Monday, August 30, 2010

Now Or Never

This is it.

My "training" for the Tour of Tahoe is done. I logged a 50-miler yesterday, which included a trip up Mile Hill (which is actually 1.25 miles long, go figure!) about 20 miles in. That climb was followed by a long, slow, grind up another hill on Route 13.

As he mapped out the ride, TC noted that it would be a good last ride before the Tahoe trip - pushing me up two decent-sized hills and getting some good mileage on my legs.

Just add another 20 miles somewhere in the middle and I'd have my Tahoe ride, more or less. Oh, and raise the route about 5,000 feet to add the extra challenge of riding at higher altitude.

I mounted my bike Sunday morning with 100 miles and change left in my personal challenge to ride and run 2,010 miles in 2010. I'm certainly more excited than I thought I would be (or perhaps should be?) as I've ticked off these last few hundred miles. That "finish line" is finally in sight.

The plan was to knock out 50 miles - not my highest mileage to date, but certainly the most I'd planned in a while. I felt good to be out for a distance ride.

I looked forward to completing the miles, but I felt a rush of butterflies and stomach flip-flops at the thought of Mile Hill. I'd never ridden it. I'd never even thought about riding it, actually. I was familiar enough with the long, steep climb by car that it made me sufficiently nervous to even think about riding it on two wheels.

It was the third leg of the stool - the third of three hills TC had planned for my You Better Get Your Butt Up Some Hills If You Expect To Survive Tahoe crash training regimen.

I'd already made it up Mountain Road. Just the its name gives you a sense of this 2.5 mile climb. A few days later, I went up and over another nearby climb. Both were big confidence boosters.

But Mile Hill was still out there. A 1.25-mile steady incline, ranging between 6-10 percent incline. What made Mile Hill a little bit different than the others was that it did have any breaks along the way. Even the other big climbs flattened out briefly in spots to give my burning leg muscles a break.

Mile Hill's elevation chart ranged from red to purple. As TC described it, "You'll get a rest, but it will be at six percent grade, so it's still going to hurt. It's just going to hurt less than the other parts."

Oh, great.

I mentally prepared for the long haul up - but I had to get there first. We spent the first 20-so miles of the ride in relatively familiar territory. It was a picture-perfect day with bright-blue skies. I tried to enjoy it as much as I could, but in reality my mind was focused on that monster ahead. Eventually, I knew, we'd reach the bottom of Mile Hill.

And it was up to me to reach the top.

We rounded the corner that brought us to the base of the hill and we were off. Or up.

The climb started almost immediately. I knew it would be slow, steady grind. I found my groove (a very slow groove, mind you) and kept cranking. The cool breeze that I'd felt for the first shady part of our route had immediately disappeared. The sun shone down on me hard.

I pushed and pushed. I could feel the force of the bike and gravity - or whatever it is, exactly, that makes going up a hill do darn hard - working against me. That force clearly wanted me at the bottom of the hill.

I fought and pushed. And realized that, hey, this isn't quite as bad as I was expecting it to be. Don't get me wrong. It was hard. My leg muscles were working overtime and I was practically moving in slow motion. (At moments like these, I often wonder how slow you can actually go on a bike and remain upright.)

TC rode beside me, encouraging me all the way. He did all the talking. I remained essentially silent (at one point I muttered something about feeling as if I was going to catch on fire) as he navigated me up the hill.

Finally, I crested. Totally and completely out of breath, sweat pouring off me - and smiling. I couldn't help but feel relief and pride at the top. I'd done it. I'd knocked another "question mark" off my list. Oh, and I hadn't even needed to click down into my Granny Gear.

TC held out his hand for a high-five. I lightly - ever-so-lightly - tapped his hand in celebration. I realized just how wobbly I still was from climbing the hill and my bike unexpectedly veered to the right, nearly onto the gravel shoulder. A gravel shoulder and my skinny road bike tire - combined with my shaky post-hill balance - would have resulted in disaster.

Luckily, I remained upright and we began our decent. A quick stop for a water refill at a local store and we were off for Climb Two, a less-steep but still-long climb that was a good test for my tired legs.

Once at the top, we enjoyed the last dozen miles of fast descent on new pavement. My speedometer ticked up to 34 mph. I'm sure TC's was much higher. We'd agreed to meet at the stop sign a few miles down the hill, and he was almost instantly out of my line of sight.

By then, the temps had skyrocketed. As we made our way through the city, where it always seems warmer, it was nearly unbearable.

We entered our parking lot with 50.1 miles on the books. And a great confidence-boosting ride before my next big challenge. Next stop, Tahoe.

After a few relaxing days in Napa, of course...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Runner's Remorse

Something's ailing me. It's not a pain in my foot or sore legs. It's something a less, well, medical.

I'm suffering from a bout of Runner's Remorse.

The symptoms first started last Wednesday when a few colleagues asked me whether I planned on running the Cigna/Elliot Corporate Road Race, a local 5K. It's not just "a" 5K. With the number of runners (and walkers) totaling somewhere around 6,000, it's perhaps "the" 5K for the state.

Up until that point, I'd completely written off the Cigna race. Don't get me wrong, I've heard great things about this race and organizers certainly does a good job at attracting at massive number of runners and encouraging non-runners to work toward a participate in an athletic event.

But it also has a few features that I, personally, don't like, namely an after-work start, a 3.1-mile distance and the aforementioned massive number of runners.

I'm not a big evening runner - not in the summer, at least, when I find that the temps never dip down quite enough to provide a comfortable run. As I noted after the Bill Kelly 10K last month, after-work races provide an extra challenge for me to properly hydrate and fuel.

Then there's the distance. A 5K just isn't my thing. Think of that whole tortoise and hare scenario. I pride myself on the long, steady run. I can settle into double-digit miles quite easy, but throw me into a 5K and I'm completely out of my element.

I've often said that I don't like the first couple miles of a run - any run. In the case of a 5K, that's practically all of it.

And lastly, the crowds. I've run big races, bigger than Cigna, and loved them. But I have a hard time gearing myself up, mentally, to run a race that will last shorter than the time it takes me to change into my running clothes, park and get to the starting line.

So, the decision not to run was seemingly a simple one. That is, until that Runner's Remorse started creeping up on me.

On race day, I got asked no fewer than a dozen times whether I was running the event. It seemed as if everyone I encountered that day assumed I'd be signed up. One late-day email I sent to a committee member came with a quick reply: "Shouldn't you be at the starting line?"

As strange as it seems to me, people are starting to think of me as "a runner" and, as one person pointed out, I'm "kinda corporate" so presumably the Cigna race should have been right up my alley. (I'm still trying to figure out if being "kinda corporate" is meant as a compliment.)

The race questions and comments continued throughout the day, and it seemed as if everyone was running the race. Even my friend, who is eight-months pregnant, was participating as a walker.

Runner's Remorse really flared up on the night of the race. I started seeing Facebook posts with finishing times and photos. Smiling runners everywhere. A few of my friends were volunteering. My team coach even crossed the line as the third overall female.

With the constant stream in my social media news feed, along with the newspaper coverage and online comments the next morning, I felt as if I might have been the only person to skip the race.

I suddenly realized I was missing out on a big piece of New Hampshire running community. I'll have to remember that next year when registration time comes around.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Canine Chaos

Let me start this post off with a disclaimer: I'm a dog person.

Actually, that might be a bit of an understatement. I love my dog more than you probably think possible. I have more photos documenting that pup than I do of anything or anyone else in my life.

He's practically my shadow.
He makes me smile and laugh. And even at his wildest, misbehaving moments (yes, he still gets those rambunctious puppy moments - despite the fact that he just turned five), he's just plain awesome.

It's safe to say I don't have a fear of dogs, even big, stereotypically "scary" ones.
That is, until I experienced my first real "fear moment" the other day while on a bike ride in a nearby town.

I was riding along quite comfortably, enjoying the wind in my face and the smell of the fresh outdoors, when two black dogs came bounding out of the woods into the road ahead of me. They stopped right in my path - and the path of an oncoming car that was riding up alongside me.

The car's driver did a semi-screech to a stop. I managed to glide to a stand-still a little more gracefully.

One of the dogs - a black lab - quickly became distracted by something else. Perhaps a sound or a smell. Just something that he or she found infinitely more interesting than me and the car. The lab scampered off.

But its cohort, a black pitbull, stood firm. It lowered its head ever so slightly and stared at me. It let out a low growl and a few barks - not come-play-with-me barks, either.

I stood motionless, realizing at that moment that I wasn't quite sure what to do in this instance.

Up until now, I've been lucky with my canine encounters during my running and riding miles. I've been followed by more
than a handful of curious pups, and even have walked a few home to their owners.

Once, I recall a Rottweiler racing across its front yard as I ran by. I stopped instantly, recalling my own dog's love of the "chase me" game. (Somehow when it's your fuzzy baby, getting chased by a running dog isn't as scary.) The owner came out of the garage, quickly called off the dog without incident and apologized.

Back at the scene of my recent bike ride, the black pitbull trotted circles around the car, still giving a bit of a growl. As soon as the car's path was clear, the driver accelerated - leaving me, now alone, with this seemingly not-so-friendly companion.

The barking increased in intensity, and it was honestly the first time I'd ever actually been afraid of a dog. I might actually get attacked, I thought. The dog surely didn't like something about me - perhaps it had never seen a cyclist or a bike up close. Let's face it, those reflective sunglasses and helmet are a bit of a weird sight to anyone.

I talked to it in a calming voice, figuring it might realize I was actually human and back off a bit. After all, this was someone's pet - just like mine, right?

The growling continued, and it started to pace a line back and forth the length of my bike. I looked around, hoping its owner would be somewhere, ready to call it off. Unfortunately, I couldn't even see a house from where I was stopped, and al
though there were a couple of nearby driveways, I didn't see a soul.

I weighed my options. Surely, once I got up to speed, I'd be able to out-ride the dog - the key being, once I got up to speed. I was at a complete stop. It would take me a few moments to re-clip into my pedals and get started, precious seconds that might kick that dog's prey drive into overdrive.

So I waited. I tried to act "unafraid," although I'm sure the dog could sense my racing heart and breathing. Dogs can sense fear, can't they? (I've never understood the advice to "act like you're not afraid" anyway.)

Eventually - it seemed like a long time, but I'm sure it wasn't more than a minute or two - another car came along in the opposite direction. The driver yelled to the dog, more of a warning sound than any specific words I could understand, and the dog took off in the other direction.

I looked back. It was far enough back to give me a decent head-start, even if the dog decided to chase me. I was confident, even with my slow start-up and not-so-fast regular pace, that I could get well ahead of it. Clipped in and rolling, I waved and smiled to the driver. Relief.

In an attempt to preempt the standard anti- and pro-pitbull debate, let me share another tidbit of information. My cuddly, loving pup - my shadow - is a 115-pound German Shepherd.

I'm constantly confronted with the stereotypes associated with my German Shepherd, but I (unlike the owner of this dog, apparently) am acutely aware that people are afraid of my dog - at least they're afraid of the way he looks.

I admit he looks scary, which is actually ironic considering it's practically guaranteed that he'd probably lick you and snuggle with you in lieu of biting or growling. Of course, I know that. You, if you passed me on the street, do not.

My dog is most decidedly big, both in size and the attitude he gives off. He walks with authority, he's alert and always looking around. If I'm walking him and you're nearby, there's not a chance that he didn't see you. Bottom line, he's intimidating. (A positive trait when I have to do solo walks in the not-so-great neighborhood at night, by the way.)

Knowing that people get nervous, I take extra steps to make people as comfortable as possible around him. I always have. I've spent literally years and hundreds of dollars (perhaps more) in training classes. I made every effort to socialize him with every kind of person and dog I could get him in contact with.

He never goes unleashed (unless at a dog park - and even then, I don't take my eyes off him for a second). When we approach someone on the sidewalk (if they haven't already crossed the street to avoid my beast like they sometimes do), I hold him a bit closer so that his curious face doesn't end up rubbing up against them.

If I have my dog with me, I always ask permission to ride the elevator in our building if I encounter another person.

Needless to say, I'm not afraid of dogs that people are typically afraid of. In fact, I'm often more afraid of the "friendlier" breeds that people don't control as well as they should. But this pitbull was just a little too aggressive for my liking.

Let me be clear, I don't blame the dog or the breed.
I would have felt the same way if it were that black lab that was growling at me.

Instead, I blame the owner. The dog never should have been running around loose and unattended. Even discounting my encounter, there was a strong possibility the dog could have gotten hit by a car.

The unfortunate thing is, the owner - no where to be seen in this entire scenario - doesn't even know how much of an inconvenience (at best) and danger (at worst) his little friend was.

Here's a picture of my "little" guy - whom you'll never find running around without me.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Confession: I've been a total crab lately.

While I've mostly likely (hopefully) been able to hide this from most people I've come in contact with - especially if they don't know me well - there's no escaping the fact that I know I haven't been my usual cheerful self.

This morning, after I struggled to change a flat on my bike in my kitchen before a bike ride, it came to a head with a meltdown - the kind where I end up crying for no particular reason.

I could feel "it" brewing inside me as I wrestled to get the tire separated from the rim - a real-life reminder that as tough and independent as I try to be, there are still some things I can't do.

Sometimes I need help. (I've never been good at asking for it.)

After a frustrating experience shoving the new tube back into its spot and trying with all of my might to get the tire to re-seed properly into the rim, I reached for the air pump. The valve from the tube looked crooked, so I asked TC's advice.

TC, keenly aware that I've been a bit "off" for the past day or two, reluctantly told me that I'd forgotten a step - a nut from the valve was mistakenly on the wrong side of rim. Wrong side, meaning inside the tire that I'd just pushed and pried desperately to get it back in place.

Up until that point TC and I had agreed that I change this one on my own in preparation of that day when (not if) I get a flat on the side of road when I'm riding by myself. But I think he sensed something in me after I learned of this small misstep - perhaps some mix of frustration and disappointment - and lent a helping hand.

I felt deflated - yeah it's obvious, but I'll say it anyway - kind of like that tire I was trying to replace.

It wasn't just about the flat. In fact, it wasn't really about the flat at all (although it made me have some serious doubts about my ability to handle unexpected bike situations on the road, something I'll have to strategize over and deal with at another time).

The extra time spent on the flat meant that, once again, I'd be racing the clock. With plans with TC's family set for early afternoon, I'd scheduled my wake-up time (a huge thanks to TC for letting me get some much-needed extra shut eye this morning) to allow for a couple hours on the bike before having to head out.

I'd still be able to get a couple of hours in, but the delayed start just meant that it would be the usual mad dash of showers and tending to the pups to hit the road in time.

TC and I planned to meet up somewhere along the ride, and although I was very much looking forward to riding with him, I was also looking forward to spending the solo time clearing my head and trying to figure out just what's been eating at me lately.

Running and riding really allow me to refocus and think. Those miles and hours are as important (perhaps essential is more accurate) to my mental well being as they are to my physical health.

I spent the first few miles trying to understand why I've been such a crabby pants during the past few days. I quickly realized that the more I thought about it, the harder it was to understand. I decided to just let my mind go and focus on the crisp summer air, the sunshine and the beauty of enjoying the outdoors.

Soon enough, like it always does, my mind started to figure things out. I realized that maybe I've been trying to cram too much in - almost every minute of my day is spent doing "something." There's always a schedule, a place to be by a certain time, people waiting on the other end.

Not surprisingly, this week has been like that - start to finish. Always an obligation somewhere, with things like runs and rides to try to squeeze in between must-do's.

Maybe I should call them want-to's. After all, it's all stuff I want to do, all people I want to see. But, as the saying goes, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

The realization caused me to re-evaluate all of the good things in my life - Team In Training, my own running and riding, family, friends - and the time that I allocate to all of them.

I'm not willing to give any of it up and I know I don't have to. But the problem is when I try to do all of it, I don't do any of it well. I always feel like I'm letting someone - or myself - down.

It's not a coincidence that Ms. Crabby Pants comes knocking when my running and riding miles dip down. The training chart for the past few weeks is peppered with X's. Like I said, those "mental health" miles are part of what keeps me happy and sane. I need to remember that.

This morning's bike ride definitely helped - although I admit would have liked a longer, leisurely ride. It put things in perspective and showed me I need to do some more thinking and prioritizing. I can't do it all and I shouldn't feel like I have to. In fact, I shouldn't want to do it all.

All easier said than done.

It definitely gives me something to think about on those next solo miles - as soon as I find a way to properly squeeze them with all of the other good things in my life.