Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Knee

if you've read any of this blog for any amount of time, you know I have a bum knee. On occasion I have had two bum knees.  And if you've been reading lately, you know I'm doing a new training plan that is pretty intense.

My omnipresent knee brace. Don't leave home without it. 'cept I haven't needed it. 
It's called Run Less, Run Faster. It comes highly recommended by some peeps I know who have experienced some amazeballs PRs using it.  And as I have alluded to in some previous entries, it's a tough plan. There are no junk miles. There is not a high volume of miles. I'm doing the 10k plan right now, and after a 10k next week will be transitioning to the half-marathon training plan for my big goal race in October. My total volume has been about 20 miles a week. 

But a big component of the training plan is cross-training, which I've been getting on the bicycle (sometimes on the rowing machine at the gym, but mostly on the bicycle). And last night, after a particularly tough interval set in which I hit puke threshold not once but twice, as the endorphins wore off and I settled into bed, I had a realization. A realization that convinced me that even if I don't have crazy-drastic improvement in my times (something I won't know until race day come October), this training plan is working.  And that realization is:


It doesn't ache as I drift off to sleep like it typically does. It doesn't snap, crackle, pop like it used to. It doesn't draw attention to itself at all.

I don't know if it's the reduced miles, or the cross-training, or the combination of both. Now, will that hold up once I start piling on more miles in the half training plan? I'm not sure. I won't know until later in July and August. But I do know I'm doing long runs of 8 and 10 miles right now with no problems. And that, friends and neighbors, is something to rejoice in on this Wednesday.

Now, what are YOU joyful about today?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I'm a Pepper!

Start line at Dublin Dr Pepper Ride
So, I told you the other day that I'm hanging out with all these active fitness types... ATHLETES and stuff. They're a tough crowd. Somehow they make all these adventure things sound perfectly normal and acceptable and, oh, I don't know... achievable.  Even for me. And the thing is... for the most part, they're right (they're also a pretty smart group of peeps).

So Saturday morning dawned bright and early, and TPG and I set off to Dublin, Texas to get this thing underway. TPG had a night in Fort Worth Friday night so she bunked with me (and my nosey cat) so we could leave together for our rendezvous with Team K for the 90-ish minute drive. I am so grateful that she so graciuosly offered to ride with me on this first-time rally. I'm not sure that I would have actually done this ride if she hadn't. I would have thought about it, considered it, gone back and forth about it, and then probably ended up letting it come and go without actually ever signing up.  Instead, here I was, with Reveille hooked up on the back of TPG's car next to hers, and me in a bright yellow jersey looking like a yellowjacket, actually doing this thing.

After a very scenic drive through Granbury and Stephenville and all these county names we only recognized through weather alerts on the news, we arrived at Dublin High School and easily parked the car for packet pickup, with about 45 minutes to spare before the start of the ride.  That gave us plenty of time to hit the indoor potties, inflate our tires, get sunscreened up, and get final checks on all the bikes. Then it was time to roll up to the front of the school for the national anthem and the start by airhorn.

My riding partners. LOVE! 
Team K! Always have a ridiculous time with these two! 
 It was a staggered start, with the 62 mile riders leaving a few minutes before we did, followed by the 9-milers. That helped alleviate some of the crowding, which set my mind at ease significantly.  I had two separate people tell me that I really needed to watch out for the other cyclists, as someone who didn't know what they were doing might end up taking me out (never mind that the "someone who didn't know what they were doing" might just be me...).  But with the staggered start, it wasn't terribly crowded and we soon enough got rolling and spread out as we headed down the driveway and out of the front entrance of the school.  Ready or not, here we go!!

I honestly don't remember much about this segment, except that we were actually passing quite a few people.  Mr K took off like he was on fire, with TPG following behind him and then MK and I came up after, as we were trying to get comfortable and get in a good groove.  I was tentative at first, as there were just so many cyclists out on the road. It was pretty impressive to look up relatively flat Hwy 6 in front of us and see cyclists spread out as far as you can see.  Definitely fun, but also crazy unsettling, especially for me. I would have taken a pic, but there was no way I was reaching back into my pocket for my phone while I was riding. Nope, not me.  So you'll have to trust me that it was cool.

Dr Pepper, y'all! 
Before we knew it, we were at the first aid station. Already? SWEET!  And yes, literally sweet, as they were pouring out high-octane Dr Pepper for the riders, as well as handing out cookies, fruit and other snacks.  We took our time to refill bottles (except mine were full because I didn't dare try to reach down and grab mine for a drink because I was either shifting madly trying to make it up a hill or holding on for dear life as I careened down a hill) and then when we were ready, we hit the road again. 

Could they be any cuter?! 
The second segment went pretty much the same way, except by this time, Mr K had figured out the whole "multiple gears" thing and wasn't just pedaling like a madman, he was pedaling with a purpose. MK and TPG were way stronger than me on the uphills (here's me, acting surprised), but with this little thing I call "gravity assist," I was able to pass them on the downhill segments.  At one point, as I went by them, I yelled that I knew they'd catch me on the uphills so I was just going to get what I could at that time and didn't mean to be rude by passing them up. There was a particularly wicked climb in this section that gave me a tough time, as I ran out of gears before I got to the top, but I did make it without having to get off the bike and walk, so I am counting that as a huge victory.  Also noteworthy on this segment was the lady who remarked to me that I looked strong as I passed her on an uphill. She asked if this was my first time doing this ride and I told her it was my first ride ever. She said she's been riding hills for a while and yet I looked pretty good as I passed her. THAT made my day! Pretty quickly after that we reached the second aid station and after more Dr Pepper and more watermelon, we regrouped and decided to ride the rest of the way together. 

KOOS! Somehow, Mr K & I missed the donkeys. Sad koala. 
We also decreed that when we saw cows or donkeys that we would have to call a screeching halt to the ride for pictures. We were surprised that we hadn't seen any thus far.  Although to be honest, it took me long enough to get comfortable again and I could have ridden by Martians and wouldn't have noticed.  But, we did find some cows and had to stop and take picture of them. Even if they were uncooperative and wouldn't come closer. Stupid cows. This part was uneventful, and the hills on this segment were not terribly remarkable - lots of long slow rollers. By then I'd gotten into a really nice groove and was in that zone where I felt like I could have ridden all night. The Texas countryside was so scenic, and I was having so much fun with my friends. It was a gorgeous sunny day, hot but not unbearable, and I really was having an amazing time. 

By the time we hit the third aid station, I was almost sad to know that in just a few minutes we would be done, and while I was excited about the accomplishment, I didn't want it to end. On this part, we all took off at the same time, with Mr K and I in the lead. By this time, we were both comfortable on the gears, and this segment was a nice comfortable stretch of nothing too complicated.  We chatted as we rode, talking about how great our friends are, and how lucky we have been to fall in with such a good crew of active adventurous people. Basically, we were just having a time. As we neared the little town, we saw the signs pointing us to the finish, and we started celebrating having completed our first rally. But first, we had to cross a small patch, about two or three blocks' worth, of cobblestones. Aaaaaah - definitely a "lift up off your seat" occasion for us!! As we crossed, spotters read our numbers off our backs and announced us to the crowd. YAY! We finished!! And we didn't crash or fall or anything. Just rode and stepped outside that comfort zone and ended up having a great time doing it! 

All smiles at the finish. Before we realized we'd dropped our friends... (Hey, HE dropped his wife!!)
So we cross, and we go over and grab yet another can of ice cold Dr Pepper, and turn around and realize that TPG and MK should be right behind us. But they weren't. Um.... ruh-roh.  What happened? Cell service had been spotty since we got near Dublin and we had been unable to update our friends reliably on the route, so it was not surprising that we had missed text messages from them telling us they had tire issues. But they didn't say who had the issue, or where, or what. Oh noes!! (never mind the guilt that we never even though to look behind us and notice that they weren't there - BAD BICYCLE BUDDIES!!).  We were confident they could handle it and would be along shortly, so we found a place in the shade to hang out and wait. After a while, we started to get nervous and were about to hop back on the bikes and backtrack to find them, but just as we made that decision, here comes MK, smiling and happy. But what about TPG?  After MK got her obligatory Dr Pepper, she filled us in on the mishaps with TPG's tire, including a lost tool, a spring gone missing, the most elderly sag wagon driver ever and a 'sploded tube. WTF, Patel?! Sadly, she was forced to ride the sag wagon back to the start, where she was waiting for us.  So frustrating! And after all she had done to build up our confidence and make sure that the three of us had an amazing debut ride.  

Thank you, Dublin!! LOVED IT!  
How about that? I finished. 34 miles. We didn't worry too much about time, and we lingered at the rest stops without concern for how long we'd been there (an ultra no-no), but for this day, that was just fine. It was the longest ride for the three of us, by ten miles for me, by more than that for Team K. This ride was about learning to shift (concept), gaining confidence on the bike, reaching beyond the comfort zone, and oh, yeah, HAVING FUN.  Check, check, check and CHECK.

Turns out those people I hang out with, who all said, "You can do it!"? Turns out they were right. We had a great inaugural ride, and I can promise you, it won't be the last one!!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Well, that looks like fun...

I love to race. It's no secret I'm kinda sorta addicted to hardware.  I have signed up for races based on nothing more than the pretty shiny thing they offer at the end (sometimes it ends well, sometimes, NOT SO MUCH - exhibit A - Four Seasons Challenge).  But if I had to boil down why I love racing so much, it's not so much the races themselves, but the people that I get to see at races that makes it fun for me.  I love the atmosphere and the camaraderie, mutual support and encouragement that can be found at a race, no matter the distance. I have discovered that one of the best ways to see that and experience all the fun but without all the dang work is to spectate at a race. And the bigger the group of spectators, and the more obnoxiously garbed and gotten up, the better!!

Must have glitter signs. And be visible from space. 

We cheered, we crewed, some paced. Good times with good people.

A little FIGJAM always helps! 
Tutus are optional, but always make an impact! 
Dressing like a giant marshmallow peep makes it easy to be spotted.
But here's the deal.  The reason that it is so much fun to spectate is that you get to see not only your friends, but other athletes, of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities pushing themselves to excel, to be faster, stronger, better. And sometimes, it hurts to race. Not injury-wise, we've seen our share of that sadly, but that's not what I mean. No, it hurts to push past the comfort zone, to stretch just a little bit more, to go beyond uncomfortably comfortable and really see just how far your body can go. And when you cheer at a race, and position yourself at Mile 23 of a marathon, or Mile 3 of a 5k, or at the exit of the swim at a triathlon, you are seeing people pushing themselves.  And that is so inspiring. Trust me. If you don't get revved up to run or jump on a bicycle or throw yourself into a lake when you spectate at an event like this, you might need to check your pulse. 

The thing is, you can't just sign up for these events and then show up.  Well, of course, you can.  But just because you can, doesn't mean you should.  There is training involved, and dedication, and weeks of pushing and testing limits and fine-tuning every aspect of race day.  "Make it hurt now so it doesn't hurt so much tomorrow" is how one of my friends put it. When the gun goes off, or they yell "Go!" all those weeks and months of effort pay off.  I like watching elites at these things, for sure, and seeing the AG winners is crazy-exciting too (especially when you KNOW them!! yay!). But if you want to see the real pay-off, hang out at the end of an race. Stick around and see the newbies, the back of the packers, the people who are completing their first attempt at an event. Because that is where you will see so much heart and so much determination. These are the ones that really take an extra bit of encouragement to heart. And these are the athletes that are so inspiring to me to watch and to cheer my fool head off for.

I've been thinking a lot about "the company you keep" and what that means in regards to my life. Certainly I want to surround myself with positivity, with people who are upbeat and motivating, and who live life widely. I joke all the time about needing to find fat, lazy friends, because the people I've been hanging out with lately are all athletes who thrive on pushing their limits and searching for new ways to be physically active, whether it is by swimming, cross-fit workouts, marathon and ultra running, cycling 100-milers, training for IronMan, yoga, or a combination of all of the above. I tell you what - it's hard to be a slug on the couch when you hear about these girls' workouts, sometimes multiple workouts in a day, and hard stuff, too.  Double-digit runs on the weekdays, bike rides longer than most people drive in a week. It's awesome. Watching and cheering for these friends is so rewarding to see, to see them reap the rewards of their hard work.  And it can be intimidating, but I choose instead to take their energy and feed of it and create some of my own. 

It's led me to follow a much more rigid and intense training plan than I have ever followed before for my running. Because of them, I've signed up for this 34-mile ride this weekend. No, it's not much in comparison to a 100-miler, but it's plenty for me. For now. Baby steps. And a stretch for me. Being with these people has also demonstrated to me time and again that we all have our own mountains to climb (some of us literally!) and our own battles to fight, and we can't compare ourselves to others, because that's just a losing proposition.  But we can use the accomplishments and daily motivations of others to drive us, and to inspire us, and we can band together and feel stronger and faster and more alive than if we were going at all of our endeavors alone. We can celebrate our accomplishments together. The hive mind is a powerful thing, y'all. 

Whew.  That's an awful lot of deep thoughts resulting from a morning or two of shaking my booty and screaming at a triathlon, isn't it??  Yeah it is. See what happens when you take a break from racing and take a minute or two to take it all in? It opens up all kinds of possibilities.  All kinds. 

Stay tuned. 

Friday, June 01, 2012

Five Things Friday: The Bicycle Edition

These guys were awesome. Spandex GALORE!
5.  It's SUMMER TIME!!! By that, I mean that it's donkey-balls hot already (insert reminder about how much I love Texas here) and the kidlets are done with school.  I have a high school senior and a junior high kid in my house now. Commence midlife crisis in 3...2.... Nope, no time for crisis around here. Got a summer full of driver's ed, theatre camp for both of them, hockey lessons, Scout camps, art camp and generally trying to keep them from killing each other. Good times, y'all. Good times. 

4.  My run training is coming along. I won't say nicely, because, y'all, it's hard. But it's getting done.  I have done a lot more of it than I expected on the treadmill at the gym, because I have completely lost all ability to maintain a given pace on the roads. That makes me sad, because I used to be crazy consistent with my pacing.  It will come back, I'm sure. But for now, I need to hit certain paces for each of these runs, so I'm doing them on the treadmill. Which, yeah, BORING.... But, still. DONE at the right paces and boring is way better than erratic pacing and nice scenery.  I have goals, y'all. 

3.  Spent a great evening with ridiculously amazeballs (TM)  friends up in south Oklahoma last week, watching really fit cyclists go really fast.  It was an event called "Bike the Bricks" in McKinney and it was way cool to see packs of cyclists zooming by.  They made this awesome breeze as they went by us.  It was groovy.

These girls. Not enough synonyms for awesome in Roget's. 

Ghost riders. Way cool. 
2.  And it got me pumped up (see what I did there??) to dust off Reveille* and go for a ride.  First I had to get it tuned up, since I hadn't ridden since the Great Donkey Ride of 2011 and I wasn't sure what all needed to be done to it.  But I took care of that and went for a nice leisurely spin on the bike paths near me. FUN! It's perfect crosstraining for the training plan I'm using, and I forget how much I really do enjoy riding, even though I am a total n00b and don't even know how to shift gears properly.  I pretty much find a gear that seems to work and just pedal. I'll figure it out. For now, I'm just having fun. 

1.  And diving in headfirst, with a 34-mile ride in Dublin next weekend.  Yep, TPG has graciously offered to accompany chaperone babysit me on my inaugural bike rally.  I'm beyond askerid. But ready for the challenge.  I think. With her at my side (have I mentioned how awesome this girl is, BTW?) I am in good hands, and I know she'll not only coach me on some rudimentary riding tips, but also feed my energy with her positivity. Plus, HELLO!  A day with TPG!!  And Dr Pepper at the finish! SCORE!! 

TPG kinda rocks my world. Super sweet and I can't wait to hang out with her for 34 miles!

We'll take another pic like this after our ride. Except we'll leave the fleece at home. 

So, there you go. Now go take on the day!! I'm going for a ride. Or a run. Or to have a small panic attack. It's sixes,really... 

*I am borrowing  a bicycle from a great girl named Katie. She and her hubby are Aggies of the WORST sort best kind, like Corps of Cadets peeps and all that. But she is in graduate school right now and not really riding, so she's letting me use her bicycle as long as I want. Um, THANK YOU! And in her honor, I call the bike Reveille, as in the Aggie mascot.  It gives those of us die-hard Longhorns a nice giggle when they find out the name of my loaner ride. I call it a homage to the awesomeness of Katie. It's the least I can do!