Saturday, June 29, 2013

I'm tired of training; let's just do the event

I've mentioned before that RAGBRAI training has surprised me with how different it is from training for a running event.

I'll mention it again now, with a new observation: With a little less than a month to go, I've actually reached and passed training complacency.

Though I've trusted that I was training/did train sufficiently for half marathons, I've never sat down, a month out, and shrugged off missing workouts.

This week, I've not only done that, but I've also looked ahead, shrugged and decided it didn't matter if I skipped one or two next week, too.

Running is more of a challenge for me than biking is, so my diligence in one but not the other makes sense — I studied harder for math tests than French tests back in high school.

And, really, one event is set up to encourage stops and rest breaks. (Not caring about my overall time still feels odd to me on my rides. It's a "You know you're a runner when" characteristic, I guess.)

But I say that I've passed complacency because I'm growing tired of the planning — finding a route, carving out time, putting on sunscreen/packing enough water, checking the weather for thunderstorms, etc.

I'm glad I've overcome my natural worrier tendencies and that I trust my preparation; I'm not glad that I'm starting to cast resentful glances toward the schedule on my fridge.

Bring on the main event, before I burn myself out mentally!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Who let West Des Moines out dressed like that?

I'm back to judging my fellow west-siders' clothing choices — for workouts, that is.

On Sunday, sometime in the middle of the afternoon, I spotted a runner wearing a pullover jacket. Three-quarter-length sleeves, but a jacket nevertheless.

I admired her strength for running in the sun, during the hottest part of the day, in the humidity, in June in Iowa ... but my T-shirt-clad torso broke out into a sympathy sweat.

Sure, sometimes one can underestimate the weather conditions, but I'm pretty sure we'd been in at least the 80s, if not 90s, for a few days. Am I a tough northerner? Or are my neighbors just trying to sweat off all their excess weight?

Then, on Monday, I found myself behind a teenage boy on the bike path; he was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, like me, but unlike me, he had his entire rear end hanging out of those shorts.

Never mind walking with your pants halfway down your legs — how do you balance on a bike like that?

I'll say this, though: I've made some questionable wardrobe decisions for workouts and beyond, but these folks have me feeling pretty smart.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The frugalista's bike jersey

I never bothered to ask anyone the point of a cycling jersey. It never dawned on me to think that they were functional as well as a fashion statement of sorts.

So when I registered for RAGBRAI and I had the option to buy a $50 jersey, I declined.

It wasn't until weeks later that, in an unrelated conversation, an experienced biker told me how jerseys are built with ventilation and pockets; and it wasn't until months later that another friend told me they're designed to have extra length to prevent tramp-stamp sunburns.

Oops. I might've missed out on an opportunity to look smart and stylish.

But fortunately, this is when being an undersized adult suddenly came in handy: All of those shirts that were unisex small, rather than women's extra-small or youth extra-large, are the perfect length to cover my lower back even as I lean forward.

Some of those shirts are high school ones — nothing says cool like "High School Class of 2004" or "Student Council 2003-04" — and some are race T-shirts. But hey, I've got a glut of them, and they've saved the small of my back from a third blistery burn.

The downside, at first, seemed to be the sleeves. The farmers tan on my upper arms, born of unseasonably warm weather in early 2012 onward and of wearing two identically cut T-shirts while running, has stubbornly survived the abnormally gloomy start to 2013.

Dangly, droopy sleeves on these outsized T-shirts were not helping the situation. But you know what did? Safety pins.

Cuff those sleeves about four or five times, use old race-bib pins to secure them, and the mid-upper-arm tan line will be gone by RAGBRAI. (Only to be relocated to the shoulder ... I know when to cut my losses.)

Yes, a cycling jersey is technically a better choice than a cotton tee that's nearly a decade old. I'm not trying to argue against them — pockets and wicking are awesome features.

Also awesome, though, is $50 extra for pastries and ice cream. I'm not humblebragging about frugality ... but I won't apologize for reusing shirts I already have, either.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The secret to running motivation

Early last week, I realized that I hadn't run since Memorial Day. It embarrassed me slightly, but mostly I didn't care, because of RAGBRAI training and Iowa summer's arrival.

That is, I didn't care until Sunday around 3 p.m.

The previous day, I'd driven up to Alexandria, Minn., for a beautiful wedding at Carlos Creek Winery, at which I'm pretty sure I polished off a bottle's worth of wine. (Seriously good stuff, and there was shuttle service back to the hotel.)

I'm positive I had two pieces of wedding cake, because after two bites of her own slice, my friend Chelsea turned to me and said: "Can you help me finish this? I can't eat anymore." (She's known me for nine years now; that was a rhetorical question.)

And I'm afraid to measure how much wholly artificial cheese popcorn I snarfed back at the hotel.

I topped this delightful Saturday with a Sunday brunch of a Culver's ButterBurger and a small raspberry milkshake — my go-to travel meal. I relished every single bite and gulp, and I cherished the memory ... for all of 15 minutes.

So much sugar, from the wine to the cake to the milkshake. So little activity, even if you count the dancing at the wedding reception. So much sitting (12 hours round trip, to be precise).

With nothing to do but think about all of this, I found the familiar itch coming back: go for a run.

Why run instead of bike? I didn't feel I would have enough daylight left to bike as long as I'd like to sweat out some of the partying. The key word there is sweat — I wanted to feel like I'd worked hard, and in fact I do work harder when I run than when I ride.

Despite my cat's attempts to be so cute that I wouldn't leave (he's good, but I'm mentally strong), I did go on that run, nearly five hours after the urge first struck. I did four miles, fully expecting to suffer.

I didn't suffer.

Well, OK, I was a little miserable during one uphill stretch, and I was thrilled to stop for good. But given the length of my layoff and the still-80-degrees-and-muggy weather, a sub-10:00 average and minimal walk breaks is an A+ effort.

I guess this means I've stumbled upon another piece of motivation, besides signing up for a race: indulge most of the weekend.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Encounters of the furred kind

I spent almost 26 years living near farm country — towns that were suburbs of a midsize city, or in the case of my college town, the biggest clump of humanity in bufu — so I'm familiar with wildlife near/on roads.

Most of said experience, however, tended to be from a distance: the creature dodging my car, for example; or me dodging its corpse as I ran/biked along country roads.

The past few weeks in Des Moines have changed that dynamic.

I've already mentioned the deer that I flushed out along the Raccoon River Valley Trail; I repeated that experience on the Jordan Creek Trail with a pair of rabbits last Friday.

One was smart and went straight across the path, from weed patch to weed patch; the other would have been smart if I were a hunter and shooting at it, because it did the zigzag pattern one is supposed to use to avoid gunfire.

As it turns out, zigzagging is much less effective when trying to elude someone who is also trying to dodge you. (No, I didn't hit the rabbit. I just swerved enough where a casual observer would've thought I was a daredevil showoff or a drunk.)

So that particular incident was scarier for the four-legged creature than it was for me — however, earlier last week, I had the opportunity to be more freaked out than the other animal was.

I was on Douglas Avenue, not far from Homemakers (i.e., still in a more-urban-than-rural area), when I saw a gray-brown blob on the path. As I approached, I expected it — a possum? a groundhog? — to dart away, like rabbits, squirrels, deer and chipmunks do.

Oh no. Not this creepy little rodent. It held its head high and may have even bared its buckteeth at me. For a brief moment, I wondered whether giving it a wide berth would be protection enough for my rabies-vulnerable flesh.

Thank God the sidewalk/bike path is spacious. I zoomed around it, not chancing a look to see whether it had lunged at me, and let out a shudder of revulsion and relief once I'd passed it without being bitten.

Between this and last summer's possum sighting, I've had enough visits with wild rodents to last me a while.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Presents in the mail

My RAGBRAI packet arrived this week!

The colors are described in much fancier terms than I expected: "grape," not purple; "lime," not green. Solely out of vanity, I will confess to being sad that I don't get a "lavender" wristband, because it's on a day I don't ride.  

Even though I'd paid for registration, received approval for my time off, told a bunch of people I was doing RAGBRAI, printed a training schedule, followed the plan more than half of the time, lined up sleeping arrangements and pestered numerous people about whether they could fetch me if need be — THIS was the moment that registration felt official.

It's kind of like Christmas, I think (and hope). The anticipation is fun, but because I'm a worrier by nature, the preparation can be a little tiring at times.

So the packet's arrival was like opening the advent calendar — a small treat now that hints at bigger and better things to come.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The badge of honor for bikers

Warning: I'm pale and thus burn easily, and only certain body parts' skin will adapt to this by developing a base tan. 

Nearly constant talk of sunburn, sunscreen and tan lines will not end until RAGBRAI does, so if this bores/repulses you, unbookmark my blog until August.

Recently, fellow runner/biker Emily and I were trading updates on our various sunburns that had faded into farmers tans (for her, the back; for me, the neck/upper chest).

The talk went from past to future damage when Emily mentioned how she was looking forward to spotting a bike-shorts tan line on her thighs.

A few days later, as I surveyed my own skin situation, I realized that we each are measuring our biker creds by our tan lines.

While Emily's keeping an eye on her legs, I'm watching my wrists. Apparently, my skin reflects my farmer ancestry and not my Italian descent, because I can only really, truly darken my arms and neck.

So while my forearms grow darker — emphasis on the "er" and not the "dark" — the padded bike gloves I'm so fond of have been shielding my hands from the sun.

(Which, according to a recent conversation I heard about Diane Keaton, is an incredibly wise move — the backs of your hands will evidently show the most signs of aging.)

This is turning my wrists into a definite border. It's most prominent on the inside, because of how I tilt my arms as I hold the handlebars, but I'm willing to bet that within weeks, those who haven't been tipped off by this blog post will start commenting on it.

It may look silly, but like Emily with her future two-toned legs, I'll wear the proof of my training with pride.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Seen while riding: Critters and cranky kids

I didn't stop to take photos on my Monday long ride, but I did see a few things that made me smile (or in, one case, jump a little bit).

* Right as I reached Linden on the way out, a deer raced across the path. I will insist with my dying breath that I'm not one of those obnoxious city kids who think deer are novelties, but I'm not used to seeing them in human settlements ... just country fields.

* I encountered another Bambi just north of Linden as I doubled back; this one, I apparently flushed out, and instead of hiding in the woods, it bounded along the trail ahead of me for about a minute.

* Two maintenance trucks were on the trails; the first one arrived as I was daydreaming, and therefore its oncoming headlights scared the crap out of me. Also, when you're on such a rural, wooded trail, seeing another biker surprises you — let alone a pickup truck.

It was the best chance I've had to admire their leaping abilities — I'm used to them dashing out across dark country roads at night and having to worry about hitting them/being hit by any cars behind me.

* A duo that I will call a grandmother/granddaughter pair, though I have no such evidence, stopped me north of Linden. (That's where ALL the action was yesterday, apparently.) "How far are we from Linden?" the grandmother asked.

"Not far," I said.

"Less than a mile?" I hesitated so that I could think back to my odometer's reading, and the grandmother continued. "Just say yes."

By then, I'd gathered my thoughts and told them I really did think they were that close, and the grandmother turned to the little girl (maybe 6 years old?). "See? You can make it that far."

She turned back to me. "We walked here from Panora. Her idea." The look on the girl's face indicated that she didn't think this was such a great idea any more.

According to a sign I'd passed after leaving Linden, that was six miles away. Holy cow. I hope they indulged in ice cream and a nap after that hike.

* And my favorite sight: a cow just standing in a creek, the bridge over which wasn't all that high. After squealing with delight, I glanced past my bovine buddy to see a whole herd of them, just hanging out, not even fenced in.

I don't care how dumb, smelly and/or bug-ridden cows are. I'm 100 percent city girl in that I think they're adorable, and I highly appreciate their contributions to the human diet. (Mmm, cheese ... ice cream ... milk ... cream ... yogurt ... butter ... and, yes, steak.)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Yawning at milestones

Yesterday I rode 50 miles on the Raccoon River Valley Trail, going from the Waukee trailhead just past Linden and then back.

I was very happy with this effort for a number of reasons.

* First, I actually got out of bed and the apartment to do the ride. Motivation was not strong yesterday morning.

* I managed to head straight west on the trail without having a weather crisis.

* During the vast majority of the ride — I'd say about 80 percent of it — I felt strong ... and this even included a few windy-in-my-face stretches.

* I finished much faster than I'd expected: 3 hours, 23 minutes (plus a few breaks, but not many, and not for long). I'd prepared myself for about four. That's good for a 14.8 mph average.

* And I didn't acquire any new sunburns! (OK, a lot of the trail was shaded, but still, my diligence in applying and reapplying should be applauded. Positive reinforcement here, folks.)

It wasn't until I got back to my apartment that it dawned on me that none of my pride involved the fact that I'd ridden 50 miles. The distance was no big deal, except that I'd successfully blocked out the time needed to fit that much riding in.

Thinking back to the weeks since "biking season" began, I realized this shrugging-off of distances was a long time coming. A few times, I'd caught myself dismissing the shorter rides as "only" 20 miles.

"Only" 20 miles? Remember what a sweaty effort that was on your previous bike — a perfectly nice hybrid? It wasn't impossible, by any means, but I considered that a pretty significant workout. (Granted, with the hills I encountered out in the country, I was justified.)

But just like how, relative to past rides, 50 is long, 50 is short compared with what I'll be doing for the rest of June and July — 55, 60, 65 and 75 are all on the schedule.

So it's probably good that I didn't start bragging about my accomplishment on every social media outlet that I could. If I thought 50 was the world's biggest deal, then that would likely mean I wasn't mentally and/or physically ready for the serious training and for the main event.

(One tiny brag, though: This and my early May 50-miler have doubled the number of times I broke the 50-mile barrier from April 2011 through April 2013. To be honest, I don't even know how often I broke 40 miles during that stretch.)