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.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Roads We Follow; The Roads that End

NV Hwy 338. Where my journey began.
This weekend I went to Smith Valley, Nevada, to visit my mom who was celebrating her birthday. For those of you who don't know (and it's OK if you don't) Smith Valley is basically one of those places that is in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town is a quarter of gas tank away. The major industry is alfalfa farming with a sprinkle of cattle ranchers to make things interesting.

I'm not sure which one of us had the idea. It might have been me because I've been reading a lot about the Eastern Sierra these days and anything having to do with them has me fascinated. When I learned my mom's house is not "far" from Bridgeport, I decided-- or, proclaimed: "We should all ride there!"

Of course I should have realized this is Nevada and distances here are unique, as distances are in any place. I've gotten used to the way I can ride 80-90 miles in California, going up and down hills, through groves of oak or redwood or tall grasses. Roads meander in California. Roads go up, then down and then up again. You can't see 80 miles in front of you. Distances, therefore, are judged with time and effort... but certainly not with visual perception.

In Nevada (or so I've discovered in my two-week stay) roads tend to do one thing for a very long while. They go up.  And up. And up. Or they go straight. And keep going, going, going, going, going in a seemingly endless undulating landscape of low-lying brush framed by jagged mountains in either direction. Which is a nice way to say I don't know why the statement: "It's a straight climb for the first 15-miles" (spoken by my mom's husband) didn't dissuade me. Up at 5:30 am and on the road an hour later, I found myself riding West to Bridgeport, alone, on my Specialized Roubaix, recently adjusted to fit my short body.

I quickly found up for 15 miles was an understatement. From the starting point on the first paved road from the house, I would discover the climb was 19 miles to Sweetwater Summit, not 15. An added bonus: a special headwind (unusual since mornings are typically calm) made the 2,000 vertical effort more of an effort than it would have been.

I stopped at the sign announcing I'd reached the summit and sucked down a sport gel.

Then, it was down a winding road (not too winding, this is Nevada, remember? :-)  until mile 30 or so when I rode across the state line. I must have been excited: after I sipped a squirt of water, my bottle ended up in the willows lining the road and I had to go back and search for it.

The canyon was spectacular: cut by the East Walker, eventually I saw the jagged Sierra Range, still slightly snow capped and the sight alone pulled me forward, up another rise to Bridgeport reservoir and the town of Bridgeport itself.

In all, the ride was beautiful.

Canyons carved by river.
Valleys fed by unlikely sources of water to make green oases in the midst of a barren landscape.
And the thought, in the back of my mind, that this was all under an ocean, once.
Thoughts broken by a the smell of a cigar from a man fishing the East Walker River.

No one rode with me: I met my family in Bridgeport and we ate breakfast together at a cafe that honored my request to have no dairy.... amazing for a small town. Before they arrived, I bought a cup of coffee in a building that had once been the town jail.

I wish I'd been able to do the ride faster; maybe I will next time. I'm always wary when I'm on the road, alone. Maybe that makes me a bad athlete; or an out-of-shape one... but what a beautiful ride.

Scenes from one of the most beautiful places on earth, in my humble opinion:

River Road, Smith Valley.

A ranch off River Road, Smith Valley.

On the road to Bridgeport, near Wellington, NV.

It makes me want to be better... which is what sport is all about, really. You try to be your best each and every day. And what a best--- celebrating my mom's birthday with her in the place we are from. There's nothing better.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Importance of Practice

For the first time in four months, I can walk for over an hour without pain.
I'm no stranger to injury. In fact, I've been injured for an equal number of years that I have been an athlete. During my first long bout sans running, I remember being very depressed and wondering how on earth I was going to find meaning in my life without the sport that made each day endurable. (That was the year of the stress fractures.)

Now, however, I've come to understand my sports not as a win/lose, do-or-die activity, but rather as a "practice"-- akin, perhaps, to yoga or meditation. No matter what I do--whether it's swimming, cycling or running-- it is my two hours to give my body a chance to perform or recover, depending on its needs. 

I admit: I miss running. 

In my day, I was pretty good at it. Not the best; but over the course of three years, I watched my marathon and half-marathon and 10k times drop by minutes. At my best, I ran a 2:47marathon, narrowly missing my chance to go to the Olympic Trials. Granted, a minute is an eternity. But for someone like me, well, it was pretty close to the 2:46 required to make it to the Trials (which has since been altered, I know, to a 2:43.)

After my latest bout of catastrophic injury--a ruptured Achilles followed by a sprained Lisfranc joint in my right foot-- I've joined a Master's swim team and a cycling team to keep myself sane. Of course, I'm not very good at either of these other sports, not really. But what I have discovered is far more valuable than any fast PR running time or any first-place finish: the importance of a practice. 

Taken from Mt. Judas, overlooking Donner Lake where I have competed in an Olympic-Distance Tri and mile-long open water swim.
In February of this year, my foot hurt so much I could hardly walk. So, I decided to swim every day for 28 days (the entire month, in other words.)  I am not a fast swimmer. I have improved since I started, true, but I'm still about three to four lanes from the fast folks. At first, this was a depressing realization: I was never going to be competitive. But then, one morning around 5:30 am under the dark sky and stars and steam coming from the pool, I had a crazy thought: what if I just swam for me? 

Forget times. Forget placement in the lane. Forget everything but the hour and a half in the water when I get to swim freestyle and feel the strength in my arms. Or when I can practice my other strokes and learn better technique and watch my body learn the way to move in a new medium. Maybe I'm nuts, but after I shifted my mindset, swimming suddenly became fun. I suck at backstroke-- oh well! Each day I go to swim practice, I do exactly that: practice. Each day, my times come down, and my arms are less tired. Am I fast? I have no idea. What has changed, though, is my attitude. I do best each and every day: sometimes that means a PR, but most days it doesn't. What is consistent, however, is the feeling of accomplishment I have when I scale the pool wall after another practice. I am better than I was an hour before. How can that not make you smile? 

Cycling, too, has taught me the lesson of practice. I have so much to learn and so much fitness to gain. However, each time I ride, I tell myself I need only do my best. Maybe my best is slower than all the other riders. Maybe it is faster. Maybe it is same speed they are. No matter. My cycling, like my swimming, is my own. 

I thought of all this today when I stepped on the treadmill for my first "run." It wasn't really a run per se-- a 30 minute walk with three one-minute jogs spaced equally throughout to help my joints and bones re-adjust to the demands of running. Walking on a treadmill in a gym immediately made me feel awful about myself and I couldn't help those thoughts of "what are all those people thinking about me? They probably think I'm fat, or ugly or obese of pathetic." I longed for those days when running was as natural as breathing. 

But then those feelings faded. Perhaps it's age or wisdom or some combination of both: but I realized that running, too, is a practice. I may be slow. I may not win a race again, ever. But after today, I know I'll run again. Just as I'll swim and cycle again, too. 

After all, those are the joys that make up my day-to-day life; that give me peace and happiness. No matter the speed, I live to push myself as hard as I am able.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My life is like the North-and-South Gate Junction of Mt. Diablo

Mt. Diablo-- the tallest one in the picture. This mountain represents so much to me since moving to the bay area. It represents adversity; it represents challenge and choice. But most importantly, it represents possibility.

If you've never been to the Bay Area, I'm not sure this post will mean much. Or, it might. I'm not an expert in these things. 

Roughly two years ago, I left the Reno/Tahoe area where I'd grown up and lived most of my life for a Master of Fine Arts program at Saint Mary's College, which is located in Moraga, California-- in the East Bay of the San Francisco area. When I arrived two years ago, I was an accomplished-- but not-quite-elite-- long distance runner with aspirations of going to the 2012 Olympic Trials in the Marathon Event. I was close in getting there. If it hadn't been for a series of injuries that made even walking impossible... who knows. But that's another blog and the subject of my forthcoming book-- not this post. 

But since I first became injured in 2011, I began to notice the tallest mountain in the silhouette of heights around me: Mt. Diablo. At its summit, Mt. Diablo is 3,848 feet above sea level which is considerable since its base is more or less at sea level. 

I first saw it from the pool, located in a park called Heather Farms not too far from the gates to the mountain (which is also a state park) itself. I had joined a swim team to keep myself from going insane while injured and also to learn how to swim, something I'd always sort of wanted to do anyway but never had, thinking the task impossible (for me.) 

Each day I drove to swim practice, I could see the ghost of its outline against the morning-dark sky. 

And then, its form lighted by dawn in hues of gentle yellow to rose as the sun crested its distant peak while I swam laps with the team. For each breath among the strokes from wall to wall, the image inspired me. What great heights there are in the world; perhaps it's only natural that some of us wonder if we can climb them. 

That would also be the year I'd jump into random cycling groups-- one that met at Sports Basement Thursday nights. It was a group of triathletes, mainly, and their routine workout was a tempo ride from Mt. Diablo's base to what's called the "junction." I was told by the man who organized the ride that a sub-40 minute time to this point (about halfway up the mountain) was pretty good for a recreational rider. 

And since then, sub-40 minutes has been my goal; mimicking the 5-6 mile running tempos I'd do every 14 days or so in my training cycle when my body could take the pounding of running. 

Again, if you've never been near or seen Mt. Diablo it might be useful for me to note that there are two ways to reach the summit. You can start in Walnut Creek and go up what is known as "North Gate" or you can start in Danville and go up "South Gate." These two roads diverge-- and merge-- into one at the junction. There's only one way to go up to the top after that.  

My usual weekly fitness test is to tempo to the junction to see where I am. If I'm flat or tired; if I'm improving. Since I've been on the bike following my sprained Lisfranc joint, I've gotten my time down to 34:05 (though tonight I did a 35:30. But I'll take whatever my body gives me. Last week, it was worse, but also hotter out. I hate the heat.)

And so, tonight I realized that my life is like this junction that is roughly 2,000 feet above sea level. 

"There's two paths that diverge in a wood and I must choose the less traveled by." 

Or, should I? 

I started the ride late and missed the team by about fifteen minutes, having been held up at work. I met them at the junction and chatted. They opted to go down South Gate; another group of women began to climb to the summit. Three options opened before me and I wasn't sure which one to choose. The riders I love to ride with wanted to descend via South Gate and travel back to Walnut Creek via Danville. And maybe I should have taken that route. 

Just like maybe I should have chosen to people my life long ago. It's not the most fun thing in the world to watch all your friends get married and start families while you remain alone. Once upon a time when I was a lot younger, I might have said this was because I was not a great athlete or it's because I'm not thin or beautiful. But really, like all reasons for one's path in life, it's more complicated than that. 

In my twenties, I decided to be a writer; I rented a remote cabin in the Sierra Nevada, living in a space with no telephone or internet or TV to write my first novel. And after I lost the job to sustain that life, I returned to graduate school and have so far earned 3 Master's degrees while also trying to be an elite long distance runner and a freelance writer. 

That's not exactly the kind of life that breeds human connection. 

And yet, I long for it ... now that the running is done. Now that I'm more or less sure that I'm not elite, even if I will never give up athletic pursuits because I love them so much. Just as much as I love the writing.

So, today, when I stood at the junction while flies buzzed around my sweaty head and was offered a choice: 2 routes were peopled. One was not.

I am astonished I still chose the solitary route, going back the way I came. 

Maybe solitude is safe. Maybe, alone, I can pretend to be someone I'm not. Someone greater. Someone more profound. Or, someone secluded.

Or maybe I can be who I actually am without the worry of pissing someone else off. I can close my eyes and feel the wind on my face and it's my wind, my face and just me and the slow summer twilight around me. 

But I feel this tug in my other life-- my professional life-- too. In the Bay, I am a writer. I create promotional material for other writers. I am a freelance reporter for a local paper. I train with two teams that I absolutely love. And yet--- the tug of home remains. 

If I were to return to Tahoe, I would not have the same writing opportunities there. I would work in a clothing store. But I would have people around me who loved me. 

I'm not sure which route to choose. 

In lieu of a decision, I stare at Mt. Diablo. Perhaps that is my flaw. And yet, who knows what can happen when one decides to climb a mountain? You might do it faster than you thought you would. Or, you might find a team to carry you along. Or, once you get to the top, you might see something you'd never spot from your usual perspective at the bottom. 

And so, I keep climbing.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

And the journey begins...

There's a lot of things that are going to change around here. One is my writing style. I was once a fan of metaphor and subtly. But now, I'm going to be frank and to the point. There's really no reason for evasion because you'd probably find out the truth anyway and how annoying is it to read a person's blog and they don't just tell it like it is?

So: here is what's wrong with me:

The Lisfrac Joint in my right foot is sprained. I did this on a trail run with my running coach three months ago. It hasn't healed yet. This is probably because I cannot lay in bed keeping my foot free of the forces of gravity for six weeks. I have a job to do that requires me to walk, and well, I'm the sort of person who needs to get their heart rate over 190 everyday.

I also don't have health insurance, and having just completed a third Master's degree, I don't have a lot of money, either.

So: what do I do? I join a swim team and jump in to a cycling club. It's better than being placed in a straight jacket, though I'm still depressed about my inability to run. But that's another blog. I'm going to write about cycling today.


I have been riding with the Diablo Cyclists out of Walnut Creek, California for about three weeks.

Prior to this, I hadn't ridden with any clubs before, and hardly any people. In 2009, I did a Century Ride-- the Tahoe Sierra Century-- alone. Nine or so months later, I did the Solvang Century--alone again-- despite having not ridden a single mile due to the demands of finishing duel-MA degrees. (Slight digression: I wouldn't recommend riding 100 miles unless you've ridden at least some miles before. I was praying for a support vehicle to take pity on me at mile 70 when my back felt like it might give birth to some alien invader that had decided to gestate there. I limped my way to the final 100 miles with nothing other than sheer will and stubbornness.)

But today, I rode 90 miles with the Diablo Cyclists into areas I'd never seen or heard of. You know, there's nothing like seeing country on a bike. Unlike a car, you feel every inch of it: the air, the terrain, the shade and sun. There's no better way, I think, to discover a new place than on a bike, even on those hills when your legs and lungs feel on fire and you just don't know if you can push and pull your way for the next quarter mile, but you do, happily, again and again and again...


The first long ride I did with the Diablo Cyclists ended up being a self-supported Century in the Point Reyes/Mt. Tam area. I had expected to ride 60 miles that day, but Cisco Dave and Jay-- my idol-of-all-things-cycling--- both said I could do the bonus miles without issue. So 60 turned to 102 or so, complete with wind, a mountain or so to climb, broken derailleurs (not mine, thankfully) and Tums to save the day.

One of the ride members, Jay, told me that what motivates him is not the clock or necessarily the distance; but instead, the possibility of making your own personal best each and every ride.

I like that.

Be the best you can be.

It seems so simple; and yet, revolutionary in this world where "the best" means only one thing: beating everyone else no matter the cost.

I have no doubt I'll be a better rider by tagging along with this group. But I also have the sense that I'll gain something more than that. There is merit in hard work and hard training; you become better that YOU would be which is what sports is all about, anyway.

What seems so simple can become a tangle: doping vs. not, drugs or no drugs, vitamins and no vitamins. What I remember-- and what I love so much-- about riding these long distances with this crowd is what, I believe, sport is essentially about. It's about pushing yourself and finding your own new boundaries.

I can't think of a better lesson for me, while I heal.

I'm so grateful for these athletes I've found.

They make me better than I could have been before.

And what a gift, right? It's the best kind there is.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Is this the beginning or the end?

Just wow. 

In the past two years, I've managed to graduate with an MFA degree in nonfiction writing, fail to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials in the marathon event and injure myself so severely that I have not been able to run a single step. 

I'm elated and depressed. 

My life is a contradiction. 

And yet, I've joined a swim team and learned to swim. I can do the butterfly, even, for 50 meters, which is something for a person who never thought they could. 

I've also joined a cycling club; and I've seen my cycling fitness improve. Two weeks ago I rode an unsupported century, leading most of the way, feeling fit and light in my pedals. 

However, I miss those runs. 

So I decided to start a new blog. Mostly because I'm lonely and depressed. No one will ever read this thing, I'm sure, but maybe if I can write to myself I'll get through the sadness I feel every day I can't run and the solitude of these days when I wake to ride/swim before the dawn and work an office job where nothing I do truly matters. 

I miss my family; I miss my boyfriend of five years who lives 200 miles away. 

Training-- and the hope that I can heal and one day complete an Ironman distance triathlon-- is really the only hope I have that makes me wake up each morning to do it all again. 

So, that's me. Nothing special. 


See, that's the funny thing about sports and why I have chosen to pursue this path in lieu of many others. You never know what your body will give you on any given day. There is only the daily practice of the athletic life and the faith in yourself that you're more than you thought you were. 

So for now, for me, that has to be enough. I pray it will be.