Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jazz and the Sunset

At my townhome complex, there's a jazz saxophone student who lives cati-corner from our house, and whenever the weather is right, he opens his bedroom window and treats us all to a free concert (which is at least twice a week). I finished my run today as he was just warming up. I ran inside, grabbed a Gatorade and the dog, and lay down in the yard to watch the sun set to the sounds of Coltrane. Talk about the perfect way to end a day. Rusty ran around the yard digging up sticks for me to throw while I enjoyed the feeling of the cool grass on my (very) sweaty back.

I'm finally starting to regain some of my speed after being sick for so long. I'm not fully healthy again, and my training schedule definitely isn't what it was, but my workouts are starting to feel strong again. Today was helped by the fact that the sun finally, FINALLY came out after days of rain and gray and cold. Running with the sun going down in the west and Jack Johnson and Bob Marley on my iPod probably brought my pace down at least a minute a mile. My resting HR is starting to go down again, too. It was 67 when I put my monitor on today! I can't remember the last time it was that low. It's a good feeling, especially after the last couple of weeks of not taking great care of myself, and starting to feel lousy again.

I finished reading Ultra Marathon Man by Dean Karnazes, which I can STRONGLY recommend. I had started to lose a my motivation a little recently, to be honest. I used to be all about mind over matter, but the past few months have been discouraging. Never bad enough to bring me to a full stop, but some of the passion has been lacking. That book brought me back to where I was last spring when I was just starting, and I was so excited every morning to wake up and run or ride or swim or just be outside. I'd forgotten what that sheer joy was like, of being totally aware that I was doing something that most people never even allowed themselves to do, that some people weren't even ABLE to do. I'd forgotten to be excited. Karnazes's story really woke me up again, and reminded me of my passion. And, not surprisingly, rekindled my desire to eventually reach the ultra level. It definitely made me more excited for my Half Iron this summer!

And, I think, ultimately it made me enjoy my post-run high tonight a lot more. Laying in the grass with Rusty, with that smooth jazz and the sunset, was just about perfect. It would have been more perfect if Jeremy had been there, and had run with me, buuuut that will have to wait for another day...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Long Ride

God I love long rides.

I'm lucky enough to be seeing the cutest ultra runner of all time at the moment, who also happens to be a pretty dang decent cyclist, so I dragged him out on my 3 hour ride yesterday. Actually, "dragged" is probably a bad choice of words. Let's just say he spent a lot of time "drafting" off of me. He rides a full carbon Bianchi. He doesn't need to draft off of my crappy aluminum Fuji. You do the math. Anyways, we took Michael's favorite Sanger loop, though we cut off a little bit at the northern most part since we took some back roads through Denton on the way out. (We had to stop briefly for me to pee behind a bush before we really got going - over-hydration...). The rolling hills in this ride are great - not really much chance to get comfortable, unless you count the stretch of chip seal or the ending stretch with the thrilling head winds. It's a perfectly challenging ride.

And thank God I live in Denton, because north of here is some beautiful cycling - especially now that it's spring. Big, green fields, open skies (mainly cloudy yesterday, but the sun broke through a good few times, which was pretty spectacular), old cemetaries, small churches, tons of cattles (all with babies right now - my girly little heart thinks it's adorable) and, of course, Texas wildflowers. The few times I lost pace were when I got distracted by the scenery - at which point Jeremy would look back like "where'd my draft go?" Which was when I knew I needed to speed up. There's something about those big Texas landscapes that make my legs spin faster and harder to get that big rush of flying through all that green and blue. I think if I lived in Dallas, I wouldn't be a cyclist. Here I walk out the door and I'm at the starting point for like 5 of my favorite routes - I'm so spoiled.

Anyways, we had an adventuresome time yesterday, mainly because I hadn't taken this route in about 3 months, and realized I'd forgotten about the names and directions of a number (and by "a number" I actually mean "all") of the side streets, and had to be guided only by my impeccable sense of direction. (Which is actually neither impeccable or even something that I personally put any faith in, so we were guided by sheer dumb luck, which apparently is surprisingly effective). Fortunately, we both kind of enjoy adventure, and worse things have happened then getting lost. If we needed directions, we had a fit girl in spandex to get them (Jeremy, of course, would have had to hide with his bike behind a bush) and, well, if worst came to worst there are always gas stations with telephones. And GU. So we used our finely honed cycling instincts to reinvent the old route and still get back to home base in almost exactly 3 hours (stops not included - and there was almost a pizza stop, but we refrained).

I started out a little weak, but after about an hour warmed up and fell into a great rhythm. My legs felt good. We maintained, and possibly even exceeded my original goal of 15 miles an hour. It would have been more if I'd been on the S-Works, but since being sick I don't try to ask a whole lot of myself when I'm on the Fuji (for those of you who don't know, it's a $600 entry-level road bike about 4 centimeters too big for me). I might be slower on that bike, but I sure love training on it. It just feels comfortable now, even though it really is too big for me. I'm about to order some new, woman specific (i.e. more compact) handlebars, which I think will make it absolutely perfect. It also absorbs all that shock that that pesky S-Works makes me feel!

I've got another 3 hour ride tomorrow, which will be immediately followed by a 30 minute run. Can you say BSLT practice? I haven't decided if I'm going to do the first 2 hours with the Bicycle Path or not - I don't particularly like their route because there's too much traffic and really not that many hills. Hill Top ceased entirely to be impressive after Lubbock. You know, I have to admit, I never thought I would be saying "there's not enough hills..."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ok Ok Ok

I know. It's update time. Why haven't I written about the Lone Star Quarter race last Sunday. Because I've been dreading writing this post.

I didn't get to race last Sunday. After another week of feeling sick, I wasn't able to. I was... well, frustrated doesn't really even begin to describe how I felt, but I guess it's a start. I got to race site, checked in, set up in transition, went for my 10 minute warm-up run... and thought I was going to pass out. Never a good idea to hop in the water for a 1000m swim at that point. But I was angry and sad - and extra angry because we finally, finally, FINALLY (did I mention finally?) figured out why I've been so sick these past 2 and half months.

I had mono. Back in January - only it didn't look like mono because I didn't have the fever, sore throat, etc., so no one diagnosed me with it - or even bothered to check me for it. Had I known it was mono, I could have taken the proper time off and rested and taken care of myself, and I would probably be much better now. Now that I know what I need to do to take care of myself, I probably WILL start getting better, but the last couple of months aren't going to make it any easier. My coach and doctor have been amazing and are doing everything possible to make sure I get to complete the rest of my racing season as scheduled (though, obviously, big goals like medaling are on the back burner now - it's all practice at this point, working towards the fall season, or possibly even next spring). My big rule is basically to just have the most boring life possible, with the exception of yoga, training and racing. 10-12 hours of sleep a day (more if needed), healthy, healthy food and a ton of supplements, absolutely no alcohol (none, nada, zilch, not even a sip), no late nights, nothing that will cause large amounts of stress. Basically I live for triathlon, which maybe is good practice but STILL. What's really frustrating is that, really, it was a pretty mild case of mono. The fact that I was able to place in multiple races during that time is proof of that - which means that really, if I had known what was going on, two weeks off probably could have had me healthy and good to go again. Instead, I lost two and a half months.

But now I'm done complaining. The good news is - I'm feeling really good right now. I spent the last week resting - really resting. All I did was a couple of Yin and restorative yoga classes. And I slept a lot. And ate really healthy foods. And drank a lot of water. And took all my supplements. And now, I'm ready to head home and start easing back into training, bearing in mind all I've learned this past week about what's going on with my body. If I keep being smart, I shouldn't have to miss anymore races - which is good, because Nationals is next weekend, and while I know I'm not going to be turning any heads at that race, it would kill me to have to miss it.

I hope everyone had a happy (if somewhat wet) Easter. I head back to Denton tomorrow to deal with everything that piled up while I was escaping this past week. But I will not stress about it! Because I'm not allowed to. I'm just going to be excited about Nationals next weekend. And I AM excited. And if you hear me say ANYTHING on here about alcohol, feel free to reprimand me.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Galveston in 2 days!!!

I can't believe the Lone Star festival and my first Quarter Iron are just days away - I leave for Galveston on THURSDAY! Milestones like this always make me think back to the days before I did triathlons, when I spent every afternoon and evening vegging on my couch, or on my boyfriend's couch. I'm such a different person now. The thought of going an entire day without any kind of activity makes me cringe. I want to be outside, moving around, taking advantage of the fact that I have the full use of my body. This has been tested many, many times in the past months as I've been sick and/or injured. There were so many times I could have thrown in the towel, said "I just don't think this sport is for me," and walked away without anyone thinking less of me - or me thinking less of myself. But I guess I'm just in too deep! Too addicted. I have yet to find anything that can beat a 2 hour bike ride in 70 degree, sunny weather with light winds. It's better than... well, you know. Sorry guys.

We've got all our team plans finalized for this weekend. 7 of us will be staying at my mom's home on the Strand on the north side of the island. We have bike storage under control, as well as food and bed space. Saturday night we're going to join the folks from beginnertriathlete.com for a pre-race dinner for those doing the Quarter and Half (post-race for those doing the sprint). I'm driving down early on Thursday after my brick workout to spend some quality time with my mom before the whole crew arrives. Maybe I'll get in some yoga at our studio there, too, while we're at it...

I picked up Tex from the shop today, he looks shiny, happy, and ready to race. The rear cassette has been adjusted, so gears shouldn't be slipping anymore (though I will definitely be trying him out before I leave town to make sure). Gary gave the tri team a little extra donation while I was there as well - thanks Bicycle Path! I tried out the new racesuit in the pool last night, and it felt pretty good. I'm going to practice doing transitions in it a little later today. It LOOKS good for sure!!! We're finally going to look like a "real" triathlon team. Go Mean Green!

Monday, March 30, 2009

It's 6:15 in the morning, and I've been up since 4:30. I don't need to be awake for another hour and a half. Needless to say, my sleep schedule is pretty much shot.

This past weekend was an adventure - and not really the fun kind, though the videos of Mandy playing with gloves in the ER while threatening to give me steroid shots in my butt may just have been worth it. But only just. The clencher was really when she tried to do shadow puppets with the X-Ray viewer.

Ok, back up. So if you haven't been able to tell from my previous posts, this winter has been... stressful. To put it mildly. Horrible allergies, mono, sinus infections, wrecked bikes, knee problems, screwed up training plans... It's been rough. Especially the being sick part because I've never really been that "sick" person before. Typically I have an excess of energy and basically want to do everything. But no more... Granted, the mono was probably the kicker for everything else. I hear it's pretty serious stuff. And it probably would have been better if I'd realized that I had it instead of training through it. Which is probably why I've been sick on and off ever since.

So anyways, things sort of came to a head this weekend. On Friday, the cold front from the seventh circle of Hell blew in, and the sinus pressure in my head started to get crazy bad, until it wasn't just my sinuses, it was pretty much my entire face. I was more fatigued than I'd ever been, and my stomach felt kind of... weak. Somehow, I managed to get through that day, and figured if I could just get a good night's sleep I'd be able to be back at it on Saturday. Wrong. woke up Saturday to the same pressure - my temples were throbbing, and it felt like someone had placed a weight on the middle of my face that was slowly sinking down towards the back of my head. Time to go to the doctor! I've never really had headaches before, but I knew I couldn't deal with this for another day. The doctor tentatively diagnosed me as having TMJ, which means I grind my teeth when I sleep. Only problem with this diagnosis - I'm a mouth breather. Which means my mouth is open when I sleep. Real problem? I've been so freaking stressed out the past two months, I've started tensing up my jaw muscles whenever some stressful situation arises. They were going in overdrive, and finally gave out. Regardless, the doc gave me an anti-inflammatory shot, and Mandy and Andrew had to come get me because I was 100% knocked out. Doctor told me if I woke up in 6 hours and wasn't better, I needed to high-tail it to the ER for a CT Scan. Fantastic.

Fast forward 6 hours... headache still not better. Call Mandy, drive to ER. The ER is packed. We camp out in the farthest end of the waiting room until I'm finally called back. I get my own room (yay), and Mandy and I entertain ourselves with her Flip video camera until the doctor comes. He doesn't do a CT Scan. I describe my symptoms, he tells me it's still allergies, and prescribes even MORE medicine, including a new antibiotic because lo-and-behold apparently I still have an infection. Which isn't really surprising. Then he tells me a nurse is going to come in shortly and give me a shot to at least do away with some of the misery for that night. 2 hours later, nurse finally comes. I've fallen asleep, and Andrew has shown up, and Mandy is waiting with him back in waiting room. After I finally get the shot, the nurse then says I have to wait 20 minutes before I can leave. 35 minutes later, I page her, say please can I go home, and they finally, FINALLY let me leave. I go home and pass out. So yesterday was interesting. I definitely wasn't feeling my best, but my head was a lot less painful, and I got all the new allergy medicine, and actually managed to get out for a bit. Did 45 minutes on the bike, but e-mailed Aaron and told him it would probably be a few days before I "trained" again. My body needs a break, and it hasn't really had one since I got sick in January - not longer than two days, anyways, and I'm determined to give it three this time.

Coming back from sickness used to not be a big deal, because it wasn't like I was really doing anything strenuous. Now, though, it's more challenging. I have to really listen to my body and know its limits. Something I've never been great at. But I can't have any more weekends like this. Even if that means I'm not competitive like I wanted to be this season. There are more important things, and I know if I'm not careful that triathlon will start feeling like a chore instead of an obsession. It's teaching me to put my Type A personality aside and remember that I train because I ENJOY it. I'm not on the Olympic team. I'm not a pro. I'm just someone who enjoys the lifestyle - but the only way to enjoy the lifestyle is to stay healthy!

So my focuses for this week are: drink tons of water (fancy Penta water, mmm), take all my medicine, SLEEP (didn't work out last night, but I know I'll be ready for it tonight!), rest rest rest from training (walking and easy freestyle, at the most), eating healthy, taking my supplements, not stressing out and getting all tense. Let's see if I can actually manage to DO all of this!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Taos (Part two)

So Monday night Eddie and I get nice and drunk, and meet this not-gay male couple from Dallas. We weren't sure what exactly was going on there, but we weren't about to ask. One was Irish and apparently married... but we just got a vibe. Interesting. Anyways, the other guy was an avid cyclist, so he and I talked tri's and crit's for a good hour or so, me getting progressively drunker. Finally, Eddie and I left, downed a bunch of vodka and Sprite at the hotel, and crashed out watching Role Models (classic cinema, in case you haven't caught it yet).

Tuesday was our first day to hit the slopes. I love traveling with other people who are independent like I am, because I hate having to feel guilty for wanting to do my own thing. Which I often want to do. Granted with Eddie I wouldn't have minded having him along for the snowshoeing because he's one of the few people I feel "gets" me and wouldn't be a bad hiking partner... but all the same, getting to go off by my own up the mountain was an amazing experience. That being said, the snowshoes looked a little intimidating to me at first!! Giant vinyl soles with big metal spikes on the bottom? Eek. Looked a little hardcore. I got a cursory explanation on what to do with them from the rental guy, but he was more concerned with the snowboard and ski renters so it was pretty much figure it out myself.

I managed to find the trail - Bull of the Woods - up towards Wheeler Peak, and proceeded to strap on the shoes. They looked complicated, but were actually easy enough to get on. Kind of like Chacos for the snow. Once I did get them on, though, I was definitely a little freaked out! Going uphill on the snow was a new experience for this Texan girl, and the first part of the trail was pretty dang steep! But wow, was it beautiful. There were little rivers and huge, beautiful fir trees all along the path, and the higher I went the thicker and cleaner the snow drifts got. No one else was out there - I understood why the ski instructor I talked to said I was "brave" for trying the snowshoeing thing out on my own. But it wasn't frightening, even though it isn't every day I scale the side of a mountain. It was just really peaceful and quiet and still and totally different from the vibe on the slope over with all the lifts. I made it about halfway up the trail that first day, and practiced a little bit with the "real" snowshoeing - venturing off the trail and out onto the drifts. It wore me out way more than expected. That night, Eddie and I found an amazing restaurant down near our hotel, and ate a huge dinner with good wine... then went back and crashed. Between the sun and the altitude and the exercise, we were done. Normally the two of us can talk for hours, but after the first night, we didn't do much talking on this trip.

Day two of snowshoeing was even more phenomenal. I made it to the top of trail, and the views were spectacular. I could have gone all day, if I hadn't known Eddie was waiting for me when he was done snowboarding. The weather was perfect - clear blue skies, 65 degrees, dry. And the snow kind of took all the sun and threw it back at you so everything was just bright and clean looking. By the time I was halfway up the slope, I'd stripped down to my base layer tank and sports bra and tied everything else to my pack. I got some solid tan lines that day.

I love hiking because it's good thinking time. When you're all alone with yourself and creation and you've got that great mental and spiritual focus that comes from physical exercise, you can really get some mental clarity. I'm always more peaceful when I'm out in the woods or on the trails by myself - it's like the part from that Lord Byron poem:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods
A rapture in the lonely shore
There is society where none intrudes
But the deep sea and the ocean with it's roar
I love not man the less but Nature more

...Or something like that. It kept coming to me the whole time I was making my way up towards Wheeler Peak. It reminded me why I'll always have to live close to some place where I can be away from everybody. I didn't want to leave. I wanted to go back to the rental place and ask if they were hiring anyone to lead snowshoe tours. I could find a cheap apartment to stay in. Forget the MA. I'm tired of school.

Eddie and I fell asleep watching Fool's Gold that night. It was lazy and nice.

We wandered around town a little on Thursday morning and then hit the road. I'm tired of typing now so I'll gloss over the trip home. It was good. There's not many people I can spend ten hours in a car with.

I'm already ready to go back. Who wants to visit New Mexico this summer?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Taos (Part One)

This past week has been quite the adventure... When people ask me what my interests and/or hobbies are (which isn't often, but I like it when they do, because let's face it everybody likes to talk about themselves), I always tell them triathlons, music, writing, and making spontaneous life choices. Spontaneous life choices possibly being my favorite item on the list. Of course, there's this whole American obsession with work ethic that has become an obsession with 9-5, Monday through Friday jobs that give you maybe one to two weeks vacation a year for your first, say, five years on the job. Now, I don't want to dismiss the endeavors of those who are dedicated to their professions. I appreciate these people because, well, being able to focus so diligently on one thing 50 weeks out of the year is, quite frankly, impressive. It's an idea that as a young, occasionally reckless, and at times flighty young adult in my early twenties, I have yet to fully grasp. Because I always wonder... don't they get bored? I think we all know (or at least, I hope we all know) that we are the only country that works its white collar laborers to the extent that we do. Our pre-disposition for pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps has allowed the executive powers that be to milk those under them for every available drop of stamina and mental energy that they can squeeze out. And what's really interesting is that we don't see it as such. We just see it as "work" - it's work, it's not necessarily supposed to be fun. Ok, so tell me this. What's the point? You're born, you work, you die. Sure, some work is necessary to fairly provide for yourself and your family. Agreed. But past that... ? And if we say for the benefit of society... what's the benefit? New inventions and toys? Are they really helping us? Or are we earning loads of money to give away to third world countries and starving American children?

Anyways, all that to say, the thought of being tied down in such a job terrifies because it would totally hinder my ability to make the aforementioned spontaneous life choices. Like I did this past week. I have a new best friend - his name is Eddie and, well, he's awesome. You know when you find one of those people you just click with? And not necessarily in an opposite-sex-I-want-to-be-all-over-you-ASAP kind of way, but in a I-feel-like-you-already-know-me-and-I-know-you kind of way. Well, that was Eddie. We have lots in common, our mutual love for nature being high on the list. I met him through a sorority sister, and I guess the rest is history (if you can consider two weeks ago history). Anyways, Eddie and I bonded over a Grand Canyon IMAX feature and then he asked if I wanted to go to Taos, NM with him the next week while I was on Spring Break (not that Spring Break means too very much in graduate school, but the mental connotations still linger from undergraduate days), and explore the mountains and the town with him. Well, duh. So I e-mailed my coach, who sent the welcome response that he had scheduled that to be a recovery week anyways, but some base layers and warm socks, and packed my things for an adventure.

Now, I love triathlon. Those of you who know me... You know this. Obviously. It's a love that borders on obsession. But the past couple of months, so much has been going wrong, and I feel like I haven't been able to make the kind of progress that I want to be making, and that every time things start to look up, some other crisis occurs... and so it never gets better. It's made training difficult at times. When it feels like I'm working just to stay in the same place. and that's the thing - training has started to feel like work, when it never has before. It's not always - most of the time I'm still thrilled to hit the road/trail/pool for a good workout. But there have been days where I just... haven't.

(I'm going to take a moment to comment on the fact that I just got up to get a refill on hot water here at Jupiter House where I'm typing, and just had the cutest kid ever literally trip and fall right and front of me, and I'm almost positive his family, including the incredibly good looking guy next to them are going to think I knocked him over. Fantastic.)

So anyways, there's been a little bit of strain on my usually positive attitude towards training that's left me feeling like I was on the edge of a rut. I figure this is probably a pretty common experience among anyone who does anything obsessively for long enough. I'm sure that it's been apparent in my blogs as I've griped about broken bikes, hurting knees, and chronic sinus infections. And it's become increasingly apparent to me. So when the opportunity for spontaneous adventure arose, it seemed the only thing to do was grab it and hope for some soul renewing in the Rockies.

Our plan was to leave Sunday night, and drive all night, arriving at Taos early Monday morning and exploring the town and Ski Valley until we could check into our hotel and crash for a couple of hours before going to get unashamedly and utterly irresponsibly intoxicated with the obvious advantage of the newly increased altitude on our side. Our friends wondered if we might be jumping the gun a bit traveling 10 hours in a car together after meeting only a week previously. His friends asked him, point-blank, if he wasn't worried that, not knowing me for very long, he might realize on the road that I made him absolutely insane and was possibly the most painful travel partner of all time (a thought that perhaps crossed his mind when, at the beginning of the ride, he asked which Gatorade I wanted from the cooler, and I told him whichever one was on the bottom). But, despite friendly concern on both sides, the ride went as smoothly and quickly as a ten hour car drive at night could ever, ever be expected to go.

As we got closer to Taos, the sun rose in the east at our backs, lighting up the red plateaus and endless plains of easter New Mexico. Turning north, we started to increase in elevation, rocky outcroppings and steep hills becoming more and more common. Exciting terrain for two born-and-bred Texans. Right outside of Taos, we finally caved and pulled over at one of the many "scenic overlooks" along the road, where I shot pictures from every possible angle - none of which did justice to what we were actually seeing. Of course. Finally rolling into Taos at about 10:00 in the morning, we were faced with road terminated in the distance by immense mountains. At this point I was pretty much silent, focused on the natural beauty that had surrounded us for the past 2 to 3 hours of the drive. We ate a quick but substantial breakfast at a local cafe before wandering around a nearby bookshop, searching for a book of New Mexican ghost stories to entertain ourselves with at night, and occasionally going back to pet the giant, motionless cat the was stretched out in front of the local fiction section (well, that was more me than Eddie). Then, we headed to Ski Valley to investigate the snowboarding (for Eddie) and snowshoeing (for me) opportunities there.

To be continued - I have to return to the seminar paper for my Civil War lit class, as much more entertaining as this certainly is...