28 April 2013

Race Report: XTERRA Jersey Devil - first triathlon of 2013!

THIS was a fantastic race weekend! Not only did I race my first triathlon of the season (and first off-road tri since 2007), but I also had a chance to spend part of the weekend with my friend Stacey and her family up in PA, since they lived just over an hour from the race site in New Jersey. Perfect combination - catching up with friends and racing. I had the chance to meet some of Stacey's friends - Tania and Jess - as they were all running a half marathon today and came over for a pre-race dinner last night with their families. A HUGE thank you to Stacey and her family for having me for the weekend!

So the race - I went into it feeling a little unprepared. I took a mountain bike out for a short spin last weekend in Wakefield and THAT was a wakeup call that road riding skills don't translate to mountain biking skills - AT ALL. I got a late start yesterday and I didn't get a chance to preview the course so I relied on the course pictures I saw on the race website to give me an idea of how technical the course was. The photos were deceiving and I will say this - you don't need rocks and big hills to give a course a dash of difficulty - nope, just throw piles and piles of deep sand along the course as well as a section that could be dubbed "the luge". I don't own a mountain bike yet so I borrowed my friend Kristin's bike - THANK YOU Kristin!! - and riding it on the course was the first time I rode it. By the second loop of the bike, I felt much more comfortable on it  - it also helps that you feel like you can roll over anything with tires that big. The big victory of the day is the fact that I only need one hand to count the number of times I fell off the bike.

The swim: 1/2 mile - 13:46
The swim was held in a small lake and the water was surprisingly warm for April in New Jersey. I got in for a quick practice swim/acclimation to the water a few minutes before the start. My face felt a little like an ice cream headache during the practice swim, but once I was huffing and puffing my way through the actual swim, I was quite warm. We had two waves - men and relays and then all the women went two minutes later. Once the horn sounded, I tried to stay on some fast feet, but the front pack pulled away from me by the first buoy and I ended up swimming most of it alone. By the end of the first loop, I had caught up to quite a few people from the first wave and swimming became a full-contact sport at the beginning of the second loop. I was sighting every 5 strokes and managed to keep a pretty good line. I could see there were a few pink caps ahead of me, but it seemed like I was in the mix. By the second loop, I'd found a good rhythm and felt like I was maintaining decent form and while I wasn't flying, my speed wasn't falling off the edge of a cliff either.

T1: Knock-down, drag-out fight with the wetsuit + 1/4 mile run to my bike = longest T1 ever. 4+ min

The bike: 13 miles of sandy, muddy fun trails - 1:11:16
Can we talk about how DIRTY you get when you do an Xterra? I wasn't even on my bike yet and I was already covered in sand and dirt from my fight with the wetsuit. As I hopped on the bike, I felt like I had swamp grime on my face and I tried to wipe it off, but ended up smearing more dirt on me instead because I forgot my hand was covered in dirt and sand. I also didn't wear sunglasses on the bike - big mistake. You should wear sunglasses when riding your bike on sandy muddy trails because sunglasses keep both the sun AND the mud out of your eyes. Lesson learned.
The bike was a 6.5 mile loop done twice. It starts out on wide trails with just a little sand - a deceivingly easy start. But this was good because it allowed me to ease into the whole mountain bike thing and figure out the shifting (I KNOW - unprepared). I ended up staying in about a 3 gear range because the course was basically flat and rolling. As I rolled along the wide, non-technical trails, I was passing people and hauling up short climbs feeling good. These thighs the size of tree trunks are good for something. Then we hit the more technical sections and my complete LACK of technical skills was in full display - no amount of thigh power could overcome this weakness. In the middle of the 6.5 mile loop, we hit a decently long section filled with deep sand and "the luge" - a tight singletrack of sand with high banks on either side - no room for passing and if the person in front of you goes down, you are going to be on your way down shortly thereafter. I focused on just keeping the pedals turning over, as that seemed to be the most successful way to stay upright. Most of the time this worked. And the times it didn't, I usually managed to unclip in time to catch myself, though there was one time where I lost control of my front wheel and went careening into the side of the luge, fell off the bike, and was the cause of a major backup in riders. Oops. Once the sandy/singletrack section ended, the trails widened out a bit and I was able to make up some lost time. Right before the end of the bike loop, there was a pile of logs you had to go over. I tried to ride over it during the first go-round, got my front wheel up and over, but didn't get the second wheel over, teetered balanced on the chainring before having a slow-motion tip over to one side. I'm pretty sure that's where all the scratches on my left arm came from. I learned my lesson from that log the first time - the second loop, I got off my bike and walked over it. The second loop of the bike was a little more spread out, which was really nice on the more technical sections. Who knew that sand could be so difficult? I also implemented some of the lessons learned from the first loop - when going through deep mud, just aim for the track that was already made and follow that - do not try to blaze your own trail, you will end up in the mudpit instead. With sand - the brakes are not your friend, pedaling (alot) is. Speed is your friend. Look at where you want to go, DO NOT look where you do not want to end up.

T2: In which I forget how to tie my shoes - 1:26

The run: 3.5 miles of feeling like you are part of The Hunger Games - 25:52
Can we get an "AMEN" for the triathlon run leg - it gave me a chance to catch a few of the girls who were far better mountain bikers than me. Again - the pictures of the run were deceiving, as I was under the impression it was completely non-technical and on wide fireroads. Imagine my surprise when I rounded a corner and hear the race director cackle - as he motioned me towards a trail that didn't look like a trail at all, more like bunches of trees with arrows haphazardly pointing this way and that - just wait, this is where the real fun begins. After I careened down a hill without running into any trees, I found myself at a creekbed where I promptly bid my pretty pink KSwiss shoes adieu because they were brown and covered in muck within about 5 seconds. Sigh. I managed not to fall in the creek and found myself on a trail that actually looked like a trail. I was running as fast as my legs would turn over, trying to catch some of the girls I saw in front of me who had blazed through the bike course. When I felt my quads burning, I'd remind myself that this trail was nowhere near as lung-busting hard as that first mile up Phoneline trail. That shut my legs up real quick. I caught one girl within the first mile and tried to run by her fast while simultaneously make it look like I was barely winded and out for a Sunday stroll. I don't think I pulled it off. After a long downhill, I caught up to another girl and sat on her heels for awhile while we zipped through a section that I swear was straight out of the Hunger Games - vaulting over logs, skittering under downed trees, running through woods when the path seemed to disappear. I passed her on an uphill and then kept running hard, convinced she was on my heels. We crossed over a dam on the lake and then there was - I kid you not - a log crossing. Logs in floating in shallow water that you quickly jump and balance on while trying not to fall over. It was just after this that I caught a third girl who was in front of me. We had just over a mile left in the run, hit a few more short hills, a number of points where I was convinced I'd lost the trail only to find it again, and then we were back out on the fireroads, running by the finish line to make a quick loop and double back to actually cross the finish line.

I had SO much fun out there. I'll admit, I was a little horrified at some of the super sandy singletrack parts of the bike course because I was convinced I was just going to spend most of my time toppled over, backing up traffic. And I did fall a few times (only need one hand to count them - victory!) and I learned that falling off the mountain bike really isn't that bad, for the most part. A relatively soft and cushy landing AND it wasn't like I was going that fast. Way better than falling off my road bike. I forgot how dirty and scratched up you get from these races. I popped into a Dunkin Donuts post-race to grab a bagel sandwich for the ride home (and a handful of munchkins) and the guy behind the counter just looked at me and said where did you come from? Covered in dirt and scratches. Awesome. I also realized just how much concentration these types of races demand - I was constantly looking just ahead for the best direction I should guide my bike down the path, always strategically plotting my next move, trying to figure out the best time to past competitors. There was absolutely no zoning out during this race, I was on my toes the whole time. Everyone was super friendly and laid-back, while still working hard. The volunteers were great and everything was super well-organized. Now I definitely want a mountain bike of my own so I can add a few more of these races to my calendar - and do some mountain biking and improve my gosh-darn terrible technical skills. I ended up 2nd AG (won some wine for Mr. Sweetie!) and 5th girl overall in 1:56:24. It was my run that saved me, that is for sure. I also met some pretty great people post-race who were friends-of-friends from DC and hopefully I'll see them out at more races in the future! I got to wear my ZocaGear tri kit for the first time - super comfortable. Though I think it now has permanent mud stains, womp womp. A thank you again to Stacey for having me stay at her house last night and a thank you to Kristin for the use of her mountain bike! The bike and I both returned in one piece, mission accomplished!

24 April 2013

Yoga and track

Brain dump time.
I took Metro to and from work today for the first time since before tri camp at the beginning of the month. OMG I did not miss it at all. Granted, it was nice to give my legs a rest from a bike commute, but maddening at the same time to commute 2+ hours just to go 12 miles round trip. Ridiculous.

I gave yoga a shot for the first time on Monday. Success = not falling over when doing the Warrior Pose. It actually felt really nice to stretch and yoga is a legitimate strength training workout judging from the way my arms and legs were shaking while trying to hold poses and how much concentration it took not to lose my balance. I will definitely go back.

I had another track workout this week. I ran track in high school - the 400 and the 800 (standalone and relays) and today I'm now a good 20 seconds slower on the 400 and almost 40 seconds slower in the 800 than I was my senior year of high school. I was lamenting this fact to Jen in my Training Peaks feedback and her response was to not compare myself to high school because that is just depressing. Yup. Agreed. I will say this, track work is just as hard today as it was in high school, even if I've become a slow old lady. I had descending intervals for my 800s today and I mentally cracked on my second to last one, completely fell apart about 150m from the finish. I think I started off too fast on that one and by the end, I couldn't fathom doing another repeat, even if it was just one more. I still managed to make the intended split, used my easy 400 jog to pull my head together, and the last one felt much better. I love/hate track work. I love how it feels to work hard and make a go at keeping a challenging pace. I hate it when I start too fast and feel like I'm crawling at the finish. I love how it makes me tougher. I hate sounding like a freight train going around the track because I'm trying to suck in enough oxygen to keep my legs turning over. And I do love how much the track workouts wear me out and I leave feeling absolutely spent - and continue to feel the slight burn in my legs for the remainder of the day.

21 April 2013

Lost in Translation

Takeaway From Today:
I am not God's gift to mountain biking.

I have this bad habit of thinking that my skills in one area (such as road biking) will easily translate to skills in another area (like mountain biking). I did this same sort of thing 8 years ago when I signed up for my first off-road triathlon (aaaand first triathlon ever). I figured that since I knew how to run 14 miles, obviously mountain biking 14 miles will be cake because road running and mountain biking are practically the same.

No and no and I got my rear end handed to me.

My friend Karen, road-and-mountain biker extraordinaire, saw my post on Facebook earlier this week that I'd signed up for my first Xterra tri in years and rightfully told me that I should probably hit the trails ASAP (and get a bike). And oh boy was she correct. I borrowed a friend's mountain bike today (thank you Kyle!) and took to the trails at Wakefield Park. Last night I purchased mountain bike shoes and crank brothers eggbeater pedals because I figured it might be a good idea to learn how to mountain bike with my shoes secured to the pedals. It actually wasn't bad and didn't feel strange or scary at all to be clipped in while hitting roots and rocks. I did, however, feel like a train wreck just waiting to happen. These bikes are substantially heavier and more unwieldy than my road bike or tri bike. I feel like an elephant trying to take sharp corners and I almost bit it a few times. Complete rude awakening that road biking skills DO NOT translate to mad skills on the trails. Next weekend will be an interesting experience and if you are in the south Jersey area, maybe come out and watch for free laughs? I've learned my lesson (and will, undoubtedly, continue to learn) that new-to-me sports absolutely deserve practice and respect and I shouldn't just assume I'll be good at it right away.

And the whole purchasing a mountain bike. The wheels have begun moving. I've drafted up a Craigslist ad to let the DC Metro area know that wife is selling husband's bike because he has chosen golf over triathlon and she wants the funds (and real estate in the basement) to add to her own bike collection. Once that puppy sells, I'm off to the bike shop, yee-haw!

18 April 2013

Bike Commute Fun Facts

Since I got home from Tucson, I've been doing a fair amount of bike commuting because suddenly spring has arrived (NOT meant to rub in the nice weather - but camp buddies Julia, Sarah, Melissa, and Jen's - maybe consider a move out east? Just saying.)

I feel super lucky to have a pretty scenic bike commute route that is mostly on the bike path until I get into the city. And I'm always thankful to be on my bike (especially when riding parallel to the GW Parkway and all the traffic is stopped for 1+ miles as cars try to merge onto 395N and I breeze right by). Here are a few random bike commute facts:

- On my route, I pass by a dog park, a river, a wastewater treatment plant (ick), an airport, a highway, the Jefferson Memorial, the Tidal Basin, the Washington Monument, the National Mall, the Smithsonian, the Capitol, and Union Station. And an ice cream truck.

- Whenever I bike past the airport and hear the planes taking off, it makes me think of the final scene in L'Auberge Espagnole when the main character is running down the runway, saying that his story of the rest of his life began when his plane took off for his study abroad trip. That final scene is one of my favorites in that movie.

- It never fails, I always have a headwind when I bike down the Mt. Vernon Trail. In the morning, the headwind is coming down from the Northwest and in the evening, from the Southeast. Sigh.

- I've been doing a terrible job at adjusting my nutrition for the 20+ extra daily miles from my commute. Without fail, I've bonked on my ride when I'm about three miles from home. It always happens right near a bakery and I can smell the fresh bread and NEED SOME RIGHT NOW.

- During my bike commute, I've been focusing on not coasting as often and keeping my legs moving. Sometimes, this feels harder than it should.

- I would say I obey traffic laws 99% of the time. The one rule I tend to break is riding on the sidewalk in DC when it serves me well in getting ahead of traffic.

- I've figured out where I need to have a mini time trial along the Mall to make traffic lights before they turn red. In the mornings I TT past the Air and Space Museum and typically make the light just as it is turning yellow. In the afternoon, I TT past the National Galleries of Art and it is hit or miss if I make the light. I'm starting to measure my fitness against how often I make certain lights.

- After 7pm, it seems like all of the traffic light patterns change and I get grumpy. After 7pm, nothing works like clockwork the way it does before 7pm. All the more reason to leave work on time.

- When the cherry blossoms disappear, so do the tourists. Where do they all go?? The Tidal Basin is EMPTY and it's as though they were all abducted by aliens.

- There is always a cop standing at the corner of Louisiana Ave and New Jersey Ave. I don't know what he does, he isn't directing traffic. Maybe he is guarding the Capitol? Or maybe he is on the lookout for errant bikers who run red lights.

- I talk aloud to myself when I bike. Half the time I don't realize I'm doing this.

- It makes my day when I see one of my friends during my bike commute.

- When I'm within a 10-block radius of work, I do not flip the bird to cars or cuss at them when they swerve into the bike lane. You never know when one of your colleagues might be walking by (OR they might be behind the wheel of that car you just flipped off).

- I've been using my Ironman France backpack as a commuter bag lately and a few people have asked me about the race. It's a nice conversation-starter.

- I never, ever listen to headphones when I ride. I do sometimes wish I had a portable radio for my bike, though.

15 April 2013

The Finish Line

This post was going to be about my awesome runner friend Brad. Not only did he run the Boston Marathon today, but he set a new marathon PR of sub-2:50. Awesome, yes? All weekend I had been thinking about him - he was probably soaking up the pre-race atmosphere (there are few pre-race atmosphere's that can match those of Boston), hopefully eating a big pasta dinner somewhere in the North End, picking up his race bib at the expo as well as a few other items, like a Boston jacket, to mark the occasion of this important race - the marathon of marathons. I'd been following his training on his blog and knew that he had worked really hard to fill up the old training barn with hay. This winter wasn't a super kind one here in DC (compared to how our winters normally are), so I know Brad did much of his running in the cold, dark, blustery, rainy/sleety weather. He dialed in his nutrition, gave up crap foods, went to bed early, sacrificed some of his social life, all in the name of becoming the best runner he could be for one of the best marathons on earth - Boston. And he did it in impressive fashion, setting a six-minute PR! I was tracking him and checking his progress every 20 minutes; and just like clockwork, the tracker showed he had ticked off another 5k during that time. It took all my self control not to cheer aloud when I saw his finishing time, knowing how elated he had to have been feeling seeing all of his hard work pay off, and having it all come to fruition at a race that is near and dear to his heart.

It is that feeling of elation, of accomplishment, of running towards the finish line and seeing that clock display a time that even you didn't think was possible - it's those things that every runner chases. I wasn't up in Boston spectating or racing today and fortunately everyone that I knew who was up there is safe. I can't speak as someone who was directly affected by today's events at the Boston Marathon finish line. And thus my sadness is much more superficial than those who experienced true trauma and loss - and I absolutely don't want this blog post to take away from that. As someone who races and sees these events as a celebration of accomplishments and an opportunity for camaraderie, it is unfathomable to me that anyone would even consider harming racers and the spectators that support them. The finish line is supposed to be safe. The finish line is where you reunite with your family, your friends - those who made your training possible and your accomplishments a reality. The finish line is meant to be magic - where you watch the gamut of emotions play across the faces of those racing - happiness, joy, grit, determination - the very core of all that is good. I adore the finish line. I feel so much love at the finish line, whether I'm racing or spectating. The finish line is the best part. Brad, and all the other runners from today's marathon, should be eating cannolis from Mike's Pastries in the North End in celebration of their accomplishments. They should be trading stories with other runners about how amazing it felt to run down Boylston Street. They should be feeling happy disbelief when they think of their finish time. It's sad that all of those feelings, those experiences, the finish line, were ruined today.

14 April 2013

Springtime Riding

Ever since I arrived back home from Tucson, all I want to do is live the lyrics of Queen:
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like

The cherry blossoms were in peak bloom this past week and I couldn't resist bike commuting both Wednesday and Thursday, both to enjoy the nice weather as well as take a few photos of the cherry blossoms:

Tidal Basin with the Washington Monument in the background

Up close with the cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

Springtime is my favorite season in DC. It was a little late in arriving this year, but I think right now it's safe to say that it is here to stay (thank goodness!).

And you know what springtime weather means - BEAUTIFUL bike rides! About ten of us met up in Aldie, VA (out in Loudon County) for a gorgeous 60+ mile bike ride yesterday morning. It felt a little chilly as we rolled out of the parking lot, but we quickly warmed up and shorts and armwarmers ended up being perfect for the temperatures. I can't say enough about what an awesome group we had out riding yesterday - lots of chatting and laughter as well as working hard and keeping a good pace. It was so, so great to catch up with my friends, who I hadn't seen in a couple of weeks. The route had us climbing Mt Weather, which I've never done before. It wasn't too bad, and when we rode up the longer section, I made it my mission to stick with Seb, Mike, and Nate and not fall off their wheels. My legs were burning right before we crested the top and this was definitely an exercise in mental focus as I just stared at the wheel in front of me and kept the pedals turning over, all the while giving myself a pep talk. And the descent - SO FUN! Much of the rest of the ride was filled with rollers and we spent alot of time of quiet country roads with little traffic - bike riding doesn't get much better than that!

An illustration of perfection: blue skies, friends, and quiet country roads
Also - I just signed up for my first off-road triathlon in about 6 years - XTerra Jersey Devil at the end of the month. It's a short-ish race (1/2 mile swim, 13 mile mountain bike ride, and 3.5 mile run) and I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW EXCITED I AM! Both just to simply race AND to be doing something a little different from a road triathlon. I'm still working on the whole getting a mountain bike thing but one of my wonderful friends has offered to let me borrow her mountain bike for the race, and I may just take her up on it. I'm beyond excited that triathlon season is literally around the corner! It's like the holiday season, just with warmer weather and more sweat!

11 April 2013

Tucson Tri Camp 2013!

Jen Harrison's Tucson Triathlon Camp is far and away one of my favorite places to go each year. Warm weather, challenging workouts, and a chance to make new friends while seeing old ones. In fact, I've met some of my favorite people through Jen's triathlon camp. 2013 was my third year going and the usual suspects - Mt. Lemmon, Sabino Canyon - were just as fun and challenging as I remembered.

I arrived on Wednesday last week, a day before camp officially kicked off. Instead of doing one big house for everyone, we were split into smaller condos in a condo complex near Sabino Canyon. While it was a little more difficult to get to know everyone using this setup (and we missed having a pool directly in our backyard - but that still didn't stop us from jumping into the pool in our nasty running clothes post-Lemmon Ride T-Run, I think we horrified all the retirees), it was nice to have a bit more space and a calm and quiet place to relax after the group workouts. We also had plenty of group dinners and everyone had a chance to chat with each other. I stayed in a condo with some of my favorite people from camps past - Julia, Sarah, Liz, Kate, and Melissa. Getting in a day early gave me time to get a leisurely run in AND bake up some Strawberry Bread and Pancakes for my ride fuel. One cannot live on gels alone.

Cactus view from my shakeout run

We are all super excited to climb Mt. Lemmon!
Day 1: Mt. Lemmon, T-Run, Lay on Concrete Drained of Energy
Welcome dinner was Thursday night and I went to sleep with more than a few butterflies thinking about Friday's Mt. Lemmon ride. Sadly, the ride did not have an auspicious start - my tube exploded and tire shredded 1 minute and 18 seconds into the ride. Fortunately, this turned out to be my only mechanical of the day (though it was the first of a few mechanicals for the group, womp womp) AND we were close enough to the condo that Jerome rode back and found a replacement tire for me and it was onward and upward to the mountain! When we arrived at the base of Lemmon, Jimmy Riccitello - super fast cyclist/triathlete and friends of Jen and Jerome - met us there and we started the 25 mile climb to the top. This is absolutely one of my favorite rides - I think I like it even better than Skyline. It is a steady uphill, not ridiculously steep, but with enough of a pitch that you are sending up silent prayers of thanks whenever the road levels out for even just a few seconds, allowing you to catch your breath. The views cannot be beat and there was absolutely nothing else I would've rather done last Friday morning than climb Mt. Lemmon. Liz and I started fast up the hill, and I felt like I was definitely working harder than in years past. We passed the time by chatting and joking and enjoying the scenery. The first 5 miles were not easy, but our legs were still fresh and I don't think either of us had thoughts of OMG ANOTHER 20 MILES OF THIS NOOOOOOO running through our heads. I just stayed focused on the here and now and whenever my legs wanted a coasting break, I continued to spin them instead - I think this was a harder task mentally than physically. I would say the toughest part of the ride was from Miles 12-14. It feels like the steepest part and since Mile 14 is Windy Point (also known as NUTELLA TIME with the SAG), it seemed like I would never, ever get there. There were a number of twists and turns in the road and I experienced a letdown no less than three times when I thought I saw Windy Point and I turned out to be wrong. Once I finally arrived, I took a short break and munched on some snacks before Liz, Erin, and I took off for the top. The rest of the ride was less steep, but still challenging. I don't know if I burned too many matches at the beginning of the ride, but my legs felt TIRED by the time I reached Mile 21 and began a rolling descent towards Summerhaven. At this point, I had made the decision that I would climb up to the Ski Lifts like I did last year, it was pretty and only an extra mile of up. It was around this time that Jimmy Riccitello came rolling up to me and said he was climbing to the Ski Lift too. As we turned around the last corner up the hill by the ski lift, my mind was already on the Cookie Cabin and how awesome it was going to feel to not pedal my bike for a few minutes. HOWEVER, there was a slight change in plans. Did you know that there is an observatory at the tippity-top of Mt. Lemmon? Neither did I until I reached the ski lift, all prepared to turn around, when I hear - Hey, the observatory is just another 1.2 more miles up the hill, let's climb there! And when Jimmy Riccitello tells you to climb up to the observatory, you do it, even if your soul cries out for the Cookie Cabin.

This was absolutely the steepest part of the climb and I swear there were points that I was swerving up the road just in an effort to keep moving forward. And if I thought the ascent to Windy Point was deceptive and rude, this was even more deceptive and vulgar. And slow - SO SLOW. I think he got bored riding my 2mph pace and zoomed ahead, under the guise of checking out how much further up the observatory was (very high and very far). When I came around the last corner and had less than 1/8 of a mile to go, my legs found new speed and I got to the top of the hill as fast I humanly possible. I didn't even take in the view, I was so done, I just took a few sips of water and headed down to the Cookie Cabin instead.

Melissa and I at the top of Lemmon, where we discovered that salty chips solve everything

The rest of the ride was uneventful - the descent down Lemmon is one of the most fun things EVER - wide and easy turns, a few flat sections to slow you down to a more reasonable pace, and the chance to really enjoy the sweeping views because you aren't busy pedaling and sweating your way up a hill. In years past, the rental house we stayed at has only been a couple miles from the base - this year we were 13 miles away instead. Julia, Liz, Michaela, Janine, and I all arrived at the bottom around the same time and we formed a paceline back to the condo. My legs were COOKED by the end of this ride and we all were doing some serious pep talks during the last few uphill miles. The T-run was painful but Melissa, Liz, and I rewarded ourselves for finishing by jumping into the condo complex's pool and then, when we were sufficiently cooled off, we crawled onto the concrete next to the pool and just laid there like wrecked lizards trying to soak up enough solar energy to walk the 100m to our condo. Hurt so good.

Day 2: Phoneline Trail, Local Bike Ride, Swim - and then eat everything
Saturday was a run up beautiful Phoneline Trail in Sabino Canyon. This is a good 10ish mile loop, with the first four miles being UP UP UP (especially that first mile - brutal). That first mile is my nemesis - I remember the first year and the second year feeling like my heart was going to explode out of my chest during the first steep ascent and this year I wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I misjudged when thing leveled out - it was a bit later than I expected - and my legs were in full on protest mode by that point. It was around this time that a thought kept running through my head - when I'd had the tough ride out at SkyMass the weekend before, Kristin had reminded me that workouts that feel hard, that feel like they are going to break you, are the most valuable because they are the ones that are going to stretch your limits and help you become a better athlete. So I kept reminding myself of that during this run to just keep moving forward. I fell into a good cadence once things leveled out and immediately started to feel stronger and faster. The trail was technical, especially on the descents, so oftentimes safety took precedent over speed. The net downhill run on the paved road back to the Visitor's Center was a great reward for all the climbing - Jamie and I took off at a good pace and I made it my mission to keep Glen in my sights (the only reason I was relatively successful with this was because he spotted a snake - of course - and I found him taking pictures of it). I actually felt better on this run than I remember feeling in year's past and I ended up running back to the condo with Erin and Jamie to get in a few extra miles.

Ready to run up Phoneline Trail!

We had a couple of hours to refuel and rest up before heading out for a shakeout bike ride of about 20ish miles. It was a fun ride, two loops, and the first 5ish miles of each loop were mainly downhill. We added in a hill repeat on both loops for fun - the repeat wasn't long, less than a mile, but it was steep - around 18%. It was funny, I wasn't jumping for joy about getting back on my bike after the Phoneline Trail run, but as soon as I was pedaling, my head and heart were in it, I wasn't tired anymore, and there was nowhere else I wanted to be. There were a few times that I fell off Jerome's wheel and thought whew, this ride is hard work, and the biggest challenge was not giving into the temptation of coasting and taking a break from pedaling.

We ended Saturday with a swim OUTSIDE! Beautiful sunshine, warm temps, and a gorgeous pool! Lesson from the pool - I do not rotate AT ALL to my left side, any and all rotation is to my right side, obviously not a good thing and a quirk that needs to be corrected. Stacie showed us a great drill - put a kickboard between your legs and as you swim, make sure you rotate enough that it slaps the water on each side. This drill works your core like nothing else and it is harder than it looks, especially if you do it for awhile.

My sister Steph picked me up from the pool and we went out for frozen yogurt before heading back to the house to eat pizza, pizza, pizza! It was a great way to end an awesome training day!

Day 3: Gates Pass, T-Run, and the day I finally nailed my nutrition plan
Sunday AM we were all up bright and early for the Gates Pass ride! Besides Mt. Lemmon, this was far and away the prettiest ride I've done out there. And it was challenging too. We rode the 20-something miles out to Gates Pass from the house, it was a pleasant ride with few cars on the road and Julia set a good pace. We were on a bike path for awhile and then started gradual climb out to the main hill in the park. I completely missed the SAG vehicle at the top of the steep hill, but fortunately I realized my error before I went too far down the steep descent on the other side. Once we had all regrouped, we went screaming down that descent (SO FUN) and made our way to the 5ish mile loop where we could do some repeat loops in an area with little traffic. The park was beautiful, with lots of cacti and vistas. Glen and I took turns pulling each other around and then we picked up Liz before climbing back out of the park. The climb out is mentally daunting, as you can see how high up the road goes into the mountain and you think to yourself I have to climb up THAT FAR. But once you were actually doing it, it wasn't bad at all. Glen took off like his bike had a motor on it once we hit the steeper parts of the hill and Liz and I just opted for a pace that would keep us upright while still moving forward.

Liz and I at the top - steeper than it looks, I swear!

Liz, Julia, Melissa, Michaela, Janine, and Glen - all happy to be at the top!
After everyone did a few loops and made it back to the top, we cycled back to the house. My goal on the last few miles of the ride was to keep Glen in sight because he can climb like nobody else and it was ALL UPHILL those last few miles. I was successful until about the last mile or so, when my legs were just cooked. Once we got back to the house, it was time to do a T-run. I've often felt like pooo on my T-runs, mainly because I've either eaten too much, eaten too little, eaten the wrong stuff, drank too much, drank too little, drank the wrong thing, etc etc etc. But I felt absolutely great on my run - no sloshiness in my stomach, no bonking, no cramps. Just a beautiful run. I didn't wear a watch so I have no clue what my pace was, I just know that I felt good. I ate a mix of gels and solids on the ride, never came close to bonking, drank plenty of water and Skratch Labs hydration, and the result was magic. I think I'm going to continue that same nutrition plan in my training for now.

Day 4: Sabino Canyon again, a little swim, and bonus night in Tucson:
In year's past, we've run in Saguro National Park on the last day of camp. While it is a great place to do the last run of camp - nontechnical trails, nothing steep, it was on the other side of town. For the sake of time, we ran Sabino Canyon again. A few people - Mia, Janine, Michaela, Glen and Rich - were brave and headed back up Phoneline Trail. I thought about doing it for a hot second, I even did a few steps of the initial ascent, before pulling back and turning onto Bear Canyon instead. I was not mentally prepared to run Phoneline on the last day and I felt like I had worked so hard on Saturday going up that trail, I had no desire to do it again. I ended up tooling around the valleys in Sabino Canyon, climbing up this trail, going down that trail, running along the riverbed. It was beautiful and peaceful as I ran on my own and the time passed really quickly. Melissa and I met back at the car after an hour and then headed back to the house to get ready for the final swim practice. The swim was uneventful and short for me since I had to head to the airport (for my flight that ended up being delayed, offloaded, and then rebooked). I will say this - all flight woes were worth it to see Jen Harrison drink a margarita :)

Thank you Jen and Jerome for putting together yet another fantastic camp, I can't wait until next year's! This was such a great opportunity to kick of the season and test my limits and I like looking back at previous camps to see how my attitude and abilities have evolved. Everything was super well-organized and well-thought out, and it was great to have the chance to just focus on our workouts because everything else was taken care of. I already miss all of my fellow campers and especially my roomies - everyone made this camp so, so fun! I'm looking forward to seeing people at races during this season!

10 April 2013

Pay it Forward

I just got back from my annual pilgrimage to Tucson, AZ for triathlon camp - which was fabulous, as always, and filled with awesome workouts and even awesomer people.

So, a post that is non-triathlon related, but I just wanted to write it up because the kindness of strangers, even just small gestures, can be truly touching and meaningful.

I was slated to head back east early Monday afternoon, but unfortunately the weather had different plans. I had made it to the airport on time, thanks to my wonderful sister Steph who drove me and all my triathlon crap to the airport straight from the pool. Even though the wind was HOWLING outside (wind advisory, and it kept getting stronger), we were loaded onto the plane. After everyone was on, Delta promptly offloaded us, saying that they needed twenty-seven volunteers to opt to take another flight because our plane was too heavy to take off in these winds. In the meantime, they also looked at other ways to lighten the plane, including dumping some fuel. I'm not exactly the most enthusiastic flier so getting on plane that was deemed too heavy for takeoff wasn't very appealing. Couple that with the fact that the delays would result in a missed connection, most likely stranding me in the Atlanta airport for the night (and no available hotel rooms due to the NCAA tournament), I made the executive decision that I would just hang out in Tucson one more night. We still had the condo and some of my favorite people were in town until Tuesday.

I wasn't the only one who had to change my travel plans - there were ALOT of people waiting in line to do the same. While travel snafus aren't usually fun, they do bring out a sense of camaraderie and friendliness from complete strangers who you might not have gotten to know had everything gone to plan. I was talking to a very nice couple behind me, mentioning that I would likely just stay an extra night in Tucson, and they asked me how I was going to get back to the condo. I planned on taking a cab since the condo was 40+ minutes away and that was a long drive to ask my condo-mates to make just to pick me up. I was about to say as much when the lady in front of me asked where my condo was located. When I told her it was near Sabino Canyon, she said she lived nearby and since her husband was picking her up to take her home, they could drop me off too. She patiently waited for me to sort out my flights with the gate agent (which took awhile) and was simply so, so nice. When I thanked her profusely for offering me a ride, she said "if my daughter was stuck in an airport somewhere, I'd love it if someone would do the same for her."

I know that a ride home from the airport doesn't seem like a big deal, but it was just this act of kindness, being more than happy to help me out while expecting nothing in return, that struck a chord. She had been on her way to Indiana to see her dad, who had just had heart surgery and still hadn't woken up from the anesthesia, and yet here she was, thinking of others. I know that this nice woman - Lisa - and her husband will probably never stumble across this blog, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciated their kindness in giving me a ride home from the airport and I will pay it forward whenever the opportunity presents itself.