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?