Monday, July 30, 2007

Must Title This: I Qualified For Nationals, Woohoo!

Since Nationals will be in Oregon next year, I've been really hoping to qualify. I missed by one slot in a tri earlier this year, as I mentioned in May. Having my local triathlon get cancelled was maybe a bit of a blessing in disguise, since it allowed me to get to the NW Regional Championships instead. The Regionals qualify top 5 or top 33% in each age group, which is a bit easier to hit than the number 1 spot (or so I thought), so it was a great opportunity to try.

Though I felt a bit unprepared for this race, I had a really good time. I had trained for a bit longer race (the Tri-America series), so I hadn't trained for as much speed as I would've for an Olympic distance, and with a week of camping just before leaving for Washington, I was a bit behind the eight-ball going in (especially since, due to traffic, the drive up to Washington took us 7 1/2 hours!!! ugh). But race morning promised perfect Robin Triathlon weather (overcast, slightly cool, no rain) and the race was well organized and very friendly and fun.

When I got to the transition area, that was my first clue that qualifying might be a bit tough. No mountain bikes or scruffy road bikes here, all the bikes looked serious and the athletes equally so. Apparently this race was also a direct qualifier for Worlds, not just Nationals and some of the athletes were aiming for that . Wow, no wonder they looked so fast! Trying not to be intimidated, I got my gear out and saw plenty of familiar faces from other Northwest races. I had decided to wear my new Helix wetsuit (so new, I haven't even blogged about it yet - I just got it last week). I had been having some trouble with arm fatigue in the two times I managed to get in the lake with it last week, so I was a bit worried but decided to give it a go in a race. A woman in the transition area with the same suit gave me a good tip on how to get the shoulders aligned and that seemed to help a lot, my arms felt fine after the swim.

It's a good thing my suit felt fine as the swim was longer than usual by about five minutes (or nearly a quarter mile). This is always in my favor, so I don't mind if I look out and see the buoys looking unusually far in the distance. Unfortunately, they started the men's wave first and then the women, so after the second buoy I was swimming through the swarms of slower males, like an aquatic obstacle course, but the water was calm and I felt happy to be out there gliding along. I had great transition times at 1:11 for T1 and :43 for T2. For once, I didn't feel like I was fumbling with anything, and the full-sleeved suit came off easier than I had hoped (love that upside-down zipper!).

The bike course in this race was....welll...interesting, for lack of a better word. A four-lap course, which was a new one on me in the world of Olympic distance, and I was a bit worried about the course getting crowded after the first loop. As it turns out, that wasn't the hardest thing about this course. I guess when the race description says things like "the course meanders to 28th street", what that really means is lots of turns. I think I counted fourteen turns (as in 90-degree turns) per lap, for a record-breaking 48 - 50 turns over the entire bike course. Wow! So when you add in the little up-and-down rolling hills, it was kind of a technical course. Ordinarily, this isn't to my benefit, since as I've posted earlier I am a bit of a cornering scaredy-cat. But I discovered that this kind of course takes a lot of strength as you keep decelerating for the turns and then you have to quickly accelerate to speed again. Athletes with good endurance but little power were really suffering by the last couple of laps because there were no sections where you could get your speed up to a steady pace and keep it there. It didn't look that tough in terms of the hill profile, but it was a bit of a punishing course leg-wise for this reason. Still, I pulled in a 1:08 for the bike course which is a PKPR (post-kids PR, that is) for me! Also, although there were a lot of cyclists on the course, due to the multiple laps, the USAT officials kept everyone separated nicely, and I saw them many times on the course (and thanked them afterwards). The multiple loops also gave everyone a chance to see everyone else, and I cheered on all the triathletes I passed, which is my little race-day custom if I'm not too winded!

On to the run, those little up-and-downish hills all of a sudden loomed a bit larger. Hills are especially punishing to this athena-class runner, and I knew that I already had at least two, maybe three people from my age group in front of me (two of the three women who passed me on the bike were in my age group - wah!). Fortunately, the bike course was the same as the run course for the first mile, and all those cyclists I had cheered on earlier were now cheering me. The instant karma and good wishes buoyed me up and my second running lap was even faster than my first. All of the hard work I've been putting into my run this season paid off with a 10k time of :50, another PKPR by five minutes! And a good thing too, because a couple more F40-44 ladies passed me on the run and I ended up snagging the last qualifying spot for Nationals in my age group. Whew!

Overall, my finish time was 1:27:06. That doesn't seem too fast for an Oly time for me, but when I take into account that my normal swim time is :21 - :22 and this one was almost :27 (and I checked, all the athlete's swim times were about 5 minutes slow, so it wasn't just me or my new wetsuit!), that puts me into more into the pace for a 1:22 Oly in the future some time. Maybe at Nationals, if I'm lucky.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Humbled By Harry Potter and a Hamburger

I went to the track yesterday for my last tough running session before my triathlon next weekend, expecting to knock off some reasonably paced mile repeats and get some confidence in my running going into this race (especially after my breakthrough the last time I did this mile repeat workout). Instead, I was strongly reminded that it's not just what's in your legs that counts when you run, it's also what's in the rest of your body (or in this case, also what isn't). What wasn't there was enough sleep: I spent the night before at the Harry Potter book release party with my kids, dressed as a witch named Tonks (for those of you who have read the book, that explains the pink hair!). What was in my body was also a hamburger I ate two hours before running. I normally eat a little something before exercise, but that ended up being a little something too much. My miles were thirty seconds slower than the last time I attempted this, and I felt like crap.

But no workout is wasted, and this one was a good reminder that factors other than your physical fitness can signifigantly affect your abilities. When it comes to race day, I won't be staying up late (even though I haven't finished Harry Potter 7 yet) and I certainly won't have a hamburger for breakfast! Hopefully I'll approach race day feeling a bit better than I did at the track.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Another Door Opens

Taking the ol' lemons and making lemonade is the theme of the day today. While I'm still bummed that my exciting, LOCAL, new-distance, never-been-done-before triathlon has been cancelled, I found a nice-looking race just the weekend afterwards and will be traveling to that instead. It's the Federal Escape triathlon in Federal Way, Washington. It's one I've never done before and looks intriguing, an Olympic distance race. And best of all, it also has a kids' race, so my daughter (who was really looking forward to doing the kid's race here) is not disappointed.

She has been training and looking forward to this, and I have to say I'm busting at the seams a little bit with pride here. She came to swim laps with me and dang if the girl isn't just a total natural. She's never swam laps before, but we play in the pool a lot, making it a family priority to go at least once a week. She knocked off fifty yards in no time, with pretty dang good form, side-breathing and everything! I gave her a few pointers and she swam some more laps, doing 250 yards in all. Not bad for a 7 year old in her first time out.

Sometimes, you see yourself in your children so strongly that it really moves you. My parents couldn't drag me out of any body of water with a tow line when I was a kid, and my daughter has always been the same. When she was four months old, we took a family vacation to Hawaii. I got her this teeny tiny little swimsuit that was beyond adorable and took her in the pool on our first day there. After that, any time we even walked by the pool (which was on our way to everywhere else in the hotel), she would hold her chubby little baby arms out toward the water and just squeal. There's something in both of us that is always reaching for the water.

Today, I went for a bike ride myself, then came home and grabbed her and her bike and I went running while she biked. She went three miles (the distance in the kids' tri, along with a 50 yard swim and a one mile run) and then we went to a track and ran some laps together. It's such a joy to share this time with her. She's a real go-getter and did four laps before we called it a day. I can't wait to see her race (and get to race myself too).

Addendum: just looking at these two photos, taken over seven years apart, makes me get all sniffly. I think on our relationship when she was just a baby, and how much it has grown and changed. How much fun she is to hang out with, what a funny, cool, tough, intelligent little girl she is (not to mention my son as well!). I'm pretty dang lucky.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Cancelled. Disappointed.

So I got this email: "The TriAmerica National Series Tour announces the cancellation of the event originally scheduled for July 21-22, 2007. The cancellation is the result of low advance registration numbers.

It is with great disappointment....blahdey blah blah blah..."

So, the race I've been training toward, with a distance of 1.2 m S, 38 m B, 9 m R has been cancelled. Of course, I can just go out and find another race with comparable distances within driving distance of my house to go out and do in a little over a week, right? Right? Thanks a lot, TriAmerica.


Makes me wonder what would've happened if the first Ironman was cancelled due to "low registration numbers". Fifteen people stood on the beach at the first Ironman, and now they sell out 2,500 slots for each race in a day.

Did I say F____?? And me, having some kids and a husband and a job and other responsibilities and a summer that's all planned out with kids' activities and camps and vacations and trips, well it's not so easy to just find another race that's A) not full, B) is the distance I want to be doing and C) fits in with everything else I've got going on right now.

Did I say F____?? F_____!

Monday, July 09, 2007

When the Spirit Moves You

I've tried to write this post several times, but it never comes out right. Trying to describe an incredible, larger-than-life experience is always difficult. The moment is so meaningful, so vivid, but when I try to capture it in words, it turns to cardboard and sawdust on my fingertips. If I try to transcribe it directly out of my journal, it sounds hokey and overblown, yet those were my exact emotions at the time. But at the same time, it was so important to me in the moment that I grabbed my journal the second I got back from a run and wrote furiously until it was all there on paper. And try as I might, I can't turn my back on it so here I am trying to put it into words once more.

It helps to understand that I'm not a very religious person. Spiritual, yes, deeply so. But the insides of churches have very rarely felt to me to be full of the spirit of God. Instead, God seems to descend on me at odd moments and I can feel as full of spirit on a sidewalk bandaging my child's skinned knee and wiping tears as I can in the most glorious cathedral with choirs singing like angels. God always seems to take me unawares, like he's sneaking up on me as an ambushing cat, ready to take my feet out from under me and my breath away. That's certainly how it felt this last week when I was camping with some friends. My kids hung out at the campsite with them and I decided to take a little run up a trail that ran along the river. The elevation was over 3,500 feet, and the trail went uphill first before I'd turn around and come back. So I anticipated that the run might be difficult (as a lifelong anemic, elevation is particularly taxing for me)

I wasn't really prepared for a God Moment as I started out. True, the river is beautiful. Perhaps one of the most beautiful in the world. And as the trail wound beside it, the sparkling white of the foaming rapids and the ice-cold blue that lay just under the surface began to take me out of my body to a wondrous place. Here is what I wrote when I tore back into our campsite:

The trail is downhill in both directions. It's not rational, but it's the only explanation for how fast my feet are flying along. I'm not normally a runner but a plodder, a mid-pack shuffler whose all-out sprints don't approach a true marathoner's average mile pace. But today I am flying down the trail like a wild galloping mustang, like a cheetah in full stretch, like Jackie Joyner-Kersee pounding down the track, my feet flying behind me in giant fluid strides. The path winds over roots and rocks, twists and turns, ascends and descends, but my feet never falter. They are as sticky as the pads of mountain goats' hooves, as sure, as steady. On my left is the Mackenzie river, a fern-wrapped flow of turquise-iced water of such astonishing beauty and power that we named our firstborn child after it.

At the start of my little jog, I stopped to gaze at the roar of a falls, the water foaming away beneath me into dells so greened with moss that you couldn't paint such a scene without it looking unbelievably garish. My heart was struck with a joy so overwhelming that tears sprang outwards from my eyes. I am sobbing. "My God, my God, my God", the only words my lips could form. And then, as if called, the Spirit infused my body and I began to truly run. Run in a way I have never run in my life. So fast, so fluidly, as if the rules of gravity and motion no longer applied to my body. Thogh I had been panting as I jogged along before in the thin air of 3,500' of elevation, now my lungs fill easily and completely with no audible sound. My feet effortlessy form to the rocky contours of the trail. A hymn flows full-force into my ears: "And he will lift you up on eagle's wings" and the words make total and complete sense. I am being lifted, borne on a tide of spirit I have only rarely experienced. I close my eyes and continue to run, down the rock-tumbled trail, and I know I will not fall. I cannot explain it in any other way: I am surrounded and filled and borne up by God.

I've meant to go for a short run on this trail. I have meant to turn around at twenty minutes and head back to camp. On an impulse, I open my eyes and look at my watch: forty-three minutes have passed. I realize I have no idea if I have been running this whole time, or whether I stood sobbing by the waterfall for longer than I thought, or whether the entire space-time continuum has ceased to apply to me. All of a sudden, I worry that my friends will wonder where I am - I will be gone double the amount of time I told them if it takes me the same amount of time to get back. Reluctantly, afraid that the feeling will stop, I turn around and head back the way I came. But I am still this amazing spirit-person hybrid. I fly back down the trail, remembering that many times running in my hometown (otherwise known as Track Town USA) I have watched Olympic hopefulls and record-setters blast by me on the trail and wish that just for a moment I could know what it feels like to run like them. To run as if running is what your body is meant to do. It's how I feel when I swim at times, as if I was especially designed to do this one perfect action. And now I do know. Now my body is the best running machine in the world. I'm all legs and stride and rhythm and it's simply beautiful.

I slow as I approach camp. For once in my life, I know I could keep on running for hours. I would never tire, I could keep this feeling going, prolong the moment. But I veer off of the trail toward our campsite. Above all else, I am a mother, and worrying my kids is not worth even a moment of utter perfection such as this. Once I see them playing happily in the forest, I grab my journal and begin to write. I don't want to forget any of this, how it felt in the moment. I am afraid it will fade away from me and I will even begin to doubt its truth.

So that is what I wrote. I would have doubted that I had run so fast but for the fact that the next day I had incredible soreness in all-new muscles in my legs. The backs of my hamstrings were very tight as if I had been running with a full-stride like after a day of sprints. So I have no doubts that for that hour or more on the trail, I was for once a runner in every sense of the word. For a few days afterwards, my legs retained some of the memory of that run. I was faster, more fluid, running came easier. But it has faded away, and I have returned to what I always am: a middle-pack shuffler doing my best out there. Like Charlie in the book Flowers for Algernon, I have only vague memories of what it felt like.

Just for a moment though, my legs were filled with spirit and I ran in the most magical place in earth.

Monday, July 02, 2007

It's About Time: Faves and Raves

Been meaning to post these for awhile, but summer ramps up and things get busy. Here's a few for now...

Favorite Food for Fueling a Workout
: "Special Eggs" - that's what my kids call this dish. Believe it or not, the kids will choose this over a PB&J any day! I think the Trader Joe's sample lady for introducing us to this one. Whip up some eggs and milk in a bowl and add a spoon or two of sun-dried tomato pesto and throw it into a cast-iron skillet. When the eggs are done, add fresh feta (I like sheep's milk feta best, the cow's milk stuff tastes like it went through the washer with my cool-max shirts after a hard run. gag.) Top with chives. For us, this recipe is almost a 100-mile meal.

We've been getting raw goat's milk from a local couple who keep exceptionally good dairy goats, and we have our own chickens for eggs. The chives are growing in our garden, and the feta comes from the farmer's market. Only the pesto came from the store, and after this year's tomato crop we'll be able to make that at home too, I hope.

Least Favorite Food: Anything that takes time to cook. I hate cooking in the summer. Our conversations go like this: "What do you want for dinner?" "I dunno. I don't feel like cooking." "Me neither. Let's snack." "okay"

Favorite Music to Run To: Black Horse & the Cherry Tree by KT Tunstall. It's definitely got the beat and the tune for an iPod perennial fave, and the rhythm for good running company.

Quote of the Week: I saw this little gem from Walt Whitman and it just stuck in my head:

And your very flesh shall be a great poem.

Isn't that exactly what it feels like when you have one of those days when your body feels at one with the universe - your feet feel like they're flying, not pounding, and everything just flows?? A great poem. On other days, my very flesh feels like something written by a bad grammar school student, but that's another issue...

Workout of the Week: Running: 3 x 1 Mile Repeats with 1/4 recovery jog in between. This one comes from a thread on running at the Trifuel forums. I tried to do them at my target race pace, with each one just a little faster than the last one. I am happy to say that all three came in under 8 minutes per mile for the first time ever!! That's a big deal for me.