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Monday, August 29, 2011

Blood, dirt, beer, and fun...the Tall Oak Challenge mountain bike race

To recap: I was going to do a nice, gentle 50-mile road ride near home, but instead I got roped into taking part in a 6 hour mountain bike race over 2 hours away.  And by "roped into" I mean some friends threw out an open invitation to ride with them and I jumped at it.  When I left you last, I was trying to fall asleep at my aunt and uncle's house in Columbia, MO, after a very successful preride of the course.

Thanks to getting to see the trail ahead of time, I was only a little nauseous on race morning rather than full-on panic mode.  Actually, I was pretty excited as I headed to Binder Park.  I had no illusions of contending for any place but last, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't die.

The tents to the right are along the course
The guys were there ahead of me and had a nice, shady spot.  Actually, pretty much the whole area was a nice, shady spot.  Since there were seven of us racing (5 official Team Virtus members, Luke's friend from work, and me, the self-proclaimed Team Virtus Ladies Auxiliary), we ended up with two 2-person teams and a 3-man team.  Bob and Robby teamed up; Wes, Adam, and Rusty teamed up; and Luke drew the short straw and got stuck with me (They asked if I had a preference for 2- or 3-person team, and I said I'd rather do 2, at least until after my first lap).  I have to hand it to him, if he had any tears to wipe away, I didn't see it, so I appreciated his discretion.

Bob and Wes.
 I think somebody had just suggested Bob team up with me.  Either that, or the guy behind him farted.
 It was a good thing Adam was able to go third on his team since he showed up at the race without shoes, a helmet, gloves, or a bike. Nothing like coming off of a 24-hour adventure race and going straight into a week's vacation to throw you off your game, I guess.  Luckily, he was able to accumulate everything he needed by go time and throw down way better lap times than me, so maybe I should try his strategy next time.  And under no circumstances should he be fired from the team for his multiple oversights.

We had about an hour or so to hang out before the race, so I got a chance to talk to Rusty a little more than just giving him a hard time about only being able to eat two donuts, and I got my very own Team Virtus sticker (sorry Casey, I think it was the last one. :D). 

virtus pic
Now where should I put it....
Luke had volunteered to ride the first lap.  Either that, or he couldn't find me curled up in a fetal position under Bob's truck and had to take off in a hurry when the start gun sounded ten minutes early.  (Sidenote: I'm pretty sure his missing the start is what cost us the podium....it couldn't have been my slow lap time or general lack of fitness.)  The start was a ways off and uphill from where we were set up in order to spread out the racers before they hit the singletrack.  I'd be more specific, but I had already refused to go first and so didn't pay attention to information about the start.

Bob giving Luke a CX send-off
It was really cool to watch everybody fly by.  I'm new enough to bike races to still be amazed by how fast people can ride; then again, I can't imagine that it'll be any less impressive in a few years.  It's such a cool thing to get to be around and to be a part of.  I enjoyed chilling out in the shade and talking teaching with Bob's mom, but as the time passed I started getting nervous for my lap.

I wasn't as worried about the trail; I mean, it's not like I'm all that confident on my mountain bike yet, but I'd managed to get through the previous night's ride without any major damage.  I was more  concerned about the whole passing situation.  In the only other mountain bike race I've done, I rode in the cat 3 race, which was the slowest of the categories.  Of course, none of the riders was as slow as me, but that just meant that they all started out ahead of me and I didn't end up getting passed until the last third of my race.  In this race, everyone started at once, so fast and slow and everything in between were out there. I didn't want to mess up anybody's race or slow anybody down by being in their way, so I was worried about being able to get out of the way. 

While I was busy stressing about this and poking around getting my stuff together, Luke made it back from his lap and was waiting for me to come and take the baton.  I rushed over and was chastized: "There goes our podium!" (But, remember, I already blamed it on the early start, so it can't be my fault. :D)

Lap 1:
I slid the "baton" (popsicle stick with our number) in the leg of my bike shorts and I was off! Sort of. 

I have to say, the first lap was pretty amazing.  Yeah, I got passed.  A lot.  And it turned out that it wasn't that big of a deal.  I'd hear riders coming and get over if I could.  I went out of my way to get out of the way.  And almost everyone was awesome. Some were quiet, but most were polite, or friendly, or encouraging.  My ride felt great.

Photo credit: Nicole Stacy
That long, long hill that feels like it won't end, the one I had to put a foot down on Saturday night?  I rode up it.

Those bridges where I'm nervous and have to chant "Look where you want to go...look where you want to go..." until I'm off? I rode across them.
The downhill where I got the coaching on keeping off the seat? I got my butt up (some)...and it wasn't jiggling at all because it was clenched tight!
The downhill creek crossing the guys coached me through the night before and I had to go back to try it again? Nailed it.
The creek crossing with the smooth rock on the other side...almost got it, but had to put a foot down.  And then figured I'd stop and take a drink, so Wes passed me.

That tricky uphill switchback I failed to climb Saturday night...yeah, I couldn't do it Sunday, either.  During the first lap it took me by surprise and I went straight up the middle until I couldn't go any more and had to put down a foot.
Photo by Nicole Stacy
Photo credit: Nicole Stacy
I won't say it was easy, because I always felt like I was working hard, but it had a flow to it.  I felt confident.  I really, really enjoyed the first three-fourths of that lap.  Towards the end, I was getting tired and, knowing there was only about 15-20 minutes of riding left from where we'd pulled out of the woods the previous night, started hoping I was seeing new terrain...only to be disappointed when I recognized something. :) Even so, that rocky hill that had convinced me I was done the night before was no problem; I just took it easy and rolled on through.  (I think there was a hill somewhere in here that I had to walk part of, though)

Finally I came out into the field, back into the woods, and saw the yellow arrows highlighting a big drop (OK, it's big for me...does the fact that they mark it mean that it's big for braver riders?  I don't know, but this is my race report, so it was a big drop) that was the one significant thing the guys had told me I hadn't seen on our preride.  It looked a little scary.  I stopped to look it over and figure out where I wanted to go and watched a couple of riders go through before I went.  No problem!

There was a little more time on singletrack, then we came out into a field and got to fly downhill.  You know me...I'm scared of hills, but this one was smooth and grassy and I wasn't scared or braking at all.  My bike was probably very confused by the lack of restriction.  I turned through the trees and rode into the alley to hand off to my teammate....who wasn't there, giving me the opportunity to complain, "There goes our podium!" when he ran up a few seconds later. (See, I told you it wasn't my fault we didn't place.)

I got a drink, rested a little, and decided better late than never on the chamois butt'r.  I had stopped off to socialize with Lisa, Steph, and Suzanne, all of whom I'd met through Team Revolution's rides and activities, and I was talking with them when my mom, aunt, and uncle walked up. This was kind of surprising since my mom isn't really into my racing at all...I think in a lot of ways she thinks I should be staying home and taking care of my family or something like that.  They found an open spot near us and hung out watching for a while.

I had planned to take my camelback on this lap, but once again, when Luke got back I wasn't ready, so I scrambled out with just one water bottle.  I'm still not all that steady on the trails, so drinking enough while riding is an issue for me.  Even with a camelback it's hard, but it's darn near impossible for me to grab a water bottle on singletrack unless I'm stopped.  "Luckily" I had plenty of chances to drink this time around.

Lap 2:
I had eaten some stuff after my first lap and felt okay, but not great.  I was definitely looking forward to getting some real food in me once I got back.  The beginning of the ride was pretty good, though.  I felt like this was going to be my lap.  The first hitch in that plan came on the long hill; I'd gotten out of the way of a faster rider, lost momentum, and couldn't get myself going, so I ended up walking the rest of it.  After that, though, I was feeling pretty good again.  Every once in a while when the trail was just right, I would catch a glimpse of Rusty through the woods and hope I could keep ahead of him.

It was going really well, too.  I made it through all kinds of stuff the guys had gone over with me the night before as tricky spots.  I was feeling really confident, and then I rode into a dry creek crossing so easy that we hadn't bothered to talk it over the night before.  There's not even much of a hill there. 

The scene of the crime.  This is looking back at where I came from. 
Somewhere in that sunny spot, a tiny little stump is laughing an evil laugh.
But there is a little bitty stump, and somehow I rode right into it and went over, banging my elbow and head on the rock.  (And let me just say right here, if you ride a bike and don't wear a helmet, GET A HELMET.  That's the second time I've hit my head HARD on the ground and haven't injured it.  That fall definitely would have hurt my head without a helmet.) 

See what I mean? NOT an impressive amount of blood.
Man, my elbow hurt.  And there was not nearly enough blood for how badly it hurt.  I got myself and my bike out of the way, got up to the side of the trail, and stood there shaking my arm and catching my breath.  Rusty and Steph both asked if I was ok, and I said I was and sent them on while I was still figuring out if I was going to cry or not.  (The verdict was NOT, in case you're interested.)

Back on the bike, my arm didn't hurt so much, but I'd lost a big share of my mojo.  It took me a little bit to get going again.  Plus, my bike was being increasingly unpleasant about shifting.  Sometimes I'd downshift when I still had gears left with no response.  Sometimes it would just randomly shift gears while I was riding.  It was kind of an adventure because I never really knew if I was going to have the gear I needed or not.  Other than that, though, everything was pretty non-remarkable.  I still couldn't ride the switchback (which may have been before I fell, I can't remember), but I made it up the other hill I'd had to walk.  If it hadn't been for having to walk that first hill and falling, it probably would have been my best lap.  Stupid falling.

I was passed by plenty of people on this lap, too, and most of them were really nice.  And like I said, I made every effort to get out of faster riders' way as soon as I could so they could get through.  Often before they asked me to.  So I'm riding along, and this guy rides up behind me calling, "Rider coming through!! Fast! Fast!" And I'm thinking, A-hole, if I could go any faster I would, and if I do you're going to end up riding fast over my body across the trail.  But whatever.  I got over as soon as I could.

Back at the start, I passed off the baton to Luke, let him know I was OK, and went to show off my elbow.  Such culture shock for my mom.  Here's how that conversation went:

Mom: "Is there a medical tent? Do you have a first aid kit?"
Me: "Mom...it's just blood.  I'm going to dump water on it.  After you take a picture."
Mom: [Sighs]

Bob came over, said, "You'd better put some ice on that," and handed me a beer.  So here's a little known fact: I'm not a big fan of beer.  I probably haven't had a beer since my freshman year in college.  But just holding that can against my arm felt a little wrong, so I opened it and drank it and now I'll have to amend that little known fact to read: I'm not a big fan of beer except maybe at bike races, because it really tasted good right then.

I grabbed a burger, ate some more of my aunt Nancy's awesome homemade trail mix, and talked with my family for a while before they left.  And then I hung out in the shade, talked, and wondered if I was done.  I really didn't want to go back out and ride another lap, but then I thought, I didn't drive 2.5 hours to ride 2 laps...suck it up, so when Luke got back I rode out again.

Lap 3:
And, it must be said, promptly regretted it.  My bike was back to its shifting tricks, which made for a fun time.  I told myself to just ride easy and try to enjoy myself.  I don't remember where it was, not too far in, when Adam came up behind me to pass, so I got out of his way, but a faster guy was coming through then, and it wasn't anybody else's fault but my own but it all threw me off and bloop! I went over onto the same side that had hit the rocks.  And in my head I was thinking forget this stuff, I wonder how long it'll take me to walk my bike 7 miles.  Only I wasn't thinking "forget" or "stuff".

I walked a lot more stuff in that lap.  Not the scary downhill stuff, but some of the climbs...and the little creek crossing where I'd fallen.  I also had a close encounter with a tree.  I think I was losing my balance on a hill or something and grabbed the tree to steady myself but slipped; I ended up with my right arm, my left leg, and my bike wrapped around the tree.  I got some nasty bark rash, but I didn't fall...and it led to one of the funnier facebook exchanges I've had lately:

After escaping the lecherous clutches of the tree, I was coming up to that last big hill when two faster guys called that they were coming through.  Once they passed, I was just about to start down the hill when that same guy from lap 2 yells, "Fast rider coming through! Contending for place!" or something like that and cuts me off.  Totally threw me off, and I had to stop.  And I guess that's all part of racing, but that guy was the one dark mark on the whole day.

I got myself together, rode the hill, and was on the last section of singletrack when the gun went off to signal the end of the six hours.  I was disappointed that I wasn't fast enough to give Luke the chance to decide whether or not to go out for another lap, but what do you do.  I rode the rest of the way in and clocked my slowest lap of the day.  I guess it was faster than sitting in a chair in the shade, though.  Which, incidentally, is how I spent the rest of the afternoon. 
Kinda like this...
Not only did the guys let me tag along and be part of the crowd, but they also fed me.  And with their wives, girlfriends, and kids around, too, it was a fun crowd.  Beers were drunk, BBQ was eaten, stories were told (I'll never, ever hear "I love you sandwich" again without laughing ), and I got a new nickname that I don't really understand yet, but it still makes me feel like one of the gang.  And whatever it means, it beats "Bobby Let-Down".

As a team, we ended up riding 6 laps, about 21 miles each.  Luke's were all considerably faster than mine were, but I guess that's to be expected at this point.  Somehow we missed the podium (probably a scoring error), though if there had been a co-ed duo division we'd have locked up third for sure.  Maybe second...some of those names could've gone either way.  And, my partner did get his turn on the podium after all...for best moustache.
Every dog has his day
Today, I'm walking like somebody's great-grandma. The only part of my body below my neck that doesn't hurt is my chest. My elbow has swollen up considerably and developed a noticable tint of purple (that said, it's completely superficial and only hurts if I lean on it).

Elbow, day 2: if you're going to hurt, LOOK like you hurt. :)
I'm a walking bruise, and every time I rub my arm or my leg, I find a new one.  And smile.  Because you know what?  I earned every single one.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I should be sleeping

But instead I'm lying here in bed alternating between being excited and nervous about tomorrow's race. Race? What race? I hear you ask. I just checked your race schedule and there's no race planned for tomorrow.

Indeed, there was no race planned. That's because I was going to do a 50 mile road ride tomorrow. It's part of a local church festival: cheap, well supported, and 20 min from my house. It was really the perfect fit for tomorrow as I need to start increasing my bike mileage in preparation for October's private half ironman. UnFortunately, the other day I checked in on the Team Virtus website to see if there was any new witty banter and noticed a post about a 6 hour mountain bike race some of the guys were doing tomorrow. Given the vaguest suggestion that they'd tolerate my presence, and it didn't take me too long to make up my mind...helped along by my Facebook friends who clearly enjoy seeing my posts about injuries and want more of them. Granted, it's not cheap OR local, but it did offer good trail practice and the chance to hang out with some of my favorite people. Plus, the guys offered to feed me.

As usual when I make a decision to do something out of my league, I spent a day being super excited about it before starting to freak out. Googling previous year's race reports wasn't comforting, either. Jeff hoped my newfound fear would keep me home, but instead I asked Luke if anyone would want to preride and, luckily, he did. (Funny, in chatting with Bob later, he noted that I'm not super fond of downhills or rocky areas and might want to pre-ride the route. I guess my blog gives a pretty clear picture of my strengths and weaknesses :D)

I had convinced my mom to come along so I didn't have to drive myself home by offering her the opportunity to hang out with my aunt and uncle who live nearby while I race. Then I had to convince her to hang out in Jefferson City while I rode at the park. Luckily, there was a mall nearby. We had a great ride, and I really enjoyed hanging out with my mom. And then we got to the mall...what was left of it. I'd been warned that it was a crappy mall, and that was a very accurate assessment. I tried to convince her to drop me at the park so shed have her car, but she's not big on driving in unfamiliar areas. So, with a few misgivings and significant guilt, I dropped her off and headed to the park.

I got to meet the organizer, his wife, and a couple of their friends, and then we headed onto the trail. For those who are counting, this is my first time on a mountain bike in about a month and my third time in clipless pedals on a mountain bike. This had the possibility to end badly.

The first part of the ride wasn't reassuring. The trail wasn't hard, but my breath sounded like a freight train was overtaking us. Sooo out of shape. Thankfully, once I got warmed up it was much better (more like a person running from a serial killer than a freight train...progress). I rode between the guys so that they could give me tips on what was coming up next and what I could do better, and I could watch their lines. Here's how part of that conversation went:

"I think I know what you're doing wrong on the hills."
"other than curling up in a fetal position? "What's that?"
"You're staying on your seat. I can see your ass jiggling, so you're bouncing too much on the seat. You need to get it up and back and keep your elbows bent."
OK, ass up and back, elbows bent. Remember that. "OK, but even if my ass is off the seat, it's still going to jiggle."

Also on hills: "Heavy feet, light hands."

Went over several bridges (maybe 3 ft wide, no railings, plenty of room but still scary to me) that had me whimpering to myself "Look where you wanna go...look where you wanna go..."

Made it up some hills and had to walk on some others.

Got over a bumpy root on an uphill (still hard for me)

Had a couple of pedal falls. Still glad for the clipless pedals.

Had a blast. Laughed a lot. Feel much better for tomorrow.

Towards the end, the trail was getting rockier and dusk was coming on fast. "Um, how much longer?" I asked Bob. I hate to sound whiny or wimpy, but riding unfamiliar terrain with diminishing light was making me nervous. We ended up hopping out onto the road before closing the loop, but hopefully that last section of trail won't throw anything nasty at me. Once again, I'm so thankful to have awesome friends who'll ride with me and help me get better (or at least not die).

Ugh, and it's already tomorrow now. I'm going to bed. Goals for tomorrow:

1. Have fun.
2. Have fun
3. Get in some good riding.
4. Avoid need for off-site medical attention.
5. Have fun.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My 7 links

*I'm a little late to the party, but I've been seeing this around and it looks fun.**

THE GOAL: To unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.


1) Blogger is nominated to take part

2) Blogger publishes his/her 7 links on his/her blog – 1 2 link(s) for each category.

3) Blogger nominates up to 5 more bloggers to take part.

4) These bloggers publish their 7 links and nominate another 5 more bloggers

5) And so it goes on!

And here are my 7 links.

Most Beautiful: I have a couple that have some really pretty pictures.  Hiking some happy trails and enjoying the Lake Michigan shoreline in Wisconsin.
Most Popular: Not sure how to measure this.  By pageviews, it was where I let my insecurities shine in I'm just going to keep this to myself . By comments, it was my LaCrosse Marathon post.

Most Helpful: Hmmm....this could be helpful, I guess, but the people who need to hear it wouldn't be listening anyway. And now a break from our regularly scheduled programming...

Surprise Success: My post about getting my butt kicked in a local criterium got a lot of comments, and you all made me feel a lot better about myself because that race really had me feeling down. So thanks. :) And boy, oh boy, did people enjoy my victory over the Manly Runner.
Most Proud: Since the marathon post is already mentioned, my other post where I'm most proud of myself is about The Deuce. But my kids also gave me a lot to be proud of in May.
Most Controversial: This one isn't really controversial, but it's definitely uncomfortably honest and may have never actually been read before.  I've been blogging for five years or so, and I love you more, orignially posted on the now-defunct yahoo360, is from April of 2006.
Not Enough Attention: Probably my post about my husband combines his love for Survivor with his quest to get the kids in our family active or my bike ride along the Katy Trail

Monday, August 22, 2011

If I'm crazy, it's because my friends are contagious

If you haven't checked in here for a few days, you've missed plenty.  First, I posted about how I'm going to maybe cut down on my blogging and keep myself more up on real-life stuff, then I blogged about an orienteering meet and a pretty funny teacher fail of mine from years past. So that whole cutting back thing is going pretty well.... plus, by titling my orienteering post "The Big O", I managed to score myself another couple of busty twitter followers who'll suggest porn sites to me for a week or so until they realize I'm just another boring mommy blogger with a penchant for innuendo (much like Adam, but slower and not as funny).

While I've been busy trying to stay organized at school and home, my local blog friends have been busy coming up with crazy (and cool) ideas.

Mike decided to host his own private half ironman here in town.  Now, granted, I haven't swum more than 5 laps since I did the virtual HIM last Christmas, and I was able to do that race in segments, but why should that stop me? Of course I signed on.  Then I reread his information and realized I was going to have to swim 42 laps.  Ummm...on the plus side, he'll have plenty of time to finish cooking dinner before I finish!

Now, some people would say that signing up for a half iron distance triathlon when you've never even done a sprint before is just plain stupid.  My husband would agree with them.  But I figure, what the heck.  It's less than 2 miles from my house, it's free, and dinner is provided.  My very favorite race EVER was free. Technically, I guess that was a non-race, but still.  Awesome.  It's hard to go wrong with free. Plus, it's the same day as the half marathon I was training for, so I save the $40 entry fee AND I'm already trained for the run.  I know I can ride 56 miles, and the swim....well, we'll see.

Patrick, after paddling with Dave Cornthwaite during Dave's trip via stand up paddleboard down the length of the Mississippi River, was inspired to emulate Dave's fundraising adventuring by embarking on a series of 100+ mile journeys on different types of non-motorized transport...all to benefit the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's St. Louis Chapter.  First up, a 100 mile skateboard trip.  You can check out his blog for more information on his 100+ project.

Patrick's kind of my gateway guy to a lot of the cool stuff I've done in the past year, so this new venture makes me both excited for him and a little nervous.  I'm wondering just what I'm going to be inspired to do next.  Hopefully he holds off on the 100 mile run for a while...but how cool would it be to be a part of that? :)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Teacher fail

This story takes place several years ago, but I just found a project the boy involved had done for his regular ed classroom (they had to decorate a heart for the bulletin board, and his heart had a picture of him and said, "I love Mrs. [me]!!"...so of course I kept it) and was thinking about him.  We'll call the boy Bobby, even though it wasn't his name.

At the time, I taught a K/1 combination class, so I had many of my students two years in a row.  That gave me a great chance to get to know them and their families, and we would always start the first grade year ahead of the game because we all knew the routine (and I had a year of experience translating the speech of the kids with poor articulation.  Bobby was one of my veterans and had made huge progress in managing his emotions at school.  Even so, he got really upset while playing with legos during free time and started yelling at one of the other boys.

I had been working with another student across the room and hadn't heard what led up to the incident, so I pulled Bobby aside to talk to him about what had happened.  "He was breaking my shit!!" he yelled when I asked him why he was so upset with his friend.

I can't believe he said "shit" to me...OK...now we have two issues.

"Bobby!" I exclaimed, "You should not be using that word! That is not a nice word for little boys to say."

He looked at me, confused.  We definitely have those times when kids are just repeating things their parents say, not realizing it's a bad word (or, other times, absolutely hilariously revealing), so I asked him, "Do you know what word I'm talking about?"

He shook his head.

"'Shit'," I whispered.  "That's a bad word.  I'm going to have to write your mom a note and let her know you were talking like that." 

He hung his head and went to sit at his desk.  I wrote the note and put it in his folder.  Then we role played some better ways to deal with problems with his friends.  "Isn't that a better way to handle things?" I asked him.

"I guess," he muttered, "but he shouldn't have been messing with my boat."

Boat = shiP.

Oh, shit.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Big O

Orienteering.  What did you think I was talking about? On second thought, don't answer that.  I'll just assume you knew what I meant.

Today was one of those days where the possibilities were endless.  I had friends doing a trail run in preparation for this year's Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run (much needed preparation, if you remember last year's debacle), friends doing a 45-mile road ride, friends doing this month's Dirty Girls mountain bike ride, and an orienteering meet.  Plus, I'm scheduled to run 9 miles for half marathon training.  My bike time has suffered (read: disappeared) since school started, but orienteering is definitely my weakest area at this point, and with just a month to go until the Berryman 12-hour, that's the event that won out.

You might remember that the last time I went orienteering I brainwashed convinced my husband that it would make for a great date night (and it actually did).  This time, lacking a babysitter, I had to talk my 7 year old into participating as well*.  C'mon, it'll be awesome! It's like a treasure hunt...only you don't get anything.  While I may have an inauspicious future in public relations, it was enough to get him on board.  His 17 year old brother, on the other hand, opted out.**

So off we went at 8:00 on a very gray Saturday morning to go play in woods.  As we headed west towards St. Louis, the sky grew progressively darker and lightning streaked the sky.  Things weren't looking too good.  Not wanting to drive an hour for nothing, I looked up the contact numbers for the organizers and checked to make sure the meet was still on.  I think Jeff was half hoping to turn the car around, but with the lightning forecast to move out of the area by start time, he was out of luck.

Now, our last orienteering meet was a Score-O.  Basically, everybody gets the same map and you decide which checkpoints (or controls) to get, in which order, and get back in a certain amount of time.  At this meet, you had to get your checkpoints in a certain order.  Teams got different maps.  All of the checkpoints were the same, but the order in which you had to get them depended on which map you got.

Our map
Much like the last meet, we did most of our navigating using the map, though we did have to bust out the compass at one point (and prove that I have a long way to go before achieving any kind of navigational competence).  Most of the checkpoints were found near to roads or trails, though taking the roads or trails may or may not have been the most direct route between points.

Map key

More map key

Clue sheet

Because people were searching for checkpoints in different order depending on which map (well, depending which course the map showed), the clue sheet was particularly important.  The checkpoints each have a unique punch and a number inside of them.  So if you look at our clue sheet, CP 150 was the first one we needed.  For another team, it might have been their tenth.

You can also see little symbols near the CP number.  Those are clues to where the CP will be found.  Since we don't know what many of the symbols mean (yet), we'd have to flip over to the map to check.  We really didn't need to use the clues much, though, because the majority of the CPs were pretty easy to find once you were in the right area.

Our group started around 9:20, and off we ran into the rain.  J. had been pretty funny earlier, talking about how he and I could run "our pace" and maybe we'd go in two groups so Jeff could run "his pace", but my non-running husband kicked butt.  He right away figured out where we needed to go, and he outjogged J. before too long.

J and Jeff getting one of our first CPs
 In the picture above, the orange and white flag-looking thing marks the CP.  Jeff is holding the map and passport, and J is using the punch to mark the passport and thus prove we'd been there.

Despite there being a couple different courses, we ended up right after a group with the same map that we had.  That kind of stunk because, even though we weren't following them, it felt like we were.  Plus, if you see the people ahead of you running out from a trail, you pretty much know the way you should go, and I really wanted to be figuring it out on my own.  We ended up separating from them in the search for CP 10.  That one was tricky.  It looked like you could just follow a trail around to get to it, but somehow the terrain wasn't showing what the map said it should.  They were old maps, so that's not necessarily our error (though it very possibly was).  We backtracked to CP 9, looked at the map again, and decided to bushwhack along a creekline towards the CP.  After the creek ended, then Jeff used the compass to keep us on track, and we found #10 with no (further) problem.

Me punching CP10

This was a 5K course, but that's as the crow flies, so we did quite a bit more than that.  I'm guessing around 4 miles, total, and just as I was starting to feel really good running and navigating, J started to drag.  It was a little frustrating to want to run and be stuck walking, especially when he was really poking along, but I kept reminding myself that we were there to practice navigating and his slow pace wasn't interfering with that.  Plus, I wanted him to enjoy himself.  We also kept him distracted with English walnut soccer and motivated with things like, "Oh, you never want to walk on the downhill! That's when running is easiest!"

Of course, there were some breaks, too.
One unwelcome feature of the course was the fact that CPs 3, 14, and 26 were all at the same spot on the playground, which gave my child three separate reminders that it was there and prompted multiple pleas to stop and play.  Thanks, organizers. :)  As we got into the back half of the course, I started to feel sad that it was going to be over.  "Thankfully" J's increasingly slow progress made me look forward to the end.

CP 19 (another off-road one) was our only other real navigational challenge.  Jeff had handed the map over to me (despite my apparently frustrating habit of always turning the map around so that it wasn't facing the wrong way), and I had managed to get us to several CPs in a row.  Drunk with my success, I charged off in pursuit of the next one only to round a corner and have no idea how what I was looking at corresponded to the map.  Following some discussion (basically, "I don't know where the heck you have us"), we did a little more bushwhacking uphill, and then Jeff figured out where we were and we found #19.

After that, it was basically a matter of following the roads and trails to CPs 20-28.  I think we were pretty much the last ones in (even including the people who started after us), but we all had a good time and I got more orienteering practice (and it is, of course, all about me). And as much fun as I had during the orienteering meet, my very favorite part of it came afterwards.

We stopped in the parking lot to say hi to my friends Scott and Melissa, who are both kickass navigators and pretty speedy, to boot.  I mentioned that J had done pretty good in his first meet.  He told them, "My friend at school told me he was going to do the coolest thing EVER this weekend.  I asked him what it was, and he said he was going to the drive-in.  I said, 'Well, I'm going to an ori--...orien-- ...orienteering meet.'"

Jeff said, "Well, the drive-in is pretty cool."

"Not as cool as THIS!" Jacob replied. 

Running around outside trumps watching movies? Oh, yes...today was 100% successful.

*Yes, I realize I'm the parent and can make him, but anyone with kids knows that their willing participation makes for a much more pleasant experience.

**As a result, I forced him to go to a swimming party with me with my high school friends and their (much younger than him) children.  Nothing like partying with a bunch of "old people" and little kids to make you regret sleeping in.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New (school) year's resolutions

Back in January I posted about my goals for the year.  I didn't call them resolutions, because who sticks to their resolutions?  And resolving sounds so definite.  A goal, though...that's just a target.  Something to aim for.  Less pressure.  Overall, I've hit several of the bigger ones (run a marathon, join a running club, improve my mountain biking skills, start strength training, and participate in an adventure race), there are a few that aren't looking so good (ride another century, complete a sprint triathlon, make new recipes), and then there's one that I've boxed myself into a corner forcing me to do (go back to school for my Master's). 

I guess starting a new school year is as good a time as any to make some resolutions.  At the end of last year, I felt like I was chasing my own tail, barely keeping my head above water, [fill in any other pertinent cliche here].  I had a lot going on: N's volleyball schedule, marathon training, D's graduation, and don't forget keeping my blog up to date.  I'm a darn good teacher, but I settled for being good instead of being better.  Sometimes I have a hard time holding myself to the standards that I know I can reach if I put in the additional effort.  By the end of the year, though, I wasn't feeling good on the inside about how I was doing at school or at home, and thank goodness for my husband and my wonderful aides for helping hold things together in both places.  This year is going to be different.

1.  I am going to be organized. (My aides laughed at me when I said this.)

2. I am going to use the resources I've collected instead of using the same things I always do.

3. I am going to do new things.

4. I am going to introduce more physical activity into our class schedule.  Every time I sit in a meeting or inservice, I feel sorry for my students and the amount of sitting they have to do.

5.  I am going to stay inspired.  Our superintendent played the short film The Butterfly Circus for us at our first day inservice.  That link will take you to the film.  It's about 20 minutes, and you should watch it if you have the time.  It was touching and uplifting and inspiring and really hit on the kind of person and teacher I'd like to be.

6. I am going to stay positive.  And yes, anyone who was reading my blog last March through May is looking doubtfully at the screen as they remember me posting about crying most nights because I was so frustrated at not being successful with one of my students.  It's so easy to get sucked into complaining about the kids or the parents or NCLB or whatever is frustrating right now.  It's so easy to be negative and expect problems.  I'm going to stay positive.  I'm going to expect the best and deal with any problems instead of complaining about them.  And when things get stressful, I'm going to recite the serenity prayer until it's tattooed across my brain.

7. I'm going to spend my time on the things that are truly important, in their order of importance. That means that, as much as I love my blog and reading my friends' blogs, I'm going to give my attention first to my family, then to my job, then to my training, and THEN to my blog and other blogs.  I hope that my new, organized life results in me being able to spend just as much time in blogworld as I do now. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Camp with Jill

I was a little stung recently* when I was called out for being a wimp.  I know, I know, I can hear you now...why would it hurt your feelings to be called a wimp when you're always talking about how wimpy you are?  True, true.  This stung, though, because I don't like to be thought of as soft in an area where I'm not. 

In case you missed it, a while ago I posted about our camping trip and how thankful I was to have had our camper (and its a/c) while we were camping in 100+ degree weather.

Meramec 2011
The offending camper
It's a pretty basic pop-up camper.  It's nothing fancy: it has a working a/c but a broken sink.  Still, we love it.  Jill, however, was not impressed with our camping...or "camping":

Called. me. out.  On my own blog, no less.  And she didn't stop there.  Next, she taunted me on her own blog:

 And then ajh (my cycling kindred spirit) got in on the act:

Et tu, Andrea??
Lest you all think less of me for my luxurious campground accommodations, I want to assure you that I'm not so soft as they would have you think.  I have camping cred.  From my first date with Jeff in 1998, we tent camped.  And we did it a lot.  Most summer weekends during our first few years together we could be found at one of the state park campgrounds in the St. Louis area.

Camping with the two of us was pretty easy, but on the weekends that I had the older boys (who were my only boys at the time), they went, too.  They were 4 and 5. 

I didn't realize at the time how little they were.  Now, I look at these pictures and think, They were just babies! By Sunday afternoon I'd be exhausted from having to chase them all over, walk them to the bathroom to make sure they wouldn't be exposed to some campground pervert, and don't forget trying to sleep on an air mattresses with two little boys who are rolling all over the place. 

The best, of course, was when it rained...and I swear, I think it rained every time we camped one summer.  We had one good tent, and it seemed like any tent after that one leaked.  You haven't lived til you've tried to keep two energetic little boys entertained while you're stuck inside a dripping 5 foot square box; I mean, there are plennnnnty of ways to kill the time if it's just the two of you, but you're a bit more limited in your options when the kids are along.

We tent camped all over our area and took some longer trips, too.  The very coolest (both figuratively and literally) was when Jeff and I drove to the Smoky Mountains in March of 2000.  Since it was March and still cold, we planned to stay in a hotel but threw the tent into the car "just in case".  The first day we drove to Red River Gorge in Kentucky and hiked around the GORGEOUS (ugh, no pun intended) area.

We were very comfortable while hiking in our long pants and sweatshirts, so we decided to go ahead and camp.  After all, we loved camping, and it was much cheaper than staying in a hotel.  For some reason, there were very few other campers...in fact, I think there was only one other couple stupid thrifty enough to camp.  And once the sun went down, we realized why: it's freaking cold in the mountains at night!  Armed with some pretty basic sleeping bags rated at about 40 degrees, we used a combination of body heat and hats, gloves, and coats to keep from freezing.  And we didn't learn our lesson, because we tent camped the next two nights in Smoky Mountain National Park as well, wearing the same "pajamas".
When my sister-in-law and her husband got a pop-up, we scorned it.  We were tent campers.  We even tent camped with this guy.  Once.
J. at 8 months old
Trying to make room for baby paraphernalia in a tent was a nightmare.  Trying to sleep with a baby while you're on an air mattress and terrified he's going to smother if he turns the wrong way so you hold him the whole time is a waking nightmare. I know other people do it, but I don't really know how.  After 6 years of tent camping, I told Jeff we weren't taking J again until we had a camper.  You see how that worked out.

You know the best thing about the camper?  We stay dry when it rains.  You know the second best thing? When we have to stay inside because of the rain we can spread out a little bit, which is a huge help in keeping the bickering to a minimum.  I won't lie...having air conditioning is pretty sweet, too, and having made the investment in our camper is a good incentive to get out and camp, too.  The first year we had it (the year J was 1), we spent 30 days camping.

When I signed up for the Katy Trail ride for the first time, I was a little worried: was I too soft?  How would I do sleeping in a tent every night after riding my bike all day long? 

Just fine, it turned out.

Cruisin' the Katy
My home sweet home on the first part of the 2009 ride (the date's wrong on the camera)
Sleeping in a tent was still no problem for me.  Well, sort of.  Going to bed was no problem; actually sleeping didn't go so well.  It wasn't the tent; it was the heat.  The temperature stayed above 90 even at night, and while it's a little hard to see in the picture above, my tent only had screening in the very front and very back.  Unless the breeze caught me just right, the air inside was dead.  It was miserable. 

After two nights of lousy sleep, I hit on a solution.  Rather than swelter in the tent, I just put my sleeping pad on top of a tarp, covered it with a sheet, sprayed myself well with bug spray, and slept under the stars. What a relief to actually be able to sleep!

I had the same accommodations in 2010, so clearly I'm still capable of being a tent camper.

2010 Katy Trail bike ride
Katy Trail 2010

But Kate, I hear you say despite alllll this, that is so LAST YEAR.  We are not impressed.  Well, I knew you'd say that and tried to figure out how I could show you all (or at least the doubting Thomases) that I am hardcore.  The answer, of course, was right in front of my face.  Yes, the only way to prove to Jill that I, too, am a tough camper lady would be to hike Mt. Whitney like she did.

Jill was nice enough to volunteer to hike along with me.  Actually, I think that she just wanted to see the carnage when I tried sleeping on the cold, hard ground.  Well, that, and I offered to bring some extra food.  And wine.

Beautiful morning light
I won't lie, that cooler got heavy, but the amazing views (and good company) certainly helped the time pass by.  Even so, I was glad to take any break I could.

The water was pretty chilly.
When we got to the water crossing, it looked so inviting that I had to jump in.  Luckily, I just happened to have an old swimsuit.  Unluckily, Jill was all, C'mon, I've already missed out on summitting once this summer, so I couldn't relax for too long.

Pretty spot for a photo op
You know, even though this hiking/camping trip was the first time we'd met, I just felt like I've known Jill forever.  We had a great time hiking together and figuring out the self-timer on the camera.

Jill made me put down the cooler.  She said it was spoiling the view.  And making her look wimpy.

After about 5 hours of hiking, we finally made it to trail camp.

I'm don't remember how I got so muddy... or where my pink shirt went...or why I'm wearing a race number,
but I do know I was REALLY glad to put the cooler down!

I had more wardrobe changes in that pack than Britney Spears.

We snapped another shot together at camp.  :)

I don't know if it was all the hiking or all the wine or what, but I slept like a baby...

I had just laid down to take a short little nap and I was OUT.  I slept so long that we didn't have time to make the summit attempt.  Jill said she was a little disappointed.  I thought I saw her dancing around, but she told me she was just stretching her sore foot.  We spent the night talking and finishing off the wine we'd brought.  We headed down the next morning.

Though we didn't reach the summit, I woke up with a nasty hangover, and I think my head is now permanently flattened from carrying the cooler, I at least was able to clear up this whole wimpy camper thing and prove to you all that I am a REAL CAMPER.

And I got to do it with Jill.

Absolutely priceless!

*not really

Road trip math

It's only fitting that, in my last weekend before school starts back up, I spent 8 hours making up math equations in my head.  Hey, I had to pass the time somehow...

College visit math:

View of Lake Michigan from admissions building

Great location + impressive facilities + good academic reputation + great mens volleyball team = Carthage College

Carthage College tuition = my annual salary - $5000

Grants + scholarships (?) + healthy doses of additional financial aid might = Carthage College

Naturally, N. loved it there (I did, too), and Carthage set the bar high for subsequent college visits.

(Carthage College tuition/2) - $3000 = University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh

Oshkosh, which didn't impress me too much last year when I took N. to volleyball camp there, made a much better impression when we got to see the entire campus instead of one little corner.  I think he could be happy there, too.  The volleyball program is just  club program, though, so I'm thinking it's a little silly to go 7.5 hours away from home to play for that kind of a program.  We'll see.

Travel math:

My bank account
Cost of gasoline

8 hours on a bike > 8 hours in a car

Counting colored cars + looking for pictures in clouds + playing the alphabet game > watching movies in the car (mommy guilt edition)

Counting colored cars + looking for pictures in clouds + playing the alphabet game < watching movies in the car (time actually spent in these activities)

8 hours of bickering < 8 hours of peace

(Amount of bickering on a trip)n+1** 
8 hours of kids getting along = Heaven on earth***
Cost of staying with friends < cost of staying in a hotel
Staying with friends + swimming in hotel pool**** > paying for hotel room

Old friends + being able to call up out of nowhere and invite yourself to stay for a few days = priceless

And, last of all...

Teenagers > piano benches

* to properly understand these, assume ">" is defined as "is greater/better than", not necessarily greater/more than

**where "n" is the number of children in the car

***moving into theoretical math now

****they had family and friends staying at the hotel;

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On the road again...

This morning finds me back in the car, headed to Wisconsin for the third time this year. This trip is more business than pleasure. Though we'll be staying with good friends and celebrating their twins' birthdays while we're there, the main reason for our visit is to check out a couple of colleges that are looking at N. Our four days will include two college tours, one volleyball camp, a birthday party, and lots of driving. I'm lucky to have friends who live in the right part of the state, thus continuing my summer Tour de Mooch. We certainly couldn't have afforded most of this year's travel if we had to pay for hotels.


Saturday I ran 9 miles, my longest run since the marathon. It was sloooow, especially the beginning and end, but not miserable. The worst part? I neglected to do any blister prevention and had the pleasure of putting my blistered feet into some very cute and very uncomfortable heels that evening for my reunion. Ah, the price of fashion. Totally worth it to look good. :)

Yesterday I ran the 6 miles my training plan called for yesterday morning, though I made it an easy run with friends rather than the tempo run it was supposed to be.

After a break to get the car's oil changed and take my progressively less enthusiastic 7 year old to go do some work in my classroom, I fit in an 18 mile ride last night. I used the first and last miles as warmup/cooldown and did sprint intervals for the bulk of the ride. Wow, that sucked. I'm not accustomed to working that hard on the bike; it's too easy to coast...likely one of the reasons for my abysmal showing in the crit (didn't read about that? Check back one post.)

Knowing I'd be in the car all day Thursday and that I wouldn't have time to run my easy 2 miles, I decided to run them when I got home from my ride. Unfortunately, D took the opportunity to run with me when I offered. "Whose pace are we going to run?" he asked. "Whichever is slower," I told him. Still, we went out and ran the first mike in 9:15--not slow OR easy for me. That rotten kid has run maybe once this year and wasn't even breathing hard! Meanwhile, I was about to have a coronary. The secon mile felt much better even though it was a little faster (9:05ish). I even was pushing my pace a little in the last few blocks. Or thought I was. With one block left, D said, "I'm going to pick it up a little," and promptly took off like a rocket. Oh, to be 18 again!

Catching up:

My shoulder is finally feeling mostly normal again. I'm thinking in the next week or so I can resume strength training. Yea!

I have a few blogs in the pipeline, including answers to Adam's last minute Q&A questions, my next Photoshop victim, and (just bc I want an excuse to post a cute picture of me instead of the usually sweaty and haggard ones) a brief post about my 20th HS reunion. Stay tuned...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Getting schooled: a learning experinece

*Unless otherwise noted, all pictures are by my friend Robin's husband.  Soon you'll be able to read her race report on her blog.*

I'm beginning to think that one of my athletic hallmarks is not being smart enough to know better.  For someone who's as timid as I am with things like speed, terrain, corners, hills, not to mention new things in general, my impulsivity is prone to signing up for things that my ability isn't up to pulling off.  I'm bolder in theory than in fact, and so it was that I ended up riding in the Edwardsville Rotary Criterium on Sunday.

In a criterium, or "crit", riders ride laps for a certain amount of time + a certain amount of laps.  It's a great spectator race because participants keep passing by as they ride their laps.  While none of my family was there, I had some tri club friends in my race, some cheering while they waited for their races, and a couple of friends who came to watch, and it was awesome to hear them cheering for me each time I rode past (though I did get yelled at for looking over and smiling when I heard them. :D).  To do well in a crit, you need to have some skill at strategizing, pack riding, and cornering.  In this crit, you really need to like corners.

You might remember me mentioning that I went to a crit practice the day after falling off my mountain bike.  We rode 1-mile laps on a loop course, and I got much more comfortable taking turns faster.  Taking left turns faster.

Map from crit website
So, yeah...that's a lot of right turns up there.  Awesome.  I started my warm-up early by riding to the race.  We'd had the bike rack off my car for our camping (or, according to some, "camping") trip, and it was faster to just ride there than to mess with the rack and then have to possibly look for a parking spot.  Once I was there, the learning started.

When I picked up my race number, the guy told me to pin it on my right side, so I did.  As I was standing under the club tent waiting for a little bit before going out to warm up, a girl rode up and told me, "Your number's on wrong." I had pinned my number on like I would for a running race (horizontally), just on my right side.  Instead, you're supposed to pin it on vertically, so the officials can read it when you're bent over your bike.  Here, I made you a little illustration to show what I mean:

This is a great illustration because it even shows the jersey I was wearing yesterday, and if you race bikes you probably already know what my next lesson was going to be.  I, however, was happily ignorant and got onto my bike to ride some warm-up laps.  I had been riding for a while with my friends Robin and Judy, getting a feel for the course, looking for spots I wanted to avoid, and practicing those right turns when the same girl rode up again and told me, "You can't wear a sleeveless jersey in a race."

If I had really thought about this, I knew it because after she said that, I remembered reading something in one of Robin's past blogs about her having to do something with sleeves after having the same issue in a race.  I hadn't thought about it, though, and remember I rode to the race.  I didn't have any extra shirts or jerseys along with me, and my only kid at home has no driver's license.  Robin thought maybe one of the tri club guys had an extra jersey I could borrow, but he was in a meeting. 

Since I still had 45 minutes before race time (actually, considerably more as it turned out), I decided I'd just ride home and get my one sleeved jersey (affectionately known as my falling jersey since the only time I wear it is when I feel like there's a good chance of me falling).  Luckily, when I stopped by the club tent to grab something, Wade was there and had an extra jersey I could borrow.  That was a relief.  I did a quick chance and got my number pinned on for the third time and went out to ride again.

Judy and Robin were at a different spot on the course, and I ended up riding by the girl who'd told me about my number and the whole sleeveless jersey thing.  She said something about not wanting to act like the bike police, and I thanked her.  I'd much rather be told I'm doing something wrong when I have time to fix it, and that's one mistake I won't be making again.  We rode a few laps around the course and talked a little, and she gave me some helpful hints about cornering. 

Finally, it was almost 10:00.  Wade sent me off with a cheerful, "Don't get tangled up, fall, and rip my jersey", and the ladies gathered near the start line to wait.  And wait.  And wait.  The start/finish line, which wasn't up yet, caused quite a bit of delay as they struggled to raise it.  We probably had to wait for 15-20 minutes before our race finally started.  I was riding in the Women's Cat 4 race, which was 15 minutes plus 5 laps.  That didn't sound like much riding for the $30 registration plus $10 one day racing license, but it turned out to be plenty.  There were 8 women plus 12 or 13 juniors who started a few seconds after us.

Not the start of my race, but a cool shot of the start/finish.
We were all lined up across the street, and I got a slow start after the whistle blew because I wobbled a little taking off and was nervous about riding close to other people.  I was nervous again coming into that first turn not knowing how people would hold their line (and hoping I would OK) and was at the very back of the pack after the first turn.  By the time the second and third turns were past, I had dropped off the end of the pack and was riding on my own.  If you want to see what the course looked like from in the pack, check out Robin's blog for her helmet cam view of the race.

Me in my borrowed jersey
Well, mostly on my own.  The kid you see in the pictures above and below was riding in the juniors race and spent a lot of time on my wheel.  I wasn't too sure what to do there.  I knew I was making it easier for him and that it would be easier for me if I was behind him, so what do I do? Keep riding? Or pull off and let him go through and do some work? Some of my friends told me later that his dad was yelling to him to not be in front.  I guess with more experience I'll have a better idea of what to do.  Strategy has never been my strong suit in, well, anything.

There was a huge gap between me and the other riders.  It was kind of depressing to see how much slower I was than everyone else, but I didn't really have time to think about it because I was just focusing on trying to ride hard and do as well as I could.  I'm faster on the corners than I have been in the past, but that's not saying much...and I got called out later for braking on the corner in the picture below (which I didn't remember doing though I believe it, and I know I did a little braking on some of the others).  All I can say is, I'm working on it.
I'm not in this picture, but it gives a good feel what people looked like coming through that corner.
Now, I didn't do myself any favors with my training/preparation for this race.  It basically consisted of one crit practice, not riding my road bike for a week and a half before the race, and running nine miles the day before.  Up until going camping, I had been logging some decent miles each week, but mostly just with a focus of riding rather than riding fast.  While I'm faster than I was on my old bike, I'm a lot slower than other people, especially when I creep through corners like I need a Boy Scout to help me cross the street.

Isn't this sad...fingers ready to brake even on a straight stretch of road.

In the end, I was pretty sure I was last by a comfortable margin.  Robin thought I'd finished ahead of one girl because she said she'd lapped her and never lapped me, but I don't know.  All I know is that I was waaaay behind the main group.  To be honest, it stings.  I'm trying not to let it bother me too much.  After all, this was my first crit, and I didn't crash or make anyone else crash.  I went out and tried something new, something that played to none of my strengths.  Well, I'm not sure what my strengths are, so I'll say something that highlights many of my weaknesses.  I definitely learned a lot, and if that education came by way of making mistakes and looking dumb, those are lessons that I won't forget any time soon.