on the bottom and know I can stand up if I accidentally breathe in water. I don't want to have to learn how to sight. (Maybe I wouldn't have to... at the speed I swim, I should be able to just follow all the kicking legs in front of me, right?)

3) Nowhere to bike without driving there first. It really sounds like everyone just does lots of loops at Stoney Creek. I don't mind Stoney but can't imagine doing that volume of training there. On the other hand, I also can't imagine doing any sort of training on these roads, with their terrifying, wheel-busting potholes that look totally capable of swallowing a bike whole or, worse, swallowing the bike but dumping ME on the road right in front of oncoming traffic. And although I like spin class occasionally, I definitely wouldn't want to rely on any kind of stationary bike for bike workouts. (We will not even say the words "bike trainer". No way, never doing it.)

4) I'm scared of triathletes. Seriously, it sometimes seems like there are no casual triathletes. I mean, really, do you HAVE to have a totally competitive mindset to do even short-distance triathlons? Are the heart rate monitors, the power meters, the intervals, the swim sets, the tri-suits, the aerobars, the obsession with diet REALLY NECESSARY? Can't you just, like, swim and run and ride your bike? The triathletes I have met are very nice; I'm just not sure that I'm one of them the way I am one of the runners.

5) Class. I love teaching class at Leader Dogs, but it throws a giant wrench in my training schedule for one month out of every five. In this case, Steelhead is in August and class goes from mid-April to mid-May, so I'm sure I could swing it, but still, missing that month of training or even just cutting way back definitely affects training for races.

6) My swim still sucks and I still worry about being the last one out of the water.

So those are a lot of reasons why not to do it, but the one big reason to do it is that it's one of my life goals, and I don't have that many, and no one ever knows how long they are going to live, so isn't the time to get started on them always RIGHT NOW?

Friday, March 21, 2014

High Intensity, High Volume Endurance Exercise and Cardiovascular Health: Clarifying the Risk-Protection Paradox

That is the title of the presentation I went to last night at Beaumont Cardiovascular Performance Clinic. The presentation was organized by the local triathlon club, which I just joined (literally just; this was the first meeting I went to and I didn't know anyone in the room). I was really impressed with the whole thing. The doctor who gave the presentation was a great speaker. Even though he works for Beaumont, I never at all got the feeling that he was trying to sell the screenings they perform. (Well, he didn't really have to, the screenings sell themselves.)

I also really liked the doctor himself. He is obviously passionate about the topic of cardio health for athletes. Listening to him talk about the effects of exercise on the heart was like listening to me talk about guide dogs. Let me tell you, people who work all day at something and can then talk about it after work with enthusiasm are lucky people, I should know. He has been in this field for a long time and has all kinds of academic and professional credibility, but is also one of those people who is really, really good at dumbing stuff down for those of us who aren't in the medical field. (Although, this being a group of triathletes, the number of highly educated people in the audience appeared to be a little disproportionate based on the vocabulary of the people asking questions. It's possible that I was the only one in there needing anything dumbed down.) I got the feeling this guy could hold his own in conversation with any leading cardiologist anywhere in the world, but at the same time he also said things like, "I could tell you you need to have the screening done every three years, or every five years, but I'd just be bullshitting you; the answer is we don't really know how often anyone needs it done," and also, "It's true that there are more people participating in marathons every year, but it's also true that there's more people sitting on their asses at home every year, because there's just more people every year." I love a speaker who is not afraid to talk like real people talk and who isn't afraid to say "I don't know" when the answer is "I don't know."

I wish I had taken better notes while I was there, but the main points I remember from the talk are:

*There aren't really that many deaths from exercise-related cardiac arrest. I think the average he said was 4 per year in marathons and half-marathons.
*The majority of deaths in people under 35 are from, I think, enlarged heart-something-or-other (see? I should've paid more attention) and the majority of the deaths in people over 35 are from cardiovascular disease, and most of those things are detectable by routine screenings.
*You do have a higher chance of having a cardiac event when exercising, but it's still pretty low compared to a sedentary person's risk of a cardiac event with any exercise at all.
*There are actually physiological reasons for doing a cooldown post-exercise. (I don't remember what they were, but I remember looking at the Power Point slide and listening to the doctor's explanation and saying to myself, "Oh, shit.") I have always disregarded the advice "do a cooldown", but maybe I will just go ahead and do one from now on.

The cost of the screening is $300, which seems like a lot, but I actually think you get a lot for that price, including an ECG, an EKG, and a stress test, including measurement of VO2 max. (Not that I particularly care about VO2 max, but it seems to be one of those things that it might be interesting to get at some point in my life.) I have had a cardio screening once in my life, five years ago, but the difference with this one is that it includes a focus on athletics and training. So, probably worth the $300.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Corktown 5k Race Report

St. Patrick's Day always reminds me of that joke: Someone asks you, "Got any Irish in you?" to which you respond, "I did once!" Okay! Off-color joke dispensed with, race report commencing.

From now on I am not going to sign up for any races anywhere other than the Southwest or California that don't take place between April and October. It's just not worth it! The chance of freezing your ass off is too great.

This morning it was a balmy 12 degrees at the start line of the Corktown 5k in Detroit. 12 degrees real temp with a 0 degree windchill. It could have been worse -- at least there was 0% chance of snow! I had to get there early because I wasn't sure about parking. The start line was right in front of Detroit's most famous abandoned building, the Michigan Central building. This:

It was also surrounded by lots of Detroit's less-famous abandoned buildings. Altogether a bleak and depressing scene. I did my homework before the race and found out that Corktown is Detroit's oldest ethnic neighborhood. First Irish, then Maltese (really! I always thought that was just a dog breed, not a nationality; shows what I know), then finally Latino. I couldn't tell what it was today other than empty. The St. Patrick's Day parade follows the race but it would take a braver and hardier person than me to stand out in that cold for any longer than I had to.

I sat in the car wrapped up in my giant, puffy jacket -- more like a comforter with arms and a hood -- running the heater until twenty minutes to start time. I spent the whole time berating myself for thinking one pair of threadbare tights was enough for a 0-degree windchill and wondering if I should just go home. But if I went home I would have nothing to blog about. Plus I was curious to see what my 5k time would be. It's been so long since I did a 5k I really didn't know.

I left my jacket in the car and stepped out into the icy cold wind and wanted to cry, but instead I just got in the porta-pottie line and began jumping up and down, running in place, and cursing the cold like everyone else was. I wanted to say this was the coldest I had ever been at a race start line but I knew that wasn't true. Nothing will ever be colder than the 3 hours in Hopkinton at the Boston Marathon start line. At least here I only had to be outside for 20 minutes before the race started.

Once I had gotten in my corral -- this is a huge race, and they had 4 waves -- the announcer said there were still lines at the registration table so the start was going to be delayed by 5 minutes while we waited for those people to finish registering. This generated a mass "Booooooooo!" from the runners and liberal use of the F-word as well as generalized grumbling. Come on, people, preregister or get here on time, seriously! We hopped, jumped, and ran in place while waiting. At least the Irish music booming through the speakers was exciting.

Finally we started. The race is an out and back down Michigan Avenue. The icy wind was straight into my face. I was wearing a neck gaiter but it promptly got wet with condensation from my breath and then froze stiff. The air was so cold my teeth hurt even with the gaiter covering my mouth. I consoled myself with the thought that it would be a tailwind on the return. My feet felt like blocks of ice clumping on the cobblestone street but I was making good time. I think Corktown might be a cool place to visit in, say, July. Not today.

When we got to the turnaround it was immediately obvious that the wind was still blowing just as hard. That HADN'T been a headwind at all, it had been a crosswind the whole time, and still was. I swear that often in my Michigan workouts the wind blows out in all directions from the center point of my workout loop. This was one of those times. But by this time, I didn't care because I was more than halfway done. As I got within sight of the finish line, I was passed by a guy running shirtless. I swear that no matter what the temperature, there will always be someone wearing hardly any clothes and claiming to run better that way.

I finished in 24:18, a 7:38 pace, which was about as good as I could've hoped for. I would've been happy with anything 8:00 or faster. Considering my winter fat, 7:38 is a respectable pace. As I crossed the finish line, it started to snow, big, fat flakes, and I wondered for not the first time why any Michigan forecaster would ever say 0% chance of anything weather-related. I say there is always a chance, for anything at all! By the time I got to my car, I could barely even see Michigan Central because of the snow. But by the time I pulled out of the parking lot, the snow had stopped and the sun was shining again.

This week's forecast looks much more promising, with nothing in the teens and a couple days in the 40's. I'm hoping for some good outdoor running!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Well, not today, of course, as anyone in any part of the country that was violated by this late-winter blast of nastiness knows. This is the blog post I meant to write on Friday, or maybe it was Thursday, whatever that day last week was that it was WARM. (Not Tucson-warm, but Michigan-warm.) I'm writing it today instead of when it happened because when it happened I was outside enjoying it, not inside writing about it. Today, on the other hand, I have just returned from walking the dogs, a miserable slog through the latest 8 or so inches dumped on top of the grimy, pitted remains of the rest of the winter's unmelted snow. (At least it looks fresh and white again! There are few things more disgusting than late winter's leftover snow when most of it has melted and all the frozen trash and dog crap buried underneath are reemerging.) It's cold again too. The Carhartt snowsuit, the wader boots, the heavy gloves, all had been put away and had to be pulled out again. But even though today is an awful day (albeit made slightly better by an early dismissal from work), it is inevitable that spring is coming and soon, soon, soon! I can play outside again.

The feeling of the first not-miserably cold day is hard to describe. Giddy, joyful, glorious, alive with a sense of possibility, all come close. Last year the first snow that stuck and left no doubt that the terrible WINTER was here happened on November 22. On November 23 I layered up and set out, determined not to let weather stop me just like I didn't let 110 degrees stop me from running in Arizona. After having run less than a mile, I slipped and fell on a sheet of ice buried under the snow. I wasn't hurt, but the fear was now there, and if it was freezing at any point during the day* I could not run anything like fast, because I was too afraid of the ice monster hiding under the snow. (*It was always freezing at some point during the day. We've had well over 100 days this winter where it never got above freezing, and on most of them, to the best of my recollection, we've never even gotten close.) Anyway, I picked myself up from that fall and ran the rest of that 13-mile run, and haven't run outside since then, other than during vacations to California and Arizona, which seem like they happened in dreams. My reality now is cold and snow and biting wind and thermals and Carhartt and boots and gloves and running on the treadmill.

But on Friday there were none of those things. Oh, sure, there were huge... puddles is not the word, more like half-block-long lakes of frigid meltwater to splash through, but there was no ice anywhere at all on the sidewalk, and on the east side of the road where the sun hit in the afternoon the sidewalks were bone-dry. The air wasn't cold enough to freeze snot (that happens!) or hurt teeth just by breathing it in. I started with gloves but took them off in less than a mile. I passed lots of other runners and every one of them waved and smiled and I did the same back. We're free! Released from the prison of the treadmill! I was supposed to run four miles but ended up doing six just because it felt so good to be outside and not freezing. Best of all, I was able to average 8:05 pace. Not great by any means, but considering my 20 pounds of winter fat and the fact that I've been on the treadmill for months and this whole run was made of hills, I was pretty proud of it! I am sure at least some of the reason I had such a good run was that in my head I was yelling, "Take THAT, winter! Die, evil bitch, die! You have ruled for a long time but Mr. Sun is going to VANQUISH you! See Mr. Sun over there? Feel his warmth on your face? I DO!!" and other things of that nature. (I think I was only yelling them in my head. I may have been yelling out loud. I'm not sure.)

I can't wait till I can run outside every day in just one layer, and the gym is a thing of the past except for swimming. I can't wait till I can bike again! Although, looking at the shape these roads are in I'm not sure I can EVER bike again. Talk about potholes... these are more like sinkholes. Giant, axle-busting, car-wrecking sinkholes that eat up entire curbside lanes. (See, for example, article here and video here.) How or when these will ever be fixed is impossible to know, but until they are, I'm probably not going to bike anywhere except at Stoney Creek, and that's after I drive my bike there in my car. That is where all the triathletes train on the bike anyway. Oh, Michigan, you suck so much for road bikers...

Anyway, spring is almost here even though I am in thermals again sitting in front of the heat dish trying to thaw out from walking the dogs, and looking at a low of 0 for tomorrow and a range of 10-27 for Sunday, 5k day. It's worth it to be here, it's worth it to be here, it's worth it to be here! Right?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Some Day This Blasted Winter Will End...

...and I will have something to write about again. I can't wait for that day! I have hope that it will come, even though last night, the first night of March, it snowed 4 more inches, and today, the second day of March, we only briefly made it into double digits and only for a very short time. Surely this has to stop soon, right?

And surely I have to want to do something athletic again, right? Some day? Oh, it's not that I haven't been doing anything. I belong to the nice gym and because it's so expensive, I am there at least four or five times a week or else I start thinking I'm not getting my money's worth and if I'm not going to get my money's worth, maybe I ought to just stop paying for it and accept that I live in the Midwest now and can get fat...NO! Unthinkable! Anyway, I'm going to the gym regularly and listlessly plodding through an hour on the elliptical or on the treadmill or in the pool or in spin class, but talk about no passion whatsoever. I don't know if I will ever get it back or if it's just something that was part of my Arizona life and isn't part of my Michigan life. I can explain it a few different ways, thusly:

1) THE WEATHER. Well, obviously. It's super hard to feel like busting ass when the weather busts you every day. We have had by all reports the worst winter in recent memory, both with snowfall and with the crazy, bitter cold. Last year I came for my interview in January, and it was 55 and rainy. I remember running in one layer and thinking, Yes, this sucks but it is doable. I wish I could get mad at someone for false advertising. I really have nothing more to say about this winter; everyone knows it sucks, and the whole country has heard about it for several months now and doesn't need to hear about it anymore. I will only add that I have to work outside in it (if I want my dogs to get trained for class next month) every day and that leaves me with no energy at all to spend any more time outside in it at the end of the work day. Also, it's not the cold that stops me from running so much as it is the ice. If I slip and break an ankle, I can't do my job anymore, period. And that would be very bad. So, no running and no riding till there's no more ice. Which might not be until April, the way it's been lately.

2) THE "WORK-LIFE BALANCE" IS ALL WORK. This is not really a bad thing. My job in Tucson was the place I went to recover from my grueling weekend workouts. While the people I worked with were nice (mostly), I had little in common with them outside of work and almost never, with only two exceptions that I remember, voluntarily did anything social with them after work hours. (One of those exceptions being biking 50 miles, with an unspoken agreement to never ever mention work during those 50 miles, and the other exception being something currently unmentionable on a public blog.) The people in WOG and TTR were the cool people in my life, the interesting ones, the ones who I wanted to spend time with. I did not see those people at work, so I had to see them outside of work. Here, it is completely different. ALL my friends in Michigan are work friends. I don't know if it's just that I work with cooler people to begin with, or if it is shared passion for the job (as opposed to shared enjoyment of high salary, non-taxing workload, and job security that I had in Tucson), but the people I work with all day are simply more interesting than any other people. I don't have any desire to go outside of work and meet new people or get involved in any local athletic community because, why should I? I have everything I need right there at Leader. And my coworkers work out, too. Lots of us (grudgingly) go to the gym right after work. But it is just something we do because we should and because we don't want to be fat and because we don't (most of us) want to change our eating habits. Actual enjoyment of it? I don't think anyone would actually go that far. (Long-time readers of this blog know that I have NEVER claimed enjoyment of running, triathlon, or any other form of workout. But they have always been part of my identity in a way that they just are not right now.) Don't get me wrong -- it is great to have a job so engrossing and fascinating that it's not just a job, it's a hobby. But it doesn't leave room for much else.

3) NO CONNECTION TO THE LOCAL OUTDOOR SPORTS COMMUNITY. This is related to #2 and is totally my own fault. There are all kinds of outdoor sports groups here. There is an awesome running group right there in Rochester. I ran with them off and on through the summer and fall. That group was full of great people, and the dynamic reminded me so much of ComeRun that I am kicking myself for not continuing to run with them. What happened? It got dark and cold and I got to feeling guilty for leaving the dogs in the kennel for such a long time and I felt like I should be going to the gym because I was paying for it and... and... I haven't run with the group since November. Not that they're doing much running either. But still, going back there as soon as it gets warmer might be a good idea.

4) I'M HAPPY. My best training has always taken place when I was trying to get over something or channel life-related stress into something more productive than sitting home drinking. When life is happy, there is so much less motivation to try to change anything. I'm glad I'm happy (or as happy as I can be, not living in Tucson). But why do happiness and motivation seem so mutually exclusive?

I have exactly one race on my calendar, the Corktown 5K in Detroit March 16. I haven't run a 5K in a long time, except for the Meet Me Downtown 5K in Tucson, which I ran every year just because I loved downtown Tucson so much I couldn't NOT run it. I registered for this one because it is a huge race and because they have a cool shirt. The first year I was in Tucson, I ran practically every local race just to see what they were all about. Maybe I need to do the same thing in Michigan; maybe I will magically become interested in the community again and make new running friends and start signing up for marathons again and get the missing piece of myself back? But then again, I would not want to trade that missing piece for all the other missing pieces I've found here, either. I guess we will just have to see.