Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I'll Appreciate That ... Someday

I was expecting the first significant hill. I wasn't expecting the second one to hit me just around the corner. Or the monster climb up Route 27.

I certainly wasn't prepared for the chilly downpour that soaked me to the core, covering my sunglasses with water to a point that it was difficult to see and caused puddles and road grime to splash up my back as I rode.

Yep, Sunday's ride was definitely a character-building one.

Character building. That's what us runners and cyclists like to say to validate ourselves. It makes us seem just a little less crazy when we brave the elements, take on a seemingly impossible distances or wake up in the wee hours of the morning to train.

We'll appreciate that run or ride. Someday. One of my favorite things to tell new runners struggling with hills is that they'll appreciate those hills on race day. Good training, right?

My plan for Sunday's ride was simple. I didn't mind doing a decent distance - say, 30 to 40 miles - but I didn't want a challenging ride. Nice and easy. Meaning, I wanted a flat ride, no crazy hills.

I thought I shared this plan with TC.

Then again, it's entirely possible I didn't properly verbalize it. Maybe I just didn't convey my overwhelming desire to give my body a bit of a break after a tough training week - track on Wednesday, 6-plus mile run on Thursday and an 8-mile run (followed by a hard strength and stretching clinic) with my team on Saturday. Oh, and I had two 30-plus bike rides scattered in during the week.

My body was begging for a break. But it was Sunday. The weather was good - or at least it started that way. I couldn't do nothing. An "easy ride" would be okay.

I sat at the laptop next to TC and mapped out what I thought would be a good ride on some familiar (and flat) roads. TC raised some concerns about traffic in a certain section and I happily heeded his advice - cars and bad drivers still terrify me! The quieter the road, the better.

He suggested a route he'd done at least once that would bring me through towns east of Manchester - Auburn, Candia, Deerfield and Hooksett.

TC had to make a stop at the bike shop (in the opposite direction), so we planned my departure to give him a 25-minute headstart. If all went as planned, he'd meet up with me along the route. Somewhere. If he didn't find me or the timing was off, it wasn't the end of the world. I enjoy a good ride by myself, too.

The scenery was beautiful. The route brought me around Lake Massabesic, where I saw kayakers and boaters floating on the near-still water. I saw dads fishing with their sons. I saw people reading books by the shore. A perfect Sunday in June.

I followed the road through Auburn, past sprawling farms up and over Bunker Hill. (I'd been expecting that one.) Not long after I made the turn onto Route 121, I was hit with a steep pitch. I watched my speedometer drop to single-digits. I clicked through my gears and pedaled forward. My legs burned. I was forced into my Granny Gear as the hill continued to climb.

I may have uttered a curse or two up the hill - none directed at TC, of course, although I do specifically recall the following thought going through my head on the way up: Boy, our definitions of 'easy' sure are different.

Huffing and puffing, I made it to the top and eventually to the first turn. The road was perfect - rolling (but not overly challenging) hills, little traffic, beautiful farmland and trees.

Unfortunately, it didn't last too long. I got to the end, made a series of turns (including one wrong turn that caused me to pull out my iPhone to use the GPS map to get me back on track) and onto Route 27. Hill after hill.

Just as soon as I'd finish one hill, another one was staring me in the face. They were long. And they were steep. At Mile 20, just as I crested another hill that caused me to go back into my Granny Gear, I pulled to the side of the road. I unclipped and took off my helmet. I leaned my bike against a rock wall.

I knew I had 15-20 miles left to go. I didn't have the energy to take on another 15-20 miles of hills like that.

I pulled out my iPhone again - this time not for directions. I sent a text message to TC: I think this route is a bit above my ability. :(

Eventually, my breathing got back to normal and I stopped sweating profusely. I downed an energy bar and some drink and climbed back on the bike. To my surprise - and pure delight - I'd made it to the highest point of the ride. I spent the next few miles coasting downhills. It felt great.

Until I looked at the sky. A dark cloud loomed ahead of me - the kind of summer storm that pops out of nowhere on humid days. I was riding right for it.

Sure enough, the drops started to fall. At first, it wasn't bad. It actually felt a little cooling and refreshing. Then the drops came harder and harder. It was the first time I'd actually ridden in the rain.

I really don't mind running in the rain. Riding in the rain? I'll pass. It's a whole different situation. It's cold. It's hard to see. The raindrops feel like little needles coming out of the sky hitting your bare skin. I'm not ashamed to be a fair-weather rider.

The unexpected hills made the ride less than ideal. The rain made it nearly unbearable. I just wanted to get home. I pedaled faster. Soon, I approached a street that could serve as a shortcut. I hesitated.

No, I thought, I told TC I'd be on this route. I better stick to it - just in case he comes to find me or something.

I pedaled onward, sticking to the original route. The rain came harder. And harder. And harder. Drops covered my sunglasses. Cars splashed me as they passed. Ugh.

Stealing an old motorcyclist trick, I stopped under a highway overpass to get a break. I looked at the sky, doubtful that I could wait it out. Plus, I was already soaked. I hopped back on after a brief break and pedaled on - now only a few miles from home.

Just as I coasted into the city, the the sun started to break through the clouds. I pulled into my parking lot and maneuvered my bike up the elevator and into the apartment. I heard the shower running.

TC had beaten me home. Turns out, he'd also thought about taking the shortcut. And had actually taken it! (Lesson learned for next time - rain trumps planned routes.) We had a good laugh, wrung out our clothes and relived our individual less-than-ideal rides.

It's surely not a ride I'll forget. I set out for an easy, relaxing bike ride. What I got was 38.5 miles of character-building hills and a downpour.

When I posted that statement as my Facebook status, one of my TNT teammates eagerly reminded me that I'll be glad I trained on those hills on race day. Ah-ha, using my own words of wisdom against me.

Sometimes I hate when I'm right.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Whoa! Useful Multi-Tasking

Flight, the horse I share with another woman, recently got kicked by another horse in the pasture, resulting in six stitches just above his knee. I've had to pull nursing duties for the past few days, icing the wound and doing a regimen of hand-walking to help some swelling go down.

In my typical fashion of squeezing every possible usable moment out of the day, I combined a couple of my trips to the barn with a bike ride in the area.

Below is a pic a snapped during one of the trips there. I love how the camera angle captured the moment - looks like a giant horse eating my tiny bike.

Maybe he thought my handlebars were carrots? :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I signed up for my first race before I ever took a running step. That's right, I committed myself to a half-marathon before I had run a mile.

I had no idea what went into training and didn't have a clue about proper shoes, hydration or fueling. I'd never heard of GU or Body Glide. I’m not sure I knew how far a half-marathon would be.

Heck, I didn't even know yet if I liked running.

But at the urging of someone who helped me find my way in life, I reluctantly and nervously attended an informational session hosted by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program.

TnT promised to get me across the finish line of the Disney Half Marathon. In return, I'd raise $3,500 for them.

I took a deep breath and signed the paperwork. Total commitment.

That was almost three years ago. As promised, my team and coaches did get me across the finish line 13.1 miles later – smiling, even - and I did my part by reaching my fundraising goal.

Another goal checked off life's list, right?

Not quite.

Crossing the finish line of my first half-marathon was only the beginning. I immediately signed up for my next half-marathon a few weeks later. Then another, then another. By the end of that first year, I'd run five or so half-marathons and cut 20 minutes off my finishing time.

I kept running with TnT and joined the team as a mentor, supporting new runners and giving them advice on fundraising. I've helped dozens of runners achieve their goals - just like my teammates helped me.

Collectively, the athletes I’ve mentored have raised more than $25,000 for charity. My weekly team runs are often the highlight of my week, despite the fact that they seem to come way too early on Saturday mornings.

To date, I've completed 10 half-marathons, one full marathon last year and even ventured out for a duathlon (a 5K run, immediately followed by a 30K bike and another 5K run) in May.

The point is, I've always had something to work toward, a date on the calendar, something to keep me focused and training thoughtfully.

Until now.

Those who know me constantly ask what I'm training for, mostly because I've always been training for something. For the first time since I started running, I don't have an answer. I don't have a race date on the calendar.

That's not to say that I'm not focused.

I still keep detailed training logs and charts. In all honestly, I probably keep them excessively and obsessively.

I enter all of my runs and bike rides into my new favorite online training tool, Dailymile. Plus, I have two "old-fashioned" charts that I keep on my desk at home - one that basically starts as a blank calendar and a separate list-style sheet with the headers "run" and "bike" across the top.
(The photo above is an actual snapshot of my desk.)

I tally the miles by week, again broken up by running and cycling miles, and by month.

I religiously monitor my progress toward my personal goal to run and bike 2,010 miles in 2010. (I've just hit the 1,100 mark for the year, so I'm well on my way to reaching that milestone.)

I look for trends in my training, which is easy with hard-copy logs that provide an immediate visual. I see large “X’s” on the days I don’t run or ride my bike. I see when my pace improves over time. I see when I put in so many consecutive days of running or riding that my body might need a rest.

Drive and motivation aren’t something I lack. But for the first time, I have no carrot at the end of the stick. I don’t have a finish line in my sights. I don’t have something to celebrate when I get there.

There is no “there.”

That might not be entirely a bad thing. It’s nice to have the freedom to run when I want, how far I want. It’s nice to go for a bike ride for relaxation and enjoyment, not because it’s part of a regimen of cross-training.

I need to enjoy those things while I can. I suspect, given my nature, I’ll find my next race challenge soon enough. With that will come a training schedule to follow and a goal to keep me moving forward.

Until then, I’ll be content just running because it’s what I like to do. And, as I always say, just because I can.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First Group Track Workout

Hi, my name is Teresa. And I'm thinking about joining AA.

Before you get too alarmed, it's probably not what you think. AA is a local running club here, Athletic Alliance.

I'd certainly heard of NHAA (I'll add the 'NH' to make it sound less like a well-known support group) plenty of times, even before I ever laced up my first pair of running shoes a few years ago. I'd seen their singlets, their logo. My job caused my path to cross with the paths of some of its members.

After I started running, they had always encouraged me to join. I'd been on the club's website plenty of times - and last year even made it to a season kick-off 5k that would launch the start of weekly track workouts. I took home the application. I even filled it out.

I'd planned to add track workouts to my marathon training last year at the urging of many experienced runners to swore by these training sessions. But somehow, I just didn't get there. There was always some reason not to go.

Truthfully, I was intimidated. I mean, this was a running club. I wasn't a runner. I was just someone who ran. For fun. These people were probably serious, clocking times, qualifying for Boston. Maybe winning races.

The application sat on top of my fridge for the entire season. When I moved last month, just about the time track workouts were starting again, I decided I'd just throw it away.

That doesn't mean that I haven't thought about joining the club and trying the track workouts. I'd thought about it plenty. But, I rationalized, if I didn't go at the start of the season I'd be an outsider. The group would be formed without me.

From time to time, I'd ask fellow Daily Milers questions about the club's track workouts. The application had gone in the trash, but my interest was still clearly there. A few days ago, I received a message from Ernesto, a fellow Daily Mile friend, who shares some personal and professional contacts.

Athletic Alliance was having an Open House.

I saw this as my second window of opportunity. In reality, I know I could have shown up and joined the club at any point, but it just seemed daunting and downright intimidating to even think about that. This Open House might mean there would be other newbies. Other people who didn't know the drills. Other people who didn't know the club members.

I opted out of a family obligation (apologies to TC!) and decided I'd commit to my first track workout with the club. I packed my running clothes and changed at the end of the day so I'd be able to make the 5:30 p.m. start.

I approached the field and saw two groups of people. One smaller group in the far end of the track's infield and a larger, livelier group that had dozens of children running around. The smaller group looked more serious, more focused. The larger group looked like they were there for a family event - like a PTO picnic or something.

Hesitating only briefly, I walked toward the larger group. I asked a woman if I was in the right place for the Athletic Alliance workout. "First time here?" she responded with a smile. "Welcome."

A wave of relief came over me. I looked around to see if I could find any familiar faces - keeping in mind that some of the "familiar faces" were only familiar from profile pics attached to their Daily Mile training logs.

Christine, whom I know through some work events and as a former neighbor, welcomed the group and asked if there were any newcomers. I looked around the crowd. No one moved. I opted not to raise my hand and identify myself as a rookie. I'd just ask around and learn the drill on the fly.

Somehow, I found Kristen, Ernesto's wife, whom I'd connected with on Daily Mile. Although we'd never met, it was nice to see someone familiar in the crowd. She smiled and shook my hand and quickly filled me in on all the must-knows. We ran the warm-up lap together as she explained how the workout would go. Another wave of relief.

The training session was well-run, with the day's scheduled workouts posted on the track's fence. The group was divided by running pace. I opted for the second-to-last pace group. (I think I'll feel okay going for the next level up after a week or two - but I certainly didn't want to get ahead of myself out of the gate.)

We did a series of 400s and 800s as the coordinator announced what we'd be running and when to line up. A large timing clock ran near the start/stop line.

Too focused on just getting things "right" in my first workout, I actually didn't even look at the clock or start my watch. I suppose the point of this exercise would be to improve my pace throughout training, so I'll have to take a look at that in the next few go-arounds.

The runners huffed and puffed and dripped sweat in the warm afternoon workout. They guzzled water during the breaks. They pushed themselves. But there was something else notable about this workout - it was full of smiles, laughs and camaraderie. They were having fun.

During one of the breaks, I met up with Ernesto (who wasn't running - he'd just finished two marathons in six weeks, one of which was one Sunday, and was on "kid duty" for the evening). He introduced me to Curt, another DM connection, who held his six-week-old baby while his wife ran the workout.

I was impressed by the family atmosphere of the event, keeping in mind that it was an Open House day and there was a kids' run planned for after the adult workout. I asked around and discovered that the inclusion of children wasn't totally out of the ordinary.

Children ran around the infield, they played in the play areas. Sometimes, they joined in the track run. And they were good runners. More impressively, they were learning healthy habits. They were seeing Mom and Dad take pride in something they enjoy.

The track workout ended relatively quickly - making me confident that it will be something that I can fit into my future Wednesday schedules. Kristen found me and led me around to introduce me to a few other club members. Ernesto introduced me to the club's president, who chatted with me about the Waterville duathlon.

I grabbed a slice of pizza and another club membership application. I promise this one won't sit on my fridge for a year. Maybe I'll hand-deliver it next Wednesday.

After all, the hard part is over - as usual, just having the courage to start.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Granite State of Mind

Happy anniversary to me.

A couple of weeks ago marked my 13th anniversary of living in New Hampshire, surpassing by far any other place I've lived.

I've never second-guessed my decision to move east after graduating from the University of Illinois (yes, 13 years ago - where does time go?!). But at the time, the decision wasn't an easy one.

My parents had moved to New Hampshire just after my freshman year of college. I'd done the long-distance thing with college, coming home on significant holidays, becoming almost an expert at maneuvering through airports and bus stations to get there. Or here. I'd "adopted" families in Illinois for long weekends and short trips to escape campus.

When I graduated, I weighed the options of trying to get job in Illinois or moving to New Hampshire, where I'd be closer to my family. Although I sometimes miss the group of friends I left behind, by now we've all gone our separate ways, more or less, and made our own lives.

Weekends like this one that just past remind me to be grateful that I decided to make my life in New Hampshire.

One of the things that drew me to the Northeast, besides the proximity of my family, was its landscape - the ocean, the mountains, the overall country feel of the state. I'd come from suburban Chicago, where the only trees were on "forest preserves" and pavement and strip malls stretched for as far as the eye could see.

Not exactly ideal for someone whose interests officially include "doing anything outdoors."

TC and I racked up a total of 127 miles on our bikes this weekend, each mile spent enjoying our time together, the ongoing physical activity, the fresh air, the sights, the sounds, everything around us.

Our first two rides were "norm
al" length - a 33-mile Friday night-er (one of our new favorite ways to end a workweek) on some familiar country roads and a 29-mile pre-Memorial Day cook-out ride on Sunday morning.

We planned to take advantage of the Memorial Day holiday (and the good weather!) with my longest ride yet. On Sunday night, TC sat at the laptop and mapped out a good 60-plus-miler. I sat beside him pretending not to be nervous.

It probably goes without saying that riding 60-plus miles takes a bit of planning.

In addition to our thought-out route, we planned our fueling. A big breakfast of eggs and multi-grain toast and several energy bars and a peanut butter sandwich to eat along the way. We each packed two bottles of Heed (electrolyte drink) to carry on our bikes and brought along some cash to buy more fluids to fill our bottles at the half-way point.

The morning started a bit earlier than we expected, thanks to a couple of canines who were anxious to get outside. We were packed and on our bikes before 8 a.m.

We rode through the city toward our country loop that would take us through 10 New Hampshire towns. I was struck by the tranquility of the normally busy, hectic city street. The trip through the city usually involves careful maneuvering of traffic, kids, people walking and shouting on the sidewalks.

Yesterday morning, most of that commotion was gone. (We still saw a couple of alarmingly bad drivers - like someone waiting in line at a stop light who decided to go around the car in front of him to go through the intersection. And another person who went straight through an intersection from a lane clearly marked for a right turn only.)

We made our way through Manchester and into Goffstown (and a pretty tough hill), a bit of Dunbarton, then back to Goffstown where we rode down the town's main street, just missing the start of the Memorial Day parade. The street was lined with spectators as we pedaled through.

The trip continued through Weare and onto New Boston, where just before the 30-mile mark, we decided to stop for our first "real" fuel. (We'd eaten a granola-like bar early into the ride - remembering good endurance advice to eat before you're hungry.)

The stop at New Boston's general store was like stepping into a postcard. (This pic from the town's website shows the st
ore. Judging by the cars out front, it was taken several years ago - but really, I can't be sure. It could have been taken yesterday.)

We sat on a bench and unwra
pped the sandwiches we'd been carrying in the pockets of our cycling jerseys, washing them down with gulps of Heed from our bottles.

At the end of the long porch sat the obligatory "country man" - you know, the old fellow in a baseball-type hat, dirty jeans and boots. The one who has lived there his entire life, knows everyone, greets everyone and sits for hours catching up on town goings-on. I bet if I went there right now, he'd be there. Or someone just like him.

Across the street was a small library, I think, and a church. Quintessential New England if I ever saw it.

After purchasing some Gatorade and water to refill our bottles, we continued on up a series of up-and-down hills that brought us through Mont Vernon, another picture-perfect town with a small Town Hall, a white church and a now-closed general store in the town's center.

We made a "pit stop" at a diner in Milford for a bathroom break (a sign that we were doing well on the hydration!), cruising into town just in time for the town's Memorial Day services at the town gazebo in the center of town. Speeches crackled from a sound system and the high school band played the National Anthem as the parade lined up.

TC and I jumped on our bikes to get ahead of the procession, pedaling next through Amherst and Merrimack - where we made one slight wrong turn (more accurately, missed a turn) and ended up on a busier, more commercial road. At least for a while.

We got back on track and onto the back roads, bringing us through Bedford and eventually back to Manchester.

By the time we got home, we'd logged 65.1 miles - making it my longest ride by almost 20 miles. My legs were tired and I couldn't wait to eat some "real" food, but my mind was clearer and more rested than it had been in a while.

And another great New Hampshire experience was filed away in my memory.

Photo credits: Mont Vernon (top pic) - www.boston.com; New Boston store - new-boston.nh.us

Monthy Mileage Update

One of the reasons I like Daily Mile, among the many, is that it allows me to quickly see progress (or lack of) in my training. Here's a snapshot of my monthly miles since I joined DM on New Year's Eve.

Bet you can tell when I started focusing on riding my bike this season ... those cycling miles add up fast!