Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Laid-Back...For Now.

This week has been so much more relaxing than the several preceding it. And though there was a wave of boredom + post-half-marathon letdown over the weekend that took me by surprise, I really think that just fueled the flame for new adventures. And you might ask what I mean by 'adventures.' Great question. Very same one I've been asking myself over the past few days! And the answer is something I haven't quite put my finger on. Yet.

One thought I've had over the past few months revolves around books. Okay, I confess - much of my entire existence revolves around books. Fair enough. So as much as I love to read, the idea of gathering with friends and talking about books we've enjoyed really appeals to me...something like a book club, I guess. Or more like our own (Nazi-free) version of a 'literary and potato peel pie society.' (Incredible book, by the way). I'm not yet sure of the shape this might take - who might want to be involved, what books we'd choose to explore, what wine(s) we'd be forced to sample - but it's fun to think about. So stay tuned - it just might happen.

And to be sure, there are other adventures in the works. I'm signed up for the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, South Carolina, this coming March. That whole trip should be a blast because just about the entire gang will be there, and I can hardly wait! But more on that later. And Erich's training is in full-swing for the Tour of the Battenkill in upstate New York in April. Creating a training plan for him has been an adventure in and of itself, not to mention the constant 'tweaking' involved in prescribing appropriate interval workouts or allowing for changes in weather. But that sort of challenge is really fun to me.

And speaking of weather, this weekend's forecast looks fantastically wintry. I love a good winter storm. In truth, any excuse to drink hot chocolate and read a good book will suffice (see Paragraph #2), but with snow on the ground, it's simply that much better. And who knows? Maybe some ice-induced downtime will give me the chance to chill out, to be laid-back. Or to think up my next adventure. Or maybe both...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Like a Willie Nelson Song.

So after taking exactly 13.1 days off, I knew that I'd be lacing up my running shoes again today. To be honest, as much as I've enjoyed the excuses of not having to work out for the past two weeks, a part of me really missed it. Maybe even a bigger part of me than I would have suspected.

It didn't hurt that the weather outside today is gorgeous. Nor could I claim the excuse of not eating well this morning. Saturday mornings are among my favorite times, I guess. And because of Erich's current training regimen, my Saturday mornings of late have been enhanced by his need for big, hearty breakfasts before setting off on his crazy-long bike rides. And today was no exception. I laid in bed and listened to the waffle iron heating up. Then I started hearing the 'pop' of bacon grease. And when I heard the coffee beans hit the grinder, I finally finally got out of bed. How could I not love coming downstairs to this?!

So after enjoying our tasty breakfast at my favorite little bistro table, I sipped a hot cup of Jittery Joe's House Blend and contemplated my run. I finally settled on doing my familiar short loop around the neighborhood, complete with just enough hills to justify calling it a 'workout' when it's actually just under 5K in distance.

I guess if I'm really being honest about the run itself, it wasn't all that enjoyable. I had a few new aches and pains, which were probably just my body's way of getting revenge for that whole 'half-marathon in the freezing rain' thing I pulled 2 weeks ago. (The medial joint space of my left knee and my right fibular head have still not forgiven me.) And I suppose I have to thank both Taylor Swift and Metallica for making a painful return a little more bearable. Yeah...don't ask.

I also thought a lot about my shoes, even while I was running. Having bought them one year ago this month, I know it's about time to replace them. But I've made a deal with them: because we've gone further together than any other pair of shoes I've ever owned, I owe them one more race in the early spring before finally hanging 'em up. And, you know, how could I not love how these shoes feel? They've been my favorites - ever.

Anyway, with Muse blaring on my iPod, I finished stronger than I started and actually felt fine. Relatively. It's always satisfying to check a workout off of my 'to do' list, and today was maybe a little more gratifying than usual in that regard. Who knows if these little aches and pains will stick around? And only time will tell what shoes I decide to lace up next. Either way, I have to admit it feels pretty good to be on the road again.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lactate and a Latte'.

Earlier this morning, I tagged along while Erich and Barry tackled a short (but tough!) time-trialing effort. The end result, we hoped, would yield some numbers we could tweak for the purposes of more focused training. We decided earlier that the parking lot at Groves Stadium would be the perfect site for the test, especially with today's status as a national holiday and its forecast of gorgeous sunshine. So around 10:30am, the guys left our house, electing to bike over to the stadium for a good warm-up, while I drove over and listened to Reba McEntire's newest album. Perfect.

Admittedly, this outing was much more fun for me than for the two athletes/victims. My main responsibilities were timing their rides and snapping a few photos. This particular test required maximum exertion at a duration of 20 minutes. Both guys really hammered out nice rides, metering out their efforts appropriately. Below, Barry gets out of the saddle to bang out a few extra Watts for his test.And Erich stomps on the pedals in anger late in his ride. Following their tests, the guys were tired, and more importantly, anxious to figure out the fastest route to West End Cafe' for lunch. So now I'm back home, settling in for my favorite part. My all-time favorite cyclist just made me a pumpkin spice latte', so the only thing left for me to do is to crunch out some numbers and try to remember their significance. I've grabbed a few books off the shelf from my grad-school days, and it's kind of nice to weave through the cobwebs to my old bookmarks for VO2 max estimates and lactate thresholds.It's been a while, to be sure, but those old equations are slowly but surely coming back to me. Now to put them to good use...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

EPiC at EpCoT

So my first half-marathon is in the books. And to say that the experience was totally surreal is a vast understatement!

I don't remember ever being so nervous leading up to an athletic event of any kind. As the day of the race drew nearer, the whole idea of a half-marathon - let alone a half-marathon at Disney World - seemed so BIG to me. Yet, there was my race number, staring me in the face...definitely with my name on it. Though I could hardly visualize standing at the Start, this was really going to happen! Thankfully, my college roommate, Shelly, had agreed to take on this crazy adventure with me. And I'll say right now that the entire experience - start to finish and all in between - would never have been the same without her. She was the difference in my race.

I'm pretty sure I saw the clock change to the 1am hour before I finally drifted off for a 'nap' on the Friday night before the race. And it may seem funny, but I think I was actually relieved when my alarm went off at 3:10am...because the day was finally here, and it was time to just go big or go home. No more anticipation. I still felt some uncertainty as to how to dress for the run, especially with the forecast being so nebulous. We'd received special updates until late in the evening on Friday from the Race Director, warning of unprecedented cold temperatures and precipitation chances. I decided to take lots of layers and make the final call when I parked at Epcot, so off I went with my classic Peanut Butter Cookie Luna bar in hand. Can't beat it on Race Day!

The drive to Epcot was really easy with no traffic issues. Countless people making their way through the night to the same crazy adventure as me. And Coldplay on the radio made a good trip that much better. Once there, I regretfully parted ways with my NorthFace shell and fleece, settling for a technical short-sleeve, a technical hoody, and tights with gloves and ear warmers. That should have been more than enough to keep me warm - and it was...for at least 10 minutes. The problem is that we were instructed to arrive at Epcot no later than 4am...and our Wave didn't go off until after 6am. I'm guessing the temperatures were in the mid 30s when I found Shelly at the Bag Claim tents. And as you can see, it took us very little time to get super cold. Unbelievably, as we walked with the other 23,998 people to the Start Line, we noticed snowflakes starting to fall under the lights. Unreal! The snow and sleet traded on and off as Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy joined us at the Start. I remember hearing the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling"'s funny - I've heard it since, and I think I'll probably always associate that song with this race. Strange how that works. Mercifully, they combined Waves and let us proceed to the Start a few minutes earlier than planned. And so after 9 months of planning, 4 months of training, 10 days of stressing, and 2.3 hours of shivering, we were off!

Miles 1 and 2 passed quickly, and by Miles 3 and 4, I was starting to feel my hands and feet again. Shelly and I had agreed to start together, and more importantly, we agreed to start slowly. So we were actually warming up and feeling 'comfortable' as we saw Space Mountain in the distance. I'd rather be too cool than too warm on any run, so I wrapped my hoody around my waist as we arrived at the entrance of Main Street USA. And suddenly, Cinderella's Castle was right in front of us. What a sight! The course wound through TomorrowLand, past the Dumbo ride, and toward the back of the castle. Guards stood poised with trumpets as we approached - what a fun run! We allowed ourselves short breaks for pictures - I couldn't justify trading lifelong memories for 2 or 3 minutes of my overall time, and for me, that was definitely the right decision. Running through the Magic Kingdom was something I'll remember for a long, long time.As we left the Magic Kingdom, we passed the 10K point. Unfortunately, there's only a long, flat road that stretches out as far as the eye can see, so Miles 7, 8, and 9 seemed particularly hard to come by. And keep in mind, it was still sleeting with freezing rain mixed in. In true Disney form, however, there were characters, bands, cheerleaders, and even horn-blowing Monorails to power us through. By this time, Shelly and I realized we would finish together. We agreed to take a couple of short walking breaks after Mile 9. My hands started feeling cold again at that point, but I realized as I reached for my gloves that I no longer had the dexterity to take them out of my tights and put them back on - my fingers were that frozen! As I said hundreds of times during the run, thank God for Shelly! She literally grabbed my gloves so I could somehow pull them back on. The longest 'hill' of the course came in the form of a slow, grinding entrance ramp during Mile 10. Suddenly, there were tons of people lining the course when we reached Mile 11, and I remember hearing horns blowing as people entered the park, cheering us on. It was as if it suddenly dawned on us that we were going to finish - and in plenty of time to earn the coveted medal. I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I had wondered if it would even be possible - you never know if something crazy will happen, maybe even keeping you from the Finish Line. I guess fears like that aren't too uncommon, especially in a first race of this distance. But finally, finally, we could see Epcot again in the distance. What a beautiful sight!Miles 12 and 13 were certainly not 'easy,' but seemed to pass more quickly with everything going on around us. As we rounded the corner to start our last 0.1 miles, a gospel choir serenaded us - in the freezing rain! I had long since turned off my iPod, just to be sure I absorbed all the sights and sounds completely. Shelly had only one request, and that was that we kill it going into the Finish. I usually finish any race at a steady pace, mainly to ensure that the hype and nausea don't combine for an unsightly result. But this race was different, and I'd have done just about anything for Shelly at that point, as she'd encouraged me faithfully throughout each of the 13.1 miles. So we grabbed hands, choked back the anticipated emotions, and crossed the Finish Line. What a high!

The mylar blankets warmed us briefly, but we were almost instantly cold again. I pulled my hoody back on, but we were totally soaked. Ironically, a sweet old man in a Canada hat presented us with our medals. We told him of our dear friend from Ontario, and we laughed about how cold it was in Florida compared to his former home in Alberta. But most importantly, he put a Donald Duck medal around my neck. And that completed my journey. An epic journey, at that.
It seemed to take an extraordinarily long time to wind our way through lines for pictures, food, and bags - but I imagine the surreal freezing cold was mostly to blame. I don't remember ever being that cold before, probably because we'd been outside for so long by that time, and we were totally soaking wet. I was literally sore from shivering so much. But it's hard to kill that kind of high! When we finally rejoined Erich and started the car (especially the heat), I felt like I was coming back to life. And after a loooonnnggg, hot shower and even longer nap, I felt like a new woman. Erich and I enjoyed a fantastic dinner that night on Pleasure Island at Paradiso 37, then we joined Shelly later for celebratory drinks. There's nothing quite like wearing a Donald Duck half-marathon jacket, toasting the Finish Line, and drinking a mudslide with some of your best friends in the world. Nothing like it. For me, it was easily worth everything it took to get there...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sunshine on My Shoulders

All hail the Sunshine State! Well, for now, at least.

So we made it to beautiful, sunny Florida late this morning. Thankfully, my dutiful husband took the lion's share of the overnight drive, though it was not completely without adventure. I'm not even sure that I'd ever heard of a cabin filter before last night, but I'm all too familiar with them now. From a woman's perspective, they're not too terribly important, as long as they're working. And when they're not, your car allows unfiltered outside air into the cabin at whatever the blessed ambient temperature may be. Which is totally awesome when you're going 80mph down the interstate in January. Right.

But you know, a hearty breakfast can lengthen a lot of shortcomings, including a chilly car ride. And the Cracker Barrel in Brunswick, Georgia, was the perfect solution today. Below, the young timer takes on the Old Timer's Breakfast.
Not long after breakfast, Erich resolved the cabin filter issue, and the car was warm again...just in time to cross the line into Florida. We made our way through rush hour in Jacksonville, then made a brief stopover just north of Daytona Beach. Chilly but beautiful!And that's when the 'Check Engine' light came on. You know, for me, the moral of the story is to not undergo car maintenance before taking a road trip. At all. Because that would just make way too much sense. In this case, some little hose had simply detached itself from wherever it's supposed to be. As you can see, it was Erich to the rescue yet again! He's definitely worth having around.
Before we knew it, we had arrived in Orlando, realizing we'd actually had one of those really cool road trips. We didn't even turn on the radio for the whole 9.5 hours. That's when you know you're trippin' with a buddy. Before checking into our hotel, we picked up my race packet from Disney's Wide World of Sports. Tons of folks from all around - friendly and full of good-luck wishes. In the picture below, you can see that I'm also excited our race weekend is finally here. But two things should be pointed out: 1. the sun casting its rays right into the camera lens, as if to suggest it's here to stay for a while. and 2. the wind blowing my road-tripped hair all around, as if to assure the sun it is dead wrong. Yikes!To be sure, we'll have many more stories to share as the weekend moves along. The rain+snowflake icon for Orlando's Saturday forecast is so ridiculous, it's actually kind of fun! So stay tuned. But for now, my chauffeur/mechanic/road-tripper extraordinaire seems to have the best idea of all...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Goofy Weather

So somehow we've reached the day before we take off for the Sunshine State. And you know, I use that term really loosely, especially since the forecast for Race Day becomes more laughable by the hour! As Saturday draws closer, the icon for rain showers proudly represents The Weather Channel's Orlando forecast...not to mention that the projected temperatures for that morning range from 28 to 34 balmy little degrees. It's kind of funny - the first half-marathon I seriously considered running was in Toronto, Ontario. As in, Canada. But the timing wasn't right, so my plan eventually included sunny, beautiful, warm Florida...Disney World, even! The Happiest Place on Earth! Well.

But I can't tell a lie. The more ridiculous the projected weather becomes, the more excited I find myself to be running this race at all. Somehow, I think I feel less pressure when I think of participating in a race of epic distance (for me) in an epic place in epic maybe reaching the finish line is all the more rewarding. And maybe I lower expectations of myself because it's suddenly harder for everybody, not just me. Either way, I'm really nervous (a little less so as time goes on) and really excited (a little more so as time goes on)!

Hard to believe, but rain, snow, sleet, or shine, the countdown is finally on.