Sunday, September 28, 2008

Race Report: Stonebridge Ranch Sprint Triathlon

This was the last race of my season, and it came not a moment too soon. I have been burnt out and dragging through for probably the last month. My best fitness is well behind me, and I was hoping just to close the season on a relatively high note. And, in short, I did; this race was a great experience, all-around, and made the past season totally worth it.


Driving into Stonebridge Ranch, which is near McKinney, TX, I could not stop rolling my eyes at shit like this and this and this. If you live in something like that, I apologize. I'm sure you're a very nice person. Now please skip the next paragraph.

I mean seriously? How much house do you need? How f*cking bourgeois can you be? Your house has tourets. How can you possibly take yourself seriously? And then as we were heading in to packet pick up, I kept seeing all these fake-boobed, orange-skinned, plastic barbie-doll wannabes and I thought, "Great. J-Lo's come to my race." And that atmosphere--the race was being held at the Stonebridge Ranch "Beach Club"--seriously pissed me off from the beginning. Because that upper-middle-class, WASPish thing is one of the things that really annoys me about this sport. And it's not true across the board; not all triathletes are pretentious upper-crusty white folk with the time and money to do the most expensive sport ever (short of stock car racing). But we all know that they're there, right?

So I came into this race with the mindset that the hoity toities of Stonebridge Ranch were NOT going to out-swim, out-bike, or out-run me, no matter how much they paid for their bikes, their running shoes, or their energy-eating houses.

Which was completely judgmental of me (and I was wrong, by the way), but I'll get to that later.

I went down to the race with a couple friends, one of whom was racing Olympic instead of sprint. Her swim wave left almost an hour before ours did, so it was an early morning for all of us. It was cool and dark when as we walked to transition, so I had very little opportunity to check out other athletes (both their bikes and their bodies). It took me all of ten minutes to set up my transition area, at which point I had about two hours to kill. So I walked around, checked out the area, tried to get a feel for the race. And you know what? It wasn't at all like I expected. Sure, there were the Cervelos and a couple Guru Cronos and various other ridiculously high-end bikes, but there were also mountain bikes and hybrid bikes and plenty of heavy-ass road frames. Besides which, the atmosphere was totally laid-back. There wasn't a lot of conversation about PR-ing or the more technical aspects of the sport; there was none of the posturing and wind-blowing that other athletes have reported; mostly, there was an air of friendliness and willingness to help all the first-timers. I was surprised and encouraged. Apparently, the hoity toities weren't all going to descend on our little race.

Anyway, the water temperature was 76 degrees and I had brought my wetsuit all the way from Kansas, so I figured I might as well. As the sun was rising, I dragged my wetsuit (I was not going to put that neoprene sauna on until the last possible minute) and my ass up the hill (yes up the hill) to watch my friend start with the women's olympic wave.

Swim: 750 m, 16:38

Oh man. The women's sprint wave was (of course) the biggest wave of the day. There must have been 150 women bunched together for the tread start. So I knew that it was going to be rough. I was ready for rough. I was fully prepared to get in a few good punches myself.

The race directors signaled the start with a siren which none of us could hear. We were all looking at each other, asking, "Was that the siren?" when someone finally just yelled "GO!" So we went. I tried to sprint all-out so that I could shake the pack, but I quickly gave up on that. First of all, it was taxing my body entirely too much. Second, it wasn't getting me anywhere; I was still right in the middle of this huge chunk of bodies. So I settled in and found my stroke. After a few minutes, I stopped feeling blows, and I thought, "Oh crap. I'm swimming off course." So I looked up to catch a view of the first buoy, and I was not off course. Everyone else, however, was swimming way off to the left. I was taking the most direct line to the first buoy, and I had open water. Huh. That's unusual. Rounding the first turn, same thing happened; I took the most direct line, and everyone else swam out to the side. I have to say, it made for a pretty relaxing swim.

The last turn is, I think, where I lost the most time. Because that last little bit of swimming took us due east, where the sun was just starting to rise over the trees. Which meant that I could not see a damn thing. And I suppose no one else could, either, because the swimming got pretty rough again. At one point, I felt my hand brushing something, looked up, and realized that I swam myself straight into another girl's crotch. So sorry, other girl; thank you for not kicking my head off, which is precisely what I would have done in that situation. And at another point, someone actually grabbed my shoulder and tried to pull me back. So I let her swim over me, then grabbed her knee and pulled as hard as I could. So sorry to you too; you're probably not really a total bitch.

Final swim time? Gag. 16:38? WTF? Whatever. Last race of the season, and pre-race I was debating whether or not to Tweet during my transitions. So I guess I shouldn't be too concerned with how slowly I swam.

T1: 2:34

I know, I know! Really slow again! Of course, the run to transition included a very steep uphill followed by a very steep downhill, which (according to my friend) took over a minute and a half to run. So substract 90 seconds from that T1 time and it doesn't look so bad, right? I have to admit, though, that I wasn't in any particular hurry, at this point. Also? I forget to unvelcro my shoes. So while I executed a nearly flawless flying mount onto my bike, it took me a while to get my feet into my shoes. Stoopid muv.

Bike: 20 km, 35:23 (20.3 MPH)

This is the fastest bike speed I've ever posted in a race. The course was fast and fun, and I love my new fit (even though I really should have ridden my bike with it at least once before I raced with it). The course required two loops (four for the Olympic distance), each of which included one big hill and two little ones. But the hills were short and steep, easy to power up those, and the rest of the course was mostly downhill. Which was super fun. There was one section where I really missed my aerobars. It was a little windy and a little bit downhill and I was probably going about 25-26 MPH (my computer isn't working, so who knows). I did my version of a mountain tuck, but I couldn't help but think that the aerobars would have given me a little bit more speed.

I passed and passed and passed on the bike. After the race, an older woman came up to me and said, "I tried to hang with you, but you were just gone!" Hell yes I was. I love my bike, I love being on the bike, and I loved this portion of the race.

T2: 1:05

Not bad. Not as fast as Mudwater, but still pretty speedy!

Run: 5 km, 31:01 (9:56/mile)

Know what? If I were to race like I trained in this race, I wouldn't have done this part. The last real running I did was over a month ago, a 15-mile long run that was part of my build up to the Tulsa Route 66 Marathon. A week after that, I went on a roadtrip from Massachusetts to Arizona that lasted four days. And it was on the flight home from Phoenix (via Denver) that my ass started hurting. And it still hasn't stopped. For that reason, I hadn't run more than two miles in over a month when I did this race. I was ecstatic that I was able to hold a sub-10-minute pace for the whole thing, especially considering that the terrain was fairly rolling.

The most exciting part is that this split is slightly better than what I posted at Mudwater, which I did before all this SI joint distress started. I remember being absolutely miserable on the run at Mudwater. But for some reason, this race gave me the best run I've had all season. I felt strong. I felt confident. I actually felt pretty good, running. I was enjoying it. Which is, frankly, shocking in itself.

The best part was that I got passed within about 50 yards of the finish line. This tall, lanky girl came up behind me at a pretty good clip. And I didn't even think; I just reacted. I picked up my turnover, lengthened my stride, and straight up sprinted by her. I remember wondering whether or not I would have enough gas to take that speed all the way to the finish line, but then I rounded the corner and there it was. I heard the announcer admiring the "strong finish" and the crowd cheering and then I was across the line and a volunteer was taking my timing chip. I looked back to see the girl who didn't quite pass me cross the finish line. We high-fived and hugged and she was totally cool about it (not at all like the cranky bitch at the Mudwater finish line). I owe her a lot; she forced me to give my best when I wasn't expecting to.

Total: 1:26:44

Almost 15 seconds slower than Mudwater, but it felt a lot faster; it felt like a PR, and on a lot less training. Also? 2nd place in my age group (this same time didn't even get me to the podium at Mudwater). The important thing is that this race served its purpose better than I could ever have expected: it reminded me that I love this sport (bourgeoisie and all). I love racing. I love swimming, biking, and even (occasionally) running. I love training and I love traveling and I love winning (although the size of my Shrine to Myself is starting to creep me out; I'll post a picture sometime). I'm grateful for the off-season to have finally arrived, but I can't wait for the excitement that will inevitably creep back in. The dreaming. The goal-setting. The race picking. The prioritizing. And this year (for the first time) the conversations I will have with my coach.

In fact, reading all the race reports in Triathlete, Slow Twitch, and around the web, I can already feel the pull . . .

Note: hasn't posted their pictures from this race, and I didn't have anyone else to take photos of me, so I will post photos when I get them.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pre-Race: Stonebridge Ranch Sprint Tri

This is what I've been able to find for "Stonebridge Ranch Triathlon" in Google images. I find it reassuring.

So . . . I'm leaving for Texas in 10 minutes to go do my last triathlon of the season.

Hmm, let's see . . . what are some of the things you shouldn't do right before a race . . .

- Change equipment

- Completely re-work your bike fit

- Not train any at all

Well this should be interesting :-)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Recipe File: Chicken Cacciatore (sort of)

Really, this dish could be chicken or tofu or beef or swordfish or human elk or any other meat protein you have lying around. As with most of my recipes, this one is simple to a fault, and probably something you could make right now (unless you're reading this at work, and if you are, way to stick it to The Man).

*Your protein here* Cacciatore

2 cans of stewed tomatoes (remember to check the ingredients for added sugars!)
1 green bell pepper
About a cup of chopped mushrooms

About half a cup of onion
About 3 cloves garlic (totally optional)
About 2 tbsp olive oil

Oregano, pepper, salt, and tarragon to taste
Your favorite pasta

Be sure to use a saucepan with a lid for this one. Saute onions and garlic, if you're using it, in some olive oil. Cook those until they're translucent (about 5 minutes), and don't let them burn! Add in the green bell pepper and mushrooms, and cook them for a couple minutes, until the mushrooms start to brown and soften. At this point, add in your protein. Whatever you're using, you can pretty much just throw it in there, as you're going to be letting this thing cook for a long frickin' time. When all the ingredients are having a nice little party in the pan, cover it, turn the heat down to a simmer, and let it sit for 45 minutes to an hour. The longer it sits, the better it tastes. Serve it over your favorite pasta; bowties work really well with this.

You can sneak in all kinds of veggies to this one. So far I've only tried green bell pepper and mushrooms, because that's what I had around at the time. But I think spinach would be good, maybe zucchinni and yellow squash, some carrots, maybe some potatoes . . . Have fun with it. Keep in mind, though, that not all flavors are going to mesh with the cacciatore theme. For example, cucumbers? No, I wouldn't go there, if I were you. Additionally, some veggies aren't going to work well together. I wouldn't do spinach, zucchinni, and carrots all at once. If in doubt (i.e. if you have no intuition for this kind of creative cooking), comment or e-mail me and we'll discuss harmonious veggie combinations. Or you can just try it and never do it again if it ends up tasting like ass.

Also, this is a great dish for crockpot cooking. Saute the oil, garlic, and onions along with your protein to get the flavors going. Then dump everything into your slow-cooker/crockpot and let it sit there while you're at work (or on your long bike ride, maybe). When you get home, you'll be greated with delicious and nutricious smells, and the only thing you'll have still to do will be cook your pasta. And if you're like me, you probably have leftover somewhere in the refridgerator, anyway.

Try the food, guys. Let me know what you think.

Brief and unrelated note: I've got a lot of stuff in the works, but everything's taking way too long to get up on the site. I'm currently working on a couple of installments of the "Stop Slouching" series, I have a new series coming up (tentatively titled "The Dumbass Chronicles"), I have a video installment of Runner's High which will (cross your fingers) be up tomorrow, and I'm working on a fresh spinning podcast. Thanks for sticking with me while I've suffered through burnout, guys. It means a ton to me.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

For the First Time in a Long Time . . .

I've found something exciting.

Here's my next project.

Now go ahead and tell me that doesn't look like fun.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Closing Out the Season

This isn't how I wanted my season to end. Injured. Demoralized. Burnt out.

But I've missed the last two races I wanted to do because I waited to the last minute to sign up. I didn't want to commit and then decide to bail at the last second, so I planned (instead) to sign up at the last second. But triathlons are becoming more and more popular in this part of the country, I guess, and both of those races ended up sold out.

The important part, though, is that my hesitance to commit to these races tells me that I probably don't even want to do them. And probably shouldn't do them. And should probably just close out the season already so that I can get excited about my life again (although I don't think my dismal attitude is entirely the fault of triathlon; I've got a lot of irons in the fire right now).

I have two more events: the Stonebridge Ranch Triathlon in Texas, which is mostly an excuse to roadtrip with a few friends, and the Tulsa Half-Marathon (which was going to be a marathon, but with this pain in my ass, there's no way I'm going to be able to build up to sufficient volume without doing some long-term damage). I might also throw in a little triathlon at Lake Afton for next week, just to see what I can do.

But honestly? I'm not planning to work too hard for any of these races. I'm well past my peak fitness. I'm well past my priority A events. I'm well past my patience for this sport. And it's time to back off, before I end up hating it.

Which means it's time to think cross-training. Which is actually very exciting.

First of all (believe it or not), I have actually been enjoying time on the elliptical trainer. I know. I know. It's insane. I've always hated the elliptical machine with a fiery passion that burns deep in my stomach. It's boring. You don't go anywhere. It's not running, biking, or swimming.

Come to think of it, that's probably why I enjoy it so much, right now. Plus, I can read a book while I'm on it.

I also got to go to the Kansas Cliff Club this weekend (on a date that was not a date . . . oh man, don't even get me started on that little escapade), and did a little bit of climbing. I forgot how much I enjoy climbing, what a great workout it is, and that I'm actually pretty good at it. So this triathlete is seriously considering sacrificing her plans of Masters Swimming for a membership to the Cliff Club, at least for the fall/winter.

Also? Yoga. Jamie loves yoga. Jamie would like to learn to teach yoga. It's quite appropriate to the laid-back (read: pot-smoking) side of her personality. So I'm loading up on the yoga classes and discussing with a friend the possibility of one-on-one yoga practice.

But it's hard to let go of the sport that I love and for which I've worked so hard, even for just a little while.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Part of the World

As you may remember, I've just finished reading this book, and have been thinking constantly about what it means to live as part of the world, rather than in opposition to and dominion over it. My conclusion? Big, big, big changes are required. Perhaps too big for me to handle. Perhaps too big for the world to handle.

In these kinds of circumstances, I find it's best to make changes that are small, personal, and immediate. Is the world worth saving? And can it even be done? Hmm . . . jury's still out on that one (at least for me). But I do know that I can live slightly closer to being part of the world, and so can you. Here are three ways how:

It came up in the pronation article. Whether you believe we evolved or were created, it's clear that our bodies were designed for a specific purpose. That purpose does not include wearing high heels or walking on concrete. Pavement and shoes separate us from the earth. Walking barefoot and working against the degeneration caused by not walking barefoot brings you that much closer to the original design. Pattern. Whatever. And that works in other parts of the body, as well. Strive for balance and stability in your body.

As I mentioned before, I think that when you start to see your body as the enemy, as something that needs to be slimmed down (which basically means you need to eliminate part of it), you're falling into a trap of conquering your body. And guess what! If you win the battle against your body, you also lose. But the same is true of bodies that are, how shall I say, facing the opposite problem. Your body was meant to be lean and muscular, to a certain extent, because that's what hunting and gathering does to you. So instead of focusing on weight loss or gain, perhaps we should be looking at overall health. Not "skinny"--healthy.

Which brings me to the final point. Know something? Our bodies were not made to handle high fructose corn syrup. In fact, they weren't made to handle a lot of the things we put in them. So stop putting that shit in, already. Eat clean. I suppose you could argue that the way we're meant to eat is raw and vegetarian, but I disagree. The whole premise here is that we live and eat by the laws of nature, and one of those laws is to eat what you can find. You hunt. You gather. Sometimes there's slim hunting and you have to gather a little bit more to get fed. Sometimes there's slim gathering and you have to eat a lot of meat. Either way, my personal opinion is that we're designed to eat both, so I eat both. Besides, I was a raw vegan for a few weeks. Definitely wasn't working for me.

So that's the short version. If you believe that we have a responsibility to adjust the course of civilization, you now have three ideas of how to do it in your life. Small-scale. But these are just notions, right now. So over the next few weeks, I'll be digging more deeply into the practicals--how do we make these changes? What can be different in my life? And why does it matter?

Not sure, yet. I'm thinking about it. I'll let you know.