Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A little bit of French culture

It's now Wednesday evening here, time till race day is speeding by. It's hard to believe I've already been here almost three full days. Yesterday was a light day of training--just a pool swim and a run, so spent a little time in Antibes walking around, which is just the thing Coach Paul would love to hear. . .I've been getting the "stay off your feet" lecture lately. But it was only Tuesday, so I decided I could handle a little time walking around to absorb bit of the culture. I checked out the markets and a few local shops, one of which sold the most delicous smelling soap you could ever imagine. Also explored a cathedral. From the outside, anyway.

Truthfully, the most interesting experience was probably the pool. That's the thing I love about travelling--even very normal activities take on the local flavor. For example, I think I've discovered the genesis of the French men in speedos phenomenon:

Am I misinterpreting this, or are non speedo swimsuits not allowed?

Also, this pool had a very unique way of organizing the lanes. It wasn't by speed--or self-proclaimed speed, which as anyone who has ever marveled at the old lady swimming sidestroke in the fast lane knows can be a less than perfect system, anyway. No, here was by equipment. There was a lane for paddle users, a lane for fin users, a lane for buoy users, and two lanes for non equipment users. So, if your set included a bit of kicking with fins, a bit of pulling, and some normal swimming, you would need to switch lanes 3 times. This resulted in a lot of people crossing back and forth under lane lines. It was. . .interesting and perhaps contributed to the tendency of everyone spending about 80% if their pool time hanging on the wall (I knew I liked the French). From this angle you can't tell, but there were at least 10 people huddled at the wall at all times, which is why the it looks almost empty, although it was anything but.

Also, at the risk of sounding sophomoric, I will mention the topless ladies again. Turns out that they swim at the pool topless, as well as the beaches. Did not realize. This cohort, however, was much younger and--not that I was trying to look, but I was swimming alongside several of them for over an hour--less. . .saggy. So, there you go, guys. Women you don't want to see at the beach, women you may want to see at the pool. Sorry, no photo evidence to go with this blurb. That would make me pretty creepy.

Similarly, no photo evidence of this morning's gorgeous ride, which saddens me because the riding here absolutely has some of the most spectacular scenery you will ever experience. I did remember my camera, even made our little pod of riders stop for what was to be a perfect photo op, then discovered I'd left the media card in my computer. Oopsies.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I'm Here

And, since "here" is a little slice of paradise along the French Mediterranean, life does not suck at the moment.

Plus, I got a surprise free upgrade to first class for the first part of the trip, which also did not suck. The first order of business after arriving was a cruisey 75' run to shake out the legs. Unfortunately, the legs were quick to remind me that sitting in one position for the better part of 18 hours (even in first class) is not conducive to feeling peppy. "Oh, and it's 3am our time, by the way".

As if the legs weren't enough confirmation that I had just made a transAtlantic flight, there were several other hints of French culture to greet me during the run. There were the many vespas and topless elderly ladies sunbathing, of course--that's a given. Plus, within 30 seconds of my jog, I spotted the requisite guy biking in speedo. Then, I almost stepped in dog crap on the sidewalk. Twice. Also managed to reaffirm that finding a public restroom in France is almost--but thankfully not entirely--impossible. Still, I got 'er done, and managed to not feel half bad by the very end.

I returned to my homestay in Biot, a small hillside village where I am staying until Thursday with Simon and Lindsey--an amazing couple that I stayed with last year who spoil me rotten with guided rides and gourmet dinners. . .more on those later. Race day is Sunday, and I'm looking forward to it!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Au Revoir

Tomorrow morning I will be jumping on a ridiculously early flight to Nice, France. I'm excited, nervous, and-- at the present moment--annoyed because I can't get that darn "I'm leavin' on a jet plane. . ." song out of my head. Thank you for your continued support, and I'll do my best to keep you updated from the other side of the Atlantic!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Too Good to be True?

I spent most of the day today looking for "the catch", since everywhere I turned things seemed too good to be true. . .First, there was this sign I saw along the roadway in Cardiff:

Really?! Free flowers? I love flowers! I pulled into the parking lot, expecting to find some fine print on the back of the sign--a "Buy one bouquet, get the second one free" type of deal, perhaps. But, no! They were really and truly free.
Ok, so they were maybe a li-iitle on the wilty side and there was a tip jar out. Nonetheless, this guy was out there making free bouquets for whoever stopped in. He said that "he liked making people smile". I have a sneaky suspicion that the fact that, oh, say 99% of those people were women didn't hurt. Still, it was pretty awesome.
The second too-good-to-be-true moment happened today at the pool. I turned up to swim my favorite Masters workout at the Y in Encinitas, and they had shrunk the pool! That's right, shrunk it. It used to be 25 yards long, but apparently they decided to make it shorter overnight. That is really the most logical explaination for today's swim. I swam the main set of 20 x 150 yards on an interval that I usually can't even make period, much less hold easily. Sure, there may have been a little drafting practice involved (did you say 10 seconds? oh, I thought it was 3), but I was still swimming with people that usually swim circles around me and seeing times I haven't seen in quite awhile, or maybe ever. Odd. Jury is still out on this one.
I decided to reward myself for the afternoon's 6k swim with this:

Yup, a huge frozen yogurt. My biggest weakness, in case you haven't been paying attention. But, according to the nutritional info, it only contains 38 calories & zero grams of fat per half cup--that's practically like eating chocolate and peanut butter flavored lettuce! I'm waiting for the news report exposing this as a total sham, but until then, I'm going to keep telling myself it's true!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

This one's for you, Greg

Triathlon has blessed my life in many ways. I appreciate the opportunity to challenge myself on a daily (make that a 2-3 x daily) basis, all the chances I've had to travel and explore new places, the satisfaction and confidence I've gained from competing. But, what I feel most fortunate about is the friendships that I've made through the sport. This is a picture of my friend, Greg:

Greg is an awesome cyclist, who spent years racing professionally. I'd always see him at the group rides--well, the start of the group rides, anyway, before he and a few other guys dropped the rest of us. Fortunately for me, he decided at some point to take me on as a "project". For the last few years, Greg would do virtually all of my rides with me. Long rides, intervals, whatever I had on the program, I could almost always count on him to come along. Though I still have a very long way to go, I credit him with pretty much any cycling skills I now possess.

Not that it was always easy. . .for one thing, he would often neglect to include the "Katya factor" when planning our riding routes--i.e. rides that took 4 hours at male pro cylist pace did not necessarily take 4 hours at my pace. So, that occassionaly made for some nice surprises at the end of a ride--or what I expected to be the end. Then, there was the time that he compared his rides with me to the absolute recovery technique that another famous rider would use when he would sit in a chair in between his intervals. Sort of like "sitting in an arm chair" is the metaphor I believe he used only somewhat jokingly at times to describe the training benefit he derived from our rides.

Back in January, Greg got in a really bad bike accident while on a cyclocross ride. Head met rock, and they didn't get along that well. The doctor told him that he had seen a skull fracture like his before. . .just not in anyone that had ever lived. Along with that, he had a slew of other medical problems and spent 2 weeks in the hospital. He is now doing much, much better--he is walking, talking normally, and by most standards is very lucky. His friends and family certainly feel lucky to have him with us. Unfortunately, the doctors have told him it will be years before he is able to ride again. For someone that has been an athlete their entire life, it's an eternity.
Yesterday, I had a bike workout to do--10 x 4' of "best average" (Paul's euphamism for max effort, friggin' hard) intervals with one minute recovery. I'll be honest, I didn't want to do it. I'm a long distance girl through and through. 6 hour ride? No problem, 4 minute all out effort? Scary. But, then I thought about Greg. I realized how much he would want to be on this ride--on any ride, for that matter. I thought about how, for an athlete, no pain that you feel in a workout can come close to the pain of not being able to do what you love. Then, I put my head down and went as hard as I could, hurt as much as I could, and made it count.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Swimming with the Fishies

It was a legs off day on Friday--good thing. My comment about the "super easy" track workout on Tuesday came back to bite me in the @ss during some big workouts later in the week. . .go figure. When will I learn to not say such things?!

The day's ocean swims--yes, plural--were nice. I wouldn't say that I exactly have a natural affinity for the water, but I'm learning. Or, I'm trying to learn, anyway. To tell you the truth, even after all the swimming I've done, I still get a little nervous at the start of every open water swim. A few minutes into it, I'm good, but unless the water is roughly bath temperature and there are colorful fish to distract me--this picture is from the Caribbean in November--you're not getting any smiles from me right away.

This morning, the swim was a little more training focused and the only fish around were the ones I was keen on NOT seeing. But it was a beautiful day and I had good company, since for Swim # 1, I scored an invitation to what is officially known (by the founding members) as "the World's Greatest Swim Club". Using the words "swim" and "greatest" together would normally illicit some cynical retort from me, but like I said, the water and I are practicing getting along. The beachside hot tub and post swim bagels did go along way towards making up for the cold water. Also, 6 am is prime feeding time for big fish with big teeth; since we didn't see any of those, I am willing to count this one as a success.

Swim # 2 was with my friend Ben Sanson, aka "the Fish" on the triathlon circuit. He was the one that won the swim preem in Hawaii this year. In other words, when I say that Ben and I "swam together", I am referring to the fact that we shared the same square mile of ocean.

I considered utilizing my favorite present from Aquasphere--my fins. I chuck these guys on whenever I want to practice smoothing out my stroke, or I'm attempting to keep up with faster people. Then, I got real and decided there was no keeping up with him, fins or no fins, so I just swam back and forth between two buoys while he swam circles around me. Literally. I was feeling a little guilty for slowing him down, until the truth came out, which was that he was using it as cold water acclimatization for Escape from Alcatraz. Glad I could be helpful; )

Just for extra credit, I finished the day with one final trip back to the beach. No swimming this time, but Andy was going surfing so I went along just to soak the legs. If you're paying the coastal San Diego cost of living, you might as well take advantage of it!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

10 x 1

This morning's run was one of those workouts that sort of stood out on the week's training plan--10 times 1 mile repeats at half marathon pace? Yikes. It sounded so scary that instead of my usual recruitment technique of waiting until the night before to find company, I sent out an email a whole 4 days ahead of time, which for me counts as some seriously advanced planning. Thank you Kim and Caroline for being so willingly suckered, I mean swayed, into things!

I also busted out some new running attire for the occassion. These are the new K-Swiss racerback tanks, my current fave.

As it turned out, this session was more about pacing than high end fitness. And, because I actually managed to resist the urge to go out too fast (for once!), this was quite possibly the easiest track workout I have ever done. With warm up and cool down, it was a breezy 15 mile workout with the repeats descending from 6:25 to 6:00 pace. A little recovery spin, masters swim, and trip to Costco rounded out the day.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ice, Ice Baby

This is not my car. I repeat, NOT my car. Just a car I saw walking through a parking lot in Victoria recently on the way to ice my legs in the ocean. I had to take a picture of it because, well. . . I have never seen a vehicle so Hello Kitty-ed out before. In case you can't tell, those are Hello Kitty seat and seatbelt covers; there were also multiple themed stuffed animals in the back seat (not pictured). Talk about dedication.

My friend Lisa and I spent a few minutes laughing at this poor car owner's expense. We then jumped in our car and headed to the ocean where we bundled our top halves up in weirdly fashioned towel burqas, like so:

and edged ourselves into a freezing cold ocean to ice our legs so that people on shore could laugh at OUR expense. We were the ONLY ones crazy enough to go near the water, since the temps were hovering somewhere around the low 50s. Talk about dedication. At least the views were good.

Ice baths have become a fixture of my training these days. As someone who is extremely cold adverse, I'd much rather hit the hot tub than the ice bath or cold ocean. Unfortunately, the science is too good to ignore. Exposure to the cold first reduces inflammation, thereby limiting tissue damage. After the cold is removed, there is an increase blood flow which serves to both warm up the tissue and remove the "junk" that accumulates from cellular breakdown by more quickly moving it into the lymph system.

If that's too confusing, just remember 10-20 minutes of torture equals fresh(er) legs for the morning workout. Happy icing!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Holger's Ride

I had a big ride to do yesterday--6.5 hours of steady riding with lots of climbing to simulate the France course. Palomar is the one climb in the area that is long enough, but it's about a 2 hour ride to the base and getting people to commit to riding long this weekend was--to quote my friend Ben "like herding cats". I'm gonna blame the weird weather we've been having. On Wednesday there was real thunder and lightening accompanied by actual hail. This just does not happen in San Diego; it lasted all of 5 minutes, but people were traumatized. So, it didn't help my cause that the Saturday forecast was for thunderstorms.

So, I called my friend Holger (German through and through, as you might guess from his name) who has been leading an organized Saturday morning ride up in LA for at least as many years as I've been a triathlete. He assured me that this week's route was quite challenging, and I would not be disappointed. Let's just say that I wasn't.

Contrary to what you might expect, the riding in LA is fantastic. After a painfully short warm up along PCH, we began a painfully long climb up into the Santa Monica mountains along Las Flores. I promised Coach Canada that I wouldn't get carried away chasing the boys--no crazy heart rates early on, strong all day just like Ironman, don't blow up. . .you get the drift. Unfortunately, this climb was so steep that for most of the first hour, I found it physically impossible to keep my HR below 175 and not tip over. Here's a view from the top, which does not do justice to the pain it required to get there.

I would have snapped a pic of the helicopter one of the guys noticed flying around below us, but couldn't manage to stay upright without both hands on the bars.

Anyway, we capped off the rest of the day with another 5.5 hours of good climbs, twisty descents, minimal traffic. When I finally made it back to the car, my legs were baked! I had just enough left for a 30' T run along the boardwalk with views of the beach, rollerbladers, and street performers to keep me entertained.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Nothing to Complain about. . .

I just realized it's been 2 weeks since my last post--how in the world did that happen? With me, it's like they say,I guess--no news is good news. Since the heel has healed (I know. Corny.), I haven't had anything to vent about lately.

Even if I did, I think I'd be too wiped out to actually do it. With three weeks to go until IM France, training is full tilt at the moment. Yesterday's workout, for example, included a 20 mile run, and I am not kidding when I say that was the easy part! (The hard part was the 3.5 hour group ride I did just before, with my legs screaming a none to subtle reminder about the track intervals the day before). Between massive training sessions, I haven't had much time or energy for anything besides the nighttime routine of catching up on the Tivo list. Even that department is suffering--I'm currently on night 3 of trying to finish the 2 hour season finale of Desperate Houswives.

To some, I realize this may sound a lot like complaining, but trust me, it's not. This is, in fact, my most favorite state of being. . .I know all of you long distance athletes out there know what I'm talking about! I'll TRY to do a better job of updating, but in the meantime, hope you're out there doing what makes you happy!