Saturday, August 22, 2020

Bike Hut Ride

 On Saturday, August 2nd, a week after my "Double Skyline" Ride, I accomplished my goal of riding to the Bike Hut and back. The ride requires climbing 2500 feet to Skyline twice, and I had a lot of anxiety about being able to do it. I wasn't sure my fitness was there. The weekend before, I climbed it once, bailed on going over to Half Moon Bay, and turned around. At the bottom, I had climbed to Skyline again on the same side of the hill. This time, I did the whole, originally planned route with no problems. I had been worried about climbing Tunitas, a brutal but beautiful 6 mile climb back to Skyline. Once I was on Tunitas, I paced myself well and actually enjoyed myself. I felt exuberant at the end of the ride. 

School began this week on August 17th. My goal now is to maintain the fitness I've built but I'm not putting my pressure on myself to go farther and farther. I would like to consistently work out several times a week and just maintain. I'm teaching virtually, and it's just as hard as my first year of teaching. I'm having to create new curriculum for each class every day...from scratch. I'm often working late until the night. I'm exhausted. Exercise is going to be critical for me to maintain balance and sanity. I ran and did weights on Monday after school. My run felt great. I actually was able to pick up the pace. I felt light and zippy on my feet. It's taken me a long time to get back to the point where I can just meditate and allow my mind to float away blissfully on my runs. I want desperately to maintain this because the first 4-6 weeks of starting to exercise again were miserable. Right now, the air quality is shit because of all the fires in the Bay Area. It smells like campfire, and there is ash on the car. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the wind blows in our favor at some point today so I can get a window of fresh air to go for a much-needed run. Here's to hoping.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Double Skyline Ride

On Saturday, I decided to try an old ride I used to do to challenge myself. Up to Skyline on King's Mountain Road, down Tunitas, out to the coast, and back. It's about 50 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing. I was nervous. I hadn't done it in a long time, and I wasn't sure I physically was able.

After a nice breakfast (toast and eggs), I headed out on Pandora. I warmed up nicely and felt solid. I began climbing King's, trying to stay positive. Very quickly, I realized I had underestimated this climb. It was much harder and steeper than I anticipated. Sweat poured down my face, and I downed water. I tried to prevent the anxiety of the second climb from creeping it to no avail.

According to our plan, Alan left the house 20 minutes after me to see how long it would take to catch me. He caught me about a mile from the top, near the archery range in Huddart Park. Even though I knew that this would happen (he's a much stronger cyclist), it took all the wind out of my sails. It didn't help that he caught me during the steepest section at the top, where it took all my concentration to turn the pedals over. Meanwhile, he cruised along easily, trying to have a conversation. I just couldn't. I felt so insignificant next to him obviously struggling as he seemed to be having a walk in the park. He wanted to know what the plan was for the rest of the ride, but I couldn't think straight. Instead of planning on reconvening at the top, I waved him off. Basically, I told him to leave me alone and go ride on his own. So he did.

After he left, instead of feeling better, I felt abandoned. Frustrated. Defeated. What the hell was I doing? Why was I doing this? I didn't want to climb Tunitas on top of King's. This was enough. I reached the top of King's and turned around. On the descent, I beat myself up about how not worthy I was to be riding my bike. I told myself I sucked and thought about how I was going to mope around the house the rest of the day. I also realized, my legs had begun to recover, and I still had gas in the tank. I started thinking. What if...? Maybe I could still salvage this ride. I saw a doe and her fawn on the side of the road. I took it as a sign. I wasn't going to climb Tunitas today but I could something else.

At the bottom, instead of turning left to go home, I turned right. I decided to try to climb Old La Honda and ascend to Skyline again on a different road. It wouldn't be quite as challenging as Tunitas, but it would be a good challenge. Plus, I could always bail and just turn around and go home. I started feeling optimistic and excited as I neared the second climb.

Old La Honda was hot and steep, riddled with narrow switchbacks, but my legs kept turning the pedals over. I knew I was going to make it. I felt good. It didn't matter how slow I was; I was doing this. Eventually, I reached the top, just as I emptied my final water bottle. I felt immensely proud.

As I rode home, I could feel the fatigue set into my legs. My butt, hands and neck ached. But it didn't matter. I had salvaged the ride and proved to myself that my setback was all in my head. Next week--Tunitas!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Six Weeks Later...

It's now been about 6 weeks since I've started working out consistently again. I have good days and bad days, good stretches and bad ones. But overall, I've been gaining strength and fitness. According to Strava (where I've been logging my workouts), I've worked out 35 times since the beginning of June. I've only lost 4 pounds (I would like to lose about 20), and I still feel slow as molasses but there  are other positives I'm focusing on. 

Here are some positives I've noticed after 6 weeks of consistent work outs:
1. My mood is better when I workout, and I have more energy. 
Sometimes, reflecting on this helps get me out the door. When I have the choice between moping on the couch all day and just going for a run and feeling better for myself, I will often choose the latter. I HATE when I take rest days because they often turn into 3 or 4. Lately, I've been trying to workout EVERY day, even if it means weights or an easy swim or ride. Being on summer break, there are just no excuses. I have the energy, and my body always feels better afterwards. 

2. The workouts are getting easier and more enjoyable.
When I first started, it was a slog. Especially running, which was unfortunate, because that's my go-to favorite. Now, I'm finding my rhythm again where the miles float by unnoticed and I just zen out. It wasn't like that at the beginning. I had to push through. Running fitness is always the first to go and the hardest to get back. I still have a ways to go but I'm now looking forward to my runs and running a bit farther each week. I can't wait to hit the trails again. 

3. I have more strength and muscle.
I've been hitting the weights 2-3 times a week, and it makes a huge difference. I can climb more on the bike, and swim faster in the bay. I don't get tired as easily. It's been a bit frustrating as far as weight loss goes since muscle weighs more than fat, but my clothes are fitting better, and I feel better when I look in the mirror. 

4. I've been eating better.
When I know I have a workout coming up, I plan ahead. I have to fuel myself properly. I end up naturally avoiding junk food more and going for whole grains and fruit more. I also have been splitting up my meals into smaller portions and then eating more frequently throughout the day. I've also noticed my cravings for junk food have gotten less. I would like to cut back on drinking wine since we've been having about 2 glasses/night. It really adds up.

So, overall, even though I wish I had lost more weight, I'm on the right track. I'm feeling positive and motivated. During these next 6 weeks, I'd like to begin running on trails again and building up the mileage a bit. I would also like to increase my climbing strength on the bike. I used to be able to bike up to Skyline, down to Half Moon Bay and back. I think I can get back there these next 6 weeks. 

Not a workout pic but a cute pic of Rango, helping me recover.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Still Trying...

What a crazy world we live in. The last time I posted, it was before the pandemic, and I was consumed by school and the hectic business of life. I used that as an excuse to avoid workouts. March 13th was the last time I saw my kids this year. My whole world changed forever. It's been an adjustment, but I'm luckier than most. I have a stable job, partner, family, and we are all healthy.

I also ended up having a lot of free time on my hands. For the first two weeks, I slept a lot, which is normal for me--teaching makes me so exhausted. Then, anxiety set in. And guilt for not being able to enjoy my free time. I entered the next phase: the Inertia Phase. This mainly consists of me not wanting to do anything, but my mind races. I end up cranky and laying on the couch.

After a few weeks of this, I got sick of it and decided to make some changes. First, I started sticking to a routine. Having dogs helps with this. Then, I took control of my diet and started working out again. I have begun gaining unwanted weight and my self confidence has plummeted. Now, I keep a food journal and have been keeping track of calories. I've also been working out again. It's been 3 weeks.

I feel like a broken record. I keep starting, then stopping, starting, then stopping. It's embarrassing, but at least I keep trying. Right now, I'm just trying to make it a habit. I remember when I used to look forward to my workouts and would itch to do them. I also remember the workouts feeling much easier. That's my goal right now--do consistent workouts and get to the point where I can enjoy them.

I've been trying to workout 6 days a week at the most, or at the very least, avoid 2 nonconsecutive rest days (this sets me up for a bad pattern). So far, so good. The hardest part is getting out the door. The runs have finally started getting easier (except I'm still only running 4 miles at an embarrassing 11 min/mile pace). So are the weights. The bike is hard but at least I'm doing it (only 20-30 miles right now). I'm trying. I'm not giving up. I think that's what matters.

My favorite running partner, Juneau.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

New Decade, Better Me.

The fall semester killed me. I allowed the school to swallow me up, and forgot to take care of myself. After a full semester of nothing but working and sleeping, I was granted holiday break (2 weeks). The first week is always spent sleeping and recovering. I finally feel my energy returning. My New Year's Resolution is to take better care of myself. Here's to a new year of health, peace, and happiness!

At least I've been walking the dogs twice a day (1 mile each) and going for the occasional hike. I finally ventured out for a 20 mile, rolling ride on the road bike the other day. Felt amazing. I feel fresh, recharged, and motivated. Today, I took my dogs (13 and 11 years old) for a 3-mile run. We had so much fun. I'm so amazed at how much these old guys motivate me. They did awesome. I was also amazed at how great I felt. I was worried running would suck after not doing it for so long. But it's always been my favorite, and the easiest for me to fall back on.

Oh, I also did weights! Makes such a difference in my strength, energy, and injury-prevention, especially now that I'm not a spring chicken. Anyway, my focus is on exercising for health and happiness. I don't care so much about speed or how I look. I want to exercise in a way that's sustainable and that means being consistent and disciplined but also making it fun so it's something I look forward to. Excited for my new challenge! Bring it on 2020!!!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Not Giving Up

I really haven't been working out the last four-to-six weeks. School got the best of me, and I stopped. Again. And then, I felt dull and listless. Something has been missing. I decided to go for a run. It wasn't easy. Luckily, the dogs motivated me. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be either. We did 4 miles, and even though it was slow, I was able to run the whole time. I know my fitness will come back more quickly this time. I was just starting to get back in shape when I stopped.

I could easily beat myself up. I just don't see the point. It doesn't help. Instead, I'm focusing on beginning again. No matter how many times I stop, I can always begin again. After all, it's my life. What do I have to lose? Everything, if I don't try.

So I did weights today. I was pleasantly surprised my strength still seems intact. One thing I've noticed--it takes very little exercise for me to feel good. I get so much energy; it's like being released from all the stress zapping my zest for life and imprisoning me. Afterwards, I feel like getting so many errands done!

Time to take the dogs for a brisk, 3-mile walk. I want Travis (my 13-year-old) to come along so I'm slowing down for him.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Keep on Keeping On

The workouts have continued, despite school being in full swing. Knowing, I have a triathlon in a few weeks has really helped motivate me, even if it's the fear of pain and suffering on race day that gets me out the door.

I've been continuing to log my miles and my calories. I've lost about 10 pounds to date but have reached a plateau and am having be even more disciplined--no sweets, no alcohol. My clothes are fitting better, however, and my thighs don't chafe as badly when I run. Perhaps some of my fat has been replaced by muscle? I noticed on my last few rides and swims that I had a little extra oomph, definitely some more muscle building up. Two weeks ago, we did Tour de Menlo, a 65 mile ride with some challenging, short, but steep climbs interspersed. I was very proud of being able to complete the ride without too much complaining. Just a sore butt at the end, which is par for the course. But even my bike gets more comfortable with each ride--butt and wrists can go longer and longer.

I need to work on not beating myself up as much for being slow. I've had a very negative mindset lately because I feel embarrassingly slow when I'm out there. It makes me feel like such a loser! But I've been improving dramatically, and I need to focus on that.

Sometimes it can be quite a challenge to just get out the door. Yesterday, we did a 50-mile "Coast Loop" that includes 4,000 feet of climbing with 2x6 mile mountain climbs to get up and over Skyline Blvd. I had such bad anxiety before we went that I didn't even want to go. I didn't think I'd be able to do it. I was intimidated--it had been a long time since I had ridden that route, and I didn't think I had it in me. Alan pushed me to do it, and I totally nailed it. I felt great and strong the whole time. I felt like I could have gone further. I'm proud of myself and thankful for such a motivating partner.

Now, I'm just trying to get my running up to speed. My elderly dogs (Juneau is almost 11, on the left in the photo above. Travis is almost 13) still run with me. I'm so lucky to have such great running partners. I've been pushing it up to 6 miles, which used to be nothing for me, but now it feels like a slog. Juneau's happy face keeps my feet running forward. I know it will get easier. I just have to continue being consistent and not give up, even if I have a bad string of days, or miss a workout. I try to just get myself out the door without fighting myself with every excuse in the book. This seems be the hardest part. Just don't think about it and get out the door. Keep on keeping on.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Biking When It's Hot

I'm in my 4th week of workouts, and I'm continuing to work out 6x a week, despite school having started. I've even been waking up in the morning and doing weights! Feels so good. We've been having a heat wave so it's been in the 90s, sucking all my motivation to work out out the door. Signing up for races is helping me be consistent. No excuses! I think about how bad I will feel if I don't work out, and it gets me out the door.

Today, I did a 20 mile bike ride with rolling hills in Woodside/Portola Valley. Coined "The Loop" around here, it's very scenic but it started out broiling. I went counterclockwise, which always feels a bit more challenging for me--steeper climbs. I also took Torch, the tri bike, for a spin, thinking it would be easier than the road bike. Wrong! Since I've been riding on the road bike (Pandora), it felt MUCH harder. Good to know. I was going to take Torch in Tour de Menlo this weekend. I've decided take Pandora since I've been riding her more.

Yesterday, I only did weights. It was the first day of school and 100 degrees when I got home so I bailed on my run. I have dreams of waking up early tomorrow and sneaking it in before school. Then a swim afterwards before happy hour with colleagues? I know. Ambitious.

Tuesday, I took the Juneau for a 5 mile run and resumed doing the loop around school and back home. I hadn't done it in awhile. It was hot and long, but it felt good to get back into the routine. I like that run.

Monday was a rest day. Boo.

Anyway, the workouts keep coming. I'm also keeping a food journal so I can lose the weight I've gained over the past year. I still feel heavy and slow as shit but I'm being consistent, and the workouts are getting easier. Plus, they make me feel better about myself because I'm taking action. I'm going to keep on, keeping on!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Becoming a habit

I worked out 6 days this week, achieving my goal. It's the fourth week in a row. The workouts are feeling a tad easier and are becoming more enjoyable. I love how I feel afterwards. Friday, I had to go to school to clean my classroom. I needed to get there in the morning. Instead of sleeping in my last morning of summer, I decided to get up at 7 and go for a run with the dogs. Followed by weights. I didn't want to do these things; I just knew I'd feel like crap if I didn't. I'm so glad I did. after 3 hours of cleaning the classroom with sweat and elbow grease, I was starving and exhausted. Combined with early dinner plans, I ended up working out against all odds.

Saturday was our long bike ride day. Since I've signed up for the Tour de Menlo, I wanted to make sure I was used to miles in the saddle. It's been awhile. We rode from Menlo Park to King's Mountain to Skyline, and then to the Bike Hut on Tunitas Creek Road, near the coast in Half Moon Bay. It was only a 40-mile ride (though even that's longer than what I've been averaging lately) but with 4,000-feet of climbing. I felt I might be able to do it but I wasn't super comfortable and wanted to avoid a meltdown. I like that feeling of anxiety you get before a challenging workout, like a long run. Beforehand, the course scares you, making the accomplishment that much sweeter at the end.

The Bike Hut was the turn-around. A small family farm runs the Bike Hut, a well-stocked bike stop that works on the honor system, small bills only. You can restock on water, drinks, gels, and homemade treats, like chocolate-covered pretzels. You can make yourself a pot of coffee and write messages on the board. You can rest for a moment on the bench outside, aside a rarely trafficked farm road. Birds frolic in the meadow across the street. Sometimes, hawks are perched atop fences, searching for prey in the grasses. It was a perfect turn-around, making a challenging ride have a halfway treat. Places like these are rare nowadays, and it makes me happy when I discover some that still exist.

Sunday, I was due for a long swim, particularly since I've signed up for the Santa Cruz Triathlon. After a 500 warm-up, I swam 3x500 followed by a cool-down. This has worked for me in the past for preparing for a 1 mile swim. I wasn't very fast, but I felt efficient. I worked hard, yet could have swam longer at the end. My confidence is beginning to improve. My goal right now is continue these consistent workouts as school begins. 

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Working out even when I don't want to

I did not feel like going for a bike ride today. I felt like taking a nap. Alan convinced me to go with him, and somehow, I got dressed and out the door. Exercise is not optional for me anymore. If I only worked out when I felt good, well, then I would end up taking an entire year off, like I just did. I pretended to gripe as we pedaled off, but it didn't feel too bad to spin down the block. I could always take it easy.

As we climbed Old La Honda, my quads kicked in, and my focus intensified, concentrating on keeping an even pedal stroke and light upper body. It was tough, but doable, and I pretended to complain about the steep grade at the top, but in actuality, I felt good. I was proud of myself for doing it, and after 4 weeks of weights and everything else, I could actually feel some of those muscles engaging. It felt good. The downhill felt even better.

The rest of the ride felt great. I used every opportunity to hammer and sprint when I could. I practiced my cornering on the descents. By the time we got back, I was smiling. It was only 20+ miles (with some climbing) but it was exactly what I needed.

I've committed to working out, and skipping because I don't feel like just isn't a good enough excuse anymore. Plus, all the days I work out when I don't feel good are the ones that make you especially strong. I've since signed up for 2 events: Tour de Menlo (65) on August 17th and the Santa Cruz Tri (Olympic) on September 22. It will be the 3rd year in a row, and I knew I would regret if I didn't tri Santa Cruz (pun intended). Tonight, I'm choosing a trail half marathon, my favorite event and great goal. I'm leaning towards:

Vista Verde Skyline (Los Altos; Oct 26)
Woodside Trail Run (Nov 3)
& the Woodside Ramble (Dec. 23)

Monday, August 05, 2019

More Workouts in the Bag!

I'm working out more than I'm posting. This is a good thing. Today, I swam--2000. I was feeling good so I added a little. Now I'm back to a respectable distance. My times are going down, or holding steady, and I'm already feeling the benefits of the weights in my back. I have a bit more strength and endurance in the pool. What a difference a few weeks make!

Yesterday, I bagged a 26-mile bike up King's Mountain and back. It was awesome; I felt strong and perky. My upper body is stronger, and my butt and wrists are more comfortable. The day before, I did weights and ran 4 hot miles. The dogs are both out of stitches and were ecstatic to join me.

I took 2 days in a row off before that. I was very disappointed. I'm only supposed to get 1 day off a week. I tried not to wallow in it though--it's consistency over time that matters. Day before that (Wednesday), we did an 8-mile, hilly hike in Purisima and saw 206 banana slugs!

Everything is a blur before that--I'm forgetting at least 2 runs (with weights), a bike around the loop, and another swim. Just trying to keep track of my progress. All in all, I've been steadily working out for 3+ solid weeks, about 6x/week. I have logged a total of 4 bikes, 5 runs, 5 weights, and 4 swims. I'm starting to see progress, and it's starting to get easier. I've dropped 4 pounds. Time to look at the race calendar!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

1 week of workouts!

I know 1 week of workouts is nothing, but after a year of doing nothing, I'm very proud of myself. It's been humbling (humiliating?) to say the least. I've lost ALL my fitness and feel incredibly slow. Everything is a slog. I just keep doing it, 1 workout at a time, knowing/hoping it will get easier soon.

After Saturday's run (and Yoga), we did a 20-mile bike on the tandem, followed by a respectable weight session (Monday). My wrists and ass are VERY out of practice on the bike. Tuesday was a repeat of Saturday's run, but it was much harder than the first time. I think the 2nd time back is always worse as fatigue increases. Wednesday was a 20-mile bike, which was hot and incredibly hard. I bailed on going up King's Mountain, feeling how out of shape I was. By mile 15, I had to rest under a highway bridge. My arms were shaking too badly, and even though I was going downhill, I didn't feel like I had the strength to hold myself up on the bike. I had to rest one more time before making it home. I almost called Uber. I've never had this happen before, even on 100+ rides. I was so humiliated. I was also starving. Skipping lunch, heat, and being out of shape caused this meltdown. I am itching to repeat this ride to have it go more smoothly.

Today's workout (Thursday) was a swim. It was only about 1700 yards, broken into sets, and I was incredibly slow, but it felt so good to get back in the water. So smooth and relaxing. I settled in, the farther I went, which is what I'm accustomed feeling. So I suck and am slow and fat and out-of-shape, but at least I'm doing something. I just have to keep at it. And it makes me feel better.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

I went for a run.

It doesn't sound like a big deal, but I've been struggling. I'm embarrassed to say I stopped working out (again) after Ironman Wisconsin. I feel like a piece of me is missing. This morning, I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep. I read and played word games on my iPad. My mind was racing. I listened to the birds waking up outside the window. I was oddly full of energy, something that happens less and less nowadays. I put my running clothes on and headed out the door before I could have second thoughts. I did an easy, 3-mile run around my scenic neighborhood, to the park and back. My area is full of redwood and oak trees, and the houses are cute with flowery gardens in the front yards. It's always fun to enjoy the hood and smile at other walkers, dogs, and runners. Even though it's mid-July, and most of the country is blazing hot, the air was cool, and the sky was still gray with fog. I hadn't run in so long, I wasn't sure I'd remember how. Surprisingly, my legs found a rhythm, and I fell into an easy pace, that was natural and sustainable. I could have held it forever. My mind drifted, and I relaxed. It was only at the end, that my thighs started rubbing together, a reminder of the extra weight I've gained this year. I'm not perfect, but I'm not giving up. My goal is to get back into shape--not Ironman shape, but healthy. It's a piece of me.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Ironman Wisconsin Race Report--4th for 40

I realize I'm about 6 months overdue for writing this race report--Ironman Wisconsin was in September. But it keeps hanging over my head, and I need closure so here it goes.

My training was on target. I had done everything I could to prepare for the race. I was healthy, uninjured and ready to go. All my gear was organized, plane tickets, hotel, rental car booked, credit card maxed out. Time to go to Wisconsin. I had picked this race because I wanted to reclaim the old stomping ground of my alma mater. I hadn't really been back since I graduated in 2000. I thought it would be a great way to visit. Kind of an intense vacation but I was not to be disappointed.

I was nervous about the swim. Madison had been flooded with storms and rains the weeks before and Lake Monona was encroaching on the nearby streets. Bacteria and pollution was a concern. The lake was choppy and full of wind and waves, which was surprising. The water temp was in the 70s but still wetsuit legal. I had trained in a sleeveless to avoid overheating.

The normal pre-race jitters hit like an avalanche the morning of the race. I had difficulty choking down breakfast but somehow overcame. I was so overcome with anxiety, I began full-on teeth-chattering shivering in the Monona Convention Center the hour before the race began, even though we were indoors. It was not cold. Before, I knew it, it was time to line up in the chute.

The chute was narrow and crowded. I felt a bit claustrophobic. Unlike the mass starts I had been accustomed to, they seeded us according to our predicted start times. The clock started as I crossed a mat at the entrance to the lake, something I had also not been expecting. It was a little anticlimactic compared to my other races but definitely more relaxed.

The Swim:
I dove into the water and began swimming. The water was still a bit rough but smoother than the day before, when I had struggled on my practice swim so I was thankful for that. The water was silty and tasted gritty and muddy. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face; it was very murky. Although it was not very crowded, and I didn't have to deal with the usual body slamming, I missed having the draft of hundreds of swimmers. The current pulled me towards the terrace for the short leg of the rectangle. Then, I turned and began the long 1 mile swim in the opposite direction, against the current. The view of the capital to my left was spectacular, bathed in the amber pink of the rising sun. I knew this part of the swim would play mind games with me as swimming 1 mile in murky water will do, but my training paid off, and I stayed calm and relaxed. I breathed to both sides to help even out my stroke and was surprised when I made the final turn and headed towards shore. I felt refreshed and peaceful.

In T1, I tried to keep my heart rate down and walked (not ran) up the helix (spiral ramp up the parking garage attached to the Monona Terrace), even though my adrenaline was pumping and the crowd was cheering. However, my day was just beginning. I calmly changed into my bike clothes and mounted Torch, my trusty steed, who was going to take me through my 4th Ironman. We were off, and I was all smiles.

The Bike:
I had trained like crazy on the bike before this race and had improved significantly on the hills. I had ridden tons of hilly (mountainous) rides in the Bay Area over the summer and made my first mistake by underestimating the rollers on IM-Moo. The course was breathtaking, lined with meadows, wildflowers, rustic red barns and dairy farms. I also had lucked out with the weather--blue skies and low 70s--couldn't have been more perfect. However, the bike was significantly windy, which seems to be the M.O. for that area. Relentless hills and wind would sap my energy over time. My overconfidence on the bike would be my great undoing on this course. Knowing how fast I could go on a flat, easy course, I decided that was the pace I would maintain on this course, despite it being longer and more challenging. I blasted through the first loop, feeling fresh and ready for more. Somewhere along the second lap, I began to feel tired and my pace slowed down. The hills were much steeper and longer the second time around. The wind seemed like it had picked up, but it could have been my imagination. I ate and hydrated well, however, knowing I would still have a marathon ahead of me.

The spectators were wonderful--I loved their creative signs and costumes. I'm not sure if spectators realize how amazing they are. They inject energy into tired athletes, giving our minds a brief respite from our self-induced torment. I never can give them the thanks I want since my energy levels prohibit smiles and high-fives that are normally so easy to give. The clown was a bit creepy, however. My favorite spectators were the elderly group in lounge chairs outside the retirement home, excitedly cheering us on. They filled me with appreciation--I can still push my body through the experience of an Ironman. One day, I will not be able to do this. I felt very thankful that I was healthy enough to make myself do this, especially since, so often, I berate myself for not being faster. I can do an Ironman! How awesome is that?

I coasted into T2 feeling extremely tired--I had refused to back off my pace and may have PRed on the bike. This decision would cost me dearly. However, I felt mentally strong and resolute. Let's get this marathon over with! I changed and trotted out wearily onto the marathon course.

The Run:
I feel like the Ironman truly begins on the marathon. Okay, I've definitely had my meltdowns at mile 90 of the bike but 26.2 miles can stretch on and on into darkness after a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike. I began running wearily but steadily, waiting to find my groove as I always do. I had fantastic marathons in 2 of the 3 previous Ironmans, and was relying on my trusty, old runner's high to get me through. It was not to be. Unlike 90% of the runs I have done, this entire marathon felt like a slog. This was doubly undoing for me because I consider running to be my strength. I would be completely humbled by this marathon, which is par for
the course in an Ironman.

The course wound through the UW campus which had been my home for 4 years twenty years prior. The sense of deja vu was overwhelming and the nostalgia was pleasant. This is where I had gone to Spanish class, this is the dorm where I lived, this is the football stadium where I spent my Saturdays cheering on the Badgers, this is College Library where our study groups would "study", this is State Street Brats where I had brats and beers, and this is Observatory Drive where the drunk bus would try to make one of the inebriated students fall over by taking the sharp turns too tightly. The memories were endless and joyous, and I relished every one of them.

I forced myself to run a steady pace for the first 13 miles, refusing to back down. I continued to eat and hydrate. My nutrition was spot on, and for once, my stomach didn't grumble (solid foods are key for me). After the first loop, I was lured by several other racers taking walk breaks. I was so tired. I have never in my life felt so tired. I began fantasizing about laying down on the side of the road and taking a nap. I began taking walk breaks too. At first they were brief. Walking was like an intoxicating drug--I became addicted. A few minutes became a mile. I began walking more frequently and for longer. The miles dragged on for an eternity. Darkness fell, and the shadows played tricks on my mind, melding into shapes and forms that did not exist. I no longer cared about what my time would be at the finish. I just wanted to finish. My motivation at this point was to get the g*damn thing over with. I began getting chilled, and blisters began to form on my feet. I hadn't trained to walk, and my body was unprepared. I willed myself back to a run to generate heat and relieve my blistering feet. So strange that running was a relief on my feet and kept me warm. Then, the exhaustion would take over again, and I would find myself walking without realizing. I felt like I was in a dream. My face was like stone; I couldn't figure out how to move it to make it smile, or even grimace. My boyfriend popped up to cheer me on, somewhere around mile 16, and scared the bejeezus out of me. I didn't recognize him for a minute. I have never experienced such exhaustion before.

This was the point I had been waiting for, when I would inevitably ask the existential question: why am I out here, putting myself through this? Why do I willingly suffer? Why am I doing this? I found myself embracing this moment; this is when you learn who you are and what you are made of. This moment is when the Ironman changes who you are forever, or when you quit. It's the breaking point. As I meditated on the suffering, many thoughts came though my head. It was difficult to settle on just one. The most prevalent realization that has stayed with me, both during and after this race, is appreciation. I spend much of my life beating myself up: I'm too lazy, too fat, too dumb, too slow, too mediocre, etc., etc. I am my own worst enemy. Think of what I can do when I get out of my own way! I appreciated that my body could take me through this Ironman, that despite my exhaustion and disappointment, I still had no doubts I would finish and return to work on Monday. Maybe if I spent more time appreciating myself and less time underestimating myself, I would do more amazing things.

I began running the final mile up State Street. I definitely did not have the perky trot I imagined I would have at that point of the race, but I was excited to be near the finish....finally. The miles had stretched on endlessly, and I thought the finish would never come. I was beyond relief to feel it, hear it, taste it, within my grasp. I willed myself to pick up the pace as I rounded the Capital for the final quarter mile. The streets were flooded with light, and noise from spectators and the announcer blasted  into my ears. I ran through the chute, relishing the victory. I had finished...again. I had been humbled by the Ironman, yet again. It had been just as hard as the others...again. And I had learned things about myself that will stay with me for a lifetime....again.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Peaking--Final Week of Training

I'm in the last week of training before I begin recovering and tapering for Ironman Wisconsin. I feel amazing. I have tons of energy and feel fitter than I can remember. I feel like a super hero. Able to lift all the heavy grocery bags in 1 full swoop. I'm absorbing the workouts, and eager for more. I can't believe how much I've been working out. It's been 20-25 hours a week.

I think the key has been devoting as much time to recovery as I do to training. With the summer off (I'm a teacher), I've been able to train like a pro. I take naps in between workouts. I eat small meals all done long full of protein and fruits and vegetables. I stretch and do Yoga. I work on mindfulness. More importantly, I just feel happy. Can I just stay here forever? (Alas, school starts back next week so that will be a tough adjustment).

I have been experimenting with foregoing recovery days during these tough build weeks so I can fit in the extra workouts and spread them out throughout the week. It's been working, and I actually love not dealing with the inertia of taking a day off. I have a recovery week next week so it's easy to push hard right now.

I did a tough open water swim off Coyote Point in the SF Bay on Friday, sharing the waters with windsurfers and getting tossed around like a stick in a hurricane. Saturday was the Mt. Tam Century, hosted by the Marin Cycling Club, 100 scenic miles with 8,000 feet of climbing. Honestly, it felt pretty easy, and I hammered the 2nd 50 miles after the tough climbing was done. The miles flew by quickly. Don't get me wrong; I'm still slow, but everything just feels easier. On Sunday, I did a hilly 17.5 mile trail run in Huddart and Purisima Creek. It was no big deal. In fact, it was exhilarating, and I had a runner's high the entire time.

Monday was 8x500 in the pool to mimic the Ironman swim. I was slow but it felt easy, and I wasn't sore or breathless. This was followed by a 5.5 mi neighborhood run with the dogs. Juneau can no longer keep up with me. Yesterday, I did a 24-mile rolling loop bike followed by an hour of hard weights. I finally felt sore and tired. I just have to make it through this week, and then I can recover and get ready for the taper!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Iron Practice Open Water Swim

Since the swim at Santa Rosa 70.3 was cancelled this year, I was short a swim workout this week. It's the final push before I taper for Ironman Wisconsin so every workout matters. I decided to do an open water swim at Gull Park in Foster City on Sunday. It would also give me an opportunity to test out my new sleeveless wetsuit. Since the swim is in a narrow saltwater lagoon lined by houses, I felt very comfortable swimming alone, especially in a wetsuit with a bright orange cap. After doing some research, I saw that swimming out-and-back from Gull Park to the next beach, Marlin Park, would be 1.2 miles. I decided to do it twice. Everything was fine until the return on the second lap. Yes, my wetsuit was chafing, and yes, the wind had created an uphill current on the return. However, I hadn't accounted for disorientation that set in. I had been counting the houses I swam past to pass the time. I was only 12 houses away from the end, when a beach to the left of me completely threw me off-guard (Erckenbrack Park). I hadn't seen it before (I hadn't been looking) and it made me think I had gone completely off-course. I became so confused, I turned around and swam back the way I had come, all the way back to Marlin Park. When I reached the 2nd beach, I was actually somewhat relieved, even though I knew I had to swim an extra mile. At least I knew where I was! As I wearily returned back to the start, I resumed counting houses, refusing to let anything distract me this time. At least, I know I will be able to the swim for my Ironman!

Weirdest Moment of the Day

I was doing an 8-mile trail run at Rancho San Antonio today. About halfway through the run, I noticed a guy with his back turned to me, intently picking apart horse manure with his trekking poles. He would then occasionally hurl it violently to the left. I had to yell, "On your left!" to make sure I didn't get hit with poo.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Favorite Moment of the Day

I went out for a ride today. A fast 20-miler with rolling hills, termed "The Loop" by people that ride in Palo Alto. It's a scenic route through Woodside and Portola Valley that winds through horse country and has access to some of the most scenic, famous climbs (Page Mill, Alpine, Tunitas, Old La Honda, and Kings) in the foothills and redwoods that winds up to Skyline and down to the coast (San Gregorio and Pescadero). I love it because it's only a few miles from my house and it's full of nature and wildlife. I was not to be disappointed today. At about mile 11, I spotted two tawny creatures, blending in with the golden grasses behind the trees. The second animal was unmistakably a deer. But she was craning her head back to stare at the creature behind her, as if waiting for it. Thinking it was a coyote, I actually stopped and got off my bike to get a closer look. The "coyote" began hopping casually towards the deer. Two giant ears unfurled, bouncing with each hop. It was a jack rabbit! Not only that, it almost seemed as if the deer and giant hare were buds. I stared happily at the pair for a few minutes before resuming my ride. That's why I love riding around here.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ironman Santa Rosa 70.3

It is officially 6 weeks away until Ironman Wisconsin. I'm officially getting nervous. This last weekend, I raced in Santa Rosa 70.3 as practice for my upcoming race. I wanted to test all my equipment, nutrition, fitness, and mental state to see if I was on track. However, it had been 9 years since I raced in a triathlon that long. I was nervous.

There were a lot of effort involved in preparing. I packed on Thursday, drove up on Friday, spent all day checking in and dropping off gear bags before finally arriving at the hotel, exhausted at 5 pm. The bike is a point-to-point 56-mile course from Lake Sonoma to Santa Rosa, a 45 minute car drive away. After athlete check-in, I had to drop my run bag off in T2, then drive up to Lake Sonoma to stage my bike in T1. It was hot--in the 90s--at Lake Sonoma, and I was glad that I would only be swimming there, early in the morning. However, the lake was beautiful--fresh, clear, and cool (73 degrees). I was looking forward to swimming in it. I previewed the swim course, surveying the yellow and orange buoys. The buoys were tightly clustered before the turning right and making a "dog-leg" under the bridge and back. At first, I thought the turn-around was where the first turn was. I slowly realized it kept going, under the bridge, and then kept going some more before turning around. I gulped. I had forgotten how far 1.2 miles looked. And I'm going to have to swim double that at Ironman Wisconsin? I gulped again.

I woke at 4:15, thankful I had a ride to Lake Sonoma and could skip the shuttle from downtown Santa Rosa. I had been gifted an extra hour of sleep thank to my dad, who volunteered to sherpa me at this race. In addition, our hotel was in Healdsburg, only 15 minutes from Lake Sonoma. Unfortunately, the logistics of getting out to Lake Sonoma on race morning were difficult. A 5-mile traffic jam of stopped cars delayed us (yes, stopped). My dad was unable to drop me off at the race start. Instead, they directed all cars into a parking lot about a mile before the start. Then, all of the athletes, family and friends waited in line for a shuttle to T1. The shuttles were unprepared and few and far between. Even though I had left the hotel at 4:45 and arrived in the parking lot by 5:15, it would be until 6:15 (when transition was supposed to close) before I actually got to T1. I was beyond anxious, and the pre-race was, by far (thankfully), the worst part of the race.

A dense, pea-soup fog hung heavily above the water of Lake Sonoma. The race director made the call to shorten the distance from 1.2 miles to half that (1000 meters). I was disappointed but at least I would still get to take swim in the lake and get some training. Then, they delayed the race start until 7, to see if the fog would lift. It did not. Due to safety issues, since lifeguards can't see the swimmers, and swimmers would be unable to see the buoys, at 7 am, an announcement over the loudspeaker decreed that the swim was cancelled. A loud cry of disgust echoed out of transition, alongside a few quietly thankful athletes. I was extremely disappointed. It would be like getting a sundae without the cherry. It just wouldn't be the same. I was also upset that I wouldn't get a chance to swim in Lake Sonoma. It seemed like such a nice place for a swim.

We prepared for a time-trial bike. The pros would go first, one-at-a-time, 10 seconds apart, followed by the age groupers, in numerical order. I was #1304. This could take awhile. I relaxed and decided to make the most of it. All my anxiety was gone (interesting--turns out the swim is what makes me so nervous at these events? Never knew). I went up front and watched the pros prepare for awhile. Gawked at their bikes and equipment. Stared at one of my heroes, Ironman World Champion Miranda Carfrae, who was completely relaxed and all smiles, selflessly letting fans take selfies with her before her big race. Then, I realized I had been staring and my mouth may or may not have been hanging open a little, so I went back to my bike. I chatted up my neighbor athletes incessantly as I sipped on Naked Juice smoothie with OJ and mangos. Delicious! I followed this with a PB&J, banana, and string cheese. When it was time to start, I was relaxed, well nourished and hydrated and had visited the loo 4 times. I was ready.

As I clipped in, I was surprised at how relaxed and happy I felt. It felt like coming home. I hadn't realized how much I had missed racing long-distance triathlons. The half-ironman is such a great distance. You get a solid workout in all 3 sports and still finish in the early afternoon. Shoot, there was still time for wine tasting (not that I did) afterwards!

The bike course was gorgeous and mostly downhill with rollers in between. It rolled through wine country and was extremely scenic. I took in the views of symmetrical rows of grapevines, farms, and oak trees. Occasionally, a resident would stop their work to stop and stare at us, mouths slightly agape. I tried to enjoy myself as we wound our way through Sonoma, like a fast parade of bikes. I felt sorry for the traffic, stopped for miles in the other direction. Tourists were out of their cars, staring in disbelief, waiting for the police to give them the signal to continue their pilgrimage to the many wineries awaiting. I was thankful for the closed bike course and hundreds of volunteers directing us on the course every step of the way. Every turn had been diligently marked, the course was swept of glass, and even the potholes had been outlined with orange tape so we could steer clear.

Despite the impeccable course, some of the roads were bumpy (notorious for Sonoma), and the race became progressively more and more littered with bottles, GUs, and CO2 cartridges. I was lucky and was able to steer clear of all of them, but there were several crashes. Not sure if it was due to hitting a bottle or aggressive riding on a crowded course, but I was thankful not to be one of them. There were even more casualties when it came to bikes, unfortunately, as the course was peppered with sidelined athletes fighting with changing flat tires, most of them tubies.

Because of the time trial start, the course was crowded, but I also had the opportunity to race with my age group. I had been training hills, and it showed. I passed a lot of people on the hills. I could feel my competitiveness set in, particularly when a rude cyclist would pass me, or someone with a number in my age group written on their calf. What constitutes as rude? Passing in a no passing zone, when the rest of us have to slow down. Don't worry, I chased her down.

I rolled into T2 feeling fresh and ready to run. I had stay hydrated, using water and salt pills (1 an hour). I had eaten solid foods, including a bar, 6 Cliff Bloks, and trail mix (my favorite). I couldn't believe how quickly the bike was over. Had it really been 56 miles already? It had felt like a long Olympic. I knocked it out in a little over 3 hours. Score! The training has been paying off.

The temperature had begun to increase as I set out on the run. I had to pee but really didn't want to wait in line at the port-a-potties, so I gutted it out until the aid station at mile 1, where there was no line. I found a comfortable pace and settled in along the creekside trail. It was nice to be on a shaded trail with some packed gravel (yay! less pavement!) but the course was absurdly crowded as we navigated a 2-loop, out-and-back course. Plus, runners were going in both directions on a trail wide enough for 2 people, but not 4. There were many competitive runners passing and darting into oncoming "traffic". It was quite crowded, and we were all getting tired and less coordinated.

I enjoyed the aid stations and imbibed every 2  miles or so, taking in coke, gatorade, pretzels and bananas. I splashed water on my head and drank my own water out of my FuelBelt. I was thankful for my own supply, allowing me the freedom and independence to indulge on hydration whenever I wanted. I passed a lot of people at aid stations. I was able to zone out and even lost a mile between 4 and 5. Thinking I was only between 3 and 4, I rejoiced when the mile 5 sign appeared. It was like being given a free mile. I ran with no GPS, no heart rate monitor, not even a watch. I was only focused on enjoying myself and loved the freedom.

Halfway on the second loop, fatigue set in. It felt like I had a pebble in my shoe, but I didn't want to stop. It didn't seem to be slowing me down but it was uncomfortable. I did a mental note--how painful was it? Only a 3 or 4. I decided to keep going. Oddly enough, it disappeared after another mile. So odd how pain ebbs and flows.

At the turn-around for the second loop, I kept an eye out for my dad. I kept hearing my name, "Looking strong, Rachel!" "Go, Rachel!" Confused, I looked around. "Dad?" I had forgotten my name was printed on my bib.

Miles 7-10 were the toughest. I focused on zoning out, but it felt like the miles were getting longer apart. I wiped my forehead. It felt dry and crusty. I realized it had been at least 90 minutes since I'd had a salt pill. I popped one and chased it with water. Ten minutes later, the fatigue was gone. It's amazing how your body talks to you in strange little ways.

Mile 10 came and went. I saw a spectator with a Wisconsin sweatshirt. "Go Badgers!" I shouted.
"Go Bucky!" he replied.
My right hip began giving me trouble. It had started earlier but the pain was getting noticeably worse. I broke down and took 2 Advil. At the next aid station, I drank some more Coke. Twenty minutes later, I felt great. I passed by mile 11 and could feel the adrenaline begin to build, making me tremble. I was going to finish this thing.

At mile 12, I began speaking positive mantras aloud to myself and anyone who could listen. "Almost there! We can do this!" I started running faster. I started passing other athletes. With only half a mile to go, my pace increased even more. "Only 2 laps around the track," I told myself. The crowd of spectators thickened, and they cheered us on, injecting me with energy. My name was printed on my bib, and they were screaming my name, "Go, Rachel, go!" I ran faster. I saw an athlete ahead with the number 43 written on her left calf. She was running strong. I wanted to catch her. "Great job!" I told her as passed. "You too!" she called back. I was sprinting. My breath was coming quick and loud. I was going for broke. There was no slowing down now. I entered the chute. The crowd was going nuts, feeding off my sprint, and their enthusiasm only fueled me more. I picked up the pace. I spotted a guy in front of me, doing his best to finish strong at a hobbling gait. A female spectator screamed, "Get him!" So I did. I burst across the finish, feeling victorious but unable to speak. A medical volunteer grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye, asking "Are you okay?" I nodded and gasped a yes. I may have barely been able to breathe, dripping with sweat, and red-faced but I was bursting with happiness. I had a great race and finished strong. On Wisconsin!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge

After a much needed recovery week, we woke up at 4 am to do the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge, 100 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing. How crazy to wake up earlier than during the work week only to suffer all day. I felt groggy and sluggish as we started, probably because I had taken too many rest days during the week. The first 30 miles, I felt sleepy and sluggish, not wanting to drink or eat. I had to pee a lot, which I couldn't figure out. I felt like I was in a fog. I worried I would feel like this all day. 

Soon, we started climbing Alba, a 4-mile climb with an average of 10% but sections of 15%+. The cobwebs were shaken off, and I had to concentrate. Sweat dripped off my nose. I was suffering, and all of a sudden, I felt awake and refreshed. Very strange. We climbed all the way to the lunch stop. 

After lunch, we enjoyed a nice descent down Bonny Doon to the coast. I didn't enjoy it that much, however, knowing we were doomed to climb it back up later on. The coast was flat and cool, and I was warmed up and enjoying myself. 

Then, we began climbing up Bonny Doon, Smith Grade, and Empire Grade, a steady 8-mile climb. I felt grumpy and began to feel tired. The aid station was heaven, and I stuffed myself with zucchini bread. The rest of the ride was much easier, with a nice descent into downtown Santa Cruz before a tiresome climb back up into UC-Santa Cruz. This ride felt much easier than the one I had done 9 years prior. Hopefully, that will set me up nicely for Ironman Santa Rosa 70.3 this weekend and IM WI 6 weeks from now. We're getting close!