Monday, June 29, 2009

What a weekend...

SJV and I finished our first race of the weekend -- Bigfoot -- and had a great time, notwithstanding some less than stellar conditions. I got top 10 in my age group (yay!) and SJV got top 50 overall, and placed 13 in his age group! Rock OUT! We were both really excited about our times -- SJV's is a PR -- under significantly difficult conditions (I almost blew off of my bike three times), and mine is about 3 minutes from a PR on a much more difficult course and after having some ... well ... difficulties the day before.

So I'll give you a snippit of Saturday, with a promise to expand and add photos later. SJV and I stayed at a gorgeous little Inn that's about 1/4 mile from the race. It was SJV's idea, and it was a great one -- we arrived on Friday, had dinner overlooking the lake, and I finally exhaled. I'd had a really stressful week, and was sooooo excited to have the weekend to relax, and play, and just enjoy time out of the city. We retired pretty early (we're early birds) and although I thought the bed was pretty ... soft I didn't think too much of it. I swapped around for some comfy/comfier pillows (drat that I didn't bring mine -- a note for next time), and just nodded off. I woke up throughout the night, sortof tossing and turning, and my back (between my shoulder blades) was sore. I finally got rid of the pillows altogether, and fell asleep.

I woke up at 7:00, unable to move. At all. I mean -- AT ALL. Every breath, my neck, shoulders, all the way down my back was just screaming. I whined (it was a whine - I'm not proud of it, but it was) to SJV, who asked me what was wrong. I told him that it was a back spasm -- a bad one like I used to get when I was really stressed out -- and he went, got a bunch of hot towels, and put those on my back. But not before he took a photo of me in agony (I mean, you have to laugh at what life sends your way, right?). :) I'll post that one when SJV downloads it. It is funny -- I have to admit that.

So, there I was -- immobilized on a gorgeous day, the day before my A Race -- my First Race of My Second Tri Season. Definitely not what I had planned for our fantastic weekend away. Anyhoo -- I womaned up and finally sat up (holy cripes that hurts -- you know what I mean if you've had one of these) and tried to loosen my shoulders and neck, which SJV said felt like a rock. (True.) But we had a plan to do a quick brick, and I knew that would probably get the tension out and settle me down. So I decided to try to do it, and to just do 10/10 rather than 15/15. We went down to the car, and set up a little area for transition, and off I went on the bike. I was really nervous -- my stomach was all knotted up, my back was killing me, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to race at all (I couldn't really move my head all that well, although I did do a test from side to side to ensure that I could check for cars, etc. on the bike, which I could -- safety first, you know?). But I did my 10/10 - almost needing to use the inhaler it was so humid and sunny and gorgeous, and SJV did a fast 15/15, looking super strong the whole way.

Off we went for the rest of our day, during which we got some Thermacare wraps that I used to try to keep my neck and back muscles warmed up. It worked pretty well, actually! That said, by Saturday night I was hopping mad that I had had to deal with this pain all day long. I had hoped (really, really hoped) that it would go away quickly, and that my body would feel good for race day. That wasn't to be the case, though.

There's lots more that I'll update about Saturday once I get SJV's photos -- including a gorgeous sunset on Saturday night, and how much fun we had just bopping around (even though I couldn't really turn my head...), and the fun couple (Janet and Randy) that we met, who challenged my way of looking at triathlon altogether. Of course, I'll post my full race report, and hope that the photos that SJV and I took of the wind later on in the day can show you just how windy it was. Unbelievable.

And I'll also update this week about the things I thought about during the race, and how I'm going to try to use those things (doubts and confidences) in my training before my half iron.

But, for now, I need to go get ready for work, and continue to apply heat to this neck of mine (yes, it still hurts). Just wanted to let you all know that we finished, that we did really well, and that we had a great time.

Race on,

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bigfoot (the race, not the primate) and Summer Smells

The racing couple!

So, this weekend (tonight, actually), SJV and I are going to the beautiful Lake Geneva to race in Bigfoot. It's actually the very first race that I ever witnessed -- I watched SJV do it last year, and I was hooked right when I smelled the wetsuit rubber.

You know what I mean, if you swim in a wetsuit. When I first brought mine out this year, I took one whiff and said "Summer's here!" I feel the same way when I go to a chlorinated pool. I chalk that up to endless summers as a wee kiddo at the pool every day, racing my sister for pennies that my mom would throw for us, swimming with mom --who was a synchronized swimmer at one point and who would give us "rides" around the pool on her back if we begged, and eating frozen Snickers during the 15 minutes of "adult swim" when the ladies in ridiculous ruffled one-pieces would fluff around in the pool rinsing off the sweat from sunbathing, taking care not to get their hair/makeup wet. Those 15 minutes lasted, it seemed, for hours. It was a simple life -- wake up in the morning, play, go to the pool, play, come home, rinse out my suit and put it on the rack to "dry" (my suit stayed wet, it seemed, the entire summer), play, eat, play, and sleep. Repeat.

I was a total water baby -- I was even on the swim team for about 1/4 season when I was 5 or 6; my sister was a CRAZY fast swimmer (she always got the pennies my mom threw), and I was my sister's little sister - so I did everything she did (much to her chagrin). When she joined swim team, so did I. (Much to her chagrin, I imagine.) And I did the backstroke, because it was easy for me to float because of my big baby Belly. She quit after 1/4 season because it was cold in the mornings when we went to practice. I quit because she quit. Too bad. I might have been fast...

Back to the race. I'm nervous, but excited. Last night we had an open water swim class, and practiced beach starts -- and I remembered quickly what it feels like to start out too fast. (Not good, if you know what I mean.) I'm going to keep that in mind on Sunday -- not to start out too fast. Slow and steady will bring Belly to the beach much faster...

So, I'm pumped to get up there, to relax under the stars, to breathe fresh air and to sleep uninterrupted (Idgy the Cat loves her momma, and often snuggles up a liiittttleee too close). I will, of course, post some photos of the weekend and the Race when I get a chance. Wish me luck!

Good luck to all racers...


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Magellan Half Marathon Race Report (a/k/a) "Why You Should NEVER Sit on the Bus Stop Benches" (a/k/a) "Sweaty Belly" (a/k/a) "Puke Fest Finish"

*Updated, with newly cropped photos to give you the real sense of what it must be like to finish a race and puke in your hands.

The Magellan 1/2 Marathon's inaugural race was held last month (May) -- so I'm late with my post, but better late than never, right?

I wasn't planning on doing a 1/2 Marathon this year -- other than during Steelhead, but I actually WON this race entry. So I thought -- why not! It'll give me a leg up in training, and it's been two years since I did a 1/2, and I'd probably PR my time ... by a lot (last 1/2 Marathon was 2:19).
And so, I went about "training" -- but in the winter months, I usually run long, so it wasn't a big deal. Not a whole lot of speedwork, but I did do a few tempos, etc. I was hoping (a super secret special wish) that I could break 2:00. That's fast for me -- my body realllly likes 10:00 miles, so an average in the low 9:00s is asking her to do a lot.
Anyhoo -- the day of the race arrives. I wake up, get myself all psyched up, and get ready. I was sortof fluffing around the house, multiple trips to the 'lou, etc. Finally, I realized that, depending upon the parking situation, I might be running a little late. (I had planned on leaving about an hour and a half before the race -- the race site is only about 15 minutes from my house.) I grabbed my bread, and met SJV down at the car. We left at about T-1:20 from the race.

We got down to where the parking was supposed to be ... and holy confusing. The directions were all discombobulated, and we were left scratching our heads. Minutes were ticking by, and my anxiety level was through the roof. Which is sortof silly, since this was a chip-timed race. But, the mind does what the mind does, right? Luckily, buddy Carrie and I had run the route once before, so I had an idea of where we should go. SJV and I flew down Michigan Ave., where there was a nice-sized traffic jam -- cars that were packed with runners trying to get to the parking garage. SJV and I sat in that traffic jam for what seemed like forever -- me trying to downplay the fact that we were now 1/2 hour from the race time, and that I really, really had to go to the bathroom. Like, really.

*side note, and the rationale behind why I suggest you should NEVER sit on bus stop benches* As we slooooowly moved up the street, I looked over to my right, and saw a man who appeared to be high, or drunk, or a combination of the two (probably a combination of the two) bent over at the bus stop bench, trying to pick something up. Or wait -- he wasn't trying to pick something up at all.... wait a second .... are his pants down? His Pants are Down? What the ...?

There was the man, pants down and derriere exposed, straining with all his might ... to poop!! I kid you not -- the guy was taking a poo ON the bus stop bench. Or at least he was trying to -- in front of at least 100 cars, and racers walking about two feet from him. I gasped, and did a girlie *eek!* - and pointed it out to SJV. SJV's eyes got wide, and his mouth gaped open, and then he started laughing (it was funny, after all) and trying to take a picture (we did not get that photo -- in part because we didn't really want him to focus on us, as we were only about 10 feet from him). SJV also said that it looked like he had a rectal prolapse (sounds painful) so I hope he got some assistance for that. It was certainly an interesting way to start the morning -- for me and for the people who saw him from up close and personal as they walked past. (It was almost entertaining to see the looks on people's faces as they realized what he was doing.)
*end note*

Okay - so SJV and I were now sufficiently past the bus stop guy, but we were also about 20 minutes from race time, and about a 1/2-1/4 mile from the race start, and not even close to the parking garage. We decided that I should just jump out and get to the start so I could hit the port-o-pottie (I'm less interested in using a bus stop for my bathroom needs). I gave him a smooch, and off I went.

Once I hit the race site, I had about 10 minutes 'till the start. I got in a HUGE line for the port-o-pottie, and waited. And waited. There were hundreds of us in line, so I figured they'd wait -- but they didn't. The race gun went off, and we were still waiting in line. (SJV took this photo of the race start -- you might be able to see all the people in the lines by the blue port-o-potties.) *sigh* But, it was a chip-timed race, so I figured that I'd start when I was ready, and knew I'd be in good company -- a lot of people were still parking their cars.

Besides, I got to see SJV -- who I saw walking down from the parking garage. He snapped a few photos of me yelling to him...
See! There I am!
...and of me at the port-o-pottie line. So, after a smooch from my Sugar, I was ready for the start of the race. I had the starting line to myself, and I enjoyed it!

(Notice my start time -- 11:04.) My goal, as I told you, was to break 2:00 - but I wanted to be conservative, and to take it consistently. The race course is on the lakefront, and there can be a lot of traffic on that path, so I was going to Bring My Patience, especially since I was now started BEHIND the back of the packers. I had solid splits -- I was holding steady, and the weather was perfect for a race. Absolutely perfect. I saw SJV at about the three mile mark:

So far, so good!

And I saw him again at the 6 or 8 mile mark, where I gave him my jacket. When I did that, he snapped a photo that shows how sweaty Belly gets. It's pretty gross, actually, and SJV teases me (lovingly, of course, even though he's honestly pretty grossed out by it) about it all the time. I can honestly wring out a shirt after I'm done running or biking (a great parlor trick!), and my hair will get so wet that my ponytail will start to fling sweat drops from one side to another, in time with my cadence. Cyclists that ride too close to me have gotten a sweaty pony-tail lashing from me in the past, which I figure is a Good Punishment for being such a doofus and riding so close. I've grossed out folks at the gym, I've REALLY grossed out people at Bikram Yoga, and I've amazed SJV with it -- he's now adamant about me taking salt tabs because of my Prolific Persperation.

Exhibit A. Note the soaking of the shirt, after only 6-8 miles, and in high 60 degree weather. The hair's not yet soaked, but it's getting there.

Okay, back to the race report. So, other than having to dodge a person or two, and to slow my pace to account for some folks that were enjoying a leisurely jog, I was doing really well. My heart rate was pretty steady, and I was feeling good. I knew that the last three miles I was going to have to pick it up, and I felt like I could. So I did.

And I have never, ever felt like how I did in the last three miles during a race - I pushed myself to a whole new level. Every step of the last mile, or 1/2 mile, my legs were telling me that they wanted to stop, and my head was telling me that it was okay to stop if I wanted to, but my heart said that it was NOT going to allow that, and the rest of me should just be quiet for 5 minutes or so. And so, I put my head down, put one foot in front of the other, and went for broke. The last 1/4 or 1/8 of a mile went through a tunnel-ish thingy, and then up the other side. Wouldn't seem like a "hill" any time other than in the last 1/8 mile of a race, but let me tell you -- that was the hardest thing to see at the end. And I knew I was close -- I might make it, if I really hit it hard. So, the last 1/4 of a mile, I really busted it. I passed this person, and then that person, and then was running down the final stretch... Running hard -- all-out-sprint -- push-push-push!

And then I was done. And sucking air.

I wasn't the only one -- SJV said that there was a veritable puke-fest. He inadvertently caught it on camera:

See the guy on the right, with his hand by his face? Gatorade puke, I think. Here's a close-up to gross you out.

Nice of him to try to catch it, eh? I think this guy should win an award for a seriously hard core finishing photo, don't you? Now, analyzing it a bit, that looks like pure gatorade to me (rather than, say, pasta). Maybe they mixed it too strong that day or something (I bring my own) but SJV said that there was lots of barfing. I'm telling you -- that "hill" was a killer! Bravo, Mr. 1343, for being such a hard core athlete! Rock on, my friend. Next time, bring pepto.

In any event, I looked down at my watch: 2:00:42. Yay and boo at the same time -- I HIT 2:00! But I didn't break 2:00. Still, I'm super happy with my time, and I did the best I could do. Plus, I had almost a 20 minute PR. Not bad. Not bad at all, if I do say so. I'll take it...
So, there's my extremely late Magellan 1/2 Marathon Race Report. Good race, good spectators, lots of people -- so bring your patience. Other than the parking situation, it was a good race. Next year, I'd take a cab. ;)

Race well!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Story of Belly

I've gotten a number of questions, recently, from folks who wonder when and how I started to train. It's a long and circuitous story. I hope you can stick with me until the end. I may need installments.


A long time ago (grade school, high school) I was a pretty active kid. I remember putting on shoes and going for a run before running was cool -- and before there were shoes that could support a girl's feet. So, at least in my early days, I associated running with Fun but also with Pain (my knees would actually be purple when I'd finish a run). I was in soccer, and cheerleading, and volleyball -- and wanted to be in cross country; but I was told that I needed to Choose My Sports Wisely, because my knees were Weak (because of said purplish hue).

After high school, I went off to college -- and then to law school -- and I learned how to be sedentary. I became a Certified Smoker. I ate ramen noodles and mac n' cheese, and I loved every minute of it -- the starving student, sustained by caffeine (literally multiple pots of coffee in a day) and nicotine and knowledge.

I was a total idiot, obviously.

I then embarked on a career in the law. I worked. Hard. But I worked at two amazing law firms, where I learned a lot about the law and about myself. More about myself than the law, frankly. I learned, for example, that I was not good at setting my own boundaries. It would not be unheard of for someone to call me at 5:00 on a Friday and ask for my help on a project -- and for me to say yes, and to spend the weekend working. It was also not unheard of for me to be out of town for weeks on end, or for me to be at the office until 12:00, 1:00, even 4:00 in the morning.

That changed, obviously.

Almost three years ago now (can it be that long ago?), a friend/acquaintance of mine joined a Learn to Run program to lose weight. You might be familiar with it -- in the first week you walk for three minutes and run two, then after a week or two walk for 2 minutes and run for 3, and then walk for 1 minute and run for 4, etc. etc. She needed a training partner, and asked (well, really, pressured) me to run with her in the mornings.

I told her that she was crazy: In the course of working so hard, I had amassed a number of stress related ailments. I had a bad back, bad knees, weak ankles, and I hadn’t done any strenuous activity (outside of lugging a suitcase for an overnight deposition) in years. I had frequent back spasms, heart palpitations (I wore a heart monitor at age 27 because of arrhythmia caused, they think, by stress and caffeine) and I had been a smoker for nearly 15 years. But, even with all the protesting, I figured it would be helpful for her to have some company.

And so, one August morning, I went out to the lakefront path that I really had never been on much before, and hoped that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. Much to my amazement, I loved it. I was going at a 12:30 minute per mile pace, sure, but I could still do it. Soon (very soon -- as in, within mere days) my friend tired of the program and dropped out, but I kept on using her training plan – loving the improvement and the new energy. Every month I got faster (not hard to do when you start so slowly) without trying, and went further down the lakefront path. When people asked how fast I went, I would respond that it didn't matter, and I wasn't trying to go faster; who would want to make something so fun end so soon?

And my attitude (about life, about time, about work) changed - dramatically. Soon I was taking hours to run on the lakefront -- hours when I didn't have my blackberry perched on the table next to me, humming away when a new request arrived. Hours when it was me, and my feet, and my heart, and my head. A whole new world opened up for me. I began to appreciate the sunrises again, and the geese that I saw during every run, and the changes of the seasons ... I suppose you could say that I finally found some peace.

And, much to my complete amazement, my back stopped aching; my ankles strengthened; my knees no longer seized up; the heart palpitations ended; and the back spasms ceased altogether. Six months after starting to run, I quit smoking for good. I’ve now done races ranging in distance from a 5k to the Chicago Marathon, and pretty much everything in between. I even led a training group for a 10 mile race -- and that was when I learned that I actually enjoy training other people more than training myself. Motivating one particular runner, and making her race strong, was a wonderful goal. And she rocked the race (as did I, actually).

In December 2007, after having been an official Runner for about a year and a half, I decided to Expand My Horizons and Meet Some People. I signed up with the yahoo meetup running group, and promised to meet them at the lakefront path in front of the totem pole (you may know where that is). At 8:00 a.m., there I stood -- waiting around, asking one runner after another "are you the yahoo meetup group?" and getting the same response: "nope." So, I went to a parking lot behind the totem pole, and saw 6 sinewy tall runners. Again, "are you the yahoo meetup group?" - answer "nope. but you can run with us if you want"... I shuffled away - I couldn't keep up with them, and I knew it. I approached a few others, and was met with disappointment, as I realized that I wasn't going to Meet Any People that day. I was almost embarrassed -- nobody really wanted to run with me.

Then, I saw a group of about 20 runners trotting by in groups of two or three, all smiling and chatting with one another, looking to be the picture of heath and friendship combined -- I yelled "are YOU the yahoo meetup group?" and I heard the response "Who are they?" and "C'mon - run with us!"

I had two seconds - maybe only one - to decide. They look like they're going my pace. Maybe faster. But maybe I can keep up? Can I keep up? Aaaak! I took a deep breath, and hopped in line, running about as fast as I could at the time just to keep up with them. I met one after another of them, as they took turns striding next to me, hearing my story, and bringing me into the fold. They are called the Clocktower Runners, and they continue to be the source of great friendship. Amazing people.

That split second decision - to run with the CRs, also changed my life. A few months after starting to run with the group, I took a new job that I got through the contacts that I made while running. I now work more normal hours -- hours that let me train to my heart's content. And, even more importantly, tThrough that group, I met SJV, my amazing boyfriend and an amazing triathlete. He encouraged me to try a triathlon, and I loved it from the very first race. Our Story is even more special than The Story of Belly, and I will indeed save that one for its own special post.

But hopefully this post helps you to understand why triathlon and running and training in general is so important to me -- why and how it has brought me to this wonderful and peaceful place in my life, and why I want everyone to see what it can do for them. And hopefully you can also see that if you're not happy where you are right now, you can change. I'm living proof, after all. Less than three years ago, I was a smoker/drinker/work-a-holic/stress case.

Today I'm ... well ... Belly.

Enjoy the ride.

T Minus 5 (and counting)

My first race of the season, an A-race, is this Sunday. *gulp*

And so, of course, I have butterflies in my stomach, and hopes and dreams of how I might do (how I WILL do - I tell myself) and how much fun SJV and I will have. I've spent the better part of the last few months getting my body trained, and my mind trained (sometimes harder to train than my body), and this weekend will be a fun test of how the new training program is going.

And so, because there's a "test" coming up, I have a wee bit of the nerves jangling around. Perfectly normal -- I always had butterflies before a show, or a performance, or a big oral argument. But I keep reminding myself that nerves are good -- if you didn't have a little nervous energy you would be "flat" and have no real motivation to be your best. So I'll take the butterflies, since I know they'll give me some oompha come Sunday morning.

And, I've got to admit that even if I blow up on the bike, or the run, or even the swim (though I really hope I can last at least until the bike!) I'm still darned proud of my training thus far this year. I've now gotten used to my new pedals (and yes, I have fallen... more funny stories on that later); I'm nearly used to the aerobars (though I'm using a bit of a training-wheel mentality with them); I'm hydrating better on the bike than ever before (thanks to SJV and his amazing Present of the Speedfill -- GREATEST invention of the century); I'm feeling better about my swim-stroke (more funny/inspirational stories on that later); and I'm just generally more ... Confident.

And isn't that really what this is supposed to be all about, anyway? I mean, aren't we really all going out there and stretching ourselves -- reaching beyond what we normally do (frankly, what normal people normally do) and testing our own limits? That's what I see as the fun of it -- walking around with the satisfaction that you were out on your bike for X hours -- that it was you, and your feet, and your heart that got you from point A to point B -- that you achieved that thing, on that day. That's a serious confidence boost -- and it's something that nobody can take away from you.

So, this last weekend I totaled the miles that SJV and I traveled with our own two feet and our hearts on Sunday alone -- 50 miles -- and I was pretty excited about that. There are lots of people that go further, and lots of people that go faster -- but to me, 50 miles is pretty fantastic indeed.

Travel safely,

Idgy the Cat

Idgy the Cat