Sunday, October 18, 2009

Long, Slow Training Day: The Duke City Marathon

Today I did my first marathon.

T told me to go slow.
He signed us up by telling me that this was to be a training day. No racing, just training pace.
That was easy to do.

I was so tired when I woke up this morning, that I was almost unable to get out of bed. As I reluctantly fought my way to wakefulness, I had this feeling of deja vu--then realized this was the same feeling I used to have when I was young and would stay up too late. As I gained consciousness, I realized I felt young again. How funny is that?

For a number of reasons, I haven't slept well in days.
Combine this with being ill last week, not giving myself enough recovery time so that I became ill again this week, 3 days of total rest this week (Mon,Tu, Wed), then working out Thursday, Friday, and Saturday--and, yes, I was tired.

Not only was I tired, but I woke up sore.
I had gone for an easy ride on the flats the day before, but the wind made it difficult. Plus, I had ridden low and aero for practice, and my hips were letting me know they could feel the difference.

So I groaned my way out of bed, telling myself that Time marches on and soon the day would be over.

I found it funny that at 6:00 am, as one of the first people to arrive, some yAhoo had to use his horn in the parking garage. How fast do you have to go to get to nowhere?

The race started at 7 am, so it was nice to be out of the cold in the "warm up" area in the large banquet hall in the convention center.

We picked up bags for the clothing drop off early, which allowed us to drop off our warm clothes fast 5 minutes before the start.

It was nice not to care where we seeded ourselves. Time didn't matter today--except in my case, I just wanted it to pass.

We started out slow and easy. T took off after a few blocks. I felt pretty poor for the first mile, then settled in. Sort of. I was far more hydrated than I realized, since usually I'm coming off a swim and a bike beforehand. I used every portopot available, and had some uncomfortable miles in between, eyeing every bush and wondering if I should use one. My hands were so frozen by mile 5, that "clothing management" was difficult and I couldn't get my shorts to "unroll" after clumsily trying to pull them up. I always think of Misty and her inhaler vs. the portopot incident, so I was slow and careful--even though I didn't have any pockets--so probably my brain was frozen, too.

The nutrition went easy. Water initially, with a little Gatorade for the first hour, a gel at the first and second hours, a 2X caffeinated gel at mile 16, and an extra sodium with no caffeine gel with 5 miles to go. I kept the fluids to primarily water, with some Gatorade as I neared the top of each hour. It worked well. What didn't work well was the banana that they had at the turnaround. Clunk. Like lead in my stomach. Brown and icky. Probably chopped the night before and left out on a counter somewhere. Really bad. So, now I know at least one of the reasons why people develop tummy troubles during big/long events. That one took several miles to get over.

I spent an inordinate amount of brain power trying to figure out what "training pace" was. All the way out to the turn around--when I finally got tired of the whole "slow and easy, I'm going to be out here for days" pace, and decided to pick it up a bit. The problem was I knew my training pace for an easy 9-12 miler, but had no idea what my training pace was for a marathon--since I'd never run the distance before--and especially not when my body was that tired.

So I booked it back in a negative split, passing all those poor people who'd gone out harder than me and were now walking, and trying not to be competitive, because 1) T told me not to, and 2) at this point, what would be the point? I knew I might pay for it later, but it felt good to stop worrying about my pace. My miles were completely consistent--same time for each mile (slow) all the way out, and same time for each mile (slightly faster) all the way back. Add in innumerable potty stops, and walking each aid station, and I had a finish time of 5 hours and change. The best part was finishing with a strong pace and finding out that running a marathon is doable. One day, I think I might actually want to run one for real and find out what my marathon time would be. But, for now, with no taper, sore, recently ill, and tired--it's 5 hours and change--and that's good enough for me.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Just a Thought

Some years back I owned a tiny Toyota Corolla station wagon. Cute as a button. The engine came from a Corolla sedan that had been rear ended by a truck--engine good, rear trunk bad--and I found the body from the comment of a passing stranger who said his neighbor had a shell of the same kind of car sitting in storage in his garage --body only, no engine, perfect.

As an aside, and just in case your wondering, the sedan was $35, and the station wagon body cost $90.

I owned that car for several years. One time, I went out to the car and it had two flat tires, front and rear on the same side. Another time the engine died and I and a friend had to push it up a hill (it was a tiny car). By the time I was done with it, it had an over-heating problem, and I had to drive with the heater on (use the defroster if you have to do this, to keep the hot air out of your face), in the dead of summer, and keep the speed under 55 mph, just to cool the engine enough for a one hour drive.

The engine was simple. No computers, electronic ignition, or fuel injection.
I used to do my own basic work. Oil, filter, pan, wrench. Feeler gauge, distributor cap, rotor, etc, spark plugs, wires sometimes, wrench, and rag. Blow the air filter out with the compressed air at the gas station.

I remember one day doing a tune up.
Finding TDC and setting the timing.
I mentioned this to a friend of mine.
A day later he showed up at my house with some electronic gizmo that I had never seen, heard of, needed, or wanted, to check my timing.
Me, being who I am, I let him do it. I remember thinking why does this guy have to rely on a machine to figure out if the timing is right?
He told me he was checking the dwell. Huh?
Then I remember him looking either surprised or sheepish, probably from relying on that unnecessary gizmo to tell me what I already knew, that my timing was fine--just a whisper from where that machine said it should be.

I was young and I thought my friend was kind of an a**, but not enough to do anything more than let his actions pass.

* * * * *

A few weeks ago, I started work with a new client. To get to his house you drive up a long, narrow easement, bordered closely by fencing on either side, past two houses, and park in a small space that doesn't allow for a turn around. The first time I got ready to leave, the men of the house came out with me and made several comments about people having difficulty backing up and running into the fence. Since I work from appointment to appointment, I was in a bit of a hurry to get to my next house. But the men kept hovering, commenting about the difficulty of backing down the long driveway. I tried to make placating, polite "I'm going now" noises, but then, as I felt pressed for time, and in an effort to move things along, I finally said, "Well, let's just see how I do" (an unexpected phrase for me), got in the car, and took off. At a fairly good rate of speed. Dead center. Nary a scratch. Backing up just a bit faster than expected, partially to allay their doubts but probably more just to show them.

* * * * *

Yesterday, T and I went for a bike ride. Somehow I dropped my chain going flat and slow over the Alameda bridge. So, I got off the bike, replaced the chain, and just as I was spinning the crank to make sure the chain was set, T pulled up and said, "Hey, that was fast." To which I replied, without thinking or hesitation, "You know, sometimes you guys treat us women like we're imbeciles." Really. I said that. And T laughed. Which is a good thing, because those words even surprised me.

But they got me thinking.
And I remembered years back to the car tune up.

And, after all these years, I finally wondered, do you think if I had been a guy doing the tune up, would this other guy have brought over his gadget, unasked, to check my work?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Elephant Butte

Pack fill.
That's what T calls it.
I'd never heard the term before, but it's when you don't bring up the rear--and you're certainly not up at the front.
It sounds anonymous and generic. No recognition of the effort it takes to finish and no indication of place--just a space occupying reference, which is how I felt after finishing the race today. Pack fill.

Of course, I should know better by now. I'm not, and never have been, an athlete on the sharp end.
Meaning, I don't lead.
I plod, and work, and eke out every minute of gain that I make.
I am a model of economy of success.

Where I live, I sometimes have the opportunity to be a big fish in a little pond--but only because the pond is so small. The big fish don't show up to the little races, because they have bigger ponds to contend with--which makes it easy to forget who and where I am.

But not today.

Today was actually impressive because more big fish showed up to race at one time than I have ever seen in a local race.
What a reality check.
I had actually given up an earlier, smaller race to opt in on this event--the Elephant Butte Triathlon--in order to get more race time in the water, and because I wanted a free weekend for longer mileage just before our foray to Colorado for the Harvest Moon Half.

The Elephant Butte Triathlon is a sort of Olympic distance event with a swim that's longish at 1700 yards (almost Half IM distance), a bike that's 26.5 miles, and a 10k that's short 2/10's for a 6 mile run. Odd. I didn't know it was one of our premier local events. Nor did I know it was that hilly. Or that there was approximately a mile of sandy trail running involved. I was just focused on more swim practice and getting through the swim.

Which I did.
And with NO panic.
The first time this year that I felt OK in the water.

I did start off very slow, in anticipation of the onset of panic. And then every time I started to pull harder and settle into a rhythm, I would bring myself up short and worry that I might get carried away and tip myself into a panic, but in the end, it was just a decent, calm, but longish swim, with a bit of chop from passing swimmers, and some difficulty sighting due to the rising sun, and the lack of a buoy to mark the finishing chute.

I attribute the success of this swim to a number of factors--
-that I had just experienced a nightmare of a swim two weeks prior, and lived through it,
-that the water was exceptionally flat and warm at 74 degrees, which allowed for wetsuits without the corresponding coldness to take my breath away,
-that I took the advice of Shirley to heart about my sighting difficulties and did some preparatory scouting to help me find my way,
-that with T coming home at the end of summer, I've finally been able to get in some open water swim time on the weekends.
But most of all, I think my lack of panic had a lot to do with feeling surrounded by a group of understanding people--people who come in from all parts of the state who I've seen at these races for years; team members and training partners for those longer mileage rides we've been doing; friends who would come to my rescue in any way, shape, or form, if I really needed it. It was like I finally realized that if I didn't make the d*rn swim, it wouldn't matter and my friends (and fellow triathlon and exercise groupies) would be there to pick me up anyway.

It was a nice feeling, and I finished the 1700 yards successfully in a predictably slow time of 46:49, the 7th slowest out of a field of 80 women.

The outcome of the race was another story.

Because I have been doing longer distance training, I forgot that the Olympic distance is still one to be respected. I actually thought of it more as a "sprint" type race, because the distances were so much less than what I have been doing for training. Which meant that I went too hard on the bike and didn't eat or drink enough.

My time for 26.5 miles of some fairly decent hills was 1:23:58 or 18.6 mph, for the 9th fastest female bike. A good showing for the terrain, and I passed a number of people--many of whom passed me back on the run.

My run time for 6 miles of more hills was 1:00:14 hours, not bad for me, but oh so frustrating because I just don't see how people can run so smoothly and fast, passing me with ease, while I plod and fatigue. It was here that my "sprint" perspective came back to bite me--as I realized I had left my legs out on the bike course and I just couldn't pick up the pace the way I wanted to, which told me how tired I was. Several of my AG competitors passed me with ease. Somewhere between mile 4 and 5 I realized I was hungry and subsequently realized I might bonk before I got to the next aid station. It's bad when you're asking for gels to finish the last mile.

In the end I placed 9th in my Age Group. In any other Age Group, I would have placed 1st through 6th. But not my Age Group. Ahead of me were women whom I totally respect and admire and who compete on the sharp end at a level I can only dream of, and they are my age. That speaks volumes to me and on so many levels.

Still, I had a successful swim, which really was the whole point of the race, and most of all, I enjoyed seeing everyone and all the hugs. I can't say that I don't wish I was faster, and leaner, and taller--because I do--but in the end, it's really all about myself and what triathlon training and competition means to me--not how I compare to every other human out there. On another note, I can't believe I only earned 2 points towards the SW Challenge series, when Mark B so kindly pointed out before the race that I "only" needed 3 points to make the podium!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Harvest Moon Triathlon

This year, driving up to Colorado, getting ready for our general annual long race, I felt like I didn't know what I was doing.

Like I hadn't done a long race in so long, I couldn't remember how to prepare or what to expect.

I couldn't remember what clothes I usually wear, or what nutrition to use, or how to pace myself.

My last long race was the Longhorn 70.3, a year ago in Austin. A long, hot, miserable affair with a mis-marked swim, a pretty but draft happy bike, and an unappealing run. I know others liked it, but it just wasn't the race for me.

This year, I haven't been racing much. Nothing longer than a sprint (except the F1 which was twice the distance of a sprint)--6 races spread out over 8 months.

We signed up for the Harvest Moon Half as a training race--just a day in between our other training days, to give us a benchmark in terms of our training for a race later in the year. We didn't taper or rest much--a day off for the drive, a light "lets check out the swim and pick up our packet" day, then the race:

Part 1: In which I can't swim.

You would think that I could by now, since I started swimming after a gymnastics injury in college, lived in Hawaii and swam almost daily before going to work, and have been doing triathlons fairly consistently since 2001.

You would think.

But, I can't.

During a triathlon event, the combination of a timed course, my own expectations and apprehensions, and what I tend to think of as a primitive psychological revolt against swimming out into the middle of a large body of water, all come together to make what is quite possibly the worst experience of my life--what I tend to think of as my own personal hell on earth--which I seem to do repeatedly, and by choice, year after year.

This year, in an effort to improve and mitigate the panic, I have spent more time in the water--ramping up the yardage since March, but being somewhat stymied lately by time constraints.

While my sprint race swims have definitely improved, and on these familiar courses, the panic has decreased, large bodies of water and open water swimming continue to throw me into fight or flight overdrive.

It is a truly grim experience.

For the Harvest Moon, I was in the first wave, with the pros, Athena's, and masters women. I felt fine during the warm up. Even the line of buoys looked doable--I could count 4 large orange buoys straight out into the lake to the turn around and figured I could just swim buoy to buoy and count them down without too much difficulty.
But then the gun went off.
I always wait a minute to let the roiling of the water from the other swimmers quiet down before I start. Then I start a little ways back and out to the side, so I am in the quiet water and the next wave doesn't mow me down. But those pros disappeared quick. And in a few strokes I was by myself, and suddenly those buoys looked really far away, and somehow I swam too far to the right, and I felt pretty isolated and tiny.

So I looked up, in my isolated, tiny state of mind, sighted, and tried not to panic.

I put my head down, and swam as slow as I could and took gentle, quiet breaths, to try and prevent the hyperventilation that comes with the panic. I started aiming at a leftward angle to get to the first buoy. I didn't want to take my head out of the water to sight, because once I do, there is this overwhelming urge to keep my head above water, and it is very difficult to start swimming again. Getting my head out of the water and into unlimited air feels good, but of course, it doesn't get me out of the middle of the lake. So, I swam and tried to control myself.

I continued angling slightly leftward--or so I thought. Instead, I made a 90 degree turn and swam parallel to the shore. I was still not lifting my head and trying to get my breathing under control. When I did lift my head, the Police boat was idling nearby, and I could see I was directly in line with the first buoy--I just hadn't made any headway out towards it. T tells me that initially, as soon as I swam off course to the right, the Police boat started following me. I was still feeling pretty tiny and isolated and a bit disoriented, but I was thankful the buoy was a straight shot in front of me, so I put my head down and started swimming directly out toward that large orange marker.

By this time, I'd spent the first 5 minutes of the race not going anywhere, and I was so close to shore that I could hear the verbal "go" for the next wave. Of course, all the good swimmers wanted the same line I was taking, and shortly thereafter, I was engulfed by large people, focused swimmers determined to give it their best, and the water got choppy and I got hit--all while still trying to get my breathing and panic under control. All I wanted to do was stop. I was still close enough to shore I could have sat up and breast-stroked back. I wanted to call it. Wave my arms in the air. Take my head out of the water. Stop the fright, turn off the alarm in my body, get a normal breath of air and stop the shallow panicked breaths which made me feel like I suffocating.
But I didn't.
And I still don't know why.
Some bull-headed part of me continued to lift one arm out of the water and then the other, while mentally, I fought a battle that felt like it's going to tear my head in two. Somehow, I didn't let myself stop.
And some how, I continued against every instinct and physiological signal from my body--waiting for that time when I would finally settle in and smooth out, and begin to swim in comfort.
But for this race, that never came.

I swam, using short breaths, short strokes, barely moving, just surviving. I watched the yellow swim caps go by, then the light blue, red, and bright orange. Every now and then I'd start feeling better, and then someone would nail me with a stray stroke, and I'd start all over again. At one point, after the turn-around buoy, I did another strange 90 degree left hand turn (which is strange since I always pull to the right), and I looked up to wonder why everyone was swimming in such an odd direction. I started to turn left to join them, then realized I had crossed mid line and was about to join the crowd still making their way out to the turn-around buoy. I had this image of being caught in this endless maelstrom of swimmers going round and round the course and never reaching the end. I almost smiled, but I was also getting tired, and the water was getting more choppy and I still had a long ways to go.

Two buoys out from shore, over 40 minutes into the swim, I just wanted out of the water. I was tired. The adrenaline has kicked my butt. I felt like I couldn't move well. I was swimming like a snail. Somehow, people kept passing me--although I was sure that by now I was the last swimmer--and the water never quieted down.

When I did exit, there was almost no one around. My fingers were so cold I couldn't get my wetsuit off. Literally, I couldn't get my fingers to close or grip. I asked a nearby person to give me a hand, not knowing if they had strippers at this race, but knowing that I was stuck. He pulled the suit over my shoulders and up around my head and left me to try to get if off. Now I was even more stuck than before, since my hands weren't working. He watched me for a moment, while I was stuck with this rubber strait jacket around my head, and then (finally) asked if I needed more help (you can laugh if you want, my sister and I were rolling when I told her). I walked up the longish hill to transition, exhausted. I have never walked a transition before. My swim was 53 minutes for 1.2 miles. 338 of 339.

Part 2: In which I pass 5 women minutes into the bike.

Which is a good thing, since it boosted my morale and brought my head squarely forward into the bike portion of the race.

The bike started out nice. An out and back spur which flew by despite rolling hills. I kept waiting for a headwind but it never came. After the spur the course had a 40 mile loop, so that I turned several corners, and still no headwind. I was wet and freezing when I first got on the bike and kept waiting to warm up, but even after I warmed up, I was only marginally comfortable. The cycling felt smooth and strong, and then I started to fatigue. I hit mile 39 in two hours and remember thinking, "I just have to do 17 miles an hour to make a 3 hour bike, so maybe I'll go sub-3..." and then I turned a corner and went headfirst into the wind--at 12 m.p.h. Along with the rolling hills. Some of which were real hills. It was brutal, and I started getting colder, and felt like I just wasn't going to make it to the end. My right adductor started complaining--which says something about my bike style--and I started surviving rather than pushing. In the end, I didn't drink enough, more than likely because I was so cold, and my stomach felt completely empty 4 miles out from the finish, so I ate half a protein bar, which probably wasn't enough. Despite the demoralizing wind, I still finished in 3:01:55 for 56 miles, which, despite hoping for a sub-3, still put me in the ball-park of a good finish.

Part 3: In which I replay Idaho over and over in my head, and wonder if I can still manage a 10 min/mile average pace even after that exhausting swim...

In Idaho, 2008, I ran a 2:12 half marathon, after a 3:04 bike. It was my best half Ironman half marathon time ever. At that time, the weather had been cool, and I was fairly fresh, because I hadn't done the swim. It was my first inkling that my half marathon distance running was starting to get better--and I'd upped my mileage this year so maybe, just maybe, I could pull off another good run.

But, I was tired and cold getting off the bike.

I picked up a caffeinated gel and headed out of transition wearing one bike glove. Luckily, I wasn't wearing my helmet--although I did feel on my head, just to make sure.
So the glove went into my back pocket, where it bounced around for the entire run, and I proceeded to try to get my legs under me. A real sweetheart of a runner, in my age group, tried to encourage me to get on her heels, but I couldn't do it. It took a couple of miles before I felt like I was moving well--and when I checked the watch I had 21 minutes including a quick bathroom break--so 10 min/mile it was. And that's the way it stayed. I had a few 9:40 miles, but those were followed by 10 plus miles, so it all evened out. The weather just got colder and colder, which made for good running weather, but then it got almost too cold. 9 miles in, I started to get tired. 2 miles out I just wanted the whole thing to be over. The last mile.1 seemed endless and I wanted to walk. Later when I looked at that endless time, it was 11:57, which wasn't nearly as slow as I felt. It felt especially cruel when the run went onto trail and uphill, but the finish was 100 yards of concrete, and it felt so good to be on solid ground, running slightly downhill to the finish, that I stretched out my legs and had a big smile on my face, and was just happy, happy, happy to be done.

In the end, the race was a PR at 6:16:28, by 17 minutes.
Which, is the same amount of time T took off his time to PR also at 4:55.
From last female out of the water and my worst swim time ever, to 8th in my age group, to a PR.
Not bad.
But it would feel a whole lot better if I didn't have to go through that terrifying swim.

Before the race, T checked the Duathlon participant list and there was only one woman in my Age Group--so I could have switched over, placed, gotten an award and a gift certificate AND missed the swim--but it wouldn't have been the same story, and I wouldn't have gotten my PR.

After the race, the rain started, and the temperature dropped, and even though we put on warm clothes, and were wrapped around each other, we couldn't stop shivering. So we bagged the raffle, went home, took a warm shower, and went to a family get together for dinner with T's grandmother, auntie and uncle, and cousins.
We had to--T's auntie makes the BEST home made pastries.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Warm, Fuzzy Car Breakdown

My car stopped working today, and because of it, I ended up with a warm, fuzzy feeling. How often does that happen?

My car had been working fine, all day, all week, all month--zipping around Albuquerque neighborhoods to the tune of mucho miles each week.

Tonight, just after I thought, "What a nice evening with no overhanging commitments and I can do whatever I want," I turned the ignition in my car, felt the briefest of jolts, and then everything went dead.
No sickly err-err as the car tried to turn over. Or lights dimly turning on.
I couldn't even get the car to shift out of gear--it's an automatic, and it was stuck firmly in Park.

So I called my car insurance in confidence, because I always carry Road Service--and was told that my other car was covered--but not this one. I am generally not a pushy consumer--and am, in fact, a pushover consumer--but the light was going fast, and I was stuck in the remote corner of a large parking lot, and my car was supposed to have Road Service. Why would I cover the car I am not driving, and not cover the car that I am driving? Which is what I patiently told the rep, as well as bringing up the fact that I had been a forever customer, and that I had been carrying Road Service for years--or so I thought.
After hemming, and hawing, and talking to supervisors, I got my Road Service--effective immediately. How cool is that?

Initially the wait for the tow was 45 minutes, putting my arrival at an auto shop at past 9:00 pm, but when I explained to the dispatcher that most auto shops were closed, and that I really did not want my car sitting on the street overnight, she empathised, and got the tow immediately.

When the tow truck driver arrived, he figured out that the terminal connector on my battery had cracked, so that I wasn't getting power, wiggled it, turned my car on, shook my hand and wished me a good night. Just a very pleasant, smiling man doing his job, and making my day.

Then, at the cusp of 9:00 pm, I drove over to Pep Boys to drop off the car for the night, so they could fix it in the morning (already planning on what car I was going to drive tomorrow)--but they said, "Pull it in, we'll fix it right now."

So after removing the offending part, stripping the wires with a razor, making my car good as new again, they comped the job and told me to have a good night.

Which I did. Compliments of all the people I interacted with tonight. Simple, I know, but what I great, big, wonderful world we have.

So, if you're going to have your car breakdown, then this is how to do it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Magicians, Movies, and Mangoes

Hurricane Felicia was on it's way, downgrading all the time, and scheduled to hit O'ahu as a tropical depression on Tuesday--so on Monday night when Mark and I went out for a movie, we had the entire theatre to ourselves.

Limited seating.

20 Barca-loungers.

When the lights go down, the usher tells everyone to please recline their seats--it's mandatory.

You can bring in food and drink.

And there's a different movie five nights a week: Old, new, foreign, indie, classic, any genre you can think of.

The woman at the entry took our money, and gave us two ripe Hayden mangoes, picked from the proprietor's tree, who's great, great, great grandfather just happened to be the one to introduce Hayden mangoes to the islands.

Here's Mark, getting comfortable--with his mangoes...
Those mangoes were 'ono!

(Good movie, too. Magicians, 2007, UK: A black (and entertaining) comedy.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bike Adventures

Mark is having bike adventures in Washington.

On June 1st, one week after touchdown for a summer job in the capitol, he competed in the Clarendon Cup criterium in downtown Clarendon, a trendy suburb of DC.
Well, sort of.
I'm not sure he would call it “competed.”
I think for him it was more like “survived” 10 minutes on the course before being nearly lapped and pulled by the ref as the field containing the current national elite time trial champion and a former Iranian Olympian along with a coterie of 1-2 masters men who were added to Mark's wave at the last minute.
He went into the race knowing he would be lapped, but thinking he would be able to hang on for 45 minutes, get in a good high end work out, and eventually be lapped after about 25 miles.
This was before the 1-2 masters were added to his wave of Cat 3,4,5, Master's Men. On the day of the race. And, a criterium at that.
In the end, he was one of about 40 people lapped and pulled--2/3rd's of the initial field of 60—which, judging from the remainder of the summer, only served to whet his appetite.

The next day was a chipped and timed “non-competitive” ride with awards that was part of the Air Force Classic in Crystal City just before the UCI rated Pro race. 72 miles in three hours on a rainy morning. It hurt, but out of 2000 entrants, he was only one of two riders to do the highest number of laps—9--on the course. About 100 people made 8 laps. And the rest did what they could—or got smart and quit early because of the rain.

He's taken really well to Washington. Within the first week of being there, he’s already seen several familiar faces from last year's summer sojourn. Last year, Peter was kind enough to direct Mark to some of the local clubs, and this year he's already reconnected and riding and drinking beer with the boys (Peter is a dedicated DC runner—and enjoys 3k sprints on a regular basis).

Church Creek Individual Time Trial the next week, pretty much the same course and the day before the Eagleman 70.3. Hot, muggy, windy. 40K in 1:01, 7th out of 52 in category.

A few weeks after Mark's 10 minute foray into riding with the East Coast boyz, he went for a solo ride on a popular route along the WOD recreation trail—and broke a shifter cable 0 miles out, but too early for any bike shops to be open. Stuck in his 39-11, he prepared to ride his newly minted single speed, over hill and dale, 40 miles to Purcellville town, but (and this is the power of advertising on a mobile, human billboard), he spotted a rider in a “Bike Shop” jersey, flagged him down, and found a bike shop only 8 single speed miles away. Whew.

That same week he went for a ride around Haines Point, was 6 miles into it, did a nothing in particular pedal stroke—and pulled his shoe away from his cleat.
Since they were Mark's favorite cycling shoes, and a giveaway several years back from fellow Outlaw Bones—he mourned them.
But not for long.
There's nothing like a good excuse for new cycling equipment.

Next week was a DC Triclub training triathlon followed by a barbecue. 400m/26k/5k. Sold out at $5.00 and 200 entrants. Fully supported and marshaled. Definitely the right price and fun. Mark went home with a 7th overall.

After 4 weeks in DC, learning a new job, and getting into the swing of a new training routine, Mark participated in the Dextro ITU World Cup Triathlon. 100% closed course through Potomac Park, Downtown, the Mall, Capitol Hill and Penn Quarter. A great way to tour the city without the worry of traffic. Prior to the race, enough rain fell to warrant the title of DC as “the new Calcutta” (Washington Post). Rumors of strong currents, sewage run-offs, and cancellation of the practice swim lent an air of pre-race apprehension, but the swim itself turned out to be odorless and the water “tasted fine.” Mark characterized the swim as a constant stream of debris hitting him in the forehead, and the 1500 meter choppy and misty swim was impossible to sight, marked as it was by 5 buoys, with two of these obscured by a large stone bridge, and 1 buoy flagging the finish dock. It was this swim that likely cost Mark his goal of going under 2:20, but he did PR and rode his fastest 40k in a triathlon and ran his fastest 10K ever.

In July, he did the “Total 200” Double Century ride and felt good except for a lull at miles 125 to 150 and two flats during the final 8 miles.

The following weekend, was the Giro di Copi Road Race in Barnesville, MD. In his words:
Three beautiful laps, 39 miles. Caught in a crash in the first mile, stayed upright, but then chased hard for the next five miles to catch the field. Made the selection of about 20 riders, but got dropped in a 150 degree corner, chased till eyeballs bled for about eight miles but caught the break. Cooked. Dropped on last hill, last rider shed from the finishing field. Fun.

That same evening, he did the Rockville Twilighter 8K run in 35:07, followed by listening to a band, drinking too much beer, and getting home way too late. Recognized the name of former Texas/New Mexico runner and triathlete, “DeHeer,” as the 4th place finisher with a time of 24+, but did not locate him. After a late night, rallied the next morning to get up at 5 a.m. for an 83-mile ride.

The last weekend of his DC stay was a ride up Mt. Weather with members of the record setting RAAM mixed team. A punishing 55 miles. Followed by a very rainy Crystal City twilighter that evening. Heavy legs, but 20:52 for a 5k. Found DeHeer. Not as much free beer this time, and got back home a little earlier. 91 rolling and rainy cycling miles DC to Sugarloaf the next morning.

1500 cycling miles.
5 cycling events
2 triathlons
2 running races

That's Mark's adventures in DC.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


So, I finish my run tonight, and I am hot and sticky and grumpy.
The cloud cover that had deceptively intimated a coolish run had, instead, supported a scirocco-like wind.
I am tired of the heat.
And I am irritated.

There's a knock on the door.
This has been happening with increasing frequency in the evening.
The front lawn, which has been growing unfettered (sorry Muffin), is attracting all manner of itinerants wanting to make a few dollars.
Generally, I ignore the knocks.
But this time, I am on the phone with T, which somehow makes me a little braver, so I pull the curtain aside to look out the window.
There's a man standing there, white T-shirt, long, brown hair in a pony tail to his mid-back, sunglasses. He has a bag over his shoulder.
I say (grumpish) "Can I help you?"
He just stands there and looks at me.
I repeat myself.
He says he can't hear me.
I raise my voice and say, I don't want want anything, please go away.
He raises his arm and points above my front door and says he wants to know if I want (something unintelligible) stripped.
I say "What?" Because whatever he is saying makes no sense. And, besides, most people want to mow the lawn, and I wasn't expecting him to point above my front door. Then, I immediately say (remember I was grumpish), "Go away, I don't want anything."
He says, "Huh? I can't hear you." Just standing there and not moving. So, I repeat myself and he says he can't hear me again. And, again, not moving.
Since I am on the phone with T, I am only partially analyzing this conversation but somewhere in the back of my head I'm sure I've had conversations through this front window--and the recipient has been able to hear me.
A bit confused but tiring of this, I drop the curtain and turn away, feeling rude, to resume my conversation with T.

When I get off the phone, it dawns on me, that perhaps the man was trying to get me to open the front door.
Do you think?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Swim Thoughts...

Having the nose piece to my goggles literally fall apart just as I touch the wall at the end of my last lap--must be some significance here.

Allergies in New Mexico--learning to sneeze under water.

Stretching my neck every chance I get--especially after hearing the story of the triathlete who damaged a disc in his neck after doing a 6000 yard session, resulting in weakness in one of his arms. Of course, I don't swim 6000 in a session...

Drills. Still feel as if I'm drowning.

Getting excited when I pass someone in the pool, then realizing that it's pretty pathetic to take satisfaction in passing someone slower than me. It's not that I'm any faster, it's just that some poor soul is caught in a time warp bubble and the slow swimming is really just a functional illusion caused by the expansion of the universe resulting in a relative decrease in velocity.... As a frame of reference, just know that everyone swims faster than me.

And, finally,
After wearing contacts for more years than I care to admit (I saved up and bought my first pair when I was 15), and wearing contacts in the pool under goggles for maybe half those years, and using them during triathlons in the early 90's and then again starting in 2001... I finally lost a lens during a race. Those goggles which broke (see above) did so just before a race, so I grabbed a pair of goggles I was unfamiliar with, squinched them on to my head and eyes so tight that there was TITANIC suction (really uncomfortable, but I'm paranoid of drowning, and felt safer keeping the water out...), so that when I pulled off the goggles, I guess a lens went with them. I didn't notice until half way into the bike when I realized I couldn't get my right eye to focus. C'est la vie. It was a lens that had been giving me trouble for a long time. Even though it was a gas permeable, permanent (not disposable), pricey little thing, I was almost glad to see it go. I went home, dug out my old contacts (dare I say, from 2006), cleaned, scrubbed and rinsed, and voila, I'm almost good as new. It's just that now, I might look at you sideways--you know, one eye popping out, angled and fractured, like Picasso in his Cubist phase....

Friday, June 19, 2009

NDT Certified!

Graduation day!

These are the people I spent three weeks with,
in a dingy Norwegian dance hall,
learning a specific neuro-rehab approach to treating central nervous impairments (e.g., stroke, brain injury, cerebral palsy).

I am now a Neuro-Developmental Technique / NDT certified therapist.
Which, in my profession, is really pretty cool.

However, better than becoming NDT certified, is what I learned in the process-and how I am using what I learned to make improvements for the people I work with.

I wanted to take the course because I work with people with significant mobility deficiencies and abnormalities--some seemingly intractable and difficult to treat--and I wanted to make more of a difference, which I can truly say I do now.
I went to the course not really knowing what to expect.
If I had known in advance how difficult the course would be, and how it would tie up my life from February through early June--I might not have done it.

But knowing what I do now, how could I ever have gone without it?

The way the course was taught, it took a long time to pull all the pieces together, integrate the concepts and information, and finally understand the big picture.

After all of the angst, sedentariness, full days in the classroom followed by late nights doing homework (with pencil and paper), now that it's done, I wish there could be more. I miss the learning and the people--and the photo (above) makes me nostalgic.

I am a changed person.

p.s. I'm front row, third from right, in the white tank top--smiling!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where's the O2??

What do you get when you spend a week at sea level?


Seriously, I can't seem to breath during exercise. I run taking, long, shuddering breaths in, and vow to myself that I will eat right, and train right, and do everything right, so long as I can get back to being able to BREATH again.

Oxygen is a beautiful thing...

I've spent 5 weeks total at sea level so far this year: 2 weeks in Florida, and 3 weeks in California. Not half weeks, or weekends, mind you, but FULL weeks. It doesn't seem like much, but the breathing part lets me know that perhaps it is adding up.

This time it seems a bit harder to recover from.
However, on the plus side, I seem to have avoided gaining too many extra pounds. Just a little spare tire around the middle (which, on someone my height, makes me look/feel like the Michelin man)...

But, I did find an article by Matt Fitzgerald that heralds a bit of weight gain as good for you during the training season.
Good for me.
I am obviously doing something right!

More weeks at sea level to follow.
This time in Hawaii.
Even if it does sabotage an upcoming race, well...
Who can blame me for going?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sitting on a Park Bench

"Sitting on a park bench..."


Base line.
Ba da da da DAH da.

I hate that song.
Always have.
There was a boy next door who used to play it in his garage.
Every day.
Like it was the only song he knew.
Which it probably was.

Recently, one of my co-workers can't seem to get it out of her head.

A few months ago she asked me to help her find the lyrics (she's learning, but still a bit technically challenged). We retrieved the lyrics, and she then added them to her arsenal of one-liners that she belts out every now and then. Silly enough, but we periodically burst into song throughout the day. We're nothing like Snow White--more like the seven dwarves, Grumpy and Sneezy. Generally we sing 70's R & B and cheesy listening, Prince, doo-wop, Ramones, whatever, and now....Aqualung.

I'm a long way out of the office now.
Gone on another jaunt to improve the technical skill of what I do.
Far enough away to get that dreaded song out of my head.

I'm completing a course I started in February of this year.
2 weeks of in class coursework, 2 months of application and homework, 1 month of application and study. And, now for the final summation and education, followed, hopefully, by graduation and certification.
In February, when I attended the initial part of this course, I spent two weeks sitting.
I gained back fat and a level of decreased fitness which took a month to recover from.

This time around, on the first day, I took a walk during the break and found a bench to sit on for lunch. It was set back from the street, in a grassy little copse.
It was worn and warped and solitary.
A perfect back drop for tricep dips, modified push ups, planks, and various poses for abdominal strengthening.

I am such an exercise-geek.
Sitting on a park bench...
Now, I can't get it out of my mind.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Stylist

My stylist cut off over half a foot of my hair--just before he left for DC.

I told him to cut off 5 inches, then said, "No, better make that 4 inches just to make room for any mistakes."

What I really meant, was "Please cut off the damaged, dry straw at the end, but leave the good stuff.

Unfortunately, I didn't say so.

Then I pointed to some obscure place on my back--which was pretty silly on my part, since I don't have eyes in the back of my head.

So Mark, given those excellent instructions, went to work.

I figured cutting the ends of my hair would be a cinch--since by the time you get to the bottom of what I have, it's pretty thinned out and there isn't much down there.

So, after a few minutes, I got a bit impatient and said, "Aren't you done yet?"

I should have known something was up when he said, "Well, no, there's a lot of hair."

I'm not really that particular. I'd actually toyed with the idea of just clipping off the end of my braid. No matter where I go to get my hair cut, it always looks a mess, so I figured I'd just have Mark lop off the ends and be done with it.

Well, lop he did.

It took him a significant amount of time, mostly because he wanted to make sure that he did a good job, but also because he was square in the midst of the thickest part of my flowing locks--and there was a lot of hair.

When he was done and I turned around, I had to suppress my reaction at all the hair that was no longer on my head. It looked like yards, and ropes, and hanks were littered across the bathroom floor.

When we measured a random hank, it was 7 inches long.

I guess I should have known better--asking a man who seeks baldness as hairstyle.

Fortunately, hair is a renewable resource.

Better yet, I love my new hair cut.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

DC Reiteration

Mark is running around getting ready for Washington DC, packing and pensive about leaving for the summer.

In the past 4 days, he's been catching up on everything he's set aside for the past several months, trying to make up for being a distracted, busy student, and get the house, cars, and us in order.

He wants to make everything the best that he possibly can.
So much so that he is focused and distracted.
So much so, that he is in danger of letting the perfect get in the way of the good.

Part of his "I'm going to fix everything before I go away for the summer" mode is being fiercely independent--wanting to take the load on his shoulders, since I've been doing most of it while he's been squirreled away with his books.

When he packs his bike, I ask him if he would like the bubble wrap and scissors.
What I get is an explosive, "NO!"
"Well, yeah...I guess I could use some..."

Then I ask, "Do you want something to eat?"
And there it is again, "NO!"
"Umm, I guess I'm kind of hungry..."

Finally, we simultaneously giggle at the explosiveness of Mark's "No!'s" and at the same time, Mark says, "I guess I'm being oppositional."

The rest of the day is spent with Mark saying, No, no, I really mean it. No, I'm not just being oppositional. And me just ignoring what he says anyway (which would make anybody oppositional)....

When all is said and done, Mark has a personal bag (stuffed), a carry on bag (stuffed, books, heavy), a large wheeled duffel (stuffed), and a bike box (awkward). What a load.

Of course, I get irritated and ask him why he couldn't have packed everything during the week, while I was at work, so he could sweep me off my feet on the last day we had together--but that's what Hollywood movies will do for you--give you unrealistic expectations of relationships and romance. Neither of us expected the swamp cooler to take a dive the day before, the modem to go belly up, or for Mark to spend a good amount of time in front of the computer trying to get the darn thing back on it's feet...

And, who doesn't pack up until the last minute?

My favorite example is when I flew from Hawaii to California, just so I could join my sister for a turn-around flight going back over Hawaii to Japan, where we were going to travel for almost a month. Since I only had one day in the Bay Area, I asked her to get her packing done before I got there, so we could go out and play.


When I got there, she had a giant pile of maybe's, that she hadn't sorted out yet. Somehow the decisions and packing were so difficult that she (we) were up most of the night making it happen. I had flown 2500 miles and 5 hours out of my way to join her for an all-nighter of packing--just so I could turn around the next day and almost immediately get on a flight back across the Pacific.
Not fun, and I was fried by the time we got on the flight to Japan.
But that's life.
And that's family.
And that's packing!

Airport security didn't like Mark's carry-on, and removed all of it's contents, and proceeded to send each individual item through the X-ray.
As Mark says, "So much for early check-in."
But that's life.
And that's travel.

He should be in DC by the end of the day, but he won't be done yet.
The weather report shows it's raining there and he plans on hoofing it across town on the Metro with all of his bags.
Last year, his bike got stuck in the Metro door.

I'm guessing there could be more to this story...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sitting on my Keister...


Just when it feels like my training is getting consistent,
and just when it feels like I am getting my fitness "sea-legs" under me,
and just when the weather is starting to get nicer (well, sort of...),
I am spending, what looks to be, about two weeks on my keister.

I spent two weeks on my keister in February.
I was in California in a dim and exceptionally drab Norwegian dance hall (think dark wood paneling, '50's style greenish linoleum flooring, and 25 watt light bulbs), learning advanced technique for neurological rehab.
I was in that room for just about 10 hours a day.
The rest of each day was spent doing hours of detailed homework.
With a PENCIL and paper, because that's how they wanted it.

I could have done the course elsewhere, but I chose this location so I could spend time with my sister.
She spent her time putting food in front of me, because I had so much homework each night, I couldn't take a break--and that's about all we saw of each other.

I have since found out that courses in other locations are not nearly as rigorous.
They are a week shorter and teach applied technique.
My course appears to emphasize the theoretical. By the time I am done, I will be able to expound on activation, alignment, and missing components of movement--and probably be able to propel a rocket to the moon.
But, I am not sure how my technique will be.

I sat for just about all of my waking hours.
I felt sedentary and awful.
I gained weight.
I even gained BACK fat.
It took a month of being home and getting back to work and training, to finally feel normal.

And now I am doing it again.
For the same course.
Which hasn't ended yet.
Now it's a 28 page homework assignment.
One page alone has 24 questions on it. And some of the questions have multiple sub-parts.
So, I am sitting on my keister again.
Trying to dig through and complete a massive pile of work.
All, so I can become better at what I do.

It's not quite as bad as it was in February, and I try to squeeze in what I can.

Yesterday, after a week of not running, I went out for a neighborhood jaunt from my house to the university golf course. It felt great, but my quads, suffering from dis-use, started to feel actively sore before I made it home.
However, I was OK until today, when I went for a bike ride.
I felt like I might not make it home, my quads were so tired and sore.

I have another 2 weeks of trying to balance homework and training.
Even though I am learning a lot, and I like what I am learning, I am frustrated at how lopsided and unhealthy my life is right now.
I can't believe I have another 2 weeks of sedentariness coming up. Plus, I have to go back for another week of actual hands-on course work.
Just thinking about it gives me traumatic stress syndrome.
I hope I come out on the other end OK.
At least, I hope I can keep off the back fat.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Training II

Home, sweet Home!

3 days in Tucson, sandwiched by 2 half-days.

Perfect weather.
Especially, as it appears, we missed the wind here (dust obscured the last stretch through Las Lunas, "Is that fog?" I naively asked.
And, dry, downed branches littering the street in front of our house...).

I think I came back with a tan.
But mostly, I came back with a case of "Oouf, are my legs tired."

We made it up Mt. Lemmon.
All 25 miles.
Mostly because, even though my legs were already so-o-o tired, I did not want to have to come back for a third attempt....and because, once I get into the grind, I tend to just keep going.... and, funny enough, I like hills (I think)....stubborn, I guess you could call it.

Although, I did yell out, "I'm dying," when T passed me 5 miles from the top.

This was after miles of relentless uphill, warm Tucson weather that turned into a frigid, cold wind, and me in my bailout gear most of the time.

T passed me because 25 minutes after I started up, he called from the bottom of the hill to tell me his seat collar broke and he was going to a bike shop to fix it. I have no idea what time he started, but it was quite a bit of time after me. Being passed just made me feel slower, colder, and more tired. I'm sure it made the wind blow harder...

But then, at the top, we had a HUGE slice of cranberry-apple pie and a mushroom, bacon cheeseburger--and I was OK again....

We swam in a wonderful, sun-warmed, 50 meter outdoor pool, and an older "I think the cement is disintegrating into the water" outdoor pool (at least the water smelled like cement...).

And, we ran in the desert, playing 'garden gnome' to a group of hard driving mountain cyclists.

Plus, we had camping adventures (we ended up at the Tucson Trap and Skeet club for an overnight...).

Read some great books (The $64 Tomato--William Alexander, and Three Cups of Tea--Greg Mortenson).

And replenished with some really good microbrewery food (that was one night--the rest was camp grinds).

We could have easily spent a few more days.

In fact, T wanted to "live like a pro, and write a book about it" until we realized the pro might not be able to afford the microbrew....

Now, it's time for some really hard training.
You know. The kind you have to fit in around your work/school schedule.
Now, that's hard.

But, it really does feel good to be back home again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Sometimes you just have to let things go.

Like tonight.
Taking care of a client's last minute concerns, becoming late, rushing to join 5:oo commute traffic, catching all of the red lights. Then finding that a one liter bottle of water had emptied out into my purse, soaking everything, including the car seat underneath. Grabbing a paper napkin to soak up some of the mess--and leaving pilled up scraps of pulpy paper all over the cloth seat.

It's just water.

Besides, I just don't have time to deal with it. The clock's ticking, you know.

Rushing into class. Aggravating the teacher without meaning to. Doing the best I can, but feeling like, "Whoops, I made a boo boo," and imaging pulling my head into my shell.
Then, letting it go.

Into the locker room. Swim bag, bike bag. Draw cords catching on everything. Pulling my ugly black swim suit out with a twinge. Two days ago, I'd left my favorite, brightly colored swim suit in the locker room, and two calls later plus one lost-and-found foray (you don't want to see what gets turned in) had turned up nothing.
So, I had to let that go, too.

Rounding the corner toward the pool, and hanging at eye level--my suit. Someone had hung it up, and two days later it was still waiting for me.
Now, that's a moment you want to hang on to.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Catching Up (or hanging on by a coat tail): 2008

I have been away from home for 4 out of the past 7 weeks.
This means that I've been living out of a suitcase, re-wearing the same clothes (mostly clean, of course), and eating a compendium of foods that I would never consider from my own dining room table.
In fact, if you are what you eat, than I am currently 58% white flour, white rice, morning breakfast pastries, insipid coffee with remarkably over-flavored hazelnut and french vanilla creamer, too-ripe bananas, and frozen this 'n thats.

4 out of 7 is just too many weeks.

I certainly hope this is NOT a prelude of things to come as a mimicry of the amount of travel that T and I did last year. (Hows that for future-past?)

In 2008 I kept wondering why I wasn't getting anything done.
I had "to do" lists that grew continuously--to the point where items came off merely by receding into the distant past,
house projects that received a little brain attention, but nothing actually hands on,
social contacts, work "extras," future planning--but that was just it--it was all planning, and that was as far as it went.

Then I did my year-end year-in-review.
Well, no wonder.

I went on 13 trips last year. T did 11.
California (3 times for me, twice for T)
Alabama (T for collegiate nationals)
Idaho (Idaho 70.3)
Florida (twice for me--work and play; once for T)
Washington DC (twice for me, an entire summer for T)
Rhode Island (T for the RI 70.3)
Texas (Austin twice for me--work and play, once for T; once each for Lubbuck)
Arizona (three times for each of us--spring training, rock climbing and the Bisbee 1000)
and, of course, our '08 opener of spending a week on a beach in Baja, Mexico.

Interspersed with flying and driving across the states, T and I spent our "down time" participating in sprint races around the state for the SW Challenge Tri and Du series, triathlon training, working full time (me), and being a full time law student (T).

Some of this we made happen by doing silly things like returning home from Boise at 6 pm one evening, only to do an immediate turn-around and take T to the airport at 5 am the next day for his summer-time move to Washington DC.
Or, going to DC twice, California, then Austin--all in the space of 6 weeks.

We made various high points and memories:
My birthday on Catalina island in California
Catching up with Katrina and Ben in San Diego.
Bioness L300 certification.
The Marathon Movie with the Outlaws in January.
Levi on the bike path.
2nd overall female at the Stermer Du
Sick X 10 days in February.
Sitting through that darn CPR certification
Stealth Du
Spring Training in Arizona
The Banff Film Festival at the Kimo.
AC separation March 29th with a long trip to the ER
T's April highlights: Being able to compete in the Collegiate Triathlon Nationals after separating his shoulder and 3 weeks of physical therapy
being offered an internship in DC on April 25th.
Run 4 the Zoo.
Buffman & Squeaky.
End of school year BBQ with T's law school peeps.
Driving through a very green Utah to Idaho for the 70.3 June 1st.
Marketing, speaking, and spasticity clinic work.
DC fireworks for 4th of July.
Sailing on San Francisco bay in August,
Socorro Sprint,
Karaoke with the work peeps.
T came home on August 11th,
and I left the next day for a movement disorder and spasticity conference in Austin.
The F1 tri,
then the Record Challenge 40k on a miserable day.
September's weekends were Yucca Tri, Patriot Tri, Cotton Country sprint, then community outreach for a balance health fair.
October brought the Longhorn 70.3
a resumption of rock climbing and Jack's desert canyon solitude,
Yoko and Lenin,
and the start of the cyclocross season.
November we did the Bisbee 1000,
started yoga,
hit the climbing gym,
went to cyclocross races around the state,
had a coastal Thanksgiving,
then drove home in a new car.
We wound up the year with the Polar Bear Tri,
I won the SW Challenge Series for my AG,
T persevered through high-stakes final exams--one test determines your entire grade,
and then packed it up for Christmas in Colorado where we ate chlebicky and lots of other good food and I followed the conversations by immersing myself in the few Czech words I already knew...Ahoj! Jak se máš? (how are you?) Dobrý den (hello or good day). Dobrě ráno (good morning). Prosím (please). Babička (nana). Děkuji (thank you)--which, BTW, looks nothing like my mnemonic of "gecko-you."
We finished 2008 in the same way we started it--by traveling--and celebrated the New Year with dinner at Roys Hawaiian Fusion cuisine in Florida--now that was good food.

Through it all, and as always, my work was by turns unpredictable, consuming, and rewarding.

So, like I said, no wonder.

I am still recovering from 2008.

And looking forward to getting back home again...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Greeting the New Year, Florida Style

We've just come back from two weeks of vacation.

Checked the house as we drove up to make sure all the doors were shut and no windows broken, unplugged the Christmas lights in the front yard as we walked in, found our plants alive, turned up the heat, turned out the "yes, somebody really is in the house" light, went through the mail, and have settled in.

Unpacking the truck can wait a few.

I'm eating my first real chocolate since we left--a dense, creamy truffle left over from holidays--breaking a healthy streak that would do my upcoming year of training proud, but, oh well, training allows me to (somewhat) eat this stuff.

These are my current, brief impressions:

It is truly nice to return to Albuquerque on one of those seeringly blue, sunshiney warmish winter days with little poofs of white clouds floating in the sky--instead of driving up into winter, like we did two years ago when we returned from a Texas Hill Country climbing trip.

Florida water is swampish, Texas water is musty. By the second to last day of the trip I couldn't lift a swampy smelling water bottle to my mouth because the smell was almost nauseating. At a (nice) Texas rest area just outside of Quannah, Mr. T dumped out the Florida water and refilled my bottles, so I wouldn't dehydrate over the last 10 hours of driving.

Camp food is unappetizingly good for you. Quick, easy, low fat. I went through withdrawal for the first week, my body craving a sweet snack after ingesting all those holiday cookies and candies for the two months before we left on the trip.

I feel good. My body feels good. We had 8 days in Florida and exceptionally good weather, according to the locals. We used the time and weather to get in 6 sessions of swimming (all outdoor--3 in open water), 4 sessions of biking, 5 of running, plus two yoga classes, and two days of weights. We went to bed between 8 and 10 pm each night, trying to read before going to sleep, but generally only getting in a page or two before closing our eyes.

It was nice to have down time. Getting away from everything. Getting to bed early. No schedule. We've had a frenetic year. Can't say I've had this much sleep in a long time.

The internet is just completely cool. We used wireless access at Starbucks, Whole Foods, and the training center. Did not get caught up in the usual internet diversions, just kept in touch with community including work and school, checked emails, and looked up information.

People are really good. Kind and generous with their time and knowledge, we felt like we were welcomed into a community. We were sent in the right direction whenever we were lost, let in on the backyard secrets of an area we didn't know. We had use of some one's personal jetted outdoor hot tub and shower facility for several days, were escorted to the nearest Starbucks when we were looking for internet (not directed, escorted), given fresh picked avocados, invited to join the Masters morning swim workout, and received directions for several local rides--including Sugarloaf--the highest point in peninsular Florida at 312 feet (30 feet shorter than the high point in Florida, iconic-because it's the only one you ever hear of-and dreaded by Great Floridian triathlon participants).

Everything is relative. Our little house looked spacious--after spending two weeks in a truck and a tent. The wood floors were warm and inviting, the windows let in lots of light, the park across the street gives us open views. It's a nice place to live.

On the everything is relative front, I had the best birthday cake and ice cream ever, on the road before 10:00 am. Cake was a Starbucks cheese danish in Amarillo, Texas, and a lone Dairy Queen somewhere between Tucumcari and Clines Corner in New Mexico provided a vanilla-cone-dipped-in-chocolate for the ice cream. Today is my birthday--and it's been a nice one so far.

Finally, warm weather vacations in the middle of winter are good. We love them. They get us out of the rut of hiding under giant jackets and being cold all the time. It's a good way to greet and renew for the New Year.

Happy New Year, everyone.
And, as with every new year, more to follow...