Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Trail Blazin'

Every once in a while, I force myself outside my comfort zone.

When it comes to cycling, that could come in a variety of forms - steep downhills, challenging uphills, inner-city traffic, even trying to eat my energy bars and ride at the same time. Trust me, they're all outside my comfort zone.

I guess I was feeling a little bit daring on Sunday, so I decided to try a never-been-ridden route.

Let me clarify. It's not that the route had never been ridden by anyone. I wasn't blazing a trail and going where no man has gone before. Actually, it was quite the opposite, as I discovered along the ride when I saw clearly marked "bike route" signs on the roadside shortly into my ride.

But I'd never ridden it. And for this girl - the one who likes to stick to what (and where) she knows when it comes to riding - that was daring enough.

TC planned a 55-mile route through the towns on the west side of the city. I, for some reason, was feeling the tug to head east. (The fact that his mapped route showed a bit of red in the elevation chart did not play into my decision, I swear, although in hindsight maybe it should have.)

I mapped out a new route on the computer, inspired by a driving trip we took to the coast on some back roads on Saturday. The shoulders seemed wide, the traffic was relatively light and the roads meandered through some towns that I'd never explored by bike.

When it was all mapped, my route would give me a little more than 44 miles.

We geared up, prepared our water bottles and stuffed a few bucks in our pockets to stop for more water and Gatorade. The temps were into the 90s and we both planned long-ish rides, so two bottles wouldn't be enough to keep us hydrated.

Just as we pulled the bikes out, TC noticed he had a flat back tire. He used his spare tube to fix the flat in our kitchen - he's been getting a lot of those lately! - so I gave him mine to carry with him. Playing the odds, it was far more likely that he'd flat before me.

I joked that, despite the fact that I haven't had a flat since my third ride ever, handing him my spare and going out solo on a ride would surely jinx me
. (You already know what's going to happen, right?)

Let me say, I don't really believe in "jinxes" and superstitions. I'll walk under a ladder without giving it a second thought. More black cats have crossed my path than I can count. And I'm pretty sure I haven't experienced any ill-effects from any broken mirrors. Lucky charms? None.

Despite that, I now firmly believe that there's something about handing your spare to someone that apparently guarantees that you'll get a flat.

Call it bad luck or being jinxed - or maybe chalk it up to the fact that I've put 1,500+ miles on my bike since my last one. Whatever the reason, a couple of hours later - 2 hours and 21 minutes, to be exact - I was cruising down a hill on Route 28 in Derry, clicking upwards of 30 miles per hour, when I heard the distinct sound: Pfffffssssffffssss.

I glanced back at my rear tire and saw it limping along - not quite with a thud or a bump, but most certainly with that flat sound and feel. I looked down at my odometer. I was at the 37.5-mile mark. Ugh, almost made it.

A mere seven miles from home. Not bad, considering I'd planned a 40+ miler. But still, seven miles is a long way to walk a bike home, especially while wearing cycling shoes. I walked about a quarter-mile to a small, somewhat rundown convenience store that provided a place to sit and wait.

As I walked my bike into the lot, surely sweating like crazy from the summer heat and pavement, a man on a motorcycle watched me. "Goes faster if you ride it," he said, as I walked by him. My, you're very funny and witty, sir. Oh, by the way, thanks for asking if I need help.

I pulled out my iPhone and sent a text to TC: joke. (I can be kind of a smart ass sometimes and I thought he might think I was joking, especially given our exchange earlier.)

I followed the text up with a voicemail, giving him my exact location and asking him to call me to let me know he got the message. At least I'd know he was on his way. I just hoped his ride had gone as planned and that he was on schedule. If everything did, it wouldn't be a long wait.

The wait wasn't particularly long - maybe 45 minutes from the time I got the flat until TC pulled up to rescue me. I passed the time by sitting on an old brick flower box in the parking lot, playing with my various iPhone apps, checking email and exploring sites on the web browser.

I even inputted my workout into the Dailymile mobile site. (At this point it was safe to say my workout was complete.) I'd gotten 37.5 miles in - and averaged around 16 miles an hour, which is very fast for me - so I still felt good about it.

As I sat there, a cyclist passed - the same one I'd passed on the way down the hill, just before the flat. At that point, he'd just gotten to the top of the climb and was going pretty slow, but we still managed to exchange the Cyclist Wave.

By the time I saw him again - as I sat there with my broken bike - he was on the return trip and flying down the hill. "Nice hills, huh?" he called out with a wave and a smile. I assumed he thought I was resting from the hilly road.

I debated trying to flag him down, call out to him or otherwise let him now I wasn't just resting. I'm sure he would have pulled over to help and lend me a spare tube, if he had one. It's kinda the cyclists' code.

But I didn't. Instead, I just enjoyed the sunshine and waited for my knight in shining armor to arrive. Soon enough, he was there - exhausted from his challenging ride and oozing with apologies and guilt for taking my spare tube.

I totally wasn't mad. I wasn't frustrated. I was actually, believe it or not, in great spirits. I'd managed to get a good ride in, perhaps the longest solo ride I've taken. I'd pushed myself outside my comfort zone and tried a new route.

Next time, maybe I'll try to make it the whole 44 miles.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Race Report: Sometimes Numbers Do Lie

I grabbed second-place in my age division at the Bill Kelley Memorial Road Race 10K last night. Hold on, b
efore you cheer or send your congratulations, let me note a few things:

  • First, it was a relatively small race. My entire age group had fewer than 10 people in it.
  • I was six minutes behind the winner of my age group. I'm not great at math, but my quick calculations tell me that's about a minute per mile. Pretty significant.
  • I had a bad race.

Yes, you read that last one correctly. I'm describing my runner-up performance as bad, although less-than-ideal might be a little more appropriate.

You may ask how these two situations can possibly co-exist? Aside from the obvious explanations from the first two items on the above list, let me share a few highlights - and lowlights - from last night's race.

It was an evening start, just after work, something that's outside the norm for me. In fact, now that I think about it, I'm not sure that I've ever done an evening event. I have my morning race routine down pretty well - I'm lucky not to need much of a routine - but I know what to eat and drink. And when to eat and drink.

Yesterday, I wasn't sure what to do or when to do it. One of my biggest fears about the July evening race was the summer heat. Nervous about not being hydrated enough for the run, I spent most of the day downing bottles of water.

Perhaps a little too much? A few steps into the race, my bladder was about to burst. (Sorry for the blatant honesty.) Every footstep made it seem worse and I couldn't think of anything else. I told myself it would only be an hour and that I could make it through the race.

Just before the halfway point, I saw a runner ahead of me scoot into the woods at the dead-end of a turn-around point. I hesitated. Unlike my fellow running friends who seek out construction site porta-potties or duck into the woods on nearly every run, I've never even had to think about going during a run.

Last night was different. I crumbled and, like the runner ahead of me, dashed into the woods. I was sure to go far enough along the path that I would be clear from the sight of the other race runners - and the guy who ran into the woods ahead of me.

I have no idea how long the break took me. At that point, I didn't really care.

I'd run the first mile in about 8:30 and was happy to think about the possibility of a new PR. The second mile was nearly the same pace. By the third, just before I made the pit-stop, I was seriously slowing down.

It was much hotter than I would have liked - anything above 70 degrees is too hot for this northerner - and I quickly realized how much the heat affects my running. In fact, my worst runs have always been in the heat.

It's no surprise I trade my running shoes for cycling shoes on summer's hottest days.

The rest of the race was pretty unremarkable. My stomach churned a bit, not quite cramping up, but definitely something a little out of the ordinary. Essentially, I just tried to hang in there. I wasn't in danger of not finishing - after all, I can usually bang out 6.2 miles relatively easily - I was just in danger of not finishing the way I wanted to.

I took a few walk breaks and, even before I'd crossed the finish line, tried to figure out what exactly went wrong.

My less-than-ideal race can probably be chalked up to a few things - being out of my element in terms of eating and drinking before the race, being a bit relaxed with my running schedule lately and, perhaps, going in a bit too confident and ready to set a new PR.

Certainly, the latter wasn't going to happen. I knew that early on in the race. My 10K PR came last November when I crossed the line at 56:10, roughly a 9:00 minute-mile average. Last night, I crossed in 59:30, about 9:35 per mile.

Seeing those numbers puts things in perspective. Not long ago, there's no way I would have broken the hour barrier for a 10K. Maybe I just have really high expectations for myself. (No big surprise there.)

Even so, I hadn't really been preparing for this one. The race hadn't really been on my calendar or in my mind until earlier in the week. I haven't run a race since the Hyannis Half Marathon - by far the longest I'd ever gone without doing an organized event - and I'd recently mentioned on many occasions that I felt that I was lacking some sort of motivation or end goal, just the kind that the finish line at a race can bring.

Plus, I've felt stronger and fitter than I ever have before so I was curious if all of those miles I've logged would pay off in a race.
I hadn't really been training for a race, but I'd certainly been keeping up with my physical activity through loads of cycling miles with a few scattered runs each week. (Last night's race put me over the 1,500-mile mark in my 2,010 in 2010 Challenge.)

In hindsight, I wouldn't say those miles didn't pay off in last night's race, but I admit that I might need to really keep at it to see some consistent, significant improvement.

I might need to give a little extra attention to the quality, frequency and distance of my runs, which lately have mostly been confined only to my weekly Team in Training miles. On good weeks, I might sneak in a track workout. On really good weeks, I add one more solo run to the schedule.

I've really taken a liking to cycling, and since I can really only do it on nice summer days, it's taken away from my running. Plus, I have the 72-mile Tour of Tahoe coming up in September and I've still got the Century Ride to check off my yearly goals, so I've gotta keep those bike miles going.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. It's certainly my choice to opt for riding over running. Cycling has provided me with excellent cross-training and new challenges. And, quite frankly, I really, really like it. It's a fun way to explore and see new things, get a great workout and relax.

My not-quite-up-to-snuff performance at last night's race isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes being knocked down a few pegs can really help light a fire under me for the next challenge.

A tough race, one that pushes me mentally and physically, does a few things for me - it gives me plenty of learning opportunities and revives my drive and hunger to make the next one better.

Other race notes:

I was thoroughly impressed with this race, especially when it came to volunteer support. They were clearly visible in their bright orange shirts - and audible. Race organizers had passed out noise-makers - cowbells, horns, etc. - to volunteers, then shuttled them along the route. The entire course was dotted with groups of supporters, all of whom were friendly and helpful.

I'll note, however, that I continue to believe that volunteers along the route should know how far they are from the finish. We've all felt that tinge of frustration when someone tells you that "you're almost there" with several miles left to go.

I felt bad for the poor girl I passed just as she asked a volunteer how much farther she was from the finish. It was pretty obvious she wanted that run to be over. The volunteer assured her - although it didn't seem reassuring - that it was "not far, about a mile." In reality, we were without a doubt closer than a half-mile to the finish line. The fellow runner seemed relieved when I shared that bit of news with her.

Last night's race also gave me the opportunity to meet up with fellow DM'er Pete M., who runs and rides with his wife in Bedford. Pete and I had never met, but have corresponded and followed each others' training posts. I thought a face-to-face meeting with someone whom I'd only ever known as a tiny avatar photo might be awkward, but turns out it wasn't. We chatted easily and, had I been able to keep up with him as he blazed through the course, might have run the race together. No doubt our paths will cross again.

All in all, I'm definitely putting this race into my mental calendar for future years. Hey - maybe I'll be writing the won-my-age-group post next year?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Birthday Band

If I'm not running or riding, you'll find me wearing two pieces of jewelry.

On my left middle finger, you'll find a petite ruby and diamond band, an anniversary present from my grandfather to my grandmother many years ago. On my right, you'll find a large, colorful opal surrounded by tiny diamonds.

I distinctly recall my grandmother pulling the tiny ruby band from her jacket pocket to give it to me on a trip to Toronto a few years ago. Soon after, although I can't remember if it was marked by a birthday or other occasion, my mother presented the round sparkly opal to me - also once belonging to my grandmother.

For all of my no-nonsense, tough-as-nails exterior that most people see, there is a part of me - a lot of me, actually - that's pretty sentimental. The rings aren't about the size or the shape or the color. They're about family and memories - and about always having a piece of something meaningful with me.

A few weeks ago, after I cleaned up from a long birthday bike ride, a bright gift bag with colorful tissue paper awaited me on the coffee table. I hadn't a clue what TC had planned on getting me - and to be honest, I hadn't given it much thought. For once, I didn't speculate or ask. Instead, I preferred to enjoy the surprise. After all, it really wasn't about what was in the bag, was it? It really is the thought that counts.

I reached inside the seemingly weightless bag - seriously, it seemed as if nothing was in it - and pulled out a shiny metal container. It was square, much larger and shaped differently than a standard jewelry box.

On the lid, imprinted in the shiny silver top, were the words and logo: Road ID.

I immediately smiled. Road IDs are a line of athlete-friendly identification. They come in wristbands (several kinds and many colors), shoe tags, necklaces. I'd mentioned to TC on several occasions that with all the miles we put on without any identification on us, it might be a good idea to have one.

Inside the box was a rubbery orange band with a small, stainless steel, laser-engraved plate that listed my name, birth year, hometown and two emergency contact names and phone numbers (TC and my dad).

The bottom line read: The miracle is that I had a courage to start.

Tears filled my eyes. It was far more thoughtful and sentimental than any other gift I could have gotten - and probably the part that hit me in the heart the hardest is that it was
exactly what I would have chosen. Exactly - right down to the color and quote.

The John Bingham quote appears at the top of this blog and, to me, sums up my life just as much as it does anything to do with training and running.

My reaction surprised me - sometimes that softy inside of me escapes unexpectedly - and as I thanked TC for his thoughtfulness, he revealed one more surprise: a Road ID for him to wear on his rides. (He gets presents on my birthday!)

His was yellow, which matches his bike accents, with the quote: It doesn't get any easier, you only go faster. It's a quote from a professional cyclist that I've heard relayed countless times by TC, usually as I huffed and puffed my way up the hill and lamented that cycling can be hard. Apparently, it's always going to be hard, but I'll just end up getting faster. That's supposed to be reassuring?

The rubber wrist bands seem like a simple gift and an easy way to make me happy. But I was truly touched. I seriously doubt that I would have had a similar reaction had I opened a box containing a sparkly diamond bracelet. Actually, I'm sure I wouldn't have.

Like the two rings I wear, it was about the sentiment. It meant that TC "got" me. He understands my passions for running and riding - and more importantly doesn't brush off the fact that I'm slightly obsessive about getting lost or hit by a car. (Have I mentioned I do not trust drivers at all?)

I'm not naive. I know bad things happen.

It probably doesn't help that I'm a current events junkie - working at a newspaper will do that to you - and hear horror stories of Jane Does in the hospital and crash victims crumpled on the roadside.

It also doesn't help that I'm connected with other athletes throughout the country through various online training sites and hear their real-life, scary mishaps. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to see pictures posted. Sure, just what I need.

Those stories and pictures stick with me - like the TNT runner in Georgia who was hospitalized for three days without anyone knowing who she was after getting hit by a car on her run.

I'm constantly playing those "what if" scenarios in my head. What if it happened to me?

These days, I trade my two rings for the orange rubber wristband on Friday night. I make the switch again on Monday morning, just before I have to get to work. If all goes as planned, I log a whole lot of miles in between.

My Road ID is honestly one of the best birthday presents I've ever gotten. (I should note that TC's arrangements for a horse last summer were pretty over-the-top, too, and that a separate birthday bag this year contained a super-cool camera to replace one stolen from my car last month.)

It's one of the best - but it's
also one that I hope I never "need" to use. I'll be totally content wearing it on my wrist and thinking about its meaning for a long, long time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

News Flash: Hiking's Hard

Sometimes I love when the weatherman is wrong. (Or should I use the somewhat less old-school and more politically correct term "meteorologist"?)

As someone whose activities rely heavily on being outdoors, I'm a near-constant watcher of the weather. Yay for iPhone apps that allow me to be extra-obsessive about this. Just a slight hint of sarcasm here.

Today is one of those days - a day that I expected to be cloudy and rainy, a day I'd written off in terms of doing a run or a ride after work.

That all changed when I stole a few minutes this afternoon for an errand and was hit with a blast of bright sunshine - and despite that it is probably hotter than ideal for a run or a ride, the possibility that one of the two might be happening tonight.

Possibility. Might. I'd use more definitive terms if I haven't been reminded that my body might not be in tip-top shape for activity tonight. By that, I mean reminded every time I've gotten out of my chair today.

See, somehow I'm still feeling the effects of Saturday's hike. Yes, two full days later, I'm still feeling it.

Saturday's hike, although mentally relaxing, was apparently physically taxing. If I recall correctly, I asked for it to be that way.

After flipping through the AMC guidebook at the campsite Saturday morning, TC had narrowed our trip down to two possible trails - coincidentally, both about 2.5 miles long. Yes, two and a half miles. That's nothing for someone who's somehow managed to squeeze in 100+ miles of running and riding for each of the last three weeks, right?

Wrong. With a capital W.

The first option was a nearby trail - almost literally a stone's throw away from our site - that would lead us up a 2.5-mile trail to a small mountain. Actually, I'm not even sure it was a "mountain."

The second option was to tackle Mt. Jefferson, which I later learned is the third highest peak in New Hampshire. Yep, a 5,700-foot-high mountain in the Northern Presidentials.

By the numbers, it didn't seem like it would be overly difficult. After all, it was 2.5 miles, and the trail started at 3,000+ feet, the highest point of any public highway in the state. That would mean the drive there would give us an edge up, right?

Not quite. A closer read of the AMC book revealed the real story. The guide's description was peppered with words like "strenuous" and "steep" and included the phrase "rock scramble." The writer even bluntly cautioned against underestimating the challenge by looking at the mileage alone.

After all, we'd be gaining 2,700 feet of elevation in those two and a half short miles.

TC left the decision up to me, which he almost always does. Almost without hesitation, I told him we'd take a crack at Mt. Jefferson. If I'm going to work that hard and hike, I'm at least going to get the payoff of a spectacular view at the end, I told him. Plus, I don't really shy away from a challenge - vacation or not.

Properly prepared with all of the essentials in a backpack, TC and I hit the trail by mid-morning. The trail wound upwards through the woods briefly and brought us to a cool look-out point marked by a giant rock. We stopped to appreciate the view and take a few gulps from our bottles (and recruited a passing family to snap the picture at the top of this post).

From there, we were hit with a wall of rocks. I climbed steadily (not quite as steadily as my well-seasoned hiking companion), using my leg muscles and, often, my arm muscles to pull myself up the rocks. This is where I learned exactly what a "rock scramble" was.

We went up and up. And up and up some more.

Sweat was pouring off of me (well documented in some of the photos we took along the way), my breathing got harder and my heart rate climbed. Definite signs that my body was working.

TC led the way most of the way - and I tried to keep up. As we neared the top, which required nothing but climbing on rocks, I fell back slightly and asked for a few breaks. He happily obliged.

We enjoyed some time at the top, including a backpack lunch in a hidden nook that shielded us from the incredible wind at the peak of the mountain. We made sure we hit the exact summit, which was marked with a metal pin of some sort, then headed back down.

Turns out, descending is almost as difficult as going up the mountain. At times, it was harder. I guess it's kind of like cycling. Intuition might tell you that going down would be the simple part, but it's not always easy. It takes concentration and work - especially if you want to do it safely, efficiently and correctly.

Slowly but surely, we stepped our way down the rocky passes - reading the slope and shape of the rocks and deciding which one (and which exact spot) would give us the best footing. We held on branches, roots and part of rocks along the way for extra support when we needed it. Total body workout, for sure.

Almost five hours later, we made it back to the bottom of the trail. Yes, five hours of climbing - "strenuous" and "steep" and "rock scrambling" climbing.

I felt great. And didn't have one ounce of guilt that I'd nixed all plans for riding and running all week and weekend. A post-hike check when I returned home to a computer confirmed that it was a good workout. I burned an estimated 2,600 calories. (That's almost equivalent to a marathon!)

Not surprisingly, my body was a bit stiff when I awoke Sunday morning - but I partly attributed it to the fact that I was sleeping in a tent all night, tossing and turning during a night of thunderstorms.

That morning stiffness didn't dissipate much and, as we wandered the streets of a nearby town on the way home, I realized my body really was feeling that hike - feeling it in my quads and calves and even a bit in my upper body at times.

Even today, I feel a twinge of hurts-so-good in my muscles when I stand up from my chair.

That brings me back to tonight. To ride or not to ride... stay tuned.

Update: Turns out, the meteorologists (yep, I'll use the more scientific word now) were right. A summer storm rolled through just after 7:30 p.m., as TC and I were strolling through the grocery store on the hunt for dinner. It's also the precise time that we'd be about the furthest point from home if we'd gone for a ride. Rain came down heavier than I'd seen it in a while and thunder clapped loudly overhead. As we huddled under the overhang hoping the wind and rain would pass long enough for us to dash to our car, we both acknowledged that ditching plans to ride that evening was a wise decision. Very wise. Just another reason to listen to your body - and those meteorologists. Sometimes.

A Moment of Moments

There's something about that moment - the one where I totally let myself unplug. Literally.

No phone. No computer. No email. No Facebook. No DailyMile. No training charts. No dog schedule. No calendar. No race to the bike after work.

At that moment, it's just about me and TC.

I suppose the "moment" is actually made up of a series of moments, starting with the moment the car is finally packed, the dogs are at their respective grandparents' homes for the weekend and we're finally on the road north.

It's the moment when I realize that I won't have cell coverage - and instead of feeling anxious or worried about it, welcome it with open arms. It's at that moment I put my phone in my car's console and don't care about looking at it until I get back to reality in a few days.

It's the moment when the tent is up, the chairs are out and the only sounds I hear are the frogs singing, the chipmunks scurrying and ducks dunking themselves into the water.

And maybe more than anything, it's the moment when we reach the top of the treeline on our hike - when all I hear is our footsteps, the birds and the wind occasionally blowing by me.

Hiking - even with all of its physical exertion, windy summit and necessary planning - is perhaps the quietest moment of all.

Not much compares to being at the top of the mountain, looking as far as you can see without seeing as much as a hint of the hustle and bustle of every day life.

The moment that we're nestled in a hidden nook shielded from wind to each lunch and look out at the surrounding mountaintops is hard to create at any other time or in any other place.

It's not to say we're alone at the top. There are plenty of folks up there. But even when we pass people along the mountain trail or at the summit, the conversation and exchanges are quiet and calming.

I think we're all there seeking the same thing - a connection with nature, ourselves and each other. Once again, mission accomplished.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Beat the Heat

I've been asked as part of a running column for the newspaper to put together a list of tips for running in the heat. Actually, kind of ironic since my main column will be an adaptation of my last post declaring that I'm not running in this stuff.

For what it's worth, here's the sidebar that will run: 10 Ways to Beat the Heat - and Run Smart. Thanks to the Dailymile friends who added their tips.

1. Drink, drink. And drink some more. Carry water on your run, even at shorter distances when you normally wouldn’t bring any. Sip often – about 4 oz. every 15 minutes - rather than guzzling large amounts less frequently. Importantly, don’t wait until you feel thirsty because thirst is not an indicator of dehydration. Once you are thirsty, you are already low on fluids. Good hydration isn’t just about what happens during your run, so drink plenty of water in the days leading up to your run, too.

2. Run Early. Set your alarm and get up before the sun gets high in the sky – or before it gets up at all. Not only will you avoid the hottest part of the day, you’ll enjoy the quietness of the roads, the chirping of the birds and getting a run in before most of the world is moving.

3. Run Slower and Shorter. The hottest days are not the ones to test your ability. It’s okay to make adjustments by slowing down the pace and considering a shorter route.

4. Move It. Try to seek out shady route or try a trail run with tree cover. Hot days might even mean running indoors on a treadmill at an air-conditioned gym and can be the perfect time to try something new, like aqua-jogging.

5. Dress for Success. Choose light-colored and lightweight clothing. Stick to materials that will wick moisture away from your body, not cotton.

6. Cover Up. Shade your face with a visor or hat. A visor will allow for your body to cool itself through your head. If you choose to wear a hat, consider plunging it in water for extra cooling. Don’t forget the sunglasses and sunscreen, especially if your runs will put you in the sun for longer periods of time.

7. Lubricate. Not all running tips are glamorous. Apply Body Glide or another anti-chafing product liberally and everywhere that skin meets skin. Moisture in the form of sweat is just like running in the rain. If you do not prepare for it properly, you’ll pay the painful price in the form of chafing and blisters.

8. Replace the salt. Feel that grit on your skin? That’s salt. Your body will naturally lose salt and other minerals while you run, so be sure to replace it during your run by adding in sports drinks with electrolytes, any of the electrolyte-enhanced running fuel. Try salty foods like pretzels as a post-run snack.

9. Listen to your body. Simply put, take a break when you feel like you need one. What are bodies tell us is more important that what’s on the training schedule.

10. Take heat seriously. Know the warning signs of heat exhaustion and stroke. If you feel unusually fatigued or are experiencing any danger signs, like cramping, dizziness or nausea, stop exercising immediately and get to a cool spot. Extreme or prolonged symptoms could mean a trip to the emergency room.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Sizzler

Once again I find myself walking the line between being a wimp and being crazy.

Maybe that line I'm walking, the one that's ever-changing and always undefined, is actually that gray area called being "smart." At least that's what I'm rationalizing.

Temps have skyrocketed into the 90s and even inching up over 100 degrees in some places over the past several days. And the humidity? Well, there's a reason that the "it's not the heat, it's the humidity" saying is so popular.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I dislike the heat. Actually, I really like it. I love the summer and being outside with the sun beaming down on me. I love sitting on the beach or by a pool. I love floating around in a canoe or in a kayak. I love the sun-kissed look of my summer skin. I even love a good sunburn every now and then. (Yes, I realize that's a stupid and dangerous thing.)

But the heat becomes a whole other story when it comes to running or cycling. It's when that wimp-crazy line become completely blurred.

An integral part of my "birthday weekend" - (yes, I declared a whole weekend of celebration, which is what you're entitled do when your birthday falls on a long weekend in the summer) - was to log a whole slew of miles from the minute I stepped out of work on Friday until I had to go back on Tuesday.

I wanted a Friday ride, my usual Saturday morning team practice, a pre-cookout ride on Sunday and a good long ride with TC on Monday. I wanted to take advantage of the wonderful weather we were going to have, coinciding with the lack of must-do's on the calendar (except for a few welcomed family activities).

Everything up until Monday was pretty normal. I put in 56 miles on the bike between two rides and sandwiched a 9-mile run in between them on Saturday.

On Sunday, TC and I planned an early start to our ride and, in another near-perfect long holiday ride, managed 54.5 miles through the New Hampshire countryside - even having a fueling stop (a.k.a. lunch) on some shady rocks near a lake tucked away from the main road.

As we made our way back into the city and the sun climbed higher into the sky, I could feel the temperatures rising. I could feel the rays beating down onto my back. I could feel the heat coming up from the pavement.

I glanced at my bike computer's thermometer at one of the stoplights. It read 106.

Yes, 106 degrees!

I realize it's not entirely accurate and the thermometer was most likely picking up the intense sun that was shining on it. But hey, that same sun was shining down on me. I was only a foot or less from that thermometer and it was telling me what I already knew. It was insanely hot.

We both noted how empty the city was. There was barely any traffic at the intersections, no kids running on the sidewalks, none of the usual hustle and bustle we see on rides back to our downtown place. It seemed everyone had high-tailed it to the ocean, the pools or the lakes.

During the ride, we'd been lucky to pick up some country breezes (combined by the natural wind created while cycling), and we'd gotten up early enough to beat most of the heat. If not for the heat, I'm sure we would have gone further - we were both feeling great, and I managed to log one of my fastest rides yet.

That was Monday morning. We spent Monday afternoon holed up inside our air-conditioned apartment, even leisurely napping at one point. Even by Monday evening, the heat was so intense when you walked outside, it was almost unimaginable that we'd put on that kind of bike mileage earlier in the day.

It was so hot that when we decided to take TC's new convertible to the beach for dinner we drove with the top up. Think about it - a new convertible with the top up on the way to the beach? Yep, that's really hot.

There was no relief on Tuesday - when official temps were recorded over 100 degrees. And no relief today. The heat hangs heavily in the air, and the humidity wraps itself around you when you step outside.

Tuesday became an automatic rest day. I had no desire to go outside an run or ride. Even the mornings, when the air is usually refreshing and crisp, seemed unbearable. Wednesday, today, was a scheduled track day. No way I was stepping foot on a track on a night light tonight.

So that makes two straight days off. Tomorrow is another day off due to an engagement we have to entertain some friends for dinner. Truth be told, if the weather continued like this (like it's supposed to), I'm sure I wouldn't want to do anything physical even if I had a free evening.

That's where that blurry line comes again.

I've read the heat warnings and advisories to limit physical activity and to stay indoors as much as possible. I've learned of "emergency cooling locations" opening up to help people without air conditioning. I've read story after story on how people deal with this weather.

On the other hand, I continue to see post on preparing for summer runs, filled with tips on hydration and other hot-weather accommodations to make. I see workouts posted by fellow runners who brave this stuff and survive.

So I know I can do it. The problem is I really just don't want to.

Undoubtedly, I feel the nagging inside of me when I miss a few days like this. I wouldn't even call it guilt. It's just that I'm missing something I genuinely like doing. Lacing up my running shoes or hopping on my bike after work might even be part of what defines who I am. It's what I do.

But until Mother Nature decides to make it just a bit more practical for me to get out there, I'll try to do the smart and sensible thing - and stay cool.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Stepping Into A New Age Bracket

Five years ago, at the ripe old age of 30, I re-examined my life - you know, just took a long, hard look at where I was and where I was going. Perhaps I should say, where I wasn't going.

Turns out, I wasn't exactly happy with the path I was on. I probably knew that on my 28th birthday. And my 29th. But it took a "big" birthday - for some reason the ones that end in "0" or "5" tend to force us into those reflective moments, don't they? - for me to take a serious look.

It took me a while to admit to myself - and way longer to actually do something about it - that I needed a change. Truth be told, it was a lot of work - a lot of emotional work - to figure out why I wasn't happy, who I wanted to be and what I wanted life to be like.

Think about it - have you actually ever done that? Totally re-examined your life and your decisions, then consciously worked toward the future?

I truly believe that every moment of our past, good or bad, shapes us into who we are today. I've often said that I wouldn't change where I've come from, which might be surprising to those who endured my whining about it. (Okay, I might change the fact that it ate up such a significant chunk of my life - couldn't I figure things out faster and earlier? But that's about it.)

It's a rare gift to actually pick apart all of those not-so-good moments to help ourselves go forward with conviction and confidence. Yes, I said it's a gift - certainly not exactly what I was thinking at the time.

Kinda like the "you're going to appreciate that hill training when race day comes along" advice we try to give to our new runners.

For me, those dark days and life's turmoil were like the less-than-ideal days of training - those long runs in torrential downpours, those frigid days that make you question why you run, those aches and pains.

All of those tough-it-out days on the road are what make you stronger. They make you a better runner. And they just mean that much more when you hit the Finish Line successfully. And smiling.

Is it too cliche to say life is like a marathon?

Today I turn 35. That means, when it comes time to enter my next race, I'll be in a new age bracket.

Know what? I'm totally ready for it. From a running perspective, I'm leaps and bounds better than I was when I started running three years ago. I'm stronger. And I'm smarter.

It's not hard to see the parallels between my progress as a runner and my progress in life.

It's not a coincidence that I took up running at the age of 32, just as I was struggling through some of life's challenges. With every step I took while running, I took a step forward in life. And that sentence is just as true in the present tense.

Despite the calendar reminding me that I've added another year, I feel younger now than I ever have - more confident, focused, content and healthy. I am totally, completely satisfied with where I am at this very moment.

I am without a doubt or any hesitation looking forward to the next year. And the one after that. And the one after that.

Yeah, that's right. I'm not scared of you, 35. Just don't ask me to think about your friend, 40 ... not yet anyway.