28 November 2011

Give the 5K some respect...

Want to know what I learned on Thanksgiving this year? I (re)learned that 5Ks are... HARD. HARD HARD HARD. In the running/triathlon world, I don't think we give enough props to the 5K - the glory always seems to go to the marathon, the half marathon, the long course triathlons. I'll say this - Ironman and marathons may last longer, but the pain is controlled, bearable. A 5K is all the pain of a marathon compressed into 20-ish minutes. You tell me which is worse.

I lined up with 1400 of my closest friends for the annual Derry, NH Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. After tracking my friends doing IM Arizona the previous weekend, I was all jazzed to race. Then race morning arrived, along with the nerves (yes I still get nervous, even for 5Ks, because I know how much they SUUUUCK), and while it would've been nice to just jog the race, I knew that wouldn't happen. I was there to race, not jog, and while I wasn't counting on a PR (I've not exactly been super diligent in my running since the beginning of October and speedwork - what is speedwork??) I wanted to finish that race feeling like I earned that extra piece of pecan pie (pronounced peeee-can, not puh-can).

Mark and I met up with our friends Ashley and Tim for the race and we had grand plans to run together, but that quickly fell apart in the race start chaos. Nobody knew exactly where the start line was located and nobody heard the gun go off, but suddenly people started to run. I was smooshed in a sea of 10 year olds, baby joggers and dogs and middle school x-country runners, darting all over the roadway to try and get around them. It took about a half a mile, and suddenly I had some clear road ahead of me - just in time for the long, steepish hill around mile 1.5. It was there that I needed to pull it together and suffer - the adrenaline from the first mile had disappeared, the legs were feeling heavy, and even though it was chilly out, I felt like I was wearing way too many layers. The gloves came off (literally) and I huffed my way up the hill, passing a few people, but also getting passed by some high school x-country boys who looked like they were out for an easy jog. I caught up with Tim here, and we switched places a few times, and I ran the rest of the race convinced that he was on my shoulder and would bolt ahead of me at the finish line. After we passed the Mile 2 marker, things went downhill (literally - this is a good thing) from there, with a few uphills. We rounded a corner and the volunteers there were saying things like "you're almost there" and "just a little further" and I looked around and totally convinced myself that yes, these buildings look familiar, the finish line is right up ahead. Turns out the mind is very impressionable to suggestions in weak moments such as mile 2.6 of a 5K and I was not just around the corner from the finish. Too late though, I had already kicked and started passing a few more people, and it would've been embarrassing to slow down. Legs were on fire, stomach was churning, and that stupid finish line was NOWHERE to be found. It finally appeared and I threw myself across it - glancing at the clock and instantly hoped that they were scoring the race by chip time and NOT gun time (unfortunately, it was gun time and I was slow slow slow - but fortunately, so was everyone else in my AG and apparently I came in first hahaha).

We topped off the 5K with a fantastic breakfast at my best friend Erin's house with her parents (can I just say that parents are the best - it doesn't matter if we are 5 years old or 30 years old, they still cook us meals and take care of us). My goddaughter provided the entertainment (she is 2) by informing us that she was a "hot mess" (I love how 2 year olds will repeat anything you tell them). Then it was back to my parent's house for a big turkey dinner (I give up vegetarianism from Thanksgiving to Christmas - I don't care if this makes me a fair-weather vegetarian, I love roast turkey too much to forgo it). Friday, Mark and I drove up to Maine to spend some time with my best friend Katie and her husband - we caught an awesome sunset on our drive to dinner, bought our dog a moose antler to gnaw on (this is Maine, after all), and I got to spend some quality time with one of my favorite people. A great mini-vacation all around :)

21 November 2011

Strength Training

Last Monday at 6am, I was doing this:

OK, they are a bit nicer at Team Z boot camp.

And I proceeded to feel like this until about Thursday:

Team Z has a boot camp on Monday mornings. Stupid me, I'd never actually taken advantage of it before last week. I want 2012 to be a great season and I've always been a bit of a slacker when it comes to strength training. There are several reasons (as will be explained below) why I'm finally getting my lazy butt to boot camp, and one of them being Get Stronger because stronger typically equals better fitness and ability to maintain form and race faster.

Anyway, can I just tell you, I was completely naiive when I thought about how difficult boot camp actually would be. "Ha," I figured, "I've done an Ironman, I think I can handle an hour of strength training." When I could barely hobble out of the room an hour later, I figured now might be a good time to eat crow and take back ALL my thoughts and bravado. My co-worker and fellow Team Z'r, Janine, was also at boot camp that fateful Monday AM and we spent the next two days calling each other as soon as we arrived at the office. No greetings, no how are you's. Simply:
"Can you walk like a normal person yet?"
"No. Can you?"
"No. I feel like I put my legs through a meat grinder. I'm thinking about rolling myself in my desk chair to my next meeting so I don't have to try and stand up."
"Even trying to stay upright on my yoga ball is painful."

And so it went. I approached this morning's boot camp with more than a little trepidation. I wouldn't say that today's hour of hurts-so-good torture was any easier than last week's; just that I was smart and stretched over the past week, did a few squats so my legs wouldn't go into full PTSD mode this morning when we surely would be doing more than our fair share of squats, and was fully prepared to feel the burn. And I'm happy to say that I can walk like a normal person, I enjoyed every minute of boot camp, and I'm so glad I've started going. I basically suck doing strength training on my own. I'll be in the basement with my TRX, totally distracted by the TV, and taking rest breaks and moving on to a different exercise when things start to feel just a little uncomfortable. At boot camp, you have peer pressure to keep up, to not stop, to keep doing squats, leg lifts, planks, pushups (damn pushups!) far past when you normally would've cried uncle if you were alone.

Want to hear something funny? Here you go: in a matter of weeks, I will be helping Kerri Kramer lead the Monday AM boot camps. She's been a great teacher so far, but unfortunately she cannot cannot magically grant me upper body strength - I sadly discovered while trying to do pushups during boot camp last week that my upper body strength is kind of nonexistent. This is a problem that I'm going to need to fix stat because a boot camp leader who falls flat on her face during her 5th pushup is what one might call ineffective and uninspiring. So, Operation Do-More-Than-Five-Pushups has begun. Reaching my goal will take baby steps, but I'm already claiming a small victory today: not walking like a geriatric after boot camp.

17 November 2011

The Highlights

Having a positive mental attitude is key to finding success in just about anything - racing, marriage, life in general... So here are the positives I found in my day today:

- I got a compliment on my flip turn at swim practice this AM. As a person who avoided flip turns like the plague up until last year, I feel like I've made a lot of progress.

- Mark and I learned something new about each other this morning - turns out, we were both band geeks in middle school. I played the flute and he played (wait for it...) the Xylophone!!!! It's nice to know that even after 5+ years of marriage, there are still surprises.

- I bought a mini cupcake pan tonight. This means MANY more cupcakes in my future (and in the future of those around me).

- I made it to work before 9am. Victory is mine.

- I think I solved a budget mystery on one of my projects at work today.

- I found out today that I FINALLY will be in town to attend the McGreten "Ugly Holiday Sweater/Christmas Vacation spectacular. I've missed this event for too many years now and I WILL cram 4 years of fun into one evening. Just you watch.

- I'm going to go to bed before 10pm.

- I didn't have to cook dinner tonight OR do the dishes - LEFTOVERS, awwww yeah!

- Our pantry was stocked with Grape Nuts for my breakfast enjoyment.

- I ate chocolate for dessert.

14 November 2011

(Bleep) My Grandpa Says

So, I've been training, but there isn't much to discuss there. I swim, I bike, I run, I did some strength training (THAT one is a shocker. I actually did the Team Z boot camp this morning and it quickly became apparent that I'm NOT in the most awesome shape ever. AND that I need to work out with a group so I don't wuss out during strength sessions) and then I eat (tonight's pre-dinner dinner - a side of chocolate chips and a whole baguette with some triple-cream brie piled on top). Alas, no funny and amusing training stories.

I've been busy in the kitchen. Six pies, two rounds of banana nut muffins, and one batch of these chocolate-delights:
Chocolate wasted cupcakes

I bake during the off season. And luckily I have many good neighbors and co-workers who are more than willing to take the fruits of my oven off my hands so I don't start next season weighing 50lbs over my goal race weight.

Mark's parents visited us last week from California. They are wonderful and totally took Mark and I out to eat almost every night, a throwback to the college days when parents took pity on the penniless-ramen noodle-eating student and treated them to a real meal. It's nice to know that even though Mark and I are not longer the aforementioned students, his mom and dad still want to treat us to dinner :) We already miss them and can't wait to see them next month at Christmas!

Have you ever seen the website (or read the book) "BLEEP My Dad Says"? My grandpa is temporarily residing with my parents in NH while he recovers from a very minor surgery. After talking to my dad yesterday about his past couple of weeks, I think my grandpa has given them some pretty good material to work with in terms of crotchety conversation. Most of it is not fit for my PG blog, but I will say he did refer to church as "that goddamn place." Mark also informed me yesterday I do a dead-ringer impression of my grandpa (yet another trait I've inherited from my father), which perhaps I will break out over Thanksgiving dinner when grandpa is out of earshot :)
**Note: I do love my Grandpa, mostly because he is so non-PC. None of the above is meant in any malicious manner.

I tried to get myself a mug of hot chocolate this afternoon at the fancy coffee machine at work. FAIL. I couldn't figure out how to get the thing to open so I could put the packet of instant hot chocolate in. I finally gave up after a few minutes of pushing (wrong) buttons and trying to force the door open. Sad thing is, I successfully got myself hot chocolate half a dozen times less than two weeks ago from the same machine. I think I just need the packets of Swiss Miss where you just add water.

11 November 2011

Random Friday Facts

So, I've been meaning to do a Random Friday Facts blogpost for awhile, courtesy of Katie's blog, and while I don't think mine will be half as amusing as hers are, I'm giving it a shot.

1) I put together surveys for a living but I absolutely refuse to take any surveys myself.

2) Our two cats are named after vacuum cleaners - Hoover and Bissell. My dad's nickname for me when I was a kid was Hoover and yes this was well before I was training for Ironmans.

3) I don't talk much when I'm driving - I can't multi-task like that.

4) I've always prided myself in being someone who doesn't drink coffee. Then my husband discovered how to make amazing pumpkin lattes on his espresso maker and I've now become a "recreational" coffee drinker.

5) I always thought "espresso" was actually spelled (and said) as "expresso." I learned the correct spelling about three months ago. Which is sad because I hate misspelled words.

6) Even though being 30 hasn't actually been that bad, I still don't like it.

7) I've recently rediscovered a great love for Grape Nuts.

8) If you'd asked me three weeks ago whether or not I saw myself running any races this offseason, you would've gotten an emphatic NO. Nowwww, I think I'm changing my mind...

9) I love reading well-written, witty blogs.

10) It's my favorite time of year - stores are stocking peppermint flavored ice cream.

11) When my mom was my age, she had a 7-year old and a two year old. I don't know how she did it - I can barely get myself dressed and out the door in one piece on a daily basis.

12) I really like my job. This is the first job that I've had that I truly enjoy the work.

13) As of today, I will have baked 6 pies this week (4 apple and 2 chicken pot pies). No, I did not eat them all myself; I bribe my neighbors with baked goods.

14) Seven years ago today, my husband and I were introduced - we had our first date seven years ago tomorrow.

09 November 2011

Book reviews

My aunt Amy recently gave me a Kindle for my birthday - Best. Gift. Ever. I'll admit, I'd never had a hankering for an electronic reader - I've always liked having my book in hand so I knew how many pages were left and could easily flip back and forth. But I'm a total convert and I love the possibility of having hundreds of books right at my fingertips - just click a button and *bing* a new book magically appears right in front of you (and so does a charge on your credit card, haha). So right before I left for Burkina, I downloaded two books; both of which turned out to be FANTASTIC reads.
The first was Laura Hillenbrand's new novel Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption . It's the true story of Louis Zamperini, a runner who came within spitting distance of the sub-4 minute mile before deploying with the Army's Air Force during WWII where he was shot down over the Pacific, spent 40+ days on a life raft before being captured by the Japanese and placed in a POW camp for over two years. This book talked alot, both directly and indirectly, about mental strength - what it took to come within seconds of a 4 minute mile and what it took to make it through the day on just one ball of rice and not give up hope. As an athlete, this book offered so many lessons on mental fortitude. I know that reading it won't make me a better athlete, but it did give me some food for thought on strategies to fall back on when hitting a rough patch during a race.

The other book was Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. This book had nothing to do with sports or mental toughness - it was just a really interesting, well-written, and entertaining story. It's about the lives of twin brothers, and the lives of those around them, as they came of age in Ethiopia in the mid-20th century. It was written so vividly that I could actually picture in my mind the places described in the book, what I imagined the characters to look like, and the events as they took place. I totally lost myself in the book and finished it in about two days - THAT's when you know a book is good, when you can't put it down and you find yourself looking forward to a few quiet moments alone so you can sneak a peak at a few more pages.

And now I'm reading Pride and Prejudice. You can download alot of the classics for free on the Kindle and I've told myself that I can't buy the third book of the Hunger Games, or any other book for that matter, until after I finish Pride and Prejudice. In 2012 I'd really like to expand my reading horizons and delve into some classics so I've devised a plan. I must read one classic book for every contemporary/fluff/Nicholas-Spark-ish book I download on my Kindle.

07 November 2011

To Marathon or Not to Marathon - that is the question

My lovely coach Jen recently sent me a goals sheet for the 2012 season which, of course, got me thinking about next year. All the hype and chatter about this past weekend's NYC marathon has started to make me rethink my original desire NOT to do a marathon in 2012. 2012 is the last year that the old qualifying standards (1:37 for women) will be used. And while I've never had a burning desire to do the NYC Marathon (I'm a Boston girl all the way, from marathons to clam chowder), suddenly I want to. Really want to. In 2013 the qualifying standard will be a 1:27, about 5 minutes faster than my 1/2 marathon PR. So, do I take the easy route and jump into a half marathon sometime in the next two months, just to meet the easy qualifying standard and grab a spot in the 2012 race (which would interfere with my hopes of doing a late season half ironman); or, do I decide to really focus on the 1/2 marathon and marathon in a later year and really challenge myself to meet the new standard? Or maybe do both. Physically, if I focus and work and do everything right, a 1:27 doesn't seem out of the question. I would need to be ON my game mentally. The smart move would probably be to put the NYC marathon on the backburner for now and just focus on the 1/2 marathon and doing what I can at that distance in March at the Nation Half Marathon (Rock and Roll Half, whatever it is).

03 November 2011

I went running!!!

I laced up my running shoes this afternoon for the first time in, ohhhh, about 4 weeks! I haven't run a step since Watermans the second weekend of October. I just hadn't felt like it. But my run today was glorious. GLORIOUS. I can't believe I voluntarily went without running for so long. I think I needed the break though; otherwise, I don't think I would've enjoyed today's run as much as I did. I don't know exactly how far I went or how long I ran for, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I'm already looking forward to my weekend run, an encouraging sign. Between getting on the trainer last night and going for a run tonight, it almost looks like I am training again. I'm not going to get serious about anything until after January 1st; I have no desire to have super-structured, goal oriented training during the holiday season. Trying to train for a marathon last year during Christmas was a disaster; I spent Christmas morning staring out my window, eating butter rolls in bed, and wishing I didn't have a two hour run on my schedule. I'm not subjecting myself to that this year - no winter marathon. Maayyyybbeee I will do a half marathon in March. Maybe. I know it seems like I lack motivation right now. And maybe I do. But that's all part of the off-season. I don't want to burn up my stash of motivation before 2012 even starts. So that's why I'm not stressing about missed workouts. I'm eating entire bars of Cadbury chocolate before dinner. And I'm not scheduling any big races until the spring.

02 November 2011

Burkina Trip

So I spent the last half of October in Burkina Faso for work. It's a small, landlocked country in West Africa with pretty much the coolest name for a capital city - Ouagadougou. I spent most of my time in the capital city, but was able to go out into a few villages, which was definitely the highlight of the whole trip. I also forgot that it was October - the temperature was about 100 degrees every day, which made me REALLY appreciate the fact that my hotel had a giant pool.

Burkina is one of the poorest countries in the world. The average Burkinabe lives on about $2/day, not even enough for a Starbucks latte here in the States. Literacy rates are extremely low and when you get outside of the cities, electricity is basically nonexistent. It's a whole different world and visiting Burkina made me appreciate all the creature comforts of home. Tape decks still rule and iPods are nonexistent - I let our driver borrow my iPod when we were out in the village and the poor guy didn't know how to switch through the songs, so he started listening to them in alphabetical order and had to suffer through Atomic Kitten, Abba and A Teens. The people there were super nice and I'm really looking forward to the next opportunity I have to go back. Here are a few pictures from the trip, since images are worth 1,000 words:

Burkinabe bike lane (psst - I got to ride on the back of a motorbike, it was great!)

An elementary school classroom

One of the households in the village we visited

Village children

As a white girl, I was a novelty. These kids had followed me to my car

Burkinabe bike shop. Really, all you need are tires, bikes, and some know-how

If you are interested in checking out a cool organization, take a look here: Friends of African Village Libraries. I heard about the organization from a friend and visited their office while I was in Burkina - they work with villages to install libraries so that local children will have more to read than simply their school books. As someone who loves to read (I read 6 books during the two weeks I was in Ouagadougou), I can't imagine my childhood without books. And this organization works with the villages to ensure there is buy-in and local responsibility for these libraries. I was really impressed with the whole business model and concept. Take a look!

Part of me wishes I had taken more pictures; but the other part of me is glad I didn't. As much as I want to try to capture everything I'm seeing over there, I know there's no way the pictures can do it justice. I also feel borderline exploitive when I take the photos - I know that many of the kids and adults like having their photo taken, but I feel guilty that it's basically for my own pleasure - there isn't any way I can print and give them a copy right there.