Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Are Triathlons Deadly?

Ironic that only 24 hours after I posted "Is Too Much Exercise Bad For You?" that the Associated Press came out with an article "Triathlons Pose Deadly Heart Risks" . The media is swarming all over some recently released research studies, warning that triathlons cause a higher risk of a fatal heart attack than marathons. Obviously, this warrants a closer look.

First, the studies found that newbies (aka weekend warriors) were more at risk. This makes sense. Your body isn't used to the demands of your new training program. That's why doctors always recommend getting checked out before starting new exercise. Exercise is only good for the heart after several months of consistent, frequent training because it strengthens the heart. The heart is a muscle--aerobic exercise is like weight lifting for the heart. But just like doing bicep curls, you have to break down the muscle a little first before it builds back up and gets stronger. So to make your heart stronger, you have to stress it. Meaning that if you're new to triathlon or working out, and you have an underlying heart problem that hasn't given you symptoms yet because you've been a sedentary couch potato, and you suddenly start running 10 miles, the chance of your heart going "WTF?" and conking out is much higher.

Secondly, probelms usually occur at the very beginning of the triathlon, in the water. The shock of cold water constricts blood vessels, stressing the heart, not to mention all the adrenaline from the thrill right before the start of a race, causing the heart rate to skyrocket.

Finally, on a blog post by Dr. John Martinez at Coastal Wellness, he takes a closer look at the study:
"Do Triathletes Have a Higher Risk of Heart Attacks?"/

First, note that it's a "retrospective" study, meaning that the researchers tried to make sense of an occurrence after it's happened (usually not very meaningful on it's own but can lead to the design of future, better studies with hypothesis-driven questions).

Second, the study looked at "all deaths" not just cardiac-involved ones. Of the 14 deaths included, 1 occurred due to a bike accident, and autopsies were only performed on 6 of the others. Of these 6, 4 showed signs of underlying heart disease. Since I study heart disease, I wonder how many of these patients with heart disease were age-related. I highly doubt triathlon caused the heart disease. As a matter of fact, triathlon (or any exercise) can delay or reverse the damage caused by heart disease (usually caused by sedentary lifestyle and poor diet resulting in high blood pressure, triglyceride and cholesterol). Second, there is no evidence the deaths occurred because of heart problems (heart disease can be asymptomatic for a long time).

Dr. Martinez says,
"However, the reality is that these individuals that did have cardiac events during the triathlon probably had significant cardiac disease despite their triathlon lifestyle..."
--and I have to concur.

Here's a great article
that looks at the cause of cardiac-related deaths during exercise:
"Exercise-associated acute cardiac events generally occur in individuals with structural cardiac disease."

Here's another article
taking a look at the risk/benefits of marathon training:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Forced Taper, Chasing Phantoms, Soccer Lessons, and a Trip to the Flower Fields

CA 70.3 is next weekend. I did this race 2 years ago. It was my first half. To say I was scared shitless is the understatement of the year (until I did my first IM). This year, I'm so focused on IM Canada, I wasn't even planning on tapering for California. Afterall, CA 70.3 is a tune-up race for me this year, a training day, an indicator of whether I'm on track or not for Canada. I really am not thinking about it as a race. I didn't want to take 2 weeks of taper and a 3rd recovery week for this race. I was stubborn. Too much time off! To compromise, the plan was to take 1 week taper (race week) and then 1/2 a week off afterwards.

Only problem is, my recovery weeks have been nil lately (see "Training Data" in sidebar). I haven't taken them because I didn't feel like I needed them. I wasn't tired. I guess the season is too early still for my body to have a lot of fatigue but I've been silly in protecting myself against late-season fatigue by skipping R&R weeks. I spent about 10 weeks at the beginning of the season in "Prep" phase, just getting my body used to consistent triathlon training after a 2-month hiatus (or "Off Season" if I don't want to feel guilty). Then, after 2 mild colds, I started feeling g-r-e-a-t and bumped the training up to 10 hours a week. After 4 weeks, I simply bumped up again to 15 hours a week. Still feeling great? Actually, yes, thank you. Tapering for CA 70.3? Of course not, don't be ridiculous.

So when Brent started tapering last week, I pooh-poohed him and went to master's swim. But, gosh, my stomach didn't feel so hot. I kept having to stop and rest in the pool because of very uncomfortable gastro-intestinal discomfort that I won't get into. Thinking it was an IBS flare-up, I started popping antacids. 2-days later, the stomach pain had gotten worse...and worse...and worse. I felt like I had swallowed a balloon and someone kept pumping air into it. I got no relief from Pepcid, Zantac, Tums, Immodium, GasX, BeanO, Tigan, Bentyl, and some heavier Rx drugs. Instead, I spent my evenings curled up in a ball with a heating pad and whimpering. Work outs? Nil. I was pretty pissed off. Thursday evening, the pain started to subside. I began to hear about friends and coworkers suffering from the same symptoms. Yup. It was a stomach bug. So, basically, my body forced me into a taper. CA 70.3 next week? It's a race, baby. It's on! I'm in full taper now.

Friday, feeling better, I tried a 4-mile run. I had a terrible side-stitch the whole way, a painful reminder of my GI bug but if I kept the pace at 9:30s, I felt okay. We finished up the evening with a delightful 1-mile Cove swim. Brent didn't have to wait for me at all like last week. Guess the swim clinic paid off! Plus, I wasn't at all sore afterwards! Could it be possible? You can swim faster without more effort? Who would've thought?

Saturday, I decided to try a new bike group training for Wildflower. I opted for the "Olympic" training ride. A short (26-mile) but hilly ride would be a perfect taper ride--short but intense and simulating race day. I rode to the start (only 3 miles away), hammering because I was running late (like always). I reached the parking lot exactly at 8, when the group was supposed to depart. I was hoping to make it since I had told the ride organizer I would be joining them. Plus, my ride to the start was the reverse of the actual ride so I figured I would see them.

Just as I arrived, I saw a group of about 15 cyclists toiling up Black Mountain Rd. Dammit! Hopeful, I pedaled into the parking lot anyway but didn't see any stragglers (the parking lot was HUGE). I noticed a parking lot in the distance towards the back but decided to turn around and catch the group I had seen. That must have been them, I figured. Besides, if it wasn't, they'll catch me. I'm not that fast. So I turned around and started hammering. It was hard, getting up Black Mountain all-out. My stomach made some nasty lurches, reminding me that it wasn't 100% yet.

I hit the 56-bike path and started really hammering. I knew this route like the back of my hand. Afterall, it was in my backyard. I reached the coast in record time. Still no sign of them. Where could they be? I can't believe they left early! I told him I was coming! How rude! I ranted internally. I guess rage riding is becoming a nasty habit. I spotted a guy with a Solvang jersey, and we started a conversation. I tried to hide how out of breath I was as I gasped out broken sentences up another hill. He wasn't out of breath at all. We rode together for about 7 miles. Later, I met his girlfriend, who joined as at Del Mar Starbucks. Funny how even when you're riding solo, you're never really alone. I began to relax a little.

I broke off at Via de la Valle and waved goodbye to my new friends. I began hammering again. When I turned onto El Camino Real, any last remnant of hope that I would catch the group dissipated out of me. This was the point where the long ride broke off from the short ride. I swallowed, resolved to finish the ride I had set out to do. It would be great training. Afterall, you have to ride alone on race day.

I hit San Dieguito and began the long climb up to El Camino del Sur. I had always wanted to climb up this hill. I had zipped down it many a time but never the reverse. Plus, riding in Rancho Santa Fe is always delightful. The street was lined with leafy green trees offering large refreshing patches of shade. Lush patches of colorful flowers dotted the landscape. The honey smell of jasmine hung so thickly in the air that I could taste the sweet aroma on my tongue. I reached the top and began pedaling north towards Rancho Bernardo. The trees disappeared, the street widened and fast-moving traffic increased. I suddenly realized I was hot. I was also cranky. Glancing down at my computer, I realized I had already gone 26 miles. The entire ride was supposed to be 26 miles and I still had a long way left to go. I was pissed. LIAR! I was lied to!

The hills kept coming at me, one after another. The bike lane disappeared, road construction began, and the traffic became more dangerous. I suddenly realized I hadn't been eating (because of my stomach). I ripped open a package of strawberry Cliff Blocks and downed 4 of them. Ahhh. That's better. I finally turned onto Bernardo Center Dr. The hills kept coming. I was worried because I had never ridden this section before, and on GMaps, it looked like the road dead-ended. Although I was climbing a lot, I was also descending a lot. I was not going to be a happy camper if I had to turn around and retreat back UP all the hills I had come DOWN, undoing all my hard work and progress. All of a sudden, I was at Black Mountain Park, where I had run the Xterra Trail Race the weekend before. I had a serious case of deja vu, or more like, I-don't-know-how-the-hell-I-got-here-and-I-don't-think-I-could-get-here-again-if-I-tried-but-I'm-sure-glad-as-hell-to-be-here-now feeling.

I zipped down Black Mountain Road back to the bike path. My entire ride ended up being 41 miles. I got great practice for race day, that's for sure! Plus, I had to battle my mental demons a bit, something that always makes me stronger. Later, I e-mailed the ride coordinator to figure out what had happened. The large group of cyclists at the beginning? Wrong group. My group hadn't even left yet. I had been chasing phantoms the entire time. I guess I'm faster than I thought because no one caught me from behind (I had pretty big lead).

Saturday's Bike Route

Alec got to learn some mental toughness this weekend too. At his soccer practice on Sunday, he was playing really well until the other team scored. He sort of fell apart after that and stopped trying. When the other team scored again, he walked off the field in tears. We convinced him to give it one more shot. "Alec, it's not about winning. You're doing a great job. Don't give up! You're team needs you!" we encouraged him. He got back onto the field, and the coach let him kick the ball in from out-of-bounds. I guess he was kind of pissed at himself because he ran at the ball and gave it a huge, powerful, angry kick. It flew through the air and miraculously landed squarely in the net, about 20 yards away, resulting in a goal for his team! We gave him a HUGE amount of praise. "See Alec? You wouldn't have gotten that goal if you had quit. When the other team scores, you just have to try harder." I was so glad we had that opportunity to teach him that believing in yourself goes a lot farther than natural ability.

Take home message?
Never give up! Because you are AMAZING! Kids teach us a lot, huh?

Alec playing soccer.

Afterwards, we went to the in Carlsbad Flower Fields, home of the Ranunculus flower (Persian Buttercup). They were gorgeous and actually pretty fun.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Is Too Much Exercise Bad For You?

My sister writes for Scientific Blogging and wrote this post back in November but it's too intriguing not to respond:

She writes,

"There are a few things that are a given when it comes to understanding the human body. Long periods of stress are bad. We all know this. Stress from relationships, work or other causes are bad for us. We get less sleep, eat worse and we get sick more often. We also know that exercise is good for us. This is also a given.When we exercise, our hearts get stronger, our muscles get more efficient, our metabolism is balanced and we protect ourselves from complications like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. But these two assumptions are contradictory. When we imagine chronic stress it is always psychological stress, but that is not the only kind. Physical stress also triggers release of corticosteroids (our family of stress reducing hormones). Therefore, can exercise actually impair our immune function?

The answer is not just a simple yes or no, and requires some careful evaluations. The immune system is made up of many types of cells and supporting systems, all which have complex relationships to other signals, such as hormones acting within the body. Research tells us that regular moderate exercise is not only good for our muscles and hearts, but also for our immune systems. But can you have too much of a good thing and exercise to the point of immune suppression?

My sister is one of the most athletic people that I have ever met. She rejoices at a chance to do a “century ride” where she and a group of other likewise insane people take their bikes on Amtrak up to around Irvine, California and bike 100 miles back down to San Diego, CA. As someone who regards exercise as a necessary evil, it gets kind of irritating when she tries to get me to go on a “ short run” with her at 8:00 AM during Christmas vacation. To date, she has completed an Iron Man, a half Iron Man, a full marathon and countless other races, rides, swims and other combinations of the three.

Taking to heart the research on exercise (of which she does plenty), you would think that she would have the immune system of a brick wall, that nothing could possible make her sick. However, this is not the case, and more often than not, she is afflicted with some illness or another. Most noticeable is that she gets sick after a period of intense training. After completing her Iron Man, she immediately got sick and took weeks to recover.

It is more and more likely, that she is not an isolated case, and demonstrates a clearer picture of the relationship between exercise, stress and immune system function. In a study, published in the August issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 1995, Dr. J. Duncan MacDougall and colleagues at McMaster University in Ontario investigated this same phenomenon. They examine the effects of exercise training on the immune systems of long distances runners and uncovered some interesting results.

His study looked at immune system functions in response to increased training volume and/or intensity as separate variables as well as both immediate (acute) and long-term (chronic) stressors of the body. Results showed reductions in the ratio of immune helper cells to immune suppressor cells in both the increase of volume and intensity of exercise. This ratio is indicative of normal immune function, and its decreases shows a likewise depression of immune function. This means an increased risk of infection and illness due to immune suppression.

The study also found that increasing the intensity of the training suppressed immune function more than increasing the volume of exercise training. Another study, published in this month’s issue of Brain, Behavior and Immunity, lead by researchers at University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health showed that stress from exercise causes an increased risk for developing upper respiratory tract infections, while moderate exercise, causing less stress on the body, decreases the risk of developing such infections.

Their results demonstrate that stress from exercise caused increased vulnerability to infections from HSV-1 viral respiratory infections as well as from certain strains influenza viruses. However, even though significantly suppressed, the immune system showed a rapid adaption to the increased training. MacDougall also found that the immune systems of his patients were modulated and adapted to the added stressors during the rest of the 10 day training period. Immune systems were shown to recover back to normal rates by the next day following a workout. This suggests that you are most susceptible to contracting an illness due to incomplete immune protection in the hours following a hard workout, but that your immune system will recover quickly to the added stress. But what about long term exercise? Can our immune systems recover as quickly after a marathon or a 14 hour Iron Man? According to a study done by David Neiman, PhD. and colleagues at Loma Linda University, some elements of our immune system may take longer to recover.

Examining 2,000 runners after completion of the Los Angeles marathon demonstrated that immune systems may be suppressed enough to significantly increase our chances of contracting infections and developing illnesses. The study found that 13% of the runners who participated in the marathon developed an illness in the following week. The combination of increased volume and intensity of the exercise left an significant impact on the participants and as a result, many of them contracted infections as a consequence of impaired immune function.Neiman suggests that over-exercising, which is 90-plus minutes/day or running upwards of 60 miles/week can increase vulnerability to illness. His study shows that marathon runners are six times more likely to become ill after a race due to excessive exercise impairing their natural immune function.

So what does this all mean? Exercise is not only good for us, but is absolutely essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle. For those of us that wish to get in shape, moderate daily exercise will give the most benefit and cause us the least amount of cost. Since the increase of volume or intensity will suppress immune function the most, aim for gradual increases in exercise training and your immune system will adapt quickly enough to avoid most illnesses.As for those budding or seasoned marathon runners and triathletes, intense exercise training is part of your lifestyle, so paying attention to other aspects of life which can cause illness are key. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy and avoiding other forms of stress can bypass other avenues of contracting sickness. Allowing enough time for recovery and care in avoiding injury are also essential to continue a strenuous exercise regimen. Like a double edged sword, exercise can be our greatest protection against a host of illnesses and infections, but if over-done, we can leave ourselves defenseless from invaders normally caught by our immune systems. So get out there and work up a sweat and feel the burn, just don't overdo it."

For more detail, go to:

My Response:
Since I am used as an example in this post, I would like to clarify a few things. First, I was not deathly ill after my Ironman as implicated, just tired, which is to be expected. In fact, I flew thousands of miles the very next day to give a talk at a national meeting for my job, which would have been impossible if I had been very sick. Also, the record-high heats (97+ degrees) I experienced during my Ironman was a contributing factor to my fatigue, separate to the high volume of exercise demanded of my body.

Yes, it is true that the immune system is depressed for 72 hours after a long endurance event, such as a marathon or Ironman. Many athletes suffer a minor cold (note—minor) after undertaking such a feat. However, it is important to note that most of the effects experienced from this dampening of the immune system are mild and reversible. Even athletes suffering from overtraining do not exhibit symptoms similar to patients afflicted with an immunosuppressive disease, such as AIDS.

Second, although long-lasting, negative effects to the immune system can occur in endurance athletes over time (called overtraining), resulting in injury, illness, and chronic fatigue, precautions are taken to avoid this from happening. For instance, a “recovery week” is taken every 3rd or 4th week of training for a long endurance event, where the athlete drastically reduces his training volume to allow for rest, repair, and rejuvenation, thus allowing the immune system to recover. In addition, most athletes take a 1-2 month “off-season” after their final big race of the year to fully recover before starting a new season.

Finally, an amateur athlete undertaking a marathon or Ironman for the first time is much more susceptible to negative effects on the body and immune system than an experience pro-athlete because their body has not yet had a chance to adapt to the high volume of training necessary to prepare for such an event. Over time (years), the body slowly adapts and becomes stronger, enabling it to withstand high volumes without negative effects. In fact, Dean Karnazes, famous ultrarunner, can run a marathon every day without negatively impacting his body. Surprisingly low amounts of inflammatory markers were observed in his plasma while running 50-50-50 (50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days) (http://www.sheboyganpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081024/SHE02/810240726&template=printart). I would be very interested in the results of a study that investigated the effects of a marathon on a group of professionals, as opposed to age-groupers running a marathon for the first time.

It is also important to note that many factors can contribute to suppressing the immune system, and that these factors become critical in restoring the body during periods of high exercise volume. For instance, proper nutrition and adequate sleep are key in allowing the body to recover from heavy training. Although too much exercise can suppress your immune system, there are a myriad of studies that show the serious adverse health effects from not exercising enough. In fact, I would argue that not enough exercise is probably worse than too much. My overall point is that, yes, exercising too much can hurt you but, done properly, your body can adapt, and you can prepare and train for a long endurance event, like an Ironman, without hurting yourself. In fact, you may actually enjoy a wide range of positive health benefits instead.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

15K Xterra Black Mountain Trail Run

On Sunday, I woke up at 5:30, surprisingly refreshed and excited about the Xterra trail race . Black Mountain Park was just down the street from where we live; however, it was a well-hidden secret. I couldn't wait to discover some new trails in my own backyard.

I showed up early, got a good parking space and waited in line to pick up my registration. I joked with the other runners, "We all are standing in line here and then we're all going to stand in line by the Port-a-Potties." Another runner kindly offered to hold my spot so I could go to the bathroom.
"Oh, no," I gently refused. "I always have to go 2 miles into the race so I'm going to run 3 miles and then go." She started laughing. Glancing at my face, she quickly stopped.
"Oh. You're serious?" she asked
"Yeah. I'm supposed to run 12 today," I said sheepishly. Funny. Is it a bad sign when we're embarrassed to admit exactly how high our training volume is? Additionally, supposed to is from my training plan generated by my "coach" aka ME.
I started my GPS and gently warmed up with a casual 3 miles. My running buddies from my regular Sunday group, standing in line for the bathroom, of course, refused to join me but they cheered me on as I passed nonetheless. I had just enough time to do my 3 miles, shed my warm up clothes, stand in line for the bathroom, do my business (in one with no toilet paper--argh), and trot to the start line before the gun went off. Perfect! I was nice and loose and warmed up.

I fell into my rhythm instantly since I'd been running for the past 30 minutes anyway. The trail was even and well-packed. I couldn't wait. It had been advertised as "flat and fast". Later I would discover that the race organizers were big, fat LIARS! 1/2 mile into the run, a sharp right funnelling onto a single-track trail forced us all to an agonizingly slow walk. We walked down the first hill.
"Awwww," I whined.
"You like the downhills, huh?" a very fit, very fast-looking guy in front said.
"Yeah, but not the ups," I confessed. The crowd thinned out, and we all started hitting it. I somehow had gotten caught in a very fast pack. Not too keen on letting them discover that my legs can't run as fast as my mouth, I sprinted with them, letting them carry me along. We hit the first hill, and I redlined up the entire thing, panting for breath at the top. Unfortunately, my efforts, though valiant, weren't enough to overcome my lack of speed, and the cheetahs left me in the dust. The very hill I had been praying for to thin out the crowds had weeded me out as well. Next time, next time...

Then the downhills began. I allowed myself to recover briefly before taking off. Downhills are my specialty. Right? I sprinted down, dancing from side to side to break up the sharp incline, pounding on my quads. My ego refused to let me back off. I reasoned that I will either hurt myself or get better at trail running. Survival of the fittest, right? Miraculously, I made it safely to the bottom of each hill before struggling to climb up the next one. I refused to let myself walk, gasping and wheezing up each one. Wasn't this supposed to be a flat course?

A flat section appeared about mile 4-6 and wound through a very nice residential section. I avoided the deep rivets created by heavy horse hooves in wet mud. When the barn appeared, I breathed in deeply, relishing in the pleasant aroma. The horses stared at us in bewilderment, ears erect, muscles tense, alert and ready to flee. What are those silly humans running from? I think they expected to see a giant mountain lion closing in on our heels.

I tried to pass a woman in front of me but was closed in on both sides by other runners. She shrieked suddenly as she leapt over a giant hole in the ground. I didn't have time to react. I tried to leap over it in mid-air but my ankle twisted sharply on impact. My ankle, which was already not happy from several close calls when sprinting down steep hills, screamed out in pain. I limped for a few steps, and, thankfully, the pain subsided. I would have to watch my step more carefully. My ankle was now one mistep away from a bad sprain. Still, I had to concentrate on making sure my feet landed solidly under me to avoid the sharp, stabbing ache in my left foot when I forgot. As the run continued, and the endorphins flowed thick in my blood, the pain subsided. However, a nagging tug in the back of my head made me worry about what my next run would be like.

We reached the aid station at mile 6. The park ranger directed us safely across a street with fast-moving cars. "Come and get it!" he beckoned. "We have water, Gatorade, and a dead rattler at mile 7.4." For some reason, I thought he said, "We have Dead Metal Tickets at mile 7.4." I laughed at him and he looked at me in all seriousness and said, "No really. There's a rattler at mile 7.4. But it's dead." This gave me something to look forward to. I proceeded on, curious to find the dead rattler. Sure enough, at mile 7.4, a 4-foot long rattler appeared. I was thankful he had told me it was dead because instinct told me to stop in my tracks. Still, I proceeded cautiously, not running over it until I was sure it was safe (it's head had been bashed in; it was definitely dead).

Now, I was getting excited. We were close to the end. In true Xterra form, a creek appeared in the middle of our path. I tried to daintily leap over it, landing solidly in the center of the stream on my left foot. Oh, well. At least I was close to the end. My footsteps sounded heavy and uneven now. Thud, squelch, thud, squelch, thud, squelch. How embarrassing. I began to notice a burning on my inner thighs. No, not that kind of burning--like ouch, pain burning. C'mon! It began to spread like fire. What on earth was that? Could it be....chafing? I have never, ever, in my life chafed before. All I know was that it H.U.R.T.! I guess I'm getting fat. I used all my efforts to ignore it but I knew Monday would not be fun. Guess I need Body Glide next time for my fat thighs.

The last, final hill appeared. At this point, I had figured out that it was faster and more efficient to power walk up the steepest inclines and then begin running as soon as the % grade began to drop. It allowed me to maintain the most even speed without requiring as much recovery time at the top. However, I had still been sprinting recklessly down every hill. My quads, hams and calves were toast but so were everyone else's. I glanced at my watch. 9.5 Where the hell was the finish line? Isn't a 15K 9.3? I would later find out the race was actually 9.8 miles. I sure as hell wish I had known that going in. For me, knowledge is power when racing; I rely heavily on visualization. The last 1/3 mile took forever. The trail continued rising up, up, up. I could see the baseball fields where we had started in the distance, way over my head. How was I going to make it up there? A voice in my head started egging me on, Okay, this is it--Last Chance Workout. After this, you can nap. You can take Monday off. Final push. It worked. I pumped my arms and forced myself to keep running. No more power walking.

Running up the final hill at the Black Mountain Trail Race. It was so beautiful. I'm the little red dot coming up the trail.

Still running but I wanted to walk!

Just when I thought I couldn't take it anymore, I saw Brent and Alec at the top of the hill. They were cheering me on, "Go, Rachel! You can do it!" Damn it! I wanted to walk soooo badly. I just couldn't run another step. But I couldn't walk with them watching and cheering me on! I somehow forced myself to keep running. At the top, Alec joined me for the final 1K to the finish line. He kept urging me on, "Go, Rachel! Good job!" as he ran beside me. All I could do is wheeze in response. "Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah," I gasped. "Almost there." He was very cute but I wish he would have stopped running right in front of me! I was too tired to stop and too close to the finish to slow down; I came dangerously close to falling on top of him in a heap several times.

Alec cheering me on at the finish.

Hey! Watch out, kid! I ain't stopping!

I crossed the finish line and caught my breath. I was 10 minutes faster than the last (hillier) trail race even though it was a mile longer! And, I ran 12.8 (note 0.8 bonus miles) instead of 12 total miles for my long run! Whoo-hoo! I was pretty stoked. Alec participated in the 1K kids scramble a few minutes later (which he had just run with me across the chute). Plus, he had just come from a tri club, kid's duathlon. He got his exercise in for the day! And a medal, which made him happy.

Alec on his bike at the duathlon (he's getting a new one for his B-day in May).

Alec running at his kid's duathlon.

Alec proudly displaying his medal from the Xterra kid's scramble and race number from the kid's duathlon.

I went home to stretch and gingerly lowered myself into my ice bath. My ankle (thank God) is fine. My plantar fascitis on my right foot is a little annoyed but is still on the mend. Yes, I'm having a hard time walking down the stairs today, and my quads, calves, hip flexors and IT bands are really mad at me. No, I'm not going to stop recklessly sprinting down hills, especially on trails. Sorry. The worst injury I sustained was the chafing on my inner thighs. The skin has been scraped off on an area about the size of a Hallmark card. It hurt so bad on Monday, I couldn't put on pants without some creative bandages (band-aids were no good--the wounds were too big). A little Neosporin, some gauze, and athletic tape has been doing wonders.

Not for the faint of heart. Extreme chafing as seen the next day on my inner thigh. Yes, it hurts as bad as it looks.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Underwater Stroke Analysis

I've always wanted to do a swim clinic with underwater videotaping but didn't want to spend the moolah. Nor did I want to go to a different coach 1x and then return to my master's program without a good plan for reinforcing what I learned.

UCSD masters offered this exact swim clinic at a greatly reduced price for members. It was an answer to my dreams. I got 2 hours with Sickie. There were 6 people total in the class. We swam, were videotaped, met for our analysis, got back in the pool and worked on drills, were videotaped again, and then met a 2nd time to go over what to work on at home. I was pooped in the end (didn't want to go ride 50 miles, but I did) but very satisfied.

Here's a clip of my stroke (before working on it). Apparently, my body position is good but I enter too early/steep. My left arm is also wide (I think I enter too narrow and then go wide to compensate--can't see in this video but can from the top). Finally, my pull is too wide as well (my hand should be right under my shoulder). Explains why my left shoulder has been aching a bit! I'm excited to work on my stroke!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ironman Canada Training Plan

*Swim, bike and run distances are longest (key) workouts of the week (total distances are not shown here).

And so it has begun....

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ironman St. George Utah 2010!

May 1st, 2010
Yes, I'm signed up.
Are you?
(I'm going to try and get into the St. George Marathon on October 3rd, 2009 as well.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Solvang Century 2009

After dating for a few months, Brent and I rode the Solvang Century last year. Needless to say, I was a little freaked out when the very next day, Brent made reservations at a hotel in Solvang for the following year. I didn't know what I was going to be doing tomorrow, let alone a year from now. He reassured me, "Don't worry. We can always cancel." One year later, Brent and I returned for a second time. And I'm SO glad we did.

Solvang--a small Danish town nestled in wine country in the Santa Ynez family (made famous in Sideways). Nothing says Solvang like their historic windmills!

Friday night, a small group of us met for dinner. I had the sea bass, a glass of wine and the molten lava chocolate cake. Mmmmm.

Brent, me, Mark, and Michelle at dinner on Friday night.

Saturday, we somehow got out of bed before the sun rose and slipped into our winter biking wear. I convinced Brent to put on the leg warmers; it was in the 40s outside. He stepped outside after breakfast to sample the cold. "It's a bit chilly," he agreed. "It's cold as shit!" I responded. Overhearing my exclamation, a few cyclists chuckled. We headed out, trying not to freeze. I was grateful for the full-fingered gloves, the jacket, arm warmers, headband, and everything else I had on (I'm from SoCal; I'm a wimp, ok?). I had figured it would warm up when the sun appeared; however, the sun decided not to perform that day. I was actually a bit relieved; I didn't have to shed my many layers and stuff them into my jersey, causing a big, nerdy bulge like a hemorrhoid on my back for the rest of the ride.

At the start: back (L to R) Mike and Mark; front (L to R) Brent, me, Solene, Michelle, Steve

We started off, bracing ourselves against the chill of the wind generated by a 5-mile downhill, difficult to deal with at the onset in the morning fog before even warming up. I nervously tried to ride single-file as myriads of cyclists overtook the road, reminscent of a much kinder Critical Mass . We obediently stopped in large packs at each stoplight. As the light turned green, the sound of hundreds of feet clipping in echoed like popcorn popping. I stopped after turning left at a light to regroup, immediately getting chain grease on my calf. Great. Now I have the mark of bike dork and it's only mile 7, I thought to myself. "Sexy! You should get a tattoo of that," Brent commented. Other cyclists had similar, annoying comments throughout the ride as they whizzed by. Ha ha. Very funny.

Then the bike crashes started. I guess they come in waves. It was early into the ride, before the first rest stop. First, an older gentleman, not paying close attention, crossed wheels with the cyclist in front of him and went down. Luckily, it was on the shoulder, and we had just taken off after a light so our speed was very low. Then, someone's bottle flew out of the back, hitting a guy behind her, and he went down. Feeling terrible, she immediately stopped to see if he was okay. Oops. Then, all of a sudden, as a cyclist slowed to a stop at a stoplight, he did a head-over-heels flip on a very nice, new-looking Cervelo, landing, somehow unscathed (both bike and rider) on his back. Stunned and ashamed, he pulled over to the side to give his bike a once-over. We all looked at him in astonishment. As one girl passed, she called out to him, "Why did you do that?" We all chuckled to ourselves. Maybe he was practicing for his next BMX race.

Only 2 miles down the road, packs of hard-core roadies with very muscular, chiseled calves started whizzing by, so close that they brushed me as they passed. Zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom! Since they were coming from behind, I couldn't see them or react until they had passed. It made me very nervous. I'm a fairly confident rider and can hold a steady line but usually give riders I am not familiar with a wide berth. Afterall, just because I can hold a steady line doesn't mean other riders can. It's one thing when you're riding in a tight pack of cyclists you ride with all the time; you're a team like small cogs of one large, well-oiled machine, accelerating, turning, and reacting as one. It's quite another when you blindside other riders that are not in your pack with not so much as a warning grunt. "They're too close!" I exclaimed. Brent nodded in agreement. As if forecasting what was to come, only seconds later, BOOM! BOOM! And several riders in the pack went down. Hard. Prepared, we slowed and picked our way around the crash. Two girls limped slowly to the side of the road. They were in for a rough night. One guy's derailer had cracked in half. Carefully riding single file in the bike lane, we proceeded down the course, deciding not to follow in their tire tracks.

Regrouping at the first rest stop. (Michelle, Mark, me, Brent and Nikee)

The scenery was devastatingly breathtaking. I had forgotten the lush, green rolling hillsides dotted with poppies, lupine, and daisies, the old, gnarled oaks, the neat, geometric lines of grapes making up vineyard after vineyard, the serene herds of deer calmly grazing amongst the trees, and the myriads of green pastures filled with gorgeous, plump, happy grazing horses. As an avid animal lover, I oohed and aahed at all the horses, cows, ostriches, and bison. I was able to forget the chill and the winds and simply enjoy the countryside.

happy, shiny broodmares grazing in a pasture

California poppies along the roadside

An ostrich trotting about in his pasture

I also enjoyed drooling over all the bike porn whizzing past, gaping at the Ridley's, Time's Orbea's, Cervelo's, Look's, Serotta's, and BMC's. The variety of cyclists stretched from teams of hardcore roadies, solo triathletes in their aero bars, couples on their tandems, a few duking it out on their mountain bikes, groups of Team 'N Training riders, recreational riders on their old, creaky beaters, and even a guy on a unicycle.

About mile 50, the wind began to rally for an encore with gusty head and sidewinds. To bestow double punishment upon us, the winds actually picked up force along the long false flats. Watching my speed drop on my computer, I started practicing negativity drills. Everything started to hurt all of a sudden. My wrists and forearms had pins and needles shooting through them, my triceps were sore and tired, my leg warmers were chafing, my legs were aching, and my left ankle began to throb. I became extremely quiet and morose, trying desperately to focus on my pedal stroke and the next aid station. To match my mood, the skies became even darker as black storm clouds rolled in and plump, wet raindrops fell on my nose. I began to feel extremely tired. My eyelids grew heavy, heavier, heavier, and began to close. If I could just sleep for a few minutes....

"You doing okay?" Brent asked, worriedly. I grunted at him, not wanting to let on how badly I was really doing. Finally, we reached the 3rd rest stop. He rode off to refill his bottles. I unclipped, propped myself on the handlebars, and began slamming chocolate-covered espresso beans, which I, thankfully, had the clever foresight of packing. I loosened my shoe and repressed the urge not to lie down on the sidwalk for a nap. Brent raised his eyebrow at me. "You okay?" he asked again. "Let's go. I don't want to stop for too long," I replied as a deep chill started to set in.

Pandora and Bella huddling together as Brent and I make the rounds at Rest Stop 3.

The coffee beans didn't kick in right away. But as long as I kept pedaling, I felt warm. I kept throwing the beans into my mouth. About mile 65, my spirits started picking up. I started talking again....more and more rapidly. Brent smiled at me. The rate of speech that flows out of my mouth is always a good barometer of how I'm feeling. Soon, the speed on my computer began to match the amount of my jabbering. I knew I had successfully gone through my low point for this ride. Elation and relief followed. Good to get that over with! We turned and soared downhill with a tailwind at our backs. All the pain I had suffered just a few miles before had evaporated. Once again, I was drinking in the gorgeous views. Only a few miles before I didn't think I could go one more pedal stroke; now I felt like I could go forever...effortlessly. Funny how that happens. This endurance stuff is truly 95% mental.
Brent and me at Rest Stop 4 (mile 73). Having done a 180, I'm in much better spirits.

the beautiful wine country in the Santa Ynez valley we had the privelege of viewing atop our bikes.
Smiling at mile 80 as I crest a hill. Yea for coffee beans!

At mile 80, the hills began. I attacked them eagerly, feeling like Hercules. The change of pace and use of different muscles felt wonderful. Plus, the view at the top of each hill was spectacular. I don't know why I felt so amazing on the hills this late in the ride but I didn't want to question it either. Brent rode ahead on each hill and waited at the top, cheering me on loudly and obnoxiously as he snapped my picture. "Go, Rachel! You can do it!!!" he screamed. I smiled and chuckled. A cyclist struggling at my side as we toiled up the hill asked, "Does that help?"
"Not really," I responded.

feeling great and up in the pedals on a steep hill at mile 85

I may have felt deceivingly good due to a high volume of coffee beans but fatigue was setting in, giving me telltale signs in other ways. For instance, higher cognitive reasoning, particular math skills, apparently go out the window when I'm physically taxed. "Mile 80 is to a century what mile 20 is to a marathon, isn't it?" I asked Brent.
"I guess," he responded.
"What percentage of 26 is 6?" I asked. Afterall, he IS the accountant.
"I don't know," he shrugged. Guess his higher cognitive reasoning (HCR) was affected too.
"Well, what percentage of 100 is 20?" I asked innocently.
"I'm going to pretend you didn't just say that," he replied, laughing. Yes, people. really do have a PhD in cell and molecular biology. Really! I swear!

The fatigue was setting in for other riders too. However, instead of brain farts, they were weaving across the road. A great combination at 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon in wine country. Tired weaving cyclists don't mix well with drunk weaving motorists! I got a little nervous as some angry cars zoomed past. A few more minor bike crashes peppered the end of the ride as weary riders weaved into each other. One cyclist dropped his chain in the middle of a particular steep hill, stopping suddenly.
"Hey!" other grumpy, tired cyclists complained.
"Hey!" he responded.
"Don't stop!"
"My chain fell off! I can't do nothin'!"
"Call it! Say, 'Stopping!'"
I laughed to myself. We were all so tired and pissy, and it showed. "Okay, Cranks!" I called out playfully. The whole group burst into laughter. We were acting like three-year-olds who needed cookies, milk, and a nap.

At mile 93, we hit the final big hill. It looks intimidating, with sharp switchbacks that rise up and up into the clouds. However, looks can be deceiving. Knowing we had only 7 miles to go, Pandora easily whisked me to the top. The final few miles were all downhill. I luxuriously coasted to the finish line, feeling like I could have gone 10 more miles.

--Brent and I, smiling at the finish.

The next day, we pulled on our running shoes and set out for a 10-mile run. We brought the camera, making it a "running tour" of Solvang. I mapped out fun destinations to run to, and we stopped periodically to snap a picture. This gave the run a fun twist, and I didn't want to stop at mile 10 but Brent reminded me that check-out was at 11:00 and I still had to take an ice bath. Aftewards, we had a fantastic brunch at Paula's Pancake House, grabbed some pastries at one of Solvang's famous bakeries for the road and began the 4-hour drive home. My only complaint about this weekend? It wasn't long enough.

petting some of Solvang's gorgeous horses (next to Monty Robert's farm--THE Horse Whisperer!)

--all smiles on our 10-mile "Running Tour" of Solvang

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Old Fast is the New Slow

Dammit! Forgot the sunblock again! I thought as I jumped into the pool. A colleague had stopped by to "borrow" some lab supplies and wanted to talk about data, probably trying to scoop some of my ideas, but that's another story for another day. I had been irritated about the delay. I ran the 1/4 mile to the truck at noon. Luckily, I was wearing my running shoes anyway. Techincally, the workout started at noon but I know Terri wouldn't blow the horn until 12:15. I made it to the pool parking lot at 12:08 and, upon finding no open visitor spots, desperately parked illegally in a student parking space. Ran people strollnig down the sidewalk over on the way to the pool, slipped into my suit in the locker room and made it into my own lane with enough time to spare for a quick 100 before the horn blew.

Swimming at noon is always so hectic. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it. But as I streamed through the warm water with the sunlight kissing my brown skin, I sighed. I could hear nothing but the sound of bubbles as I exhaled rhythmically with each stroke. I diligently focused on each set, forgetting about work, home, life; everything else slipped away as I slipped through the water. As the sets got longer, and I got further and further into the workout, I felt everything click. My core muscles engaged, and in a coordinated swoop, my body twisted me forward through the water like a drill. I swam a 300 in 5:32, my fastest ever. Funny. It didn't feel that fast. If I had been wondering before, I wasn't anymore: it's totally worth it.

After work today, I slipped into my running shoes and set out for my usual, post-work 4-mile run with my trusty GPS acting as my coach. I had no real plan except to go with how my body felt. After the first mile, I realized my legs felt fresh and springy. I went with it. The cadence of my feet increased with a light quickness on the gentle slope out to Torrey Pines. I checked my watch. 6:53. 6:53? I had never gone that fast! It didn't feel like 6:53. I held it for as long as I could. Maybe the idea that I'm slow is all in my head. Maybe I'm not slow. Maybe it's all mental. Mabye my brain is holding me back, not my body. This totally new concept dawned on me as I focused on maintaining a light, quick rhythm with my feet. My easy 4-mile run had turned into a speed workout. And I loved it. So much more fun than the track. Even though I was returning and was having to work hard, I was still eeking out 7:20 min/miles. At one point, I slowed to catch my breath a little. I was going to have to let it go. Looking down, I saw I was still going 7:35...still pretty fast! Since when does 7:35 feel slow. Maybe it's all in my head and I just have to show my brain that the old fast is the new slow.

Monday, March 09, 2009

My Recovery Week

After last weekend's ride took it's toll on me, I was fearful of bumping up the mileage by 20. But my new riding buddy, Lisa, talked me into it. Plus, I new if I could ride 80, I would have the confidence to do the full 100 in the Solvang Century (http://www.bikescor.com/solvang/) the week after. Only problem was...this was supposed to be a recovery week. After going from 4-6 hours a week for awhile, I had bumped it up to 10 for 3 solid weeks. How to keep training AND recover? I'm still not sure but the scientist inside me decided to try a new experiment, using my body (as always) as the guinea pig. I took Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday completely off. By Wednesday night, my soreness was completely gone, along with my exhaustion. My depression had now been replaced with mere irritability and excess ancy energy. Time to ease back.

Thursday, Brent and I went for a nice, sunset ride on the bike path--only 16 miles so I allowed myself to ride hard, hitting the hills with everything I had and coasting on the downhills. Btw, stoplights SUCK when you've been hammering and you're heart has leapt into your throat. My pre-workout snack also threatened to jump into my throat. Yuck. For some reason, Brent and I can ride together during the week just fine. He takes it easy on shorter rides while I hit it hard. To me, it makes sense to increase the speed and intensity when the distance is shorter and slow down when the miles increase. He has an opposite riding style. Go figure. I'm not his coach. At least we can ride together during the week!

Friday, I snuck in a lunchtime master's swim at UCSD. The noon sun and warm water felt sooo good on my skin. Swimming at lunch is my favorite time but it's not always feasible. Friday afternoon, I went for an easy 4 mile run. My plantar fasciitis is feeling MUCH better (thanks to "the sock"). However, I've been finding it's worse if I don't run regularly--it actually stiffens up. Time for more frequent runs! Yippee! Friday evening, I spent a long time getting Torch ready, filling water bottles, and laying out bike clothes.

Saturday morning, I was full of nervous energy. I hadn't ridden 80 miles in a long time. Since I was organizing the ride, and people had confirmed, there was no turning back. I was locked in. Just the way I like it. I met a ton of new people and reunited with old friends at the Del Mar Starbucks, and we rolled out. Since it was an out-and-back ride, we had a lot of company during the first few miles since riders could turn back at any point along the route. Brent hung back with me and kept me company the first several miles before zipping off, an unexpected treat. He turned around at mile 15, sticking to his recovery week plan, cheering me on as he returned to the start.

The weather was in the low 60s and quite pleasant with a chilly wind that struggled unsuccessfully to pierce through my arm warmers and vest. We were pushed along easily by a medium tailwind. Although I enjoyed the free speed, I glanced nervously down at my computer. I was going waaay too fast to be chatting this easily with my buddies. The return home might pose to be quite a challenge.

We reached the Oceanside Harbor (mile 20), and I called out to a bunch of riders in our group who had stopped for a brief respite. "Long ride this way!" I had told people we were regrouping at the base, only a mile up the road, and I didn't see the point in stopping twice (we had to stop at the base to show id anyway). "Now?!" one of the resting riders screamed incredulously. They were a bunch of fit, muscular guys; I knew they would have no problem leaping on their bikes and sprinting after us to catch up. Lisa, Brit, Greg and I pressed on confidently. Just inside the base, I stopped briefly to use the Port-a-Potty. The guys who had just caught up to us were not too pleased, "Let me get this straight. You made us hurry to catch up to you so we could wait for you here?" Not feeling like launching into a long drawn-out explanation (as I have here), I just nodded. "Yup. Let's go." And I took off again. Maybe they didn't understand but they followed along behind anyway.

Riding through the base was spectacular. Never a disappointment. The fields were softly green with spring grasses, dotted with chirping finches and other brightly colored songbirds, filling the air with their music. Wildflowers carpeted the rolling hills in blankets of orange poppies, yellow daisies, and purple lupine. The ocean sparkled to the west as the sun gleamed down on us in a baby blue sky with a few tufts of cotton candy clouds on the horizon. I am so spoiled; I actually sometimes take all this for granted. My Saturday rides always remind me how lucky I am to live in this paradise.

We reached the end of the base at mile 30, and our group broke off. Matt, Don, Greg, Tracy, and Tonya waved goodbye, wishing us a good ride. Why turn back now? Only 10 more miles to the turn-around! I thought. Lisa reminded me that it was another 10 to return to this point, making it actually 20. Oh yeah. I guess I don' t think like that. Lisa, Brit, Greg and I pressed on. What started out as a group of 50 became 30, then 10, and then there was 4.

We were in fantastic spirits. All of us had someone to ride with and we stuck together as a small group, just how I like it for a long ride. My butt was a little sore but that was it. I led the way to the liquor store in San Clemente. Everyone cracked up but it's a perfect stop for the turn-around. They are very bike-friendly, offer a clean bathroom, and lots of food and drink (water people, water). As I looked around the store, I realized why they are so cyclist-friendly--it's a teenager hangout. I felt sorry for the owner, an elderly woman with gray, curly hair and thick glasses, wearing a beige sweater with a cross around her neck. She looked weary from having to deal with houligans all day long. She said we were welcome to the store any time.

After a quick potty break, a coke and Dorritos (extra cheesy), we turned back and began the long ride home. I had been worried about being hit with a headwind. Sure enough, we were hit in the face with the winds as we headed south. However, after glancing at my computer, I realized my speed was the same. Hmmm. I looked at the flags (and multiple kites--you know it's windy when you see a ton of kites), noting that they were all blowing east. A crosswind! The winds had shifted. I'll take it. The cycling gods had blessed us.

I did a mental check. I felt pretty good. I was a little tired but nothing to worry about. I didn't feel hungry or thirsty and I was in good spirits. At mile 55, I dug into my secret stash--chocolate-covered espresso beans. I popped 4 and waited. My stomach didn't churn, and I felt zippier! I don't think I rode any faster but I certainly was talking at a faster rate. Oh, well. At least, I felt good. Yea for chocolate-covered coffee beans!

A cyclist rode past us and enthusiastically commented on my bike several times, repeatedly exclaiming, "You're bike is SO daffy!" Daffy? I have no idea what that means but it cracked us all up. I started saying, "Hey Brit, you're so creamy! Zesty! Daffy!" making up random adjectives as I went. We reached the Oceanside Harbor again, and Greg made us pause for a quick pit stop. It forced me to refill my water bottles so that was good. I was eating and hydrating well. I couldn't believe how quickly the miles seemed to be flying by. The final 20 miles were fantastic. We reached the end and gave each other big ear-to-ear smiles. What a great ride.

I was tired and a little wobbly but had enough energy to properly take care of myself. I promptly stopped at the grocery store for sushi, chocolate milk, and a bag of ice. At home, I ate the sushi, drank the chocolate milk (hey, it was what I was craving, ok?), stretched, and took an ice bath...in that order. Then, I donned compression tights for the rest of the day.

Sunday, I slept in a bit and opted for a solo 9-mile run on the bike path. Brent and Alec rode alongside on the tandem, cheering me on. It was hysterical, cracking up even the most somber runners around me, trudging away on the bike path. Except for an emergency pit stop in the bushes at mile 6 (no more corn the night before a long run!), I felt great and cranked out 9 min/miles the whole way. My foot actually felt better and better as I ran as did the stiffness in my legs from the bike the day before.

When I got home, I downed an Ensure, stretched, took an ice bath, and slipped into my compression tights before rushing off to Alec's soccer game. Today (Monday), I feel great! No soreness and just a little fatigue but nothing much. I even did weights this morning. Those ice baths are miracle-workers! Time for a lunchtime swim.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Depression as BioFeedback

What a tough week it's been. My body is great at biofeedback. I guess some people get sluggish, sick, or injured when they've pushed the envelope too far. For me, I get cranky first. Okay, downright DEPRESSED. I guess it's good. If I scale back when I get really down, I avoid illness or injury (which is always right around the corner). Whenever I'm really depressed for seemingly no reason it's usually one of three things: I'm hungry, I'm tired, I'm getting sick. And if it's a combo of the three? It's downright diabolical.

I started that tough ride last Saturday already depleted. My legs felt wobbly and glycogen-depleted from all the weekly Spinerval workouts I had been doing before I even stepped into the saddle. Not good. After the 63-mile ride (not even that long really) unsuspectingly annhilated me and ran off with the last shred of pride remaining, I woke up the next day and stumbled to meet my running group for an 8-mile trail run in Mission Trails (my plantar fasciitis is feeling MUCH better--yea for the "sock"!).

The run took even more out of me than the bike. I started shuffling down the trail as the other fit, able-bodies runners took off, leaving me to eat their dust. Luckily, my friend Ann ran diligently by my side. She reminded me to be happy just to be out there, running, healthy, and in such a beautiful place, no matter how slowly we trudged down the trail. I was so grateful she was there. She really helped me push that ego-sucking devil off my back. Amazingly, the farther we ran, the better I felt. I felt my legs loosen up after a few miles, and after that, I found a comfortable rhythm. I felt like I could go forever (I'm not good at speed; however, I think I have a gift for going long). However, when we finished up, the fatigue that I had been running from had closed in on me; I was happy to be done.

I spent the rest of the weekend sleeping, stretching, and eating. I couldn't help but feel humiliated. Why was everyone so much faster, fitter, and stronger than me? Even worse, why were these workouts absolutely killing me when a year ago, these distance would have been a recovery week? I couldn't believe how much fitness I had lost; it was a hard pill to swallow. Even though I knew I had been preparing for an Ironman only 6 weeks away last year, it was difficult to accept how far off the wagon I had fallen. In addition, reaching my prior fitness (and surpassing it) by August began to seem like an insurmountable goal.

Needless to say, deep depression had set in by Monday. I couldn't shake it. I just didn't have that superhero feeling anymore. Quite the contrary, I had the Garth and Wayne, "I'm not worthy" feeling. I added up my hours and analyzed my training plan (see sidebar). I hadn't realized that I had been hitting it so hard for 3 weeks in a row. Looking at the hard, cold data made me feel better. After a 2 month off-season (which I had planned), I had been training 4-6 hours/week for 10 weeks (and about 50 miles/week). For the last 3 consecutive weeks, I had unwittingly doubled the volume to 10 hours/week and 100 miles/week, a far cry from the recommended 10% weekly increase. 10% increase, Rachel, NOT 100%. I began to feel better. No wonder I was so tired! The numbers consoled me. They indicated my body is right where it should be. Also, they indicated they I needed a well-earned recovery week.

It's been a tough week. The depression I've been dealing with is simply my body's way of telling me I'm EXHAUSTED. Lo and behold, after much sleep and eating lots of junk food (shame, shame), I'm feeling much, much better. And the depression? Slipping away. I know when I resume my next block of training next week, I will be stronger, faster, and well-motivated to attack my challenges.
Now, it's time for SHOW and TELL!
Goldfinch at our feeder in the backyard.
Hummingbird at feeder on other side of backyard. It's a little garden of Eden!
Balloon landing in field behind our backyard at sunset. We see this every evening.
Sasha, trying to make a run for it.
10 Fast Facts about Sasha:
1. She LOVES the outdoors.
2. She thinks I'm her pincushion. Ouch!
3. She wants to be the #1 bunny in the household.
4. She loves jumping on tabletops and chewing buttons off remotes.
5. She also loves pulling books out of bookshelves and shredding the pages.
6. She has adoreable blue eyes and looks like a little princess but she's actually the devil.
7. She would rather run around and play than come inside to eat her dinner.
8. She's so smart, we sometimes wonder if she understands English. If I say, "Brent, close the door before she runs outside again," she promptly turns and runs outside before Brent even has a chance to blink.
9. She bites when we pet her, stop petting her, give her attention, stop giving her attention. She just bites.
10. Anyone want a free bunny?
10 Fun Facts about Taz (left):
1. He's married to Babs.
2. He's almost 100-years old.
3. He coos so loudly at night, he wakes me up. It's so cute, I can't bring myself to tell him to stop.
4. He loves to lick my nose.
5. He loves treats and food more than anything else.
6. Getting petted is his 2nd favorite thing.
7. He doesn't know how to bite.
8. He's the only thing that cheers me up when I'm feeling blue.
9. He has the softest fur of any bunny I've ever felt.
10. He's the best bunny ever.
10 Fun Facts about Babs (right):
1. She's kind of chubby, even though she eats less than Taz. Poor girl.
2. She's a worrier. When I'm upset, she gets upset.
3. She would rather get petted than eat.
4. She gets depressed when she hasn't gotten enough attention.
5. She LOVES basking in the sunlight.
6. She loves having her butt scratched.
7. She flops over onto her back when she wants attention.
8. She also rings her toys with bells on them when she feels unnoticed.
9. She's very shy around people she doesn't know but she's great around me, Brent, and Alec (so is Taz).
10. She's very sensitive and responsive to the sound of my voice. She's my little girl (even though she's 90).

Monday, March 02, 2009

Saturday Ride Rant

On Saturday, about 50 of us gathered at the Del Mar Starbucks for Dean's Memorial Ride. He loved riding his bike so I decided to re-ride the first ride we ever rode together. It was a rainy day last December. He was the only other rider that showed up. The two of us set out on what turned out to be a very long and exciting adventure in what could have been quite miserable conditions in the presence of anyone else's company. Despite cold, wet weather, slippery roads, and 3 flats, Dean and I laughed through the entire ride on roads we had never been on before. It was the longest 50-mile ride I had ever been on. It was also one of the most fun.

Saturday, we re-rode the route in perfect, sunny, 77-degree weather. I couldn't believe how many people showed (including a David Goggins sighting). We all took off and quickly separated into groups of different abilities. I, as usual, found myself riding in the back of the pack, surrounded by a great group of beginners and riders just starting to get back into shape. The negativity devil started riding my on my shoulder but I tried to brush him off. Afterall, most of the riders were going 30 or 50 miles. I had planned on riding 80.

The insidious rolling hills began, seemingly innocuous. Up, down, up, down. I rode conservatively to save energy, careful to eat and drink plenty of calories and fluids, especially in the hot weather. I drooled over the well-muscled, glossy horses in Rancho Santa Fe, grazing in green pastures (there is no green anywhere else in San Diego). The smell of jasmine was rich in the air; I could almost drink the rich scent and imagine I was sipping on tea. A great snowy egret froze magnificently by the San Dieguito Reservoir, trying to decide whether we were a threat. I chatted with a great group of riders alongside of me; we were having fun.

Brent met up with me at a pre-designated re-group. I could tell he had been waiting a bit; it must have been hard for him to let the fast group go, especially since he had been pulling them. I tried to swallow my guilt. Brad and Brent quickly dropped me and the rest of the "slow" group. No worries. I knew I would see him again at the next regroup. We plodded onwards at our tortoise-like pace: slow and steady.

17-miles down the road, Brent was not present at the re-group. He texted me and said he was lost and was going to make up his own route to find his way back to the coast and meet me at the Oceanside Harbor. This was disconcerting; we were supposed to ride together up to the San Luis River Rey bike path, newly chartered territory for us. I tried, to no avail, to suppress the anger rising in my chest. This was also the break-off point; all the other riders going 50-miles headed back. I turned right to begin adding mileage.

Luckily, as fate would have it, I didn't have to ride alone. I met a new girl, Lisa, who was about my same speed, pace, and ability. We both expressed a desire to ride long and slow. She eagerly accepted my invitation to ride longer. Neither one of us had forged this route before but we were confident we could find our way. Brent and Brad did not fare so well, however, both being considerably directionally challenged and unable (or unwilling) to read maps. (Personally, I think they get tunnel vision and just hammer on the bike without thinking about where they're going). Lisa was fantastic. We duked it out the next 5 miles uphill to the bike path, successfully discovering it to both of our delight. We chatted easily the whole time. I waited for her at the bottom of the downhills; she waited for me at the top of the uphills. That's what riding buddies do (hint, hint). She also assuaged my anger. Afterall, men are men; they don't know how to ask for directions or turn back and retrace their steps. Women, like Lisa and me know how to read a map and follow directions. She cracked me up.

After dueling a headwind for 5 miles on the bike path, we finally reached the Harbor, where Brent and Brad were waiting. I was no longer angry. I had made a new friend and had enjoyed my ride and adventure. And afterall, sometimes people get lost. Those things happen. I was overjoyed that Brent had waited for me at the Harbor. That made up for everything. Now, we could finally ride back together, the last 20 miles. My legs were a little tired but not wasted. I felt okay.

We headed back on the coast, and Brent and Brad promptly dropped us. WTF? What was the point of waiting 30 minutes for us at the Harbor, if we weren't going to ride together? That didn't make any sense to me. Why hadn't Brent communicated with me and told me he was going to ride off the rest of the way? I had said if we didn't ride to the bike path together, then we would ride together on the coast, to which I thought he had agreed. What had changed? I called him and asked if we were going to ride together but he refused to circle back or change his plans. I was deeply hurt. I choked down my tears as I headed down the coast. At that point, exhaustion began to set in.

I was able to finish the ride in pretty good spirits (afterall, it was flat and we had a tailwind) since, thankfully, Lisa was there to bolster my spirits. But I have to say, I would have enjoyed it much more if Brent hadn't been there at all so I didn't have to worry about him and riding together. We had gone over our plan the night before but he hadn't followed through with what we had talked about. I'm beginning to doubt we can ride together at all anymore because I just end up frustrated, hurt, and angry at the end. It makes me really sad because we met on these bike rides. In addition, it's totally out of my control. He is the one with all the power, and his actions state that he doesn't want to ride with me. I've been working so hard to try and come up with a compromise but I feel like he refuses to meet me halfway. I don't know why men have to be so godammn stubborn and aggressive sometimes.

In addition, I had intended on riding 80 miles in preparation for the Solvang Century in 2 weeks. I made it back to the start after going only 63-miles of hills and knew my body well enough to stop. I could have pressed on and down 80 but I would have been miserable. I have only been riding 50 lately so a hilly 63 was a good jump. 80 would not be prudent. Lisa talked some sense into me, saying she was going to do the Solvang 50. I swallowed my pride and realized I wanted to do the same. Why force myself to do 100 and be miserable? My Ironman is not until late August. I don't need to be riding 100-miles yet. This ride was a great litmus test of my fitness level. I'm just not ready to do a century in 2 weeks. I'm going to do the 50. My body will thank me for it.

Okay, now that I got that out of my system, onto the good parts. I really enjoyed making a new friend, who I can ride with in the future. We had a really good time together. I hope we can have many more in the future. Plus, I felt like Dean's spirit was with us the entire time. I had written a sympathy card to his wife the day before. I had said that I pictured Dean up in heaven riding his bike next to a glittering ocean with a gentle tailwind. I realized with a chill that our ride had ended on a blindingly sunny day, next to a glittering ocean, with a gentle tailwind. I know Dean is up there enjoying the awesome bike routes in heaven.

When I got home, I was practically comatose. I slept, ate, slept, ate, and slept some more the rest of the day, almost unable to get out of bed to eat. When I was awake, I was so exhausted, I burst into tears at every little thing. Clearly, I have overestimated my fitness, yet again. I'm not in the shape I was a year ago...and I shouldn't be. It will come...It will come. Oh, and I've earned a recovery week this week.