Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Weekend in the Bay Area

In San Francisco, you can hit the snow one day and the beach the next - who knew?

My Saturday adventure stretched from 5:00am to 7:00pm and included about 6.5 hours in the car, 3 hours of skiing, and several hours of fun.(Not much snow up there - think how much more fun it would be if we weren't skiing in loops around a sports field. And if the power weren't out and there was heat in the lodges. And if the wind weren't blowing so dang hard.)

Sunday's adventure was less of an adventure, but I drove out to the Bay and enjoyed a gorgeous 6 mile run around Cesar Chavez State Park and the Berkeley Marina. The weather could not have been better for running. Unfortunately my phone pictures did not do this day justice, so I didn't bother uploading them. Just trust me.

Days like this I feel lucky to live here. (Just give me a few more weeks until the incessant rain sets in for the winter. But at least that means snow in the mountains!)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why this engineering major changed her mind (It's not that it's hard)

Have you read the recent NY Times article entitled: Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It's Just So Darn Hard)? Go ahead and read it now. In fact, I even recommend reading the Comments (Highlights and some Readers' Recommendations).

I have to put in my two cents, given that after 2.5 years of engineering coursework, I changed my mind and. Wait for it. Well, as most of you know, I became a recreation major. Here's the thing: I had all As in my math, science, and engineering courses. My only non-As were in English and the Human Event. I wasn't running away from bad grades or working hard.No, I was running away from boredom and total lack of engagement.

I did work hard. My sophomore year I took 18 credits each semester which included multiple labs and recitation sessions and therefore ridiculous amounts of contact hours. I remember once having midterms in Statics and Physics (E&M) the same day. After hours and days of studying, I scored a total of 100. That's right. I got a 58 on the statics test and a whopping 42 (42!) on the physics test. But here's the thing. I still got an A in those courses. I squeaked by in Physics with a 70.1% for the course (with 70 the cut-off for an A). The physics professor, as most physics professors do, had a legendary reputation for extremely hard tests and failing as many people as possible. He taught large lectures so had no relationships with students. (I assume anyway.) This professor, along with others in the sciences and engineering, seem to pride themselves in weeding out as many people as possible. I think that's just plain stupid. Make a test with material you actually expect people to learn. Don't demoralize people on purpose. You might just be weeding out people who would make fabulous scientists and engineers. I'm not saying everyone would, but I disagree with the weed-out approach done in that fashion.

I loved science in high school. I think I took 5 years of both science and math.Chemistry was my favorite, but as I didn't have an AP option, I couldn't test out. Those first two chemistry semesters were huge lectures that were brutally boring, partly because I already knew much of the material and partly because they were, well, huge lectures. The labs were run by TAs who didn't seem to know much (juniors - not even grad students!) and consisted mostly of following step by step instructions without really having to understand anything. I hate to sound xenophobic, but many professors and TAs, particularly in the engineering courses, had accents that were extremely hard to understand. While I could understand my circuits teacher, I recall endless overhead projection sheets. I took math courses and did well but never really understood why I would need to solve a partial differential equation (until I got to grad school).

We actually had a freshman year engineering course that I think was similar to what the Times suggested - we had smaller sections and did hands-on projects and modeling projects, among other things. I thought of it as our brainwashing class, but I guess it was helpful. I also had a materials class that I thoroughly enjoyed.

It all felt apart junior year. I had attended a job fair my sophomore year in an attempt to get a summer internship. "We don't hire sophomores," I heard repeatedly, and I had been willing to work for free. The only thing I landed was a part-time gig for the government working on turning hard copy files into a computer database. Not exactly inspiring or mind-blowing, but something to put on my resume. I had a high GPA but I could find nothing else. So I also worked for the local recreation department, and they offered me a job for the school year. This job precluded me from attending a course that was required for my major and only offered once a year.

Because I knew I would have to extend my education another year, I decided to pick up a minor in recreation. Engineering students do not have electives per se, so I had never really before taken a class just for the sake of taking it. I took "Leisure & Quality of Life", "Leisure and Society", and "Wilderness & Parks in America." Sounds pitiful I know. But I loved them so much I decided to drop the engineering major altogether and major in recreation. I withdrew from one of my two remaining engineering courses (fluids) but had to retain the other (thermodynamics) to keep full-time. While I had first found thermodynamics difficult, I soon realized that there were only three equations that one used, and all you had to do was figure out which equation to use for which problem. No rocket science there, and no particularly interesting outcomes.

Here's where the commenters start to diverge. If you're not interested in the theory for theory's sake, you're not cut out to be a scientist or engineer anyway. You shouldn't have to understand or care what the real world applications are. The fact that your professor does not engage with you just means that you have to be self-motivated. If you're not, you shouldn't be an engineer anyway. Etc. Etc.

Here's what I think. Some people perfectly capable of being scientists or engineers (like me) are actually fascinated by a wide variety of subject matter. It could be a language. It could be literature. It could be math. It could be recreation. My professors in recreation were extremely engaging and hands-on. I learned about how the "leisure" movement is responsible for the 40 hour work week and so much of what we take for granted in the US now. I learned about all sorts of fascinating ways that leisure and recreation can improve society. I could visualize my impact. I remember attending one of these classes after 9/11, and being asked to write an essay on the effects of 9/11 on society and on leisure. "Society must continue to function in the wake of such a tragedy," I wrote, "If only to preserve the very freedom that was attacked....Society has come to understand leisure and recreation as a necessity, a relief, a sustainer of happiness...Sports are tools to release aggression. Leisure time clears people's minds and relieves stress, thus bettering working conditions."

Did I work as hard in my recreation classes as I did in engineering? No. Does that make me a slacker or a weak person? I don't think so. I felt more empowered by my recreation classes, I put more of myself into them, and I was motivated by my professors. My favorite class was the wilderness and parks class, which had been recommended to me by the department counselor because she though I would really enjoy it. (Wow, a counselor that actually considers your options with you rather than signing your course list?) I was fascinated by the founding of the west, the origins of the conservation movement, the uniquely American idea to preserve wilderness as a public good. And so outdoor recreation/natural management soon became my focus.

The next semester I took even more fascinating classes, including Urban Planning Environmental Interpretation, and Writing Reflective Essays. They really all do use critical thinking skills, no matter what you think. And the writing class I loved. I had the most amazing teacher who re-instilled my love of writing that had been completely killed by TAs in my required English classes, but also fostered by some of my recreation teachers.

That summer I was able to intern at Bryce Canyon National Park in the interpretation division. Try learning about the crazy geology of that place and then condensing it down into a 15 minute talk, all in the first week of work. Recreation might not be pure science, but there's sure a lot going on out there in the world.

And so it continued. Environmental Science (for nonmajors) was my favorite science class in school. Was it hard? No. But it set the stage for so many world problems from population growth to bioaccumulation of pollutants to I don't know what else. I guess here is where the purists tell me that this is not a real science class, but I guess it's the kind of science that interests me. I took an amazing environmental planning course. I also took an evaluation course (the one that lets recreation majors earn a BS instead of a BA), and loved that social science immediately.

You can say I took the easy way out. You can say I wasn't cut out for engineering. You can say I made a stupid choice. But in the end, I got a degree that I loved and that taught me valuable things about critical thinking, writing, and the world itself. I later received a graduate degree in science and currently work in engineering. What you do as an undergrad does not determine your fate.

But to those who say that making courses engaging is dumbing them down, or that providing more support is too much hand-holding, I say you're wrong. You are keeping the attention of, and inspiring young people who are fascinated by varities of things. That person who dropped out of your terribly boring course might have been the next great inventor, if only you'd bothered to try. Having taught an undergraduate science course, I understand that many kids out there really do want As handed to them on a silver platter without trying. But you can't use that as an excuse to wash your hands of trying. My division head at the lab recently implored the staff to always hire people who were smarter than you were when you were their age. If you want to pursue your research at the expense of teaching, think about where that leaves the future of your field. It could be left in better hands if you took up the teaching challenge.

[Also, for the record, while numerous commentors pointed out that students drop out because of the bleak, poorly-paid future for scientists and engineers, I really doubt this is the reason for most drop-outs. This may be a good reason for not pursuing a PhD in these subjects. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe most science and engineering students really do think about their sad, depressing future 30 years down the road if they don't get out now.]

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The funny things people say...

I was walking home from the shuttle today and two fathers with four small children were outside. The kids were riding scooter and bike type things. As I walked up a small boy started pushing his scooter down the sidewalk towards me so I politely stepped to the very edge of the sidewalk. "Watch out for people," a father said. Then to me: "People watch out for kids. Because I've got news for you, you will lose that battle."

Really? I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was trying to be funny. But I had already ceded the sidewalk and I was smiling. Not sure why I required that admonishment.

In cuter news, a girl of about 4 who was with one of the fathers followed me up the sidewalk on her bike.

"Did you go to the grocery?"

"I did."

"You got any Mac n cheese in there?"

"I don't. I'm sorry."

"Don't your kids like Mac n cheese?" (Well she was cute until she thought I was old.)

"I don't have kids but I like Mac n cheese."

"Then why didn't you buy any?"

Good point, young one.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Why I Do What I Do

Several weeks ago I was having dinner with a friend and she asked why I kept doing all these crazy things, like the Fondo, for example, or signing up for XC Ski. Is your work life not fulfilling? she asked.

I think maybe she's on to something. Finishing half marathons or the century definitely gives me a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that I really do not find at work - though I wish I did. I am addicted to the challenge and the start line and the finish line and even all the training.

I never really thought about it too much until the Healdsburg Half this weekend. Because my ankle has been a slow-time healing, I'd been trying to get rid of my bib, but somehow no one wanted it even though it was a sold-out race. I hadn't been able to train really at all, and I figured I shouldn't be out on the course. But then last week I realized it was going to be a gorgeous weekend, and that the course would wind through vineyards with changing leaves, and that I could drink wine and collect my long-sleeve tech tee. So on Thursday I made the rash decision to go up to Healsburg for the event and walk it. I figured it would be a nice way to spend a Saturday morning - and it was.

My TNT buddy Ashley accompanied me as she's been having trouble with asthma, and Matt jumped in for several (too many) miles. I discovered that having not trained for power-walking, it started to hurt my feet and joints after a couple miles, so we started interspersing run breaks. We walked about a 15 minute mile pace and ran an 11 minute mile pace and finished with an overall pace of about 14 minutes. It was a lovely day and I enjoyed the wine and the company, and my muscles cooperated to get me to the finish line with only a bit of complaining from my un-trained hip flexors. But this was no cardio workout for me. While I certainly enjoyed the day, I also don't feel fulfilled at all.

Although every race can't be a PR, I have enjoyed many of the events I ran in which my times were not terribly good. But they were the best I could do on those days, and so it still feels like an accomplishment. I was disappointed that this little walk could not do the same for me, but there's certainly always next time.

So here's to the training, and the start line, and the challenge. I guess I'll keep signing up until I find my dream job.

Professional Fondo Photos

The peloton heading through the vineyards:

The namesake: King Ridge

Climbing King Ridge and looking pretty happy about it:

The most spectacular coastal view coming off King Ridge:

Climbing Coleman Valley and trying very hard not to swear at the photographer:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Photo Card

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Great East Bay Shake Out

This morning at 10:20 am, the lab participated in the Great California Shake Out, in which we, along with 8.5 million others, dropped, covered, and held on, and then evacuated the building as a result of an imaginary earthquake. It's important to be prepared after all.

At 2:41 pm, the building started shaking and banging. I sat in my chair, wondering what was going on. Was there construction? Could this be planned somehow? How does one create an earthquake? Crazy thought I know, but I do work at a National Lab with crazy scientists. It began to dawn on me that this actually was a real earthquake, and I began to think that perhaps I should be getting under my desk. Right about when I started to do so, the shaking stopped. It had lasted maybe 10 or 15 seconds at most.

Everyone started emerging from their offices and cubes, asking, "Was that an earthquake?" We were all so confused about how such a thing happened on the day of the Great California Shake Out. It was by far the strongest earthquake I have felt. We were woken up by one in Socorro with a loud thud, and I have felt two or three here in the Bay Area, with just slight swaying.

Well guess what, this one was only a 4.0! I have always wanted to feel a real earthquake, but this one sure made me realize that I want nothing to do with a real earthquake. Keep in mind that earthquake magnitudes are on a log scale, so a 6.0 would be 1,000 times greater than a 4.0. Holy crap! (I think that's right anyway...)

The only relief is that this earthquake was centered about one mile from my building, so I was super close by. In addition, the USGS says that since it was so deep (6.0 miles), the shaking is felt more profoundly. On the other hand, it is not unlikely that the Big One will occur on the same Hayward Fault also near both my building and my office. So good times lie ahead! My goodness mother nature.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Project: Secret Stairs East Bay

For those of you who have been missing the City Walks installments, Matt and I recently purchased a book with walks on historic staircases in the foothills near our home. While this doesn't promise all the surprising sites of San Francisco, I've skimmed through a few of them and it seems to promise lovely scenery, outstanding views, hidden parks and parklets, tiny creeks, and crazy architecture.

So stay tuned for our next blogged adventure!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Because I Can't Shut Up About the Fondo...

I just read this description on another blog that I'm sure describes the exact same view that had me swearing out loud to myself about how f**ing amazing it was. I don't remember my exact words, but these are far more eloquent:
There was a reward, though, for the truly fall weather. On the descent to Jenner we dropped out of the fog with just enough elevation remaining to give a view of the coast that was as sudden in its appearance as it was spectacular in expression. I’d compare it to walking into a friend’s living room only to behold Botticelli’s Venus.

Also gratified to know that I was not nearly the only one who took a look at my vest in the morning and decided, nah:

Up at 6:00 the next morning, I checked the weather forecast, confirmed the balminess of the conditions outside and decided to forego my wind vest. I didn’t want to waste my energy carrying a few more, ounces over King Ridge, did I? Bad decision. In fact, I almost decided to leave arm and knee warmers at home, too, so mild were the conditions. But ultimately I knew that I’d be hanging out around the start line for an hour or more and could get cold; so I decided to wear them. Good decision.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ride Report: Levi's Gran Fondo

**Warning: Long post! Please don't feel the need to read**

I'd been preparing for this event for the past 4 months. But I wasn't all that prepared. I didn't own knee or leg warmers and the temperature event day morning was supposed to be 55 - too cold to ride with knees uncovered. So the night before the event I stopped at REI and picked up some smart wool knee warmers that turned out to be too small for me. They may have looked silly, but they did the trick and I was so glad to have them. I thought I would take them off early, but I ended up wearing them my whole ride.

The Fondo features a mass start, so I lined up with my ride group in a sea of other riders around 7:30 in the morning. I was scared to death of the mass start - I was sure I didn't have the bike handling capabilities to handle it. In the end, it wasn't too bad. The race started at 8:00 and we finally started moving around 8:20 - slowly. We had one foot clipped in and were pushing forward with the free foot. I didn't actually get on my bike until just before crossing the start line, and by that time people were far enough apart that it was much less scary.

The ride was beautiful from the beginning, running through the rural roads of Santa Rosa. There were still far too many people until the course splits, especially climbing hills with Medio (65 mile) and Piccolo (35 mile) riders who seemed to be much slower and unsteady on the hills. The ride really became fun around mile 25 when we were only riding with the Gran group. Four of us had a mini paceline going through some lovely flats and rolling hills in the Redwoods.

After our first rest stop at 30 miles, we started to head up the famed King Ridge. It was tough, but nothing we hadn't seen before, and I was feeling good.I shortly ran into two teammates at the top of a ridge who told us we had completed the steep part already - it seemed so soon! Just as I was starting to feel great about the ride up there, it started raining. Amazing as it sounds, we had never trained in rain the entire season. First it was just sort of drizzling, but it began to get cold, and the fog shrouded the amazing views that I hear exist up on the ridgeline. What we could see was still beautiful though.

At the next rest stop, the set-backs started. We learned that one of our teammates who had crashed the week before was experiencing severe leg cramps. Another had a mechanical issue and a third had a flat tire. While we were waiting for the group the rain really started coming down and we started shaking, which is a scary thought when you know you have a descent ahead. Some of our group headed out early to get going, but we ran into them sooner than we thought. As another teammate and I were heading down the hill, very slowly because of the rain, a SAG vehicle coming up the hill told us to slow down. At that point, we couldn't imagine how we could go much more slowly. We soon figured it out. The road steepened and volunteers told us we would have to get off and walk soon because there was a bad wreck ahead. After we dismounted and walked around the corner, behind the ambulance and fire truck, we saw a sea of purple - our teammates. I couldn't imagine how we could be unlucky enough to have another crash.

It turned out that our teammate was only a minor casualty in the wreck. A rider had lost her brakes and taken out another person walking his bike. They ran into our teammate before falling into the ravine beside the road. I never went to look. The girl I was with was the ER doctor and after she identified herself they asked her to stay to help. Several other of our teammates had witnessed the crash. They were very shaken up and had to stay to give witness statements to the police. Our injured teammate also wanted to keep riding but couldn't move his leg in a full circle. Finally the decision was made to proceed on with the part of our team that was able to leave.

As we proceeded, I was freezing, with legs shaking, and all I could think about was how miserable the ride was. Why would anyone want to ride in the rain? It was cold and scary. After reaching the lunch stop at around mile 57 at the top of the Ridge, we huddled in the tent with the food to try to get warm. We were already running behind schedule in our bid to finish in front of the 6 pm course sweep. We were trying to figure out how to get in touch with other members of our team when they started rolling in to our stop. The teammate with the leg cramps decided to call it a day and get SAGged out, but the teammate in the crash had been cleared to proceed and was planning to finish while gritting his teeth. The only person left behind was the ER doctor who had stayed to help.

At this point we also had been told that there was another treacherous descent ahead (19% grade with low visibility), which had everyone scared because of the wreck, but we were told it was too long to walk. One girl we had run into at the crash told us she was going to SAG out because she was too scared to continue. She just wanted to go home to DC. I felt better about it because the road was a bit more dry, and I knew I wanted to finish the race.

We finally headed out and were soon heading down a large hill. The roads were dry and the road was not as curvy as the previous descent. I set off and was shortly rewarded by the most amazing view of the Sonoma Coast. I recall swearing out loud about how gorgeous it was. I managed to enjoy the descent although I was going faster than I would have liked - I think somehow with the beauty I was enjoying it too much to be scared. This was the first time I realized I was on what one of my teammates described as an emotional rollercoaster: awesome! terrible! awesome! terrible!

I was shortly dumped out onto Highway One and continued to enjoy the gorgeous coast. I got a short pull from one of the support staff but otherwise cruised down the next several miles to the last rest stop before the next big hill by myself. At that point we knew we were in trouble with regard to the time sweep. We had less than 3 hours to go and at least 30 miles including one gigantic hill. But it took awhile to collect everyone at the rest stop. People rolled in slowly. We learned that one of our coaches had crashed early on in the race and as he was behind us we never found out and therefore had left him. One of the girls who had witnessed the crash was having extreme fears about going down the last descent and had remained behind with staff. We decided we had to press forward minus a few people.

And with that the ascent up the crazily steep Coleman Valley began. It started badly as because of the rain our cleats were caked with mud and several people were having trouble getting clipped in. And folks, you can't go up Coleman Valley without being clipped in. I plowed on forward and started passing a few people walking their bikes up the hill, although not much more slowly than I was riding. In fact once they got back on their bikes they proceeded to go much more quickly than me, so perhaps they had made a good choice. Near the top of an insanely steep incline, a photographer was taking pictures and it was all I could do not to swear at him. Once up on the ridge I was able to calm down and enjoy some fairly un-foggy views of the coast and hills.

I stopped at the water-only SAG stop to wait for the rest of my team who came straggling in one by one. We were still missing a few people who had in effect been left behind. However, we were at mile 80 at 5:00 pm, and we knew that with 23 miles left to go we weren't going to make the sweep. We set off and headed down the hill, which was less extreme than the other descents. We finally made it to the very last rest stop before the "flats" where we waited for a couple other teammates so that we could paceline to the finish. The teammate who had crashed was struggling and needed a boost, and some other people were glad for the help as well.

I was feeling pretty good as soon as the massive hills were over, so I tried to help by pulling the group but was getting continually yelled at for going too fast. In addition, the course was hillier than we had thought, and it is difficult to paceline up and down hills safely. We finally got onto some flat rural roads, and with the sun setting and the sky clear, the fields full of cows (and in one case miniature donkeys!) it was a beautiful sight - part of the "amazing" portion of the roller coaster.

Much to our excitement, we were not picked up by a sweep van, and there were still cops out at the intersections stopping traffic for us. We finally entered town and rolled through the finish line as it was being broken down, timing pad already removed, around 7 pm - 11 hours after the race had officially started! There were many people still around to cheer us on, including Matt, of course! After hugs all around, seeing some of the people who had been left behind or SAGged out, and the arrival of our coach with the last participants, all I could think about was food.

I have never ridden a century before, so I am unclear if all are such emotional roller coasters. This one was especially challenging, not only because of the massive hills, but because of all the setbacks - medical problems, mechanical problems, crashes and their after-effects, etc. I'm sure I could have finished faster had I been riding by myself, but the team camaraderie and support truly was amazing, and I am truly thankful to have been a part of the experience.

I'm not sure what my future holds in regards to biking. After all the crashes I was beginning to think that perhaps it was not the sport for me. But seeing those people already returning to their bikes, and experiencing the Gran made me reconsider. Maybe there will be more biking in my future. We shall see. For now, I will just try to remember bits and pieces of this crazy day. As my head coach said at send-off, in jest, "I'm not riding the Gran with you because you have to be f***ing crazy to do that." What an adventure.

How it All Began

I started this season on the cycle team with Team in Training for something to do while recovering from one of my many running injuries. I'd never owned a road bike before and never ridden for more than maybe 20 miles at a leisurely place. My plan was to learn how to ride properly (shifting, descending, riding in a group, etc.) while training for a metric century, the 65 mile Medio Fondo. I briefly considered a century ride, but the two options were one in Moab with a fairly steep fundraising minimum and the other one local but with a ridiculous amount of climbing (i.e. 9,000 feet as I've probably mentioned before). To quote the event website: "We don’t suggest this is your first century. Hoo boy."

The first several weeks of the season I rode 20-30 miles each weekend with the Team, but it became evident that I was faster than the other Medio riders. Week 8, my coach informed me that he was being moved up to the Gran team and that he would be replaced with another coach who turned out to be slower than me. So when I arrived for a training ride on Week 9, the head coach sauntered over and asked me how I felt about training for the Gran so that I wouldn't end up being a ride group of one. I hemmed and hawed but finally agreed to try it out. My principal fear was that I didn't have enough time for training. In addition to the Saturday team rides, for the Gran, the calendar calls for 3 more days a week of 35-40 miles. I was riding maybe 2 additional days a week but only 20 miles or less, and I just didn't have time for anymore mileage between the running, swimming, and boot camp I was also doing. The coach told me most people didn't follow the calendar anyway.

Well let me tell you, the first ride with the Gran group was tough! 44 miles (a jump from 30) including 4,000 feet of climbing up some very steep hills and I still had not switched over to clipless pedals. I was extremely tired following the ride. However, it had been nice to ride with a larger group including some wonderful people who assured me that the ride had been hard for them too. My mentor suggested that I probably hadn't eaten enough, and that saved the rest of my season. I had no idea how many calories you have to intake on a bike - it's a lot!

So the weeks went by and I kept training with the Gran group. The rides got easier and I got to a point where I felt I couldn't turn back. The Gran was a grander goal, and my ride group was so much fun. I freaked out on a fairly routine basis about rides and the actual event, and I'm fairly sure I developed an anxiety disorder for awhile. My coach was also the same one from the Medio and assured me week after week that I was doing great and was up to the challenge.

The last few weeks of the season were fraught with problems - crashes, specifically. My coach crashed two weeks before the event on a slow downhill descent that sent him to the hospital on a body board. The week before the event a teammate crashed after catching her front wheel in a paceline in a parallel ridge and also went to the hospital. Both were well enough to attempt the Gran this weekend, and one finished, but they both had concussions and the crashes were quite traumatizing for those of us who saw them. It is a little scary to watch your coach crash and then not get up or speak. But these crashes also were quite a team-bonding experience.

I had such a different experience on the cycle team than on the run team. Cycling really is treated as a team sport and no one is ever left behind. Each ride group (of up to 10 or so) has an assistant coach and at least one ride support/voluntary staff. Our group was lucky enough to have 3 ride supports including an ER doctor and a very helpful bike mechanic. The coach, ride support, and teammates were all extremely supportive and inspiring. It was like a little ride family. This is something that I have not found on the run team, and it was an amazing experience. I am so glad that I expanded my horizons to the cycle team, and I thank each and every person in my ride group, and of course the head coach and all the other supportive people with us.

I know I always try to promote Team in Training, and I definitely recommend the cycle team. Each experience differs with coaching or management, but I think the ride group philosophy runs throughout the sport. Go Team!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Weekend Full of Biking - And Fruit!

It has come to my attention that I am becoming a cyclist. First I got the road bike, then I got bike clothes, finally I got clipless pedals. Then I started doing crazy things like riding up the sides of Mount Diablo multiple times. Looking down from a perch over 2,000 feet above the surroundings, and flying down the hill, I just kept thinking about how I used to drive up hills like this and wonder why any person would want to bike up them. Biking up hill is super hard. Saturday's ride was 60 miles and more than 5,000 feet of elevation gain. The temperature was over 90. We did see some beautiful scenery though, particularly the one-lane road through Morgan Territory, and the views coming down Diablo on the other side.

Today Matt and I went to an event called Tour d'Organics. We participated in a 35 mile ride that involved three rest stops, all stocked with local, organic food. Two of the stops were at farms like this one:

We rode through some extremely beautiful country, as well as plenty of apple orchards:

Back at the community center where the ride started, we had an organic, vegan lunch replete with local entertainment. Overall, the ride was extremely well-organized, the food was great, and everyone was really friendly. We would definintely do this ride again - maybe a longer one next time! (Although the nice guy who fixed Matt's flat at one of the rest stops seemed incredulous we were on the 35 mile ride instead of the 16 miler, presumably because of Matt's bike.

This ride was up near wine country in Sebastopol, and we discovered that the Gravenstein Apple Fair was also going on, so we swung by after the ride. (Matt loves apples.) It was amazingly well attended, full of live music, crafts, and much food, particularly apples. There were also people showcasing their super old machinery like irrigation pumps, sprayers, riding saws, and more. We finally headed home after stopping at the local hardware store to use our two "Digby Dollars" from the ride on an apple peeler they had advertised out front. I couldn't believe how country the whole place felt.

After coming home, I headed out for a run, and boy was it tough. I'm thinking I maybe shouldn't have signed up for a half-marathon just a month after the bike event. I don't know how I'm going to start knocking out longer runs on the weekend. The 3.5 I did today was rough, and it has to go up from here. I may experiment with moving my long runs to a week day. Some day I will stop going on event commitment binges and just live a normal life where I don't bike 93 miles in a weekend. Someday.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

How Ironic

I just realized that the website of my blog is still "Who Needs a Cubicle".

Apparently I do.

Honestly, until this year, I hadn't had a cubicle since grad school. I'd been lucky enough to work out of my home or at jobs where I had my own office (once with a window with a view of the lovely Jemez Mountains) or worked in a huge open space with no one else around and views of the Pacific Ocean. A couple of times my office had no window, but it was pretty nice anyway. Once I even shared an office, but my coworker was great.

Then I went back to the labs, where I now share a cubicle. It's like I've regressed in life. Nothing but the noise of other people and the glaring electric light over head. No daylight gets to my cube.

But the good news is, at least I like my job so far. At six months, it's going on the 3rd longest job I've had since grad school. If Congress doesn't succeed in cutting our budget egregiously, maybe I'll be needing this cubicle for awhile longer. Too lazy to change the website links though.

Levi's Gran Fondo

I saw this video the other day, and it actually made me excited for the Gran Fondo. Up until this point, I have pretty much just been scared. I am a sucker for promotional videos though. At least this one isn't cancer-related, so it didn't make me cry.

Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge GranFondo from Bike Monkey LLC on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Beautiful Day for a (55 Mile) Bike Ride

Carquinez Bridge:

Benicia State Recreation Area

Briones Regional Park

So that's what I've been doing with my weekend. And now for a nap!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A PSA for Runners

The more you know.

When you stop for electrolyte or water during a race, you shouldn't drink all or part of the beverage and then set your used cup back down on the table. While we appreciate your attempt not to litter, you are exposing your fellow racers to your cooties, and no one wants that. Drink cups are only filled part-way, so other racers may not know your discarded cup is a used cup. The volunteers are extremely busy handing out drinks and mixing electrolytes and may not always catch and remove these used cups in time. Please do everyone a favor and throw your used cups in the trash can - or even on the ground at the water stop where it will be raked up. Race on.

This message brought to you by SF Marathon volunteers who, speaking from experience, were not aware that people actually did this during a race, but could not keep count of the people who actually did so between 6:12 am and 9:30 am at water stop #3.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Weekend Drinking Beer in Wine Country

Last weekend Matt and I headed up to Point Reyes for a beautiful Team in Training bike ride - well I was riding, and Matt graciously volunteered to SAG. I rode through beautiful dairy land and views on Pierce Point road, but Matt only took pictures of a banana slug and this old bridge that you can still apparently drive over. (He did not.)

Next stop, Ukiah, for organic dinner and beers at the brewery:

And what trip would be complete without a visit to Anderson Valley Brewing Company for some beer and disc golf. (And a rinse in the river - I am apparently allergic to all plants that touch me.)

I haven't been up to much else besides riding my bike in preparation for Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge Gran Fondo (in support of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society) and adding in a few runs and swims in preparation for a sprint triathlon.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pittsburg Twilight Criterium

Yesterday afternoon Matt and I headed out to Pittsburg to check out the pro races at the inaugural Pitt Crit. I'd heard about it through an Active Schwaggle for a discount on the related run, but I had never heard of a crit. Since my sister has become a big fan of cycling since living in Europe (or maybe before that; I can't recall), I asked her about them. I guess she'd never been to one, but she had heard they are fun because the racers go round and round the same course so you can see them frequently. Apparently they are also often staged.

Anyway, the event was free and offered a free shuttle from BART, so we figured we could check it out. We arrived at the Pittsburg BART station around 5:50pm and saw no sign of a shuttle or even a sign telling where the shuttle would be. Eventually a school bus pulled up, but it didn't pull into a loading slot until 6:15 or so. At that point we finally noticed two haphazardly taped Pitt Crit posters on the back of the bus. There had been no markings anywhere else - on the sides or front. We asked the driver if she was headed to the Pitt Crit and turns out she was. At 6:20 we took off, Matt and I being the only two passengers. We made a drive-by of the municipal parking lot and found no other passengers to pick up, so proceeded on to the event. We were dropped off at an unmarked, nondescript residential corner, although within hearing of the race; the pro women had just started at 6:35.

(The women in the daylight)

Well the number of passengers on the shuttle turned out to be indicative of the number of spectators at the event: not very many. The course was in no way lined with spectators - there were spectators in the tens around the start/finish line, so we popped right up to the fence and checked it out. I should mention that we had no idea how long these races lasted; I assumed that because some of the earlier races were only 30 minutes apart, they must not be that long. After standing at the fence watching for 20 minutes, we learned there were still 50 minutes left, so we decided to walk around the course and check out Old Town Pittsburg.

(Notice the utter lack of spectators)

I should also mention that these ladies were going fast! They appeared to be practically sprinting and would be doing so for 1:15 total. One racer had broken away from the pack and was leading by around 15 seconds for a long time, while the rest of the racers were in a pretty good pack. However, apparently the officials remove laggards at their discretion, so the main pack generally gets smaller but without leaving stragglers. We saw a lot of drop-outs in the women's race.

I am baffled by the sport in general. Apparently the race is totally based on time until the last 8 laps, so in theory it doesn't matter how fast the race is; the race is all based on strategy. The people at the front of the pack are always talking to each other about how or when they should go after anyone who has broken away from the pack. And of course it is polite to take turns leading and drafting.

At any rate, we started walking around Old Town Pittsburg, which was a sorry sight. We eventually found an over-price Italian restaurant with a patio overlooking the race course, so we stopped there for dinner. There were so few people around that when a crew member figured out that the speaker in front of us had not been plugged in, he turned around to ask us if we wanted it on or not. Yes - it was apparently our own private speaker.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the race. The break-away lady was eventually swallowed up by the pack, but at the very end of the last lap, she and her teammate busted toward the finish-line for a 1-2 finish (the break-away lady finishing 2nd to her favored teammate). Definitely could have been staged, but still fun.

Well the women's race was only a taste of what was to come. The men's race was crazy! There were so many more in the field, and it was going so fast that the pack was often strung out single-file, reaching at least 1/4 way around the 1k track. (Well maybe not, but pretty far.) Two of the favorites eventually pulled way out front. They were caught for awhile but eventually re-emerged, finishing about 1/2 a lap in front of everyone else. There was a pretty crazy race for 3rd-5th place though. The announcer (the new voice of the Amgen Tour of California) noted that they were probably averaging 30mph and at some points were doing 40 mph. Such a difference from the women's race. They were going so fast you could feel the wind run off of them, and when they came close to the fence, I became worried for my safety. Crazy athleticism.

(The men flying by)

At the end of one of the races, the announcer noted that you could not have scripted a better race. Well maybe that's because it was scripted so well to start with, but I definitely had fun.

I still can't get over the sheer sadness of the attendance though. It had been set up for "thousands" of spectators, and I think we may have been the only ones who did not know anyone in the race. After the men's race ended, we headed back to the nondescript corner and waited in the dark at 9:30 pm for the shuttle to show back up, hoping it would. Again, we were the only passengers on the trip back to the BART station. I'm not sure what happened in the marketing department, but I'm not sure there will be a 2nd Annual Pitt Crit.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Check Out My New Ride

Mine's a darker silver color, but otherwise looks the same. 58cm frame actually fit me without putting my seat post super high above the handlebars. And it didn't break the bank either. Looking forward to some weekend rides. (Although I guess to be a biker I'm going to have to learn to ride mid-week as well...)

I should also give a shout-out to Tip Top Bike Shop who found me a bike that fits and were generally awesome. And despite not having a bike that worked for me in the end, Montano Velo was also fantastic. I love finding great local shops!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I Will Not Be Buying a Bike on Craigslist (And I Blame My Parents:) )

I've decided that I want to take up cycling and maybe do some more triathlons, so I'm in the market for a road bike. My 15 (+?) year old Trek mountain bike just isn't going to cut it on anything longer than a sprint tri.

I went to the bike shop down the street awhile ago where the guy who helped me told me I couldn't spend less than $1000 and told me he would pull a bike down for me without ever measuring me. I left.

After much Yelp searching, I decided to head to a bike shop called Montano Velo a couple of miles away. Yelp was right. The guy who helped me at this shop was phenomenal. He explained the pros and cons of triathlon bikes versus long ride bikes (one is steel and one is aluminum; I can't remember which), recommended the cheaper one, and proceeded to take my measurements to fit me.

Guess what? As if this would be a surprise to anyone, I am rather oddly proportioned. I flummoxed this man, as my leg measurements put me at a 61 cm frame, while my torso measurements put me at a 55 cm frame. This means that in order to get a bike that properly fits my legs, I would be overextended toward the handlebars.

The salesman pulled down two frames for me to see what he could do. After determining that one of the Bianchi's (61 cm) just might work, he actually put it on a trainer and then replaced the handlebar stem with a shorter one to see if it would work for me. Turns out it will do, although the handling of the bike becomes a bit more touchy, because the handlebars aren't really out as far over the front wheel as they should be. In addition I will be overextended on aerobars. He said that to get a bike to truly fit me, I would likely need to have one custom built.

At any rate he decided that the bike fit me well enough that I should go out for a test ride. About half way up the hill, I realized I had no idea how to shift a road bike. I found some triggers that did the trick, but turns out they only go one direction. After getting myself cross-chained, Matt and I stopped for awhile and examined the bike and tried to do some internet research to try to figure out how in the world to shift the other way. I was loathe to go back to the shop and admit that I had no idea how to use this bike and that I had gotten the chain crossed, but when we finally did, the salesman was so nice about it. (Who knew you would push the brake lever sideways to shift? That just seems ridiculous.)

We went out for awhile longer and I really enjoyed the bike. So much easier to ride than the Trek! I could get up hills and felt like my legs provided more power.

On a secondary note, the salesman also told me that aside from needing a custom built bike, I was actually built to be a cyclist. Apparently having really long legs and a relatively low weight is an ideal situation. So now I have something to live up to. Great.

Anyway, back at the shop, the guy actually recommended I not buy the bike, but recommended some other shops and brands I should try out before deciding on a bike. He told me to come back anytime, and we could even take the Bianchi out for half a day for a test ride. So amazing! I really want to buy his bike because he's so awesome (and it's only $600!).

Anyway I was too lazy and depressed about my foot today to hit up any of the other bike shops, but I have a feeling I will have to buy a bike at one rather than going for Craiglist. Apparently some of the frames will be better suited to accommodate my weird proportions, and I probably need a bike guru to help me figure that out.

So the quest continues. I figure I have about a month if I actually join TNT for the summer season. Maybe next weekend.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oak-Ness Monster

Last night I went to happy hour with my old co-workers at the Lake Chalet on Lake Merritt. We were out on the dock talking, when all of a sudden bubbles started appearing in the water. Eventually what appeared to be a dragon head arose, as well as some bodily humps. We all turned and stared for it, and after a few moments, it bubbled back down under the lake.

I don't actually believe that a monster exists, as the head looked very much like a flat sheet of plywood or steel, while the body looked very much like tires. But I'm so intrigued. Who created this monster? How do they make it rise and sink? Does it move around the lake?

I tried to do some internet research, and there is very little out there, although it appears to date back until 2006. But no one has claimed it as their own. And there seem to be even older tall tales about actual monsters or mermaids in the lake.

As I said - intriguing.

My favorite part was that we told one of our coworkers who came late that we had seen a monster in the lake, and she said, completely non-skeptically, "Oh wow." Later I went home and told Matt, and he also said something to the effect of, "Huh," and started doing internet research. I really thought no one would believe me - I hardly believe myself.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Running Oakland

I'm cross posting today's training log entry on this blog because I had such a unique experience today:

This was a big one - 18 miles! The longest I have ever run (again, not counting that time I ran-walked somewhere between 18 and 19 miles). I had been planning to head out to the canal paths in Walnut Creek (where I worried I would die of boredom), but then I discovered that the Oakland Marathon was in town - and it went right by our house! So after battling a fierce case of Catholic Guilt, I decided to jump in. I joined slightly before mile 5, the closest point to our house, and followed the course to mile 23.

I loved it! Oakland came out in force to support the runners. There were so many different people in so many different communities. I saw so many parts of Oakland I had never seen before - didn't even know there was a Hispanic section. There was no shortage of volunteers, and they were all super friendly. People hung out in the towns, in their front yards, at the corners. Some communities were less involved than others. In one, some young men on the street asked, "Is this for breast cancer or something?" The lady in front of me responded, "No, it's for Oakland." This made their day, I think: "Fuck yeah, for Oakland!" they repeated a few times. It was great to see the community pride.

I of course continued to feel guilty the whole run as policeman stopped traffic for me and the residents cheered me on. So to return the favor that Oakland paid me, I decided I would make a donation to one of the race charities. I figured there would only be one, but it turns out that besides TNT and DetermiNATION, there are EIGHT local charities that all had fundraising programs and came out to volunteer at the race. Talk about community support! Now I have to figure out where I want to put my money.

I also ran into the TNT cheering squad at my mile 14.5 or so, and they were fantastic as always. They gave me so much encouragement and showed me to the food table where I suddenly discovered how hungry I was and devoured a chocolate chip cookie. I'm so honored to be part of the TNT family, where they don't forget you no matter how long you've been away!

After that I plowed on through my last 3 miles and ended my run along a familiar stretch of Lake Merritt, by my old employer. 18 miles down! It certainly wasn't easy, but I made it through. And I learned that I need to eat more on these long runs to keep my stomach happy. Only one more long run (that is, more than 13 miles) until the Marathon. I realized again that perhaps I erred in choosing a marathon where there won't really be spectators and community support, but hopefully the scenery will make up for it.

Anyway, my NikePlus tracked 17.5 miles, but I trust the race, and figured I hit about 18.2 in 3 hours! Whoops - that is much faster than my training pace goal of 10'22". I blame my NikePlus which was showing me slow times since it didn't think I had run as far. Oh well. I could barely walk after I stopped running, and my right foot has developed a mysterious pain, but all in all, it could be much worse.

Thank you Oakland!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Being a Nicer Person

This evening Matt and I were in downtown San Francisco waiting for a BART train. Several homeless people had walked by asking for money, and has become my custom, I said "Sorry." In my younger days I used to dig in my pocket for change, but it seems lately I either don't have cash or my wallet is buried in my purse and I am reluctant to go digging for it. Both really just terrible excuses.

Today as one of the men moved past us to the next waiting passenger, she said, "Let me see if I have any change." And proceeded to dig through her purse. While doing so, she struck up a conversation: "How long have you been homeless?" "What have you been doing in terms of looking for shelter and a job?" "That's good, you've got to keep trying. Don't give up. That's very important." And then she handed him the money she'd found and he moved on.

I immediately felt like a terrible person. Although I give limited money to charities working with the homeless or people in danger of becoming so, it's a tiny part of my income, and well less than the money I give to other causes like cancer and the environment. And then I choose not to give money to people on the streets. So heartless. I was so impressed with this woman.

Then we got on the train, and an elderly lady with a dog asked if she could sit next to this same woman, who of course agreed. She proceeded to carry on a conversation with this woman the whole ride (while her dog yapped behind them and was entertained by other passengers), then helped her get off the train at her station - heading out to tell the conductor to wait, and was walking slowly with this woman through the BART station the last we could see.

I hope this woman knows how amazing she is. I will make an effort to be kinder to both strangers on the street as well as people I know.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dear Southwest

You may have just lost a customer. I have always loved flying you, even back in the day when you had to camp out in line to get a good seat. Now I am a master of the 24 hour check-in, so that is not a problem. Although you usually have the cheapest tickets where I'm going - PHX, LAX, DEN, SAN, etc., I have also been willing to pay a little more because your Rapid Rewards program was awesome. So simple to use. Fly 16 one-way trips or 8 round-trips, get a free flight. Fabulous.

Now you have gone and screwed everything up. I had 13 credits in the old program before you switched to the new program. Since you have decided that 1 credit = 1200 points in the new system, I have to earn 3600 points to get my free flight. Already flew one round-trip to PHX, which under the old system would have gotten me 2/3 of the way there. But in the new system, this earned me a whopping 587 points, less than 1/6 of the way to my free flight. I would have to fly six round trips to earn what I could have gotten in 1.5 round trips under the old system. Ridiculous.

Apparently the new system is based not only on distance, as I believe most frequent flyer programs are, but also how much you pay for your flight. So if you get a flight deal as we did on our PHX trip, you earn few credits. If you take the last flight of the day with terrible hours so that you can get a cheaper ticket, you also earn fewer credits. This is crap. You are supposed to be the airline of the masses. Suddenly you are the airline of the elite, the person who can pay an egregious amount to fly at prime time. And you're trying to justify it all with the whole no black out dates thing. I never had an issue using my credits before. But now I will, since I'll virtually never earn any!

See you later, Southwest. It was nice knowing you.

The Running Black Hole

So I haven't been here in awhile. I'd like to blame something. First there is my job, which prohibits me from surfing the internet all day and following twitter, thus digging up some juicy little tidbits on which to comment. Then, there's been all this moving business, with weekends spent looking for houses, packing, moving, unpacking, and arranging the house.

And also there's the running. I don't spend that much of my time running, actually, but now all my blogging efforts have been concentrated here, and that's not even up-to-date. Nevertheless, this marathon training thing has been sucking up a lot of my time. I am currently in Week 12 of my 18 week marathon training program, and I really started before that, because my half marathon training program started several weeks earlier. So basically I've been following a training program for four straight months. And I don't miss runs. I might miss cross training and strength training (and often do), but I make sure to get all my runs in one way or another. After all, I only run 3 times a week.

I selected the Big Sur Marathon to be my first, as one of my very favorite things about running happens to be beautiful scenery, and I figured Big Sur would offer it up in plenty. Then there would be the 2 mile climb up to Hurricane Point, with the tuxedoed piano player at the grand piano by the Bixby Bridge at mile 13.1 - halfway. The last half of the marathon would be slightly less hilly, slightly downhill, and ending in Carmel. I would train lots of hills to prepare for this tough race because I wanted the epic beauty.

And then the Pacific Coast Highway had to go and collapse this week, turning the marathon into an out and back course that ends north of the Bixby Bridge. So only half as much gorgeous scenery, no epic climb up to Hurricane Point, no viewing of the iconic Bixby Bridge. Totally not what I'd envisions for my first marathon. And yet, I've sunk a couple hundred dollars into it, so it would be silly to change plans now. And I'm sure it will still be better than the Avenue of the Giants Marathon, what with its two out and back courses and essentially the same view the whole time. (I actually quite enjoyed the half, but wouldn't want to double it.)

So I guess I'm a little depressed. I've sunk 12+ weeks into this thing already, and now my main event won't live up to my expectations. And the last week has been ridiculously rainy. Two of my three runs were completed in downpours for at least part of the miles. That means clothes soaked at all layers. And cold hands as it turns out - so cold I could barely eat my sport beans. While the 6 mile run was tolerable, by the end of my 13.1 mile run today, I was extremely cold and sad. That's right, I ran a half marathon - at 2:10, faster than 3 of my previous races.

So anyway, that's my life right now. I'm seriously thinking of traveling somewhere warm next weekend so I can run my 18 miles in the sun. I'm that desperate.