So be sure when you step. You step with care and great tact and remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Training and Trains: Then and Now

It's time for my annual duathlon.
The one that routinely chews me up and spits me out.

In 2011, I trained for a little over a month.
In 2012, I trained for only weeks. They also increased the bike course to 30 miles.

I almost wrote it off this year because I just don't have time for 30 mile bike rides with bricks.  My Achilles heal each year has been endurance -- specifically around the 121st minute.  But then I read that the bike course was changed again to 24 miles and gifted an entry.  It is hard to turn away a trail race - it is impossible to turn away a free trail race.  It is hard to turn away free anything.

You know those two-week old, nearly-stale cookies cookies that the grocery store will pile into a huge bowl before throwing them away?  And then everyone, even the man who just picked his nose, reaches into the bowl to select a cookie?  I love those cookies.  I even once proudly collected them in a cookie jar.

Something for nothing always is better than nothing.  Even if this race beats me down again, I have nothing to lose.  And that logic is what suddenly spiraled me into training mode for eight days.

Day 1:  Presidents Day.  The token long workout:
26 minute trail run at South Mountain, 1 hr 25 minute bike ride (lots of hills in the last half hour), 34 minute trail run - scoping out all available hills.  3.3 mile run / 28.1 mile bike / 4.3 mile run = 2 hours, 25 minutes.  An entire hour longer than my normal "long" workout.

Day 2:  Track.  My legs were tired from that extra hour the day before but I didn't want to blow off my running partner.  800 x 4 in felt like we did other words, did not feel good.

Day 3:  Power meter bike ride.  1 hour ride (20 miles) with 8 minutes at "race pace" x 3.  I actually was not allowed to view the numbers so I am not sure what that pace was.

Day 4:   Mid-distance run.  Easy 9.1 miles.

Day 5:   Trainer bike ride.  64 minutes easy minutes .  Why 64 minutes? Because that is how long it took me to read all my favorite blogs.

Day 6:  8 Mile trail race.  Described below.  Hill training?

Day 7:   Complete rest day.

Day 8:  Long easy workout. 28.5 mile easy bike ride bricked with 4.1 mile jog = 2 hours.

I went to Tuesday track but received a taper exercise - only 400x8, a little faster than 5K pace (mid 1:20s, 90 seconds RI).  I also went swimming a few times this week but that is irrelevant.  I will taper until race day (Sunday).

In retrospect, this is what President's Day week looked like last year - 40 mile bike rides!   5:50 miles!   12.5 mile runs!  I have not done any of those things in quite a long time.

I may have had more speed last year, but this year I have more experience. And wisdom.

Continuing retrospection, this time last year I took the kids to the train park for the first time.  I thought Hayden would love the train park because, well, he loves trains.  His reaction was unexpected - he screamed and cried until his face bright red - refusing to ride the train.  Here is a never-seen-before photo of us last year.  Ironically, he is wearing a Thomas shirt:

I decided it was time to try again, but his dormant trauma awakened as soon as we pulled into the parking lot. I took him out of his car seat and he flung himself on the gravel ground, kicking and screaming as if I was trying to make him eat brussels sprouts.

I promised him that I would not make him ride the train.  Partly because I want him to trust me, and partly because I don't want my 45-pound three year old to realize that he can overpower me.  So, we had a nice lunch and looked at the train.

I guess just like one does not get magically faster, little boys do not magically lose their fears.  But, I was hoping maybe they would outgrow them!

In need of something else to do, I convinced him to ride the carousel.  It was faster than the train, and louder than the train, but I think he was just so relieved that it was not the train, he overlooked these facts.

 He refused to ride a horse so the kids had to sit on the boring bench.   I always wondered if anyone ever chose to sit on a bench, so this answers that aging question.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Elephant Mountain Race Report

I was admittedly a little disappointed about not winning Coldwater again last month -- not because I feel like I am too good for second place (in 99% of races I am ecstatic with a second place), but because the eccentric rabbit trophy has been my favorite award.

You know what they say though, "If you don't success at first, try and try again."   Instead of waiting an entire year, I jumped in at the next race in hopes of winning the equally odd elephant trophy.

I don't typically go to a race with a goal as concrete and simple as WIN.  Goals without any wiggle room make me nervous.  So, I constantly reminded myself of other reasons to do race:
1) Good training for next week's duathlon
2) On a trail system I have never explored
3) Great people, great race coordinators
4) I love trail running
5) There is pumpkin pie at the finish

The race started with a relatively flat trail.  It was a not a super fast start like at the Xterra races but only about 3 minutes into the race, the trail started to go up a mountain.  After a very nice climb, we were treated with  a windy downhill.  I focused on remaining relaxed, constantly reminding myself what goes down will eventually go back up.  I knew going too fast on the early downhills would be detrimental.  My first 3 mile splits were 7:41, 7:26, 7:21.   I love how you can see my friend Steve in this picture, who ran a 1:20 half marathon last weekend.  I love how I beat him by two seconds, hehe.

Eventually, we got as low as the trail would take us and "checked in" with race officials at the bottom.  Then, we turned around and sure enough, we had to climb back up.

There was a little confusion about the race course.  When I noticed the boys ahead of me were not sure where to go, I patiently waited a few seconds as they ran the wrong way.  I learned from previous experiences not to blindly follow those ahead of you!!  Sure enough, they went the wrong way.  When I saw them coming back, I chose the other option - it may have cost me 30 seconds but it saved me energy.

The climb back up the mountain was brutal.  There was even one section that forced me to walk.  Sometimes when it is that steep, you actually move faster by hiking.

My miles slowed to 8:36 and 8:30.  Then, I noticed someone gaining on me.  I couldn't tell if it was a man or a female.  Everytime I turned around to investigate, I stumbled on the technical trail.  Just stop looking back, I told myself.  Just run! So my next uphill mile was 7:57.

Finally, the trail evened out again and Mile 7 was 7:16.  But I was tired, too tired to keep that pace.  Once I realized I was ruining my race with negative self talk, I started to think about all the amazing athletes that I get the honor of  training with, likeTere Zacher, Kristi Johnson and Angie Axman.  They don't let a little discomfort drag them down!  That thinking brought me back up.

Just as I got passed.

Luckily, the gender-non-specific person dashing behind me turned out to be male.  I was relieved because I didn't have to fight.  But you know what?  A little fight is not bad.  It makes us stronger.  Yet, it always sends me into a spiral of self-doubt and ultimately self-defeat.  I can deal with pain but I cannot deal with pressure.

With all stress removed from the race, I continued to run.  The course was only a 12K (7.4 miles) but that last .4 miles kept going and going and going............

...............until I reached Mile 8 in 7:33:

and seconds later was greeted by a large cheer as I crossed the finish line.
I was hot.  I was cold.  My legs hurt.  My legs still hurt.

But, I earned my elephant. and pie.

Those little hands, by the way, belong to a little man. Surpisingly, he had no interest in my pumpkin pie (or cookies or candy).  He was far more enarmored by my elephant.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Skirt Chaser, a Family Affair

I have been looking forward to this race ever since I acquired my favorite, sun-catching, sparkling, awesome running skirt:

Aside from having the best running skirt, I had two goals for this race:
1) Not to let any boys catch me (girls have a 3 minute head start)
2) To run faster than last year.

Technically I achieved both goals - no boy caught me and my time was ONE SECOND faster than last year.

My initial response was disappointment.  Really, one second?  Out of ALL the 5Ks I have run in the past year, I was expecting something closer to 19 minutes.  However, I don't remember any of those 5Ks knocking me down as much as this one did.  I think it has to do with the 2pm start time - running fast with breakfast and lunch in my  belly just does not bode with my digestive system.  I won't get into the unpleasant details, but they were...well, unpleasant.

I think considering the mess that became my stomach, I actually did okay. And really, a 19:26, although 22 seconds slower than my last 5K time, falls within my acceptable range.  It was hot.  There were hills.  I had a stomach ache.

But, I must also say, I actually didn't feel like I was running slow.  I felt pretty solid both mentally and physically.  I think for me to run significantly better than this, I would need to run more than 40 miles a week (and do track workouts).  My problem is if I do this, I will just whine about my lack of progress on the bike and in the pool.  I do fear that in an attempt to give attention to everything, I may not be giving enough attention to anything.  I joined a tri-team in an effort to make sense to a sport that I  do not completely understand - but I will discuss that at another time.

Let's get back to the race.

I arrived early enough to get my ample warm up (three miles) on the nearby trails.  I played for a little too long - ended up running 4.5 miles, and arriving on the start line with less than three minutes to spare.  When I stopped, I realized my bib was flapping in the wind, I was hot, I was thirsty and I had lost my car key.   But when you stand with your toe on the start line, the adrenaline does a good job erasing your mind of such annoyances.

The first mile felt comfortably fast.  We ran past my dad so I told my friend to smile:

I love this picture because no one is smiling but us.  It is a running rule that I have had for a long time now - if you see a camera, pose for that camera.

3 minutes after the women started, the boys started.  After all the fast and kinda fast boys went, boys pushing double yellow jogging strollers got to start.  I can understand while attempting to recover from a such a brutal handicap, it's hard to remember the golden running rule:

While David and the kids were weaving their way through walking women in tutus, I found myself in fourth place. But somewhere in Mile 2, I was passed.  And then passed again.  I was okay with this and the goal was just not to let anyone else pass me. I also managed to stay about five seconds from the 5th place female for the rest of the race.  

The course is an out-and-back, which includes a substantial hill.  However, in a race, I barely even notice this hill.  

I have no doubt that David noticed this hill, though.  I have pushed the jogging stroller up this hill many, many is a workout.   But what goes up, must come down and 100 pounds of stroller can gain a lot of momentum.  David is on the left side here so I suspect he is passing people:

And he remembered to pose for the camera.  So did Hayden.

Even though Brenna was a bit moody and refused to wear shoes, we had a really fun time.  I love when I can incorporate my running life and my family life into one wonderful day.  It is the best of the both worlds - which is my world!! - and for that, I am so so incredibly lucky.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Weather Woes Part Two

After nearly a solid week of lows in the 50s and highs in the 70s, it is surprising that I am complaining about the weather yet again.

I had been contemplating a reverse triathlon - but had some reservation about the short-course swim, which would require ducking under the lane line 16 times.  Sometimes the 9am masters swim is rather barren so I've had a little experience with serpentine swimming.  It was enough experience to know that I am not very good at it.

However, I also knew that I would get a good lead during the run and if I ever want to lead a triathlon, a reverse triathlon is my only option.

But then came the clouds, followed by the cold-front, which rendered the question, What the heck would I wear??   I don't even have the proper attire to run in cold weather, nonetheless run and bike and swim.  After rummaging around my closet the night before the race with only one hour left of open registration, I threw down the bright-green leg warmer I held in one hand, and the skimpy tri top I held in the other hand, and declared defeat.  Running in the cold, biking in the wind and swimming in the rain just didn't sound fun.

I was disappointed but I made the most of the situation by running with my best running friend.  Although it was chilly, it was delightful running weather.   I had no feeling other than relief that I was not biking and swimming.

When I returned home, I realized that I had enough time to take my kids to the local parade.  I quickly got everyone ready, drove to the crest of road-closure-related traffic, parked and sprinted with the BOB directly into a headwind.  Even with the headwind, we moved faster than the non-moving pace of traffic and arrived with a few minutes to spare.

In my haste to leave the house, I did not think to bring things that would increase our comfort levels in the cold and chilling winds - such as blankets.  So, the kids were cold.

I was just impressed that I grabbed their sweaters.

Once it again, it seemed that weather was going to put a damper on my plans but  I made the most of the situation by beaming with enthusiasm.  THIS PARADE IS GOING TO BE AWESOME!!!!!!

The parade was really not awesome.  It was boring.  Luckily, Hayden is easily amused and so he enjoyed most of it:

Brenna is more like me, after a few horses and a marching band, she had seen enough.  Luckily, someone dispersed large, heart-shape pink lollipops.  Brenna likes hearts.  And pink.

And she really likes large lollipops.....even in the cold.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Xterra McDowell Mountain

This was the third race in the Xterra series - and the third short course win for me.  But this was a hard race because someone (pictured below) paced our first mile at 6:07.  Mind you, it was mostly downhill, but also on a rocky trail with tight turns.   In general, I do not like to run this fast on trails because for those of us not coordinated, it is a good way to break an ankle.  Or stub a toe.

In her best shape, this would be an easy pace for this girl but she is returning back from an injury.  After this picture appeared on Facebook, I have received emails, texts, and private messages saying, "How did you beat her?"   This picture is comical since I am sandwiched between a professional Xterra racer and an elite triathlete.  Had their been a pool or bike involved, I would have been chewed and spit out.  But I am going to enjoy by two minutes of glory because I most likely will never find myself in this position again.

I drove to the race that morning with my friend, and professional athlete, while discussing something called "deliberate practice."  It usually involves a coach, or at the very least a training schedule (two things that I prefer not to use) and every workout has a reason.  My problem with this is the commitment.  If it is a swim day, you must swim.  What if you don't want to swim? This is probably why I am not a good swimmer.

I think, for now, I am okay with doing what I want - and having a lot of fun with it - even if it means not winning.  And, just enjoying those lucky moments when I do.

After our 6:07 first mile, the course started to go uphill.  It was a curvy uphill and every time we approached a corner, I thought to myself, Okay, this must be the top.... only to turn the corner and see another mile of upward trail.

I got very tired (Exhibit A).  But still managed my token pose for the camera (Exhibit B).

The next race involves a river, lots of rock, and some fancy footwork with wet shoes along the river bed.  I am hoping we won't be running any 6 minute miles through that river but I have this sneaking suspicion that it's a real possibility.  But, to look on the bright side, at least we will not have to swim through the river.  There is no swimming in trail running!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Weather Woes

It's pretty hard to complain about the Arizona weather in  the winter - the forecast varies from "Sunny with a Chance of Clouds"  to "Sunny with a Chance of Three Clouds."  We've been spending a lot of time outside, climbing mountains and stuff.

However, every once in awhile, the weather goes astray.  When this happens, it becomes the top story on the news and the headline of every paper:  Weather Forecast is Changes!

First, it was cold.  Maybe not cold compared to the rest of the country, but cold considering I do not own running pants and that I require a sweater for anything under 75 degrees.

If I don't own running pants, it's safe to say the kids do not own running pants so this put a damper on everyone's training.  After suffering through multiple runs that left my hands so frozen it hurt to bend my fingers, like a fool, I decided to try riding my bike.  Of course I do not own cold-weather cycling clothes, so I did my best to improvise with a hair band across my nose, fuzzy socks for leg warmers and non-fuzzy socks for arm warmers:

After the horrible cold spell, the rain clouds appeared.  Rain in Arizona usually resembles the burst of a water balloon - immediately intense but a quickly empty sky .  If it rains on a Saturday morning, you will be running or riding your bike by noon.

Except not last Saturday.  It was raining heavily when I woke up around 7am.  So, I waited.  At 9am, I was surprised that it was still raining heavily.  So, I waited some more.  By noon, it was still raining!  So, I surrendered to the sky and rescheduled my run for Sunday.

Sunday was also the big race day for the kids - but unfortunately, the rain clouds did not clear.  The race was canceled.

One thing about a missed race, or even a bad race, is that there is always another race.  The kids have an  upcoming 300-yard dash.  I remain unattached, but have a tentative 8 races planned for the next two months.

And so training continues.

After the cold front, and the rain, came the worst - the wind.

I  try not to let the elements dissuade me so on Monday, I battled the wind on bike and tackled it on Tuesday for speedwork.  The planned workout was 3 x 6 minutes @ 5K effort.  After studying the wind during my warm up, I placed myself on the cross-cut canal, which by coincidence, was hit by a cross wind.  My first 6 minutes were erroneously 5:10 (@ 6:07 pace).  It felt good.  My next 6 minutes (and 10 seconds) were at 5:59 pace.  It felt good.  My last six minutes were 5:10 again (the wind had picked up and I got tired) @ 6:07 pace again.  Ended with 2:10 x 2 (@ 5:55 pace).  So, 20:40 and 3.45  miles worth of "speed."  Better than last week and my first sub-6 mile in many months.

I wish improving in the pool was as simple as improving on my feet.  But I will save a whiny swim post for a rainy day.