Thursday, March 29, 2012

You Can Skip This One, It's Just Whining

For absolutely no good reason, my morale is alarmingly low this week. Elspeth says it maybe because we’re mired in the middle – no more eager excitement of getting started, but none of that end-in-sight thrill. Maybe that’s it. It doesn’t help that it’s this beautiful, long, colorful spring --- and all the hideous tree pollen is like destroying my will to live. Okay, maybe not that bad, but definitely destroying my will to stay awake and/or upright most days. Because allergies. Allergies are the devil. Ugh.

I really want this blog to be an accurate depiction of what it's like to do this whole thing. And frankly, it's not always easy to keep it positive, because this is HARD. That's the truth of it. 

So here is where I fess up: I almost kinda-sorta maybe just a little bit regret signing up for this. I’m sure this is a normal reaction, and I’m sure I’ll get over it. And regret is not really the right word. So forget that word. It’s more just that I didn’t really have any clue what I was getting myself into. Yes, I understood the commitment, and how much of a physical challenge this would be. But there are parts of it that I didn't expect and that are really starting to get to me. So here, I’ll just say them out loud.


It’s hard being the only real beginner on the team. I know there are a couple of other beginners, but they are not so beginner-y as I am – for instance, one just did the Chicago Marathon last year and another recently completed a triathalon. So biking is new to them, but endurance sport is not. And for the most part, the whole team is full of avid cyclists who have completed a similar event before and who bike everywhere and/or cycle for sport. I'm not saying that their effort and commitment is in any way less remarkable than my own, because it's every bit as awesome of them. But I'm just saying that this is their world. It's not my world, at all. It is a very new and scary and downright alien place to me. 

I am discovering that I don't really seem to enjoy bicycling as a sport. At least not yet. Maybe that's because I'm not good at it, but I think it's more just Who I Am. As I tell my coaches, I really do not have a competitive bone in my body. At least not with this endeavor. You cannot induce me to step it up by challenging me to beat another person to the rest stop or to give them a run for their money or whatever. Because I am absolutely, perfectly contented in the depths my soul to let everyone do better than me. I don't care if you finish before me at all.  (This is another reason for my ice-cream-as-reward plan: competition doesn't motivate me, but ice cream sure as hell does.) I would much rather just enjoy a nice relaxing bike ride in the country, not always pushing myself. Cycling as a sport is about challenging yourself, not having a picnic on a pretty summer day.

All that said, it's bumming me out to always be the last rider to finish a ride. Not because I'm bummed to not be doing as well as others, but because it is, in a word, lonely. It's hard always being the one who seems to work hardest and always finishes last, alone. It's not really much comfort that a coach stays back with me, and that some other team members will double back and re-ride the last few miles in with me. That's wonderful, of course, and makes it far less lonely than it would otherwise be. But it's not the same effort for them as it is for me. If not for me, they'd have finished long before. I just mean -- it would be nice to have a real companion, who was also slow but trying hard, who also is terrified of pacelines and even more terrified of not being able to get through all the miles, and who huffs and puffs and struggles up even the mildest of inclines. In short, it would be nice to have someone who is genuinely as bad at this as I am. But there's no one. And I wasn't expecting that. I was expecting a mix of skill levels with at least one or two people in the remedial set with me. If I had known I would be so... unique? Well, I don't think I would have done it. Or at least I certainly wouldn't have signed up for Tahoe.

I also didn't realize what a costly enterprise it would be. Aside from having to buy a bike, of course - which I had wanted to do anyway - there are all sorts of other little things that crop up, especially when you're starting from scratch, as I am. Cycling shorts are expensive, as are all other kinds of cycling-appropriate clothes and gear.  Also costly is having to drive to the suburbs every weekend, often more than an hour each way. Gas is expensive. My advice to anyone considering this sort of thing is: sign up with a friend of equal cycling ability, and have some disposable income. And a car. 

Speaking of expensive, what if I don't fund-raise my required minimum? I have to pay the difference. This is how a lot of charity events work, by the way, when they have to make monetary commitments on your part. I don't at all have a problem with the policy. I'm just constantly trying to think of ways to raise more money and chewing my lip as I stare at how far there is to go. And it's hard to plan/execute fundraisers when every single Saturday is not an option, because I am such a beginner that I really can't afford to miss any team rides. I can and will try, and I will hopefully raise enough. But there is the constant fear that I won't make it, and that I'll have to foot the bill. I really do not have that kind of money. Anywhere. I'd be lying if I didn't say that this constantly weighs on me.

And as long as I am whining, I'll just share that I am old and fat and like every single day is some new revelation of how poorly equipped my body is to deal with this. Just today, I randomly have some mild strain in my right quadriceps. My left elbow has been aching for two weeks. My latent fear of being crippled by arthritis is no longer latent, since my knees (especially the left one), and the elbow and my wrists and ankles, protest quite loudly and painfully in a way that is very -  well, very arthritic. I still have to be wary of the plantar fasciitis, my lower back is in a constant twinge, I already mentioned my allergies, and let's not even get into my stress-induced digestive issues. So on top of everything else is this daily in-my-face reminder of my own mortality. Which just feels fabulous, let me tell you.

What I'm saying is this: This is the week where it's all gotten to me. Because I can't ever get away, even for a day, from the physical and/or mental effects of it. Even with an encouraging  team and with terrific coaches and supportive friends and family, it's still a very isolating and stressful experience. I'm not saying that it's not ALSO a very rewarding experience, because it is! It's just that this week, I am feeling the rewards a lot less than I am feeling the pain. I am very demoralized and stressed out and sulky - AND I DON'T EVEN GET TO HAVE ICE CREAM.

Hmm. But I can have a margarita. Yes. I can indeed.

I am not opening the comments on this post because really, I am not looking for reassurances or anything. I know that lots of other people have been where I am (though it'd be nice to have someone there with me now), and I know that it's great I'm doing this and to not let these things get me down. I know. I know all these things. I'm just letting you know what this is really like. And it ain't all a bunch of triumphs.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

In Which I Begin To Feel Awesome At 35 miles

I will not pretend that I didn't have some serious doubts during yesterday's 35 miles, or that I didn't think more than once Ugh, I don't like this, I don't want to do it anymore. However, I will say that these thoughts did not stop me, and that (best of all) 35 miles felt better than even 30 miles did.

Which is AWESOME.

The worst moment of the ride was what Coach Tom called the Infamous Red Barn. (Tom rode with me this week - poor coaches must draw lots each week to see who has to ride with me. I am the slowest still, and I have the feeling I'll always be the slowest. It doesn't bother me at all, since I only care about doing it, and not how FAST I'm doing it. But I do feel bad for the coaches who have to hang behind with me, even though that's their job and they seem happy to do it, and some seem to enjoy a nice leisurely pace at times. They do and say absolutely nothing to make me feel guilty, of course. It's just my native Catholic guilt, I suppose, and I have to constantly stop myself apologizing for holding them back. But anyway, back to the hardest part of the ride.) It's this long slow incline with a picturesque red barn at the top of the hill. It just looks like a little steep hill, but long before you even get to the part that seems steep, your legs are already getting tired and you realize you've downshifted a hell of a lot. Because it's this hidden hill-before-a-hill.

I'm just saying that I hate the red barn hill, okay. But I made it up. Wait, let me re-phrase that: I made it up that stupid hill!!!!

The other bad part was The Worms. Oh god -- THE WORMS. They were everywhere, as we'd just had rain (it didn't rain on us, yay!) I thought there was just some sort of weird sticky mud on my brakes, but when we got to the rest stop, someone figured out that we and our bikes were spattered with smooshy worm bits.

I almost puked. For serious. That was so, so, so, so, SO GROSS.

The best part of the ride was this wonderful, long steep downhill (which I believe was right before the exercise in red barn masochism). People often compare riding a bike to flying, but here in the flat land of Chicago, it feels more like steady, mostly low-level and often fun work, to me. The real pay-off, the joy comes from a downhill like that. And it's not like flying. It's not like anything else. It's like riding a bike down a hill. You feel free, and the world is beautiful and nothing is impossible and you're not scared of anything. There's no such thing as an office, or bills, or wrinkles and gray hair, or aches and pains and worries and cares. There's nothing but you, feeling absolutely completely and 100% alive. Flying doesn't feel like that. Only riding a bike down a long hill does.

Life should work that way - every time you climb a hill and reach the top, gasping, with your legs screaming and all of you just ready to give up, you get a glorious downhill ride. Hard work rewarded with nothing but absolute joy. Wouldn't that be wonderful, if it were always that way?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What's It Mean To Be In Training?

Well, it means something different for everyone, of course. But I'll tell you what it means for me. 

Being "In Training" means...

... I can't make plans for Saturdays from here until mid-June, because that's when I ride with my team. Every Saturday. We always ride out in the suburbs, which can sometimes be more than an hour's drive for me - and rides start at 9 and 8am. Those of you who are familiar with my love of sleep may now admire me EVEN MORE for how hard this is for me.

... a lot of random bruises and schmutz on my person. This comes from hauling the bike in/out of my basement, through the alleyway, in/out of my car, and riding outside. (Dirt lives outside.) Sometimes I find myself scrubbing a spot on my leg and wondering what kind of grease I managed to smear myself with this time - only to realize that it's a bruise, not dirt.

... being constantly sore and achey and tuckered out from one workout or another. Weight training and core exercises and bike commuting 8.5 miles each way and spin classes and training rides and lions and tigers and bears oh my.

 ... doing freaking side planks  as though I'm an aspiring Navy SEAL or something. It's simultaneously awesome and absurd. 

 ... that I am always and forever sweating, or waiting for my sweaty hair/clothes/self to dry, and that my hair only looks nice until my next workout. Sigh.

Being "In Training" means that this post resonates very, very deeply with me, and I want to send the author a fruit basket to say THANK YOU. And you shouldn't click that if you're male. Or squeamish. (Really, one in the same thing, in this case.)

Being "In Training" means… 

 ... after the team ride on Saturday, I'm allowed to eat whatever I want in whatever quantities I like. So far, it also means that this is about the only time I don't feel like eating. My stomach is really not okay with the combination of major physical exertion and more than 2 bites of food. It's depressing. 

 ... that on days that are NOT Saturday, I have to control portions and am allowed no junk food. This is my rule for myself. Partly it's added motivation for the long Saturday rides - it is a fact that the only thing that got me through my last couple of miles this weekend was the certain knowledge that a cold beer was waiting for me afterwards. But the other reason for this rule is… 

... actively trying to lose some weight. Not just because I need to lose some weight in general, but specifically because my bike needs to not have so much weight on it. No one's said so, but logic tells me that it's easier to haul a load up a mountain if the load is a little lighter, you know? 

 ... that I kind of want to cry whenever I see candy on a Wednesday. Because I am only allowed to have dessert/sweets on weekends and special occasions. Again with the motivation and weight loss tactics, but really I just think we all need to remember that a treat is no longer a treat if you eat it all the damn time. 

Being "In Training" means I am often cranky and/or giddy, because of the constant need for sleep and the exertion and pain and the longing for sugar, as described above. 

Being "In Training" means...

... I can't remember the last time I changed the sheets on my bed. And my floors need a good sweep-n-mop. But I can't seem to find the time or energy for it.

 ... that I come home from the grocery store with granola bars and oatmeal and milk and various odds and ends which, come meal time, are of little use. My fridge is nearly bare, and any time I manage to go shopping to replenish it, I can't seem to focus on what to get. It's like I never grocery shopped before, I swear. I need to cook, but hell if I can remember to pick up the ingredients or to use them before they go bad.

 ... reminding myself consistently every day to call or email certain friends, because friendships (like all close relationships) require some effort, and yet weeks go by and I am still only reminding myself instead of actually finding time to DO it. It means my social life is suffering in some ways. 

Being "In Training" means I almost have a part-time job in addition to my full-time job. It takes a lot of my non-work time. What I'm saying is, the home fort is sort of a pile of rubble at the moment and I don't think that's going to change until say mid-June or so. Please consider this a blanket apology for my life being a bit of a mess. In exchange for the messiness, I will raise lots of money for cancer research, and (hopefully) develop super-strong quads.

Being "In Training" means that if I do all this and go to Tahoe and succeed, I GET TO HAVE ICE CREAM AGAIN. Ice cream is my Achilles heel, you see - I cannot resist it, and I can never stop eating it til it's gone. So to add incentive to this whole endeavor, I am not allowed to have ice cream until I bike 100 miles. NONE. AT ALL. NO ICE CREAM OH MY GOD. The moment I get back from Tahoe, I plan to walk straight into George's Sweet Shop and order their mindblowingly awesome Salty Pretzel Caramel Chocolate sundae. In fact, I may even ask them to make it a triple-scoop. Oh my lord almighty, do I love that thing. It will be mine before the sweat has even dried, I tell you!  

So please - don't offer me ice cream while I'm "In Training". It's hard enough, I hope you can see, without that frozen dairy taunt.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Saturday Was Better Than Your Saturday

Today was sunny and a high of 81 degrees and I rode 30 miles on a bike.

Excuse me, I just need to say that again: I RODE THIRTY MILES ON A BIKE.

Thirty miles! Me! On the bike! And I didn't have to walk any of the (admittedly rather puny) hills and I was only a few miles behind most everyone else on the team and there was wind and I got this pain in my knee the last few miles and aside from the rest stop I only stopped once just to catch my breath and I BIKED THIRTY FREAKING MILES, PEOPLE.

That might seem like the awesome part, but for me the awesomest of it all is that I only hated a few of the miles! Specifically, the last 4 or 5 of them. I was really tired and really really really really REALLY sick of the damn wind, which blew steadily and I swear changed directions to blow directly in our faces both on the way out and then after we turned around. Bastard wind, I will curse you with my last breath. Even when I was totally out of breath, I had enough left to curse the wind. Grrrrr, so much hate.

Physical report:
My legs felt rather rubbery when I got off the bike. And I still had trouble eating much afterwards, though I managed an adequate lunch (hashbrowns and eggs and a few bites of pancake). The pain in my knee is mostly better. The worst damage was from the sun on my arms, because I quite stupidly didn't put sunblock anywhere but my face. So now I have this burn which will turn into a hilarious farmer's tan:

I shouldn't be posting this picture, as it reveals location of the national strategic stockpile of upper arm-fat, which is a matter of national security. In a post-apocalyptic world, I will be a target for scavengers of that scarce commodity known as upper arm-fat. It's okay, I'm willing to take one for the team. (No but really, it's true - my upper arms are like the auxiliary fat storage facility for my body. It is the last place I ever lose an ounce. This is why I so rarely go sleeveless.)

Also, my legs actually feel stronger. Like I can feel the added muscle all of a sudden, especially in my thighs. It's pretty terrific, as feelings go.

Mental report:
I am SO GLAD I actually enjoyed the ride. Because if you didn't catch on, I did not at all enjoy last week, not even for a second of it. This time I had fun and chatted a lot with Coach Carrie (she stayed with me this time, we are marvelously sympatico in a lot of bike-riding ways) and though I dreaded nearly every hill, it was much much less of a death-march event. I smiled and laughed and just really enjoyed it. Which makes me look forward to next week, hurrah!

Coaches Carrie and Anne both tell me I have this great attitude and they love it in me. They keep calling me amazing. (Note: I don't feel amazing. I just feel like I'm stubborn.) "Lots of people have a frustrating time like you did last week," said Coach Anne, "and they just decide to never come back. But not you." This seems natural to me, the whole jump-back-in-there attitude, because the whole point of this sort of thing is to teach your body how to do it. It's to push yourself and get better. If I weren't getting better, I probably WOULD get frustrated. Believe me, I've very very good at quitting. I even LIKE quitting, a lot of times. But it's barely begun, so how can I even think of having that attitude?

Anyway, it feels great that the coaches think I'm doing great, and that Anne sees huge improvement, and that all of them are just as proud of me for finishing as I am myself. I thought of my grandfather today, how when he got his knee replaced and was so fast recovering that it near made the nurses' heads spin. I've got good genes, when it comes to doing better than people might expect.

My reward:
I came home, took the best shower ever, drank a gloriously cold beer, ate Cadbury mini-eggs (which tasted so good I actually teared up a bit), and then took a nap as my cat purred next to me. I woke up and ordered pizza, ate it on the couch in front of the TV.

All things considered, it was a spectacular day. :-D

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Morning Commute

I am soooooo tired. Not Saturday post-training tired, but still - tired. It's a combination of  mild seasonal allergies, light (but very present) insomnia leading to sleep deprivation, and my new commute demanding more of my bod than it's used to.

The first morning (yesterday) Pepe and I needed a quick rest stop, so I took a picture for you.

If only I had aimed a camera a bit more to the right, or taken a wider shot, you'd see my city skyline and have an idea how lovely this ride is. I live just less than a mile from the lakeshore path, you see, and I can ride it all the way downtown. It's paved and smooth and flat and no cars are allowed - just bicycles and joggers and dogs being walked and people strolling along enjoying the day. Nothing but lake to the left, gorgeous Chicago skyline to my right and up ahead. How terrific is Chicago, huh? The light sparking of the lake is enough to make anyone swear off public transit.

Well except I will be taking the train tomorrow because did I mention I am tired? Sooooo tired. It's amazing how my 8.5 mile commute is so much easier than any given mile I rode in Saturday's training. It's like my body is okay with it now, all of a sudden. But it is still a challenge because it's still really new to me - so I really should have let myself rest today. I made it, but man did it ever sap my strength. So it's back to the train tomorrow, give my body a day to get stronger.

But next time I commute by bike, I'll take the good camera and get a few proper pictures that show everything to better advantage, and you can see what I mean about how exhilarating it is. Did I say it's exhilarating, this ride? I meant to, but I forgot because I am tirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrred. Oh also the first morning I put this huge gash in my leg. Because no kickstand. And bike fell. And chain-ring has sharp hungry teeth. And ouch. But I'm okay. Oh and I got lost that first ride because it gets tricky around Navy Pier and this guy named Jeff helped me find my way, and I park at the McDonalds Cycle Center because I'm nervous of downtown traffic and it's so cool the secure bike parking there and I guess there's a lot to tell about that first commute. It was An Epic Journey.

But I am too tired to tell it. Suffice to say: I got there and back. Twice. YAY.

And goodnight.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

First Ride

Holy cow. Honestly, I don't even know where to start so that's the best summary I have: Holy cow. I was so utterly drained afterwards that all I could do was lay quietly in bed and stare at the ceiling. And I mean literally drained - as though there's some big plug inside of my body that got pulled and every bit of energy and strength just whooshed right out in a swirl and a glug, leaving me totally empty of everything but fuzzy memories of huffing and puffing and whimpering like an abandoned newborn for the two hours previous. But I'm bright and peppy now, so here we go. 

First off, I could not do the full 25 miles. Instead, I did 17. (Well, 17.2 or something.) Half of me is very disappointed that I couldn't do 25 miles, and the other half is thrilled that I could do more than 15 miles. See, the REAL first ride - which was to be March 4 but was canceled due to snow - is 15 miles. That's how the outdoor training starts out, at 15 miles. So even though it was supposed to be 25 miles according to the calendar, really you're supposed to start at 15. And I did 17. 

So okay, it was FREEEEEEZING. Sunny and clear, but the wind was cold and vicious. For all of you not in the Chicagoland area or if you're just generally unaware of how vicious wind can be, I'm talking about the kinds of gusts that cause garbage cans to go flying and push small sedans sideways on the highway. I was adequately bundled, but that wind near killed me. I spent the full 17 miles cursing it. But I figured if I could bike in that and come out alive, a few mountains would seem entirely conquerable. I got on the bike and was promptly left behind by the entire group. I rather expected this, since my starting is still so very wobbly and awkward, and then I had to fumble with gears until I had a clue what my bike was doing. But Coach Anne stayed with me.

AN ASIDE: Coach Anne is my hero. She is patient and kind and full of encouragement and tough as nails and just an all-around bad-ass sweetheart, that's all there is to it. I would never, ever have gone 17 miles without her at my back, urging me on. I don't even know that I'd have gone 7 miles or much more than 7 minutes. It wasn't me who rode 17 miles yesterday - it was Anne and me. There would've been no Me in it if there weren't an Us.

There were the merest bit of hills on the ride. Okay, calling anything on that ride a "hill" is generous in the extreme, as they were really just slight inclines. I learned how to pedal on the downhills (after shifting gears to add more resistance - is that upshifting or downshifting? I don't understand gears, sorry) instead of coasting. Coasting uses your energy, but pedaling increases it and allows it to carry you up the next hill. It's a super-duper double-awesome feeling, when you go up a hill like that and barely even notice it in your legs. And it's a horrible death-march feeling when you don't have that momentum to help you up a hill. Sadly, I felt the death-march way more than I felt the super double-awesomeness. 

So I really learned how to use the gears well, and how to handle (baby) hills. And I also really learned how to just keep pedaling, no matter how slow and laborious and seemingly endless and freaking TORTUOUS it is. Coach Anne tells me I have a great pedal stroke, by which she means (I think, if I understood it right) that it's nice and even and smooth instead of herky-jerky or a bunch of energetic pedalling followed by coasting. That pedalpedal-cooooooast, pedalpedalpedal-cooooooast pattern is apparently very common, eats up energy, is bad for long long rides, and is a hard habit to break. So YAY I don't have any terrible habits! (Um, in biking, that is. Yet.) What was hard for me was the lack of recovery period, and I suspect that's why people coast more than they should. I'm fine going all-out, but I want 3 minutes of all-out to be followed by a minute of rest and recovery. This is not, however, the way that endurance training works.

Here is where I confess to you that I genuinely came within a millimeter of calling this whole thing off yesterday. It wasn't just thinking I couldn't do it or wanting to quit or whatever. It was a real Moment, like when you know you've made a wrong choice and just want to stop the whole thing. It was when I was thinking we must be coming up to the mid-way point soon, probably within another mile or two, so I told myself to hold on despite the exhaustion/pain. Then Anne broke in and announced that we'd just reached the four-mile point. Four. That was all. I'd been wanting to give up for ages upon ages, and we'd only gone four stinking miles. I about fell off my bike. Then about one or two miles after that - after a really awful steep incline that felt like an epic struggle of biblical proportions - I thought: I don't like this. I don't want to do it. I'm just going to have to tell them that I'm not doing it, that's all. To understand the import of this moment, you have to understand that I have a general life policy of only doing things that I want to do. It's a strict policy, and  exceptions are only made in cases where the hated thing is temporary and a very necessary step toward the thing I DO want. So say there's some task at my job I despise, okay - I don't want to do it but I will, because I want to get paid. Very simple math on that. But in this case, I found myself in a situation of not liking something, not being good at it, the only consequences of not doing it are - well, nothing. Mild but passing disappointment, that's about it. So why not just turn around, go home, and never talk to any of these people ever again? It seemed a good and proper thing to do.

But Anne was there, and it just seemed too terribly impolite. Here she'd taken time out of her day and everything, and was deprived of her full mileage because she'd stayed to help me, and was so patiently helping me do the most remedial bit of riding. And I just wasn't raised to answer a good faith commitment like that with a shrug and a "So long, sucker." So I plowed on. At 8.5 miles, we stopped to look at the map and Anne asked me what I thought of going on or back, reminding me that we'd be riding into the wind on the way back. And at 8.5 miles, somehow I didn't want to quit anymore. But I did want to acknowledge the reality of what my body was capable of. We turned back, and that's how it turned into 17 miles instead of 25.

It was pretty clearly the right decision, since it was at about mile 12 that I really began thinking I might not make it back. I got a leg cramp at one point, but it was a strange thing - a quick stab and then gone, no lingering pain. I guess it was due to muscle fatigue instead of any actual injury? I had to walk the bike up he last half of a hill, because I ran into a curb and then couldn't get started on an incline, so that rather sucked. And around mile 15 is when my arms and wrists and shoulders began to hurt as bad as my legs. And all the while, that damn wind kept plowing into our faces. When Anne said "Look up there, that stop sign is where we turn to go to our parking lot where we started out," I nearly cried with relief. I had stopped hoping for the ride to end long ago, resigned to indefinite full-body misery. That's really the only way, you know, just stop hoping for the finish line and plod along without thinking too much. But then the finish line was there and I swear I could hear chorus of angels singing down at me from the clouds. No joke.

Some teammates were already there, waiting, and they clapped for me and hugged me, and were just generally wonderful. This is the first time in forever I've actually felt that applause was warranted for anything I've done, so it was validating rather than embarrassing to get it. I then slipped into a zombie-like state of near-coma that lasted until about 6pm last night. I was really hungry, but just a granola bar was enough - it was the first time in my life that digestion seemed like something to be avoided for a while. Not because it would make me sick, but because digesting was too much work, therefore I didn't want food. Given my love for food and eating, it was rather a surreal feeling. 

Seriously, you guys. I have no idea how Anne kept me on that bike. None. I just wanted to get off the whole time. Every minute of it. She's some kind of jedi coach-master or something, I mean she didn't even say anything like "you can't quit now" or anything like that. It's just like she expected me to keep going so I did. What? How does that WORK, even? It's freaking CRAZY.

Two physical notes: 

1. I was breathing really hard at points, but I never felt entirely out of breath, or that my lungs were burning and my heart wasn't painfully beating a million miles an hour or anything. This must be the result of focusing on cardio these last couple of years. Anne asked me at one point how my breath was, could I speak a complete sentence? I proceeded to speak a few of them, because my lungs were working hard but not overtaxed. Anne tells me this is great, since it can be a huge obstacle in endurance training, training your lungs to handle it. So it appears my lungs and heart are already up to speed. YAY.

2. I have much muscle-work ahead. For the vast majority of the ride time, it was my legs that were exhausted. They got all wobbly after just a few miles, and were like rubber at the end. It could be that they were just taken by surprise - like all my muscle tissue was shouting "you want us to do WHAT? we've never done this! we have to consult the manual!" I imagine a version of Scotty, down in the engine room, insisting we just don't have the power, Cap'n. But now I've done it once, the muscles are better prepared next time I throw this sort of thing at them. And of course I'll be weight-training the hell out of them. 

I am shocked - SHOCKED, I tell you - that here I am, next day after that grueling experience, and I don't have a single sore muscle. Not one. I expected to be incapable of moving today, but I am perfectly fine. It seems downright miraculous. This is great because aside from needing to do laundry and actually buying food and whatnot, Pepe needs a looking-at. Something's wrong with his front brake, it's rubbing against the front tire. So I'm off to the bike shop in a bit. And if he's seaworthy, so to speak, I plan to ride to work tomorrow. THAT'S RIGHT I SAID THE BIKE COMMUTE IS ON, PEOPLE. It's my hope that daily riding the 8-ish miles to work will help to make 10 miles an easy every-day distance, and so anything more than 10 is less of a struggle. So I'll let you know how that goes.

Next week, the mileage is - I don't know, probably 30 miles? And if I can't do 30 or very close to it, it will not be for lack of preparation this week. 

It was close, but I'm not quitting. I mean, I rode 17 miles and I hated every last one of them and truly believed every single mile that I couldn't possibly go one more. But I DID. Isn't that amazing? It's incredible, what your body is capable of if you just force yourself to keep going. And of course, it really helps to have a load of cheerleaders like you all, and a great supportive team and the world's most fabulous coach. 

Also it helps to promise yourself a calzone and a beer at the end of the ride. Even if you wait like 6 hours to eat it. :-D

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Programming note

The LLS donation website (which includes my frundraising page, I think) will be down for site maintenance this weekend. So in case you wanted to throw cash at me - sorry! Come back Monday.

I have to leave for the first ride in a bit and I am so scared. I am nervous-sweating, even. I had some toast and tea and now I'm fretting over if that's right to eat, what if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the ride? I am not a guy, I can't do that pee-on-the-bike thing that they apparently do in the Tour de France and stuff. (I know, isn't that gross? I had no idea. Ugh.) And I'm sure I'll get left behind and I hope I don't get lost and what if it takes me FOREVER and I'm so sleepy still and man, now the nervous-sweat is out of control. Way to go.

Anyway. I am scared. I'm going, but I'm a little terrified. I just needed to share that. Thanks for listening, internet.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Tomorrow is recommitment day. That means that I have to tell Team In Training that I am definitely in, no matter what. If I re-commit, it means that if I don't meet my fundraising minimum, then I have to pay the difference out of my own pocket. You will notice that I am not close to having raised enough money. Help, please. And help doesn't only mean "give money", though of course that too. It also means give suggestions on plausible ways to raise money, tell your friends they should donate, maybe offer to stand outside a grocery store with me rattling a tin can, et cetera. (Note that my wonderful nieces have volunteered to do this last thing, with the tin can, for me. People can easily say no to me, but I dare anyone to say no to those two adorable faces.)

Anyway, recommitment is scary and I've been hesitating. It is truly signing on the bottom line, and aside from the money issue, there is the whole I Still Can Only Kind Of Ride An Actual Bike issue. I am so far from being comfortable on a bike that the idea of zooming through the hills of Tahoe in a mere 3 months is downright comical. Imagine your 15-year-old kid getting his learner's permit today and declaring that now he's ready for the Indy 500, just a couple of months away - when meanwhile, he still has trouble actually turning corners and has only the vaguest idea what a clutch is. That's about my level, okay. That's about how absurd this seems to me.

Honestly, the only reason I'm not backing out of this and opting for some easier ride later on (I believe Team In Training allows that) - and I mean the only reason  - is my brother Dan. He's so enthusiastic, and he really believes in me. Not that other people aren't the same, of course, but it matters more for me with Dan. After all, he's donating monthly - he's in it as long as I am too. And weirdly enough, I am suddenly hugely invested in making him proud. This is slightly hilarious, since I don't think I've ever given a damn about making anyone proud in my life. Certainly not my adult life. But there you go. Thanks a LOT, Dan, going around making shit important to me, you bastard.

So the fundraising part is the bigger worry. As much as I angst about the physical challenge, I am learning. Like just last night I learned how to be a little less dumb about food. I didn't eat before I went to training, see. Not even a snack. This turned out to be a mistake since not only was I positively ravenous afterwards and capable of eating a proverbial horse (or even non-proverbial, I wasn't picky), when I did eat, all the afterglow-awesome-invincible feel from a terrific workout just disappeared into exhaustion and lethargy. I only had a sandwich, but it may as well have been play-dough, the way it left me feeling. So okay, lesson learned. Other lessons include:

  • Concentrate on breathing. This was shared with me by Christopher O'Connor, a great guy on our board who is like a SuperAthlete (compared to me, anyway), and I immediately found the wisdom in his words. During cardio exercise, I tend to be fine with the breathing, though focusing on it really helps there too. But it's in weight training that this has made the biggest difference. Any time I am reallllly working my muscles, I just stop breathing. It's some natural involuntary thing. It's whack, this instinct. But now I constantly remind myself to inhale and exhale in nice even breaths. Thanks, Chris!
  • Sore muscles will not ALWAYS happen. I have been doing these core exercises - initially I did them in a totally lame-ass manner, but then I pushed myself on them, doing them for realsies. And ohmygod, the next day was like I was wearing a girdle of pain and sorrow. It so hurt. But I gave it a couple of days and did the exercises again, and it hurt a little less afterwards. Now I can do them full-tilt and there is no pain at all. And that's progress over the course of just a week. I mean, I was prepared to do them no matter the pain they caused, but it was such a pleasant surprise to realize that my muscles could get used to it so very quickly. Yay muscles!
  • Twenty minutes is the magical marker. I have long suspected it, but have decided that it's a Life Truth: if you're working out, get your heart rate up for twenty minutes straight, nice and steady - and then all of a sudden the workout becomes less work and more fun. I bet there's some medical reason, but whatever - all I know is, for 19 full minutes, I just slog along and whine to myself about how much I don't wanna do this, I don't like it, waaaah. Then at minute 20, I suddenly stop looking at the clock and feel like I could go forever. Every single time. Elspeth (training for a half-marathon) says it's the same thing with her. So just remember, people: Minute Twenty is magic.
  • I love peanut butter. Okay, I already knew that, but I mean I lurrrrrrrrrrve it now. After a super-intense session of physical exertion, I have learned that protein is the key to actually satisfying the hunger. If I eat something with little or no protein, then I just stay hungry, like a bottomless pit. But a handful of peanuts takes care of it. Even better, a glob of peanut butter smeared on bread. Man, I dream about peanut butter sometimes now. Gloppy and sticky and GLORIOUS, oh my beloved peanut butter.
  • I need a new sports bra. Let's not go into detail on that, just trust me: the girls need more restraint. I will go to some awesome running store for apparel and advice, and plop down a fat wad of cash because the good ones always cost oodles. Being a girl can seriously suck sometimes, jeez.
Um, okay, that's my update for now. On Saturday - as in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW OH MY DEAR SWEET LORD HELP ME - we will be going on our first team ride at last. It is 25 miles. That's twenty-five. 

Twenty. Five. 

[wordless gestures of helpless terror]

So I'll let you know how that goes, okay?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Last Lull

That's how I'm thinking of this weekend: the last lull in training. I was going to rent a bike and do a 15-mile ride here in Atlanta today, but for various reasons it just didn't work out. It could have, if I were super-motivated - just like how I'd work out today if I were super-motivated - but something about travel always makes me want to be lazy. Maybe if I traveled constantly, it would (by necessity) be different. But I only travel a few times a year so I tend to spend the non-work minutes of the trip just being a sloth.

Anyway, I decided that next week will be when I start being tough on myself. As in tomorrow. No excuses, no laziness, nothing but self-discipline and hard work, every day. I can do it, when I want to. I will totally be an animal, for serious.

But not today. Today I just want to sit in the sunshine and then read on the plane. All while nursing my sore abdominal muscles because man, those core exercises are not playing around.