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

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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!