Saturday, April 30, 2011

Scene On The Trail: Two Locals

Imagine in the lane next to me at masters

Imagine in the middle of a bike path during my run

Thursday, April 28, 2011

And On The 29th Day...

She moved into her new apartment in Austin.

I haven't seen these belongings since February 13th.  It was like decanting a fine wine.  If there is a wine that elicits the response of "why in the world do I own all of this useless crap?"

Meet my new couches.  Well, new to me.  They are certainly not new to this world, but for $25/couch, "new to the world" doesn't come as a standard option.

Give me a few days to, you know, buy a bed and find the floor again and then I'll start taking reservations for training vacations.  My door's always open...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Scene On The Trail: Triathlete Domesticity

About two weeks ago I was joined at My Gracious Host's by Cat Morrison, a lovely and talented Scot fresh off her victory at Galveston 70.3 (with a 1:18 run, I might add) and preparing for (hopefully) domination at St. Croix 70.3 and Ironman Texas.

We got her settled and pointed in the right direction for various excursions and since then, have been co-existing amicably. well as two people can co-exist who each stock and eat enough food to fill an entire refrigerator on their own.  There are lots of groceries.  Even more dishes.  Not to mention quite a few smoothies.  It's a good thing we have two blenders, if not two refrigerators.

This N = 2 social living experiment has provided a chance to see if what I have always thought of as routine, but perhaps not universal, about my athlete lifestyle is not all that experimental.  Turns out it's pretty darn normal.


** An unstructured morning (read: no early scheduled swim practice) is milked for all it's worth.

** Diet soda is an acceptable guilty pleasure.

** The bulk section of the grocery store is the Bermuda triangle of best intentions and grocery budgets.

** Nearly everything is scheduled around eating or digesting after eating.

** Lounging and athletic clothes is the new black tie.

** Procrastinating before sessions is an art form to be practiced daily.

** The athlete lifestyle gets really wild and crazy after dinner.  And by wild and crazy, I mean devolves into eating in front of the television, followed by self-massage and rolling out various knots on an impressive collection of foam rollers; tennis, golf, and yoga balls; and trigger point tools.

What N = 2 has not proven is that all triathletes are too hungry, tired, and/or downright lacking in creativity to make a unique and delicious dinner.  Cat is as much a better cook than I am as she is a faster runner than I am.  Which is to say, considerably.

New Orleans 69.1: No Water Sports For You

I have stalling on writing this for several days because unlike my previous race reports, which practically wrote themselves in moments of often humorous mid-race inspiration, my New Orleans race report is tending to be a report more about New Orleans and less about the race.  At first I felt bad about my writer's block, but then I realized that for me, racing has become a lot more about business and less about humorous inspirations.  So, as far as crowd pleasing anecdotes go, it makes sense that I would have more to share about New Orleans than the race that brought me there.  But the details are gritty and greasy, emphasis on the greasy, either way.

Ok.  Boring rambling over, boring relating begins.

Pa Support Staff rode his motorcycle down from the homestead to support and sherpa for me, and I drove east from Austin through the swamps of Louisiana to The Big Easy.  Chalk up two more Mississippi River crossings!

Circumstances led to Pa Support Staff driving me to the race headquarters on Saturday...on the back of his motorcycle....with me wearing my aero-helmet.  Truly a photo op I wish I could share.

The lead up to the race was....less than ideal.  I was stupid to think that five weeks of camp; two day-long, Transatlantic trips; one two-day-long TransAmerica drive; two weeks of basement living; two weeks of apartment hunting and haggling; one out-of-town wedding weekend; and one day-long drive from Austin to New Orleans - on top of normal training - would get me to the start line none the worse for wear.  By pre-race Saturday I was exhausted, mentally and physically, and at some points during the day I was so tired I literally felt drunk.  In retrospect, deluded though I might have been, there is little I could have shelved or sheltered myself from; sometimes the maelstrom of life will not be contained. 

But in New Orleans I was and still race I would. 

No Water Sports For You

The pros who had explored the course prior to Saturday's meeting reported loads of road construction, wind, and waves on Lake Ponchartrain, but I think we were all a little taken aback when the WTC officials used the "D" word: "we will not hesitate to turn this into a duathlon if conditions are too dangerous."

When I arrived in transition on race morning, the "D" word was reality and many people were using a few other choice words to express themselves.

Confusion reigned as officials and pros gathered to determine just how the race would start.  The official's suggestion: as a group we gather by the "swim out" sign, get the signal, start running and "transition" onto our bikes.

I'm sorry, I'm not exactly up on my roller derby skills. 

The athletes protested and a vote-off ensue.  Yes, we voted on how exactly to start the race; the straw-poll victor was starting one-by-one, 30-seconds apart, in a time trial fashion.  While it does not allow for true "racing" since you never really know how you stand against those around you, the time trial start protects against drafting and groups.  At this point, the race was promising to be less of a race and more of an individual time trial.

I have no idea how my race would have played out with a swim, albeit one in a full-on, wind-whipped, mechanical-bull-ride-like wave pool.  All I know is that I would have liked the chance to test myself against those conditions and that field.  Not all swims can be flat, with black lines painted on the bottom, and the opportunities to race/practice out of your comfort zone are far between.

About That Mechanical Bull...

So there we all are, lined up and shivering in the wind, waiting for own turn to assault the course.  It was incredibly anti-climatic and not adrenaline pumping.  I wish I could report otherwise, but yeah, it wasn't the Prologue of the Tour De France.

The bike course is flat, but, with the wind and a few overpasses and bridge crossings, didn't feel flat.  The undercarriage agrees: with sometimes epically uneven pavement, watching this first might have been warranted.

With the various out-and-backs, a strange interval workout ensued: work hard to control your work into the wind and then work hard to feel like you are working hard with the wind.  A few people came by as a legally-riding group and I keyed off of people to catch in front of me, but otherwise I stuck my eyes on my SRM read-out and rode. 

At about 10 miles to go, my mechanical bull took a new tact on throwing off it's rider: on approximately the 4,957th bump, my aero bars dropped precipitously toward the front wheel.  I knew I could fold myself into the new piked aero position, but the change in bike handing was unnerving, not to mention the fact that each successive bump rattled the bars a bit lower.  So I spent the last 30 minutes or so in a constant bicep curl, using my "strength" to keep my bull from literally falling apart underneath me.

Steps In The Right Direction...And Not Just Toward The Finish Line

Based on the inconsistencies of my runs at Miami 70.3 and Ironman Cozumel in 2010, I had several goals coming off the bike: 1) go hard and get into a strong rhythm right away, 2) but not so hard that I blow myself up, and 3) make myself hurt.  Just another day at the office.

Based on the decision to wear my Garmin to keep myself honest, I have one goal coming off the bike in the next race: wear a Garmin that doesn't fail catastrophically during the race.  Seriously.  I have since trashed the unit since it no longer even turns on.  Just another day at the office.

Anyway, for the seven miles before the Garmin died, I was honest and happily surprised each time I checked a split and the time was within seconds of the previous one.  Then one slid a little bit, then the next one slid a little bit more...and when the Garmin died, I just ran; hurting myself was no longer a problem.  But based on what my first splits were, where my splits were headed before the Garmin flat-lined, and my final average, I don't think I actually slowed down as much as I was imagining I was.

The first ten miles of the run course was actually enjoyable and a significant improvement on previous years from what I hear: shaded, green, along the canals.  But the last two were just a variation on the uneven pavement theme, as one long drag on a road so tore up I paid as much attention to my foot placement as when I trail run.  I kid you not that these two miles felt as long as the previous five.  Eventually it was.

Looking Past The Uneven Pavement

My high-school French teacher really loved this city and forced a bunch of punk high-school students to appreciate its culture.   So I knew all the food highlights I wanted to hit.  [Because how else do you get punk kids interested in learning?  Talk about food!]

During Katrina, my Congressional colleagues and I helplessly watched days of news coverage, wondering how land next to the water was the only land not to flood and how a city rebounds from such comprehensive destruction.  [Answers: That land is the rim of a geological bowl, so the middle of the city is much lower and thus what flooded.  And pretty darn well.]  So I knew what the city looked like from above, in ruins, and had no idea what to expect with regard to redevelopment six years later.

My home-stay hosts, Drew and Michelle, really love this city and were keen to share that love and the fun of exploring.  So I had partners in crime and people to answer my endless questions.

And the result?  During my few days in New Orleans the city grew on me, a lot.  This analogy won't be perfect but here goes: to me, New Orleans feels like Paris, or maybe Pompeii re-born.  Not as old, but with just as many layers, each a patina laid by a different owner (French, Spanish, French, American) and part of history.   New Orleans was created by a collision of cultures - French, Spanish, Filipino, Haitian, Creole, Cajun - each of which have left lasting impressions in or around the city, and some of which have retreated to swampland where they will remain a scintillating ghost story.  Paris has the catacombs, which mark the oldest portion of the city; New Orleans has a water stain "yah high" that tattoos the surviving portions of the city.  Paris has an identity inextricable from water; New Orleans is bounded by water on three sides, and several times each year it literally flows through the streets.  Pompeii was buried, and can now only be discovered by digging; New Orleans was buried, and was only rediscovered by digging. 

And the best parts of New Orleans - the architecture, the food, the history, the neighborhood identities - can't be duplicated anywhere else:

I did my easy Saturday efforts at the New Orleans Athletic Club, the second oldest athletic club in the country behind New York.  Still located in the original building, the interior of the club (no photos allowed) is a trip: think a dark wood cigar bar where the tables and chairs are replaced by treadmills and weight machines.  The water in the definitely-not-official-length pool is fed and recycled by a fountain.  Spinning classes take place on the roof. 

Cafe Du Monde...the infamous beignets didn't stay on the plate long enough to capture

Pattie B Was Here

The details are part of what makes New Orleans beautiful

Post-Race Surf and Turf (aka slow roasted beef and fried shrimp) I said: emphasis on the greasy

I would return to explore and experience New Orleans further, in a heartbeat.  I would return to race New Orleans again, after a thin layer of macadam.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Austin's Chamber of Triathlon Commerce

You know those bike shops that deal in more than bikes?  The ones that deal in creating connections, offering information, and lending a hand?  They know everyone and are involved in everything?

That's Jack and Adam's.  The back of their shop t-shirt says "We Love Triathlon" and everything they do, at least that I've seen, supports that statement and builds the community, in town and around the country.

Need bike routes - including the Garmin GPS files to ride them?  The J&As website.
Need a free twice-weekly abs class?  The J&As parking lot.
Need a weekly group ride - or weekly group run?  The J&As front steps.
Need to know about pools or running stores or well-located apartment rentals or athlete-friendly doctors?  The J&As sales staff.
Need your bike race-prepped?  Give the J&As service team an hour and a hose.
Need a fun and unique race for the off-season?  The J&As Dirty Du: trail half-marathon and a bike toss.  Yup, you toss...a bike.  [It doesn't have to be your carbon steed.]

And my personal favorite: need to know your bike or equipment order is ready?  Check the J&As email or text in your inbox.

They are prompt, friendly, comprehensive, and always willing to dispense information.  It is not uncommon for professional athletes to come to town for a short training stint and simply be told "Go talk to Jack at Jack and Adam's as soon as you arrive.  He can tell you everything."  I admit I've done exactly that.

And most recently, what I've noticed are the little things you (the customer) aren't supposed to notice.  Every bike that comes in for work comes back washed.  Every.  Someone, and I'm still working on getting to the bottom of who exactly, refreshed the bike fit markings that I use to re-assemble my bike.  Didn't notice that one until I unpacked my bike several days later.  Someone, and I'm still working on getting to the bottom of who exactly, tightened the bolts that make up my rear-mounted bottle cages.  Didn't notice that one until I rode over some train tracks in New Orleans and there was blessed silence behind me.

And all of this after I took my bike in to have the bottom bracket tightened and rear wheel hub rebuilt.  I can't wait until I have to take my trusty steed in for serious work!   

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Of Veils and the Number 8

In true Emily fashion, the wedding that brought me to DC was tasteful and elegant, organized and inclusive, and loving and tear-full. 

Plane finishing its approach to DCA on our drive across the Potomac

I learned a great deal about what it takes to have a strong marriage simply by watching her and her groom interact in the few seconds after her father left the alter.

Mr. and Mrs.

I am heartened to know that I leave DC with Emily in excellent hands, especially after accompanying her as her "wing woman" on several fateful adventures in our early days.

On to the party.

My seat at dinner didn't have such a bad view of...

My old office building

True love is not smearing cake on your bride's face

My Girls

Georgetown and DC at night

In other news, S. continues to lay siege to personal bests at all distances.  While I was recovering from hours of dancing in spike heels S. was pounding 10 miles of pavement, going 6 min faster than her goal time and taking one minute-per-mile off her previous PR. 

Her response: "I couldn't believe that I ran an average pace that started with an "8"!!"

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Triathlon Merit Badge, or When The Universe Says No

In this space I have previously advocated for thoughtful reflection on the intelligence of completing training when injured, sick, mentally burned out, etc, et al.  Many time-strapped athletes would agree there is a place for similar intelligent reflection when circumstances and logistics (i.e. The Universe), despite best planning efforts, are truly, utterly, and inexplicably against you.

We can all picture - or know... - this person: "I got my forty minute run completed despite the gigantic snow storm and not owning a treadmill by doing laps around my living room furniture.  I mean, sure I had to carry my bawling newborn, pet the dog, and stir dinner cooking on the stove with each lap and wear my wetsuit because all my other clothes were dirty.  But I swear it was a quality run." you want a merit badge?

Does throwing more mental and physical energy, frustration, on-the-brink-of-tears moments, and money at the situation 1) make the session actually get completed and with quality and 2) really matter in the long-term calculus of your training, racing,

I explain through example: the last 30 hours of my life.

My flight to DC left at 6 am.  The security line at the Austin airport at this hour was out the door of the airport onto the sidewalk.  So after barely making it through security in time to make the on-the-plane-15-min-before-take-off cut-off, the metal detector indicated that I was to be pulled aside for a randomized in-depth search.  My left hamstring was not happy with the subsequent sprint for the plane and during the flight I used my hair gel container (the only nearly spherical thing I had) to massage out a developing trigger point...because I had a tempo run to complete later in the day and coming up lame was not ideal.

I spend my flights working on athlete schedules.

I arrive in DC, have lunch with some friends, and head to my pool for my first session of the day, stopping at Starbucks for a pick-me-up (since I had been up since 4 am) and time to complete the schedules before the wedding.

COMPUTER = DEAD [and I lost of all my coaching work from the flights]

AppleCare call center confirms COMPUTER = DEAD and adds "get thee to a local Apple store."   

Um, did you clear this particular training session with Coach because the version I received said only swim and run for today....

I take the opportunity to swim.  I board Metro to "get thee to a local Apple store."  I arrive at the Apple store...and realize I lost my wet swimsuit in the Metro.  Which is definitely not the weirdest thing I have seen lost in the Metro.

The Apple employee takes my laptop into the back and smacks it around a bit.  Or perhaps just opens up the case and unplugs the battery and some circuitry.  Either way, when they emerge together, the employee displays minimal bruising and my laptop is working again.

I use being at the mall as an opportunity to buy a new swimsuit, seeing as how I have a swim scheduled for tomorrow.  No lap swimming appropriate (read: non-string bikini) swimsuit can be found.

I head to the hotel and check-in, politely asking for the bag of wedding clothes I had packed in February and left with the bride for her to leave at the front desk.  All so I won't have to carry wedding clothes to Spain.  However, despite the bride delivering them, said wedding clothes cannot be located. 

Ok, well I'm going to be on a treadmill for the next hour, so that's where you can find me if you find the clothes I have to wear tonight and can prevent me from wearing jeans to my friend's ceremony...

Wedding clothes are located; fashion-faux-pas disaster averted.  Tempo run completed at 8:04 PM.   Evening welcome reception attended at 8:32 PM, after discovering my room doesn't have hot water.

However, while dressing in said wedding clothes, I tried to put in my earrings and realized my piercings had closed.  Now I was bleeding from the ears and had to add "re-pierce ears" to my Texas to-do list.

....commercial interruption for sleep....

Grab a taxi to a local gym because it is so early the Metro isn't running.  I'm doing back-to-back spin classes, with my own interval work between, because I have a long ride on the schedule and no bike.  Right now traveling light doesn't look - or "feel," says the undercarriage - so good.

Cross the parking lot to spend a gift certificate I have to use-or-lose from when I lived here and get some coffee.  My ardent hopes do not come true when the store doesn't have a swimsuits...

Take a $10 taxi ride to a store I know sells swimsuits, considering it is the biggest Speedo seller on the Eastern seaboard.  Buy a sale-rack swimsuit.  Take a $10 taxi ride to a pool whose hours I had checked, after worrying that the DC pool I would normally use might be closed due to the government shut-down and is far enough away I might not make it back to the hotel in time for the ceremony...


Pool employees confirm POOL = DEFINITELY CLOSED FOR SWIM MEET and add "get thee to the closest public pool to us."  Which is a $10 taxi ride back towards the swim suit store I just came from.  In fact it is a mere 5 blocks from the swim suit store I just came from.  But going to that pool leaves me in a Metro Dead Zone and a $20 tax ride from my hotel.  For a few seconds I contemplate taking a taxi to a pool in DC or swimming in the 20' x 20' pool in my hotel and then...


The Universe confirms KELZIE = PULLING THE PLUG SWIMMING TODAY and adds "what the h*ll were you thinking trying to swim in Northern Virginia today when clearly I was not going to let you." 

I tried.  I tried and failed.  Most days that isn't good enough.  Some days it has to be.

So with only one session of two completed and armed with a tags-still-on swimsuit, a slinky dress, and spike heels, it's wedding time.

There had better be champagne.

Returning To The Scene Of The Crime

On the road again...I barely know where I am any more, but the airport code on the plane ticket says DCA, so that helps.

As a friend put it when I emailed about getting lunch, "Didn't you go already? What was that party all about?"  Yes, I went and now I'm back.  For 50 hours and 3 parties.

And traveling lighter than I have in years.  I do have more clothes for two days in DC than I did for three months in Burma, but as many of them are spandex, they fit into much less space!

What, no bike box?

And getting a view of DC that I never came close to seeing in the 6.5 years I actually lived here (sorry, you have to suffer my poor-man's panorama vision; R-L):


Isn't traffic on the Key Bridge awesome?

The hotel is blocking most of Georgetown University

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Learning About Yourself

My days right now are a discombobulated mess: eat, train, sleep, apartment hunt, no particular order...even the "repeat."  My father and I arrived in Austin in the early evening of last Wednesday and hit the ground running, literally: 12 hours post-arrival I was on Town Lake.  After that, Costco - you can take the girl out of the north, but you can't take the Costco out of the girl - and start the search for a permanent place to live.

I am so thankful that I know the city's lay-out and how/where to train here.  Or else I think my head would have actually already spun around and popped off.

When I arrived I was tired of living out of a suitcase.  You understand, that phrase - "living out of a suitcase" - has two meanings: 1) moving quickly from one place to another, unpacking as little of the one bag you have as necessary at each stop, and 2) staying and perhaps settling into each location, but having access to a limited total number of belongings at any given stop.  I mean #1, as real living out of a suitcase and training full-time do not mesh well, because while I can - and do - live on roughly 20 pieces of clothing, the lack of basic permanency wreaks havoc on your training and sleep schedule and recovery routine.  Anyway, for a week I have been living out of a suitcase in the first sense and it really needed to end. 

Add to that the fact that I have anticipated this move for months and now that I am actually in Austin, I want the move to be over.  I've already expended a good amount of emotional energy on moving here, and in truth, the process hasn't even started, all I've done so far is leave DC.  I still have to find a place to live, get my stuff out of storage and moved into the new space, and then unpack.  When all I want to do is have the ability to come home after a workout, change into comfy clothing, make food, sit, and eat food, and maybe watch some TV with my feet up.

My Gracious Host has me covered with a roof etc. until I find a place, but that hasn't saved me from having to show up to look at apartments in spandex, heading to or from a session.  At least I'm honest about who I am and what makes me tick...

But as far as the access part of living out of a suitcase, I have found that plus-or-minus a permanent place to live, the belongings I have with me right now (the game wouldn't be fair without knowing the rules: my trainer and TV are in the back of my car and I'm counting them) would suffice just fine.  I mean, I have been doing it for two months and thus far have avoided being naked in public.  Seriously, as long as I didn't have to attend a wedding, funeral, or Capitol Hill job interview, I could dress and train indefinitely on everything in my suitcase or my bike box (and car)....

Except, I have come to realize, my blender.  I had no clue how reliant I was on my blender in DC, how integral smoothies were to my daily routine and nutrition.  So after 36 hours and several recovery-smoothie-less sessions, I broke down and went to three Goodwill's....and found nothing.  What is up Austin?!?!?  Are you all blender hoarders or something?  Twenty cracked, chipped, and moldy coffee makers at each location, but no blenders.  Pathetic.

At which point I asked my mom is she remembered where my blender was packed.  You guessed it: the back of my car.  My mom is freaking brilliant!!  And see, I told you I could live only on the things in my suitcase, bike box, and car...

Ok, so I have learned that I should not be separated from my blender and which 20 pieces of clothing complete my wardrobe.  More important are some things several of my athletes have learned about themselves.  Three of them raced the National Marathon and Half-Marathon two weekends ago, and all three PR'd in their respective distances.  PRs feel great (ok, maybe sometimes only after crossing the finish line), but they are lessons as well, about how hard we can push and just exactly what we are capable of.  There is a great passage in Once A Runner about how racing is completely objective, and since racing lacks the awarding of beauty points of any kind, a personal best race time might as well be tattooed on a runner's forehead because it is who they are.  That time determines exactly where they stand in the pecking order, from now until the day they die, and only a faster time reshuffles the order.

Well, S., P., and A. deserve some new tattoos.

S. took 6 mins off of her half-marathon PR, which she had just set in January after a few months of working with me and committing to consistencyconsistencyconsistency.

P. took 6 mins off of his marathon PR, going from sub-3 to very convincingly sub-3, and going 3 mins faster than his goal time for the race.  This despite, in his words, getting "real ugly from like 20 on."  My response: "your ugly still looks pretty good."

And A....A. took 25 - TWENTY.FIVE. - minutes off of his marathon PR, beating his goal time for the race by 8 minutes.  Simple math shows that he dropped nearly one minute PER MILE.  Just thinking about that makes my head spin.

So incredibly proud of S., P., and A., as well as the rest of my athletes who continue to train hard for their upcoming races.  The season has just begun!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Descent Into the South

[describing Tuesday morning through Wednesday afternoon]

I was planing to document my trip from Indiana to Texas with a witty photographic presentation of The Descent Into The South.  But after being awake and/or at the wheel for every minute of the drive, I can only report that any one in a series of pictures I provide would be pretty impossible to differentiate from any another.

In fact, the revelation from this trip that has struck me the most is how homogeneous the United States looks.  I'm sure Census workers would vociferously disagree, but I'm not talking about people - although we did eat in likely the only Chinese restaurant in Lonoke, Arkansas, [a mere 15 miles from Beebe, Arkansas, which is not where my genetic material originated].  I'm talking about visually, the view from roads with low numbers and wide shoulders.

As we drove past Little Rock this (read: Wednesday) morning, I had serious deja vu and commented that we could be on Madison's West Beltline.  Or even VA's Hwy 50 heading west from the Pentagon.  Imagine a sprawling 5 or 6 lane road with a tattered grassy median and low-lying strip malls, restaurant chains, and stand-alone businesses like car dealerships along the outside.

Between the cities, the view looks like the drive to my grandparent's cabin in central Wisconsin (except it looks in March how Wisconsin will look in May) or the drive from DC's NE corner to Baltimore or north from Boston to Maine in late summer.  Two lanes in each direction, very mature deciduous and coniferous trees lining the outside edges, shallow V-shaped median filled with grass and waiting cops, and nothing to break up the view of more-of-the-same-flatness ahead.

I know that Highway 1, I70, I81, and A1A have some pretty different and amazing scenery, as do many other thoroughfares in our expansive inter-state transportation system, but when hours-upon-hours of Arkansas and Texas look like Wisconsin and DC, it throws me for a reality-check loop.

A highlight of the trip was driving across the Mississippi River, only the 6th time I can remember doing so in my life.   In comparison, I have flown across the Atlantic easily more than twice as many times, and the Pacific (including only half-way, to Hawai'i) 6 times as well. 

The one thing that did change during the drive?  We drove through or across three straight states without seeing a Starbucks.  For some that would be a descent somewhere.
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