Friday, September 20, 2013

On the Road Back Home....

Ahem... is anyone out there?

To say it's been a while since I've posted would be putting it mildly: the last post on this blog was from 2011 when I was cycling a lot more and had gotten the triathlon itch that faded as summer turned to Fall and I realized I didn't have the extra $600 (or so) hanging around for the event fee, to say nothing of what it would take to buy a tri bike and all the fuel (I'm not quite sure I can refer to goo and sport-bars and all of that as "food" exactly) and all the other details you have to worry about (i.e.: purchase) when you undertake an event like an Ironman.

So now here I am two years later and the itch as returned despite the drop in the air temperature each morning and the dwindling hours of sunlight. Despite my job which entails teaching 80-something college freshmen to write coherent essays. Despite, too, coming home after three years away. Or, perhaps, the itch has returned because I'm back in the place which taught me to be an athlete all those years ago.

I admit, I have mixed feelings about being home. Obviously, I appreciate the proximity to my family and the familiarity of my surroundings. Trails here aren't a mystery nor are rides: I've done them all and know them and I can almost feel myself trailing the shadow of my former self as I wake up and train each morning in the hours prior to the dawn.

And yet, it's strange, too, to be back where I started. After all, I'm not the person I was-- who is, after three years? I'm no longer in my twenties. I'm no longer an elite athlete or (really) even a good athlete. In fact, it's like I'm starting off all over again, unfit and an unlikely candidate for speed or grace.

My first practice back with the UNR Tri Club was humbling, to say the least. I nearly threw up in the pool gutter (not a good move since the gutters here aren't deep and dark but instead, shallow and white which would have equated to a big-old-coffee/toast-puke-blob floating in the lane). Running, too, was (and is) humbling. Gone are the days when six-minute miles felt like walking. Running is work. Always work and always pain. Perhaps it was always that way, but that's not how I remember it.

And then there's my body: it's not the same, either. It's older, wider and, in some ways, wiser. I don't feel the need to kill myself in practice in order to prove my sense of self to myself anymore (I know who I am)-- I simply push myself to breathlessness and find a space within the discomfort to settle and remember what it had been like when I was younger, thinner and when I believed I would always get better, as long as I tried hard enough.

There are moments, though-- brief ones-- when the past intrudes into the present and I relive that old-athlete life as though no time has passed. 12 x 400 meter intervals at dawn and I'm behind three of the fastest guys on the team, matching some near-forgotten cadence of the run and even though I'm afraid I can't complete another one (lap), I do and it's faster than the one before it. Again and again-- 12 times-- and by the last effort my legs become my twenty-something running legs and I do a 1:18 on the turf in regular shoes (not racing flats) which isn't so far off what I would have done years ago-- a second or two, perhaps-- and I felt like crying in the morning crisp, but didn't, because that would have been strange to see:  a 31-year old woman drenched in sweat and tears as though these things matter.

But they do, to me. Even after all these years.

I've got the Ironman itch again. But I still don't have $600. Or a Tri Bike. Or all that fuel.

But the desire is back. And maybe that's all it takes.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Barker Pass: More than a Workout, It was a Mindshift

I drove up to Lake Tahoe to see my boyfriend of five years, Steve, this weekend. I was feeling lonely and depressed and Tahoe seemed, and seems, the only remedy for those feelings lately. 


The beginning of Barker Pass Road, where I parked just off Hwy 89. The rest is a steady climb until pavement becomes dirt .

I can't express the strange sort of loneliness I've been feeling lately in the Bay: it's inexpressible, in part, because there's no reason for it. I have a great job where I'm learning new skills everyday; I'm constantly writing, which is what I want to do; I train with a Master's swim team, which has an "awesome-ness factor" that I can only relate by saying I can do the butterfly stroke across the pool (even the 50 meter distance) after a year of practice with them... a fact that astounds me, still since my swimming technique before joining was more like an abstract interpretation of the sport; I ride with a group of talented and friendly cyclists who've shown me the beauty of the San Francisco Bay area and who've taught me the value of cycling; and I'm (sort of) running again. Yet, I'm sad.

Honestly, I feel as though I've accomplished nothing with my life. This mere months after a graduation from a graduate program I was all but drooling over for years, that I finally went to, loved and completed. Still. I feel as though I've done nothing. My actions: wasted. My athletics: gone.  Why on earth I feel this way, I'm still not sure of. Maybe I need therapy.

So last night when Steve and I talked about the rides he does up here, and the topic of Blackwood Canyon (Barker Pass Road) came up, Steve mentioned there's a guy up here who rides up to Barker Pass not once like most people do, but instead, four times. It sounded a bit like torture to me, because I was one of the one-time climbers. After all, the beauty of a ride that climbs a mountain is that you get to stop once you get to the top, ride down and call it a day, right?

But the idea of riding up Barker Pass doing what would more or less be long hill sprints stuck in my mind until morning. Could I ride up Barker Pass road more than once? Say, even three times?

The question is ludicrous if only because the rides I do with the Diablo Cyclists in the Bay are not only much longer, but offer more change in elevation than would doing Barker x three. However, the lovely thing about long rides is that you are not climbing the same hill over and over and the visual stimulus of a varied landscape can, at times, be enough to push you forward. And there's also that thing about progress, about seeing how far you've come.

But you lose all of that when you do a  hill-repeat type workout. You aren't covering more ground-- you're covering ground you already covered. And then there's the worry that you just won't make it up the hill you've already climbed-- maybe from not enough rest, or (more likely) not enough motivation.

The road construction and traffic up here, though, forced me off the main roads where I would normally ride to either attempt hill repeats on Barker or to ride it once and call it a day. So, despite my worries I couldn't do it, I did.

Three times up Barker Pass road.

The first time, I timed myself from the car, which I parked along Highway 89 that runs along Tahoe's West Shore. It took me 36 minutes to the top, the fastest time I'd ever clocked going up that hill, though it's been a while since I'd ridden it.

For the second and third repeats I didn't ride back to 89 since that section is mostly flat. I began my ascents at the base of the climb, so my times for the second two were much quicker. I'm (slightly) upset with myself that I didn't keep more accurate time of myself, but I gauged my effort by heart rate.... for the first two, I kept myself in the 165-174 range. On the last one, I let it all out, getting in the high 170s and finally peaking at 182 near the top where I thought I might throw up a lung since I can feel the altitude when I come up for these short weekend visits.

What can I say? I did the ride I didn't think I could do. I passed everyone else riding up the hill, sometimes seeing them on my way down only to catch them before they made it to the top.

I wonder if I could have done more repeats, even just one, up that hill.

You know, I probably could have. But that pesky voice in my head said "you can't." So I went back to the car.  I know now, however, that multiple climbs are not beyond my reach. It might even be the type of workout I should integrate into my weekly training cycle in order to become a stronger cyclist.

As for the issue of loneliness, or more aptly, lost-ness, I don't know. I guess I'll just have to keep riding until I find the answer.

For more information on the Barker Pass Road Ride, read this:

Friday, August 10, 2012

The "I" Problem

I feel really bad about my last post. First of all, who in the hell cares what I eat? Secondly, well, why am I important enough for "I"?

The second question probably needs some explaining. In the past, I've had something to write about... I was training for a race. I was doing something en route to some goal. But now, I really don't feel like I'm doing much of anything.

I swim.
I cycle.
I run (a little.)

So in the hell what???

Granted, to me it feels pretty f***ing amazing to be able to run miles (even if it's only, say, six of them) after months of not being able to even walk. But, is that amazing to anyone else? Probably not.

Maybe this is a writing problem more than it is an athletic one. Still, I'm filled with guilt and something like "self-loathing" only the feeling isn't phrased in such a PC way.

Why does anything I do matter any more? Why write about it? It's stupid to share the details of my silly, little life.

I'm not great.
I'm not overly fast.
I'm not beautiful.

In the scheme of human history, I'm one of  those nameless specs that come and go; the solitary woman who has just a lifetime and nothing more.

And yet; the way I felt today, running those six stupid miles. You'd think I was running them on red carpet or up in the clouds.


Who knows how long it took me? I mean, I do. I wear a Timex watch. In a way, though, it was timeless. It was what I've always wanted. So much in-my-body I was beyond-my-body. And maybe I just want to share that.

Go run.
Go bike.
Go swim.
Go hike or walk or play tennis or whatever it is you love.

Do it now.

Amaze yourself.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What the HECK do you Eat?

Pictured: Carrot, left. Cucumber, right. Both have been shredded by me, not pictured.
I was inspired to write this post by the meal I'm preparing tonight: Vegan Tortilla Soup. It's the first warm dinner I'll have had in a bit over two weeks.  This is partially because I have more or less decided to follow a vegetarian-ish lifestyle with absolutely no dairy products or anything that's been refined at all... and because I live in a place sans kitchen.

I realize both reasons require an explanation. Let's start with the first one.

1. I REFUSE to use the term "vegan" to describe how I eat. This is, in part, because I told a friend once I was thinking of going Vegan (meaning: I was no longer going to eat meat, dairy, or anything that had once had a pulse) and in reply I heard a long lecture about how I couldn't possibly be Vegan because I hadn't researched whether or not my clothes, the carpet in the place I rented or the glue I used on crafty handmade Christmas cards were also void of animal products.

So, no, I guess I'm not a Vegan. I lack the self-discipline or the desire to research what I've already done, where I already live and what clothes I've already worn stained and made my own in that embarrassing way that you would not ever donate them to charity, even for the tax write-off. In terms of my dietary choices, I've already done too many boo-boos to claim any sort of moral self-righteousness about my diet, aside from saying that I have one (since, by default, I eat.)  Instead, I consume mostly vegetables and fruit simply because I choose to. Call it what you like.
Laziness, perhaps.

Which leads me to the second reason: I have no kitchen.

2. OK: that's a slight exaggeration. I have a mini-fridge, a mini-sink and a big coffee maker that goes off every morning at 5:00 am. To supplement these essentials, I have purchased (or have been given): a water boiler, a steamer, an electric skillet, a hot plate (but I have no pots or pans) and two crock pots-- one from our era and the other from 1975 with a charming burnt-sienna colored interior and a whimsical floral design on the outside. I think there should be a Reality cooking show based on my living conditions, requiring contestants to live AND COOK in 300 square feet of space with only the appliances listed above to assist them and a Maine Coon cat who periodically stretches his paw up to the counter to get your attention and distract you from the precarious balancing act it is to do anything in such a small space.

There are no extras: no counter space. No dishwasher. No [sigh] oven. No large Cuisinart (yet). No sink into which a plate can fit.

But with what I've got, I'm making Vegan Tortilla Soup tonight and it's going to be amazing. (How's that for shameless self promotion?)


So maybe you're wondering what I eat on long rides and runs? Back in my running days (though those are coming back: my foot feels great after my 50 minute effort yesterday... but I'm being patient in building back my base) I didn't eat much while running. Sport gels, mostly, since solid foods made me want to become the human pinata. That might sound fun at a party, but trust me, it's not when you're on a trail, alone, running over twenty miles.

While cycling, I have sport gels, too, but I've really been trying to take "healthy" foods along with me as well. Larabars, for instance, while sugary (with their "date" base) are only composed of fruit and nuts and a healthy alternative to others out there.

But my resolve tends to fade while the miles accumulate and at mile sixty or so, I think: hot damn, those Peanut-Crunch Cliff bars taste soooooo good. 

Even better? I discovered my I'VE DIED AND GONE TO A BETTER PLACE snack on the Mt. Tam Century: Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches. Yeah, I know, I'm weird. But I never buy bread (I don't eat it in my day-to-day routine) nor jelly, really with its high-fructose corn syrup that will kill you... but that half-sandwich was motivation enough for me to ride all those miles. Yes: just two slices of bad-for-you-brown-bread and the sort of peanut butter that comes from a large, plastic container and jelly the color of no extant fruit that has cancer written all over it.

I ate that.
And it was delish.


So, am I Vegan?
I'm beyond labels.
And with that, it's time to make some soup.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ride Report: Marin/Mt. Tam Century Part 1

"Which way, Jay?"
 I love riding with a group of talented, dedicated athletes.. they've taken me places I wouldn't have seen on my own and the company is priceless. 
I have to start this post with an explanation: I've since May I've been riding with the Diablo Cyclists, a club based in Walnut Creek. It was a  decision I made because all the solo rides were getting dull and also because I've been toying with the idea of trying some bike races... and to race, you have to ride with people. Hence, my decision to ride with a club. 

Me, Jay and Ward doing the Marin Century the week before the Tam Century... a training ride for Jay. For me, this is the first time in my life that I've consistently done long rides (80+ miles) each Saturday a week.

What I wasn't prepared for was the caliber of athlete I'd meet there... or the diverse range of athletic ability I'd put myself up against (or with.) One rider in particular, Jay, astounds me. Today, as I write this ride report for the Mt. Tam Century (96.97 miles at the end of the day according to my little computer), Jay rode what's known as the Mt. Tam Double which is exactly what it sounds like: twice the distance (basically riding the Marin Century + the Mt. Tam Century all in one solid go.) To help him train, another club member (an amazing rider as well) Ward, rode with him on what is known as the Marin Century last weekend so Jay would know the route in advance. I tagged along because it sounded fun. 

And it was.

And now, having ridden both centuries, I have to say I like them both; but for vastly different reasons. They day we rode Marin, it was sunny and warm with a cooling breeze that somehow nearly always was a headwind. Riding Mt. Tam (today) was in a perpetual heavy fog (save for en route to the summit of Mt. Tam when the sun broke through the fog and I removed my jacket... only to put it on again at the summit--40 miles into the ride-- and for the rest of the 96 miles and change.) But how can you dislike redwood forests and Muir Woods and Hwy 1 when there's that endless expanse of the Pacific to your left? And Point Reyes-- perhaps one of the most special places on earth. Rain, sun, snow, shine or... fog. It's really just the most beautiful place around.  It's a tie, in other words. Maybe next year I'll do the double and see if I like both legs equally when I'm forced to ride them back to back. 

Marin Century:

Ward and I in front of a one-room school house with a rather spirited painted wall.  It was colorful enough to catch our attention for a photo shoot.

The best way to describe the Marin Century is to simply state that it's 100 miles of constant climbs and descents. Jay calls them "rollers" but some of those ascents demanded more respect from my lungs and legs for that appellation. But no climb is mountain-high; and no descent is, either. You're constantly on the gears, shifting up or down depending on the terrain. In some ways, I think it's a more challenging ride simply because there are no 20 minute descents-- ever. You have a brief respite and then it's up again. 

On this ride, I discovered my strength and my weakness: simply put, I kick ass on the climbs if I keep my heart rate in the mid 170s, but suck on all downhills (probably since I had a bad accident last year on wet pavement and the scars on my right hip and upper thigh, still, to prove it.) 

Jay and I on one of many climbs (or "rollers".) Here, we're cruising through a grove of Eucalyptus Trees which provided some nice shade.

Another thing I admire: the while-ride-shot. Both Jay and Ward are able to take photos of us while riding. I find this amazing. I need both hands for steering. Notice the landscape: this is what the Marin Century (mostly) looks like. Jay asked me: "does this remind you of Nevada?" [That's where I'm from.]  And I could only say: no. Because in Marin, there's no sage or bitterbrush and the smell each plant makes when "sweating" under a summer sun.

Here I am in Fallon, California. (Are you reading, Mom? There's a Fallon in California, too!)  A quick stop for a photo-shoot of a field of abandoned (antique) gas pumps and a tractor-golf-cart thing filled with little dogs and two houses along "Yesteryear Lane." Sort of sounds like Fallon... sans Air Force Base and sagebrush. 

Stopping for a snack. I love how Jay and I are both obviously eating.  I just remember thinking how lovely the coffee tasted there... and the breadstick with pesto and basil on it. Mmmm after 60(?) or so miles.

Riding along Tomales Bay. That day, this was the coldest part of the ride... and in my opinion, the most beautiful. Again, the terrain was rolling (up and down, up and down) but I was just saturated in that ocean (OK not ocean) but definitely moist and slightly salted air.

After climbing the back side of Marshall Wall. Whew! But I did it.

Oh yeah. That's Part II. Stay tuned.

Me, trying to look like those wooden-carved Native American statues behind me. Am I as tough? Probably not.

Banana under the windshield wiper. Yeah, we roll that way. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lighthouses and Fire Lookouts: A Post on Perspective

Disclaimer: This post is slightly off-topic, though not really since the group ride I joined today was the basis by which the thinking which follows took place. 

Pidgeon Point Lighthouse, which we found at about mile 34.

We began our 60-something mile (or 100-something for those that did the bonus ride) from a town called Woodside, which is located in the South Bay.  Woodside is South (if my sense of direction isn't completely f***ed) of San Mateo. It's across the San Mateo bridge is all I know: that long stretch of highway that seems to sit on the briny water of the Bay with Oakland in my rearview mirror on the way there and its dry hills calling me home on the way back.

The ride itself is best described as undulating with a big effort at the end with one of the most severe (or, noticeable) temperature differences I've yet encountered on a bike. We started in the warmth of a July morning sun only to turn a corner (after a bit of a climb) to see the ocean and its bitter wind that blasted us with a wind that gave me goosebumps. It was a chill which would more or less remain until mile 50 or so and I was once again climbing away from the sea through a grove of redwoods and ferns en route to the car, back in heat that felt like an oven set on broil.

I've always had a "thing" for lighthouses and fire lookouts. Though one is to guard seafarers from rocks and the other to prevent earth from being consumed by fire I've nonetheless seen these structures-- and the way of life they house-- as analogues for one another... and a way of life that athletics has casted me into the large production known as society (or at least my understanding of it.) 

Athletes, lighthouse watchers and fire lookouts all share solitude in common.

There are three fire lookout outposts where I am from, in the Tahoe Basin. They are nothing more than a square room with windows that offer view of every view there is to see-- just as the glass-light room of a lighthouse is windowed-round, to ward off incoming ships from the rocks. Those that people these types of outposts live lives that are mostly solitary; or so it seems from what I've read. They watch the forest; they watch the sea. A peopleless landscape, mostly. 

Sometimes I think I might understand that life when I think of the hours I spend alone in the water, on the bike and even those times I do run (or, will run once my injury has healed.) Then, I am a watcher of the landscape, observing the sorts of details you can't see from a boat or car: the way a group of ants carry leaves over their heads like surfboards or the flicker of minnows in the grainy light of knee-deep water. 

Or, I wonder if athletics might give me another lens with which to understand existence. Granted, it's a limited one, focusing on movement rather than on still life. But then, I guess we must all choose our lenses, eventually: the way we understand and interpret the world. 

I didn't do the full 97 mile ride. I stopped early; feeling hot and slightly out of shape since my two-week sojourn from my regular training schedule. Plus I've been running again which means I'm sore in places I haven't been-- yeah, yeah, I know-- I'm weak. Perhaps. But those lighthouses and fire lookouts remain with me as ways to see the world-- to understand it-- by their insistence on the self-enclosing solitude of the whipping winds that act like the water in my ears. Though peopled, my athletic world is a quiet one.

Yet, those lighthouse watchers and fire lookout-teers saw sunrises and sunsets and storms. They felt winds and sun and cloud unlike the populations in cities ever did. And perhaps athletes share this exclusive knowledge of the physical world simply due to our necessity to train in it. 

On the ride home despite my limited miles, I couldn't feel anything but gratitude that I'd been able to see so much beauty. I hope in the months to come with a few lost pounds, more cycling/swimming/running miles and an increased endurance that my horizons will expand. What will be my limit? 200 miles? 500? 1,000?  

Me, cycling, around mile 50 or so? I think... hard to tell. But I'm still smiling.

The world is a large place, admittedly. Anyone with the money for a ticket and a bag can board a plane or bus or rail car. Yet, I want to see this place with only the power in my body; to see it all like those who gazed from lighthouses, warding sailors from the shore and the dangers that rested there, as though to say: keep moving, life is out there if only you can reach it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Call of the Run

Maybe Lake Tahoe at dawn is what hope looks like.
I dreamt last night that I was running. 

Not running in a race and not running particularly fast. Just running on my old trails around the Northern side of Tahoe which isn't surprising since I've been home for two weeks-- the longest I've been home in a little over two years since enrolling-- and graduating-- from a Master of Fine Arts program in the Bay Area.

So, when I woke up this morning and put my weight on my foot and it once again didn't hurt-- it hasn't hurt for a week, in fact-- I thought, perhaps it's finally time to see if I will ever run again. 

They say Lisfranc injuries are among those that may never heal. I've lived the last four months in fear that I never would, again. Or-- that's not quite true. I've been running for about four years now and have survived tendinitis of about every tendon in my legs and ankles, two stress fractures and a ruptured Achilles... so I began this recovery cycle with what you might call savoir faire. Or maybe common sense is a better way to describe it: I didn't immediately think my life was over and I didn't do a lot of crying. This time, I acted like a sane person: I started swimming nearly every day with a competitive master's team that practices near my home and joined a cycling club for lovely, long rides on weekends.

I made the best out of my injury. 

In fact, I have to say that, of all the times I've been injured, this season has been the most productive. I've learned the butterfly stroke and can do it for 50 meters-- in a 50 meter pool which is something I never EVER thought I'd be able to do. I've ridden 90-100 miles every Saturday in a spring and near-summer full of Saturdays, seeing some beautiful country with an amazing group of people. In all, an injured runner could do much, much worse.

But today, I felt it. The call of the run. The overcast conditions made the green of the evergreens beckon me, somehow. The chipper call of squirrel cast me back into those 10-mile days when I ran 70-mile weeks as though the distance were nothing. I slipped into a pair of trail shoes-- the same Salomons I started running in four years ago, and set off into the quiet, dim morning.

Unlike so many runs leading up to races and in various training cycles, today I had no expectations. No pace to keep. No time to meet other than to turn around at the ten-minute mark (advice from an old Runner's World Magazine, quoted by a BYU Cross Country coach who suggested not running more than twenty minutes for several weeks after returning from a long absence from the sport.)

To the familiar beep of a Timex watch, I began my journey.

At first, it was not the most comfortable thing I've done.

Some joints were stiff. Others, too loose. I found cycling has made my quads quite strong, an imbalance that made my stride not what I remembered it to be. My upper body has also acquired strength from my training sessions in the pool. And yet, after one half mile I'd found it: that old running cadence. Not a fast pace, but a rhythm of breath and step where movement feels as though it's the most natural thing in the world.

I found my running again. 

The quality of light; the flicker of shadow and tree; the slight heat of the body as a halo from the elements; the in and out of breath. I lost minutes, I lost myself in the run.

I had no ipod tucked into my shorts or music in my ears (other than the music of me); it was just me and running and I lost track of time-- something I haven't done for four months.

While running, I became that version of myself again I've been missing. I became beautiful and young and full of hope for what might be. I was not fat and not a failure and not too old and not too short or too slow or too ugly. I was exactly as I should have been, in that moment.... and that was a thought and a feeling I have missed for longer than this injury. I remembered my first run, my first twenty-mile run and my first marathon... four years ago, I was lost and I found myself in the miles.

My writing career, I believe, began when I decided not to be afraid of running-- when I decided that excuses such as "I wasn't built to run" were no longer valid ones.

Today, I only ran for 25 minutes, but somewhere in there, I found the best part of me, tucked away and hiding.

Perhaps I will never actually be the things I imagine when I run-- but the point is that I feel them. I am beautiful no matter what the world says, when I am covering miles with the power and strength in my own body.

I hope this is the first run of many, many more... that I will run 26.2 miles after a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike ride.

Mostly, though, I've missed the part of me that runs, the silent but persistent warrior who recovers the memory of the person I was and who I wanted to be: me who believed that dreams were worth their pursuit.

And me who pursued them.