Snowy in Seattle ??

December 2nd, 2006

The Seattle Marathon’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and I’ve scheduled to do the half. My plan is to drive up on Saturday, register and attend the expo and visit with Dora (one of my WWGTD teammates), then drive up to Snohomish to stay with friends, one of whom has generously agreed to be my course support. Of course nothing goes as planned! First I’m a bit delayed by work; then, I check the weather and get an unhappy surprise. Snow! In Downtown Seattle! and Portland! We don’t often get snow in the lower elevations around here, and it really freaks everyone out. As one who has lived for eight years in Wisconsin, I still find this really funny. If folks in Wisconsin got this excited about an inch of snow, they’d never calm down. I waver for a few minutes, thinking of the drive up and back, the drive to the race in the morning, and the race itself. There’s a significant amount of sanity in canceling my trip, and I decide to do so, but a little while later, I think, oh, what the hell, this whole endeavor is about many things, but sanity is definitely not one of them. I get a late start, but still make it to the expo in time to register. Dora and I catch up on our 50k plans, and each buy a pair of Adidas Adizeros to try out.

Sunday morning I wake at 5 to get ready. I’m having trouble figuring out what to wear — although there may be snow, it will be mixed with rain, so the race will be wet, not white, and it will be right around 32 degrees. Luckily, its not a judged racewalk, so I can wear long tights instead of shorts. I end up wearing an older pair of shoes, that I think will have better traction. I layer up two shirts, and start out with my goretex jacket over them. I also add gloves. Unfortunately, the gloves aren’t waterproof, but they’re better than nothing, and since they cost 99 cents, I won’t mind throwing them away on the course if I get too warm. One of the trickiest questions is where to pin my number? At least by the end of the course, it has to be on my top layer. I figure I’ll probably take off my jacket when I see Steve for sports drink around mile 5, and pin my number onto my outside shirt. Hard to imagine wanting to take that off at any mile!

The race starts right near the landmark space needle, in Seattle Center. There’s a staggered start, so the marathon walkers start at 7:15, the half marathon runners at 7:30, and the half marathon walkers at 7:45. I wait as far up as possible for the runners to clear the starting chute — for once, my pace puts me near the front of the pack. I make it near the front of the start, then encounter three friends standing across, so I stand behind them. When the announcer asks “is this anyone’s first race?” all three raise their hands. “Oh, if this is your first race you shouldn’t start ahead of me.” I say without thinking. They don’t move, so I say “Would it be possible for me to start ahead of you?” “NO!” two of them say back in unison. I’m rather stunned by this (doesn’t take much to stun me at 7:30 in the morning). Its part of the deal, of racewalkers being grouped in the “walking” category. You get everything in the “walking” category, sometimes even baby strollers, and so its a vast spectrum with competitive racewalkers like me on one end. I realize these women know not a thing about racing, and don’t even understand why I asked to get ahead of them. I chat for awhile with the third woman, who comes to see my point about pace times, timing chips, and the likelihood I will run over anyone in my way once I cross the timing mat. As soon as the race starts, she puts out her arm, clearing a path for me to walk through. “You go, girl!” And I do. Incredibly, crossing the starting line I find the empty streets of Seattle. No spectators, no music, no nothing! Huh. An image of the Portland marathon start comes into my head: spectators packed 5 or 6 deep on each side, cameras and announcers on platforms to each side of the starting gate, cheerleaders, and a drum corps. So far, I’m unimpressed with Seattle. Its wet, but not snowy, and its cold enough that the few minutes waiting in the start chute has left my legs feeling as if I never warmed up.

My number one goal for the race is to control the pace of my first two miles. I’ve missed the mark on this in my past two races, after a whole string of precision races earlier in the year, so I want to just nail this one and be done worrying about it. And I do, finishing each within 60 seconds of my goal pace. I meet a walker from Vancouver, and we chat about our Mizuno Revolvers. She reports good traction (she’s wearing hers) so I decide in future not to switch off for traction as I’ve done today. We keep each other company up to mile 5, when I stop off to hand Steve my jacket and get my bottle of Gleukos from him. One thing about the temperature is, the water handed out along the course is shockingly ice cold, so its a relief to drink something a bit warmer. I’ve been warm enough to lose the jacket for a couple of miles, and its a relief to get rid of it. My plan is to ramp up my pace a bit in each third, so I set out for my second third a bit faster. The main thing about the course is, its just hill after hill. (Readers in the midwest should substitute “mountain” for hill throughout this post. ;) I don’t know if racewalking on steep hills is hard for everyone, or I’m particularly lousy at it, but it definitely slows me down, and I switch off to regular walking for the steepest one. Remembering how much it hurt me to get up to the St. Johns bridge in the Portland Marathon just seven weeks earlier, I thank my doctors and massage therapist in my head. The foot is just *so* much better! I find it impossible to keep to my pace goals, instead just trying to keep an even effort and push more on the occasional flat parts. I get more sports drink from Steve at mile 9, then its up a windy hill into the arboretum. Here I encounter a new challenge: wet leaves. I have a little trouble pushing off in spots, and I’m a little nervous about slipping on the steeper downhills. But by now I’ve caught up to the half marathon runners, who started 15 minutes ahead of me, and I’m enjoying overhearing runners commenting to each other when they realize this. One thing about the staggered start is, I never did figure out which times the volunteers were reading out along the way, so I tuned them out and stuck to my watch. I’m doing the race without my shuffle. We’re not allowed to wear headphones at the 50k, and I want to practice accordingly, but honestly, music free just sucks.

By far the most demonic part of the course is in the last few miles. The course goes on a sidewalk alongside a raised highway. Suddenly, just in front of me, a huge wall of water comes sheeting down onto the racers, from above. Apparently, there is a puddle in the right lane of the highway, and anytime a car drives in that lane, this ton of water comes down onto the course. Even though I’m soaking wet, I feel a great sense of victory that I happen to get through between dumps. A close second in the demonic category, though, is the steep hill just before the course enters the stadium for the finish line. I’ve been pouring it on to try to get closer to my time goal, and I need to ratchet back a bit to get myself up the hill. This time I curse out loud. Entering the stadium, I realize the last piece of the course is across the stadium turf. I wonder how this will go, since I’ve never racewalked on such a surface, but as it turns out, its quite nice, so I get to push through to the finish line. The announcer botches my name a bit, but more than makes up for it by saying “and its one of our racewalkers, we love our racewalkers, let’s hear it for our racewalkers” which gets a cheer from the crowd. Cheering crowds, passing lots of runners, this is the stuff of dreams, or at least of good fun. I wrap myself up in two space blankets, meet Steve, cool down, and we head back to Snohomish. Its a nice treat to just zone out in his car, which has seat warmers. Back at home, he and his wife lavish attention on me, so I continue to feel spoiled for the rest of my visit. I missed my time goal by 6 minutes, and I was unhappy about that at first, but over time I’ve decided to credit myself for the race start, as opposed to the finish, this time. As my friend Steve put it “Pacific Northwest. End of November. A half marathon. What on earth were you thinking??! ”

A Sort of Homecoming

November 20th, 2006

After Sunday’s funk, I wake up Monday knowing its time to get back to business, and get the long walk done. 30k, about 18 and a half miles. I hear the rain before I even sit up in bed. Blurgh. Its going to be wet. I drink my coffee, gathering my energy and my walking gear. I need to be ready for rain, blisters, and cold. Going through my bag, I find a shell I picked up at the beach on Saturday. A visual image comes into focus in my head, the bright sun and endless blue water of the Gulf. Seems like forever ago. I sit down at my computer and check the weather. If the forecast is right, we’re due for an extended break from the rain today. Here’s hoping…

By the time I get out of my car at the bike path, the rain has stopped; in spite of yesterday’s rude thoughts, Portland is once again my friend. I set out for loop one of four. The weekday crowd is a bit different from what I’ve seen on Sundays: fewer people, fewer groups, more of the bikers look like commuters (this path goes downtown). Also, a few trucks along the path with workers, including one that scares me, marked “Mosquito Control.” I’m feeling really lucky that its dry, although otherwise a bit sluggish. By the end of my second loop, just as I start to feel a bit less energized, I am passed by a man on an unusually shaped unicycle. It only has one wheel and a seat, but the wheel is close in size to a regular bicycle wheel, and the seat isn’t as high as the ones you see in the circus. A bicyclist coming in the opposite direction has stopped to stare, and as I go by, I say, “Great bike path, isn’t it?” He agrees, smiling. Tampa can have its Shoreline Drive anyday. My smile over the unicycle lasts me back to the car, and after chugging down some sports drink and a gel, I’m re-energized for my third loop. I get a bit draggy one more time in lap four. Realizing I’ve been thinking of skimping on the miles, I decide to finish with a push, so I speed up for the last half mile. Somehow it always works to exorcise my inner whiner on the spot, by challenging myself a bit faster or longer. I’ll never make the starting line if I think of myself as a wimp. Incredibly, the rain starts back up about 5 minutes after I finish. Four and a half hours of dry weather, and I walked through four and a quarter of them. What an incredible gift.

Back at home, I check my email and find another Welcome Home: someone at Gleukos has read my blog and wants to give me sports drink for my training! Well, actually its even better, they want to give t-shirts, bottles, and sports drink to the whole team. I’m really pleased about this; its actually what I use, one of the few commercial sports drinks my digestive system seems to tolerate well. For my first four Portland Marathons, I carried my own homemade sports drink in a hydration pack, because I didn’t think I’d tolerate the course drink. This past October, though, they had Gleukos on the course, and it was so amazingly better without the hydration pack. I stumbled across it almost by accident; one or the other of my local coaches had gotten a bunch to try back in the spring. I appreciate the freebie financially too; visiting the doctor three times a week for my foot has certainly added up, and I don’t even want to think about how fast I’m going through shoes.

After a bit of a false start, it feels like a homecoming.

Training in Tampa

November 19th, 2006

My 20k race marks the start of a week in Tampa for work. I’m attending a major conference, with a huge spectrum of meetings and sessions that cover the week from 8am to 10pm. Staying on schedule with my training is going to take a bit of ingenuity.

Driving to an unfamiliar city right after the race, I can tell I’m not quite as focused as usual. At one point, I decide I’ve been going way too long on a stretch of highway, pull over, decide I’ve passed my exit, go back, and finally realize I hadn’t gone too far after all. My usual driving style does, I admit, include a certain number of u-turns, but its the altered sense of time and distance passing that strikes me. I take a large drink of my diet coke and a deep breath, and decide I’m still okay to drive. I miss my exit downtown, but this one is kind of my usual, mentally waving to my exit as I fly by it. Its an easy u-turn to fix this one, though, and in just a minute I’m pulling into the hotel driveway. Getting out of the car is a sharp reminder that I’ve been driving for over an hour as my recovery from a two and a half hour race — ouch! I’m stiff and ready for a nap. I just need to get to my room. The clerk asks me what my medals mean. “Means I’m the third fastest racewalker in my age group.” I say with a smile. Oh I need to hang in there and reach a horizontal surface. “Okay, here we go” the clerk says. “That’s a corner king suite for 6 nights.” “Huh??” I reply, somewhat taken aback. Definitely not the standard conference-discounted room I’d reserved. But its mine, and oh, is it ever the place to do race recovery! I’m getting a little spacy, and I tell the clerk that I’ve just finished the race and am more or less okay, but I really really need to lay down and rest a bit. He’s just great — checks me in early, helps me up to my room and everything. I get some ice for my foot, take some more ibuprofen, and stretch out for a rest. After a bit I’m recovered enough to unpack and start getting ready for Monday’s early start. I’m still pretty draggy, although I don’t know if its from the race itself or the stop at Steak n Shake afterwards, so I order up room service for dinner and call it a day.

Monday’s easy — its a zero day, so I stretch a bit and get through a long day at a hectic pace. Tuesday, though, my schedule has me doing 400m repeats. Just one small problem — no track! A couple of folks at the race had told me to walk on Shoreline Drive, and I decide to just do the intervals by time, along this trail. I run out of the conference as soon as I can, but its still fairly late by the time I change and head out. The worst part of the route is that I have to start by crossing the length of the convention center terrace. I hope that my athlete clothing will serve as some sort of camouflage to my professional peers, and it seems to work. After this there’s a somewhat unpleasant stretch, right alongside a crowded noisy 6 lane street, complete with a few homeless folks. I’m instantly homesick for Portland, where nobody would ever rave about this piece of sidewalk. A little further, though, and it gets a lot nicer, more distance to the traffic, more grass, lots more joggers, no more homeless. I do get a few looks, because I’m doing the repeats fast, but I am forced to change my assessment of Shoreline as a place to walk. I’m looking out over a sunset sky over water, and its pretty. By the time I’m heading back, its getting dark, and I have to take off my sunglasses. I’m pretty alert in the final stretch, which is almost empty at this point, but I make it back without incident. (Someday, somebody somewhere will publish an actually useful travel guide that addresses safety. Until then, its just always a crap shoot.) I’ve more or less accomplished the workout, but I’ve entirely missed an early evening session I’d hoped to attend. I gulp down some sports drink, do a quick cleanup and re-dress, and head out for a dinner reception.

I do two more workouts on the Shoreline Drive, because its faster to retrace my steps than to figure out anyplace else to go. By the end of the week, I go in the morning. The knowledge that I’ve only got one chance to get in the workout, and its right after the #$#&^@ alarm goes off, actually helps me get out of bed. Well, okay, I admit, the morning sun reflecting off the buildings of the downtown skyline through my wide living room window helps some. :) I cannot afford to lose an entire week’s training because of this conference, and I can’t afford to miss many parts of this conference for training, so I need to push. No time to be a whiner. Friday morning, there’s a wonderful moment, when I step onto the scale and see a new number. I’ve reached my goal weight for the Seattle half marathon, with a week to spare! I’m so happy I barely eat at lunch. At dinner, though, I can’ t resist some strawberries in warm chocolate sauce. All week I’ve been dining at buffets of roast beef, free drinks, and huge dessert tables, trying to skip over things and eat halves of things as best I can.

Saturday I have a few hours before my flight home, but I’m tired and determined not to repeat the mistake I made my last trip, when I boarded a plane right after a three hour workout, ended up in the middle seat of the non-reclining back row, and had to be treated by a chiropractor for a back sprain the next day. I decide to just take a stroll along the beach and skip the schedule. I don’t have much time to research a destination, and although I think I’m headed to Caledesi Island State Park, I somehow end up in a place called Honeymoon Island State Park. This is pretty ironic, considering the emotional roller coaster of a week I’ve just had. Some days, the universe just really loves f*cking with my soul. Its just too pretty for me to stay cynical, though, I love walking barefoot along a shore, in and out of the water. There are lots of shells and rocks, so I have to pay some attention to where I step, but its sunny and not very crowded. I reach the end of one strip of sand, and have to go over some rocks and around a bend to the next stretch, only I encounter a not-too-small obstacle — my path is blocked by a stork, hanging out quietly, checking me out. I don’t know if bothering a stork is illegal, the way bothering a harbor seal is at home, but this bird is upright and taller than many children, so shooing him out of my way like a seagull doesn’t seem appropriate. On the other hand, this is the only walk on the beach I’m getting this trip, and I really do want to continue on. I decide on a patient approach: I take a step forward, then wait, and the bird takes a step or two away from me, then I take another step, and so on. Neither of us takes our eye off the other for the entire incredible dance. Finally, several minutes later, the path is clear enough for me to walk by and still leave five or six feet between us, so I continue on. Eventually, I’ve used up my allotted time and my extra buffer, and really need to get to the airport.

Flying is pretty uncomfortable when I’m training alot. I don’t get a back row seat this time, but still, after some amount of time things start to tighten up and complain, and I’m flying diagonally across the country, which takes awhile. I stretch as I can, and always comment to the flight attendants that I’m in training, because I’m convinced that my odd postures of stretching my feet and legs in the aisle will alarm them in some bad misguided way. My second flight is full of young children, crying and yelling and kicking the back of my seat; I realize Thanksgiving week has started. I get through with a couple of glasses of wine and my noise reducing headphones and shuffle. My row companions get through with four cocktails each, so I figure I’m not doing so badly, even though they don’t actually get their hair pulled by the monster behind us, as I do. Riding home from the airport, I greet the Portland skyline happily. I’ve been gone awhile, and it’s good to be home. I’m tired.

The next morning, I wake up in the dark, thinking, great time to finally make it onto East Coast time, figuring I’ve woken before dawn. Turns out, though, that its just one of our dark Portland days. Welcome home. Its raining away, and there’s so little light that opening the blinds at all is a complete waste of time. My schedule says “long walk” but my brain says “19 miles in this?? No way.” No more room service, sigh, and I end up eating pasta from the freezer for breakfast, but by the end of the day I’ve at least restocked and unpacked and stretched and reluctantly accepted that my time in Florida is over.

My First National Championship

November 13th, 2006

It just turned out that I’d be in Tampa for work at the same time as the National Championship 20k in Clermont. I’d never been to Clermont, but once I looked it up on a map, I realized it was not much more than an hours drive from Tampa. It didn’t even feel like a decision — I was on board. Not only would my coach, Dave McGovern, be there, he’d be racing as well, right in the very same race. Also one of my WWGTD teammates would be racing as well. How could I possibly skip it??

I flew to Florida on Thursday, and arrived hungry and sleep deprived, at about 8:30 pm local time. Now that food isn’t allowed through security, flying is a frustratingly food-deprived experience for me. My digestive system doesn’t do well with wheat, so the pretzels and airport fare that are now my only options aren’t a very good idea, especially before a race or important job trip. It’s a lot better if I can keep my blood sugar happy, but I haven’t figured out a solution. Since I was still trying to lose some weight to make my goal for the Seattle Marathon, I figured I’d just be a little hungry and try to drink alot of water. I also brought along some peppermint tea bags. 13 hours after setting out from home, I arrived at my aunt’s trailer home in Lakeland. She realized I was starving, and fed me a baked potato with cheese and roast beef. I don’t think I can find a training plan that includes that as a meal at 10 o’clock at night, but in that moment I just didn’t care.

I’d known up front that one of the tricky parts of the race would be the timezone change, from pacific to eastern. By Sunday I’d have a few days to acclimate, but still, I’m not a morning person even in my own timezone, and the race was scheduled for 7:15 am! A friend convinced me to spring for a motel room in Clermont, so I’d get an extra hour of sleep in the morning instead of driving. Saturday night, I drove to the motel. Going through and setting out all of my race day items, I realized that all I knew about the course location was the name of a state park. I’d passed the entrance on my way to the motel, but still, where in the park was the race?? No amount of googling yielded any more specific information about the course. The fact that I was googling the race course just hours before the start was just a fact of life given how insanely busy I’d been with work in the days leading up to the trip. I finally drifted off around midnight.

Sunday morning, the timezone difference showed itself when the alarm went off at 5am. Usually before a race, some amount of adrenaline helps me jump out of bed, but not this time. I fought through a fog to sit up and finally turn on a light. As I moved around the room, I felt sluggish, as if I was wading through a thick liquid, or my brain was. No amount of training helps with trying to find your toothpaste in an unfamiliar motel room, when your body’s clock time is 2:30 a.m.! (At least I actually found the toothpaste this time — on a recent work trip I’d unfortunately put a toothbrush full of hair conditioner into my mouth after mistaking the tubes. ) Finally, I was dressed and ready to go, and I set out for Lake Louisa State Park. Either I’d see where the race start was, or I’d miss the race. I turned off at the state park entrance, and — nothing. No cars, no signs, seemingly not a soul awake besides myself. This didn’t look good. I continued through the park, along the most likely seeming road. Finally, I spotted a small sign on the right — “racewalk”! I breathed a nice deep relaxed breath, and continued on. I’d found the race! It was a bit tricky, since I had to drive along the course to reach the parking area, and athletes were warming up. I was about to reach the empty spots when I came up on Dave. As always, he had a big smile and happy words for me that made me feel welcome. Once I’d parked, I didn’t have much time. I registered, got my event t-shirt and numbers, and headed back to my car. I got some help pinning on my numbers, then did a very short warmup, interrupted by a wait on the porta potty line (there was some snafu so the regular bathrooms weren’t unlocked, so we all had to use the course porta potty). I double checked the sheet of paper I’d brought along, listing my goal pace times for the first and second thirds of the race. I didn’t know until that moment that it was a 2.5k loop, so we’d be racing 8 laps for the 20k. I’d precomputed times for both a 2k and a 2.5k loop, just to be sure. As we gathered near the starting line, I noticed someone I didn’t recognize wearing a shirt with our local club logo on it, so I went over and said hi. Right next to her was someone I *did* recognize, also from our club, who excitedly exclaimed, “Oh, if there’s three of us we can enter as a team!” The officials were nice enough to note us down as a team before the race started — I’m sure they were pretty busy at that point, but they understood I’d just arrived. Lining up at the same starting line as Dave McGovern seemed pretty surreal!

As the race started, I felt unsure of my pace. I thought I was going at a pretty good clip, but when I got to what I thought was the halfway point of the loop, I was slower than the time I had in my mind. How could that be?? Well, I was pretty tired and in a different climate, feeling a bit warm, so I figured I just wasn’t feeling it the same way, and tried to push ahead. As I approached the start/finish line, and checked the clock, I knew something was really wrong — how could I be so far behind my goal pace?? I’d chosen a pretty safe pace for the first third. Its a pretty disconcerting feeling to be racing along, suddenly feeling like your body is lying to you, and not much to be done about it. After a couple of minutes, though, it hit me in a flash — I’d memorized the 2k times!! I wasn’t going slower than goal pace at all, I was going too fast! No wonder Dave had commented “you’re really cooking!” as he’d flown past. I ratcheted back a bit, hoping my next time check would be a bit more reasonable. Just then I passed the board and saw a red card for my number. I’d only gotten a red card once before in a race, so this was somewhat unusual for me. By the next lap around, I had two. Bent Knee. This really threw me, because in the past I’d been cautioned by the judges before getting a red card, but here I was, with only one caution but two reds. Just one more red card and I’d be tossed out of the race. Bad as that was, it seemed even more awful that my team would lose as well — since we only had the minimum of three competitors, every one of us needed to finish to qualify for a team award. I felt really discouraged, trying to think of what to change, to feel what my feet and legs were doing wrong. I’d made radical changes to my shoes, adjusted my plantar fasciitis treatments, and had some problem with my posterior tib, all in the two weeks prior to the race. Plus, I hadn’t warmed up very well. Was I just screwed? Just then a teammate went by. “Stay legal, Karen!” she shouted. “Slow down and just stay in for the team!” Another friend said “Just be perfect, forget speed, just be perfect!” At that moment it seemed likely that I was about to be tossed from the race, right in front of my coach, causing my team to lose. Did it get any worse?? I still had no clear notion of what I was doing wrong. Although my pace was faster than planned, I’d legally completed 5k’s at faster paces earlier in the year, so that really shouldn’t be causing me to be DQ’d in the first 5k of this race. I forced myself to take a breath and square my shoulders. I was going to be DQ’d and there was nothing for it but to get ready to be polite and smile and suck it up. Right about then another walker came by and said “c’mon, walk with me, we’ll keep each other going.” And so I kept at it, slowing way way down, even chatting with this woman, whom I’d never met before. Each time I approached the head judge (the only judge who can DQ a walker) I steeled myself for that red paddle. I focused my thoughts on my legs and feet: plant the foot, swing the other leg, are my arms even, where are my feet? For a bit there was nothing else, just the mental checklist and the chat with the other racewalker. I imagined I was on the bike path where I often train, looking over at the geese, smiling at the passing joggers, feeling free and fast. I completed one more lap without a DQ, then another. And right then, all of a sudden, something in my right hip loosened up, and everything felt right again, simple, well-rehearsed, of *course* I’m legal. I pulled away from my companion, telling myself just to stick. No big push for me, just one foot after another. What an amazing feeling it was, crossing that finish line!! In spite of everything, I’d gotten the job done.

My time was a new PR (personal record) — I’d beaten my previous 20k time by over four minutes. I received a bronze medal, third place in my age group. Everyone in the club team finished, and we were the only women’s team, so we got a gold medal for that. The medals are big and decorated with eagles, with “national championship” engraved along the bottom. I wore them all day, as I drove down to Tampa, found my hotel, and got ready for a hard week’s work.

Western Women Go the Distance.

What, no locusts??

November 6th, 2006

Once the long walk’s done for the week, its usually a gradual slide into Zero Day. Zero Day is a rest day, but also usually a low energy day, since after all that walking, things are kind of stiff and grumpy, and I don’t walk at all. Today, the whole world seems to have zero’d along with me.

It started last night with huge winds, and loads more rain. I was sitting in the living room, just hearing all of these unfamiliar noises from outside, and wondering what was blowing where. The wind howled around the house. Then — an earthquake. Pretty small, I’ve certainly experienced bigger ones, but I always get a little rattled by them. A little reminder not to get too attached to Things. I went online to check and see if it was something big far away, or something small nearby, and was relieved to see the latter. I logged my entry in the database, then settled back in with my book.

The slide continued. My right ankle started to hurt, in an unfortunately familiar way that reminded me of my experience last year with Posterior Tib Tendinitis. I got pretty tense about it, because I’m racing a 20k in just a week, and don’t want any major problems in my way. I filled a basin with ice water and soaked both my feet till they were numb. From that point on, I was in a pretty bad mood.

In the morning, the radio news was describing the mess that is rush hour with flooding and high winds. Thankfully, I could avoid most of the really bad delays by working at home for awhile and going in later. Tonight, the news is full of photos and stories about all this water. There’s a photo of Highway 101 (on the West coast), a group of cars parked on each side of what looks like a pond in the middle, only, THAT’S THE HIGHWAY! A trailerpark flooded, and now there’s a hazard of trailer homes floating down the nearby river. Falling trees, flooding rivers, and the Amtrak train hit a mudslide.

This evening, my ankle’s feeling better. Still not 100%, but alot better. I wore my Earth shoes all day, which usually helps stretch stuff out a bit. I have no idea if the track will be above water for tomorrow’s workout, but I guess if that’s the worst this weather has in store for me, I can’t complain.


November 5th, 2006

This morning I delay the start of my long walk to check out a race in my hometown — the New York City Marathon. I get homesick watching the tv coverage. At one point, one of the announcers says something really idiotic about one of our U.S. female elite marathoners — something along the lines of, given that she’s already achieved this and that, and she’s trained for months, what could possibly explain how poorly she’s doing? I regale my television set with a nice blast of New York style “get a clue, ya moron!” I don’t get to do that kind of thing nearly often enough now that I’ve moved away, and its curiously refreshing. They show Lance Armstrong, who is aiming to complete his first marathon in under 3 hours. He makes it by less than 60 seconds, raising over half a million dollars for cancer research and treatment in the process.

During the commercials, I go through my pre-long-walk ritual. Some light stretching, water, gather my clothes. First the underwear, then the Body Glide (lubricant to prevent chafing), then the tights and shirt. Check the feet and toenails for any problem spots, then the socks. Hair back in a ponytail, sunscreen, lip balm, moisturizer, hat. By the time I put on my shoes, I’m an athlete. I mix up a couple bottles of sports drink, and I’m out the door.

Unlike my recent training on the bike trail in the dark, its a Sunday afternoon, and although its not what anyone would call bright, and its raining, there are a good number of other folks out getting some exercise. At one point I look just ahead of me: on the left coming towards me, is a woman maybe in her 50s roller blading with ski poles; on the right, just after passing me, there’s a guy who looks around 40 on some curious mix of bicycle and scooter. The front half is like a bicycle, with a regular sized tire; but there’s no seat, just a little scooter style platform, and the rear wheel is really tiny. He’s standing on the platform, pushing himself along with one leg. I see lots of other bikers, and also joggers and walkers. Down the path a bit more, I see what look like racewalkers in the distance. Once they get a little closer, I realize its two of my Western Women Go the Distance teammates, with coach Judy Heller. I turn and walk some with them, just to say hi and exchange a few words. We haven’t seen much of each other since the Portland Marathon last month, and its exciting to me to see them working towards our goal. I tell Judy I’ve been to Dr. Ray, since she is one of the folks who recommended him to me. “So,” she replies, “are you a convert?” “Oh, Yeah!” She notices that he hasn’t cut holes in my shoes. This is one way you can tell if someone is a Dr. Ray patient, he’ll just slice holes in their training shoes to alleviate any points of tightness. Not random holes, but little slices in just the right spots. He hasn’t had to do this to my shoes, because my feet are pretty narrow, and my toes slant down alot from the big toe, so shoes aren’t quite as awfully squishy for me as for the average person. The shoe industry does seem to have a strong belief that most people’s feet are shaped like V’s, with the middle toe the longest and the big toe — um, not so big. I’ve never actually met anyone with feet like that, only people with more or less a straight line along the inside of the foot from heel to toe, but they must be out there, because otherwise would all those shoes exist? Well, this solid logic is why I’m a “Dr. Ray convert.”

Back at home its time for my post-long-walk ritual. As soon as I step out of the car I feel chilled in my wet clothes, so right away I get into a hot shower. Back when I was a backpacker, I’d get into a shower and check for ticks. Now that I’m a walker, I also check myself, but not for bugs — for chafing and blisters. I can walk quite a ways without noticing part of me is irritated or hurting. I don’t know if everyone is that way, or if its one of the ways I’m built for endurance, but its happened enough times that I know its true. Last week, I chafed so badly from my heart rate monitor strap, that not only was my skin badly scraped (chafing leaves something between a scrape and a burn), part of it was actually raised like a welt. I only noticed it when I caught a view of my back in the mirror later that evening. Much more dramatic was the day I was bleeding at the ankle from a popped blister, working out at the track. I only noticed it back in the locker room, when I sat down to take off my shoe and there was a giant impressive red splotch on the back of my sock. (“Great,” I remember thinking. “How the heck do I launder *this*??”) That one did really hurt for a few days, but I hadn’t noticed it on the track at all. (After further consideration of my level of laundry skill, I threw the sock out. )

After the shower, its time for the best ritual of all — waffles. The post-long walk waffle ritual started a few years ago, training for the Portland marathon. It took a few tries to optimize it, there was an early comical attempt to whip the egg whites by hand quickly followed by the purchase of an electric mixer, but now I can make waffles pretty much no matter how awful I’m feeling, in no time at all. Since I’m trying to lose some weight for racing, the bacon, alas, has been ejected from the ritual, but the waffles are still just as good and drenched in maple syrup. Today I’m out of butter, so I add a cup of blueberries on top with the syrup as an alternative treat. *Definitely* worth 15 miles in the rain!

Intervals After Dark

November 4th, 2006

This morning it was just one of those days. Draggy, no energy, with tons to do. A phase of the moon. I get involved in some work right out of bed, lose track of time, then need to leave RIGHT AWAY to make a meeting. Most of my coffee’s still in the pot, I’ve forgotten to drink while I work at my computer. Then I realize my gym bag’s not packed and there’s just nothing I can do about it. Shoot.

In the background, at work, excuses for not doing my workout keep running through my head. Its raining, don’t want to get sick. Think of all of the work I could get done instead. That laundry pile’s pretty high. I could go in the morning. Some years back I had a roommate who was an opera singer; she told me that opera divas are not required to sing when they have their period. Its right there in their contract. If opera singers get the day off, shouldn’t athletes??

I get home and lookup the workout my coach has assigned. 4 x 2k repeats. The idea of this is to push more than you could for a continuous 8k, with short recovery breaks in between the repeats. I look at the clock. I’m supposed to be at a science museum in two hours to hang out with a couple hundred girl scouts. No time to drive to the track and back. It’ll have to be the bike path near my house. This adds a complication, because the bike path is only marked with half miles, and 2k is about a mile and a quarter. I decide to go with 1.5 mile repeats, and recalculate the time goals into 1.5 mile times, noting the 1 mile times as well so I can see how I’m doing along the way. I write it all onto an index card and stick it into my waist pack, but mostly I stare at the card and try to memorize it, so I can at least do the first one without checking. 17:30. Its really raining out, and part of my brain is still trying to convince me to skip the workout. Go in the morning. Take a nap instead. The thing is, I just do not want to have to tell my coach I blew off the workout. In a way, its more complicated than just getting the damn thing done. Its about 50 degrees out, so I put on long tights and a long sleeve shirt — my finishers shirt from the 2002 Portland Marathon.

I follow a route I do often, but its very different in the rain. I’m walking along a park with a playground, but there aren’t any kids today. No soccer teams, only a couple of joggers. I skimp on my flexibility drills a bit, because stopping and standing in the rain is less comfortable than walking in it. Just before the bike path, I step into a deep puddle, soaking one of my feet. “Oh, great,” I think. “Is this going to be one of those hellish workouts with blisters?” I head out onto the path, and its already pretty dark. This time I’ve remembered to clip a blinky light onto my waist pack, so at least bikes won’t run me over from behind. There aren’t very many bikes, though. One mile into my first repeat, I check my watch to see how I’m doing and… I can’t see my watch! I tell myself to wing it. At the end I get a couple of minutes rest, so I pull my pack around and check the time by the blinky light, but I’m already in the next interval, and I don’t know how to go back and see my time for the repeat without screwing it up. Urgh. I go on and luck out — there’s a portion further on with some nearby streetlights helping out. This is enough for me to check my interval points, and I do the next two out on that section.

From the start of the second repeat, I’m totally into it. The theme from Rocky comes up on my shuffle, and I laugh out loud. I’m wet, but not cold, I mostly have the path to myself, and its just me, in the dark, feeling smooth and strong. I am passed by only a few slightly startled bikers, and eventually, a couple of joggers. My times are okay, but its time to push — my goal pace for the final repeat is 16:54, 41 seconds faster than I’ve just done. I set out towards home, and pour it on. Its windy, in my face now, and after a short lull, the rain picks up again. Its like the wind and rain are taunting me, one more obstacle to me meeting the goal. Even alone in the dark, I have an opponent. “F*ck you,” I think. “There is no way I’m falling short of the goal after all this.” I push harder, and before I know it, I’m at the last mile post. 16:47. I win.

There’s a half mile more to the street, another half from there to home, and its still dark and raining, but I don’t really care anymore. I set out at a cooldown pace. At home I do a few stretches, peel off my soaked clothes, eat a piece of chicken, and throw on some jeans. I’m almost an hour late for the girl scout event, but that works out okay. Finally home for the night, I realize I’m starving, and heat up a bowl of soup. Then I check off the day’s workout from the list.

Trick or Train?

October 31st, 2006

My day started with a trip to see Dr. Ray, about my plantar fascitis. I met Dr. Ray at a racewalking clinic a couple of years ago, and he seemed like a real foot geek. The kind of guy who is just intrigued by this amazing human part, who wants to absorb facts about it and study it and poke it and see what happens if. In other words, exactly the kind of guy I want giving me foot advice. Today was my first visit as his patient, although the plantar fascitis started back in July.

Plantar fascitis is all about an injured foot part called the plantar fascia, that runs along the bottom of your foot from the heel to the base of the toes. Many people experience it as heel pain, but, never one to follow the pack, mine’s been all about pain at the ball of my foot. There’s really only been two cool aspects to this injury: one, I learned what sesamoids are, and that I have them (so do you); and two, I was radioactive for about a week, after I was injected with radioactive isotope for a bone scan to be sure I didn’t have a fracture. The rest has been some combination of sticking my foot into ice water, stretching, picking up a towel with my toes, tylenol, athletic tape, rolling my foot on a hard leather ball, trying one arch support after the other, and a really exhausting series of attempts to get some sleep while wearing a boot designed to keep my foot at a 90 degree angle. (Its not possible to sleep with the boot. My inspirational thought about getting a wig and calling myself Bride of Frankenstein is really the only fun aspect of the boot. I admit to uttering many unfriendly things to the boot in the middle of the night. The boot seemed unfazed.) I go for treatments two or three times a week, where they do something called Graston. The idea of Graston is to break down the scar tissue that has formed from the injury. This is done by digging into the bottom of my foot with a hard tool. The first time I had this done, I spent the whole time digging into the sides of the table with my hands, saying over and over in my head “Don’t kick the doctor. Don’t kick the doctor…” (I told this to the doctor afterwards, and he laughed and said he had plenty of practice dodging kicks so I shouldn’t worry.) It only lasts a few minutes, and over time its gotten alot less painful. They also zap me with electric current. This is either to stimulate the tissue to speed healing, or to enhance the previously mentioned Bride of Frankenstein effect, depending on whether you believe the doctor or me.

I arrived at Dr. Ray’s office with a giant gym bag full of shoes. My workout shoes, my previous workout shoes, my alternative workout shoes, several pairs of everyday shoes, and four or five different arch support inserts. His assistant carefully laid these out, taking out all of the innersoles and arch supports. After checking my foot, he handed my workout shoes to his assistant, who replaced the arch support with a metatarsal pad and changed the laces so they start halfway down from the toe instead of at the first set of holes near the toe. The metatarsal pad goes just further toward the heel than the ball of the foot. The effect is to spread out the toes. I tried them on, and was surprised at how comfortable they now felt. Months of trying all kinds of shoes and innersoles and arches and socks, and this incredible genius foot geek guy solves the problem in about 3 minutes.

I was really looking forward to my workout, to try out the new shoe solution. As often happens, I was delayed at work, then delayed in traffic because I’d left late. I then found myself at home with an awful decision: go for my training walk, or stay home for the trick-or-treaters? I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders: those kids would never know what great candy I’d bought. Besides, I’d still be back in time for some of them. I started out and the shoes felt great. My feet felt better than they had for awhile. My walking felt smoother. On the bike path I relaxed into the walk, enjoying the darkening sky and the surrounding trees. After a bit, I realized the bikes all had lights on, so I could still see them even though it was … oops! It was dark. There I was, in the middle of the bike path in the dark, alone and only mildly reflective. Well, in spite of a couple of near misses, I didn’t actually get run over. One guy said “Sh*t!” as he rode by, but I couldn’t tell if that was because of me, or because he’d just realized *he* was late for trick-or-treaters. It was hard to stay too worried about the whole dark thing, because there was a decent chunk of moon, and it was reflecting in the nature preserve pond. A bit further on, a goose sounded like it was just laughing and laughing.

Well, I wouldn’t call the end of my walk a “cool down,” and I only got in one quick calf stretch as I was opening bags of candy, but I did get to greet dozens of trick-or-treaters, decked out as Fiona (as in Shrek). Then I got hit with the “trick”: me at home with a huge tub of leftover candy. I can’t say I didn’t yield to temptation. I guess the best I can do is a nice long workout tomorrow.

There’s nothing psychedelic about LSD

October 29th, 2006

Today was long walk day. Goal: 30k. About 18.6 miles.

I did it!

This kind of training is called Long Slow Distance, and its what it says — the idea is to keep a very moderate pace, and go for a looooong time. I’ve learned from past experience that I suck at “slow,” so I use a heart rate monitor with an alarm set to ring whenever my heart rate climbs above 75% of max. The first time I did my long walk this way, I learned some goofy things about myself. For example, I unconsciously increased my pace every time somebody passed me. Well, that must be a good thing, you say, after all, aren’t you some kind of competitive athlete?? The “goofy” part is that this happened even when the folks passing me were *bicyclists*. Or rollerbladers. Or runners. Another interesting note is that I speed up to the Talking Heads, no matter what the song. Ditto for the B-52s. I’m considering really reworking my workout playlist for long walks…

My plan for today was to do the weekly walk with my local racewalk club. That would give me about 5 of my miles completed. Then, I’d jump in my car, and switch to a nearby bike path for the rest on my own. The club walk starts at 8, but I really was dragging about getting out of bed. By the time I got out the door, I was running about half an hour late. So I was surprised when I got to the track and nobody was there. It was raining, so I figured it was remotely possible folks had stayed home, but really this was unlikely — this is the Pacific Northwest, and we don’t not do things because of rain — with that approach not a whole lot would ever get done, for 8 months of each year. Finally, a bit later, a few other club folks came onto the track. It wasn’t till awhile later that someone mentioned turning our clocks back. Oops. I’d spent all that time thinking I was late, but I was the early bird! This is not a role I’m accustomed to, so I’m really enjoying knowing I was first. If its possible for *me* to be early to a morning event, well, it kind of seems like just about anything’s possible. Me finishing the 50k? :)

Club walks on the track are great, because you can spend some time doing a few laps with different people, so you get to talk and catch up alot. A couple of the guys teased me because I was going so slow, but I didn’t let myself get sucked in. “Long Slow Day” I told them. “Training for the 50k.” They passed me and various comments floated back to me: “Oh, ick!” “What are you, crazy?” “Stop your talking and start walking.” The great thing about this way we tease each other, is that it usually makes me laugh, or at least smile, and either of those things go really, really, well with Long Slow Distance.

As the club walk wound down, I hopped in my car and headed out. Crossing a bridge, I noticed a wall-like end to the clouds overhead, not very far north, with a clear blue sky past the edge. Seemed the rain was just about over.

I did the remaining miles on a mixed use bike trail that runs between a river and a nature preserve. Lots of fall foliage colors, geese, other birds, a couple of kayakers. The trail is pretty heavily used on weekends, mostly bicylists and joggers. Today I saw someone doing that off season cross-country thing — inline skates with ski poles. Plus the usual mix of racing bikes, commuter bikes, bikes with kiddie carts in back, recumbent bikes, and one bicycle for two. I did my first 5 miles in a fleece jacket and warmups, and just as I finished the wall of clouds moved south and the sun came out. So I peeled those off back at the car, and did the rest in my shorts and shirt. On LSD days I do loops from my car, because I don’t carry any water with me. So about once an hour I do a pitstop, fill up with water, gels, sports drink, whatever. Today’s location had the added bonus that there’s a bathroom just off the parking lot. Running water and everything — very civilized. I tried something new — Cliff Shot Bloks. An alternative to gels, they’re a bit denser than a jello cube, and 3 cubes gives the same calories as one gel. (IMHO they missed the boat on the name — Cliff Cubes was the way to go.) I *loved* the cubes. I’ve certainly never said that about gels. I use gels, but its more a feeling of “stop whining and eat the gel” than anything resembling my usual exuberance for food.

What do I do *after* walking? On long slow days, anything that takes my mind off how I feel, and doesn’t involve any kind of movement. With an exemption for anything that involves eating, because I end up feeling hungry about every two hours for the rest of the day. Napping is a nearly optimal post-long walk activity. Speaking of which…

A funny thing happened one day

October 28th, 2006

I’ve never blogged before, never wanted to, really, but after reading my fourth or fifth email about my current training endeavors, my friend Ted said “Have you considered doing a blog on this whole race thing?” I’m awfully busy, so I said “well, I suppose I could do that if you could set it all up for me” and Ted’s a pretty smart guy, so he mailed me my password, and here I am. This post is supposed to explain how I’ve come to be on this particular journey, but I’m thinking the real answer to that is so long and complicated and intertwined with so many life events, the best I can hope for is to just pick a day and start.

I’m a racewalker. Like many people, you may read that and think “oh, one of those power walkers” or “hmm, that’s speedwalking, right?” but actually, racewalking is different from both of those, its a sport that’s been in the Olympics since the start of the 20th century (well, for men, anyway). Racewalk competitions have judges who stare at your legs as you go by, prepared to disqualify you if you don’t have one foot on the ground, or if you don’t land on a straight leg. Racewalking is primarily an endurance event — standard competition distances range from one mile to 50k. I’m not a very fast racewalker, although being a moderate racewalker makes one a very fast walker, and I do pass joggers. I’m certainly not an elite athlete — this whole walking thing is a bad case of Adult Onset Athletics for me. In real life, I’m a scientist, but I got hooked on the really amazing feeling 5 miles into a walk when it all clicks, and I’m just smooth and fast, and there’s nothing else.

This past year, reading all about the Racewalk World Cup, it occurred to me that there was no 50k for women, only a men’s event. The same had been true in the 2004 Olympics. So I wrote a post to the racewalk group on yahoo, and asked “why isn’t there a 50k for women?” I got several answers, from officials, from racewalkers, but this story is all about one particular reply:

“50k for women? I can only think of 3: kitchen, kids, and kleenex.”

I was alone when I read this, so nobody heard what I said aloud, and that’s just as well. I sat there at my desk for awhile, thinking up the rudest replies I could post. But in the end, I found myself really, really wanting to do a 50k, just to show this guy he was wrong. Way, totally, incredibly, cluelessly WRONG. Of course, that was just a wildly impractical plan. Let me emphasize for the metric-impaired, that 50k is *31 MILES*! Marathon plus 5. I’ve walked 5 marathons, and not once have I crossed the finish line thinking “oh, if only I had 5 more miles to go.” I’ve crossed thinking “WATER” or “ICE” or “OUCH” and once even “MEDIC TENT” (a more complicated thing, putting two words together after mile 22) but not one thought of greater longer glory.

One day in August, I found myself sitting in a brewpub with a bunch of racewalkers. I told my “kitchen, kids, kleenex” story to the 4 other women at my table. “Makes me just want to do the damn race, just to show them.” The woman sitting across from me slammed her glass down on the table. “I’m in!” My mouth gaping from this reaction, the woman next to her said “Me too.” And so our team was born.

We are Western Women Go the Distance, and we are training for the USA National Championship 50k racewalk in January 2007. Our numbers have varied between 5 and 7, and we are from various Western States. We all have demanding jobs, and various cares like houses and pets and families. And we’re all pretty strong, so its really pretty likely that more than one of us will be crossing that finish line come January. Am I ever looking forward to writing *that* post!