Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Hope everyone has a wonderfully relaxing holiday with friends and family! Have an extra piece of pumpkin pie y'all. We've earned it!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Killer Long Ride & Peaceful Long Run

Things are starting to settle down slightly. We are officially moved in. I am closer to turning in my fellowship (I can't wait to turn it in and celebrate). Xmas shopping is over. I didn't really get a whole bunch of working out done this week but by the time the weekend got here, I was ready to throw down for my long ride and run.

Long Ride (Saturday):
It was one of the hardest rides I've ever done. Tour de Julian
was harder but only because I bonked. H-I-L-L-Y!!! And when I wasn't climbing, I was contending with a headwind. This is a good ride to do in the winter because east San Diego isn't hot. We had 3 flats, and were all tired but victorious at the end. I was ecstatic to make it back to the start. There were moments when I had serious doubts. 78 miles, baby! I made it back just in time to shower and change and run to the airport to make my flight.

Long run (Sunday):
Even though I was up north (San Jose, CA) to see my parents, I was still determined to do my long run. I ran 10 miles (5 out, 5 back) on the Los Gatos Creek Trail, a beautiful, scenic east-west, 10-mile paved trail that starts in Los Gatos. I wasn't sure how I'd feel after the killer ride the day before. My quads were shot but I just started putting one foot in front of the other. Pretty quickly, I settled into a pace. It always is easier to get going when it's chilly (mid 50s) since you want to get moving to warm up.

The musky smell of eucalyptus and damp earth filled the air. I smiled at families, runners, walkers, and cyclists, who filled the trail. Everyone gave me cheerful smiles in return, fueling me with positive vibes. I reached Vasona Park in time to catch a glimpse of the little train making a circuit with parents and kids on-board. They smiled and waved. A pair of white ducks nestled happily together on the other bank. The water levels of the reservoir were eerily low; NorCal must be going through a drought. Normally, the creek is a rushing rapid this time of year; today it was a low, lazy trickle. I feasted my eyes on the water fowl--Canandian geese, ducks, coots, cormorants, and egrets. A black cat stalked its unsuspecting prey in the grass, so focused on his task he was completely oblivious to my passing kisses.

I reached the turn-around and headed back, bewildered by how good I felt. I had been clocking my time at the mile markers and was managing a comfortable 9:30 pace. Not bad considering the bike ride yesterday. Parts of my body took turns complaining. My left knee, then the arches of my feet from my new orthotics. Followed by my big toe where a new callous was forming. I patiently blocked out each nagging ache and twinge, knowing it would pass and eventually grow numb. This little shred of knowledge, expectation, helped greatly in dealing with the inevitable agonizing pain of a long run. Oddly enough, climbing uphill felt great. No problems there as I surged up every incline. Downhill was a completely different story. My quads screamed, and I grimaced as I half-skipped, half tip-toed down each descent. My quads were completely shredded. Feeling a little fatigued, I popped a Cliff Blok at 60 minutes, even though I didn't feel hungry. Sure enough, a few minutes later, my gait felt easy and rhythmic. I popped another one 15 minutes later, and this took me home.

The scenery was beautiful. I felt like I had been dropped into the middle of a painting. The noonday sunlight trickled through the trees lining the path, drenching the grass in flax and the leaves in cornsilk, a stark contrast to their deep native green. The sunlight played shadows on the lush mountains in the distance, tinting them a deep plum purple lined in amber. I drank it all in, feeling a quiet stillness inside. I wanted to linger here just a moment longer. I exchanged a smile and a wink with another passing runner, as if we each shared the same secret to happiness. At mile 9, my body parts were no longer taking turns--they were all yelling at the same time. Knowing I only had a mile left to go, I dug in and pushed towards the finish. When I finally finished, I felt fully satiated, albeit slightly tired. Like all long runs, there had been lows and there had been highs, but luckily on this one, the highs had far outweighed the lows.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot

I know this is very late but I had such a good time on this run, I wanted to share.

More detail on this run can be found at:

For Thanksgiving, Jason and I went to Wisconsin, near Madison (we met at UW-Madison, where we both went to school). His family lives on a dairy farm in Belleville, WI, 30 minutes south of Madison.

We changed planes in Minnesota and, as if on cue, it started flurrying. We had to wait on the ground as they de-iced the plane. De-ice? I'm from San Diego, folks. Please. De-ice! De-ice! I didn't mind the wait. I just hoped the snow wouldn't be too bad.

By the time we got to his parents, the snow was accumulating on the roads, and it was dark. Luckily, his brother, accustomed to snow, drove us from the airport to his parents. I could see large, wet flakes falling from the sky (see pic to right). Thrilling.

The next morning, a white blanket of snow covered the ground. The farm was a beautiful sight (see below). I had forgotten how still, quiet, and muffled everything became with snow. Very peaceful. I put all my winter running clothes on. All of them. Long underwear under my running tights, thermal, long-sleeved running shirt, biking jacket, gloves, scarf, ear muffs, thick socks. Then, I ran out of clothes. We drove to the race start.

I saw an outdoor thermometer on a bank sign. We had to stop and take a pic. 24 degrees, baby. Oh, yeah.

I had thought the jog over to the bank thermometer would be a good warm-up but we quickly realized warming up was not going to happen. Plus, there was a ton of ice on the streets and sidewalks (see pic), reducing us to the penguin shuffle. Yipee.

After picking up our race packets, we convinced someone to take our pic. We huddled together to stay warm. Luckily, even though I'm a wimp from San Diego, this was the first major cold snap of the season so everyone, even the hardened Wisconsintes, was suffering.

We all huddled together at the start, sharing body heat. Maybe this is why people from Wisconsin are so nice? They cuddle a lot! The gun went off, and I took off. I wanted to get warm. Luckily, there wasn't much ice on the roads but I was concerned about the trails coming up. I managed a pretty aggressive pace, running at a slightly uncomfortable RPE. My breathing was sharp, every 2 steps, and it would have been possible to talk in short phrases.

When we hit the trails, I was pleasantly surprised to see there were only a few patches of ice here and there to avoid but I could still run. The crowds had thinned out, and I had plenty of room. I settled in nicely, enjoying the bare, winter trees and brown grass. I had forgotten how dormancy takes over the land in winter.

I remembered this one, final, killer hill at the very end of this race (we ran it a few years ago) that had almost done me in. As we left the trail and turned up the road, I felt the adrenaline surge. I knew the finish was close. All that was between me and the line was that last hill. I attacked. Expecting it to be tough, I gave it all I got. All of a sudden, I was at the top. I actually felt disappointed. That was it? That's all you got? C'mon! Bring it! Without needing any recovery, I increased the tempo, beginning my final surge toward the finish.

I glanced at my watch (which matched my chip time). 54:25 total time (8:46 min/mi). Not a PR, but not bad either. I am salivating to get some speed back. I know I can beat this! However, I'm not disappointed, considering I haven't been working on speed at all.

Jason and I ran back to the car and cranked the heat. Cooling off in cold weather is not fun! Here we are, red-faced, and happy we got our Turkey Trot in. Where's the closest Starbucks? Time for hot chocolate!

We did our long run that Saturday on the Badger State Trail. It was cold, windy, and isolated but a very enjoyable experience. Note to self--for a PR, run in cold weather, during hunting season. If gunshots don't get your feet moving, nothing will! More detail on this run can be found at the link below:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Still Here

Thanks so much, everyone, for all your support. I can't wait to get a little bit more time and catch up on everyone's blog. I'm so behind on blogging. I have a great Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot with pics to report on but still need to get them scanned in. Anyway, lots of exciting posts to come.

For right now, I'm still working on the fellowship, still working on moving, still plugging away in lab and my training. The fellowship is in the editing phase, and I'm working my tail off in lab to finish up some preliminary studies. I am SO going to celebrate when that thing gets turned in!

I've somehow managed to do x-mas shopping and put together an awesome card for the holidays. I've been cranking those out too. I'll share this year's holiday card soon.

We are now sleeping at the new place and have all the boxes moved over but are not yet unpacked. I can only do so much until the rest of the furniture comes on Sunday. I have, however, unpacked the bathrooms, closets, and kitchen. I love the new place! I can't wait until I get to the "decorating" phase. The bunnies are adjusting well to the new place as well. Taz loves exploring--hasn't lost that adventurous spirit after 8 1/2 years! Babs is a little more nervous but as long as I tell her it's okay, she's fine.

I've been keeping up with training too! I don't know how. Luckily, December is "Prep" phase. I'm just getting my body used to working out again. Since I wasn't that out of shape to begin with, it's been relatively easy to slip back into a schedule. If I could just up the master's swimming to 3x a week, instead of 2!

Let's see...where did I leave off?
Friday, December 7
made it to the pool for my 2nd master's workout of the week, despite pouring rain and 40 degree weather!!! Brrrr! (It's an outdoor pool, and we San Diegans are wimps.) Once I got in, the water felt good. It felt so good to swim and overcome the weather! Putting on wet jeans afterwards? Not so much. We worked on going fast. It was so much fun. Guess what? I love going fast. It makes base pace feel like cake. The workout is below:
went for my favorite easy, 4-mile run at work. I was able to push the pace again! I think it's the cold weather. Makes me feel snappy!
Saturday, December 8
long bike day
Everyone was afraid of the rain but I called it's bluff. Doesn't everyone know it doesn't rain in San Diego? And when it does, it's only allowed to rain from 6 pm to 7 am? By 8 am, the roads were wet, it was chilly, and the winds were blustery but the sun was out. It was awesome to ride in the brisk, sunny weather. I wore my cold-weather gear (arm and leg warmers, booties, jacket w/removable arms, gloves, and skull cap) and actually got pretty hot!
Unfortunately, only 5 other guys showed up, 4 of whom were super fast. I didn't have a prayer of sticking with them so I sent them on their way. The other guy was coming back from an off-season and wanted to take it slow (sans computer and everything). I was overjoyed...even when he had to stop for flats...twice. At least I had someone to bike with! The ride took forever with the wind and the flats. It was a verrrry hard and hilly 50 miles. I was completely beat at the end and needed the rest of the afternoon on the sofa to recover.
Sunday, December 9
long run day
I met with my running group at 7:15 am. 40 degrees. Brrrr! Again, the sun was out and there was no rain. I was only going to run 9, especially considering how beat up I felt after Saturday's ride. I ended up running 10 at a very strong pace (for me), averaging 9 min/miles. Yes! Spent the rest of the day moving.
Monday, December 10
master's swim: I remember it being really hard and having lots of butterfly and IMs but I can't actually remember the workout. Darn! I still got in 2700 meters. It was such a hectic day after that. At least I got a massage at 6!
Tuesday, December 11
OFF--completely bogged down with moving and unpacking. Sigh.
Wednesday, December 12
missed my am swim. :( However, I decided to go for an exploratory bike ride around the new place. All I can say is: the biking is AWESOME!!! There are so many great biking routes to choose from. I headed out on the bike path (1 mile from my new place), turned north for awhile before turning back and returning a different route. It was wicked fun. Although very hilly. Thought I was having a bad day until I turned around and started flying. Ooooh. I had been going uphill the entire way. Made me feel a bit better. Total mileage: 20
went for my usual afternoon run from lab. 4 miles. Didn't feel as easy this time. I'm breaking in new orthotics, and my feet hurt. Yuck. I felt like I had run out of gas and could only do a slow pace. Decided to use it as a recovery run.
Thursday, December 13
Gosh, is that today already? missed my am masters swim....again! I feel so guilty. Apparently, I needed 9.5 hours of sleep last night. I slept very soundly. Went for an afternoon bike ride up the coast. 20 miles. I felt speedy! It felt so good to have juice in my legs. The 3 caffeinated Cliff Blocks didn't hurt. Climbed the inside of Torrey Pines for a good kick-my-ass workout at the end. Lab has been tough today. I'm glad I got my bike in.
Coming Up
I hope to swim and run tomorrow. Saturday will be a 60 mile ride to build from last weekend. Sunday will be another 10 miles. And I will finish moving in this weekend!

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Sometimes I feel like I'm being tested. Either that, or God is playing a joke on me. Right now, I'm barely hanging on. Honestly, I can't believe I've been managing to keep things in as much of a balance as I've managed. Let's recap:

Sunday Nov. 25:
After returning from Thanksgiving last Sunday (which I still need to report on--lots of stuff to talk about there), Jason and I hit the ground running, signed a new lease on our apartment, picked up boxes, and started packing.
Monday Nov. 26:
I actually managed to join up with my master's swim at UCSD before rushing Oscar to the vet. Dropped him at home, went to lab. Made it to my 6 pm massage. Thank God for small things. Worked all night to prepare for lab meeting.
Tuesday Nov. 27:
Biked on the trainer in the am (Spinerval Time Trial 2.0). It was really crappy but I got it done. Went to lab and gave lab meeting. It actually didn't go half-bad, if you can believe it. Squeezed in much-needed lunchtime Yoga. Left early to go see the podiatrist. Got the bad news about Oscar from the vet. Went for a hard, therapeutic 10K run in Rose Canyon, followed by weights. Spent the evening petting Oscar.
Wednesday Nov. 28:
Had to go to lab for a very important seminar. Left early to take Oscar to the vet and have him put down. Cars blared their horns outside in the frenzied mass of rush hour. It felt like I was dropping off the dry cleaning. Life doesn't slow down for anyone. This upset me. No moment of silence. I went home and continued packing to take my mind off things. I did my usual crossword puzzles to relax. One of the clues was: "Sesame Street Grouch." So much for taking my mind off things.
Thursday Nov. 29:
Tried to go to lab but couldn't stop crying. Life may have been rushing around outside but I created stillness and silence for 24 hours within my apartment, allowing myself to grieve. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and had a headache from crying. I cried until I felt ill. Since my day of crying, I've been able to hold back the tears. I don't want to cry anymore. It feels like dry heaving at this point. Afterwards, I slept in a deep, dreamless state.
Friday Nov. 30:
Woke up early and did weights. Babs and Taz played with me while I did my push ups and sit ups and bench presses. Went to lab and finished the rough draft of my fellowship. I should have been thrilled but I wasn't. Maybe it will sink in once it's turned in. It rained buckets all day. I've never seen it rain that hard in San Diego. Funny how my environment matched my mood. As if the skies were mourning with me. Maybe it was a sign. My stomach hurt all night, and I didn't get to sleep until 4 am. I had strong doubts about making my own bike ride. After 1 Pepcid, 1 Prilosec, 2 Gas-X, and 1 Immodium, I was good to go.
Saturday Dec. 1st:
It's December already. Life doesn't slow down for anyone. Began my long, weekend rides again. Today was the first official day of my training plan for IMAZ. I will post my training plan soon. Biked 40 miles around Elfin Forest and Del Dios. The creek alongside Elfin Forest was engorged and angry but the windy roads were surrounded by fresh grass and greenery. The earth was moist and smelled delicious. Del Dios was like a different universe. It had been torched by the fires. The rain had caused multiple landslides. The water in Lake Hodges was a sickly, radioactive green. The headwind and crosswind was particularly wicked, forcing me to use a deathgrip on the handlebars to stay upright. Black ash stuck to my damp face. I needed to see it. I hadn't ridden Del Dios since the fires. It's pretty tragic.
Later that afternoon, friends came over to view the airing of Ironman Hawaii on NBC. It was good to have a houseful of friends to make the place seem less empty.
Sunday, December 2:
Woke up feeling exhausted from a chronic stomachache that had been plaguing me since Wednesday (and all my happenings). Went back to sleep. Jason and I went for a 9 mile run in Rose Canyon, even though I didn't want to. We were SO good. We got it done. Afterwards, we dropped off more boxes (3rd load) at the new apartment, bought a bed, and picked up more boxes from lab. I spent the evening packing and explaining to Jason that, yes, it was totally justified that we were exhausted.
Monday, December 3:
Made it to the pool for masters swimming. Seems to be a bad habit I've fallen into--going 1x/week. Ugh. Went to lab, then my massage. Ran a ton of errands afterwards.
Tuesday, December 4:
Ended up just doing lab stuff all day and no workouts. Beat myself up about it. This was a real low energy day. I got a burst at 11 pm and finished packing the entire apartment. I do that sometimes.
Wednesday, December 5:
Missed my morning workout but berated myself onto the trainer that evening. The chill and gloom in the air as well as the early evening darkness is really getting to me. Plus, I feel hungry all the time. Hard to start a workout hungry. Anyway, forced myself onto the trainer for a Spinerval workout. Did the Time Trial 2.0 DVD again to see if I could make up for my poor performance last time. It still sucked but I had my moments. Afterwards, I realized I had the trainer extra tight on the wheel, creating more resistance. This cheered me up some. Followed up the bike with weights.
Thursday, December 6:
Slept in and missed my swim. Damn! Worked on editing the fellowship. Despite the gloom and impending storm, slipped out early to go for a 30-mile ride up the coast. Hammered on the way out to warm up, taking advantage of the tail wind. Fought the head wind on the way back. It feels SO good to go hard sometimes, doesn't it? Forgot my arm warmers so stopped at B&L on the way home to get arm warmers, knee warmers, and lights since it was getting dark. Also swapped out my beaver cleaver bike seat for a much more ergonomic one. Much better. Jason will be happy. Drooled over their carbon road bikes. Continued on my way home. Followed it up with a very nice, relaxing 4 mile run at a 9 min/mile pace. Felt comfortable. Rhythmic. My vision was soft and my mind was empty. I could have stayed there forever. It reminded me of why I like running. Time stops and I hang in the moment of suspension between each footstep.

I'm hanging on. I'm being patient. I'm waiting for time to heal my wounds.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Oscar In Memorandum

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there,
I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rushof quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there,
I did not die...

We decided to put Oscar down yesterday. He was old, and his body was failing him. In addition to severe and chronic tooth problems that limited his ability to eat, he had gone into kidney failure. There was little we could do. I didn't want him to suffer anymore. I gave him the best life I could offer.

"I have sent you on a journey to a land free from pain,
not because I did not love you,
but because I loved you too much to force you to stay."

We took Oscar in 4 years ago from the House Rabbit Society in St. Louis ( He had been severely abused and had become aggressive, charging and biting anyone who came near. Everyone was afraid of the large, 10 pound, black rabbit. His name at the time was Cokie, presumably given to him by his first home, a couple of drug dealers. He had been confiscated by the police on a drug bust. Jason and I decided to foster him since we could give him a quiet place to live in peace. I soon changed his name to Oscar after the Sesame Street character. Being grouchy was part of Oscar's thing, even if it was just a false front.

The first thing I did was give him a box to hide in. He had been trying to hide behind one of his grass mats at the HRS foster home. When he hid in his box, he was "safe." I honored that and wasn't allowed to bother him when he was in his box. It was his private office, his home base. That helped his aggression a lot. Most animals, especially prey animals, are afraid when they become aggressive. They lash out because they feel cornered but most would prefer to run or hide first. I gave Oscar the option of hiding, and the aggression diminished.

I was afraid of him too, at first. When I would feed him, he would rush and charge the food dish, grunting wildly and flipping the food onto the ground. When he was out, he would circle my feet and "herd" me while grunting. After awhile, I realized he wasn't biting me; his bark was bigger than his bite. I would let him out to play every evening. He began to explore more and more as he became less afraid. He loved toys--empty paper towel rolls, a telephone book, a little plastic barrel with a bell inside. He would grunt and grab the paper towel roll and stomp on it until it was flat. He would "remodel" his box--chew new windows and doors on the sides, stick the flattened paper towel rolls under one side to prop it up. He would shred the pages out of the telephone book and toss the plastic barrel around, intrigued by the ringing sound it made. I tied a bell onto the fence of his pen. He loved to ring it when it was feeding time. I had to attach his water bowl to the fence too or he would dump it over. Even when attached, he would grab one end of it with his teeth and shake it like a dog.

He watched me for months. He watched me pet Babs and Taz and wondered what all that was about. I respected that he wasn't ready to let me handle him. I noticed he liked the sound of my voice. He listened intently when I was on the phone or talking with Jason. I began to read him stories--the Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, he particularly liked Lemony Snickett's Series of Unfortunate Events. Eventually, with me lying prone on the rug, reading a book, he came over to sniff me. I didn't move a muscle. Soon, I was able to gently pet his head for a few minutes at a time. He decided he really liked that. Soon, he was coming over to get petted on a daily basis.

One night, he refused to eat. He was curled up in his litterbox, his stomach making horrid gurgling noises. I felt my stomach tighten. With a sensitive stomach myself, I knew instantly what kind of pain he was in. I spent all night force-feeding him canned pumpkin (lots of fiber--good for gastric stasis in a pinch) and water through a 10cc syringe. The bathroom was a mess by morning. I took him to the bunny vet first thing. They gave him fluids and Propulsid. He recovered very quickly after that and was back to his old self. Boy, he scared me. He had looked so sick that night. He wriggled his way irretrievably into my heart that night. After that, I knew Oscar was here to stay.

I had no problems with Oscar after that. We had bonded. He knew I was going to take care of him. He trusted me. I had helped him when he had been his most vulnerable. Still, he wasn't great with other people. He never really trusted others. Our pet sitter had a hard time with him. We decided to leave him with HRS for 4th of July since they were experts in bunny care. When we returned from our short vacation, they had called us, urgently requesting that we come pick him up. He had reverted to his old behaviors of charging and grunting. He wasn't eating and had started molting. I brought him home and he immediately started running around the house, playing with his toys and kicking his heels into the air. He had decided where home was. It took a little while longer to convince Jason but when we moved to San Diego, there was no question in my mind. Oscar was coming with us.

Babs and Oscar never got along, though Lord knows I tried. She hated him. She went after him relentlessly, no matter how many bonding sessions I held. It didn't matter. She was jealous. Plus, since he was twice her size, she couldn't dominate him. She tried to boss him around, and he would sit like a lump not budging. He wasn't aggressive back, just dismissive. That seemed to infuriate her even more. She would bite him and never leave a scratch. When he would tire of her annoying antics and finally grunt and bite back, I would have to rush her to the vet. She was like my little warrior princess. As soon as I would bring her home, she would go after him again, stitches and all. I decided to keep them separated after that. Oscar would taunt her, running up to the fence that separated them and lay down next to it. He would play with toys right by the fence. She would stalk up and down the fence, waiting for him to come close enough to bite. He would always come over to sniff her. "Hello. Wanna be friends?" Every day, he would do this, and every day, he would jump back in surprise when she bit him on the nose. Taz and Oscar got along just fine, on the other hand (see picture above). Oscar always tried to cuddle up next to Taz because he would carefully groom his ears and eyes. Sometimes they would snuggle (as long as Babs wasn't looking--she would angrily chase Taz away if she caught them).

Oscar slept in our bedroom. The sound of him chomping on hay, bounding around the bedroom, rattling his water bowl, I was used to those nighttime sounds. Every time I got up to use the bathroom, I had to step carefully. He was usually right there at my feet, waiting to get petted. I would pet him when I returned too. In the morning, he would tug on my blankets on my side of the bed to wake me up. I wasn't allowed to get out of bed before petting him. Otherwise, he would grunt and circle my feet. He would put his front paws on the bed so I could easily pet his head from the bed. Sometimes, in the stillness of a dark, sleepless night, I would reach down and his head was there, waiting. As if he knew petting him would lull me back to sleep.

In the morning, if I took too long preparing his greens, he would pound on the bedroom door, demanding to be let out. He would beg for treats by the fence, scaling it, reaching the top. He was so big. We would say, "Oscar's doing the King Kong again." He would bound around the room, exploring each corner. Sometimes, when he was feeling really good, he would leap into the ear, kicking his hind feet up behind him and twisting his body in very athletic aerial acrobatics. He always had a mild look of wide-eyed surprise when he would buck playfully, as if his hind end had a mind of its own. He loved books. He would drag them off the bookshelves, open them up, and tear out the pages. We would always say Oscar was well-read. (We always kept the books for Goodwill on the bottom shelf). He thought the vaccuum was annoying (but not terrifying like most rabbits). He would stare at it in annoyance, not budging. Sometimes, he would sniff it, or charge it playfully like a dog. Even when the vacuum would come up right beside him, he wouldn't budge. He knew I wouldn't hurt him. I had to push him out of the way in order to vacuum under him. If I dropped papers onto the floor, he would go after them. One time, he demolished a small stack of crossword puzzles I was working on. He sat on one end to anchor them and shredded them to pieces with his teeth. Then, he shoved his head under my hand. I was supposed to be petting him, not working on crosswords. Anything I was reading or writing on was always in danger when I came near him. He demanded my undivided attention.

Eventually, he began to come down with more health problems. He went into gastric stasis about once a year. I fought each time to bring him back. He contracted a horrible tooth abcess that required in-depth surgery. He was in a lot of pain following the surgery. I stayed home to give him medicine, force-feed him, pet him, and read to him. He seemed to relax when I pet him. He only would eat when I would wash and cut his his lettuce into tiny pieces, fold it up, and hand-feed it to him. If I left the washed, cut-up lettuce on his plate, he wouldn't eat. Hand-fed only. I fought again to bring him back, and he recovered, became his old self again. Eventually, he started to decline again. It wasn't until very recently that I realized I was fighting a losing battle; he would never be his old self again. He had lost a lot of weight and was eating very little, even with soaking fresh pellets in warm water and offering him fresh, washed, and cut lettuce twice daily each. He had become lethargic. He wasn't running around, wasn't coming to my side of the bed, and he was unable to lay down and stretch out. Once a very clean and meticulous bunny, he had also become incontinent. When the blood work came back and I saw the look on the vet's face, I realized he was very sick.

Oscar became a very different bunny than the aggressive and scary "Cokie" we were first introduced to. He was playful, happy, and had a good sense of humor. He was always easy-going and laid-back. All he wanted was food, water, and a box to hide in. The attention and love I gave him was totally unexpected. He expressed extreme gratitude at everything I gave him. To say it was rewarding to watch him come out of his shell is an understatement.

"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."
~Kahlil Gibran

This whole time, I knew that he needed us but it wasn't until yesterday that I realized that I needed him too. There is a huge, vacant hole gaping in my life. I keep thinking he will come bounding out of the bedroom. I keep listening for the loud crunch of hay as he leaps into his litter box or the rattling of his water bowl as he shakes it. I almost set out 3 plates of greens this morning. I almost put the fence up to keep Babs from going after him. All of his toys are as he left them. The soft blanket by his litterbox is still there--extra padding for his sore joints. His box is empty and waiting, the carefully gnawed doors and windows just as he left them.

Part of me can't wait to move so I can sleep at night without constantly thinking about how much is gone and missing. I am afraid to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night because I know I will automatically reach down to pet him, and he won't be there. I miss him.

I imagine him in a large sunny meadow with plenty of trees, burrows, bushes, and rocks to hide in. There are no scary planes or cars or dogs. Just other bunnies, and they are all licking him and snuggling with him. There is lots of alfalfa, fresh, leafy red lettuce and kale and on the tops of the grass are Autumn Wheat cereal, which he loved. There is a house at one end of the meadow with an old woman in a rocking chair. There is a blanket by her feet for him to lay on. She is reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to him and petting him softly at the base of his ears. His eyes are closed and he is purring. He is stretched out with his hind legs behind him and his forepaws in front, his head resting on his paws. He feels no pain. Only peace and comfort and love. I hope one day to meet him there.

"If my tears could build a stairway
and my memories a lane
I'd walk right up to heaven
and bring you home again"

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I have a lot going on right now. I have so much I want to say and lots more to come but here's a snapshot. Later, I will post on my trip, Thanksgiving, and the race report for the Berbee Derby. Overall, I can say it was cold. I don't know how those of you that live in the rest of the country do it. I can't do winter. Anyway, more on that later

I'm busy. Moving, fellowship writing, the holidays, IM training, Oscar...(more on that later but it's not good). Sometimes being busy is good. I work best under pressure. When you have so much to do the choice is either to get it done or implode, fall apart and do nothing. One thing is different. I am maintaining balance. I'm doing it for me. I think it will be better in the long run.

We hit the ground running on Sunday. After we landed in San Diego, we re-visited the new apartment to make sure. Signed the lease. Went to our current apartment and broke the lease. Got boxes from lab for packing. Unpacked from our trip, went grocery shopping. And collapsed. I've never slept so well.

Monday, I woke up refreshed at 6:30. That was amazing. Went to the pool and slogged myself through a fly workout. Still, it felt good. I'm in the "get it done" mode for my workouts. Quality doesn't matter right now since I've lost fitness. I just want to maintain my schedule.

Since I had to present for lab meeting Tuesday morning, that sucked up the rest of my day (so did taking Oscar to the vet). Squeezed a massage in Monday night before going home and working on my presentation. I made myself stop at 11:00 pm. I wasn't as prepared as I would have liked but lab meeting is supposed to be informal. A few years ago, I would have worked on it until 3:00 am. I would have perfected a speech. Sometimes, that's still necessary. But not for this. I'm learning to prioritize.

Woke up early again Tuesday morning (yes!) and squeezed in a quick session on the trainer (Spinerval Time Trial DVD). I sucked. I had nothing. I just focused on finding a gear where I could maintain a 90 rpm and a perceived effort below "throwing up" (not easy). Some days are like that. Got through that, picked up bagels for the lab meeting and did the presentation. Didn't go as badly as I thought. Plus, I got a lot of tips for my fellowship.

Even though I was crazy busy in lab, I forced myself to stop and go to Yoga. I knew it would help. It was a tough session. My muscles quivered and felt like rubber at the end. But it was a great release. Midst the frenzy of life spinning round me, I can create stillness in mere moments during the span of just 1 hour. I relished in focusing on each pose and breathing into my body, thinking about nothing else but my muscles, the tension melting away, and my breath. Afterwards, I leaped back into the fast-paced slipstream of my day.

After speaking to the vet that afternoon, I had an even harder time focusing. I did my best. Focusing on getting things done helps me cope. It feels better to act, move, do something. It gives me the illusion that I'm not helpless; that my actions are not futile. Went to the podiatrist, picked up my orthotics.

At this point, I was going through the motions. I had my running clothes on though, and my running shoes. I parked the car at the apartment and forced one foot in front of the other towards the Rose Canyon Trail. Soon, I was sprinting. Running away from everything. Running into stillness.It felt good to run hard. To run until it hurt a little. A release. I poured my anger, my angst, my sorrow into that run, leaving a little bit on the pavement with each angry footstrike. A numbness crept over me, and I felt the heat warm my body. My feet glided effortlessly beneath me. I felt disembodied as if I was atop a sleek steed galloping beneath me, pulling me forward. I floated above my body, lost in the absence of thought. I glanced at my watch. I had 30 minutes to make it to the turn-around before sunset. I was glad for the excuse to run fast. I made it in 20. As I returned, darkness engulfed the canyon, leaving only the pale pink sky. I didn't care. I kept running, seeking out the comfort of the shadows. The trail in front of me was a pale gray. I felt no pain. Only warmth, relief, peace...acceptance.

Afterwards, I tried to eat dinner but my stomach hurt too much for food. I spent the night petting Oscar before falling into a deep, dreamless sleep under the warmth of the down covers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving in Wisconsin (+5 Tips for Dashing to the Bushes)

Currently, I'm in the chaotic midst of running around like a turkey with its head cut off (ouch, that was pretty bad), getting ready to fly to Wisconsin tomorrow to celebrate Thanksgiving with my in laws. The timing couldn't be worse with all my big, new projects: AHA fellowship, moving, and the commencement of my IMAZ Ironman training plan. But it's always that way, isn't it?

Wisconsin will be delightfully freezing. Mid 30s for the high with a 10-degree wind chill. Looks like there is a chance of some flurries. My in-laws live on a bona-fide dairy farm, which is always fun to visit. However, I am always freezing this time of year (the thermostat is set to 55)! I'm bringing nothing but warm clothes and a space heater. Luckily, my in-laws are amazing people with big hearts and happy-go-lucky personalities (not to mention the awesome comfort food!) so it's always a joy to spend time with them.

Jason and I are running the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 10K (Berbee Derby in Madison. Nothing better than a goold, old-fashioned turkey trot. Will you do one this year? I love this one, in particular because it's always freezing. What better motivation for a 10K PR than 20 degree weather and numb fingers?

As far as other workouts, I have already located a gym with a pool and spinning bikes and planned out my runs so I'm good to go. IMAZ training will continue, Thanksgiving travel or no!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope yours is filled with family, friends, laughter, good food, and a cozy fire.

I leave you with this (not for the faint of heart):

5 Tips for Dashing to the Bush:
(we've all been there; if you haven't just wait. You're on a run and suddenly, you have to go. And it won't wait. Here's what to do.)
1. Don't wait.
Let me tell you, I've been there more than once. It's not going to wait for you. Delaying the urge is just inviting torture and an eventual desire for a diaper. You will feel SO much better if you just go.
2. Always carry Kleenex.
A no brainer--of course, I always forget. Leaves will do, in a pinch. Just make ABSOLUTELY sure you're not using poison ivy or poison oak or you're in for a world of pain.
3. Locate the nearest bathroom, Port-a-Potty or bush.
In that order. If no bushes, look for a big rock. It's also best if you have a friend who can stand guard.
4. Once you have found a good spot, make sure you cannot be easily seen or heard, if possible.
Take a good look around. This will prevent embarrassment and possible arrest.
5. Avoid thorns and prickly bushes.
Alas, I didn't do this on my Sunday run and ended up with nasty raw gashes on my derriere.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hummingbirds, Noisy Neighbors, Fellowship, and Fighting Inertia

Death by Hummingbirds:
We used to have a bird feeder on our balcony. Soon we had a balcony full of delightful little house finches. They were adoreable but they shit everywhere and made a mess. So I put up a hummingbird feeder. At first, there were no customers. Just as the feeder was about to go out of business, a few hummingbirds started showing up. This morning, about 6-8 little guys were chasing each other around, fighting for a spot. I love hummingbirds. They are beautiful, colorful, amazing little birds. But they sure have fiesty personalities! First of all, they're loud! I heard this god-awful screeching noise and looked at the branch outside our window--that noise was coming from the throat of a cute, little adoreable hummingbird! Second of all, they're mean. It's like the neighborhood hummingbird gang outside the window. They chase everything else away, no matter what size! Jason doesn't believe me but every morning when I go out to the closet on the balcony to get the bunny hay, it's an adventure. I hear a loud whirring and chirping, and I look up, and have to duck and cover my head because one is coming straight for me! They freak me out! Jason thinks it's funny that I'm scared by these tiny fellows but they're divebombing me like fighter planes! However, they ARE cleaner so I guess they're hear to stay. (Just be forewarned--I may be discovered, lying prone on the balcony with a hummingbird beak sticking out of my forehead).

Noisy Neighbors:
Jason and I have had it with our neighbors--bratty college students that are INCREDIBLY noisy. Either that, or we live next to a pack of hyenas in heat. They have loud parties every night, and security, management, nor the police have been effective in controlling the noise. After sleeping on the couch (quieter) twice last week, the only thing that prevented me from grabbing the baseball bat, running over to #121 (and 228--we have multiple culprits here) and starting to swing, was the hope of moving. I clung to that thought desperately to prevent me from doing something that would land me in jail. Still, mid-December I may just get a bullhorn and stand out on our balcony one Sunday at 4:00 am (can we say stucco=echo=reverberate?) and yell: "WELCOME TO FINALS WEEK!!! ARE YOU READY FOR: CALCULUS, PHYSICS, ENGLISH LIT, AND ORGANIC CHEMISTRY? LET'S DO THIS THING!!! CAN I GET A WHA, WHA?" Payback's a bitch. Anyway, for 2 years, we've put up with a small apartment, a lot of noise, and high rent. Moving sucks so much, we thought we could stick it out until we found a place to buy. Then we woke up and realized we were living in San Diego; it's going to be awhile before we buy anything. So, we're finally moving. We put a deposit down on a new place today in a much better, quieter neighborhood. I can't wait to move. (Like I need another project).

Lab has been crazy busy. Out of control. I'm writing a postdoctoral fellowship for the American Heart Association (AHA), and this it's kicking my ass. (My ass is very sore.) Needless to say, lab has become very stressful as I pull teeth trying to write this thing. Based on the time and effort I've been spending on this beast, it's going to be the BEST fellowship EVER! Actually, the research is pretty cool. I'm investigating the connection between inflammatory pathways and coronary artery disease. However, I can't wait until I turn the f#*&ing thing in and can actually do the work I'm proposing.

Ironman Training & Recovery Month (Fighting Inertia):
On top of it all, I'm constantly reminded of IMAZ. I have a training plan but am in the process of revising (too much right now--currently it's a suicide plan). I signed on with a nutritionist (KB Nutrition) who specializes in Ironman nutrition (gotta love San Diego), and I am trying to decide which track and masters workouts to choose from. I know it has to be convenient or I won't do it--I'm sticking with UCSD Masters swimming (has been working great for me) and am signing up for UCSD Masters running (UCSD Masters).

Still recovering from Tour de Julian last weekend. That ride totally kicked my butt. After recovering from the Soma Half Ironman, I'm trying to slowly reintroduce myself into regular workouts again--sort of a Pre-Prep phase. Let's just say it's been much more challenging to force myself back into a regular schedule than I imagined. It's amazing how quickly inertia sets in. Laying on the couch at night and sleeping in on the mornings feels SO good! But, after 2 weeks, too much rest has made me irritable and depressed so I'm getting my ass into gear. This week has been tough but I did manage to do slightly more than last week--every week I'll ease into a little more.

Good Bike of the Week:
I've been having a hard time getting the workouts in. Made it out for a bike today. It felt so good. I started pedaling like mad, working out the angst. Glanced down at my computer--25 mph. Jeez! That thing must be broken. But when I slowed down, so did the computer. At first, as I soared downhill at 35 mph, I thought, "Boy, I've gained a lot of weight!" But the speed kept up on the flats, stroking my fragile ego. I got tricked into thinking my Julian ride last weekend had been such a "breakthrough" workout that I had been transformed into this amazing, super speedy rider. My confidence soard. "I rock! Look at how fast I am! I am AWESOME. Speedster! Like a rocket! I can take anyone. Bring it!" Then, I turned around and discovered, alas, that all that confidence had been riding on a strong tailwind. I had to fight my way home at a snail's pace, tail between my legs (no, I don't really have a tail). Humbled, as always, back at the start, I still felt better than before I had started. No matter how hard or tough, I can always rely on a workout leaving me in a better place afterwards then before I started out.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tour de Julian Report 2007

Rave Review:
This ride is awesome. It kicked my ass thoroughly and completely but it's one of the most scenic rides in San Diego. It's extremely well supported and organized. I've never met such nice volunteers, not only willing to stand in the freezing cold for several hours but cheerfully and with smiles on their faces. There is very little traffic, and Julian is a wonderful little town that I don't get to visit often. Finally, no matter how hard of a ride you have, the all-you-can-eat apple pie (a la mode) at the end makes everything worthwhile. This is a ride I will be adding to my annual must-do list.

"It's not that bad," Alex said, referring to the amount of climbing in the 55-mile ride in the Tour de Julian. "Not that bad," he said. I was skeptical. Afterall, hadn't I ridden the 28-miler ride last year? Didn't I remember feeling toasted after just 28 miles of climbing? But I am in better shape now, I told myself. 28 miles? That's not long enough. Didn't I just do a half-Ironman? I can handle it, I thought naively, disregarding the fact I had only worked twice in the last 2 weeks. I can handle it, I thought. Afterall, Alex said it wasn't that bad. I should have known better. Over 1,000 feet of climbing, I should have known. "Oh, I'm going to be in Vegas that weekend," Alex said, finding a very convenient excuse for why he would not be riding the "not so bad" 55-mile ride of nothing but hills with us. Later, as we all were enduring the excruciating torture of the relentless mountains, altitude, wind, and cold, I thought of Alex and pictured him in Vegas, kicking back, drinking martinis, and having a good laugh.

Getting There:
When the alarm went off at 5:45 am, I struggled to rise, my body still adjusting to the time change. Plus, since I haven't been training, I'm totally out of my routine. Russ, Michelle, and Mark picked me up in their enormous SUV so we could carpool out to Julian. Julian is nestled in the mountains at 4,000 feet, a little over an hour drive from San Diego. It takes awhile to wind up the twisty, curvy mountain roads. Not much fun if you're sitting in the back seat. We watched the thermostat on the dash drop as we escalated--65--55--48--42--finally resting on an even 40 degrees F. Good thing I brought my gloves, booties, headband, arm warmers, long biking pants, and biking jacket! We pumped up our tires, ran to the loo, and got ready to ride. Only thing was...I hadn't eaten much for breakfast and nothing on the drive up. Shoot. That would come back to bite me in the ass.

Russ, me, Michelle, and Mark at the start, all bundled up.

The Saga Begins:
Once we started riding, I warmed up immediately. My fingers and toes were toasty because of my gloves and ridiculous bright blue booties. I was afraid the wind would be bone-chilling but there was only a light breeze (for now) and all my clothes did a fabulous job of blocking out the wind. Mild relief settled in. There's nothing that makes a ride more miserable than being cold. Little did I know, I would rarely be going fast enough to be generating wind anyway. We hit the first few hills out of the winery, and I attacked, standing up to climb. They were short, but steep. It felt so good to be exercising again! I had missed it. Plus, it helped warm me up. Michelle was smart and stayed seated, knowing we had a long road ahead of us.

The View:
The ride was one of the most scenic rides I've ever been on. The trees were changing colors and losing their leaves. The smell of wood burning fires emanating from cozy fireplaces filled the air. Flocks of wild turkeys grazed in the fields. Turkeys? Yup. Turkeys. It felt like fall. It felt like Thanksgiving. Living so close to the coast, I had forgotten. My body has been confused. Riding through Julian allowed my spirit to be settle; I finally could catch up with the appropriate season. We rode past many farms, and I delighted in the livestock along the road: donkeys, ponies, horses, cattle, sheep, goats.

We rode through sections that the recent San Diego fires had pillaged. Occasionally, a house here and there had been completely burned to the ground. Even the fence around it had melted. However, the neighboring house next door had been untouched. The path of destruction was random and indiscriminate. It was apparent how quickly the fires had moved through, pushed by the strong winds. People whose houses had been saved had hung signs on their fences, "Thank you San Diego fireman for saving our house, our town, our livelihood." Viewing the damage first-hand made me realize how much the fires had destroyed people's lives.

The Climbing--Let the Torture Begin:
Soon, there were no more houses. Just trees and a narrow, winding road that went up, and up, and up. The view was spectacular. I drank it all in. Afterall, I had time. I was doing nothing but climbing. This was going to take awhile. I decided to sit back and enjoy the view.

scenic view on Tour de Julian.

More Climbing (Up, and Up, and Up...)
The relentless climbing continued as we began scaling Mt. Cuyamaca . Every once in awhile, a random descent would appear. I would coast down, sighing a big breath of relief and stretch my legs. Only to wind around and be faced with yet another climb. Tease! Why go down if I'm just going to have to go back up again? I felt like I was digging a hole and then filling it with dirt again. For about 3 miles, the climb reached 9-10% grade (I later learned). The incline translated to this: "forced to stand in the saddle and stomp on the pedals, using every ounce of concentration, with a rising fear that I physically wouldn't be able to turn one more revolution." I looked down and saw that in my lowest gear (27 in the back, small ring on the front--compact cranks), I was going 3.9 mph with a cadence in the mid-30s. A new record! I didn't know I could go that slowly without falling over. My heart fluttered like a hummingbird's and my quads screamed in a long-forgotten pain. The accumulating lactate ate away at my muscle fibers like battery acid. I could taste the ketone bodies in my throat. As a newbie long-distance triathlete, I'd avoided these kind of intense, anaerobic workouts like the plague. Until now.

Feelin' Good? Don't Worry--You'll Get Over It!
Still, I was in pretty good spirits. The incline leveled out a bit, and I was able to recover some. When asked how I was doing, my reply was, "hanging in there." I wasn't watching my mileage or even focusing on the time (although I had noticed my average speed was 10 mph). Every 15 minutes or so, I'd pop a Cliff Block. I was sipping on my water (mainly for the nutrition; I wasn't sweating much), filled with electrolytes and Carbo Pro . I still felt good, could maintain a good rhythm, and was full of confidence. Obviously, the mountain wasn't finished with me yet.

Michelle aka "Mountain Goat" showing her stuff on one of the climbs.

Thank, God for PB&Js!
We regrouped by Lake Cuyamaca and were able to spin and rest our legs on the only flat section in the whole ride. The view of the lake was gorgeous. We turned up Sunrise Hwy. and began scaling Mt. Laguna. More climbing. Yea. I knew the steepest part was over but although the grade up to Laguna would be more forgiving, the relentless length would be my undoing. We reached a rest stop, and I promptly engulfed some PB&Js the volunteers were handing out. I hadn't realized how famished I was! Yikes! After a quick Port-a-Potty stop (from drinking fluids to help digest the food but not sweating in the cold), we rolled onwards. None of us had shed any clothing. The temperature hadn't changed since we started. Working up the hills had generated enough heat to make us comfortable in our jackets but stopping for too long made us shiver. Michelle and Russ--aren't they cute?

And Still More Climbing: As we started scaling Laguna, I was quickly dropped. Unfortunately for me (and for the group too since they had to wait for me), I was the slowest rider and the weakest climber. Which meant, pretty soon, I was alone. I didn't first. The ride was so pretty, and I still had a rhythm. I was staying within my boundaries. A few miles later, my eyes were fixed on my bike computer. We had only gone 25 miles. How was that possible? It felt like 50. My average speed was 10 mph. I had been riding for 2 and 1/2 hours. I was not even halfway done. My legs were sore, my neck and shoulders were locked up, and my lower back felt like someone had hooked it up to an electrical tower. Plus my ass was killing me. I was sorely (pun intended) reminded that I hadn't ridden my road bike for months. I had ridden my tri bike. Apparently, there's a difference. Apparently 60 miles on a flat course in the aeoro bars means shit on a road bike uphill.

The Bonking Begins: Doubt began to sneak in through the cracks like termites eating away at the foundation. I willed myself onward, focusing on making my mind blank. As my mood dropped, I started singing under my breath to keep myself entertained. It worked. My spirits were uplifted. For the time being, I was saved. (I should have eaten something instead. I didn't recognize the early warning signs of my plummeting blood sugar dropping). I felt a resurgence of energy. At every little crest, as I would recover and catch my breath, I would begin singing more loudly. It was bike karaoke with STP, Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog, RHCP, and the Eagles keeping me company. As I was belting out "I got to, got to, gotta take it slo-ow" (RHCP's Soul to Squeeze), a group of riders rode by with wide smiles. "Hi!" they all-to-cheerfully exclaimed, making it very apparent they had heard. "Hey, whatever gets it done," I replied. I didn't care. It was working.

Are We There Yet? A few miles later, I had given up on singing. I had passed the campground where I had been sure the turn-around should be, and it wasn't there. Panic ensued. Did I miss it? How much farther? My mood plummeted and all sense of confidence fell away. I wasn't sure I could go much farther. How on earth would I make it back? My motto has always been: you can always go slower. I was now going 3 mph. I couldn't very well go much slower than that. The urge to stop was overwhelming. Not just stop. But lay down in that very inviting pile of leaves on the side of the road. Just for a bit. A little cat-nap? And then hitch a ride back to the start (I couldn't very well call a cab)? But there was no one around. I had hit a record low.

I Hate This G*d*#n F@#*ing ride! I saw Russ up ahead. He had turned around and circled back for me. Great. That made me feel even worse. I'm so slow that everyone was worried. I asked him where the turn-around was.

"Just up ahead at the top of that hill," he lied (it was 6 miles farther). "How you doin'?" he asked.

"Like shit," I replied, quite distinct from my earlier, "Hanging in there." Clearly there had been a downshift in my mood. Sensing my impending doom, he tried valiantly to cheer me up,

"Just think of this as mental training for Ironman Arizona," he said.

"I really don't want to hear the word, 'Ironman', right now," I replied, restraining the urge to kill him.

"You can do it. Think about how strong this ride is making you." I glared at him with a look that would have made Medusa shudder. "Think of ice cream," he suggested. He was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The more he tried to cheer me up, the worse I felt. I wanted to respond to his ridiculous statements. I wanted to scream and yell at him. I felt dangerously violent, enraged. At him, myself, the world. A few times, I opened my mouth to speak. To rip him a new one and tell him what it was like. But every time I did, I shut it again. It was one of the few times in my life, I didn't feel like talking. Yup, pretty bad. Partly because I didn't have the energy. Mostly because I could feel the tears welling up inside, and I knew if I spoke I would simply burst into tears and start sobbing (not to mention, scare the shit out of poor Russ). It didn't help that he was spunky and perky and biking in wide circles around me because I was pedaling more slowly than he. I wanted to reach out and shove him off his bike but he was going too fast for me. Another part of me was thankful he had come back for me. I was a little scared at my state of being and concerned about my physical ability to continue much farther.

Are we there yet? (Like my blue booties?)

Hallalujah, Thank God Almighty! We pedaled onwards at an excruciatingly slow pace, Russ patiently by my side. The silence was thick and ominous as if we were on a funeral procession. After what seemed an eternity, the rest stop at the turn-around suddenly appeared. It was as if God Himself had opened up the doors of Heaven and we had reached the pearly gates. I swore I could hear angels singing. I was flooded with relief and joy. Pure and simple joy.

Russ ran ahead to Mark and Michelle. I could just imagine what he was saying, "Make sure someone stays with her on the way back. She's in bad shape. Otherwise, she's going to either kill herself or some innocent victim." I didn't care. I was in bad shape. I got off the bike. Ahhh. My poor ass. And back. I stretched. Then, I dive-bombed the food table. PB&Js? Yes, I'll take 2. Make it 3. Cliff Bars? Hmmm. Chocolate and Pecan? Yes, I'll take that too. Banana? Sure. What else you got? Within 5 minutes, I felt 100% better. My energy restored, my belly full, and my mood uplifted. Confidence? Yo! Doubt? Gone. Could I make it back? No problem!

WTF? I was astounded by what I had just experienced. Then it hit me. I had bonked! Ohhhhhh. Biking uphill for hours on end in the cold, I hadn't been drinking or eating much. I hadn't started with a full tank. And I had been torching calories, especially glycogen. As my blood sugar had dropped, I started feeling cranky. And it had gotten worse from there. The rest stop had saved me in the nick of time--before my liver had been completely sucked dry. Blood sugar soaring, I felt revived.

A concerned Russ and Michelle look onward as I gobble my Cliff Bar, still pouting, still hating life.

Michelle and I (still eating). I can feel the life source flooding my veins again.

The Downward Spiral: We began pedaling again, in a group. I chatted happily, looking forward to the descents. I was a different person. Slightly embarrassed, I wanted to tell Russ that other girl back there had been my evil twin sister. Boy, having one of those would sure come in handy now! In addition, I had company the entire way back. I certainly wasn't going to break any speed records but my rhythm had returned. I could keep the pedals turning over.

As we soared down the hills, a nasty head and crosswind picked up. I had a death grip on the handlebars, trying to keep the wind from blowing me off the cliff. A deep chill set in as the wind howled. So much for a quick descent. My shoulders locked up from hanging on for dear life. My legs began cramping from not pedaling. Yikes. I was feeling pain in places I didn't even realize existed.

"It's all downhill from here," encouraged a fellow at the turn-around. Luckily by that point, I had become wise to optimistic comments. I had been lied to one too many times. Remembering the few downhill points on the climb up to the top, I was prepared. Because the fact was, there they were--3 more steep hills. I just shut down my mind, maintained my rhythm, and got it done. Mark diligently stayed by my side. At this point, the rest of the group was hurting too. I privately rejoiced. Thank God, I wasn't the only one suffering!
6,000 feet at the highest point. Guess that's 2,000 feet of climbing!

Mark at the top, smiling and in good spirits.

Spectacular view of the Anza Borrego desert below Mt. Laguna.

One Last Nasty Little Bitch:
We all stuck together as we worked our way back. We rode through the busy town of Julian, avoiding cars and pedestrians in the busy street. Horses and carriages trotted up and down the road. Wooden signs hung from store fronts, fashioned like an old Western ranch town. Lines of people waited to be seated at the many coffe shops, breakfast nooks, and eateries. Our stomachs grumbled. It was past lunchtime.

As we wound our way (uphill) back to the winery, excitement rose. I was going to make it. I was going to finish. And there would be apple pie. Apple pie! We turned a corner, and 1 last short, steep hill rose in front of us. The last thing standing between me and apple pie. There was no contest. I attacked the thing with every last ounce I had, standing and huffing and puffing, legs screaming until I reached the top.
"I made it," I cried.
"That was one nasty little pitch," Mark said. I could have sworn he said, "That was one nasty little bitch." Aptly named, if I do say so myself. "Nasty little bitch" is now officially the name of that hill.

We Made It! Bring on the Apple Pie & BBQ Pork Ribs! We rolled into the winery parking lot. Our SUV was one of the last vehicles left. I didn't care. There was still plenty of apple pie left. And a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream. Even in the 40-degree weather, nothing ever tasted so good. Still hungry, we stopped in Julian for some good, ole' fashioned BBQ before heading home. Our waiter asked where we had biked. We told him. He looked at us in wonder. "That's crazy," he said. I grabbed his arm, stared him in the eye and replied, "Yes, yes it was. It was crazy." He walked off in quite a hurry to turn in our order. I had ribs--greasy, fatty, dirty, delicious, succulent pork ribs. Food never tasted so good!

Russ, Michelle, me, and Mark--the aftermath. We all made it!

FYI--Apparently, according to, I burned approximately 3,000 calories on this ride. No wonder I bonked!

Thanks, Mark for all the fabulous pics!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Thanks WSJ!

Two weeks ago (Monday, October 22nd), I was fleeing from the San Diego fires. The sky was black with ash and the ocean was a sickly gray. I had serious doubts about celebrating my 30th birthday that weekend (October 27th) with the Soma half-ironman in Tempe, AZ that I had been training my butt off for 22 weeks. When my thoughts wandered to my "A" race the upcoming weekend, panic would rise in my throat. I had been hoping to have a stellar performance and a PR, and I was cracking under the pressure I had put on myself.

My parents called. I had told them about my blog more than once but, being from a different generation, they had yet to visit. However, they were avid readers of the Wall Street Journal . They proceeded to read a glowing review about my blog from Monday's edition of WSJ in the "Blog Watch" section. No way! Needless to say, I was pretty stoked.

This was one of the best birthday presents I could have ever imagined. It was an omen. I felt as if an older, future version of myself was sending me a message. I was meant to do the race that weekend. I hadn't worked my butt off for nothing! Who cares how well I did? What mattered was that I crossed the finish line and had a good time. Afterall, that's the whole purpose behind why I blog, why I race, and why I bother in the first place. It's all about the experience. The journey. Getting to the finish line and knowing I'm better for it. My performance is just the icing on the cake.

At that moment, I knew I would have a good race, no matter what happened. The universe had opened up and was in my favor. Call me goofy (I'm not all that religious) but that's how I felt! Maybe I should have played the lotto instead, but I used the universe's blessing to have an awesome race. I wasn't disappointed. It was an amazing experience. Here's to many more goals, journeys, amazing experiences, and of course, icing!

Thanks for reading!

(left--running with Alex in 97-degree heat for the 13.1 mile run segment of the Soma half-ironman--and having a blast.)

P.S. I found out today that the Soma swim course was long by 200-300 meters!!! I PR'ed and felt I could have gone another 500 meters! Superfly! Swimming used to be my weakest link. Guess masters swimming really works.

(left--all smiles after my stellar PR swim (1.2 miles+) during the Soma half-ironman)

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Aftermath

After my last race of the season, I've been taking it easy. The heat really took its toll, and I had to wait for my body tell me it felt "normal" again. Monday and Tuesday I suffered from loss of appetite and insomnia, exactly the opposite of what I was supposed to be doing. By Wednesday, I started getting my appetite back again, and now, I can't stop eating and sleeping! I'm steadily bouncing back and feeling more normal. I can't wait to start training again.

November will be unstructured training--my "off" season (just 1 month--that's okay b/c I had early summer off too when I was sick). I'll come out of my hibernation next week and hit the pool, ocean, and canyons for some much-needed mtn biking. This week, I used the down-time as an opportunity to see my doctors--the podiatrist about my foot (some mild peroneal tendonitis, which just needs a little more rest and some orthotics for the future) and my internist about my IBS (exactly how can I stress my body to the limits and not have GI upset, doc?). (Btw, turns out my podiatrist also treats Meb Keflezighi --you know--one of the fastest marathoners in the world! Guess I went to the right place.) I've also scheduled an appt. with a nutritionist who specializes in triathlon and a video-taping swim clinic for triathletes. For running, I think it's time I join the San Diego Track Club. Now that I've made such gains in my limiters, I can focus again on running; since it's my strength, I have the biggest gains to make in this area. And this is what I do to treat myself to some fun!?

I've already been studying Ironman training plans, taking notes, sketching some rough drafts, and signing up for training half-marathons and century rides. I've been researching the Arizona course and know I need wind training on the bike and heat training on the run. December will commence the beginning of Ironman Arizona training. After my drawn-out chronic sinus infection following CA 70.3, I was concerned about how I'd feel after this half-ironman. However, I've been pleasantly surprised at how quickly I seem to be recovering. I have gained some much-needed confidence. Not only that, but I feel mentally fresh and physically strong, something I've never felt at the "end" of the season before. I'm ready. I think this is my reward for being conservative with my racing and training this season. I can't wait to start training again! What's wrong with me?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Soma Half-Ironman Race Report

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

This weekend was a whirlwind. In a nutshell, I had a blast! I trained 24 weeks for my second half-ironman. I chose Soma because it a) was in Tempe and would be good preparation for Ironman Arizona (which will be my first) in April and b) landed on the weekend of my 30th birthday. What better way to celebrate turning 30? I had been nervous and stressed out race week due to the fires and my tweaked ankle, and was worried about the heat wave in Tempe. Once I decided to just concentrate on finishing and having a good experience instead of having a peak performance, I relaxed and began to look forward to race day.

Pre-Race Nerves:
Countless San Diegans (many from Tri Club San Diego TCSD) made the long trek out to Tempe this weekend to race. I had met many of them after organizing a training group to prepare for this race, which was a very rewarding experience since I now have so many new friends! A group of training buddies, Jason and I caravaned out to the desert on Friday. As soon as I had a chance to breathe the fresh air and stretch my legs in Tempe, I felt good. Fresh, alert and energized. I guess the fires from last week had been affecting my health more than I realized.

southern Arizona--a hot, barren desert of emptiness

part of our caravan, on the road to AZ

Saturday, after we had all attended to our Ps and Qs (bike check-in, packet pick-up, athletes' meeting), we went for a dip in the lake. Tempe was experiencing a heat wave, which we were all trying not to think about, and it was a very sweaty, panting, drawn-out ordeal pulling on the wetsuit for a practice swim Saturday afternoon in mid-90-degree desert heat. Although the Tempe Town Lake is dirty, brown and murky, it was a refreshing retreat to jump into the cool, 68-degree water and escape from the sweltering heat for a moment. We swam about 700 meters (with lots of stops to sight and visualize the course) before hopping out. The dip gave me an extra boost of energy and confidence I needed--between my foot and the fires, it was the first workout I'd had all week! Quite the taper.

Afterwards, I discovered Bob Babbitt and his wife standing by my swim bag! Since the Challenged Athlete's Foundation (CAF) Half Ironman in La Jolla had been cancelled that weekend due to the San Diego fires, he had driven to Tempe to do the half ironman (Bob's one of the founders of CAF). In case you don't already know, Bob Babbitt, one of the godfathers of triathlon, is a legend. Today, he is the editor of Competitor magazine and also produces Competitor Radio, interviewing all the triathlon greats of the world (just a few of the things he does). In a nutshell, he's awesome. I love how he just, on a whim, what the hell, decided to race an impromptu half-ironman one weekend, and at age 52 and under extreme heat, still came in under 6 hours! Sheesh! Anyway, I had seen him at many TCSD events but had always been too starry-eyed to say hello. Since he was standing over my bag, I decided this was my chance. I walked over and introduced myself. They were fabulous. I can't believe how nice they were! His wife even recognized me on the run (as she flew by) and gave me a shout out to "the Birthday Girl." How cool is that?

Our group met that evening for dinner at a delicious pizza joint (Oregano's). Someone had tipped the waitress off about my birthday, and she brought me the most delicious warm, melting, enormous chocolate chip cookie loaded with vanilla ice cream after dinner. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday."

part of our dinner group
from left to right: Alex, Michelle, Hoss, me, Boston Bob's wife, Boston Bob, Russ and Jason (front and center)

Michelle, Russ, and Hoss

Alex, Bob's wife, and Boston Bob (who turned 65 on race morning, has run 5 Boston marathons, and beat me in SOMA--he's my hero!)

Earlier that day, I had been eyeing a rockin' transition bag at the expo. My friends had convinced me not to buy it, saying it was cheaper for me to make the purchase at a store in San Diego. I was easily convinced and hadn't given it another thought. After dinner, I found a package with my name on it in the backseat of the SUV. I unwrapped it, discovering the very transition bag I had been drooling over at the expo. All my friends/training buddies had gone in on the bag when I wasn't looking at the expo! I loaded up the bag that night, tucking the card all my friends had signed into the front pocket for good luck. Talk about awesome friends!

I felt nervous but ready. Being surrounded by great friends was invaluable. We all had the same mentality about the upcoming race, and it was relaxing to hang out with this charismatic group. I thought it would make me nervous or disrupt my race plan to hang out with others since I had done most of my previous races solo but it was actually a great comfort. I ate when they ate, slept when they did, and we even made Whole Foods and Walgreens field trips together to purchase our pre-race breakfast and odds and ends transition needs (spray on sunblock, chapstick, flashlight, helium balloons). Not only did it relax me, but hanging out with these guys was super fun. I laughed so hard at our stupid jokes, my insides hurt! Good ab workout!

As expected, I had a hard time getting to sleep that night. My bike was polished and lubed (I had finally gotten all the ash wiped off from the fires), and my new transition bag had been neatly packed. I was ready to go. I played relaxing music from my "meditative" playlist and laid on my back, visualizing each part of my body relaxing. I meditated on the race the following morning, playing out each scene in detail--arriving in transition, laying my necessities out on my towel in order, getting into the water... Towel? Towel? Wait a minute! I hadn't packed a towel! I leaped out of bed and hastily threw a hotel towel into my transition bag. Phew! Guess those visualization techniques really work! Afterwards, I practiced deep breathing and relaxing meditation until I was able to fall asleep--not an easy task. All I had to do was think about all the great friends I had and how much they cared about me, and I relaxed, feeling blanketed in comforting warmth. It was a full moon, on my 30th birthday weekend. I felt like the universe had opened up and was working in my favor, filling me with positive energy. This allowed me to get a solid 5-6 hours of sleep. Not too shabby.

Race Morning:
The wake up call I had ordered at 4:15 am never came. Luckily, Jason woke me up at 4:30. That could have been a disaster. I hastily dressed (tri sports bra and tri shorts (thanks to my handy-dandy new ergonomic bike seat, I can do the whole distance in tri shorts!), fastened my timing chip to my ankle (and safety pinned the velcro strap so it wouldn't come off by accident), and forced breakfast (banana and 3/4 of a Luna bar) down (difficult--anxious stomach due to pre-race nerves). The reserved hotel shuttle promised to us at 5:30 to the race site (a mile away) also fell through at the last minute. (Oh, and also, the hot water heater at the hotel broke Monday morning. A little FYI--the Best Western Inn at Tempe Town Lake stinks! Don't stay there!) This could have been a disaster but Jason was there to save the day. He drove all of us to the race site that morning and dropped us off. Jason was a life saver this weekend. I don't know how we would have gotten through it without him. Thanks, hon!

Transition Prep:
We all marched into the transition area silently, our gear loaded on our backs, the tension thick in the early morning darkness. I felt like we were preparing for battle. We hugged each other and wished us good luck and marched on to our bikes, waiting for us in our designated racks.

I tied my Happy Birthday Sponge Bob Square Pants ("This is the best day ever!") balloon to the transition rack to mark my spot. The balloon put a smile on my face. I laid out my stuff in an organized fashion from front to back. I placed my bike helmet on my aero bars, straps open, ready to go on my head. I put my brand-new cycling Oakley sunglasses (made for small faces; my birthday present to myself) in the helmet. My race belt and number went on top of my helmet. I laid my TCSD bike jersey on my bike seat, pockets loaded with Cliff blocks, a Cliff bar, salt tablets, and a spare tube. My flat kit (another tube, tire levers, and 2 CO2 cartridges) was ready to go, crammed into a tiny bike bag under the seat. I placed my 2 frozen water bottles, containing Carbo Pro (200 cals each) and electrolytes in the bottle cages and open bike shoes (with a liberal layer of baby powder on the insoles; no socks necessary) on the front of the towel. Behind the bike shoes, sat my running shoes (also laden with baby powder), with loosened laces (I don't like Quick Ties for long races) and running socks (necessary) on top. My CA 70.3 visor (with a light, mesh top--perfect for filling with ice) sat on top of my socks and shoes. I also had my TCSD sleeveless racing top ready to go for the run (cooler than the bike jersey), with a packet of Lemon Lime Cliff Blocks (yummy) in the pocket. Behind this, I placed a small cooler. Inside, my fuel belt with 4 bottles containing frozen water, electrolytes, and a pinch of Carbo Pro waited inside, along with 2 industrial ice blocks to keep my bottles cool until the run. I grabbed my wetsuit, cap, goggles and ear plugs and left the transition to make my Port-a-Potty run. Afterwards, I dashed back into transition, minutes before it closed, hastily stuffing a tampon in my running top. Yup. My period had started. When it rains, it pours, I guess.

My first time racing in the 30-34 age group!

I met Jason outside the transition area as he snapped some photos and helped calm me down. I nursed a bottle of Gatorade and tried to down more of the Luna bar to no avail. I stuffed myself into my wetsuit, at which point, I immediately had to go to the bathroom again. Of course. Murphy's Law. Afterwards, I practiced deep breathing to calm my stomach down. I was officially nervous as the first half-ironman waves set off. I kissed Jason goodbye and lined up with my wave.
Note to self--Gatorade makes finicky stomach feel downright icky!

me before the swim, managing a nervous smile.

me and Hoss before the swim

The Swim:
We all jumped into the water minutes before the gun went off. I had planned on getting in a little earlier than that but as the shock of the chilly water flooded my wetsuit, I was glad I had waited. The 68-degrees that had been so refreshing in the heat of the afternoon the day before was now a cruel, electrifying jolt in the cool early morning dawn. I swam a few strokes, checking to make sure my goggles didn't leak. I set my watch and looked ahead. All systems go. Then, the gun went off.

We all started swimming. Knowing I was in the 2nd to last wave and there wouldn't be too many people behind me, I had seeded myself to the inside, which I usually avoid and relinquish to the faster swimmers. Today, I wanted to try and swim a tighter line. The only buoys set up were the ones at the start and turn-arounds (not the promised "tons of buoys every 100 meters"). I was only a little thrown; however, since I've practiced swimming and sighting in the ocean so much. I mentally broke the distance down into 4x500s since there was a big buoy I had to pass at each of these points and I had practiced that exercise in the pool. Breaking it down into pieces helped a lot.

I focused on relaxing and falling into an easy rhythm for the first 500, using it as a warm-up. It as going to be a long day. Now was not the time to rush. Today would be all about pacing. Although the Tempe Town Lake was dirty and murky (I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face), I felt fast and quick since there are 0 waves. I glided easily through the water in my wetsuit. I hadn't swam in my wetsuit since July and had forgotten how much it helped.

I couldn't believe how quickly the first 500 passed. Fell into a nice rhythm for the 2nd 500, counting strokes and switching sides every 10 strokes, sighting as I switched. I zig-zagged slightly every now and then, but nothing too extreme. Still need some work on that. Passed another buoy and decided to pick up the speed a little for my 3rd 500. Occasionally, I bumped into another swimmer; it was so hard to see and difficult to avoid contact! I swam straight into a "floater," lifted my head up, used the opportunity to sight, and swam on. I imagined feeling "power" during the pull of my stroke and felt myself surging through the water. At which point, I bumped into another swimmer. No worries. Swam around, counted a few strokes and fell back into my rhythm.

At the 2nd (and final) turn-around, a got a swift elbow to the back of the head. Ouch! The pain was brief and again, I focused on returning to a rhythm. During the final 500, I noticed my stomach was feeling a bit weird. Jostling around a bit. Stupid pre-race Gatorade. No more of that! I slowed up a bit for the final 500 so my stomach could relax. I had been prepared for complaints from my stomach and was ready to handle it. I knew my stomach was going to be my handicap today. I used it as my body's mainframe feedback system--my stomach was relaying information about how my body was feeling. My stomach had decided to be my body's pace setter.

I reached the end of the swim and knowing it would be difficult to heave myself onto the steep steps leading out of the lake, I stuck my arms straight up, allowing a volunteer to hoist me out of the water. Glanced at my watch. It read--45 minutes. That's 5 minutes better than CA 70.3! A PR for me! I was stoked. My hard work and all the masters classes had paid off. Plus I felt good.

(all smiles after my PR swim)

I peeled the top half of my wetsuit off and trotted over to the strippers, plopping onto my butt to allow them to swiftly peel off the bottom half. I had never used strippers before and had an amused smile on my face as I trotted across the mats towards my bike. The announcer boomed through the loudspeakers, "She's all smiles folks. That's what we like to see."
Russ--running into T1--he doesn't need a stripper!

Hoss--running into T1. Unfortunately, he crashed on the 1st lap, badly injuring his shoulder and wrecking his bike, unable to continue. Poor guy. He stayed on the sidelines the rest of the race, cheering us on with an amazingly positive attitude, his shoulder bandaged with saran wrap and a bag of melted ice water! He's a rock star!

Boston Bob--out of the water and into T1. Happy Birthday, Bob!

me--trotting into T1 after utilizing the strippers (I needed two).

At this point, I realized I was in pretty good spirits. I didn't rush in transition. I felt calm, relaxed and confident. Squeezed into my bike jersey, clipped on my race belt (with the number upside-down, I was to discover later), put on my sunglasses, helmet and shoes, and trotted Torch off to the mounting line. I had to readjust my shoe before I mounted because it was pinching my foot. One spectator kept yelling at me to hurry up: "Let's go! Just get on and go! Don't wait. Just go!" I wanted to tell her to calm down and shut up but chose to ignore her instead. Sometimes, spectators can get a little overexuberant, don't you think? I clipped in and was off.

out of T1, suited up and ready to go on Torch, my sleek race steed.

The Bike:
The bike course was 3 laps around downtown Tempe--very flat and smooth roads. I was coasting at 18 mph on the first lap, even though I felt I was being conservative. I had delusions of grandeur that I could push the pace on each lap (little did I know the wind and heat would begin to undo me). I also got to see many friends and training buddies on the course since it was 3 laps and had several turn-arounds, which was really fun.

Since my stomach was still fussing at me, I popped a Pepcid that I had thoughtfully dropped into my salt tablet baggie. This would prove to be a lifesaver since it would enable me to force down my nutrition later on as the heat rose. The bike lane was very narrow and very crowded since many of the athletes racing the Olympic distance were still riding (on the same course). Since it was my first lap, I took it easy and road cautiously, avoiding the cones and "Keep Right" road signs jutting into our lanes (to keep cars off the bike course). I almost hit one of the signs a few times, veering at the last minute just in time. Several people actually collided with these signs, I later learned, resulting in many injuries, wrecked bikes and DNFs, including my poor friend, Hoss, who is now dealing with a nasty shoulder injury. He actually cheered us on from the sidelines, injury be damned, the entire time, until we all crossed the finish line! Talk about a class act!

As I began my 2nd lap, the heat started to pick up, as did the 20 mph wind, which was a full-on headwind during the eastbound 7-mile strech on Rio Salado. I struggled to keep Torch at 16 mph and focused on keeping an even pedal stroke. "I hate wind. Wind sucks," I thought to myself. Another voice said, "The wind isn't good or bad. It's just there. And you are just here, passing through the wind." Where did this come from? Thank you, Miss Philosophy! The impromptu zen thoughts helped a lot.

On the 3rd lap, I began to struggle a bit. The wind was taking its toll and the heat was steadily rising, sucking the energy from me. A lot of debris had begun to collect in the bike lane and I had to be vigilant as I swerved in and out of fallen water bottles, tubes, CO2 cartridges, and GU packets.

I was also having a hard time getting my calories down. I had drank all the calories in my bottles (400) and had grabbed an extra water bottle from an aid station for hydration so fluid-wise, I was okay. But it had been really hard to get the Blocks down. I had no appetite. It was the heat. I had forced down 2 Blocks each lap, 1 at each end. I swallowed each one like a pill, chewing only minimally. Nothing tasted good. After, I soft-pedaled for a few minutes until my stomach decided to accept it, at which point, my stomach was actually mollified by the food.

Unfortunately, I had a much harder time getting down salt tablets (Thermolyte). I had taken 2, at different points in the race but my stomach had revolted dangerously each time the capsule broke open in my gut. Luckily, my water also had electrolytes so I was okay but I'll definitely have to work on an alternative for Ironman Arizona. All in all, I managed to consume 800 calories, which warded off bonking (since the heat forced a pretty slow pace, I wasn't using up a ton of glycogen). However, let me just say, force-feeding sucks!

By this point, I had given up trying to negative split each lap and instead, focused on keeping an even pace. Even though my 2nd and 3rd lap was slower than my 1st, each lap felt (perceived effort) progressively harder. My mantra for the day was, "Deal with the cards you're given." This really helped. I knew I couldn't control the wind or the heat. I knew both were affecting me (especially the brutal, intense heat, which no one could have anticipated). I knew if I was going to finish, I would have to listen to my body and pace myself.

As I coasted into transition, Alex caught up to me. He was having a bad day and had suffered through not 1, but 2 flats. Relentlessly, he had pushed on, after changing each one (tubulars). He said, "I've accepted I'm not going to PR today. Let's just finish and do the run together." I happily accepted his offer. However, I warned him I would be several minutes since I had a requisite date with the Port-a-Potty. "No problem," he replied. I found him waiting for me outside T2, like an angel. It felt like joining a friend for a training run. He was bummed about his bike ride. I told him the universe was in my favor because it was my birthday, and I needed his support for the run. His bad luck had become my good fortune. He just gave me a weird look. However, despite his misfortune on the bike, Alex had a great attitude.

The Run:

The heat was ridiculous. The high was 96 degrees that day, despite the fact that previous years had been cloudy and low 80s. Plus, we were beginning our run at 11:30 am. Who does that? Despite this obstacle, we fell into a nice rhythm and felt we were running conservatively at 10 min/mile, which under normal circumstances, would have been very conservative. Again, delusions of grandeur like sugarplum fairies, popped into my head, as I thought about doing the 2-loops of the run in a negative-split fashion.

I had been so worried about my foot/ankle but I didn't feel a thing. Alex and I chatted happily under the oppressive heat, blissfully unaware in our flood of endorphins. Other suffering runners on the course clustered around us, eager for our entertaining conversations. We all gave each other words of encouragement, urging each other on, bonding in the face of a common, great enemy, persevering despite the obstacles in front of us.

(still feeling good on the first lap)

The aid stations at each mile were heaven-sent oases, at which point, I could walk, drink ice-cold water, pour water on my head, and dump cups of ice down my sports bra. This allowed Alex and I to cool off a little, resuming our slow but steady pace. The ice in my sports bra rattled; I was Mariachi Girl! The simplest of things were like gold to us--cold water and ice--precious. I told Alex that the ice at the aid station could be a performance enhancing drug.
"I think ice is a real drug actually," he replied.
"No, I mean the ice cubes!"
"I know. But there's also ice. Like crystal meth."
"Oh. Yeah, then we could run until our hearts exploded," I joked.
Another runner commented as we passed by, "You seem to know a lot about the subject," he laughed. The conversations I seem to have on tough runs are very strange.

"We're crazy. Why do we do this to ourselves?" Alex asked me on the first loop.
"Because we can experience things few people in the world get to experience. We challenge ourselves and it seems impossible to reach our goals. Then we reach that goal, and it is so rewarding," I replied, letting Miss Philosophy spew from my head out my mouth. I don't know where this statement came from but internally, I was like, "Yea! That's right!" and it kept me going.

The first loop came and went, and we managed to run all 6.5 miles in a solid, steady rhythm. At the end of the first loop, several TCSD'ers stood by and cheered us on, giving us a much-needed energy boost.

Alex and I completing our 1st lap of the run.

Shortly after, my GI started to seize up and I made a mad dash to the Port-a-Potty. Alex patiently waited at the aid station a few hundred yards away, cooling off with ice and water. I caught up to him and we jogged off again. Our pace was slowing noticeably. My stomach was dangerously upset. I had developed runs on the run. Ha! At this point, I pulled out my little baggie grabbed 1/2 an Immodium from my secret stash and popped it in my mouth.
"Need anything?" I asked Alex.
"No. You're carrying a little pharmacy in there!" he replied. I was lucky. Knowing my stomach had been acting funky but wanting to avoid as much medication as possible, I had planned ahead and packed wisely. Turned out, I had to pull out all the stops for this one. About 10 minutes later, my gut stopped spasming.

Five minutes after that, I started feeling naseous instead. At about mile 7, we were running 11 minute miles. There was no shade. No grass. Not even a cloud. Just cement and waves of heat emanating off the sidewalk. We passed a tall cactus. "We're not a cactus. We shouldn't be out here," Alex commented. I nodded in agreement. The heat was wearing on both of us. The stretch between miles 7 and 9 were the toughest. We fell into an ominous silence, the thick heat pressing in around us like a fog. We were on a death march. I was beginning to feel a bit overly existential.

"How are you feeling?" Alex asked me, bringing me back from the brink.
"I feel nothing," I replied, robotically. I was too tired to feel anything.
"Nothing?" he asked. "Isn't that what psychopaths feel?" I smiled. He had rescued me. I was back in my happy place again, as if a little protective cloud had burst up around me, shielding me from the heat.

A few minutes later, my stomach lurched warningly. I was reminded of that famous Ironman quote, "If you start to feel good during an Ironman, don't worry. You'll get over it." Even though it was a half, I definitely understood this quote during this race.
"I feel pukey," I said.
"Let's walk,"Alex suggested. I didn't argue. It was mile 9. 4 more miles seemed like a lot.
"How's your foot?" he asked.
"It just started hurting a little. Not too bad. Stomach's worse." I replied. The foot was holding up well, in fact. I was more worried about losing the contents of my stomach, which in 96-degree heat, would mean I would pretty much have to shut it down. The last thing I needed was to further dehydrate myself.

As I had anticipated, my stomach was the commanding general, front and center. I had been drinking at each aid station; the cool, icy water was like a magic elixir but it was too hot for my stomach to empty. My skin tasted like a salt lick. I was losing water fast in the dry, desert heat, and all of my blood was in my periphery, working hard to cool me down. There wasn't enough blood left in my gut to absorb the fluid it held, and it was sloshing with each footstep. If I continued running, I would overheat until I dropped, like a dry engine. Walking was like heaven. It felt soooo good. Alex was kind enough to walk with me. I told him to go on, not to let me hold him back, but he refused. We were in this together.

Alex's stomach wasn't feeling so hot either but at least he could burp. I couldn't. Each time he burped, I looked at him with envy. "I'm jealous! I wish I could burp!" I commented. He gave me a weird look. After several minutes of walking, I was able to burp. Alex would burp, then I would burp. It was contagious, like yawning. It was also a wonderful reward, making my tummy feel so much better. I have never looked forward to burping so much in my life. The small things in life that are so easily taken for granted...funny how in a triathlon, modesty and shame go right out the window. Bodily functions take precedence, no one bothers to cover them up, and no one else cares. I could have been naked on that 2nd lap of the run, and I couldn't have cared. Everyone's sweaty, covered in grime, and odiferous and it doesn't matter. It's inconsequential. All that matters is getting to the finish.

About half-a-mile later, Alex coaxed me into a shuffle. Reluctantly, I tried. It worked. Shuffling was much more efficient than walking. We walked-shuffled for awhile. I had no shame, no pride. I would shuffle like an old, crippled woman if that's what it was going to take. My stomach was able to empty, my body cooled off, and we were able to resume running. By mile 10.5 I felt 100% better. I couldn't believe it. It seemed so simple. My body had just needed to cool down! We began running again--slowly--but steadily and rhythmically. It would get us there.

Our strange conversations continued. I guess the endorphin levels were rocketing, buffering us from the extreme conditions. It was surreal. I felt as if I was dreaming. Oddly enough, I was still in good spirits. I knew I was going to finish and that was all that mattered. I never had a doubt. Plus, how could I not be in a good mood with such good company? The camaraderie fueled me forward. At one point, Alex said something about Bilbo Baggins (we were discussing Lord of the Rings) but it almost came out as "Dildo Baggins". I giggled hysterically. My knee buckled, threatening to give out. For some reason, it was really funny. I almost slapped Alex.
"Don't do that!" I exclaimed.
"I'm going to fall down convulsing in seizures if you make me laugh." My body could only do one thing at a time. Apparently laughing and running were mutally exclusive activities.

Feeling the excitement during the final mile, we urged on runners around us as we passed them.
"We have to earn this one! It's not just going to give it to us," I commented. Sensing the end was near, faltering runners, picked up their pace. We tried to as well but the futile adrenaline surging through my veins had nothing left to work with. At least I was running and lucid. We crossed the grass to reach the finishing chute. Our friends, including Hoss, injured shoulder and all, lined the path, cheering us on. I was exuberant. "It's a bit warm today, eh?" I asked them. They all chuckled. I can't believe how good I felt. I could even make jokes!

As Alex and I entered the chute, I felt as if I was in a drunken stupor. "I love you, man!" I told him. We gave each other a big hug as we ran down to the finish line. I crossed the finish and threw my hands up into the air. I had finished. Not only that, but I had raced smart. I felt pretty good. I hadn't bonked, I had energy, and I hadn't needed the medical tent--on a day in which I easily could have ended up in the hospital.

Russ finishing the run, looking strong (Michelle finished before him but she was too fast for the camera!).

Alex and I, picking up the pace for the final 100 meters to the finish.

When I got back to San Diego, I e-mailed TCSD to thank everyone for their support in Tempe. Bob Babbitt e-mailed me back:

It was awesome see all of you guys and gals in AZ for the Sufferfest……Always nice to work on my tan with friends……..


How cool is that? I will be saving this e-mail! It was one of the best birthdays ever!

"There's no thrill in easy sailing ... but there IS satisfaction that's mighty sweet to take, when you reach a destination that you thought you'd never make."

Results (but who's counting?):
Total Time: 06:48:04 (Too hot for a PR that day. Hey, at least I was under 7!)
Swim: 46:02 (a HIM swim PR--yipee!)
T1: 3:15
Bike: 3:11:24 (17.6 mph; a HIM bike PR--yipee again!)
T2: 3:17
Run: 2:44:07 (12:32 min/mi; I've never run that slowly in my life! a new record! Clearly, this was a death march.)

Random Race Tips I Learned from Soma (for everday mortals):
1. Surround yourself with friends that make you feel good about yourself (applies to times outside of racing too). Distance yourself from those who make you feel anxious.
2. Use visualization techniques in detail to picture race day from start to finish, exactly as you want it to go. Focus on feeling positive and surrounding yourself with positive energy. Use relaxation techniques when you get nervous (deep breathing, meditation).
3. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking. Use a mantra, if that helps. Mine for this race was "Race with the cards your dealt with."
4. Have a backup goal. I wanted to PR but knew this wouldn't be possible in the heat. My backup goal was to finish and have a good time. I aced that goal!
5. Be prepared. Carrying odds and ends like Pepcid, spare tubes, spray-on sunblock, and chapstick can be godsends. It's a long day, and it's not going to be easy. Every little aid can help. A lot.
6. Don't beat yourself up when the going gets tough. Expect that it will be tough. Do allow yourself to be energized when friends and strangers cheer you on from the sidelines (or from other athletes on the course).
7. Break the race into pieces. It makes it digestible. A 2000 meter swim is 4x500. I focused on each lap of the 3-lap, 56-mile bike course. I focused on each mile of the run--getting to each aid station.
8. Race smart. Listen to your body. If I had pushed too hard, I would have never finished in that heat. Focus on pacing yourself, no matter how slowly. Every foot forward is one foot closer to the finish line.

Transition Odds & Ends:
(besides the obvious, e.g.--towel, bike, helmet, sunglasses, bike shoes, running shoes, race belt, water bottles; these other things come in handy!)
1. Visor--really helps keep the sun off. Use one with a light, mesh top--you can put ice inside, which will actually keep you cooler (I know, counterintutive).
2. Baby powder--liberally to bike shoes and running shoes/socks to help ward off blisters.
3. Scissors--comes in handy if they forget to undo the zip ties holding your bike on the rack; also helpful for trimming race numbers down to size.
4. Electrical tape and zip ties--strap stuff to your bike; resecure the wire of your bike computer; many uses.
5. Permanent black magic marker--in case your number smears after applying sunblock; or skip the body marking, save time, and do it yourself!
6. Helium balloon--to mark your spot with; makes finding your bike a cinch; also puts a smile on your face if you choose a fun one.
7. Cooler with industrial ice packs--keep your running bottles cool; it's going to be a long day; no fun with warm water bottles!
8. Screwdriver and Hex wrenches--in case something loosens up on your bike before you start; remember to check the cleats on your bike shoes.
9. Tummy meds--if you have a sensitive stomach like I do, some Pepcid, Tums, or Immodium can mean the difference between a fun race and a miserable DNF.
10. Spray-on, sweat-proof, water-proof sunblock. Use it. T1 and T2. Get a little one and stick it in your pocket. It will save you and prevent you from further dehydration.