Friday, June 29, 2012

Four Things (about my swim) Friday

I swam today!!  Me!  In the pool!  Swimming!  Yes, I know that’s a lot of exclamation points, but this was sort of a big deal.  The last time I swam was just about a year ago, when I was in the midst of The Summer of Duathlon and decided that since I didn’t have to swim, I wasn’t going to swim.  As you may know, I’m not a strong swimmer and I don’t particularly enjoy swimming, but I do it because…well, because triathletes swim.  And I’m still a triathlete.  So, in celebration of me getting my ass in the pool, here are Four Things (about my swim):

  1. I have special magical skills that can turn a ten minute swim into nearly 30 minutes.  I’m a professional, so don’t try this at home, but here’s how I do it:  Decide to swim, then tell UltraIronHubs that I’m going to swim.  Check Facebook.  Check email.  Check Twitter.  Check the stats for my business website.  Check the weather.  Sigh deeply and announce AGAIN that I am going to swim.  Say, “Here I go.  Swimming.”  Walk slowly to the bedroom and remember that I had to throw out last year’s swimsuit because the chlorine ate it.  Debate not swimming.  Try on three of the 57 bikinis I own and for some unknown reason choose the one with the little bowties on the sides (which ended up looking like freaky hip knobs under the wetsuit).  Take a moment to be grateful that any of my bikinis still fit.  Look at myself in the mirror and wish for the one bajillionth time that I filled out the top a little more and the bottom a little less.  Flex my muscles and make faces in the mirror.  Hope UIH doesn’t come in and catch me doing this.  Remember that I am going to swim, sigh deeply, and go into the closet to get the wetsuit.  Struggle into the wetsuit (yes, I wore a wetsuit!  There was no freakin’ way I was getting into the pool after a year off without some sort of flotation assistance!).  Get the camera and take six selfies with varying expressions of “pool dismay.”  Turn on the pool pump.  Decide the water level looks a little low and grab the hose to fill it up.  Water the garden.  Check the zucchinis.  Water the grass a little on my way back to the pool.  Put one foot in the pool, then the other.  Stand on the shallowest step and stare at the water.  Sigh deeply.  Step down to the next step and check the water temperature – mid-70s still, we’re having such a mild summer so far that the water hasn’t heated up.  Put on goggles.  Turn on SwimCounter.  Finally decide that it’s now or never and sploosh into the water.  Swim the FASTEST 400 meters I’ve ever swum, EVER (8 minutes and 14 seconds – fast for me, slow for everyone else on the planet), even including two stops to hang onto the side of the pool to catch my breath because I had forgotten how constricting a wetsuit is.  Yes, apparently I’ve lost all my running and biking speed, but have somehow managed to hang on to my swim speed.  Really?  Swimmin 002Selfie #2, wherein my expression shows concern but not outright fear of the water.
  2. In addition to my awesome swim, I biked and walked this morning.  It was like my own teeny, tiny, super-slow triathlon!  But in reverse.  I started my morning with a two-ish mile walk with my mom and sister, then came home and hopped on Mr. Bike for a quick 8-mile ride (and by “quick,” of course, I mean “not quick at all”) and topped it all off with my 400 meter swim.
  3. By pure coincidence, these distances are exactly what I’ll be racing at my next triathlon!  Yep, I decided to race a tri this summer and I’m both excited and terrified at this decision.  I would much rather do a duathlon (“Oh, hello comfort zone!  You’re so safe and easy!  I want to stay here forever!”), but I know in the end I’ll be happier that I challenged myself.  Uhhhh, but not too much, obviously, since I chose a Super Sprint.
  4. Hmmmmm, I guess I really only had three things to say about my swim, but here’s a picture of the zucchinis I harvested while procrastinating.

Zuccs 001

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hungry

Last year at this time, I had logged over 84,000 meters in the pool, ridden almost 800 miles on my bike and run about 200 miles (which was really low – I spent the first three months of the year injured).  This year?  I haven’t been in the pool even once yet.  I finally got on my bike a few weeks ago after months of it just hanging out in the garage and I’m not even keeping track of my running mileage.

By late June of 2011, I had won my age group in two races and podiumed in a third.  I had four shiny new PRs, including a swimming-only event (yes, okay, three of them were new distances and automatic PRs, but still).  Before the summer was over, I had swept my age in a series of duathlons and PRed at all but one of my seven races.

Last year I was en fuego, but this year… not so much.  I’ve only run a crappy marathon and a crappy 25K.  My current average running pace feels like it’s hovering somewhere between “walking slowly” and “standing still.”  And even that is faster than this year’s bike pace.

To my credit, I’ve spent the time not biking and not swimming doing a crapton of strength training.  Last year, I definitely could not do this:

Spirit Week 009I can only do about five of these suckers at a time, but I still feel completely badass.

Or this:

Promotions and Pullups 008What?  Your husband didn’t build you a pull-up bar for your living room??

But lately, like the last few weeks, I’ve started to feel hungry again.  I want to work harder and get faster.  I want to check off all those little boxes on my training schedule and go to bed exhausted.  I want to have a goal and give it everything I’ve got to accomplish it.  I want to RACE.

I’ve been trolling the internet the last few days, looking for something I can get excited about, but I haven’t decided yet if I’m going for a tri, a du or a trail race.  I’ve got a couple of options bookmarked and this week I’m going to pick one and dig in.

What’s on your plate right now?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Confessions of a Newbie Trail Runner

I am nothing if not pigheaded and stubborn doggedly determined.  After last week’s less-than-stellar showing at the She Rocks the Trails race, I decided that trail running is my new “thing.”  I can and will and must turn myself into the sort of runner who can go up and down steep hills, leap over rocks and be undeterred by wild animal poop.

Here is a list of reasons why I haven’t previously considered trail running to be a viable option for me:

  • It’s really freakin’ hard.
  • I have to get in my car and drive far away to run trails.  Unless you count the 1/4-mile dirt path near my house as a trail, which I don’t.
  • There are wild animals out there.  And they are wild.  And that scares me.
  • Nature is full of bugs that seem to want to do nothing so much as fly into my hair and get stuck there.
  • The likelihood of me getting lost goes up exponentially as soon as I step off the sidewalk.
  • I can’t listen to my iPod (okay, yes, technically I can listen to music, it’s just that it’s a really, really bad idea – I would like to hear the wild animals or mountain bikers before they trample me)
  • HILLS.  ‘Nuff said.
  • It’s dirty.

I’m sure there are plenty of you reading this and thinking that it sounds like a list of PROs, not CONs, and someday I hope to count myself among your number.  For now, though, I’m still at the learning to love it stage.

UltraIronHubs and I set off very early this morning for some “easy” trails up in Folsom.  I was on my feet and he was on his mountain bike because of his stupid plantar fasciitis.  The weather was absolutely fantastic, low 50s and a little bit cloudy (where was this weather when I needed it last Saturday??) with a cool wind.  The terrain in Folsom is rolling foothills, with some steep-ish climbs and descents, but nothing too crazy.  We ran mostly on fire roads and wide trails, with maybe a mile or so total of single-track thrown in.  Altogether a perfect newbie route.

IMG_0552Me?  A trail runner?  Whodathunk it?

IMG_0545This terrain was awesome – hard-packed dirt on a nice, wide path with just enough of a hill to make it challenging but not awful.

IMG_0546The cloud cover was a nice change from last week’s 90+ degrees.

IMG_0547My friends the buzzards came to visit again and flew really, really close to me before I could get my camera out.  They are HUGE!

If I’m being really honest with myself (and you, apparently), I think the thing that is most difficult about trail running is the fact that I have to really pay attention to it.  I’m not so much with the “paying attention” thing.  When I run on roads, I’m free to think my thoughts and just sort of let my legs do their thing.  My city is built on a North-South-East-West grid, so getting lost would take some real effort on my part.  On the trails, though, I have to pay attention to everything – every step, every turn, every fork in the path, every rustle in the bushes.  And what really freaks me out is that even when I think I’m totally paying attention, as soon as I turn around to go back the whole trail looks completely different!

IMG_0549I had to use my nonexistent Girl Scout skills to track my own shoe print on the way back.  Thank goodness Newtons are very distinctive!

IMG_0548The trails we saw today ran the gamut from crushed gravel to hard packed dirt to very soft beach sand.  This was about as rocky as it got.

IMG_0550We stayed in view of Folsom Lake for the whole run – gorgeous!

IMG_0551Not so gorgeous were the constant piles of horse puckey.  Yes, I took a photo of horseshit for you.  You’re welcome.

IMG_0555This was the steepest hill of the day.  I ended up walking some of it, but UIH powered up the whole thing in his granny gear.  That little dot about halfway up is him.

IMG_0553Me and my favorite trail partner!

All told, I ran about ten and a half miles today with about 400 feet of climbing and descent.  My pace was what I will henceforth consider my normal “trail pace” (as opposed to my “road pace,” which is faster.  Oh, well.).  I had a great time and I can definitely see making trail runs part of my regular training.

What’s your feeling about trail running – love it or leave it?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ketchup

Don’t worry, I’m not actually going to talk about ketchup, or catsup (like my dad says).  I just figured that since I fell off the blogging planet for the last nine months that maybe I should say a little something about where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing.  Not having a baby, thank goodness, but a few other things that involve late nights worrying, crying, and flying by the seat of my pants hoping that everything will turn out okay.

Grieving. I’ve written quite a few posts about this topic, but none of them have made it to the Publish button because I’m not entirely sure what I have to say. Even now, I’ve deleted a dozen sentences with stupid metaphors because Tom’s passing is still utterly unexplainable. Every day, sometimes hundreds or thousands of times I struggle with the question How can he be gone? I just don’t know.

I quit my old job and started my own business.  Way back last December, I passed my Certified Personal Trainer test – yay me! – and set about looking for a job to put it to use.  My old job was in the fitness industry but didn’t require certification and paid only slightly more than peanuts, so a new job was a must-do.  I applied for and was offered two different trainer positions, but realized that I didn’t want to be touting a diet plan I wouldn’t follow myself or scrambling to meet sales quotas that put a lot of money in other people’s pockets.  It had always been in the back of my mind to be in business for myself, so I decided that I might as well jump in with both feet and thus, Pahla B Personal Training was born!  The learning curve has been ridiculously steep, but totally and completely worth it.  This is pretty much my dream job, even including all the parts that kind of suck, like bookkeeping.

Injury rehab.  On the one hand, I’m super glad that the injury in question isn’t mine, but lemme tell you - living with UltraIronHubs while he rehabs a terrible, awful, no-good case of plantar fasciitis is no picnic.  This is UIH’s first real injury, and basically the first time in almost seven years that he’s been benched from running.  Do you remember the first time you had to stop running to deal with an injury?  The crabbiness, the bitter jealousy of the spouse who is still able-bodied, the constant fear of losing your fitness?  It’s not good, and it’s not any easier being on this side of the equation, watching him get through it and not being able to do anything.  PF is a nasty injury, too.  Maybe rest helps, maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe strengthening exercises help, maybe they don’t.  Maybe that crazy nighttime velcro sock is helping, maybe it’s just keeping us both awake with the annoying scratching at the sheets sounds.

Running, racing and training for an ultra.  Yes, I am still running!  It’s arguably the only thing that’s kept me sane (-ish) these last few months.  I’ve slowed down a lot lately and I’ve decided to be okay with that.  I did my time chasing PRs and I think now I want to concentrate on different challenges, longer distances and just enjoying the run.  I’ve got my eyes on both a 50K and a 50-miler by the end of this year and I’m also thinking about fitting in another trail race or two.

So.  What’s new with you?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

She Rocks the Trails 25K–Race Report!

I’ve been running for several years now, and I think I’ve pretty much got the hang of it.  I’ve run quite a few races and had such a great racing season in 2011 that I PR’d pretty much everything I ran.  I guess you could say I was getting a little confident in my abilities, so what’s a girl to do but reach for new challenges, right?  Yes, well, there’s nothing like trying something new to put you back in your place!  Case in point:  me and trail running, my new best frenemy.

I’ve run a few trail races, but so far only as part of something else – last year’s World’s Toughest Half was trails, I did the run leg of a triathlon relay last year on trails, and of course I “paced” UltraIronHubs on the back half of the American River 50-miler a few months ago.  Looking back after the fact, perhaps I should have chosen something a little easier than a 25K (15.5 miles) for my first stand-alone trail race, but then again, I’m pretty sure the whole point of trail running is that it’s not easy!

I trained for this race by running on the roads near my house, which is the equivalent of saying, “I didn’t train for this race even a little, tiny bit.”  I actually felt really confident about the distance, if not the “trail” part, and thought I could just will myself through the worst of the hills. 

Ah, yes, the hills.  I was unprepared for them.  In my defense, the race website’s course description really could have benefitted from an elevation profile, or at least a mention of the fact that there’s well over 2,000 feet of climbing in 25K.  Instead, it described the twists and turns of the trail and used landmarks that local trail runners who have run the American River 50-miler or the Western States 100-miler would find useful, but the rest of us not so much.  I suppose, in a way, that ignorance was bliss because I didn’t know how brutal the course was going to be, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.  Let’s start with race prep!

I did my normal 48 hours of freak-out before the race because that’s just what I do.  I checked the weather obsessively and kept hoping those reports of temps in the 100s were going to magically disappear (they didn’t – more on that in a bit).  I fretted about the unknowns of the course (which apparently was the whole darn thing!) and attempted to pre-hydrate and do a little carbo-loading.  Unsurprisingly, the thing I was most successful at was the carbo-loading.

She Rocks the Trails 004Okay, let’s go “rock” this thing!

Race morning dawned at 4 am.  I had coffee, got my gear together and we were out the door at more or less the time I expected to be on the road.  The race venue was about an hour away, so we planned for drive time and got there plenty early.  Yay, port-o-potty time!  And photo-op time with the big inflatable (and sort of odd) race frog!

She Rocks the Trails 020The frog was dressed for a formal event with his bow tie.  I was dressed for running.

She Rocks the Trails 021I met quite a few dogs on the trails – there were tons of local runners and walkers out with their pooches – but this one was by far the tiniest.  Her name was Isabella and she was smaller than my shoe!

She Rocks the Trails 023Gulp!  Here goes nothing!

7 am came and we were off!  Right on time, very nice.  It was a super small race even with two distances (25K and 50K and oh, thank heavens I didn’t sign up for the 50K!), but like all races, there was an instant bottleneck about 100 yards off the starting line.  I cracked up because it seriously happens at every single race, no matter how big or how small.

She Rocks the Trails 029

She Rocks the Trails 030  Yay, we’re running!                       Aaaaaand, now we’re walking.

There was another quick bottleneck a quarter mile in, as we turned off the road and onto the trail, but then it opened up nice and wide for our first trip down the hill.  Here’s how the course went:  The start/finish line was at 1300+ feet of elevation (quick reminder, I live at 45 feet above sea level.  Yes, I Googled that just now.)  The first three miles, we descended rather speedily down to 600 feet, then turned a corner and climbed that whole 800 feet in just a mile and a half.  There was a blissful leveling off for about two miles that I wish I would have appreciated more at the time.  We ran right through the finishing chute and headed out in the other direction where we descended again at a more reasonable pace for the next mile and a half, then leveled off again for several miles.  Again, I didn’t realize how “easy” that part of the course was until it was over and I was descending another 600 feet in about two miles to the turnaround point.  What goes down must come up again, right?  The last 5-ish miles were all climbing.  Terrible, awful, never-ending climbing back to the finish line.

Satellite ViewSatellite view of my morning.  The southern loop was the first trip down and up the hill.

Elevation SRTTThe elevation profile from my Garmin.

She Rocks the Trails 006Sign at the base of the hill at Mile 3.  I love that they put the word “steep” on this sign to warn people.  Indeed, this trail was steep!

She Rocks the Trails 007Line of girls trudging up Cardiac Hill on single-track.  I actually had to use my hands to hoist myself up a couple of the steepest sections.  Oy!

She Rocks the Trails 036Silly me, still smiling at Mile 6, thinking the hardest part of the race was behind me.  This was where we ran through the finishing chute and I got to see UltraIronHubs, who was such a welcome sight!

After passing through the start/finish area, I felt pretty good.  Not knowing what sort of descending and climbing awaited me, I spent some time just enjoying the trails and the gorgeous views of the American River.  It was starting to get pretty hot at this point – the temperature at the start of the race was already around 70 degrees and if you’ve ever read this blog during the summer months, you know that I am a well-documented heat weenie – but thankfully this part of the course was still somewhat shady.

She Rocks the Trails 013 Not a sight I get to see on my regular runs around town!

She Rocks the Trails 012I took this incredibly blurry picture right after the first turnaround point, when I thought I was much, much closer to the finish than I actually was (and therefore still had a smile on my face).  I had just dumped a cupful of ice in my hat, which is why it looks funny.  I also dumped a cupful of ice in my shirt, which eventually sort of made me look like I had peed my pants when it melted all down my front and puddled in my shorts.

The second half of the course consisted of two out-and-back sections, which I mistakenly believed from the course description to be about the same distance.  Not even close.  The first out and back was easy as pie and though hilly, it was pretty level elevation-wise.  The second out-and-back portion seemed to go on forever.  As I kept descending the hill and was still running “out,” my mood got darker and my feet got slower.  It was unbelievably hot and there was almost no shade on the trail anymore.

She Rocks the Trails 014Approaching the second turnaround point, which was across that lower bridge.  I could see that upper bridge for quite awhile before the lower one came into view and I was very worried that I would have to climb all the way up to it!  You can see how wide and sort of barren the trail was here – it was like this for miles, all sun all the time.

IMG_0539Ordinarily I wouldn’t wade through muddy water during a run, but it was so blissfully cool I wanted to stay there and splash in it!  I suppose I could have gone around the water – many of the other runners did – but the rocks looked too slippery and I figured I’d rather have wet socks than trail rash.

The thing I like about an out-and-back course is that after you’ve turned around, you can still see other runners on the course (plus it kind of helps to see that there are people slower than you).  That was hardly the case for this race.  The field had really, really spread out by this point and as the miles added up and my delirium mounted, I wondered more than once if I was all alone on the trail. 

I held it together pretty well until somewhere around Mile 12, maybe even Mile 13, but then the wheels came completely off my cart.  It was just so bloody hot.  I lost my stamina, I lost my ability to run, and I pretty much lost my mind.  I couldn’t breathe in the oppressive heat and my toes were cramping at every step.  My calves were screaming at me on the uphills and my quads complained on the downhills.  There were no flats. 

I bargained with myself to pick it up to a hustle whenever there was shade, but there was no shade.  Thus, there was no hustle.  The trail just kept climbing and climbing.  I had to stop looking at anything except my feet because the hills were so endless and I couldn’t bear seeing more of them.  I wanted to quit.  I wanted to sit my ass down on the side of the trail and never move again, but I felt so completely alone out there that I was afraid nobody would ever find me.  That was the only thing that kept me moving forward.  I tried to cry several times, but I was so dehydrated I couldn’t even produce tears.

IMG_0540You know it’s bad when buzzards are circling.

When my Garmin chirped at the 15 mile mark, I felt enormous relief – only half a mile to go!  I’d been hearing the finish line for some time because of the still air, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out where it actually was.  I knew I was getting close, though.  I trudged on.  Maybe a quarter of a mile later, I saw a man out walking his dog and I must have looked as desperate as I felt because he said to me, “You’re doing great!  The ‘half mile to go’ sign is just ahead!”  Wha-a-a-a??  I should only have a quarter mile to go!

I trudged on some more.  At this point, the trudging was interspersed with full on stopping at the side of the trail to catch my breath and will myself forward.  I had gone another quarter of a mile when what to my delirious eyes should appear but UltraIronHubs and Big Boy!!!  And they brought a bottle of ice water with them!!!  I burst into dry tears at the sight of them.

She Rocks the Trails 042That’s me with my head down, the picture of dehydrated defeat, before I saw UIH and Big Boy.  This photo actually looks pretty shady, but it was well over 90 degrees at this point and there was no relief from the heat.

I gulped down the wonderfully cold water and was still moving forward when UltraIronHubs said, “You’ve got this baby, just a half mile to go!”  Are you fucking kidding me????  How do I still have a half mile to go??  Am I actually in hell??  I stopped in my tracks and flat out gave up.  I couldn’t possibly take one step further.

I did, of course, but it was hard.  The words, “I can’t do this” came out of my mouth more than once.  I was cooked.  I could barely hold my head up and I could feel my eyes rolling back.  I’ve been dehydrated before, but this was baaaaaaaad.

Finally, finally we made it to the last cruel little hill before the finishing chute.  I sent UIH and Big Boy on to the end, thinking maybe I could run it in.  Little Boy came down the short incline to encourage me, but there was nothing left in the tank for that hill.  Walking would have to do.

She Rocks the Trails 047“C’mon, Mom, you’ve got this!”  No, Little Boy, I really don’t.

I vaguely remember thinking that I couldn’t walk across the finish line, so I picked it up to a shuffle for the finishing chute.  No sooner did I cross the line, turn off my Garmin and stop moving than my entire lower body seized into a cramp.  UltraIronHubs frequently gets cramps after a hard race, but I never have before.  OMG, I have so much more sympathy for him now.  That HURT!

After my quads and hamstrings unlocked, I found my family and kept drinking water.  My wonderful sister, bless her heart, ran out to her car and brought me a chair.  I’ve never been so grateful for crappy-ass lawn furniture in my life!  I was in serious pain.  I drank another bottle of water and tried to choke down some post-race food, but my stomach wanted nothing to do with solids.

My mom, my sister, the kids and UIH hovered over me, asking me what I needed, what they could bring me, what they could do to help.  In my mind, I knew I was terribly overheated and dehydrated and would be fine as soon as I could cool down, but forming the words to reassure them was simply beyond my skill set at that point.  I’m pretty sure I stared into space a lot.  I know I asked them to take off my shoes because my poor toes just wouldn’t stop cramping.

After the second bottle of water, I felt much, much better.  Good enough to post my finish on Facebook, so I must have been okay.  We gathered our stuff and made our way back home for a much needed shower.  When I weighed myself at home later – after three bottles of water, a recovery protein shake and all the Gatorade and water I drank on course, plus post-race grapes and pretzels – I was still four pounds down from my normal weight.  That’s a huge, scary water loss.

She Rocks the Trails 017Dirty shoes.

I spent yesterday afternoon and this morning reflecting on the race and I’ll be honest:  I’m pissed.  I hate that I crapped out like that.  I hate that the score right now is Trails: 1, P: 0.  I’ve thought a lot about whether it was the terrain or the heat that took me down, or a combination of the two.  I’d like to say it was just the heat, because my legs actually feel pretty good today, but here’s what I know for sure:  I will conquer that trail.

Final stats, according to my Garmin: 16.03 miles in 4:15:40 (15:57 pace), 2,185 feet of climbing.

Final official results, from ultrasignup.com:  4:15:34, 104th place out of 145 participants, 31st place AG out of 41.