Saturday, December 31, 2011

Moving Forward, Moving On--Bring on 2012!

I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year's. I've been a little envious reading some of your 2011 re-caps, filled with joyous race reports and smiling photos. I don't really have anything of note to mention for 2011. To be honest, it was a crappy year. Unemployment, failed relationships, and depression is what comes to mind, along with being laid up for a big chunk due to a lame foot injury. So I'm not going to do a re-cap because it's not something I want to focus on. The best parts of 2011? I got an awesome job the week of my birthday as a math/science high school teacher. Happy Birthday to me! And I learned how to mountain bike--even some of the scary, technical stuff. So I'm thankful for that.

One of the benefits to a crappy year ending is that it fills me with hope for a positive change. I'm looking forward to a much happier 2012. So this New Year couldn't come at a better time. I love the infectious motivation available to prod me off the couch and into action. I love my new job and am enjoying this new time in my life to focus on myself for the first time. I'm getting more comfortable in my skin and more excited about pursuing my personal goals. I have an Ironman to look forward to! I am currently working on my training plan for the year and am more excited than I have been in a long time.

As I said in my last post, my New Year's Resolution for 2012 can be encompassed in one word: Balance. This includes pacing myself, not working too hard, eating healthy, sleeping healthy, exercising regularly, and being better about self-monitoring my energy levels so I don't drain myself out (a bad habit I have). I've been using the past few days to implement my new plan. Little by little, it's going very well. It's amazing how little changes can make big differences in my mood!

These past two weeks, I've been on break. I've been so depleted from my new job that the break was a mixed blessing. I loved the opportunity to rest and relax but it came at the cost of depression. I was just too exhausted. Plus the holidays always make me a little blue. I always feel pressured to feel "happy" and ironically, this triggers a bad mood. However, the past few days have seen a change in the mood barometer, and things are looking up. I'm feeling better and better and able to be more pro-active about self-care.

I went for a run this morning with Travis. It was the first time in a week. My exercise has been so inconsistent, which I'm sure has contributed to my bad mood. My feet were heavy and awkward, my left foot continuously banging on my right ankle. I was slow, my breathing was labored, and I kept having to stop and wait for Travis to sniff and pee every 10 feet or so. The flabby, unused muscles in my legs ached and burned. Despite these discomforts, I felt something I had forgotten; something I hadn't felt in awhile: peace. My mind became still and my vision softened; I was exactly at the right place at the right time. I was living in the moment. And yet again, no matter how many times I forget, I remember why I run. Running is an act of meditation.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Checking In

I know it's been awhile. To be honest, I've been going through a difficult time. Lots of transitions. My new job has swallowed me whole. I absolutely love being a teacher but these last 6 weeks haven't even given me time to breathe. I wake up at 6, drive 45 minutes each way, and work from 8:30 to 6 straight with only a 30 minute break. I have 8 different classes a day so when I get done, I'm often swamped until midnight preparing lesson plans for the next day. Not to mention grading and paperwork. On the other hand, getting to know each of my students individually and feeling like I'm making a difference has been awesome. Not to mention how smart I feel after teaching everything from pre-calculus to chemistry! But I know if I don't take care of myself, this pace will not be sustainable.

I'm currently enjoying my 2 weeks of winter break. I was planning on getting caught up on all sorts of exercise and catch-up activities. Except for painting some new art, I've been doing not much more than catching up on sleep. It's been weeks since I've gotten in a decent work-out. I've simply felt exhausted. This is going to change. After all, I have an Ironman I'm signed up for!

My New Years' Resolution is simple: Balance. It's all about balance. Taking care of myself. I am going to eat healthy (no skipping meals!), sleep 8 hours a day, and exercise daily. I'm going to revamp my training plan so it's hanging on my tried-and-true Excel spreadsheet above my bed, OCD-style. I'm going to sign up for lots of fun races. I'm not going to let my life be dominated by any one thing anymore, whether it's a relationship or work. It's all about balance.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Swimming in the Rain

The weather was wet and gray today, perfectly matching my mood. I'm actually doing pretty good but there are considerable aches and pangs of misery. I jumped in the pool to drown in my sorrows. The water washed away my pain. Wet raindrops pelted my back and arms like soothing, icy missiles. The stinging sensation reminded me that even though I feel numb today, I am very much alive. I swam hard, until my chest ached and my lungs burned and I was gasping for air. Shadows on the pooldeck haunted me as I swam lap after lap, blurry in my peripheral vision. A startled glance revealed only the bleachers, a tree, a lamppost; my subconscious manifesting grim specters hovering over me. I focused on peace, letting the racing thoughts of anger wash over me, through me, and away into the water. I let the water wash out the unwanted memories that only bring me pain. I let the rhythm of my strokes bring peace within to replace the holes where the memories had been. The shadows retreated, and a strange calmness fell over me as I continued to swim. When I got out, a mere hour later, I felt transformed, like a weight had been lifted. Now, I feel strong and empowered. I chose to swim to begin the healing process. I choose happiness.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Grandma in Memoriam

I had a dream last weekend about my grandma. I had been meaning to visit one last time; I knew she wasn't doing well. In my dream, I was teaching at my new job when she came for a "surprise" visit. I was very surprised; afterall, I hadn't thought she was well enough to travel. We embraced, and with tears running down my cheeks, I told her how much I loved her. She said, "I know how busy you've been and how you wanted to visit so I came to you instead!" She reassured me that everything was fine. When I woke up, there was a voicemail from my dad with the news of my grandma's passing. Now I know she came to me in my dream to say goodbye.

My grandma was my hero. For the longest time, I didn't have a hero; I don't think I really knew what a hero was until I became an adult. Then, I realized that every time I looked at my grandma, she embodied everything a hero represented. I admired her, looked up to her, and wanted to be just like her. She had so many qualities I wanted to emulate. She was fiercely independent and not afraid to march to the beat of her own drummer. She was always positive and never scarce on smiles. When we would go out to eat, her upbeat attitude and high-energy would always astound us. We would joke to the water, "We'll have what she's having!"

She taught me to smile and exchange pleasantries with those around me. She taught me that you can live alone and not be lonely. She taught me that you should always be true to yourself. And she taught me that happiness isn't something that falls in your lap; happiness is a choice you make. I will miss her sloppy kisses. I will miss her redundant stories, retold so many times I knew them all by heart. I will miss her constant humming of old tunes, sung completely off-key. I miss Grandma terribly, but I will never forget the memories or the lessons she taught me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

MTB Baja UltraEndurance Race

I did my first mountain bike race on Saturday. It was only the 2nd time I'd ever ridden my new mountain bike, Montana, and only the 10th time ever that I'd ridden a mountain bike. Luckily, I was too naive to be scared. I had no idea what I was in for.

Saturday morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn. Nervousness started to seep in for the first time. As we lined up at the start, I wondered: What have I gotten myself into?

We began riding, and, almost immediately, a young woman rode up next to me and introduced herself as Claudia. Relief washed over me. Her English was much better than my Spanish, and she clearly shared my desire for companionship on the ride. Although she claimed to be a beginner mountain biker, she was much stronger than me and started to zip off ahead as we reached the beginning of the first climb. I let her go, knowing this climb was going to last for about 8 miles. I watched her blue jersey become smaller and smaller, ever so slowly in the distance.

The going was slow but I was in good spirits. Eventually, the terrain steepened and became sandy and slushy. My wheels slipped and wobbled. This seemed like a good excuse to get off and walk. I had always thought the climbs on the road bike could be steep. Mountain biking climbs make the hills I've climbed on the road bike laughable. In mountain biking, apparently, it's not a hill unless it's over 20% and you have to lean all your weight over the front wheel to keep it from popping up. Ridunkulous. I pushed Montana ahead of me and slogged up the hill on foot. I'm not entirely sure this was much easier. The hill was so steep, its shadow cast me in darkness, as if I was walking up a skyscraper. Mountain bikers' favorite superhero must be Spiderman.

Although it had taken me an hour and a half to go 10 miles, I was sure the rest would be easier. Afterall, everyone had said the first climb was the toughest.
Then, I started the descent. Recent rains had cut deep rivets and trenches across the trail. Not to mention the hill was as steep as the one I had just climbed up. Only it was down. I took several deep breaths and tried to talk myself down, crouching into the descent position, weight back, chest down. Several nasty bumps, hops and skips later, combined with the sickening feeling in my gut that I was careening out of control, I slowly screeched to a halt and dismounted. Grumbling, I walked down the rest of the hill. I was not happy. I hate not doing something because I'm scared. I tried several different times to get back on the bike and resume course down the hill but to no avail. Unfortunately, once off the bike on a steep grade (up or down), it's difficult to get started again. Momentum and speed help stabilize the bike more than I had realized.

I finally reached the bottom of the hill, which matched my low morale. I looked desperately for a rock to crawl under and hide. How was I ever going to finish this thing? Was I going to be able to even finish? I remembered one person encouraging me at the start: "It will be hard out there. No matter what, you get to the finish, okay?"

I had looked at him in surprise, replying, "Of course." Now I knew what he had meant. It wasn't just me. This course was tough. I ignored the thoughts of despair floating around my head (a.k.a. "negativity drills") and, as I've done so many times before, kept on going despite myself.
The hillsides were gorgeous and serene. Unfortunately, not being familiar with the course (I hadn't even studied it on-line), I felt desolate and alone. There was a fork in the trail. I couldn't see another rider in front or behind me. Which way should I go? Suddenly, a rider appeared and zoomed down the trail to the left. The more technical, dangerous trail, of course. The timing was perfect as I had just turned the wrong way. I turned back and tried to follow, pulling up short in front of a sudden, enormous sink hole. Gulp. Cautiously, I walked through the obstacle, one of many.
The trail flattened out and became a well-groome dirt road. I breathed a sigh of relief. This I could ride! I flew through farmland, vineyards and small towns. It was like being transported back in time. A small white church dotted the horizon. Cows, horses, and donkeys grazed aimlessly throughout the countryside. I swerved around a few Holsteins and dodged a cocky rooster, strutting across my path.
Soon after, I reached another steep descent. The trail was sandy and soft as well as narrow, with several sharp turns. To make matters worse, the drop off on one side was steep and unforgiving. I tried, again, to urge Montana down the hill but he balked repeatedly. Disgruntled, yet again, I got off and walked down the entire dang thing. For a mountain bike race, I certainly was doing a lot of walking. I had to jump to the side of the trail several times to let other cyclists pass by. Watching them carelessly bounce and skid down the trail, millimeters from crashing or flying off the mountainside did little to boost my confidence or inspire me to follow suit. In fact, after watching them, trying helplessly to glean some last-minute tips from more accomplished riders, did nothing more than assuage my bruised ego and make me feel completely justified in walking. No way was I going to do that! Not today, at least.

Finally, I reached the bottom of the hill. I prayed that had been the nasty descent Blake had warned me about. However, I wasn't sure. What if it wasn't? I wasn't sure I could handle another nasty descent. As I rode easily through some more farmland, dirt roads, and beautiful orchards, I started to relax. Weaving through the bones of a massive bovine skeleton, complete with an intact skull picked clean, about 1/4 mile up the trail, however, I crossed my fingers and gulped. I hoped it wasn't an omen.

Soon, I was crossing some rocky creekbeds. Grumbling, I got off and walked. And then another. And another. Ugh. Are you kidding me? Suddenly, I was sick of walking. No more! I got on Montana, and with a burst of anger, fled through several creekbeds and deep patches of sand. Suddenly, I was laughing. I couldn't believe it had been that easy! Those loose rocks and slippery expanses of sand had seemed impossible to ride only moments before. Maybe I could finish this thing afterall.

I reached an aid station and stopped to refuel. I eagerly gulped down several orange slices and small, chocolate-flavored bars, reminiscent of Cliff bars. Quite tasty. I also slurped down several cups of some sort of carbonated soda/energy drink. Even though I had been eating and drinking, I didn't realized how famished I'd become. All of a sudden, everything was right in the world again. I zipped down the road with renewed energy. It was as if someone had brightend the color and wiped my lenses clean.

Until the climbing began. Again. No more, please. Uncle! I pleaded. My legs burned with lactic acid. Stubbornly, I climbed despite my quads protest. I focused on my form, breathing forcibly as I lowered my chest to the handlebars. My butt was so forward on the seat, I could feel the nose poking my tailbone. Fatiuged, I pedaled as slowly as I could, and surpisingly, discovered I could make my way to the top of the hill using this tactic.

All of a sudden, I was careening down the final descent. I knew I was close. My GPS read 38 miles. I could see the sprawling town of Ensenada rapidly approaching in the distance. Confidence building, I rode every hill, up or down, every rock, every bit of sand, refusing to get off and walk. I could do this. I was going to finish. I reached the dry wash that runs into town, the final stretch, and took off as fast as I could, zipping through shallow creeks and muddy patches. Droplets of muck splattered my face and legs. I started purposely careening through the mud and water like a kid splashing in puddles after a rain.

And then, I was at the finish, exhausted and exuberant. I had done it! My first mountain bike ride/race. 65km on a very difficult course, in another country no less. Tired, exhausted, and completely satisfied. Muy contento!
--The mariachi singers at the post-ride party. They were absolutely amazing. They actually did a stand-up job playing all sorts of rock. Here they are playing Pink Floyd!


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

New Year's Resolution

Rosh Hashanah was last week. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on what changes and improvements I want to start working on. The, when New Year's comes around on January 1, I can reassess. I feel like it's given me a head start.
1. Be on time!
I have a really bad habit of being late. Not only is it rude, but it causes me a ton of unneeded grief and stress in my life. I've resolved to not just be on time from now on, but to be at least 5-10 minutes early. Job interviews, tutoring, coaching Girls on the Run, appointments, and meetings with friends and loved ones--it's important to be on time! But how can a chronically late person achieve this? For one, I need to be realistic with my planning. I simply try to cram too much into one day. I've started streamlining more and being more realistic with my schedule. Second, I have a much more detailed daily schedule. I list what has to be done at what time, other things that need to get done, and less important things that I would like to done--in that order. Third, I work backwards from the time I want to get there. Then, I subtract 15 minutes for Murphy's law. I then add driving time, add an extra 10 minutes to that, then I figure out what time I need to leave my apartment...and add 10 minutes. For some reason, I go through a time warp when I walk from my apartment to the car in the parking lot, where I instantly lose 5 minutes. Go figure. That gives me the time I need to be leaving my apartment. Whallah! Guess what? It works! Since I've implemented my new procedure, I've been 5-15 minutes early for everything. (Okay, a few times I've been a few minutes late but that's still a vast improvement).
2. Wake up early.
I know, I know. I've had this on my list for New Year's resolutions for the last 3 years. I seem to make progress and move towards this goal, and then lapse back into my habitual, old night-owl schedule. Even though my circadian rhythm is programmed to be a night person, the truth is, the early bird does get the worm. I can't achieve #1 if I don't wake up early! Plus, I can be more productive. I've started setting my alarm (I know this isn't rocket science but believe it or not, I haven't been using one). Second, I actually GET UP!!! Having a morning workout planned at a set time with the clothes laid out the night before helps a lot. Having a loved one in bed next to you that wakes you up with a delicious, steaming hot cup of coffee also helps. The result so far? Vast progress! I've been waking up around 6:30 to 7:30 every day for the last week. Before? I'm embarrassed to admit, I would sleep until 9.
3. Avoid naps. Take only short naps, if absolutely necessary.
Sleep begets sleep. The more I sleep, the more sleep I seem to think I need. This has to stop. I simply have too much to do. Instead of taking a nap, I've been trying to do something productive. Planning a workout during these low-energy times revives me 10-fold more than a nap or cup of coffee does. The result? I've only taken 1 nap in the last week (which was only 1 hour).
4. Avoid planning too much.
I tend to overfill my plate. Then, I feel stressed and overwhelmed. I know when I start feeling that way, it's time to eliminate things from my to do list. It's better to prevent that overwhelmed feelign in the first place. Early this year, I decided to do some housecleaning. I streamlined by eliminating volunteering for animal rescue and riding horses. I miss it a lot but there will be other times in my life where I have more room for those activities. I've decided to focus on my teaching career. I still get to volunteer (Girls on the Run) but it's teaching-focused. I've also put my animal art business on hold. It was taking up a lot of time and money. I miss it a lot but I still paint and draw to relax whenever I have some down time. So, my focuses right now are teaching, training and my new relationship!
That's enough resolutions! I would rather have a few that I focus on and achieve than a million I half-ass.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bonelli Olympic Triathlon Race Report--My First DNF
I hadn't done a triathlon since March. I've been swimming, biking and running almost every day but I wouldn't go so far as to call it training. For some reason, I signed up for the Bonelli Olympic Distance Triathlon a few weeks ago. It was in a venue I had never raced before, and I wanted to brush off the cobwebs. As the weekend drew near, I began having second thoughts. I wasn't ready for this. Should I do it? I'm just getting over an injury. I rose one morning after having a very good dream of me racing and having a great time. I knew it was time to get back in the saddle.
We got there before the park even opened. I've never had the luxury of VIP parking and picking my spot on the transition rack before. We were there so early, we had a hard time figuring out where to park. It's hard to know where the parking lot is when you're the first person there!
--setting up my transition
As soon as I checked in and set up my transition (and went to the bathroom 4x), I started to calm down. The pre-race butterflies fluttering in my stomach were like a long-time, forgotten friend. I was excited.

--Preparing for the swim
I headed down to the lake to warm up for the swim. The water was a balmy 78. Being a wimp, I was relieved not to have to deal with cold water. I jumped into the lake, and zipped around like a dolphin. I had forgotten how much like a rockstar your wetsuit makes you feel in the water.
--coming out of the water
The race kicked off with a woman singing an absolutely beautiful version of "The Star Spangled Banner". My wave was unusually small, a nice change of pace from previous races. As a matter of fact, the entire race was very low-key (albeit a little disorganized), but it was extremely beginner-friendly and welcoming.
The horn blew, and we charged into the water. I was nervous. I had done a 1500 yard time trial in the pool earlier that week. However, I hadn't been swimming much. And the last open water swim I had done was...June? Gulp. Surprisingly, I easily found a steady rhythm and glided through the water. I definitely wasn't speedy, but I was relaxed and comfortable. I was enjoying myself. What more could I want? Even though the buoys were far and few between (only 4 total), happily I nailed them. All of sudden, the swim finish appeared. Wow. That was relatively painless. Phew! What a relief. Most anxiety-induced part of the race over. Check and check.
--onto the bike
The bike was 3 loops around the park, offering some very scenic views of the neighboring hillsides and plenty of shade from overhanging oak trees. I had spent hours the days before cleaning Torch, putting on his race wheels and changing the tubular on the front (a flat from my last tri in March--about time to fix it!). I had double- and triple-checked the tires this morning. Torch was ready to go.
I gasped for air as I roared away on the bike, dripping with water and pulling slimy, green algae from my arms, acquired from the Puddingstone Reservoir. I was having a hard time catching my breath. Had I started to sprout gills on the swim? I had forgotten what a shock to the body the bike-to-swim transition can be. The pavement was rough, and I gritted my teeth as I bumped and jiggled around the potholes. Soon, it was smooth sailing, and I soared down a few descents, admiring the shady oaks lining the roads, with the large reservoir in the background. The sky was overcast and a light mist gently dusted my skin, refreshingly cooling me. Before I knew it, I had finished the first lap. The 8 miles had gone by in the blink of an eye. I caught sight of Blake snapping pictures, and cheering my name as I began my second lap. I smiled. I had forgotten how much positive energy is infused from a loving support crew.
During the 2nd lap, I started to find my rhythm. My legs felt like pistons, and my glutes were the engine. My breathing settled, and I began to feel strong and consistent. I was beginning to thoroughly enjoy myself. The course was so pretty. There was no one around me. I'm either doing really well...or really bad, I reasoned. Of course, I could just be somewhere in the middle. If it just weren't for those patches of rough pavement...
I made a right turn. My back wheel felt a bit funny. It must be the road. Thump, thump, thump. No, no, no, I pleaded. It has to be the road. It's so bumpy. I looked down at the back tire. It was difficult to tell. Was it...? I didn't even want to think the dreaded, four-letter "F" word. It wasn't. Couldn't be. No, please, no. I slowed to a stop. I'll just check it, and it will all be in my head. Then, I'll have peace of mind and can continue on my merry way. I slowed to a stop, and gave the back tire a tell-tale squeeze. It was flat. I yelled my own four-letter F word loudly in my head. Then, I got to work.
Okay, a flat. My first flat in a race. Everyone gets a flat in a race at some point. Guess it was my turn. I can deal with this. I flipped the bike over, taking care to remove the water bottle to prevent all its contents from spilling onto the ground. Unfortunately, I was riding on tubulars, which I have less experience changing. However, I had done it a few times. I had determination on my side. Plan A: Seal the hole with "Vittoria Pit Stop". The claim is that it fills the tire with a slimy foam that patches the hole as it reinflates it with CO2. A lot of my friends had sworn by it. I hoped they were right. I pried off the cap, stuck the nozzle in the valve, and breathed a sigh of relief as the cold hiss of compressed gas filled the tire. I removed the bottle and foam threw up all over me and the back wheel like champagne bubbles spewing from a newly corked bottle. I spun the wheel. And listened. A high-pitched hisssssss quickly replaced my relief with dread. I stared the puncture square in the eye. It just pffffffffted air on my cheek as if thumbing its nose and sticking its tongue at me. I rolled my eyes.
Okay, plan B. I removed the wheel, extracted the pocket knife I had stowed in my bag for just this ocassion and cut the tire off the wheel. That tire had been on that wheel for over a year. No way was I going to be able to successfully pry it off with my wimpy hands and a tire lever. I had prior experience with this part, and trying to salvage a punctured tubular that's over a year old just isn't worth it to me in a race. Nonetheless, getting the blade under the bottom of the tire and ripping the entire thing off was still a devil of a job. I thought of Norman Stadler on the lava fields in 2005: "Too much GLUE!!!" But although tossing the wheel into the rocks and bursting into tears was tempting, I focused on trying to get the new tubular onto the wheel. was a brand new tubular. And even though it had been prepped with glue and inflated at some point in the long ago time, I couldn't remember when that was (probably a year ago when I put this blated tire on). The fact was, it was a virgin tire and had never felt a wheel before. And it was the most doggone, stuborn piece of rubber I had ever encountered. Try as I might, I could not get the last few inches onto the wheel. I pulled and pulled. Pushed. I tried standing, sitting, using the ground and my knees for leverage, tire levers. Nothing. The only progress I could see were some bloody fingertips from trying to push the tire onto the wheel and bruises and cuts on my knees where the bladed spokes of the Zipp wheel had sliced into. Tire: 2; Rachel: 0. Thankfully, a very kind gentleman rode by at that moment and asked if I needed any help. I happily obliged. Within minutes, we showed that tire who was boss (although I have to admit, even he had trouble with that f*&#@n' thing).
He rode off, and I then popped my CO2 cartridge onto the valve to fill it up and ride off. I had lost 20 minutes but at least I would still be able to finish. Then, I realized the valve extender was completed effed up. I had only myself to blame. I hadn't put the daggone thingy into the right thingy. Stubbornly clinging to hope, I used both of my cartridges to fill the tire with air, following this procedure by holding my thumb tightly over the valve opening to prevent the mad hissing exodus of cold air right back out. I tried smothering the valve with GU, hoping in a last-ditch effort to gunk up the opening and seal it just long enough to ride back to transition, where I had back up clincher wheels ready to go. Maybe I could take off my bike shoes and run the last 2 miles back to transition barefoot with Torch by my side, replace the bike wheel with the training wheel, and then finish the last lap....
I shook my head. No, no, be reasonable now. It was time to surrender and live to fight another day. My CO2 cartridges empty and all resources exhausted, I gave up the McGyver tactics and sat down to wait for a ride. Thankfully, the SAG wagon drove by just then. I handed him my timing chip and happily accepted the ride back to transition.
Happily, the race organizers were very supportive in letting me continue on to do the run. I wouldn't get a finishing time but at least I could get in a good workout. Once back in transition, I put on my running shoes and headed out onto the run course. I was soooo glad I got to run. It was one of the most beautiful run courses I've ever experienced in a triathlon. The course wove in and around Bonelli Park and even took me off road on a few trails (my favorite!). I felt quick and strong (and well rested!) and flew easily along, my feet flying over the ground. I had been experiencing some recent flare-ups with my metarsalgia and after some rest, a visit to the podiatrist, and some forefoot gel pads, was itching to try out my feet on a 10k run. I was delighted. It was the first time that I had run that far pain-free since June. In addition, filled with adrenaline from other racers and cheering spectators, I pounded my feet down the course at race pace. Like a true test pilot, I was taking the good ole' feet through the paces. And my feet held up fine. More than fine, in fact. Much more than I can say for my fancy, schmancy race wheels!

--flying across the finish
I finished with a huge smile on my face. I may have DNF'ed but it was for mechanical reasons, and I still had a great time. I got in a fantastic workout and learned a ton about bike repair and prep for future races. In addition, after 8 years of racing, this was the first time I had ever flatted in a race. I would much rather flat in a small, fun race like this one than, say, an Ironman. Also, in 8 years of racing, this was my first, official DNF. Like the first scratch on a new car, it feels good to get it over with. I know now that it's not the end of the world. You do this long enough, and one of these days, it's going to happen. In every race, things happen that are beyond my control. Although I couldn't control the flat tire, I could control my reaction to the flat. Instead of losing it and sobbing in a pitiful heap on the side of the road (an alluring temptation), I chose to do the best I could with the situation. So what if I missed 10 miles of the bike? I finished the run and enjoyed a fully supported workout. I definitely feel like I got my money's worth.
(Note to self: I will definitely practice getting all intended spares on and off the wheel next time and test the valve extenders by inflating the tires through them after they're attached. Valuable tubular changing tips learned? Check!)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Little Steamboat that Can

I am slowly but surely getting back into shape. I need more recovery days than I'm used to and every little workout makes me sore but it feels good to be consistent again. Today, I jumped on the tri bike for a 1 hour workout. I wanted to test out the 'ole legs. Afterall, I have a race on Sunday! My first triathlon since...March?...of this year. Yikes!

This Sunday, I'm going to do the Bonelli Olympic Distance Triathlon (aka the "Steamboat Triathlon, and hence the cartoon at the top) in San Dimas (, the LA area. Since I'm out of shape, I'm just doing it as a long, fun workout. I tried swimming 1500 straight in the pool on Tuesday. Except for being a little slow and getting out of the water with a sore shoulder (the mountain biking and weights didn't help for that either), I was pretty happy with myself.
Today's bike was great too. I headed out of my new apartment on a different route. One thing I learned today: Carlsbad is hilly. Hill after hill arose, and I diligently climbed each one. I've always been weak on the bike. My hope is that the mountain biking will make me a better climber. Don't know if that is working yet but it feels like it might be making things a bit easier. Even if it's the placebo effect, I'll take it.
Funny thing is, I hate climbing on the road bike but love climbing on the mountain bike. There is so much more to think about on the dirt than the agony of your heart bursting through your lungs and the lactic acid burning holes in your legs. For instance, the fear of falling, the fear that the bike might topple over backwards, or the fear of puking. Afterall, the hills are SO much steeper in mountain biking. I didn't realize this until I began running some of the same trails I had biked the week before. On the bike, I had chastised myself each time I failed to get up the hill, cursing each time I had to get off and walk. Then, after running it, or more like walking with my arms swinging, I didn't feel so bad. I mean, jeez, some of those hills are practically vertical. I didn't know I would need ropes and a harness!
Of course, on our last mountain bike ride, I made the mistake of cheerfully piping up and proclaiming, "I just love climbing on the mountain bike! I mean, I really LOVE it!" Two seconds later, I attempted to climb a hill that was so steep, it rose its ugly head before me like a sheer wall. I did the walk of shame to the top. Even the walk killed me. I was forced to rest, bent over the handlebars, catching my breath and trying not to hurl. On the next hill, almost as bad as the last, I valiantly struggle to keep pedaling, keep pedaling as Blake yells, "Lower your chest! Scoot your butt forward on the seat!" I want to yell back at him that I am doing those things, and I'm trying, and I'm doing the best I can, and to shut the F*#k up but I have absolutely no extra breath to do anything other than heave and gasp up the hill. At the top, I collapse to the ground. I wave Blake off. I just need to sit for a few minutes. It's been a long time since I've had to do that but I don't question what my body needs. I just obey. We both patiently wait. Despite a low level of self loathing, I am simultaneously proud of myself for having made it this far. After a few minutes, my breathing and heart rate lowered, we climb back on our bikes and continue on for a few more hours of glorious trails. Please, sir, can I have some more?
But I digress. This post started about getting ready for a race that I'm not in shape for and my most recent bike ride. The hills on the road, albeit boring, do seem a little easier lately. And then I hit the coast with the sparkling ocean and the smell of salt so pungent, it stings my nose. I can practically taste it. The 101 is fairly flat, and I'm zipping along now, despite a mild headwind. I may not be much stronger on the hills but I'm definitely faster on the flats, like a true triathlete. I come to a screaming halt back at my new apartment with a grin from ear to ear. Time to get ready for Girls on the Run.
Sunday's race should be fun. I like the "Steamboat" metaphor too. Kind of reminds me of the Little Engine that Could. That's me. I may not look tough but looks can be deceiving.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Girls on the Run

Time continues to fly by. My life is full and busy, yet, somehow, in the midst of all the chaos, I realize I feel happier than I've been in a long time.

Girls on the Run ( started this week, and I'm head coach of the Carlsbad chapter. I meet with 15 other girls and (thank God) a few other assistant coaches 2x a week. Our 75 minutes together is way too short. It just seems meant to be. Here I am, triathlete and prospective teacher, in a position to positively influence young girls about the love of running, health, physical exercise, and self confidence. It's an amazing experience.
I'm still trying to get a substitute teaching position while waiting to apply to a teaching credential program next fall (I missed the deadline for this year--my decision to change careers was in April and the deadline was in March; ugh). It's tough out there! The pools are closed to many teachers with emergency permits (moh) because there are so many fully credentialed teachers who want to sub. Not a good sign. I refuse to become discourged! Meanwhile, I'm tutoring and applying for more volunteer positions in the classroom. This will be my year of volunteering. I love volunteering; too bad I can't get paid for it!
My foot continues to improve and I'm running more and more on it (after a $6.95 gel metatarsal pad from CVS--the miracle of Dr. Scholl!). I'm mountain biking a lot more and absolutely loving it. I'm starting to get less scared about going downhill. Expletives help a lot. I even went down some switchbacks on my last ride (my nemesis)! Every time I go over a bump, or rock, or creek, (insert scary obstacle here), I am overjoyed because I know just a few weeks ago, I would have stopped and walked over it. (I know this because the urge to stop and walk still enters my mind; I just work really hard to suppress it).
My sister is getting married! Blake and I are very happy. And the fact that his kids and pets (especially his little weenie dog, Oscar) are awesome doesn't hurt. Even Travis is doing great (although I wish he'd stop running into cacti off leash)! He's en route to become a therapy dog.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Amateur Tri Girl Learns to Mountain Bike

I've always loved triathlon because it forces me to continue trying new things. New things are scary! Change is uncomfortable. That is why I make myself embrace it; it keeps me young. I'm not an "adrenaline junkie" by any means; I just love that point when you become comfortable enough in a new sport/hobby/profession (insert favorite new thing here) to shift from "Oh my God, I'm going to die!" to "Oh my God, this is so fun!"

I've owned a mountain bike for a few years now (read: owned, not used). It sat for a long time in the previous owner's basement. After procuring my Trek (aptly named "Rocky"), she then continued to sit, this time in my garage. I continued finding excuses not to ride her. "I'm tapering," I don't want to get injured before my A race," "I don't know how," "I don't have anyone to go with," and then, "I don't have anyone to go with who isn't going to take me over some cliff and kill me." True, I took her out for a few measly spins on simple, flat pedals, jumping off and walking more times than riding. In the end, I preferred to hit the trails in my running shoes rather than on wheels.

I'm still in the steep learning curve part of mountain biking but I get a little better each time I go out. It's getting more and more fun as I gain confidence. Here's what I've learned so far:

1. It's a lot more technical than road biking. You shift your position around. A lot. Weight forward, back, side-to-side; all depending on the terrain.
2. Objects look bigger than they actually are. Usually, I freak myself out and either jump off or hesitate, resulting in a fall (normally without injuries). When I can actually relax and go over the rocks (or other obstacles), they're usually not nearly as big as I've built them up to be in my head. Hmmm. A perfect analogy to life here? 'nuff said.
3. You fall a lot. But unlike in road biking, most falls are at slow speeds and on softer terrain. Usually, I just pick myself and keep riding (unlike on the road where you end up in the hospital or worse).
4. You go a lot slower than in road biking but still get a great workout. I like to gauge my workouts by time out on the trail, rather than mileage. I still am gasping for breath and dripping with sweat at the end. It's great for building power, short bursts of speed, and anaerobic endurance.
5. Your cadence is much slower than in road biking and you rarely get out of the saddle to climb. (Instead, shift your weight forward and bend from the hips so your chest is almost touching the top bar. For downhill, shift weight back behind the saddle).
6. Relaxation is key. When I'm tense, every shock bounces me around, threatening to unseat me. When I'm relaxed, the shock is absorbed by the bike and not me. I can get out of the saddle and let my the vibrations transfer to my feet instead of my core. Then, my head is looking up and forward, where I want to go, instead of down, bug-eyed in widened fear at the huge rock I'm about to bounce over.

--proudly displaying my injuries after taking a tumble.

--bruises from my death-grip on the frame the day after mountain biking. Rookie mistake.

There's a great instructional video on mountain biking by Ned Overand (

Other great sites for beginners:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Life's Whirlwind of Craziness

My life has been crazy; I know I always say this but it's been crazier than usual. I have a ton of posts to catch up on (mountain biking, Tour de Big Bear, training plan, etc.) but today's post is just a life update.

I've been going through a career change (read: unemployed). No, seriously though. After some soul searching, I decided to pursue a career in teaching. The goal? High school biology. I have been furiously trying to get teaching experience any way I can. Summer has been slow but I've managed to work for a tutoring company and have signed up to coach for Girls on the Run again this fall. This time, I get to be head coach for the Carlsbad group! Yippee!!! Meanwhile, I'm working on my teaching credential. I passed the CBEST, got fingerprinted for a substitute teaching permit, and am taking prerequisite classes to get into the program at SDSU. Now, I just need to land some sub teaching jobs!

Then, I got the notice that the house I was renting was being put on the market and that I had to move...STAT. Within 2 weeks, I had moved to a very cute apartment in Carlsbad. The landlord let me keep my dog and aquarium! It's been very hectic; I hate moving. I'm 99% in, including shopping at Target and hanging paintings (the fun part). The bunny, dog, frogs and aquarium are settling in well. I lost a fish and urchin due to the stress of moving but the aquarium is settling in well. Very soon, I hope to resume normal training.

I've also been crazily trying to market my animal art biz ( Summer is in full swing so I've been manning a booth at several dog and art shows on the weekends. This weekend, I will be at the Cardiff Dog Days of Summer street fair on Saturday from 10-3 (off the 101). Be sure to stop by if you're in the hood!
Finally, I've been volunteering at Hoofs 'n Woofs, a non-profit animal rescue organization in Valley Center that focuses on rehabilitating horses. I've been riding again! My "project" horse is Tonka, a recalcitrant Appaloosa, who needs a more experienced rider that knows when to push and when to back off. (Appy's are the Indian ponies with all the spots, known for being very hardy, tough and stubborn). Tonka and I are quickly bonding and having tons of fun on crazy trail rides.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Foot is Healing! Finally!

Wow. It's been awhile since I've posted. How did that happen? Life has been flying by but I actually feel like I'm clinging on to the tail end of the meteor instead of watching it pass by idly this time. I had so many posts I failed to write and publish that I don't know where to began.
My foot has been a real pain in the arse. I was convinced my podiatrist had misdiagnosed my injury. It's been 10 weeks and only recently has it begun to heal. After missing Rock 'n Roll Marathon San Diego despite 2 cortisone shots, I grumpily headed back to the foot doc. He surmised I might be suffering from a neuroma and sent me home with new orthotics and a "wait and see" prescription. I waited and fretted and waited and fretted. Finally, despite my fear of needles, I went to the acupuncturist. She gleefully stuck needles into my feet, legs, hands, and who knows where else as I cringed, winced, and whined. After 2 treatments, the pain was gone. Excitedly, I hit the trails. Half a mile in, I was overcome with a moment of irrational exuberance, completely forgetting about my injury. It was bliss to run pain-free, something I used to take for granted. I plunged ahead on the trail, blasting through a rocky, dry creek bed. Seconds later, a large evil rock sharply stabbed my vulnerable, freshly not-quite-healed toe in the exact same place as the original injury. I screamed for my mommy and came to a crashing halt. Holding back tears of frustration, I hobbled back to the car on one foot.
I spent the rest of the weekend on crutches, cursing the doctor for what seemed like an obvious misdiagnosis. I was absolutely 100% sure my foot was broken. Immediately, I sought out a second opinion. When doc #2 said my foot was not broken, I insisted on examining the x-ray. He showed it to me, and I had to ask him if that was someone else's foot. Surely that gorgeous white seamless bone structure with ample bone density didn't belong to me! He confirmed the original diagnosis of metatarsalgia and sent me home with a prescription of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Head hung low, I returned to the acupuncturist.
I was supposed to swim and bike and do weights while it healed. However, for some reason, when I can't run, I most often succumb to the depths of the comfy couch. Perhaps because running is my favorite sport. It's counterintuitive, I know. I would have felt much better and preserved what little fitness I had built if I had swam and biked but, alas, I vegged. Why is it when I run, I bike and swim but when I can't run, I do nothing? I guess it's my all-or-nothing attitude.
It's been a frustrating road of healing this summer but I can happily say that my foot is slowly but surely healing. I finally returned to the pool and took my bike on the road for a few spins. My foot started feeling better and better. I did a test run a few days ago, and I can happily report that I am running 4 miles virtually pain-free (about a 3 on the pain scale of 1-10). My plan is to continue to cross-train to build fitness and salvage my season by cramming in a few races this fall (sprint and olympic tris).
Foot injuries take forever to heal! However, I would like to report that time does heal all wounds. Little by little. Patience was never my strong suit but sometimes you don't have a choice.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Metatarsalgia--A Pain in the Foot

I ended the last post with the protocol for an 18-mile run. I hypothesized that...if I could run 18 miles 3 weeks without getting injured before Rock n' Roll marathon, I would be ready for the race. The results were exactly what I hypothesized. Right down the injury part.

The 18-mile run went swimmingly, actually. I finished the run without incident, ate, took an ice bath and requisite nap. Tuesday, however, I went for a "recovery" run in San Elijo Lagoon. 7 miles of hilly, sandy trail. Not really ideal for a recovery run but I couldn't resist. It's my favorite trail, and I was in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, I also brought the run pair of running shoes, the ones without my orthotics. Looking back, I'm not even really sure I know why. All that damn "barefoot runing" talk. The hype had leaked into my brain, causing me to wonder, "Hmmm. What would happen if I ran without my orthotics? Do I really need them?"

I didn't mean to run 7 miles. I was only going to do 3 or 4 max. Besides, my legs were still trashed from the 18-miler 2 days ago. But after 2 or 3 miles, I started to feel better. And better. I decided to just do the whole trail. I allowed myself to run slowly, enjoying the view. I glanced at the GPS. Oops. Almost immediately after I hit 6.5, the ball of my left hurt started to burn. The burning sensation increased. It felt like my foot was on fire. To be on the safe side, I walked the final 1/2 mile back to the car. I must have bruised my foot, I reasoned. I figured it just a few days of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) max.

Despite 2 ibuprofen, ice and a good night's rest, I couldn't walk without limping the next morning. Walking hurt. I tried stretching my calves and plantar fascia. Nope. Wasn't that. The ball of my foot hurt, right under my toes. Great. I probably have a stress fracture. A few days later, when I was limping around the Atlanta airport on an emergency trip to visit my ailing grandmother like Frankenstein's assistant, I started freaking out. I made a trip to the podiatrist and sat and fretted for the next 10 days waiting for the appointment, wringing my hands with my foot in an ice bucket.

The doc poked, prodded and X-rayed. "Not a stress fracture," he told me. I wanted to kiss him. He informed me I had Capsulitis, gave me 2 cortisone shots between the first 4 metatarsals (toe bones), and assured me I'd be running safely again in 2 days. A little bit overconfident, but, nonetheless, I was relieved.

What is "capsulitis"? It's inflammation of the joint capsule, and can occur anywhere in the body. This was specifically "capsulitis of the metatarsals", better known as "Metatarsalgia". It can be caused by wearing the wrong shoes, running, high-impact sports, or any pounding activity of the feet can cause it. The pain is on the ball of the foot, near the toes and is aggravated by pushing on this region or moving the toes (specifically during the push-off). The pain is very sharp and burning.

My symptoms were textbook. The doc gave me the cortisone shots to shut off the inflammation and gave me some new orthotics. He said to continue the ice and ibuprofen. I guess metatarsal pads would be another thing I could try.

The final result? One week later, my foot is 60% improved. It no longer hurts when I walk, a huge relief. However, the ball under my pinky toe still hurts while I run, although on a scale of 1-10, the pain has been reduced from a 9.5 to a 5. But I don't want to run a marathon with that kind of pain, mainly because it means my foot is still injured. I see the doc for visit #2 Thursday but I will most likely have to sit this one out. Which is a real bummer. This race was critical in training for Cuyamaca 3 Peaks 50K in July. If I can't run San Diego Rock 'n Roll Marathon Sunday, there's no way I should run a 50K a month later.

I'm most likely going to have to be conservative and start over...again. Building the mileage up slowly brick by brick. Perhaps I can have a late season come-back (Noble Canyon 50K is in the fall). Needless to say, I've been biking, swimming and doing weights a ton. Thankfully, I still have 2 other sports! Gotta love triathlon!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Protocol for 18-Mile Run

Note: This is the 2nd post I've had to re-create after the fatal Blogger crash a few weeks ago. I plan on getting everyone caught up this week. Enjoy and stay tuned.


Purpose: To prepare for the Rock 'n Roll Marathon on 6/5/11.

Hypothesis: If Rachel can run 18 miles without injury or illness, she will be able to do the Rock 'n Roll Marathon.

Rationale: After racing RAGNAR SoCal and the Painted Rocks Half Marathon the same weekend, my body was pretty wrecked. I ended up with a nasty virus/sinus infection that required antibiotics, 2 weeks of rest, and missing a key race (Wildflower Long Course). Nervous about the upcoming marathon, I decided to jump back into training and see if I could nail the previously scheduled long run on my plan, 18 miles. In hindsight this was make-or-break-me attitude was pretty stupid but you know what they say about hindsight...


  • Running clothes and shoes (duh)

  • Fuelbelt with 4x8 ounce bottles of water or water+sports drink (diluted INfinit). (I refilled these bottles 2x, consuming a total of 94 ounces of liquid).

  • 2 packs of Cliffblocks (1 pack of orange (caffeinated) and 1 pack lemon (non-caffeinated). Total calories, not including sports drink (400).

  • Baggie with salt tabs, tums, ibuprofen and Immodium (Just in case. Luckily, meds not needed on this run!)

  • Group of fun friends to run with

  • Perfect upper-60s running weather and lots of great trails

  • A pre-planned place for massive amounts of greasy food and friends afterwards

  • 16 pounds of ice+cold water in a bath tub for afterwards (Brrrr!)

  • A heaping pinch of fear to motivate me to get it done


  1. Meet a group of friends to run the first 9 miles with on the beach. They agree that my 9:30 pace is perfect and assure me I will have lots of company.

  2. Breathlessly let them run ahead after struggling to answer their conversational questions beteween sharp gasps for the first 2 miles.

  3. Hang on behind them as an extra challenge for another 2 miles. Glance down and realize an 8:50 pace for 18 miles after a lay-off probably isn't the best idea.

  4. Admire the pelicans lazily flying their everyday 7:30 am "breakfast patrol route" in a v-formation overhead.

  5. Zig-zag around a flock of fearless seagulls.

  6. Zone out and curse as a wave sneaks up and attacks, soaking your shoes.

  7. Curse again as you leap over one puddle only to land in another one up to your ankle. So much for the extra 20 minutes spent wrapping up your blisters left over from RAGNAR this morning.

  8. Realize as you slog through deep sand and sink in soft wet sand mile after mile that 9 miles of sand running is hard no matter how you slice it.

  9. Refill your bottles and head up the 101 in Solana Beach for the 2nd 9 miles in San Elijo Lagoon.

  10. Become completely enchanted by the fireworks display of wildflowers exploding along the trail, surrounding me like a tunnel of soft greens, lilacs, sunburst yellows, crimsons and oragnes.

  11. Exchange wide smiles as I side-step several families enjoying the trail on a gorgeous Mother's Day in San Diego.

  12. Stare admiringly at several different species of water fowl as I run past, including ducks, coots, loons, snowy egrets, and a few great blue herons.

  13. The miles fly by quickly and I'm running faster now, a horse running eagerly back to the barn.

  14. Realize my foot is kind of itchy and block out the pain, knowing I'm developing fresh blisters.

  15. Also realize that San Elijo Lagoon is not that flat and also very sandy.

  16. Reach the finish in tribulation, hobbling back to the truck.

  17. My lower back, hips and feet hurt. I will definitely need an ice bath.

  18. Enjoy a hearty breakfast with my new ultra-running team for Vegas (October).

  19. Also fill up on lots of fluids: water, coffee, and a mimosa.

  20. Discover bloody socks and a giant hole in my foot after removing my shoes.

  21. Enjoy a 15-minute ice bath followed by a well-earned nap.

  22. Another successful long run!

My foot, immediately after the run.

24 hours later, after swelling has begun.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Painted Rocks Half Marathon Race Report

Weary from finishing RAGNAR less than 24 hours the day before, I dragged myself to the inaugural Painted Rocks Half Marathon on Sunday morning. Everyone thought I was nuts for doing both races but I was like a kid in a candy shop. It's rare to find half marathons entirely on trails; I just couldn't resist. For some reason, Lake Hodges seemed an eternity away. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was a short drive from my house. Bonus! New trails to train on!

At the start, I quickly bonded with other weary RAGNAR races, easily recognizable by our race shirts, proudly earned the day before. We exchanged furtive, shy smiles, embarrassed to admit that we were running junkies, yet secretly relieved to discover another fellow addict. The race was loosely organized with an approximate start time, no timing chips, no finish line, and a small number of entrants. I especially appreciated the race cap being set low, particularly for single-track trail. I loved the grass-roots feel and intimate atmosphere. It's rare to find a race with such a laid-back, relaxed feel nowadays; however, this attitude is particularly attractive to me.

The racers lined up, loosely staggered according to approximate pace (fast, medium, and slow). The whistle blew, and we were off! My quads were shredded from RAGNAR. I could barely pick up my legs. I resisted the urge to help my legs along by physically picking them up with each step by my arms. Instead, I shuffled along painfully, unable to hide the grimace on my face.

Soon, we were filing onto the single track trail. My focus blissfully shifted from the blinding pain in my legs to side-stepping other runners and avoiding a nasty fall from surprise rocks on the trail. The trail hugged the bank of the lake so closely that I nervously stepped over some precariously placed holes where the trail had eroded. I had a nasty vision of falling headfirst into the dark water below.

The trail briefly ended, and we spread out onto the road and over a fun suspension bridge spanning the lake. Surprisingly, my the pain had completely dissipated from my legs. I had fallen into an ambitious pace. Smiling, I decided to just go with it. I couldn't believe how good I felt considering what my body had endured the previous 24 hours. I passed a large number of runners before filing back onto the trail.

The trail was extremely rocky, and I winced, dancing my feet lightly over the sharp shards, which felt like glass piercing through my shoes. Soon, the trail evened out again, and I was surrounded by trees, grass, and flowers, a striking contrast from most of the dusty, dry scenery in southern California. I felt like I was back in Virginia, surrounded by greenery.

Near the halfway point, the trail narrowed, and I carefully avoided several runners racing back in the other direction. Many beamed grins from ear to ear as they passed. I returned their smiles. Soon, I too, was headed back. Had it been 6.5 miles already? Hard to believe. I felt so wonderful.

The weather was cool and foggy, warmed by the morning sun, peeking through the clouds. I was thoroughly enjoying the trail as well, particularly since my feet had never touched this soil before. Surprisingly, unlike most of the trails in San Diego, the route was forgiving and mostly flat. I was able to maintain my "blistering" pace, much faster than anticipated on tired legs.

Before I knew it, I was heading towards the finish. Spectators cheered me on. "Go RAGNAR girl!" one woman shouted. I couldn't mask the smile on my face. I reached the finish and threw my arms in the air. The post-race ceremony was the best, held a few hours later at a quaint microbrewery in Mira Mesa, Hess Brewery ( The beer was delicious (although very potent)! One weekend, two short little days, two amazing races. I do not regret biting off more than I could chew. Race on everyone, race on.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger Sux!

Okay, I spent about 4 hours yesterday working on two blog posts: The Painted Rocks Half Marathon Race Report and a Protocol for my 18-mile run. Photos and all. Blogger pooped out and now the posts are GONE!!! Ugh. Stay tuned....

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Spring is Here!

Phew! Clearly since I'm back in training now, I'm going to have to return to more frequent updates. Spring is late in the season here in sunny San Diego. I've been soaking up the sunshine before "May Gray" sets in (or my version...Tourist Season). Everything is in full bloom (flowers and allergies, included), and the sky has been busy with circles of swallows making dizzying sweeps chasing insects in the sky. Anyway, A lot has been happening!

First off, congrats to everyone racing these past few weeks. The Boston Marathon was two weeks ago. Last weekend, Spring Sprint officially kicked off the season in San Diego in Mission Bay (if you don't count CA 70.3 and Superseal). Congrats to everyone who raced Wildflower as well. I'm envious of you guys. I was forced to sit this one out due to illness. Grrr. Finally, good luck to everyone doing Ironman Utah this weekend. It was my favorite Ironman. Don't let them scare you. The course is actually not that bad (snickering). No matter what, enjoy the course. It's absolutely stunning.

(Anyone interested in my Ironman Utah race report can find it here:

On a personal note, I'm finally getting back into training after a 2-week layoff due to illness. Sound familiar? I found out, again, that I'm not Superwoman. (What? I'm not?) Apparently, I can't race RAGNAR and a half marathon the same weekend without paying the consequences. Although I had a great time at both races, I woke up Tuesday morning with an extremely sore throat. The ice 2 baths I had subjected myself to in the name of "recovery" had done a fantastic job in quelling the aching in my quads. However, it had done nada for my immune system. As a scientist, I had read the research revealing that a person is more susceptible to common colds 72-hours after a long run. (Part of me suspects the random water bottle I picked up by a public restroom in Spanish Landing Park during the 3rd leg of RAGNAR). Anecdotally, I can attest that this research is true.

The old me would have raced Wildflower anyway, irrespective of a full-blown sinus infection and antibiotics. But what would have been the point? I've done this before. I raced CA 70.3 in 2007 (my first half IM) with a bad cold and ended up with a sinus infection so severe that it took 8 weeks of antibiotics, prednisone, and misery to overcome it. I learned my lesson. It's better to lose the battle and live to fight another day. I have Rock 'n Roll Marathon and some 50Ks on the docket this season. Those are my A races this season. I decided to bow out of Wildflower (the race director gave me event credit for next year with a doctor's note). It was a very difficult decision for me. However, what would be the point of all my previous illnessess if I didn't learn from them? So, begrudgingly, I cancelled my plans and stayed in bed.

It took 2 weeks to fully recover but I feel 100% this week, and workouts are back in full swing. I'm working on my training plan. I've been flying without a net this season and feel sort of lost without my ole' trusty training plan. I can safely say that the Prep period is over. I'm ready for training. Rock 'n Roll Marathon is in a month (gulp). I have an 18-mile run Sunday. It will be the test of truth. Wish me luck.

Killing it on the bike at Superseal in March.

Having fun on the run at Superseal.

Team DNR after finishing RAGNAR SoCal.

Running the Painted Rocks Half Marathon at Lake Hodges 2 weeks ago the day after Ragnar SoCal.

And finally, a sample of one of my sketches from the Shelter Dog Project I'm working on.

"Stray Boxer" N681
copyright 2011 Rachel's Animal Art
This sweet Boxer is one of the many great dogs available at the North County Animal Shelter in San Diego.

Monday, April 18, 2011

SoCal Ragnar 2011 Team DNR

I saw an e-mail about a week ago on the tri club website searching for a last-minute runner to fill in for a random RAGNAR relay team. I'm not too sure what possessed me to say, "Yes," to fill in at the last minute. I wasn't too sure what RAGNAR stood for or even what RAGNAR was but running 200 miles non-stop from Huntington Beach to San Diego in about 30 hours? Hours and hours and hours of tired, cranky, stinky strangers crammed into a van? Sounds like a reality show! Rad! I'm in!

After saying yes I glanced at my calendar. I noticed I was signed up for the Painted Rocks Half Marathon on Sunday. Hmmm. What to do, what to do. One voice in my head said, "Whaaa? Are you nuts? You won't be able to do both. That's crazy!"
Another voice from my heart said, "I bet it would be awesome." Even though heart was not as eloquent or logical as head, she was much more convincing.

I glanced at the RAGNAR details. Wait, this race is 200 miles? How long would we be out there? That's a long way! Would I makeit back on time for Sunday's race? Worriedly, I sent a quick e-mail out to Liz and Cara, who I had never met. All I knew was that they had sent the original e-mail. They thought I was a bit (okay, maybe more than just a bit) crazy but it looked like I'd be back Saturday afternoon, just enough time to get my race packet and a full night's sleep. Phew! Perfect!

Contradictory to my traditional nature, I totally winged the planning for RAGNAR. I just planned on showing up with my running clothes. This could have been disastrous as the complicated RAGNAR logistics requires a high-degree of cognitive skill, perhaps more important than being in good running shape. I had no idea about any of this. I had glanced at the website but had stopped reading after a few moments, besieged with details. Thankfully, our team was very organized. Cara, our team captain, was a RAGNAR veteran. Just tell me what to do, where and when to be there, and I'll do it!

After I signed up, I discovered that one of the teammates was one of my old running buddies. I haven't been able to run with my old group in almost a year, and I can't tell you how much I miss our Sunday morning runs and post-social brunches. I couldn't wait to catch up with an old friend.

On the drive up, worry started to furrow my brow. This race was complicated. In addition to the volunteers and race directors, I was depending on at least 11 other people to get me back to San Diego in one piece. Call me jaded, but I have found in my 33 years that people, in general, are not that reliable. And I was trusting perfect strangers? I guess it was a leap of faith but for some reason, I knew it would all work out.

After a restless night of no sleep, we got up at 4:30 am to get ready. Sleeping in a strange bed in a strange place the night before a race is hard enough. Add sharing a very small bed with another person that's not your significant other adds another layer to the challenge. Lauren, I love you, girl,'re a pretty violent sleeper!

We flopped onto the hotel lobby sofa at 5:10 to wait for Cara. Our start time was supposed to be 6:30. But we had freaked ourselves out the night before. Wait, is our start time or check-in at 6:30? Don't we need to check in at 5:30? Are we getting picked up at 5 or 5:30? We set 3 alarms and woke up extra early, just in case. Lauren and Liz snacked on clementines in quiet contemplation. I kept chirping repeatedly like a baby bird, "Where's breakfast? Where are we going to have breakfast? Does the hotel have breakfast? Will they have breakfast at the start? What about coffee? Don't you want coffee? Is there a Starbucks open now?" Smiling, Liz pleasantly gave me a couple of clementines to placate me.
Cara texted and informed us she was running about 20 minutes late. I struggled not to have a hernia. Admirably, the other girls shrugged. "Well, she's done this before. I'm sure it'll be fine," they reasoned. Liz gave me a few more clementines to enjoy. Suddenly, the DNR van appeared, and we were whisked to the start. We checked in and the race volunteers were relaxed and non-plussed about arriving 10 minutes before our start time. They simply moved our time from 6:30 to 7:00. What a great idea! Luckily, this is what Cara had been hoping for anyway.

Cara, our team captain, getting ready to start the race. This girl knew exactly what she was doing! Both of our vans were equipped via a carefully crafted checklist with duplicate supplies of orange safety vests, first aid kits, water, ice chests, and tons of food. And the most sacred item, the Race Bible, a 3-ring binder with laminated information about each runner's contact info, course info, and anticipated start and finish times, race rules, and course maps.

Van 1--The Girls--Sharon, Lauren, me, Liz, Cara, Beverly, and Becky (left to right)

Van 2--The Boys--Leon, Dave, Dan, Mark, Steve and myself.
Perfect strangers when we started, my new RAGNAR bruthas and sistahs by the finish!

Putting on our race numbers (Cara, Becky, Lauren, Beverly, Sharon, from L to R)

And we're off!

Cara kicks off the first leg (far center, in blue shirt and black tights)

"This way, right?" Cara points to the course. Although Cara didn't have a problem on her legs, staying on course would prove to be one of the challenges at several points during the race.

Lauren, Runner 2, gets ready for her leg with some dynamic stretches. (She's also a yoga instructor).

Cara runs in with the slap bracelet ready for the exchange.

Cara passes the "baton" (slap bracelet) to Lauren and Leg 2 begins...5 miles down, only 195 miles to go. Unbelievably, time flew for all of us.

Lauren takes off at a full sprint, moments after telling me she's planning on running 8:45s or 9:00s. Sandbagger!

Looking like a Runner's World model, Lauren races to the finish of Leg 2 at a blinding pace.

One of the best things about RAGNAR were the team costumes and van decorations. Some teams went all out! Next time, I definitely want to dress up. The mimes (below) rode in a van marked "SBD--silent but deadly". There were The Single Ladies wearing glitter and gold with "555-HOTTIE" on the backs of their running tops. At each checkpoint, all 12 girls would get together, pump up the dance music, and work the parking lot like a dance floor with impressive moves. I saw teams of nerds and scientists (as a fellow nerd and scientist, I particularly enjoyed these) with their vans decorated in equations. One showed an asymptope on the x and y axis with the phrase, “Can’t Touch This!” printed underneath.

The mimes, my personal favorite. (SBD--Silent But Deadly!)

The Biggest Loser even had a team with some veteran Biggest Losers as fellow teammates.

Meanwhile, Cara gets a call from the Boy Van. "Can Runner 12 switch with me? I only have 16 miles and I want more," Dan, Runner 9, asked.
"No! Don't do it! You'll have to ride in the Boys Van," the girls pleaded. A chorus of "No she won't," "Yes she will"s followed.
"Boys are gross and hairy! Don't go with them!"
I looked at Cara.
"What do you think?"
Cara laughed, "I don't care. You can do whatever you want. It's up to you."
"Can we even do that? Isn't it too late?" I asked. I didn't really care which leg I ran but I wanted to make the best decision for the team. I didn't have a preference; if another teammate wanted my leg, it made sense to switch.
"Nope. As long as that runner has started her first leg. You just can't switch once you've started," Cara assured me. Since she had most likely memorized the rule book, and didn't mind switching, I said, "Sure!"

In between the final leg of the Girls (Runner 5 & 6), we met the Boys van and made the switch. It was a little awkward. I'd had a few hours by now to get used to running around in a van with the Girls. After some quick photos of us standing stiffly next to the van, my backpack was squished into the back of the Guys minivan, and we piled into the noticeably smaller vehicle like clowns in the back of a Volkswagon Beatle. As we drove off to get ready for the next Boy's leg (Runner 8), I looked back wistfully over my shoulders, watching the Girls get smaller in the distance. Hmmm. I just moved from 6 girlfriends in a 12 person van to 5 strange guys in a minivan. Plus, the girls were now done with their first leg and off for some much-needed rest, which I later learned is one the smartest things you can do in a race involving sleep deprivation. While the Boys had slept in because of their later start time, I had woken up before sunrise after a night of getting kicked in the back in a tiny hotel bed. Not that I was bitter or anything. For some odd reason, I didn't really mind. I was actually excited about being able to meet the entire team. It was a unique opportunity to make 11 new friends.

(Mini)Van 2, the Boys Van, stuffed to the gills with our crap!

Meanwhile, Becky (Runner 5) passes the "baton" (a slap bracelet, which I quickly renamed--The Slappy) to Sharon (Runner 6).

And before I knew it, Sharon was passing the slappy bracelet to Leon. Van 2 had begun! Leon took off with blinding speed. I looked at the my other teammates. "Uh, how long is his leg?" I asked.
"7 miles."
"How much time do you think we have?"
"Less than an hour."
"Jeez. We better get going." I looked at my watch. As the day had progressed, more and more RAGNAR teams had started, staggered at different points. To try to encourage everyone to see the costume's on each other's teams and have a chance to interact with more people, the race directors had the slower teams start earlier in the day than the faster ones. Last year, there were 200 teams. This year, there were 500. I don't think the directors anticipated how crowded the checkpoints would become. The last mile of each checkpoint could be stop-and-go for several, slow agonizing minutes. Getting into the parking lots of the checkpoints could take 10-20 minutes. 7 miles wasn't much time.

Leon, fastest runner on the team, takes off with wings on his feet.

As we drove to the next checkpoint, Dan poked the Runner 8, the next runner, Dave. "Hey, man. Are you ready? Where are your shorts?" Dave was silent. He mumbled something inaudibly to Dan. There were several long tense seconds. The roar of the engine became steadily louder as the speed increase.
"Dave forgot his shorts. We're going to get some new ones." Dan spoke over his shoulder. We all sat there in a numb silence. I sat there befuddled, trying to process my emotions. First off, how can you forget your shorts? I mean, really. If I'm leaving for a race, I say in my head, "Shoes, shirt, shorts." The three Shhhs. I mean, basically, if I'm leaving the house, this is usually the bare minimum required so as to avoid getting arrested or stepping on a piece of glass and needing some unpleasant tetanus shots. I took a deep breath; getting angry right now wasn't going to help the situation. However, I was still greatly concerned. Anxiety began making me rock rhythmically back and foth. Finally, I began asking questions like rapid-fire, such as:
"Do we have time to get shorts? "Where are we going to get shorts? Was it far? Should we switch runners? What about supporting Leon?"
The Boys were very patient with me, reassuring me that, Yes, we had time. We would go to Dick's just down the road, and that Leon wouldn't need any help.
Good enough. I shut up, just in time to grab the armrest and clutch the side of the car as Dan (driver and owner of the minivan), threw the car into a hard left to avoid missing a sudden turn. He slammed on the brakes, apologized, and turned left. I slowly peeled my cheek off the side window, looked at him wide-eyed and mouth agape, and pushed my stomach back down my throat.

A mile down the road, Dan and Dave began discussing whether to turn left or right on the highway. Somewhere between Yorba Linda and Corona, Dan turned onto the toll-road. I was a little taken back.
"This way?" Dan asked.
"No." Dave replied.
"We go this way?"
"No. That's a toll-road." At which point, Dan turned onto the toll-road.
"This isn't the right way," Dan stated as he started down the on-ramp.
"No, it isn't," Dave replied. The van jerked sharply to the left, and I gripped the handrails and gritted my teeth, preparing for another adrenaline-packed ride. I was reminded of an incident while riding with my father on the backroads of Tennessee. Upon realizing he was going the wrong way, my dad U-turned on the on-ramp of the interstate, drove the wrong way back the rest of the ramp, and then nearly flipped the car in the dirt ditch between the on-ramp and the road he wanted to be on before miraculously ending up in the right direction. And, no, frighteningly enough, my dad was 100% sober.
Luckily, Dan was a much better driver than my dad. He continued down the toll-road, cursing under his breath.
"Why did you let me go the wrong way?" Dan asked.
"I told you it was the wrong way," Dave replied.
"No you didn't!"
"Actually, he did. You probably just didn't hear him," the Peanut Gallery from the back (okay, it was just me) piped up. Dave gave a peace offering of $2.50 for going on the toll-road the wrong way. The kicker? It was another $2.50 to turn around and go back the other way, despite pleading with the toll-booth lady.
"We're in a race and we went the wrong way and just paid. Do we have to pay again?" Dan asked. The toll-booth lady didn't budge. Without saying a word, she smiled, shook her head, and held out her hand for the cash. I looked for the horns on her head as we stonily gave her the cash and drove away.

Luckily, Dick's was on the way to the next checkpoint. (I was assured of this after I chirped out more questions and expletives about time). Before I knew it, we were in Dick's parking lot. Dave looked through the shorts, deliberating on sizes, prices, style. Dan hurried him along. Finally, Dave selected a conservative pair of black running shorts and proceeded to the dressing room. Let me say it again. He proceeded to the dressing try them on. As we stood in the checkout line, I spotted some candy and piled my arms up with junk food. My breakfast had consisted of a bagel and a banana. It was 1:30, I was hungry, and I would need to run soon. Miraculously, Dave got to the next checkpoint in time for the hand-off. I wiped the sweat from my brow with the back of my hand. I learned early on that riding with the Boys was going to be adventurous!

Dave, heading off on his very hot, hilly challenging run in his brand-spankin' new shorts.

The scenery was nice but under-appreciated due to the sweltering hot sun. In addition, the course was extremely hilly. We stopped several times to support Dave with cheers, photos, and water. It was unseasonably hot and temps were quickly escalating deep into the 80s. Dave's course was the hilliest we had seen so far. Rolling and unrelentless, he was hit repeatedly with hill after hill. We drove up ahead and turned around, oohing and aahing at how steep the grade became later in the course. On the way back, we agreed to remain hush, hush about how steep the hills became. We jumped out of the van at the crest of one of the rollers to give Dave some water.

"Good job! You're doing great!"

"Hilly," Dave gasped, pausing to grab the water.

"You're doing great. Keep it up."

"Almost there!" we lied, jumping back in the van to drive up ahead to the next checkpoint.

"Almost there?" we whispered to each other. "He wasn't almost there! Why did we lie to him?"

"We don't want him to know how bad it gets. Poor guy! Don't want to scare him." It felt evil but he probably had a point.

I became gravely serious; I was the next runner. It was time for business. I was dressed and ready. I just needed to use the Port-a-Potty before I ran. Call it a prerequisite ritual to every run. Unwittingly, I must have asked several times if we were going to get there in time for me to use the lieu. As we pulled into the dirt parking lot for the next checkpoint, Steve, sitting shotgun called out over his shoulder to where I was sitting behind him, "Awwww. No bathrooms!"

"WHAT?!" I exclaimed. Steve and the Boys burst into giggles. I had fell for it hook, line, and sinker. However, secretly, I smiled. I enjoyed being the comic relief. It was like having 4 older brothers.

Running along my first leg (Leg 9; 6 miles). Phew! It was hot! I ran fairly well but was frustrated I couldn't push it a little harder. The heat held me back. As long as I ran slow enough not to spike my heart rate above a certain threshold, I was fine. I knew when I had pushed too hard because my stomach would turn and nausea rise in my throat.

"Whoo hoo!" The ice cold bottles of water delivered to me by the Boys was heaven-sent. I would drink some and pour a generous amount on my head and neck.

And then, somewhere between Runner's 11 and 12 (Mark and Dan), the van broke down. It was Dan's van. It simply died between the checkpoints. The rest of us agreed that Dan was suspciously calm about his van breaking down. Dan later admited that the van had "acted up mysteriously" the week before. I was stranded on the narrow shoulder of a highway in the middle of God-knows-where with 4 guys I had met only a few hours before. Within seconds, the guys were on their cell phones, making calls to the Girl's Van, AAA, and, fortunately, Steve's mother-in-law, who was volunteering up ahead. Within 5 minutes, we had Plan A (fix the van), Plan B (find another van), and Plan C (somehow cram everyone into the Girl's van).

First, we pushed the minivan into a parking lot off the road. After calling AAA and handing his license to Dave with instructions on what to do with the van when the towtruck arrived, we flagged down another RAGNAR van, easy to spot with all the team decorations. Afterall, they were going to the same place. Dan jumped into a strange van and headed off to meet Mark in time for Leg 12. I love the positive sportsmanship and comarederie between competitors on race day in endurance events.

Meanwhile, Steve's mother-in-law, Leanna, drove up in her minivan with a halo over her head. We all salivated over her minivan and she gladly handed it over. After moving all our stuff from Van 2 to Van 3 (easier said than done), we drove her back to her checkpoint where she called a friend for a ride home. Leanna, you saved the day! The new van was aptly dubbed "Van Version 2.1" or, due to the absence of decorations, "Stealth Van No. 3". The AAA towtruck hauled the van to the mechanic. We retrieved Mark and Dan from their respective checkpoints (11 and 12), where they were waiting, thirsty, hot and tired.

I'm cracking up as we push the van into a parking lot off the road. What are the odds? We enjoyed the extra challenge. It added to our adventure. (This may not have been my attitude if it was my van).

Team DNR (Do Not Rescusitate!) Van 2 on the tow truck. Time for Van Version 2.1!

We all breathed a huge sigh of relief. Suddenly, all of us were ravenous and exhausted. Dusk was falling. I couldn't believe how quickly the last 12 hours had flown by. As we headed to Souplantation to eat (where my finicky stomach immediately lost her appetite), the Girls headed out for their 2nd legs (Legs 13-18).

Lauren gets ready for her 2nd leg (14). Only Lauren can make a safety vest look cute! (Becky, Lauren, Shannon, L to R).

Lauren, setting off on Leg 14 as dusk falls.

Shannon, the comic relief of the Girls' Van, entertains her vanmates.

After Souplantation, we drove to the start of our next checkpoint (19) to maximize sleeptime. All of us were spent. Silence hummed in the van as we wearily made our way to a dirt field somewhere in Fallbrook. I tried to keep talking to keep Steve, the driver, awake. This wasn't much of a problem. I found I had a lot to say to everyone over the weekend so there was rarely a quiet moment (this gave the guys lots of good teasing material too). In the end, this may have worked out to my advantage. While the Boys lugged their sleeping bags and pads onto a cement landing strip to sleep, I stretched out with my pillow and blanket on the seat in the back of the van. I was warm and comfy.

The Boys, sleeping on the tarmac. (Dave left, Steve right). Note the eyemask. Amazingly, the Boys proclaimed that it was actually pretty comfortable. You'll sleep anywhere when you're tired!

Meanwhile, more drama unfolded back in the Girl's Van. The severe heat of the day was taking its toll. Beverly started to feel sick. She developed the tell-tale signs: splitting headache and severe nausea. She was getting a migraine. Thankfully, she was close to home, and the Girls dropped her off so she could get well. Later, she admitted to discreetly throwing up in the bathrooms at one of the checkpoint. Stoically, she remained mum until later, not wanting to concern her teammates. Just as the Girls were deciding who would sub for Beverly, Cara's phone rang. Beverly had made a miraculous recovery (thanks to her migraine meds). Amazingly, just in time to run her 2nd leg, she rejoined her team to have a great leg. You're a superhero, Beverly!

Shannon (left) and Beverly (right) getting ready for their night runs (2nd legs).

Shannon, finishing up her leg to wrap the end of the Girl's 2nd stint (leg 18). Competing in RAGNAR only 4 months after having a baby, she was a trooper after learning her leg had been changed at the last minute from 5 miles to 7. Refusing to switch with another runner, she stuck it out, and even added an extra mile after missing one of the turns!

Because Shannon decided to do extra credit, we were somewhat worriedly glancing at our watches when Shannon came running in, a smile from ear to ear. Leon took off on his leg, while Shannon took off a mile a minute, telling us excitedly about her run. She obviously had a fantastic experience. Later I learned she had tried her first caffeinated GU at some point on her run. Shannon had a total cafeine/runner's high!

Our 2nd legs were shorter and we were rushing to each checkpoint, trying to fight traffic with every other RAGNAR van. As Dave waited in line for the Port-a-Potty, Leon nearly ran into me and Mark, stumbling towards the checkpoint in the dark.



"Dave! It's Leon!"

Dave left the Port-a-Potty line and ran over to recieve the Slappy Bracelet from Leon. Equipped with only 1 real running safety vests (the others were bulky and heavy), Leon and Dave awkwardly exchanged their nighttime safety running gear (required by RAGNAR authorities). We somehow managed to hurriedly equip Dave with reflective vest, headlamp, and blinky light, and he was off.

I prepared for my leg, donning the huge, bulky safety vest. Since my stint was only 2.4 miles, I was going to pace for a bit. I wanted some extra miles. Steve and Mark had been complaining about lack of training and cramps.

"I'm going to go slow."

"I'm probably going to walk the whole thing."

"I only trained 1 day."

Dan pulled me aside:

"I'm worried about Mark and Dan. Why don't you run with them on this leg?"

So I strapped on the bulky vest, leaving the lighter running vest for them. I stuffed my pockets with GUs and CliffBloks. I was going to act as a moving aid station.

I got ready for my leg. Nighttime had fallen, and the air was crisp and cool, a stark contrast to the brutal heat of the day, just a few hours earlier. The heat had slowed me down. I was excited to give it a 2nd try.

"How fast do you run a 5K?" Leon asked.

Hmmm. I wonder how fast I can run a 5K, I wondered. The gauntlet had been thrown.

"I know I can do at least 8:00s," I mumbled. It must have been loud enough to hear.

"C'mon! How about 7:50s!" some random guy from another team goaded. Oh, no you didn't. Now it's on! Dave ran up, slapped the bracelet on me, and I took off.

My strategy was simple: to run as hard as I could for 2.4 miles. I sprinted down the dark neighborhood streets, dimly illuminated by my headlamp. I stumbled precariously several times over broken potholes in the pavement. My ankle twisted sharply to the ground on one invisible hole. Thankfully, I recovered, somehow uninjured. Frustrated, I slowed. I may have flexible ankles but I didn't want to injure myself. Given my track record (I fall about once or twice a year, often mysteriously resulting in a concussion), I didn't want to take unnecessary risks. 2 miles had now passed, and I was gasping for air. Sweat dripped down my cheeks. It was the longest 2.4 miles ever. I'm not much of a sprinter, and now I remembered why. It's painful to run fast.

I reached Steve, gave him the bracelet, and he took off. I struggled to keep up. What happened to, "I'm going to go slow,"? I had been running my 5K pace, not realizing I would have to continue pacing at that rate. I somehow managed to cling desperately to Steve for a mile. A stitch started to grow from both sides. I gasped out encouraging comments in between sharp breaths. Then, I realized that Steve was wearing headphones. My words were falling on deaf ears. At which point I heard something about an M&M.

An M&M? What on earth does that have to do with the price of beans? Maybe he ate M&Ms before his run? Maybe he wanted M&Ms? The bulky safety orange vest I donned suddenly caught my eye. Wait, was he calling me an M&M? After all that I was trying to do to help him? Screw this! Anger started to rise in my chest. At which point, I stumbled over yet another invisible hole and gave up. I slowed to a walk to let Steve go, clutching my sides and gasping for air.

I managed to quell the stabbing pain in my sides by jabbing my thumb sharply under my ribcage and exhaling sharply. A searing pain exploded under my big toe, followed by a squelching, wet sock feeling. A blister had popped. As I struggled to maintain a running rhythm, I spotted a stray dog, slinking into the middle of the road. My heart went out to the poor animal. He looked mangy, scared, and hungry. Even though it was 1:30 a.m. and the streets were quiet, I didn't want the dog to get hit by a car. As I neared the animal, it shrank away from me, and slinked away. Upon closer inspection of the bushy tail, furry coat and fox-like ears, I realized my stray dog was not a dog at all but a coyote. "Here, puppy, puppy, puppy!" Under the light of a full moon, I smiled, taking the coyote's greeting as a good omen.

Finally, at an agonizingly-slow 9:30 min/mile pace, I hobbled to the next checkpoint, where my teammates were waiting to pick up the pacer. Steve had handed the bracelet to Mark several minutes ago. That was a much tougher 2nd leg than I had anticipated! I excitedely told the Boys about my coyote sighting.

The response was typical:

"How many GUs did you eat?"

"Oh, sure. A coyote."

"You know, the whole world looks different through coyote eyes."

Ha, ha, ha. Very funny.

After we finished our legs, sometime around 4 am, we headed to my house, only minutes from the Gliderport, site of our next exchange, about 6 hours later. The Boys got their own bathroom, spare bedroom, air mattress, or sofa, and I got to sleep in my own bed and use my own bathroom. I slept like the dead for the next few hours. The 6 of us awakened to daylight and birds chirping, feeling surprisingly refreshed and renewed. It's amazing how a few hours of quality sleep can make all the difference in energy during a long adventure race.

While we slept, the Girls ran their 3rd and final legs during the wee hours of the morning. (Liz left; Becky right).

"How long can I hold my breath?" Beverly goofs around as she heads down the coast in North County San Diego.

Becky, skipping for joy on her last leg as the sunrise casts a pink glow over the horizon.

Shannon hands the bracelet to Leon at the Gliderport, and we begin the last set of legs. It's only 10 am, and we're already sweating. Prepare for another hot day!

Leon, running his final leg, an envious 8 challenging miles through scenic La Jolla.

Whoo hoo! Leon at pumps up the jam at the end of his final leg.

Dave takes off on his final leg. "Are those the same shorts you've worn for all 3 runs?" I asked.

"No. Only for 2," he replied. It took my a moment.

"Ha, ha, ha...smartass," I sneered jokingly.

I get ready for my final leg as Leon recovers from his hard run through La Jolla.

"Go, Dave!" I cheer, pumped for my final run.

Dave snaps the bracelet onto my wrist, and I take off down the street. I'm all business. It's Game Time!

My last run, Leg 33, was listed as "Very Hard". I glanced at the map. I wasn't sure why it was considered hard. Most of it was flat, winding by the San Diego Bay and Harbor. I did notice a sharp, steep hill during the first 2 miles. The length, 8 miles, was perfect, one of my favorite distances.

I ran through Ocean Beach, a boho, hippie beach town, near downtown San Diego. I dodged lazily turning cars, pedestrians aimlessly walking their dogs, and leaped nimbly over steep curbs and torn up pavement. I weaved in and out of clusters of transients, armed with musical instruments in poorly formed drum circles. They looked at me with surprise. People in OB are very laid-back. It's not normal to see someone in a hurry. Most likely, they carefully scanned the direction I was running from to assess whether or not they were in danger.

Soon, I was heading through the residential streets of OB. A man picking up the morning paper in his front yard called after me,

"What race is this?"

"It's RAGNAR! We're running from Huntington Beach to Coronado, 200 miles," I explained. I didn't have time to stop and explain that it was really me and 11 other people splitting the 200 miles into pieces but no one was around to translate. Besides, what was the harm in letting this guy think I was running the entire way?

I started feeling fresh. I had found my rhythm and my legs felt light and snappy. I turned and started heading up Narrangansett. For those of you who don't know about Narangansett, it's the steepest street in OB, separating the beach town from downtown. At the crest, there are breathtaking views of downtown, San Diego Bay, and the Coronado Bridge. To get there, you have to run up a steep, unforgiving hill for about a mile. I've done hill repeats on this hill on my bike. Standing in the saddle for the hill's entireity is a requirement for successfully biking up Narrangansett. I needed to now run up it.

I sized up my enemy. The hill rose up in front of me, towering into the sky. I couldn't see where the hill ended. I focused on the ground in front of me and found a steady running rhythm. It wasn't fast but it was more efficient than a walk. I felt great! I was going to run up Narrangansett in its entireity! I watched other runner's team vans stop and cheer on their runner. I crested the hill and looked for my team. I had just rocked that hill like a superstar! I wanted to throw my arms in the air and get a lil' recognition!

As I began negotiating the steep descent on the other side (grimacing, my quads were on fire from the mad sprint the night before), I paused momentarily at the breathtaking view of the skyline. I could see Spanish Landing, downtown, and the Coronado Bridge. I suddenly realized I was the first runner to be able to see the finish in sight. That bridge has never looked so beautiful to me than it did that morning. We were going to make it!

While I'm rocking Narrangansett, Mark goofs off for the camera.

A few more turns, over the bridge, and all of a sudden, I know where I am. Spanish Landing Park, the site of the San Diego International Triathlon. I had run this route many times before. From here on out, I knew it would be very flat. I took off.

It wasn't hot but the sun was bright, and I was becoming increasingly thirsty, especially after my struggle up Narrangansett. Enviously, I watched the runners on other teams around me get water. I was kicking myself for not bringing my fuel belt. I spotted a drinking fountain by one of the park public restrooms. I strained to satiate my thirst, thwarted by the low flow of the fountain stream. I spotted a 3/4 full water bottle resting on the wall next to the bathroom. I crossed my fingers, grabbed the bottle, drank a swig, and took off. I was hoping it had belonged to another RAGNAR runner. However, there was also a good chance it belonged to one of the many homeless people that lives along the harbor. It was cool and deliciously refreshing. I decided to chug it, figuring that if it was contaminated with germs, I wouldn't get sick until after the race. (This is true; I didn't get sick until Tuesday.)

About half a mile down the course, the Boys appeared with heaven-sent, ice-cold water. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have never been so happy to see anyone in my life! I grabbed the water and with no time to explain, tossed the old one before continuing on my way. There was no time to waste. It was game time!

Receiving much-needed water from the Boys along my route. Yay for team support!

Another half mile down the road, the Girls appeared out of nowhere and formed a bridge for me to run under. It was so nice to see them again. Thank you so much for cheering me on! I ran faster than ever to finish the last 2 miles.

The last 2 miles proved to be much more difficult than anticipated, due to lost tourists wandering off cruise ships, street performers on unicycles, swallowing swords, and standing like statues painted in silver, and children running in random, unpredictable trajectories somewhere in the orbit of their usually-large parents, most often stopped suddenly in front of a hot dog, nacho, or fish taco stand.

Oh, no. Not today. I'm racing, I thought. I ran through the parking lot whenever I could to avoid the crowd, forced back in, at the last half mile. I resorted to elbows and shouts.

"Racers coming through! Racers coming through!" I shouted, not caring if the pluralized form referred to only me. Nonetheless, it was effective. I weaved my way through a courteous path. Other runners stayed close to follow my wake, there being strength in numbers. Gasping and out of breath, I gave the bracelet to Steve and walked to cool off. I had given it everything I had!

"No more running for me today!" (until tomorrow morning)

Catching my breath after my last leg.

Steve, having waaay too much fun on his final leg.

Steve high-fives Dan, exuberant to finish strong as he hands the baton off to Mark.

It was only Mark and Dan to go now. It was time to start preparing for the finish. The finish? Already? But the time had gone by so fast! The rest of us changed into more comfortable clothes and spent a few minutes lying in the grass under the delicious sun. It felt good to relax as a team.

Lauren, getting excited about the finish.

The beautiful chimes of an ice cream truck sounded, jerking us from our reveries in the grass. We jumped up and ran over, like excited children, eager for a treat. My stomach, which is finicky anyway, had pretty much shut down over the weekend, making it difficult to eat much more than bagels and bananas. Dave bought me an ice cream to thank me for letting them crash at my house. Thanks, Dave! It was the most delicious ice cream I've ever had. That's the best thing about endurance races. You learn to appreciate what you have and not take so much for granted.

We somehow managed to negotiate through a ton of traffic filing it at a snail's pace to the overcrowded Silver Strand State Beach, the finish line. We gathered a few hundred yards from the finish to wait for Mark. During those few quiet moments, before it was all over, I was flooded with mixed emotions. Besides being hungry, tired, and wondering how on earth I'd make it in time to pick up my race packet for tomorrow's half marathon, I also couldn't belive how much fun this experience had been. The 30-some hours had flown by at a blinding pace. 11 strangers when I had started now felt like 11 new best friends. I was a little saddened at our sudden parting. It seemed like it was ending almost as soon as it had started.

Mark came cheering out of the tunnel, running under the bridge the Girls had formed. We all hugged before running across the finish. And, just like that, it was over. But now I have a new RAGNAR family. And guess what? We're already planning teams for future RAGNAR's!

Shannon, posing by her stick figure on the DNR van.

Cara, our team captain.

Liz, jumping for joy by her stick figure.

"Ready, set, go!" Lauren, posing by her Running (Wo)Man cartoon.

Becky, striking a running pose by her sketch on the DNR van.

"I heart RAGNAR!" Beverly joyfully throws her arms in the air.