Friday, March 28, 2008

Spring Break Training Camp

I went for a swim in an Albuquerque pool today and it was nothing like swimming in Arizona.

For one, the pool was a lot cooler, and it took me several laps to feel OK about the temperature of the water, instead of just plain feeling cold. The water felt "thinner" and I couldn't feel the catch and pull of the water as well--making for what seemed like a whole lot more effort for less result. I was also swimming indoors, at night, after a 10 hour work day, in a large, windowless enclosure, under bright, artificial lights.

In Arizona, we swam outdoors, during the day, in sun-warmed water. We were in a pool, with cement decks and a fence around us, but the sky was a brilliant blue above, the water sparkled, and there were palm trees and green grass nearby. During the week, we swam two to a lane, but on weekends, the pool was exceptionally crowded and there was movement, splashing, and color across the board.

What a difference.

Spring Break.

A pre-scheduled week off that T and I try to take advantage of, not nearly as often as we'd like, and in the past few years, somewhat hit and miss:

2001 I start new job. No vacation.

2002 We spend a week in Joshua Tree for warmer weather rock climbing, desert camping, running, and a brief foray into mountain biking.

2003 T is overseas

2004 We spend a week in Arizona for warm weather rock climbing at Cochise, Mt. Lemmon, and Queen's Creek. We did a little running and found an outdoor pool for lap swimming. Almost no tri-training to speak of, but lots of rest. Upon our return we participate in the Defined Fitness Duathlon, and put in a decent showing, despite the week off.

2005 T in the Czech Republic to visit family.

2006 T spends the week with his Dad who is ill.

2007 Vacation plans scuttled by my illness. T visits family instead.

2008 This year, we anticipate having a week off again. We toss around ideas for a while, knowing that we both want warmer weather.


Mt. Lemmon.... outdoor lap pool.... camping in the desert....

I think what cinched it for us was an article noting that all new developments in Tucson were mandated to include bicycle lanes. We decided that spring break this year would include our home away from home (on the back of the truck) and a new large tent for camping, which would allow us to bring our bicycles, as well as running gear, swimsuits, goggles, and of course, loungy chairs, good books, and a DVD player.

Instead of the usual week, we shortened our vacation to 5 days (to allow us to do useful things with the remaining days--like homework, and me not using all of my vacation days near the start of the year).

On Wednesday morning, March 19th, we went out for a morning bike ride in Albuquerque, then packed up the truck and drove I-25 to I-10 to Tucson. T drove while I provided read aloud entertainment from "C.C.Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America," an event spawned during the era of endurance dance marathons and flagpole sitting, and which involved running average daily distances of about 40 miles (give or take 20), to cross the country in 84 days. This was before there were specific running shoes, and people would run all day without drinking water.

In Arizona, camping was first come, first serve, and it turned out that the camping area we had hoped for was booked solid--and had been for the previous six weeks. This turned out to be fortunate because we found that the campsite was at a lower elevation and consisted of flat grassland with naked, burnt-looking mesquite trees, little privacy and no imagination.

Instead we found another area located at about 3000' elevation in the middle of the Saguaro National Monument--a heterogeneous landscape of cacti (saguaro, ocotillo, prickly pear, barrel, cholla), desert flowers in all colors (poppies, lupine, daisies, penstemon, globemallow, primrose, heliotrope), bushes (mostly larrea tridentata), and stumpy trees (palo verde).

It was a full moon vacation.

Coyotes yipped every night.

We worried about snakes and small rodents, but didn't see either.

The bird calls were piercing and unique.

No insects to speak of.

We saw bicycles everywhere.

A large number of entrance/exits to the I-10 highway were closed due to a highway widening project, so we made our way using back roads, and discovered Gates Hill road, which is a beautiful, steep, curvy road through a pass between the Saguaros and old Tucson. We were concerned at the narrowness of the road with no shoulder, steep drops, and lots of cars due to the detour, but saw plenty of cyclists. Later, we found out that this is a favorite bike ride.

We saw numerous "Share the road with bicycles" signs, and "Tucson is a bicycle friendly city," and realized that the cars expected to see bikes on the road.

We loved our new campsite, surrounded by bushes, trees, and desert flowers.

On Thursday, March 20th, we decided to ride Oracle road for a 30 mile round trip of gentle uphill outbound with a tailwind, followed by a gentle downhill return into a headwind. We made the day into a brick by doing a short, hilly four mile trail run on Romero Springs trail in Catalina State Park. After lunch and a rest, we found the outdoor pool from our previous visit, and did 1500 yards in sun warmed water under a blue sky. We returned home to our campsite, happily sated, and tired.

Friday, we creaked out of bed, and stayed close to home to ride a loop road, with no traffic, smooth pavement, and fun, rolling hills. The landscape was green, with lots of new desert growth and flowers. The weather was warm. The sky a piercing blue. T raced and dropped a tri-guy, but was in turn dropped by a roadie. It was nice to see all the cyclists on the road, and nice to know that the cars were expecting cyclists. After lunch, T did homework, I siesta'd in the shade of the truck, then we returned to the pool for more outdoor laps.

Saturday, tired from our previous 3 days of riding, and not accustomed to hills, we woke up with sore legs, but opted to stick with our plan to ride up Mt. Lemmon. After several days of vacationing without a clock, and letting the days follow their own rhythm, we were pretty relaxed--to the point that we didn't plan well for the climb, but just (lackadaisically) grabbed a few gels and took off. We underestimated our fatigue as well as underestimated the sustained, unprotected climb. We started at the Safeway on Tanque Verde Rd, and headed out on a wide road with smooth pavement and a good bike shoulder. The road narrowed a bit, but there was always a nice shoulder, good pavement, stellar views, and plenty of cyclists--kitted and fast -looking. All the way up, we could see a black line of tar paralleling the painted lane line. Finally, we realized that the previous painted line denoting the edge of the original wider lane had been tarred over and re-painted as a narrower lane--in order to create a wider shoulder for cyclists.
18 miles into the ride (for me), I was bonkish, cooked by the sun, and my fear of heights was starting to kick in. The descent did not include a bicycle lane--probably because it wasn't necessary. All the way down, there were plenty of pull outs, signed well ahead of time, for a downhill wuss like me to pull over, pause and collect myself. The downhill wasn't nearly as bad as anticipated and I was actually able to let go of the brakes and enjoy myself (unlike during the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in Colorado, where the un-guardrailed outside corners made me feel that I just might sail out into space). It was nice to recognize and pass by the climbing areas we had gone to in 2004 and see the road from a different perspective. T went further, but also turned around early, feeling bonkish. We didn't make it to the top this time, but we'd already been there. In 2004, we had driven up to the top on the paved road, "snuck" past the fire station (they didn't care), then descended the back side on an empty dirt road through broad, nearly uninhabited countryside.

Once again, after our descent, we opted for more outdoor laps in the pool. On this Saturday, the pool was filled to capacity, "there's a lot of triathletes here," was what they told us, but we managed to squeak in and circle swim--T in a lane with four remarkably large men, I with some fast tri-women. Back at home, we had dinner under the stars, then the full moon rose, and we retired to bed in what seemed like almost full daylight. We were tired and happy.

Sunday, we said good bye to our campsite and to Arizona by doing a 10 mile run in the desert, initially following a bushy, green arroyo, then branching off and further afield. As we descended the arroyo, a steadily escalating sound came from behind, momentarily making me wonder if a large wave was catching up with us. Mark had already stopped off the trail and I jumped sideways into some bushes, where we both ended up waving to the passing mountain bikers in partially hidden bush-gnome fashion. It was good for a laugh.

The drive was uneventful and we traveled on $3.05 per gallon gas to arrive in Albuquerque the same night.

We found out, after the trip, that Tucson is a prime winter tri and cycling camp area, and that we had hit a number of the popular bicycle routes. It just seemed like the perfect vacation for us. As with so many of our trips, we'd like to go back. We're hoping we can make Spring Break happen again next year.

P.S. Mark looking like he's having a great time after 5 days in the desert...

Yes, we definitely want to go back.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dust storm in New Mexico.

Normally, New Mexico is "Big Sky" country.

Big, blue skies and grand vistas out to the horizon, distant mountains, volcanic formations, red and brown rocks and scrubby brush stretching as far as the eye can see.

Today, however, our visibility was reduced to the countryside just around us. At some points, we actually drove into a wall of dust and couldn't see the car in front of us.

The wind whipped sideways constantly. Tumble weeds were impelled sideways--they didn't roll and skitter, but flew--across the highway.

My eyes have been watering, nose plugged, lungs wheezing.

Right now, the wind is recorded at 28 mph with gusts up to 35 mph in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Imagine riding 18 mph into 20 mph headwinds.

Pushing the biggest gear you can.

Trying to catch that one woman who runs better than you, and who seems to be slicing through the wind like butter (later you'll find your bike speeds were comparable).

Today, T and I participated in the Stealth Duathlon at Holloman Airforce Base, Alamogordo, New Mexico. 5k run, 30k bike, 35k-but-feels-like-70k winds. Dust, dust, and more dust.

T had an excellent race, despite a wrong turn and multiple episodes of emesis during the bike.

His legs felt good on the run. When I first saw him he was in 5th place on the return, while I was still making my way out. I was huffing and puffing and wheezing. It's unfortunate that I realized there was no one else in my age group--as this allowed me to ease up slightly. As I finished up my run, I saw T making a sudden, discombobulated turn on the bike. He had zipped past a silent volunteer who allowed him, and the man behind him, to turn in the wrong direction. It was the returning runners who yelled to alert him of his mistake, but he lost precious seconds, and in the end, it cost him the fastest bike split.

On the bike, feeling in my element, I surged and took advantage of the tailwind, short lived, which rapidly turned into a crosswind, and then, at the turn-around, became a relentless barrier to forward movement. I was chasing the young, blonde woman who was at least 3 minutes ahead of me after the run (no surprise). I saw T in 4th place, chasing Jason. He had forgotten his water bottle, and was vomiting repeatedly, a welcome moisture to his dehydrated, parched mouth. I don't know how he made up two places, but he did. As I approached the turn around, and spotted my competition, I realized I wasn't gaining ground, but as with every race, "it's not over 'til it's over," so I optimistically continued to bull-head my way through the wind in the biggest gear I could turn efficiently.

Both the run and bike course were slightly long (the run turn-around aid station was situated beyond the turn around for protection from the wind). I had a remarkably slow run with T telling me he could hear me wheezing, but was happy with an average 20.6 mph on the bike in the wind.

In the end, T finished second Overall to Jason (who looks even faster with his new haircut!) and I finished 2nd female overall to the blonde woman.

Lunch was fun with an Outlaw turnout in which each one of us medaled:

Carl: 1st 50-54 (wry, dry humor and the fastest helmet around)
Greg: 2nd 45-49 (nice to see the Candy man after last years break)
Cody: 3rd 30-34 (an impressive FIRST TIME racing as an Age Grouper and not Clydesdale)
Karen: 1st Athena (happy to pass 7 people on the bike)

The improvements to this race are measurable.

Passing through the entry checkpoint was rapid, with one guard checking our names against a list and refusing T's insurance card, saying he didn't need to see it. The bathrooms were unlocked at a decently early hour to allow us access while setting up transition (unlike previous years). At 7:00 am, the doors to the fitness center seemed to burst open as a legion of volunteers in yellow T-shirts exited to join us in the parking lot. The race started on time. There were 7 aid stations on the course. Volunteers were stationed at just about every intersection. A car was parked across one of the dubious "Y" intersections to prevent erroneous navigation. A complementary lunch was held in the Officer's Club, and the results were tabulated early. The race director is obviously dedicated to making improvements.

There was a small turnout today, probably due to the predicted high winds, but it's a good race, and appears to be overcoming past difficulties. I never thought I'd say this, but I actually had fun challenging the wind. Now, if they could only re-pave that road...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Domestic diva

HARD-working full time employee,



There's not a lot of leftover time.

I try to fix good, healthy, recession economy, rising oil prices food every night.

Most recent dinner was a mixed greens and hearts-of-Romaine salad with sauteed Portobello mushrooms and zucchini, Roma tomatoes, diced celery and peas with home-made Balsamic vinegar-olive oil-lemon-dill and basil dressing.

This takes time.

I've gone from voracious reader, to dabbling a few pages here and a few pages there.

My current book is: "Whatever You Do Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide."

It's written in short story format which works for me, right now. A few pages every night--complete with a laugh.

Most recent patient: global expressive and receptive aphasia (difficulty with communication) status post severe stroke, with mobility impairment.

Most recent training: Never ending swim-bike-run.

Plan to get back here when the creative bug hits me, but don't seem to have much time for that now.


Spring training is full speed ahead...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Human Cells are ~ 65-90% Water

Recently, I have been thirsty all the time.

I have a dry-sucking, bitter-tasting, gummy, tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, inside cheeks stuck to my outside gums feeling that I can’t seem to get rid of.

I try to drink a lot, but I’m not getting enough. I can tell because no matter how much I think I am waterlogging myself, I keep peeing dark.

Part of this is being ill. My body doesn’t know how to regulate itself when it lies in bed for several days in a row.

Part of this could be the medicine I’m taking.

Part of this just might be a subtle loss of my brain’s ability to accurately determine how much water I need when I’m thirsty.

Now that I’m starting to feel better, we went for a run this morning. Instead of carrying water (like we knew we should) we opted to aim for the university campus and stop for a drink there.

Our mistake was running on Sunday.

The campus was locked up tight.

There wasn't an outdoor fountain to be found.

I didn’t feel too bad because the temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up--nice coolish temperatures which kept me from over heating—but I did start wondering if I would get an irregular heart beat from the stress to my system due to a lack of blood volume and lack of rehydration to my steadily shrinking cells.
Now, that’s a bit of insight into my hypochondriacal side.

Lucky for us, Taco Bell opens early.

At 6 miles, we stopped in and asked for a cup of water.

I have to give props for the attendant’s adherence to fast food service soft drink rules, attention to detail, and customer service. Instead of the little, flimsy plastic throw–away cup filled with tepid tap water that I expected to receive, she gave us a tall, sturdy, heavy-duty paper, filled-to-the-brim-with-ice cup, topped with a snap on lid.


Not much water in there. A few sips and I got an ice cream headache. But that was OK, because those few sip used up all the water and there was no more ice water left to make the headache worse.

Plus, I immediately felt that I was going to live.

To top it off, it looked like snow over the Sandias—and the wind felt like snow on the street.
So, who wants ice water with that?

The rest of the run was finished in high form: T ran away from me (can you blame him?), I wondered how someone who’s been sick for as many days as I had been could think a nine mile run was feasible, the temperature kept dropping, and the return was all up hill--
but I knew that I was going to live.

It’s amazing what a little water can do.

I think I’ll try and drink more of it.