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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Phoning it in

 Whether it's from being spread too thin or poor time management (probably the latter), I'm noticing a disturbing trend in most areas of my life right now.  Mediocrity is pretty much the rule. 

Normally, I'd say something like "I'm doing the best I can," but that's not strictly true.  I'm doing a lot of getting by.  Because I can teach a good lesson without agonizing for hours over the plans has led to a decided lack of extra effort, I do as little cleaning as possible to stay on the health department's good side, I'm the queen of the last-minute project for my current night class, and my race training has been pretty much non-existent.

In a lot of ways "the best I can" has been replaced by "the least I can get away with", and sometimes that's surprisingly little.  In a lot of ways, my ability to manage this makes me my own worst enemy.  Because I'm able to squeak by, I hang onto the same bad habits.  Granted, I can jump on a lot of opportunities because of my willingness to avoid what I should be doing (you'll never hear me say "I can't do that group ride; I have to catch up on my laundry"), but there's a cost.

For example, despite my disdain for housework and my ability to outwait my husband on vacuuming, I feel much happier and more at peace in a clean house.  I'm a straight-A student, but the night before any project is due is always fraught with stress and anxiety as I work my last-minute magic.  While I'm a good teacher, I think there's a real psychic cost of not doing your best and, in contrast, real joy in creating something new.  And, of course, my body keeps letting me take on (and usually finish!) these races I'm totally unprepared for, but I pay for it in recovery and, to a point, in wondering how much better I could have done.

I know, none of this is nothing new.  At least once a year I post about how even I'm sick of my traditional cycle of didn't train enough/just happy to have finished/gotta turn over a new leaf.  While I'm pretty sure no big shifts are going to happen, I have been making some small changes and trying to do at least a little extra in these areas where I'm lacking.  Well, not in the night class...but I'm planning to start studying this week for next week's final, and that's something, right?  And not in training, but I've been sick.  My house looks better, though (and my husband is happier), and I've been doing some new things in my classroom.  So that's a start.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skippo 30K trail race

Two years ago, the Skippo 20K was my first trail race ever, run on the heels of my first half marathon.  Like, 6 days later and two days after I was able to walk without limping.  Last year's Skippo offered options of 10, 20, or 30K, and I registered for the 30 with high (and misplaced) hopes of putting in some strong training before the big day.  I'm a slow learner, because once again I registered for the 30K, and once again I barely trained for it.  Life is busy, cyclocross beckons, choose your excuse, but I showed up at this year's start line with a total of 13 miles of running in the past month and a long run of 12 miles way back on September 29.  Even by my standards this promised to be a train wreck.

While anticipating my impending trail doom at least I had a fun pre-race to look forward to with a lot of friends also racing.  My Virtus teammate Luke, my Team Hangover teammate Scott, and my Metro Tri Club teammates Jeff, Maureen, Keith, Robin, Chuck, and Jacob would all be there as well as my friends Sara, James B, Suzanne, and Hannah (who I got to finally meet in person after reading each other's blogs forever).  Scott's friends Neil and Jason were running as well, so the half hour or so before the race was filled with repeated rounds of introductions as new people came up.  Very cool, and a nice distraction from my rapidly developing nerves.

Hannah is awesome...and I'm not as short as I look here!

We headed to our varied pace groups a few minutes before the 9:00 start.  I joked about a 20 minute/mile group, figured I'd be lucky to manage a 12 min pace overall, and settled on the back of the 10 min group. Though it usually takes me a mile or so to settle in and stop feeling like death, I felt good from the start.  The first two miles of the course are pretty flat, and the first lap is always super crowded as all 600 (400? I forget) racers fill the trails.  Last year I tucked in behind people who were running more slowly than I wanted to conserve energy, but this year I did some passing.  Robin and Chuck passed me in this stretch, and I ran with them for a few minutes before they disappeared in the distance.

Skippo 30K
Going up...

The infamous stairs (212 of them) were pretty much a logjam, but I can't pretend that I was too sad about having to take my time on the way up.  Even with the slow pace, my first trip up the stairs sucked.  There's a fairly runnable section after the stairs, a hill I always have to walk partway up, and then one of my favorite sections of the course: a beautiful, flat dirt path that turns onto a gradual, more technical long downhill.  The downhill makes it easier, and the rocks and gravel make it more interesting.  I haven't spent nearly as much time on trails this year as last year, so I wasn't quite as confident in my footing, but it was still fun.  Jacob came up behind me in this section and fell hard on one of the rocky areas.  He spent the rest of the race hurting and still toughed it out and came away with a 1st in his AG.  He brushed himself off and quickly passed me.

I saw another fall at the bottom of this downhill when a guy tripped, landed hard, and rolled partway down the side hill.  Ow.  This section was pretty flat through the creek crossing, where most of the people took a little detour to avoid most of the water.  Lame, I grumbled, and splashed through the most direct route (this video of me is apparently the only photographic evidence that I raced).  The cold water felt great as the day was rapidly appropaching and passing the forecast high in the low 70's, but I probably should have made sure my socks were adjusted better before the race because I think the wet, bunched up socks contributed to some hot spots on the bottoms of my feet.

Skippo 30K
Trust me...it's worse than it looks.

Another big hill followed shortly after the creek crossing, and I didn't run too far up this before settling into a death march.  Like the stairs, my first trip up the hill was the hardest.  The top is very runnable, though, and only one more hill waits before a nice, long flat-to-downhill run back to the start/finish.  My first 10K took 1:09:55, about 30 seconds faster than last year.  I grabbed a raspberry Hammer gel and stopped at the water table to refill my bottle before setting off on lap 2. 

A couple of girls doing the 20K passed me heading onto the trail and noticed my 30K number.  "You're really hardcore, doing 30K," one of them said.  "I'm so not hardcore," I told them, trying to explain that I could be really slow in the 20K, or really slow in the 30K.  If you're going to fall short, fall short in a big way, I guess.  Overall I still felt pretty good, but I was surprised to catch up to Jacob on the trail; I know he's way faster than me, so there's no way I should have seen him after he passed me.  Once we started talking I found out he'd been sick the night before in addition to his earlier fall.  We ran together on the flats until Jim A passed; recognizing him from last year I said goodbye to Jacob and we ran on.

Having someone else to run with made me push a little more, and before long I saw Chuck and Robin ahead of us on the trail.  Again I was suprised to catch up because I know they're both way stronger runners than I am, but I know they haven't done as much running as usual since finishing their Ironman in September.  "You're looking pretty strong, Kate," Chuck told me as I passed. 

Skippo 30K
Still smiling...sort of...but not for long.
 "It's all a facade," I called back.  It didn't feel easy, but I still was feeling surprisingly good overall.  The stairs weren't nearly as bad this time, but with nobody pushing me from behind I couldn't keep up with Jim's pace, so he ran ahead and I was on my own again.  My second lap went well, nothing really noteworthy except that my Achilles, which has been giving me all kinds of trouble, was quiet.  The only real discomfort I was feeling was in my feet: the bottoms of my feet felt a little raw, and the toes on my right foot were hurting.  Compared to the issues I'd anticipated (the glute problem I've had on and off, the left knee that regularly leaves me limping, the aforementioned Achilles), I was content with sore feet.  Only at the end of this second lap did things start to come crashing down.  By the time I hit the road about .3 miles from the start/finish line (in my case, the start/finish of my third lap) I was actively hurting and very happy to stop from a hug and some encouragement from Keith, who'd taken 3rd in his 20K AG.

My total time for the first 20K was 2:26:34, about 2 minutes slower than last year but better than I'd anticipated.  By contrast, Maureen was the first female finisher for the 30K just 5 minutes later.  Wow.  At this point I was clinging to the hope that I could finish in about the same time as last year, but things pretty much went to hell in the last lap.  My glute woke up with all the sadistic glee of Jack Nicholsen's character in The Shining, my knee hurt, and my raw feet were hating life.


I'm so glad I carried a bottle with me because the three water stops on course just wouldn't have been enough for me in the heat.   As I stopped at the water table to refill my bottle one of the volunteers reassured me that he'd seen a lot of people with 30K numbers drop out and I was still ahead of all of them (I think that's maybe the running equivalent of "You're not in last, Kate,").  I left the water station at a gimpy jog and contemplated how long it would take me to walk the remaining 6.2 miles.

I'd been walking the bigger hills all along, but on the third lap I was reduced to walking this type of "challenging" terrain:

Skippo 30K
What do they think we are?? Mountain goats?
I really had to dig deep just to run even the flattest, smoothest parts of the trail, and I was deep in misery by the time I reached the stairs.  Trudging up, I looked up to see the smiling face of my friend Bill who was out training with Joe.  Being the competitive, driven person I am, I stopped in the middle of my race to chat.  I'd have been perfectly happy to stand there and talk for longer, but eventually I had to accept that I'd never finish the race if I didn't keep going.

Before long the boys came running by me again and cheering for me, I guess having made it to the bottom of the stairs and then probably bounded back up on the way to get their bikes.  It gave me a lift to see them again, and when I got to the top of the next hill I started jogging again.  Just as I was running up to a volunteer before the fun downhill, my calf muscles started to flicker.  I stopped before it full-on cramped to stretch it out and then walked to where the volunteer was.  He suggested I see if the mountain bikers who were doing medical support had salt tablets or something, so I walked a little more and then started running again.

I've never cramped during a race, but I assume it was due to the heat and losing so much salt.  Whatever the issue, Bill and Joe saved the day when they rode up behind me.  "Hey, do you guys have any ibuprofen or salt tablets?"  Not only did Bill have ibuprofen and give me some Gatorade, but Joe, who I'd just met about 10 minutes earlier, poured almost all of his water into my water bottle.  Buoyed by hopes of pain relief, I started running again.  Some.

By the time that I reached the creek crossing I just walked through it and then walked past the water stop afterwards. I did some run/walk to the big hill, made my way up it, and then walked some more.   A look at my watch made it clear that I wasn't going to finish in the same time as last year and almost certainly would be over 4 hours.  (C'mon, it's only 3ish miles...anyone can run 3 miles...)  I decided to run 200 steps and then walk until I felt better.  Unfortunately, the calf flickers usually kicked in within 100 steps or so, reducing me to a cautious walk, but I just made the best of it and ran as long as my legs would let me.  Finally about a mile from the end (C'mon, it's only a mile...anyone can run a mile...) the medicine and Gatorade seemed to kick in and I ran most of the remainder.

The finish line was still up when I finished (this had seriously been a concern of mine before the race), but the announcer had stopped calling the names of racers as they crossed the line.  Three people sitting in the field cheered, and a boy at the end gave me my sweet mug and belt buckle.  They were all out of beer, which would have tasted fantastic in the heat, but there was still plenty of delicious BBQ left.  I ate, hung out with Luke and Scott for a while, then headed back home.

Photo credit: Luke Lamb

Once again I was the third last finisher, 2nd last woman overall, and 2nd last in my AG...sort of a triumph, I guess, because I truly expected to be last.  My official time was 4:04:50, which is both slower than I'd hoped and better than I deserved. 

I maybe could have beaten 4 hours had I not stopped twice to talk, but honestly by that point my GAF (give a f...) was broken and I needed that water and ibuprofen way more than hitting some arbitrary time goal anyway. I'd like to tell you that I've learned my lesson and will give future races the training they warrant, but that would probably be a lie.  Instead I'll tell you that I hope next year's Skippo won't give me a 30K option...and that by this time next year my legs will have forgiven me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Adventures in cyclocross

If you thought my first two unsuccessful forays into cyclocross would sour me on the sport, well, you don't know me all that well.  I don't know why I'm drawn to things I'm so bad at, but there you are.  And there we were, most of my family, at Faust Park for another installment of cx suckitude the day after our Halloween party.

Any longtime readers were probably surprised by the mention of my family at a race because that pretty much never happens, but Jeff and J wanted to hit Fright Nights at Six Flags once more before Halloween and Nathan came along for the ride.  Since Faust Park is conveniently located between our house and Six Flags, I convinced them I could race on the way.  ("Convinced" is probably an overstatement, but regardless, I got my way.)

Bubba Cross: Faust Park II

Jeff and J played catch while I warrmed up
I did a few things differently before this race. First, there was no 18 mile orienteering race or running trails four days in a row before the race.  I actually started on fresh legs.  Second, I warmed up.  Third, I didn't intentionally stake out the very back spot when we lined up and made sure to have one foot clipped in at the start.

Getting lined up and waiting for the start
Starting on a slight downhill didn't hurt at all, and while it made me a little nervous to be in a pack of bikes as we started riding, it was ok...and it didn't last for long.   Though most of the girls were quickly ahead of me, I actually had two people behind me for a couple laps...a new personal best, lol.


Right behind me was the other Kate.  Well, she's been riding longer, so I guess I'm the other Kate.  Whatever the case, it made it a little interesting as people cheered because I wasn't sure which of us they were cheering for.  I just assumed it was for me, too. :)  This lasted for about two laps until she passed me and was never close again.

The course wasn't too tricky...one steep off-camber downhill that made me nervous each time I rode down it, and of course the oh-so-fun barriers.

You should see some of the women carry their bikes over these barriers...they look more like astronauts in space the way they bound over.  And then there's me...lift...stagger, lift, climb back on.
 I couldn't see my family for the first couple laps, but the third time down I saw them near the start/finish.  J was blowing some horn he had, Jeff was cheering, and Jeff and Nathan took turns taking some pictures.

Coming past the start/finish on a lovely downhill.
Of course I wanted to die pretty much the whole time -- I've come to realize that's basically cyclocross in a nutshell for me -- BUT I actually got to ride all 5 laps.  Usually I'm lapped by the leader and have one less lap to ride, and I was lapped by several of the A ladies, but maybe no B (my division, since there's nothing lower) ladies? 

Pluses: actually warming up, getting a better start, I felt like my handling and confidence improved on the course over the five laps, getting to ride one more lap than normal, coming in second last.

Minuses: no pre-ride of the course, I need to get more comfortable with pushing when it's hard/I'm tired instead of pedaling like I'm out for the bike equivalent of a Sunday stroll, crossing barriers, mount/dismount, dropped my chain once, and coming in second last.

...but...it was a beautiful day to race, I got to see some friends, my family got to see me race, and we had a nice afternoon at Six Flags...

Season pass processing line at Six Flags. #hopeyoudidn'twanttogoonanyridestoday
The lovely season pass processing line.  I'm basically in the middle. The left side of the picture is the line coming towards me, and the right side is where it wraps back the other way. This was actually only half of the story because there was an entirely different line for people who had bought their passes online.

 ...where I spent an hour and 15 minutes in line to get my season pass processed (Jeff and J took care of theirs the previous weekend when I was on the Katy Trail. 

I had really wanted to race at Faust Park because I knew there's be no cross the following weekend.  J's birthday was Nov. 4, and he was all about having some family time.  I couldn't convince him that going to watch me race would be good family time, and he didn't take Jeff's suggestion that they go to an autograph show in St. Louis (they're both huge sports autograph collectors) to free up my morning. 

It didn't even hurt too much to be skipping the race until I got up and it was beautiful out.  Then I started feeling internally grumpy thinking about how they were just going to watch football anyway, but I kept it to myself until Nathan came home and decided to take J to the movies.  Wait...why am I sitting around here when he's not even going to be here??  While Jeff drove the boys to the theater, I frosted cakes, vaccummed, swept, and cleaned off counters. 

He got home and I tried hinting: "I guess I could have raced after all!"  Nothing.  I did a little more cleaning before deciding I could either sit around feeling pissy because Jeff didn't suggest I go race, or I could see if he cared if I went.  He didn't, so I threw all my bike stuff into my car, threw on my jersey and some obnoxious socks, and left with 45 minutes to get gas and drive the 40ish minutes to the race.

Bubba Cross: Sylvan Springs II
Thankfully they were running a little behind and I could register and use the bathroom before the start, but I was still eating a pre-ride snack as we lined up.  I'm the queen of the last minute in my regular life, but I really hate running late to a race.

I ended up pretty close to the back and started poorly, so by the time we were halfway down the gravel straightaway I was in last or second last.   The course looped around behind the start/finish, so I had a great view of all the other girls strung out in front of me.  We crossed the gravel and hit a swoopy downhill section that gave me trouble each time I hit it, my back wheel fishtailing every lap.  Susan told me after the race that there was too much air in the tire; that largely preventable problem left me even more cautious/less aggressive than normal.

There were a couple long-ish uphills, and I felt terrible.  Wondering Why again did I want to do this???, I remembered what Doug told me before my first race about the first lap being the worst.  Thankfully, that held true this time.

Struggling (Photo credit: Mike Dawson)
As I came close to the end of the first lap, my friend Suzanne called out the mediocre racer's battle cry: "Go Kate!! You're not in last place!!"  :) I have awesome friends.  Suzanne, Krista, Mark, and Larry cheered for me the whole race, even as I lagged further and further behind. 

There was some nice encouragement within the race as well; almost everyone who passed me had something nice to say, and I cheered on (well, as much as you can when you can't breathe) the people I knew...and the girl who passed me up to give me back my regular last place spot. :)

Photo credit: Don McKinney
 Best pass of the day probably goes to Britta (above), though. As a slower racer, I'm glad to get out of the way if someone faster wants through, but I'm a lot more comfortable knowing where you are and where you're coming through.  Passing on probably the narrowest part of the course, she told me where she was and let me stay on my line while she came around me, cruising up the hill like it wasn't even there.

This time I only got to ride four laps, but that was plenty.  It was a long course, over two miles, and maybe that's why it seemed to go on forever. :) The nice thing for me about riding laps in a race is feeling more comfortable with each subsequent trip around the course, but I never felt like I had a handle on the best lines.

Minuses: no warmup or course pre-ride, never felt comfortable/confident enough to be more aggressive on faster spots, struggled on little double switchback and uphills, coming in last.

Pluses: This is hard because I don't feel like I did anything particularly well...ummm...beautiful day, didn't crash despite sliding all over, chose beer handup over licorice, good exercise and experience.  Oh...and if nothing else, the race left me with quite possibly my favorite picture EVER of me on a bike.

Photo credit: Dan Singer

One really cool thing about the St. Louis cx scene is the photographers.  There are several really good photographers who come out to most of the races and take pictures.  Because my family is rarely there at my races, it's really nice to still see some pictures.  Well, sometimes it's humbling, too, to see just how bad I look while I'm riding. :)  

Next weekend is all about the Skippo 30K, where I'm sure the pictures of me will be tragically bad, but in two weeks I'll be back on the bike, most likely in last place and wondering why I'm there again...at least, until it's over and I remember how fun it was.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Halloween 2012

I'm so behind, so I'm just going to play catch-up with some pictures.

We had our annual Halloween party. I hate it most years because it typically involves me doing a lot of sewing to make our costumes.  It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't start the week before the party, but if you know me at all you know that never happens.  This year I quickly agreed to the first costume idea that didn't require much sewing.  This left me free to go to the orienteering rogaine one weekend and the Katy Trail the next weekend.  Priorities, you know.

Because I wasn't sewing up to the start of the party, I was able to make some fun Halloween treats.


Daniel's girlfriend volunteered to come help me bake, so she dipped all the peanut butter eyeballs in chocolate...

They actually make me think of little one-eyed ninjas.
 I started on the bones, and then she took over...

Mini marshmallows and pretzel sticks dipped in white chocolate.

...and finger cookies....

I love these things. Both for their disgusting looks and their yummy shortbread taste.
No Halloween party is complete without...

Jeff and the boys worked outside to get things set up.

Why use a ladder when you can climb on the roof?
Instead of sewing our last-minute time was filled with makeup.

Nathan using my headlamp for detail work.
Kayla turned out to be a pretty amazing makeup artist.
 J got some goodie bags together for all the kids...

"One for you...one for me...one for you...two for me...."
  Like usual, we weren't quite ready when everyone got there.  Also like usual, the costumes were awesome!

My sister-in-law and her family pay homage to Zombieland
Another SIL and family as Peter Pan
This is the perfect costume for my mother-in-law, who loves Christmas.
Zombies? No worries, mon.
My nephew and his girlfriend
We may put this on our Christmas card.
My brother was going to another Halloween party where the theme was "dress like you're 12 years old"
Our friends the Black-Eye'd P's with Lt. Uhura and Obi-Wan
Good times at the big kids' table (you can see how long the costumes lasted).
...while the littler kids had fun downstairs. 
 As much as I hate it in the weeks leading up to it, the party was a lot of fun.  For future reference, though, I'd suggest NOT leaving a fog machine unsupervised with a bunch of 8-10 year olds.  We were all sitting around the bonfire when we looked into the house and saw that it was filled with smoke.