True Injury Confessions

All I notice are people’s shoes. Cute flats. Heels I could never have walked in anyway. Grubby sneakers. Sparkly sneakers. Running shoes that I can identify — brand, style — on sight. I don’t even usually care that much about shoes, but these days I can’t stop looking at people’s feet.

I smell like chlorine all the time. I have to swim with masters at least twice a week to keep my membership. (I’m swimming in the “old-people swim,” as my lane-mate pointed out yesterday, which is a little weird, but I’m also not fast enough for the “young-people swim,” and anyway, I’d rather get up at 6:15 than 5:15.) I’m swimming other times on my own or with friends. And I’m pool-running on days I’m not swimming. I think I’m actually excreting chlorine.

I can’t walk more than two blocks without a break. My heel doesn’t hurt in the boot, which is nice, but my arch cramps like crazy. I gave up and threw an arch support in there today, which maybe is a terrible plan, but I can’t imagine how it would make things much worse. Also, walking a block takes five minutes.

Also: Even trivial walking is non-trivial. At minimum, for daily life, I walk 1.5 blocks from home to my train and 1.5 blocks from my train to work, and then I reverse it in the evenings. Back in the spring, when I had two working feet and was wearing my Vivofit, my daily walking was barely a step up from sedentary. Now it seems overwhelming.

I have never been on time for more things in my life. I’m a problematically, perpetually slightly late person. Most people I’m close to know that when I say 9:15, I mean 9:20. But I’m making peace with having to build cushion into my day. I aim for the train before the train I really have to take. If I think something is five minutes away, I give it 10. I can’t hurry, so I end up being on time — or early. Hashtag life lessons.

I don’t think this is working. Obviously, I did not want to be saying that. Today is day 6; I have my check-up on day 12. The first six days have led to no noticeable improvement (and some frustrating new symptoms, like the aforementioned arch cramping). Yes, the boot lets me walk (heel-)pain free, and I shouldn’t discount that. But the tender spots are just as tender as they were last Friday, and the week before that, and the week before that. I don’t know if this is just going to take more time, or if we still don’t have the right diagnosis, or what the next move is from here in any case. I’m mentally preparing to stay in the boot at least till October 1, when my new health insurance kicks in, because I can’t imagine the next six days being much different from the past six. But maybe they will be. There’s my level of optimism.

I can’t quite stop making goals. I originally wrote “I’m done making goals,” but that’s a damn lie and I might as well admit it. I do have two goals. I’d like to think they’re achievable, but the past two months have taught me that I might need to underestimate what’s achievable. The first is that I want to be able to go on a rock climbing trip with friends at the end of October. (Climbing causes no obvious pain, but walking or hiking to a climbing site might be a challenge.) The second is that I want to be able to run pain-free — I don’t care how far — on my birthday in January. Six weeks for goal #1; four months for goal #2. It sucks to acknowledge that I might have to miss them both, but it seems worse to have no goals at all.

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#bootday

After a week of visiting various doctors and receiving further strange and contradictory opinions, on Friday, this happened:

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It has seemed inevitable for long enough now that I’m not upset. I just hope it works.

The immediate precipitating events: On Wednesday, my podiatrist told me to go for a run. Instead of being happy, the way a runner would theoretically be happy upon receiving this news after a six-week break, I wanted to cry. I heard it as “there’s nothing else I can do for you.” On Thursday, on my way to the chiropractor’s office, I had to run two blocks for the train, and that was enough to know that going for an actual run would be a wildly bad idea. I thought I’d need to go to another podiatrist, since the chiro’s office doesn’t take my insurance, but they figured out a way for me to just buy a boot for roughly what my insurance would have charged me anywhere else, and, that was that, for the next two weeks. (Except not exactly, because they were out of my size of boot on Thursday, so I had to wait till Friday, LOL LIFE. At least that gave me time to get my attitude into the right place and also do things like paint my toenails and stockpile snacks for the weekend.)

I have doubts about this strategy — I still don’t have a definitive diagnosis, for one thing, and maybe I never will. I also know that doing what I was doing wasn’t getting me anywhere, and I’m tired of flipping the calendar and waiting for magic. If this works, great! If it doesn’t, I have new insurance starting in October and can start over if I have to. (But I really hope this works.)

There have been times in the past couple of months when I’ve thought, you know, maybe I’m really not supposed to be a runner. Maybe the people (two of them, and for the record, both were doctors) who have told me I don’t look like a runner, that the issue is my build — maybe they’re right. Maybe I could be content with just swimming and cycling, maybe the occasional hike. I sit with that for a day or two, and then I realize I’m not there yet. I might have to get there, but I’m not there yet. (I really hope this works.)

So, I’ll do this. Honestly, it’s not that different from what I’ve been doing, just with one sneaker instead of two. I can swim, I can pool run, and — after a little coercing on my part — I can bike to and from the pool (and “other flat places,” so, you know, basically to and from the pool). I paid my dues for the masters group, but I didn’t quit my neighborhood gym yet, so I have maximum options for the next month. (I hope this works.)

I won’t miss running, at least not more than I already do. I will miss driving and open water swimming — too logistically complicated — and climbing. But with any luck, I’ll only have to miss them for two weeks. And, it’s not like I was signed up for any more races this year. It’s a good time to do this right.

(I hope it works.)

Lately

Oh, let’s just grab-bag it.

Atlanta

The week after the century, I flew to Atlanta for work. It was my first time in the city — outside of many connecting flights and that one time I took a cab to Woodfire Grill during a layover so I could fangirl Kevin Gillespie when he was still cooking there — and despite spending most of my time from Friday night-Thursday morning in a hotel conference room, I managed to get out and see some things. And eat some things. Like: grits at Flying Biscuit, grits at Silver Skillet, grits covered in a blanket of fried cheese at Thumbs Up, a burger with green pepper jelly and chipotle cream cheese at The Vortex, a shrimp po’boy at Villains, lobster ravioli at Seven Lamps, this insane thing with crispy rice and corn puree and a farm egg at Empire State South, polenta cakes at Argosy East, and all of the food — but especially the Jamaican hot pockets and steak frites — at Gunshow (where, sadly, Kevin Gillespie was not present for me to fangirl again). I also ate a vegetable now and then.

In Atlanta, I felt the most bummed I’ve felt yet about not being able to run — um, and given the above, I should probably make it clear that it wasn’t because of the food. Running is my favorite way to get to know a new city, and my Midtown hotel would have been a great home base — close to the Olympic Park, close to a big city park, and an area worth exploring more in its own right. On the other hand, I didn’t squeeze much time for exercise in between all the working, and while I might have been slightly more serious about making time if I’d been able to just throw on running shoes and go, I also might have spent longer feeling guilty about not running. (How’s that for a twisted positive?)

I did take a wander through the Olympic Park one day and managed one fairly lame hotel gym workout. The only thing I wanted to do was swim at the Georgia Tech pool — the 1996 Olympic pool! — but it’s only open to university affiliates, so that dream died pretty quickly. Instead, I got my one proper workout of the week at a Flywheel spin class, during which I officially decided that spin classes really aren’t for me. I never feel comfortable, the bikes don’t seem to fit me right, and I spend the whole time feeling grateful that riding outside doesn’t feel that awkward. But the music was good and it put me closer to my planned diner breakfast, so I’m still glad I went.

Pittsburgh

I think the whole reason I survived the Atlanta work schedule was knowing I had a long weekend trip to Pittsburgh coming at the end of it. I flew directly there from Atlanta and spent four days mostly going to the US Gymnastics National Championships, a scheme my mom and I cooked up approximately five minutes after realizing the event was going to be in Pittsburgh. The two of us got an all-event ticket package — thanks, mom! — and we saw every competition session besides the junior men. Highlights for me were the Friday night men’s preliminary round — which felt mostly like watching any college sporting event, with a slightly older crowd of spectators than we saw the rest of the weekend and lots of hollering and cheering and high-fiving between the competitors — and Saturday’s junior and senior women’s finals, even though the results were never that close in either.

I also stood next to Kim Zmeskal for about three seconds, watched Marta and Bela Karolyi interact and rekindled my dream of writing the unauthorized biography of their marriage, and generally had a weekend that my 12-year-old self would have only dreamed of. And now I follow a bunch of 16-year-old gymnasts on Twitter, because, sure.

My heel

…sigh.

Quick recap: Podiatrist diagnosed me with plantar fasciitis in July and sent me to physical therapy. Not much improved. Podiatrist and physical therapist started to disagree, pretty dramatically, on causes and treatment strategies. Podiatrist ultimately ordered an MRI. I saw him for about two minutes before leaving for Atlanta — and I think he’d had the MRI report for about two minutes before that — and was told the results showed nothing torn or broken and confirmed plantar fasciitis. I was sort of relieved, but also annoyed, because it seemed like something should have improved after PT, six weeks of no running, being at least a little more careful about my everyday shoes, etc.

At that point, I decided to get a second opinion from someone at a combo chiropractic/medical practice many friends swear by. They don’t take my insurance, but their private-pay rates for seeing someone on the chiropractic side were manageable (we will not speak of the rates on the medical side), so I booked an appointment there, assuming I was just going to get new ideas and strategies for treating plantar fasciitis. Instead: at appointment one, the chiropractor told me he didn’t think it was plantar fasciitis at all but either an injury to the fat pad in my heel or a stress fracture. (To which I confidently replied: “I had an MRI, and there’s no stress fracture!”) At appointment two yesterday, he said that in fact, having seen the MRI and the report, there’s not a stress fracture, but there is a stress reaction, which probably could have benefited from someone, you know, noticing and treating more aggressively (e.g. with a boot, probably) several weeks ago, and which there’s a good chance I’ve been making worse, or at least not making better, for the past two months while following the advice from a doctor and a PT who were treating a different problem.

So, I’m pissed — at my podiatrist, for shrugging off any idea that maybe it was a stress fracture the very first time I walked into his office, and at myself, for not deciding to just treat it like a stress fracture anyway. I mean, no, I haven’t run — OK, I jogged three blocks in Atlanta when I was running late, I did, I admit it! — but I also have tried using the elliptical, going back to Burn, doing the century (the chiro said biking might be OK as long as it wasn’t very hilly, so I’m guessing that had I been seeing him at the time, 5000′ of climbing wouldn’t have been what he had in mind), occasionally wearing flats instead of sneakers, and so on.

If I were a normal patient at this practice, I’d have one more appointment with soft-tissue work (mostly Graston so far) and then I’d get referred to the medical department. But, I’m not going to pay out of pocket for their medical department, especially not when I have insurance that other places do take. So I’m not really sure what the plan is — go back to the podiatrist who doesn’t think there was anything significant on the MRI and be all “sorry, buddy…”? Find another podiatrist in my network for yet another opinion? The soft-tissue work does seem to be making some difference, but it’s obviously not going to magically heal a bone if that’s the root of the problem. And compared to the first appointment, the second was much more downbeat; he seemed — maybe I’m reading too much into it — fairly sure that this was a ticket to bootville. Honestly, if that’s where we are, I don’t want to waste even more time with “one more round of Graston” and “one more week where you just wear sneakers every time you’re out of bed and only swim but don’t push off the wall.” I just want to get it over with. I actually want to go back in time and get it over with in July, rather than losing two months doing all the wrong things.

So next week, I guess, I’ll be figuring out my new strategy. But only after…

The Oakland Triathlon

Wait, what? Well: I signed up for the Olympic last November and switched my registration to the aquabike about a month ago. I fessed up to the chiro yesterday that I was still planning to do it, and his verbatim response was “oh, that’s fine.” I did swear to leave shoes at the swim exit and spend as little time barefoot as possible, but the bike course is pancake-flat and the swim is a swim, so he saw no reason for me not to race.

Er, sort of race. Before yesterday, my goal was to see how close I could come to a podium spot for the women’s aquabike (top 5 overall). But since I’m now going to be putting on shoes and then walking the quarter mile from the swim exit to transition, that seems pretty unlikely. My new goal is to try my best to enjoy myself and not hate being there. It’s my last race for who-knows-how-long, maybe my last time on a bike for a while, so I might as well at least try to have a good time. A lot of friends will be there, which is good and bad — I’m not really in the mood to interact with triathletes right now — but I think once I’m actually there, the energy will lift me up a little. And there are burritos at the finish. So how miserable can it be?

Ride Report: Tour d’Organics 2014

My first century ride — the Tour d’Organics last Sunday — was my favorite kind of day: up and down hills, on two wheels, with good friends. Granted, I had nothing to compare it to; I’d never done an organized non-race before. But I had a blast — and frankly, a much better time than I expected from a day when I’d be spending seven-plus hours on a bicycle.

The race started and ended in Sebastopol, one of my favorite West County towns. When Pete and I were first together, he lived in Santa Rosa, and I spent almost every weekend of that year somewhere in West County — wine tasting on Dry Creek Road, hiking at Annadel, eating cookies and ice cream in Sebastopol, lazing in the Russian River at Memorial Beach (open for wading only this summer, sigh). I’ve waxed emotional about my love for West County in this space before, and I was excited to bike these roads with Pete for the first time.

At the community center, where we arrived at 6:30 to pick up our bibs and maps, there were bagels and a whole spray of blue-and-silver balloons that I thought might have been left over from some recent teen dance. A handful of volunteers checked people in; the race director offered some course beta and asked us to remember that the legendarily poor Sonoma County road paving wasn’t his fault. (Foreshadowing!) The Taylor Maid people were making free pour-over coffee in the parking lot. West County at its finest.

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Sufficiently fed and caffeinated, a group of about six of us rolled out together, ignoring the arrow that pointed the wrong direction — not the most auspicious start! — and heading south out of Sebastopol.

Start-mile 30 — Three Ox Farm stop

Our longest uninterrupted stretch of riding came at the start of the day. It was cool and gray, and our little group chatted and reminded each other that chatting speed was the right speed; this wasn’t a race; we had a long way to go.

The climbing started with short, spiky hills. Someone described this to me as “rolling” but I’d call it more “grinding” — little bursts of needing to be in my lowest gear, alternating with quick downhills. The roads were … non-awesome, and I would become glad later that I’d gotten them out of the way so early; I think I’d rather have terrible stretches at the start and end of a long ride than have moderately bad roads the whole day.

This stretch had the best animals: there were actual frolicking lambs, and piles of sleeping cows, and a farm kitten, and llamas and ducks and chickens and goats. I called out each one as I passed — LLAMA! DUCK! Alpaca? ALPACA! — because the second you put me around livestock, I become a 4-year-old. (I found out at the rest stop that there had been a group of lambs playing on a log, and I didn’t see them, and if I had, I’d still be standing there right now taking pictures.) I’m pretty sure it was in this segment that my friend and I literally got heckled by a herd of cattle.

I was riding alone for the last 10 or so miles, firmly in between two sets of friends, and to entertain myself, I made bets about how much I thought we’d already climbed. I settled on a number that would make me very happy (2400′) and a number that would make me very sad (1200′), and when I finally pulled up to Three Ox and leaned my bike against the fence, I let myself look: 1800′. Not so bad.

image_1Three Ox was a lovely little farm and would turn out to be my favorite stop of the day. Within a minute of my arrival, someone handed me me a dixie cup full of kale smoothie; someone else pointed me toward a tray piled with Asian pears and Gravenstein apples. I ate fennel salad and roasted potatoes and brie on Ritz crackers at 9 a.m. We probably lingered too long, but it was a really good stop.

Miles 30-40 — Gabriel Farm stop

The shortest segment of the day was my least favorite. I never got into a consistent pedaling rhythm, and I never felt like I was choosing the right gear for the grade and the conditions. I was either coasting around big potholes or losing all my momentum chugging up yet another short but steep hill. There was one climb right after Three Ox where I was truly not sure I was going to be able to keep moving (apparently that’s what an 11% grade feels like).

I was grouchy when I pulled into Gabriel Farm, where it was suddenly very crowded: riders from all four ride distances were together for the first time. Some friends who pulled in shortly after said a course marshall had been giving them a hard time about being close to the cutoff, and I started getting nervous. I got out of there pretty quickly, but not before drinking some Asian pear/apple cider and eating some homemade jam on more Ritz-with-brie.

Miles 40-53 — Middleton Farms stop

Surprise! Offroading! Somewhere in this segment, we turned onto an unpaved portion of county bike trail. It was well-maintained but still gravel and sand and dirt, and it was a little shocking to suddenly be navigating it.

That mile was probably the worst of the day — but the bit of riding that followed was lovely, as I caught up to a friend we started really trucking as soon as the trail turned back into (reasonably paved) road. I don’t remember much about the scenery here, because I was so busy talking.

At exactly the moment my Garmin beeped for mile 50, the sun came out. We always used to say there were two kinds of days in West County: gray in the morning and 80 and sunny by noon, and 80 and sunny in the morning and 100 by noon. We were lucky that this was the first kind!

At Middleton Farms, they had great peaches, and — even better — a big container of watermelon and a big shaker of salt. I might have stayed there even longer had the next stop not been lunch.

Miles 53-63 — Dry Creek Peach stop

The ride to lunch was so much fun. It started out following the Vineman course, but then we turned and ended up riding one of my favorite winery-studded roads for several miles. We went past the place that makes my favorite mustard (I thought seriously about stopping for a jar) and a few of the first wineries I ever visited when I started living in California.

I’d been looking forward to lunch at Dry Creek Peach — the farm where Alice Waters gets the peaches that she’s famously served for dessert — but it was kind of a bummer. There were soggy wrap sandwiches that I was (incorrectly, thank goodness) told were almost gone, and there was a big, empty pan with chocolate crumbs in it that I assume was more delicious when the 70-milers and faster 100-mile riders went by. I was annoyed at what seemed like an overall lack of food considering how many people could potentially still be coming; the stop was open for another 1.5 hours! I realize that slower participants in all sorts of distance events have had this kind of experience at one point or another, but it was not great.

Miles 63-79 — Alexander Valley School stop

This section included the climb up Canyon and the descent into Geyserville, one of my favorite parts of the Vineman course. It’s honestly a weird part of the course to call my favorite, but I had plenty of alone time to think about why I loved it, so here’s my reasoning: The climb up Canyon is gradual and pretty quick for me, and the descent is smooth and perfect, with vineyards on both sides and beautiful rolling hills straight ahead. Often in cycling, I think the descents aren’t enough of a payoff. Canyon is the rare case where you get a better descent than you deserve.

I got a little competitive with myself here, realizing that I would be able to check my times against my Vineman Strava file. I caught up to Pete at the rest stop, and as it was our one non-farm stop of the day, we didn’t stay too long. I grabbed a handful of chips to stuff in my bento box, and we were off to conquer our last big climb of the day.

Miles 79-91 — Golden Nectar stop

It was getting warm, so I attempted to take one of my remaining salt pills (and ended up dropping all of them). I took that as a sign to chill out and not try to keep up with Pete, figuring I’d probably catch him on the Chalk Hill climb anyway.

I’d forgotten how much of Chalk Hill Road is actually lovely — flat, if not a little downhill, and shaded by tall trees. The shadows were playing tricks on me — pothole? or just dark? — and I couldn’t remember exactly where the hill started, so I tried to quiet my mind and enjoy the non-climbing stretches while I could.

Soon, we hit the little teaser hill for Chalk Hill, and not long after that the real climb started. My mantra for Chalk Hill is “it’s hard because of where it is, but not because of what it is” — and if that’s true at mile 45 of Vineman, it’s even more true at mile 85 of a century. It felt harder than I remembered — but of course I’d biked almost twice as many miles! — and yet I still knew, rationally, that it’s not a bad climb, that I regularly do worse than it, that I could definitely keep moving. So I kept gping up, and soon enough, I was catching up to Pete …

… who, suddenly, was pulling off to the side of the road with a broken chain, less than 100 feet from the top. Neither of us had a chain tool; frankly, neither of us knew how to use one, either. I could get phone reception if I stood in one tiny patch of driveway, so I called SAG and proceeded to have a cute but frustrating conversation (“We need a ride, or a mechanic.” “Aw, don’t feel bad, a lot of people have been calling saying they’re done for the day.” “No, no, we want to keep riding!” “Isn’t that just the worst, though, when the mind wants to ride and the legs just won’t go?” “No! We can keep riding! It’s just, the bike is broken.”). After 30 minutes, a SAG driver finally showed up — just by chance, apparently; the one we’d actually called came 10 minutes later — and was able to drive Pete down to the last rest stop, where a mechanic station was still open.

I rode down the hill and met Pete at the rest stop, pulling in as he was learning that riding the rest of the way would be feasible. We filled up our bottles one last time, I ate one last round of cheese and Ritz, and then we pointed our bikes back toward Sebastopol.

image_3Miles 91-103 — Finish

The ride between Golden Nectar and the finish followed a lot of the Vineman run course, which I have a new appreciation for having seen it from a bike: Some of those hills are hard! I think it looks harder from a bike than it does on foot; which way it feels harder is sort of a toss-up, at least 90+ miles into a ride.

The closer we got to Sebastopol, the worse the roads got — like numb-your-hands-and-rattle-out-your-eyeballs bad. I could not have dealt with a whole ride of roads like that! We were so close, though. The best thing I did all day was save the last of my amazing Japanese gummy candies (some bought earlier this year, some saved since 2013 for a special occasion) for this stretch. I was tired, but “bike 2 miles, eat a gummy” was a bargain I could accept.

There were some sketchy left turns in this section where I wish the traffic markings had been better, and they sucked what little momentum I had to spare, but who cared? This was mile 100, 101, 102. Right as I saw the car, my Garmin clicked over to our promised mileage of 103.

And, that was that. We loaded the bikes on the car. We changed into clean clothes and ate pork tacos. The rest of our group trickled in as we drank our free Lagunitas IPAs, and somehow we found ourselves closing down the party at the community center and regrouping at Screaming Mimi’s for ice cream.

***

All in all, the ride went better than I was expecting — physically and mentally. I was barely sore on Monday and back to normal on Tuesday. My Coeur shorts survived their biggest test yet. And I was impressed with how relaxed and positive I felt throughout the day. Before the ride started, I didn’t think I’d done enough long rides to be truly ready. Having done it, I think I did just about what was required for a non-race casual ride with a lot of stops. It wasn’t easy (5000′ of climbing in total) and I still ended up riding a pace I was fully happy with (14+ mph for the riding sections) while enjoying the day with friends and eating all the peaches.

In other words, yes, I’m already looking for the next one.

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This is what I do when I’m not running

So, I’m still not running. Some days my foot feels better, some days it feels the same. I’m beginning to venture back to some activities I’d dropped — I very, very cautiously went to Burn the other day, skipping all the impact cardio, and seemingly emerged without consequence — but running still feels a long time away. My doctor and physical therapist have wildly different opinions of what’s going on and how to treat it, with the end result that I’m getting an MRI on Wednesday and hoping that will give things more direction.

This is the first time I’ve been injured on a multi-week scale since my first triathlon season in 2012, and it’s taught me that becoming a triathlete is the best thing I ever did for myself. Thank goodness I still have swimming and biking; thank goodness I’ve got reasonable ways to do both of those things from my front door now. I’ve actually caught myself thinking, “When I can run again, I’m not sure when I’ll fit it in!” There’s the century ride this weekend; I’m one mouse-click away from signing up for an Alcatraz swim in September; I’m curious to find out if I can make the podium at an aquabike at the end of the month. Setting new goals has kept me reasonably entertained.

That said — I feel completely divorced from whatever identity I once had as a runner. I can’t in any way connect with the version of myself who was training for a marathon six weeks ago. It doesn’t make sense to me that I, relatively recently, ran 20 miles; it honestly doesn’t feel like a thing that happened in my life. When Michaela was in town last week and asked if I was running after our swim, my immediate response was, “I don’t run ever.” I’m not happy about this; it just is. It’s a weirder emotional response that I’ve had before, and I’m not really sure what to make of it.

I’ve been rock climbing again recently, and it’s been wonderful. Of all the times I’ve stepped away from that sport and returned, this time has been the smoothest — maybe because swimming has kept at least some of my climbing muscles in shape, maybe because I finally have my head on straight when it comes to my expectations of myself as a climber. I’m still far from where I was at my best, but I’m climbing at a totally reasonable level with lots of room for improvement. And I have been enjoying the meditative aspect, the fact that when I’m climbing the only thing I can think about is climbing.

In other news, I should be starting to swim with USF Masters soon — the tryout was hilariously simple, to the point that I think the ACTUAL test was about showing up at 6:45 am, but I have some logistical things to wrap up before I can officially join.

Frankly, the most exciting sports-adjacent thing I’ve accomplished recently was organizing all our gels and blocks and sportz foodz. I had mostly stopped using Gu in favor of a combo of Picky Bars, Bonk Breakers, and gummies, but a few recent volunteer gigs landed me literally dozens of packets. And THEN Gu came out with a bunch of flavors that were just catnip to me, like salted watermelon and root beer. So there were little foil packets on basically every flat surface in the house, and our cats were getting aggressive about throwing them onto the floor, and it was just a mess. And now it’s a slightly more organized mess:

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Not pictured: the entire case of vanilla bean Gu I found myself bringing home from something. That’s just going to sit in its own box for a while.

Un-Hibernating

If a blogger stops training for a marathon and doesn’t tell the internet, is it really even happening?

(Is she even really still a blogger? Heh.)

OK. Catching up:

I’m not running The San Francisco Marathon tomorrow. Training was going really well, until, of course, it wasn’t. After the 18-miler I ran before my last post, I raced an Olympic-distance triathlon (more on that later), then ran another even more awesome 18-miler, then ran a 20-miler that felt really smooth. Until a little later that day, when I realized my right heel was a pretty sore. That was June 22. I’ve run four times since then. And that pretty much brings us to today.

I’m still trying to figure out the heel thing. I thought it was a stress fracture, my doctor thinks it’s plantar fasciitis, my physical therapist (whom I finally saw today after a multi-week wait; thanks, healthcare system!) thinks it has something to do with a lack of flexibility in my heel and/or ankle. Sometimes I think it’s getting better, sometimes I don’t. SF Marathon was the last running race on my calendar, and that ship obviously sailed, so I’m willing to take my time to fix whatever it is; I just wish I had a better plan, but I’m working on it. My dream right now is to be able to race the Olympic-distance triathlon in Oakland that I’m registered for at the end of August, but I might drop to the sprint or the aquabike.

I did work at the expo today as part of my ambassador duties, which, truly? Was a damn blast. It turns out I prefer working at expos to attending them as a participant. The best thing I did was describe the course neighborhoods and corresponding elevation changes in great detail to a group of 7 Pakistani runners visiting San Francisco for the first time. The funniest thing I did was try to answer a question about how foggy it would be on the Golden Gate Bridge at 7 a.m. The most common thing I did was answer questions about parking and public transportation, sometimes down to specific walking routes through Golden Gate Park for spectators.

After my shift wrapped up, I went Gu shopping (spotted the elusive Salted Watermelon, finally), bought a Sweaty Band with whales on it, and came home to start prepping for my massive cheering spree tomorrow. I’m planning to bike to four different points on the marathon course, armed with the famous dollar store clapping hands. If I can’t run, I might as well be as obnoxious as possible.

Meanwhile, I’ve been occupying myself by, mostly, getting really into other sports and buying things:

I’m doing a century in two weeks. I actually registered for this when I still thought I was going to run a marathon, which might have been TOTALLY insane. It might still be totally insane. My longest ride before it (and longest since the ride to Santa Cruz in March) will be about 60 miles, but I’ve been routinely riding 50 on the weekends and trying to hit 100 total bike miles a week, and I’ve been promised that it’s a relaxed ride mostly involving eating peaches from the organic farms that serve as rest stops, so I hope it goes OK.

I’m trying out for a masters group. The one closest to me requires some sort of audition. I do not know what this tryout will be, other than that it’s happening at 6:45 a.m. on Monday. The only other time I’ve tried out for anything athletic was in junior high softball, and that’s really best not recalled. I hope I do not have to swim a) well or b) fast. (I’m less concerned about (b) — the program explicitly splits itself into “fast” and “slow” — but (a) could be a challenge.)

I finally have a heart rate monitor I don’t hate. I bought a Mio Link recently, and while I haven’t (obviously) gotten to use it on many runs, I’ve taken it on a few bike rides. It’s the first time I’ve had heart rate data — after the Sports Bra Chafing from Hell, a chest strap was strongly unappealing — and I’m just in exploration mode right now, but I’m wondering if my next running comeback, whenever that might be, might be the right time to transition to heart rate training.

I did a race. This was the Vineman Monte Rio Olympic tri back at the beginning of June, better known as how to torpedo what could have been a goal race in three easy steps. (Step 1: do it in the middle of marathon training; Step 2: miss your swim wave start completely; Step 3: know literally nothing else about the course and get surprised by rough road on the bike and a tough hill at the end of the run.) It was a blast, though. I had a rental house on the river with a ton of friends, I PR’d my Olympic-distance bike, and I finished in 3:06-ish, which considering I spent 3 minutes walking in a shallow, rocky river desperately trying to get to the swim start after the horn had already blown is not too bad at all. I’m really hungry for a sub-3 Olympic tri right now, though, and I’d hoped to do it in Oakland. The whole not-running thing is casting some doubt on that, so I’ve started to think about maybe going back to Santa Cruz at the end of September instead.

And, well, there we are. More regular updates, and I hope more regular running, coming soon.

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Oh, Right. That.

If a blogger starts training for a marathon and doesn’t tell the Internet, is it really even happening?

That’s more or less what I’ve been asking myself for the past couple of months. But considering I ran 18 miles on Sunday, I suppose it’s official enough: I’m planning to run the San Francisco Marathon in July.

This isn’t a sudden plan — far from it, actually. Back in November, I found out I’d been selected as a marathon ambassador for 2014, which meant I got a free entry to one of the events in exchange for writing a few posts for the official blog and generally exhorting people to sign up. (I did plenty of that in person and on social media, but uh, obviously not here — bad ambassador!) I’d been starting to get the itch to run another marathon anyway, and after running the first half in 2012 and the second half in 2013, running the marathon this year would gain me entry to the 52 Club. I do like swag, and while a sweatshirt isn’t enough to convince me to give up nights out and lazy weekend mornings in favor of hours of running, it at least helped to sweeten the deal. After confirming with the organizers that I could switch events if something came up, I registered for the full.

Then there was the matter of training. After making biking my focus over the winter, I planned to spend April remembering that running was a sport worth paying attention to and May starting to ramp up my long run distance. That more or less happened; I squeezed in a couple of 8-milers, a 10, and a 12 before Wildflower, but I had a hard time getting my overall weekly mileage where I wanted it. I hung out in the 15-20 miles per week range for a little too long, but I finally heaved myself over the 30-mile barrier last week.

So far, this could hardly be more different than my Berlin training. Then, I mapped out every run in detail; I stressed over every change of plans; I was terrified I’d end up not being able to start, or finish, the race because of injury or undertraining. This time, I cobbled together a Franken-plan (a little Hal Higdon Novice 2; a little Run Less, Run Faster; a few lessons learned from last time; a lot of adjustments and allowances for triathlon training through early June) and most weeks I look at it only to remember what I’m basically supposed to be running. Because the race is local — and, frankly, because I haven’t spent money — I feel very relaxed about it; I know that if training goes poorly or isn’t fun any more, I can drop to a half or just … not do it. I know that’s a luxury, and I’ll probably never have a situation like this again, so I’m really trying to appreciate it.

Since Wildflower, I’ve done long runs of 14, 16, and 18 miles. The 14 was solid, even including a fairly effortless trip up the Point Lobos hill. The 16, in Portland, was a slog, with walk breaks every two miles the only reason I got it done. The 18 was back to feeling smooth; there was something relaxing about knowing I was going to be running for three hours, and yes, I think that is probably pathological. (History shows that I had the same 16-awful/18-great situation last time. Weird.)

It hasn’t all been smooth. My shoe drama continues, and I haven’t loved the shoes I’m running in (Asics GT-2000); I got the worst sports bra chafing of my life on the Portland run (and that’s saying something), and it’s still healing a week later; and I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking when it seemed reasonable to run 18 miles this past weekend, race an Olympic-distance triathlon during my “cutback week” this coming weekend, then go right back into long runs of 18 and 20. Oh, and my training plan calls for my final long run of 20-22 miles to happen while I’m in Chicago for a friend’s wedding in July, and I’m a girl who was dripping with sweat after 18 miles in sub-60-degree weather. (Seeing the calendar shake out that way almost made me drop to the half right then and there.)

But hey: I’m eight weeks out, I’ve already run 18 miles, I feel mostly functional other than wanting to eat everything in the house (which is nothing, because I’ve already eaten it), and I’m way more caught up on podcasts than I’ve been in years.

I guess I’m running a marathon?

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Wildflower 2014

We’re the heirs to the glimmering world

I think it’s taken me so long to write about Wildflower 2014 because Wildflower is never just a race. It should be everything I hate: I don’t like crowds, or camping, or drinking when I can’t drink because I have a race the next morning and shut up you stupid kids, isn’t it time for bed? And even in the immediate days and hours before, when I’m checking the forecast to see how damn hot it’s going to be or dreading the drive or remembering I need to find a tent to borrow, I hate it a little. Why can’t I just do a race where I sleep in a bed the night before like a normal human being?

But then I get there, and I’m in some kind of weird magic camp where triathlons are normal and people are exceeding their expectations of themselves and everyone’s smiling, and I feel a sense of community I don’t get many other places. Maybe it’s the beer. Maybe it’s the generous coating of dust that settles on everything. Maybe it’s the shared knowledge that you are about to do something totally dumb with a few thousand strangers who also thought sleeping on the ground and then exercising strenuously for a few hours and then hauling several pounds of gear up a hill before sleeping on the ground again would be a capital way to spend a weekend.

Whatever it is, I keep going back.

We were here, we were here

Last year at the finish line I fell hard for Wildflower. This year, I resolved to go back and do it “right” — meaning, arrive early (vs. slipping in just before the close of packet pick-up on Saturday, my usual M.O.), race on Saturday, and cheer my brains out on Sunday. I had no interest in tackling the long course myself, but if I was going to bike 160 miles I might as well try to bike 56. A relay team formed, fell apart, formed again; enthusiasms rose and fell along with the water levels in the lake (well, actually, the water levels just fell); and finally, come late April, I knew I was showing up at Lake San Antonio on the first Friday in May as the biker on a relay team better known as There Better Be a Swim.

Friday was a whirlwind of work, drive, drive, drive, stop in King City to blow it out big at the Dollar General for cheering supplies, drive, drive, stop. Was I excited to race on Saturday? Hard to say. Was I excited to wait near the bottom of Lynch Hill with our relay swimmer to jump in with our runner so we could cross the finish line wearing $1 foam crocodile hats we bought for some reason? Yep. Was I excited to get out the bubble stuff and the clapping hands and the kazoos and the fancy duct-tape-and-poster-board signs and put together the best cheer station ever on Sunday? YOU BET.

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Perhaps my priorities were misplaced.

We’re the heirs to the glimmering world

It became a joke: How many times did I cry during Wildflower weekend? “All of them,” I would say. “All of the times.”

But the first time was a few miles into the bike course, after the sweat-fest of Beach Drive, after the turn out of the park. There was this big farm — ranch? — parcel of land of some sort, anyway. And there was a long driveway leading from the farmhouse to the main road, and at the end of that driveway sat an older couple in camp chairs, ringing their cowbells.

Snuffling behind my sunglasses. Singing The National in my head. Legitimately moved by all the little things. That’s my Wildflower.

For the first 30-35 miles, I honestly had the best bike ride of my life. I wish I had data from when I rode the Olympic course in 2012 to compare, but I don’t need to see numbers to feel my progress. I was skipping up the hills and sliding down, leapfrogging with a sweet Team in Training rider, waiting for a couple of friends I’d passed on Beach to catch back up to me on the straightaways. (50+ men, all of them, always: my true racing age group.)

It was hot, but I was handling it, dousing myself with a full water bottle at every aid station. Each time I’d start to flag, it seemed there were volunteers right there to revive me with a fresh bottle of cold water. It absolutely helped that I was just doing the relay, and a few times, I felt like a jerk: Yeah, I’m riding hard and passing people, but I’m also just doing this; I didn’t already swim and run and I’m not about to run again. This is my whole race. I better push it.

My team had asked me my predicted time, so they could be back in transition to meet me. I rode 3:55 with plenty of untimed stops on a cooler day at our training weekend, so I thought around four hours would be right. But when my runner came in for the handoff on race morning and confirmed, “four hours?” I for some reason said “3:30.” That would be a crazy time for me. That would only be five minutes slower than Vineman on a course with 1200+ more feet of climbing. It would make no sense. But for the first 30 miles of the bike course, I thought I might pull it off.

Hey love, we’ll get away with it
We’ll run like we’re awesome

I didn’t make that particular crazy goal, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise, because the first 40 miles of that course is an easy flatland jaunt compared to the final 16.

The issue wasn’t really Nasty Grade. I was prepared to be slow on Nasty Grade, and I was, basically losing in five miles all the time I’d spent banking in the previous 40. What really got me were the five miles immediately after, heading back toward the park. It’s yet another place where I think the Wildflower conventional wisdom hides the real issue. It’s miserable climbing up a 900-foot hill for two miles? No shit. Everybody knows that. Nobody talks about the fact that after you come down the screaming descent, you spend the next several miles losing all that momentum you worked so hard to gain by climbing a substantial portion of the way back up.

(Other examples where Wildflower’s conventional wisdom lets me down: It’s not the heat, it’s the dust; it’s not the race, it’s the climb up the dirt hill with all your gear after.)

I should have known how awful that part would feel; I’d ridden the course before. What I didn’t appreciate is that on that course preview day, I was having a terrible ride — period. It was windy; I’d wanted to quit a bunch of times. At some point, though, I’d managed to pick up a few friends riding similar paces, and we’d groaned and chatted our way through the final 10 miles. It felt bad, but so had everything, that day.

On race day, things had felt great, so I was unprepared for the final push to feel like such a slog. I went from smile-crying and thanking every volunteer to groaning and trying not to make eye contact. But once we were in the park, the hills to the finish didn’t seem as bad as I remembered, and I whipped down Lynch and into transition so fast I could hardly believe it was over.

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Lying in the grass, post-bike, post-watermelon slushie drink

And then we failed to catch our runner with the crocodile hats, but that’s fine. We were here, we were here. We finished 13/26 relay teams in our division, in a cluster of teams that all finished between 6:30 and 7:00, and all three of us beat our individual time goals. I can’t be disappointed with a 3:48 on that course, especially considering that was a faster average pace than I biked the Olympic in 2012.

Serve me the sky with a big slice of lemon

As for the rest of the weekend: After getting my bike out of transition, I went to a Picky Bars-hosted happy hour and awkwardly chatted with four-time champ Jesse Thomas about which Picky flavors we ate on the bike. (Mine is Smooth Caffeinator, his is Need for Seed. If you were wondering.) (He was, for the record, incredibly nice. He asked how my race was, and I thought of the best possible answer only later, which was “Great! Almost twice as long as yours and we had three people doing it!”) There were beers. I hiked back to the campground, where there were more beers. At some point I discovered an Oreo in my jersey pocket and couldn’t remember where it came from. I found many, many uses for dollar store craft supplies.

And then Sunday, otherwise known as CryFest 2K14. We cheered for a couple of hours at the top of Lynch, making sure we saw all the TAG athletes go out on the bike course. Because of the huge gap between wave start times (about 1.5 hours between our first athlete and our last), we actually saw everyone go out on the bike AND most of the guys come in on the bike AND some of the guys head down to finish the run. After our first three women biked back down Lynch, we repositioned at the finish, where we then stood for the next couple of hours clapping these clapping hands as though they would actually will people across the line.

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Best dollar I’ve ever spent

I’m sure the clapping hands were annoying to everyone around me, but I had nervous energy to burn and a lot of people to cheer in. I also had dollar store maracas, which I offered to anyone who started to whine about the clapping. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?

Everything after that isn’t really my story to tell, but almost everyone from our group finished strong and happy. There were high-fives, tears that weren’t mine, lots of hugs, so much cheering. Anyone who tells me triathlon is an individual sport has never been at that finish line.

I don’t know if I’ll go back next year. I said one more Wildflower, said I had to do it right to know if I was done. But doing it right just made it all that much harder to quit.

Italicized bits throughout are from The National’s “The Geese of Beverly Road,” which I had stuck in my head for all of Wildflower weekend, and which prompted more than one person to suggest that possibly my version of “pump-up music” was different from theirs.

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Race Recap: Silicon Valley Super Sprint Triathlon

Until the Silicon Valley Super Sprint a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t done a sprint triathlon since my very first tri in 2012 — and I had no intention of doing one this year. Silicon Valley was the training race for the group I captain, and I have learned that I don’t like doing the same race as the group. (I want to be available to problem-solve for everyone else without having to deal with my own shit.) My grand plan was to race the Olympic distance at Silicon Valley on Saturday and then cheer my brains out for the sprint on Sunday.

But then this became the year with no water, and the Silicon Valley races moved north to Half Moon Bay — and when that happened, the sprint and the Olympic got scheduled for the same day. And, unlike at Napa last year, the Olympic started first, so if I did that, I wouldn’t get to see my group race at all. I didn’t want that, and I didn’t feel like getting up at 4 a.m. just to cheer, so, fine. I would do the sprint (er, “super sprint”).

I know sometimes it’s cool to be all “I had no goals or expectations!” about a race when you totally have goals and expectations, but I honestly did not have goals or expectations for this race. Okay: I had a thought that it would be nice to bike something close to 30 minutes, but other than that, I just wanted to not literally fall on my face like I did at my last sprint.

Pre-Race

The thing about moving races to alternate sites is that nobody has a damn clue what’s going on. The reconstructed course in Half Moon Bay had a point-to-point bike route and two transition areas. I could have made race morning easier by picking up my packet and setting up T2 on Saturday, but that would have meant at least three hours of driving, and, no. I was driving two friends, and our initial idea was that we’d drive to T1/packet pick-up, get our numbers, drop off the bikes, drive the 9 miles south to T2, set up our run stuff, then drive back to T1 and finish getting ready for the swim before transition closed. Writing that out makes it sound insane. It was insane. And it’s not what happened. Once we saw what we were dealing with, parking-wise and transition-area-wise and time-wise, we went straight to our Plan B of putting our T2 bags on a truck, which, we were promised, would deposit them at T2 in some sort of order by rack number. Well, we didn’t have a rack number in T1 — all three of us ended up in these un-nmbered overflow racks at the very back of transition — but several volunteers assured us that the bags would make it and, really, what were we going to do?

At the beach, it was foggy enough that it was hard to see the buoys. For at least a half-hour, the fog would lift a little bit (“Hey! It’s that yellow thing!”) and then roll back in (“Nope, lost it again.”). The Olympic waves started and the swimmers almost immediately disappeared into the mist. At that point they announced the sprint start would be delayed at least 10 more minutes to hope for better conditions, so I killed time braiding people’s hair and feeling glad I’d worn socks down to the swim start to keep my feet warm as long as possible (seriously doing this at every race from now on). About 20 minutes before my new wave start time I finally couldn’t take it any more — and by “it” I mean “waiting to pee” — and went down to splash around in the cold, dark water until it was time to start.

Swim – .35 mile (600-ish yards) – 13:51 – 13/89 women, 3/20 AG

The fog hadn’t cleared much, but it was a straightforward enough course that I didn’t have much of a path to plot. I remember thinking at one point that I was actually managing to move in a relatively straight line, but I screwed up my Garmin at the start, so I have no perfectly triangular map to prove this.

But then the third leg took ages, and I was convinced I was off course and at the back of my wave. At one point I saw a jetski heading toward shore off to my right and thought, “Can I draft that?” And then I realized I should probably just put my head down and swim harder. I hopped out of the water, got the top of my wetsuit off, looked down at my watch, saw something like 00:00:03, and was like, guess we’re gonna figure that out later.

T1 – 4:35

It was a pretty long run up the beach, down a road, down a little bit of rocky path (mostly carpeted, thankfully), through the entire transition area to my rack, and back through the entire transition area to the bike mount. I managed to actually run most of the way and to stuff my things into my “swim clothes” bag with less ineptitude than I displayed at Vineman, so while this number is nothing impressive, I consider it a win.

Bike – 9.5 miles – 31:15 – 16/89 women, 5/20 AG

How are you even supposed to ride the bike leg of a sprint tri? I settled on “hard, but not so hard I can’t eat or drink or talk or breathe,” which may not have actually been hard enough.

The first couple of miles of the bike course took us out of the park, and I remember a bit of a headwind and a bit of a false flat. As soon as we turned onto Highway 1, though, all that wind was at my back. One weird thing I noticed pretty quickly was that nobody was passing me. Usually the bike leg is a constant chorus of “on your left,” especially if I’ve had an even halfway decent swim. This time, I only remember one woman passing me, plus maybe a handful of guys. I was tempted to thank the tailwind — but then, we all had the same tailwind.

Around mile six, I started leapfrogging with a man in his 50s. I’d pass him on the “hills” (slightly more uphill flats); he’d catch me on the “descents” (slightly more downhill flats). After the first round, we started some good-natured heckling. I passed him twice; he passed me once; and when I finally got by him for good, he hollered after me that I’d be seeing him on the run. This is far from the first time that I’ve found myself being exactly the same race speed as a 50+-year-old man, so I think I’ve found my ideal training partner demographic …

52706445-9A2X9730T2 – 5:02

Because I didn’t have my swim time, I wasn’t sure how I was doing overall, but I felt like I was having a solid race. That all went out the window as soon as I got into transition. There was a poster with bib numbers and rack numbers, but my number wasn’t on it. I asked a volunteer where I was supposed to go, and he said, “You’re definitely somewhere in these four rows” and pointed me to the right. I then spent the next several minutes stalking up and down the rows, looking at every bag and not finding mine. (At some point I had the wherewithal to dump my bike on a random rack.) Meanwhile, at least three female teammates came into, and left, transition. I was pissed.

Finally, I asked a different volunteer if I was definitely in the first four rows on the right. “No!” she said. “You’re right there!” and pointed directly at my bag — on the left side. Obviously. I grabbed it, dragged it over to where I’d tossed the bike, switched shoes, mayyyyyybe said something a little snotty to the first volunteer (sorry, dude), and headed out. It was probably my fastest transition ever except for the part where it was one of my slowest transitions ever.

Run – 3.1 miles – 27:14 – 15/89 women, 4/20 AG

I got on the run and I was angry and I was flying. I looked at my watch and saw I was running sub-8 pace, and I knew there was no way I could hold that, but I decided to go with it as long as I could.

To the extent that I could think at that speed, my only thought was: If I want to make up for the bag situation, I have to catch all the women who came in after me on the bike. Of the four I knew, I was fairly sure I could outrun one of them, I knew one was usually faster than me, and the other two were wildcards. Game on.

I spotted the first one somewhere in the first mile. I passed her but spent the rest of the race running scared; I’ve started faster than her before at workouts only to have her shoot by me at the end. The second, I passed early in the narrow trail out-and-back. The third just after the turnaround. And then there was just one.

I really didn’t think I was going to get her. I let myself be OK with that, because she wasn’t in my age group anyway. But as I kept running whatever pace I was running at that point — mid-8s? — I realized I was slowly getting closer. A handful of yards, then a handful of feet, then — right as we went to cross Highway 1 — we pulled even. A few steps later, I was in front.

One last motivator: I spotted a yellow jersey ahead. My guy from the bike! I was slowly gaining on him too. “You were right!” I said as I pulled up. We ran shoulder to shoulder until I pulled further ahead on the cruel final hill up to the finish.

Overall – 1:21:57 – 15/89 women, 4/20 AG

I knew I’d finished under 1:30, which I felt great about, but I didn’t think it was anything remarkable; so many people from my group were already done. I cheered in the remaining finishers, then got in line for a burrito and started listening to the sprint awards. The woman I’d passed closest to the end of the run ended up third in her age group, and mine is usually more competitive, so I assumed there was no way I was placing. Naturally, I’d just taken a giant bite of burrito when they called my name for 3rd place in women’s 30-34.

I was, honestly, stunned. Since someone in my AG had won overall, the awards went a little deeper for the rest of us, and my 4th place was actually 3rd AG — or, as it turned out, 2nd AG, after they confirmed the times the next day and discovered a DNF that bumped another woman in 30-34 up to the overall awards.

52706444-_MG_4527Being on the podium was surreal. Me, winning an award, for sports?

It wasn’t a big field, and it wasn’t a big race, but I’m still proud. I don’t think I’ll ever be “good at” racing sprints — I was still able to do the rest of my planned longer run later in the day, which suggests I maybe didn’t exactly leave it all out there — but to be momentarily good enough to win something for it was strange and exciting and fun.

The day before the race, I’d been driving around my neighborhood looking for parking for nearly an hour, damp and cold from open-water swimming and full of stress about how much I still had to do to get ready and what time I’d have to go to sleep and how early I’d have to wake up, and for the first time in a while, I found myself wondering: Am I enjoying this? I love being a captain, I love helping people through their first triathlon season, but was I still loving doing it myself?

This race proves that yes, I do still love it. Yes, I am improving. And yes, maybe I even have some aspirations to get faster and stronger and maybe make this podium appearance not a one-time-only thing.

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Scenes from 160 Miles

Day One

Mile 0: I almost don’t realize we’re riding. There’s some talking, a photo, a round of names I don’t remember. Some people make a right turn out of the Golden Gate Bridge parking lot and it’s like, OH. I guess we’re riding 80 miles now.

Mile 6: There’s a hill on the back side of Lake Merced? No wonder I always feel so speedy on the second half when I’m going around clockwise.

Mile 10-12: I’m climbing up a hill in a neighborhood in Pacifica. This must be what happens when you take Skyline Drive, the calm residential street, instead of Skyline-that-is-actually-Highway-35. A dog is barking rhythmically and I’m hearing his “woof! woof! woof!” as “go! go! go!” This hill feels hard, which is freaking me out more about Devil’s Slide, because I don’t remember seeing this one on the map.

Yeah, it totally was on the map.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 3.27.07 PM

Mile 13: I’m going downhill, and so is everyone else, when we realize we have no idea where we’re going. Our directions involve turning at a golf course. Everything seems to be a golf course.

Mile 18: Pacifica State Beach stop to regroup before Devil’s Slide. I’m kind of freaking out. I’m babbling in the general direction of anyone around me. I have spent enough time on Google Street View for this stretch of road that I literally recognize specific trees.

Mile 19: “Tunnel: 2000 feet”? That cannot possibly be true. This is the easiest 7% climb in the world! Why did I freak out about this?

Mile 19.5: This tunnel is amazing. Note to self, maybe when you thought the guy who GoPro’d his trip through the tunnel was riding on the sidewalk because there was no bike lane, you should have realized there was an entire empty car-width “emergency lane” next to him that bikes could ride in.

Mile 21: Through the tunnel. There’s some wind. Oh, a lot of wind. And a cliff. It’s OK. Don’t look. DON’T LOOK! …OK, I bet it’s really pretty. You can look.

Mile 30: 30! Some stoplights through Half Moon Bay, then open highway. We’re by the water; the hills are green and bursting with yellow flowers. There’s a guy cruising on the other side of the road, and I think, “That’ll be me tomorrow.”

Mile 38: There’s a hill. I don’t see it coming till I’m climbing it, but I just take off. I pass the other women I’ve been riding behind; I pass these two other guys; I’m flying. I’m rolling through these beach towns, Pescadero and San Gregorio, and I’m remembering the days when I used to drive more. Before I biked, before I ran, I’d drive to clear my head. Pete and I had a sunset picnic at San Gregorio on one of the days of our week-long first date. I haven’t been out here in the middle of the day in years (if ever), and I don’t remember the water being this blue. Up and down, these rolling hills between 92 and 84 become my favorite part of the day.

Mile 50: Maybe I should have eaten something during those rolling hills. Whoops. I’m starting to get tired, and I’m starting to hate sitting on my bike seat. I bargain with myself: You can stand up and stretch every mile. Every three minutes. OK, once a minute, but just on the downhills.

Mile 54: Thank heavens — it’s our gas station. I pull over mostly just to stand and not sit. A couple of other riders roll in a few minutes behind me; one of them buys Pringles to share and they melt on my tongue. Someone says “We’re so close!” and I think, huh, we’re an Olympic-distance triathlon ride away; when did that become “close” to me?

Mile 65: There’s an amazing downhill; we sweep around and we’re on the other side of a cliff, snuggling right up to the ocean. It feels like LA, or like somewhere else that isn’t here. But it is here; I’m here.

Mile 68: Davenport! Suddenly, we’ve caught up to the group in front of us, who are just leaving the rest stop. I’m too lazy to make a left turn and too energized by the thought of having more company to take a break, so I cram some food in my mouth and pick up the pace again. I roll through the hills I last tackled at the end of the Santa Cruz tri bike leg, remembering how much bigger they look in real life than on an elevation chart, remembering that momentum is my friend.

20140328-155549.jpgMile 77-80: We turn off Highway 1, following city signs now. Almost there! Winding around West Cliff, down down down next to a line of cars at the traffic circle. I spot our little blue hotel and pull in after about 5:45 of riding time, just in time for the second half of the Michigan basketball game. Perfect.

Day Two

Mile 0: Ow. Ow. Ow. Why does riding a bike involve sitting?

Mile 2: We crash a race. The road closure signs we saw the night before had said it was a marathon, but I googled and learned it was the “she.is.beautiful. The Pinkest 10K and 5K”. Before I share this news, I remind everyone that we are currently doing a thing known as the Diva Ride. Then I giggle.

Mile 8: On the road to Davenport, I’m behind the main group. Close, but not close enough to really catch up and ride at their pace. The funny thing about yesterday is that I came in smack in the middle of the riders; I had just assumed I’d be last, but I wasn’t close. Weirdly, I’m now more OK with being last today. Plus, it’s nice at the back. I’m not alone, and we get our own escort.

Mile 20-something: I’m riding with two other women when we come up on the signs for Pie Ranch. We start talking about pie. The woman in the front suddenly signals a turn and it’s done, we’ve gone rogue, we’re making an unofficial pie rest stop at 10:30 a.m. It’s kind of obnoxious, and it puts us more than 15 minutes behind the main group, but it’s also the greatest decision, and I ride the rest of the way back to San Francisco with half a chocolate chunk cookie wedged in my back pocket.

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Mile 30: I steel myself: This was the longest stretch yesterday, 30 miles with no rest stops, and I know those rolling hills are coming. Partway through, the ride organizer catches me, and we chat side by side for a few miles. Then she asks how comfortable I am riding on someone’s wheel. Me: “Not very?” Her: “Great, time to practice!” She takes the lead; I cruise behind. It’s amazing. Half an hour flies past. Just before a climb, she pulls off, and I chat my way up with one of our guides … until I realize how long the hill is, and our chatter turns to just me saying “how are we still on this hill?” over and over again.

Mile 57: I’m surprised when we hit the stoplights in Half Moon Bay. The rest of the group is there, snacking on Subway. I cant resist the urge to brag about pie. It feels like we’re almost done, and yet I know the worst is yet to come, Devil’s Slide and that hill in Pacifica. The first group leaves, and I wait to go with the second. Suddenly, I am not so sure about this last bit.

Mile 60: Devil’s Slide is worse going north — partially road conditions, partially time of day with more traffic — but the climb is fine. When I hit the descent I say, out loud, “This is why you rode down Twin Peaks all those times when the wind was bad in the middle of the day. You did it so you could feel good about what you’re doing right now.” Then I realize someone is right behind me, listening. Cool life.

Mile 65: Nate: “Do you want to see the graph of the hill?” Me: “Nope.” Nate: “It’s a spike that goes straight up through the neighborhood.” Me: “Nope.” Nate: “I think it feels harder going this way. Yesterday we had a stair-step, and this time we’re going straight up it.” Me: “Nope.” Nate: “I think it’ll be over 10% grade sometimes.” Me: “Nope.”

Mile 67.5: I’m actually OK with this climb. I mean, it sucks, and I’m fantasizing about the moment that the houses on the hillside start pointing down instead of up, but I’m 100% sure I’m going to make it up without stopping, if only because I’m not sure I can keep going if I stop. And then BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP a city goddamned bus pulls up, and a dozen people are waiting to board. I unclip, wait. I guess I can stop and start again after all.

Mile 68: I’m done! I mean, I’m not done, I’m probably still riding for another hour, but it’s easy from here. It’s stuff I know. It’s the lake and the park and the zoo. It’s my home base. It’s home.

Mile 75-79: Of course, home is where all the crazy stuff starts to happen — like cars pull out randomly from Beach Chalet, like I drop my water bottle and it rolls to the other side of the street and while I’m waiting for a break in traffic to retrieve it, a car runs over it and it explodes into a dozen pieces. Like there are all these children popping wheelies in the park and why are children more terrifying than Devil’s Slide? I am tired and wired and dumb; I am so glad I went home instead of back through the Presidio because if I’d had to get myself home from the bridge I probably would have called a cab. And instead, here I am, pulling up to my front door, walking in like I’m back from a regular ride through the park, except this one was two days and 160 miles long.

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