Thursday, October 30, 2008

Zoning Out

You know it when you get there, The Zone is the place every athlete wants to be. This year, it's been elusive. The ankle injury back in January that decimated my run for the season, the fact that my coaching took me away from my beloved Master's swim workouts, the lack of racing, and all the preparations for our Italy trip as well as the trip itself all combined to keep me from the level of training most likely to induce The Zone.

But this week has been the business. It started out with a swim on Monday that finally clicked. Like finally really clicked. Dang skippy, I felt fast, in a way I haven't experienced in awhile. Tuesday was a run full of hill repeats that actually felt enjoyable (figure that one out!) Then on Wednesday, my volleyball game really came together. All of a sudden everything I touched went where I wanted it to. That's a sport where even a small bit of time away throws my timing way off, but I've been playing pretty consistently since we got back from Europe and I can finally feel it taking hold. Today was just a moderate trainer ride, so no great leaps there, but I'm looking forward to the rest of my workouts this week.

I think some of this can be attributed to just having some time off. Even though I wasn't actually doing much training this year, a little vacation from the routine usually makes everything feel fresher. And the rest of it, well I don't know where it came from but I'm going to appreciate it while it lasts.

Before I go to bed for the night, I'll mention that my favorite book on this subject is Flow by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, I can't think of anyone else who has mined this subject to such a depth and covered it so well. From case studies and experiments to the experiences of famous folks to ordinary people, he examines the state of "Flow" (or being in the Zone) from every angle.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Possibly the Grossest Blog Post Ever

Well, I'm sure this isn't the grossest thing on the internet by FAR, but you've been warned. As a lifelong swimmer, I developed this neat little trick that many swimmers can do - drinking through your nose. It's helpful when you're swimming and you get a bunch of water up your nose to just open that little passage between nose and throat and let it run down - you can either swallow it or spit it out. I especially try not to swallow lake water! I don't really know what that's called, or if most people can do it, but when you're on the swim team in college it's fun to entertain people at parties by drinking beer through your nose. You know, that kind of classy thing...

So I was swimming on Monday and doing a lot of stroke work including my worst stroke, backstroke. I hate backstroke because I keep getting water on my face. I know this shouldn't bug me, because when you swim on your stomach your face is literally IN the water, so what's a little water on your face? But it really disturbs me. So the water was washing over my face as usual and I got some up my nose and did that little nose-swallowing trick.

Fast-forward to later that evening when I went out for tea with my friend Kay. We hadn't done this in months, and it's a little post-Monday-swim ritual that I really missed, so we had lots to catch up on. In the middle of it, I keep rubbing and rubbing my nose, it was really bugging me. Like I had to sneeze, then didn't, then had to, then didn't. This feeling persisted for almost a whole day until yesterday I managed to pull an entire hair out of my nose! Like a long hair. Like a hair that must've been floating around in the pool when I swallowed it through my nose.

You can say it with me.... Eeeeeeeewwwwwwwww! The hazards of swimming.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's a Dangerous and Beautiful World Out There

First the good news: the fall weather here has been extraordinarily beautiful, and despite the fact that my first couple of runs (after not running for a month) totally sucked, now it feels great and I knocked off a 7.5 miler this weekend pretty easily. So I'm signing up for a spring half-marathon with good confidence (barring any more injuries) that I'll have a healthy running season.

The bad news: I've had two brushes with serious danger in the last couple of days. The first, I was biking home from a volleyball game with hubby at night. He was a good hundred feet in front of me when I was passed by a car, as it turns out driven by a drunk who then proceeded to swing entirely across the bike lane, up onto the sidewalk, narrowly avoid a power pole on the sidewalk, back down onto the road and drive off. Only some very quick braking by me kept me from total annhilation. As a mom of young kids, this is the kind of thing that scares me when I get on a bicycle (especially at night).

Then yesterday while out running I was chased by a pit bull. I had to turn around and confront it (knowing that continuing to run would probably make it chase me down) and while it snapped its immense jaws in front of my face, I sternly held up a finger and said "NO! Bad Dog!", hoping fervently I was sounding like its owner, and dialing 9-1-1 with my free hand. Now I'm not one to point fingers at any one breed, after all the only dog I've ever been bit by while running was a standard poodle, but there's something about the very large and powerful jaws and teeth of a pit bull that are, well pretty darned intimidating! Fortunately, all's well that ends well. The owner turned up, the police turned up, the dog had escaped out of the owner's house by opening the front door (they lived on a busy street, so there's no way the owner wanted the dog running out into the street like that anyways). I was not eaten alive by the big doggy. But again, it makes me realize that running and biking are among the two more dangerous things you can do in this world. Skydiving, cave spelunking, underwater welding, these things have got nothing on just using our American sidewalks and bike lanes!

So I hope you all are getting to enjoy the beautiful autumn, and be safe out there!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Swing of Things Keeps Hitting Me on the Head

Oof. Nothing worse than being out of training for a few weeks. And it's not exactly like we were sitting still in Italy or anything. I think we walked about 10 miles a day in Rome (we never ever took a bus anywhere), and after 165 miles of biking through Tuscan hills, at least my biking legs still feel fresh. But the lack of running and swimming.... well it's telling, let's just leave it at that. I wonder how long it will take to get back in the swing of things.

On the plus side, I've got some tantalizing goals dangling out there in the new year. My good friend K. is thinking she might want to do a first half-marathon, so I might be signing up for my perennial favorite, the Hippy Chick (with a name like that, can you really go wrong?) which is usually right around Mother's Day, and is all I need in the way of a Mother's Day present (hold the Hallmark, just give me a race registration please). With an eye to a fall half-Ironman, I might also tackle some cycling time trials again as well. At the very least, it gets me out on the open road in the spring, a season when I typically shun the rain and hide on my trainer. Throw a sprint and an Oly distance tri in there somewhere, and that's probably about what next season will look like.

Now if I can just start feeling like my body hasn't forgotten how to do all of this stuff, all will be well.

Friday, October 10, 2008

It's Been Awhile!

We just got back on Tuesday (morning, about 2:30 am, ugh!) from our Italy trip. I've started typing up my daily journals from the trip, and putting the entries (with photos of course, I think I only took about 4,000 of those!) up on my Blue Skies Blog. It was definitely the trip of a lifetime.

I did haul my running shoes all the way over there, with the idea that I'd take an early morning run in Rome, maybe down to the Circus Maximus (jet lag nixed that idea, unfortunately) or somewhere along the way, but realistically we were just too busy! So I hauled those running shoes back home and did go for a jog on Tuesday, and probably will hit the pavement again today.

The second week of our trip was the biking portion, and that all went amazingly well (even if you count in the times we got lost and the times we had to push the bikes and trailers up the steep hills of Tuscany!). We biked 165 miles that week from Asissi to Firenze (Florence) with all of our gear. The kids were real troopers, even on those unexpected side trips and detours. They were very excited to get on the bikes each and every day and see what the day would unveil to us. We cycled through vineyards where the grape harvest was in full swing, and ate lunch under shady olive groves.

Everyone in Italy was extremely friendly and helpful when we were on the bikes. The drivers were amazingly courteous (American drivers, please take note!) Even on narrow windy roads, a truck or car would follow us for miles at our 15 mph until they could safely pass, with nary a honk or unfriendly attitude. Though they drive very fast (compared to here) and seem to take road signs and lane lines with a much more liberal interpretation, the drivers there are very aware of everything around them (scooters zooming around the edges of the lanes, pedestrians stepping out, cyclists on the roads). We got loads of people slowing down and shouting out Bravo! or Complimento! out the window to us. A far cry from many drivers here who will just see how close they can come to you without knocking you off your bike.

One regret I have is that on the last day of our vacation, we were in San Giovanni Valdarno and that morning they were having a bicycle race on the "strada bianca" or white gravel roads of the area. There were six racers staying at the same place we were, loading up on pasta the night before. There were race options from 38k to 200k, and I would've loved to have seen it. Well, truth be told after cycling on all of those roads with the kids on the tandems, I was about burning up with jealousy for those bike racers, I wanted so badly to snap my fingers and have my own trusty bike appear, get on it, and roll out over those beautiful hills and valleys myself! Maybe some year I will go back...

But for now, we had an excellent time. I'll be putting up our detailed experiences on my other blog, and the kids are definitely hooked on bicycle touring, which was one of our goals in this whole thing. We are thinking that next summmer we may tour down the U.S. west coast on the tandems. We could easily haul our camping gear as it wouldn't weigh any less than the luggage we were hauling there (even though we managed to fit all of our clothes for four people for three weeks into two carry-on sized suitcases!)