Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Favorite Runs: International

There are so many beautiful places that I have run, I couldn't possibly pick a favorite. Instead, I'm going to highlight some of my favorite domestic and international runs and hope I describe them with some justice.

I begin with three runs on the beautiful and pristine islands of Greece--Crete, Santorini and Mykonos. Nikolaos is a beautiful seaside town about 40 minutes from the airport in Crete, depending on how fast your taxi driver drives--to be truthful there are only varying degrees of fast in Crete. You can run by the shore on a rock walkway with crashing waves at your feet. The ocean is crystal clear allowing you the vantage point of snorkeling without getting wet and there is always a gentle breeze to beat back the heat. Nikolaos looks a bit like what you imagine Venice would resemble if the water were crystal clear. As one of the most southern Greek islands, Crete is not high on the list of tourist stops so runners really stick out. Nothing says type-A American like running through Nikolaos. Still, how can you resist lacing up your shoes and taking the asphalt tour.

Santorini is one of those places where everyone should go at least once in their life--and many, many people do. It is probably the most popular Greek island destination and it is worthy of that ranking. Fira is a town carefully carved out of the face of a cliff. There is a path between Fira and the next town Oia. Oia sits a little higher then Fira and has a fantastic view of the sunset. To run between the two towns on this path is a bit challenging with the hills but your pain, should there be any, is abated by the breathtaking view. There is so much to see, other islands, the ferries running in the water below, the Santorini taxis (donkeys) moving tourists up the cliff--it's dizzying really but a must for the to do list.

Lastly, Plati Yialos on the island of Mykonos. Plati Yialos is a quiet seaside resort a bus ride from the shops and restaurants of Mykonos. The road between is full of farms, mostly lucky sheep grazing in the fields. When you run there you get strange looks from both the sheep and the farmers but to both I always bade "kalimera" which is good morning in Greek. This native greeting usually caught the farmers by surprise, chasing away their confused look at the spectacle before them.

While in Greece you can also visit the site of the original Olympic games in Delphi. There is a healthy climb to the stadium but when you reach the final ascent and walk inside the stadium, you are overcome with awe as you visualize the history that took place there.

One last reflection on Greece, do not even try to run in Athens. People drive on the sidewalk there. I don't care what metropolitan areas you have run through, Greece should not be one of them if you value your life.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Witness to oddity

Last year, I took my bike with me for a week's vacation in Cape Cod. We stayed at the tip of the Cape in Provincetown, in my view a perfect place for long rides away from the ridiculously crowded roadways of the grossly over-developed Cape. What a perfect and beautiful training ground.

There is a road between Provincetown and Truro called Route 6A. It is dotted with various seaside cabins. While it can be a bit busy and tourist filled it offers a scenic view of the bay in Provincetown for those early risers that can get up and out on their bike before the tourists start heading for the beach. I am an early riser.

One morning I was riding out on Route 6A. There is no shoulder. It is a fairly narrow two lane road, miss the pavement and you are in sand. Precise riding is key. It is also rather windy and often the wind mistakes me for a kite. I was determined, however, to ride to the Truro Winery which is where Route 6A and Route 6 meet and traffic becomes life-threatening.

At the turn around I realized I was now going to go head-on into the wind. It was a struggle but nonetheless still enjoyable. As I was making the bend from Truro to Provincetown a Truro Police Officer pulled me over--yes, I was on my bike. He felt I was riding a bit wide. I tried to explain that you cannot ride a road bike in sand and that while I look of sturdy frame the wind was having its way with me. Although probably half my age, he continued with his parental warning so I allowed him to finish.

The Truro Police incident made me alter my route. I instead, chose to ride through Provincetown and out the main roads that lead to its beaches. This was a great ride, very hill and very little traffic. The roads are wide and there is no sand to grab a weary thin tire. All was going well until one day I noticed a shadow in my slipstream. As I looked at my shadow to my left I noted me, my bike and something just behind my buttocks but I had no idea what it was. I sped up, I slowed down, and there it still was in my slipstream. As I was about to stop to will it by me I was stung in the buttocks by what I believe to be an enormous bee. Ouch! Yes, it was quite unpleasant and yet I was so far away from where we were staying so I had no choice but to keep riding.

All things considered, the police pullover, the slipstream hijacking bee--I would ride there every day if I could.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Mrs. C would be proud

When I was in the 5th and 6th grade I had a science teacher named Mrs. C--few could pronounce her very long, proud polish name. You received extra credit if you could spell her last name which may be the only thing I mastered in her class. Science was not my forte. Despite much effort, I had SLD--science learning disorder. The only bright spot in my efforts to achieve a low C or high D was the early ability to cross a medical career off of future career possibilities.

Today, Mrs. C would be extremely proud of me and perhaps a bit shocked. Science, as I've come to realize, is at the core of the sport of triathlon. There is the science that goes into triathlon gear--the geometry of the bike, the streamline of aero position, the material and thickness of a wet suit, the fabric in a swimsuit, the technology in a running shoe. That is the science you can buy. There is also the science that we live--the science of our body.

I am susceptible to over-training injuries--yes, I am a little type A...or some would argue a lot type A. I know that high arches, over pronation and and intense workouts equals plantar fascitis. I now know that cortizone shots really don't help with the inflamation of plantar fascitis as the podiatrist advised and that it is best to reduce my miles and get good orthotics. I know that there is a tendon called the iliotibial band that runs just below the knee (connecting to the tibia) to the hip (the ilia). This is knowledge gained through a painful hip and knee. I know that endurance athletes need a constant supply of carbohydrate and sugar to replenish depleted muscle and liver glycogen stores or else they start burning muscle which leads to a major bonk or worse. I know that not enough water, salt, potassium and liquids leads to dehydration, cramps or worse. I know that too much water leads to hyponatremia which is a low concentration of sodium in the blood.

A shout out to Mrs. C--this old dog has learned some new science tricks.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I am one with the morning

Once a week I get up at 4:30 am (a 15 minute departure from the regular wakeup call) so I can get out on the road for my long run (11-12 miles). It's a work day so I have to squeeze in as much time for as many miles as possible. Typically, I am out the door by 5 am or so.

It is now pitch black at that hour, as it is most of the year. I run outside all year long regardless of weather. There are maybe three or four months in the year when those runs begin as the sun is coming up welcoming a new day, the remainder of the year it is completely dark but for the street lights and occasional vehicle traffic.

The darkness mixed with the stillness of a new day are extremely enjoyable. This stillness is broken only by my footfalls and an occasional dog barking in the distance. As I pass by houses in my neighborhood I know which neighbors are early risers and which are not. As I pass by bus stops I give a good-morning shout to the "morning people", my people--predominately folks that work in the service industry on their way to work. In a nearby community I run right down the middle of the main drag, it is empty and calm--the antithesis of what it becomes when the thirty-something businesses open for the day beginning with the coffee shop at 6 am.

Eventually the sun rises in the distance and I watch it raise with new promise. As it washes over the landscape it reminds me of wrapping paper being peeled off a present. It is the same present that I open every day and yet there is always that sense of awe and surprise. I am one with the morning.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Witness to oddity

I was reminded recently of a bizarre incident during my first (and only) marathon, the Marine Corp Marathon in 1999.

The Marine Corp Marathon is a good first-timer course because it is fairly flat and loaded with spectators who stand shoulder to shoulder throughout almost all of the race. Part of the course takes you out to Haines Point which is in close proxemity to the Jefferson Memorial. It is a long, lonely stretch on the course with few spectators. When I ran the race, I was grateful that a friend rode her bike along side of me--she ran the race the year before and knew that it was mentally the toughest part of the course. As we were coming out of Haines Point and winding our way toward the Jefferson Memorial, this woman in her 70's who was competing in the marathon pulled out a pack of cigarettes and started smoking while running (albeit I note she had trouble lighting her cigarette). The next day, I asked my friend if that was a hallucination. She confirmed that my recollection was correct.

Almost a year later, I was doing Get-Out-The-Vote work for the Democratic Party in Philadelphia with a bunch of volunteers from the DC area. There she was, the smoking marathoner, in the van. I don't remember her name but I remember asking her about the race during a conversation at a rest stop. She confirmed her identity as she lit a cigarette but this time she was in uniform--the smoking marathoner by profession was a nun.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Correspondent BL

This column responds to questions posed by correspondent BL, part-time blog correspondent, full-time 8th grader, and hopeful niece to a future ironwoman.

BL: What do you like more: dualthons, triathlons? What distance do you prefer: half ironwoman or ironwoman races?

Liz: I definitely prefer the triathlon to the duathlon. The duathlon seems like it is cheating--everyone can ride a bike and run, but not everyone can swim, bike and run. I tried the duathlon in my first year of racing. It is advantageous for my land skills but the triathlon is more to my liking because the swim is such a mental challenge for me.

As for distance, I favor a long course. As you know, there are no sprinters in our bloodline and the sprint distance races (800m swim, 12-15 mile bike, 5km run) favor the young and speedy athletes like you, BL). I'll race that distance once a year but it is a bit anticlimatic--it just seems like you are getting warmed up and suddenly you are done.

I like the long distance races best. The Olympic distance (1.5km swim, 50km bike, 10k run) gives me lots of land time to catch those fast swimmers. They may beat me out of the water but I'll make them work the pedals and push their pace on the run. The half-Ironwoman (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) is a challenge. I love trying to figure out how much energy I can expend in each discipline and how to keep myself hydrated and nourished over 70.3 miles. Now that I know my body can endure almost 7 hours of exercise I'm curious about my limitations, thus, the appeal of a full-Ironwoman. The Ironwoman distance (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) is a huge step up. We all want to accomplish something extraordinary in our lives. This will be my extraordinary least for the time being.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A family Tri

Each of the last three years, I have competed in the Cazenovia Triathlon. It's a beautiful course--a clear and calm lake, a hilly country ride, a hilly run that puts you up on a bluff overlooking the lake. It was the second triathlon I competed in (ever) and the one that convinced me to pursue the sport further. Instead of the 42 minute 800 meter swim from my first race, this swim was completed in less than half that time and with members of my heat still in the water--I was not second to last.

Last year the race came 5 days after my Dad passed and my Mom asked me to compete in it for him. My entire family came. It was the first time my Mom saw me compete--definitely a special day. Although I had no energy to compete hard, I did finish the race in the same time as the year before thanks to a push from my Dad. I asked him for help up the big hills and he delivered.

This year, I tried to convince my family to put together some relay teams but I was unsuccessful in persuading them. Nonetheless, my partner, JB, signed up for the race--her first foray into the triathlon world. She has witnessed the camaraderie among athletes as a specatator and now she will experience it firsthand as a participant. At the end of the day, she may be sore and tired but I think she will walk away with a huge sense of accomplishment and pride at having competed in what I think is a very difficult sprint course. I'm proud of her for competing and I welcome her to the tri-world (albeit I have no expectation that she will become as obsessed as me....then again, I would enjoy the competition).

Looking back to my first triathlon, I offer this advice: Stay back at the start so you don't get swum over or kicked in the face (a personal experience from last year's race); spot the buoys early and often (to avoid a 42 minute 800 meter swim); watch out for people that just stop at the buoys (I can't explain this); take your time and concentrate on each individual discipline--while you might dread the run, focus on the swim or bike when you are in it; remember that every stroke, pedal, or step forward puts you closer to the finish line; and finally ENJOY THE RACE! If you walk away with no sense of awe at the beauty around you--you've missed the most important part of the race.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Witness to Oddity

Spending so much time outdoors can make you witness to or participant in many of life's oddities. This column will detail these occasional oddities.

This past weekend in one single bike ride of 54 miles I witnessed two bizarre incidents. A fire and a medical miracle.

I started out from my house at 6 am choosing the early hour to avoid as much traffic and trail congestion as possible. In that vein, the return is always worse then the peaceful start. The trail I ride most often has a series of wooden bridges that allow you to traverse over various creeks and ponds (sewage runoff truthfully, but the city beautifies that by naming its various arteries). I was riding along at about 18 mph or so when I saw a man standing near one of the bridges. Riding alone, I generally speed up when I see folks standing around, so I naturally accelerated. At a distance of 30 feet I could see smoke rising from the bridge and as my front wheel hit the bridge I noticed the wood in the center was completely missing but for 2 feet on either side. For those that believe in the supernatural, it looked like a meteor hit the bridge and landed in the creek.

This was no supernatural occurrence, of course, but instead arson. I asked the guy standing there if he called the fire department, he answered affirmatively. I was on mile 4 of my long ride and as I could not be of further help, I decided to proceed across the bridge with care. The bridge was solid assuming you missed stepping into the smoldering hole. A half-mile away I found the firefighters wandering through the woods looking for the bridge. I provided them with directions and continued on. Later when I returned the bridge was closed and all traffic had been rerouted.

The fire was like a strong cup of Joe. It heightened my awareness for the remainder of the ride.

Within 8 miles of the fire I saw a jogger off in the distance. I thought she was a bit too-well dressed for jogging but as I got closer I realized it was not a neck scarf that she was wearing but a neck brace. Now, I'm not a doctor but I have to think if you need a neck brace it's probably not advisable to jog.

Is there a cosmic message in my bearing witness to these events? Now that's a frightening thought.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Correspondent BL

This column responds to questions posed by correspondent BL, part-time blog correspondent, full-time 8th grader, and hopeful niece to a future ironwoman.

Where and when was your first triathlon?

Oh, that. August 2003 at Lums Pond State Park in Bear, DE. In January of 2003 I decided to teach myself to swim with an eye toward trying a triathlon. I quickly realized I had a natural penchant for swimming with my head above water so I enrolled in adult swimming classes at the YMCA. The classes were only slightly helpful and unfortunately reminded me of the torturous swim lessons of my youth.

Eventually I was able to swim 800 meters which was the race swim distance, so my friend Brad and I signed up. 800 meter swim, 19.1 mile bike, 3.1 mile run. My stroke was extremely inefficient as I failed to understand the physics behind swimming. My head was not above water, but for all practical purposes my body moved as if it were. For me, the swim was all about getting out of the water on to dry land where my ancestral roots were well grounded.

The swim took me 42 minutes. To give that some perspective, I'm a slow but much improved swimmer and my fastest time at twice that distance is 33 minutes. Why 42 minutes? Immediately at the start I was swum over. This is the unpleasant experience where people swim over the top of you without any qualms. I waited and cleared myself some space before continuing on to the first buoy. Then, head down and driven to touch land, I swam.

Before long I noted that there was no more physical contact. I was grateful. Still, something didn't seem right. I felt the presence of something near me, not a swimmer, not a fish, but something. I stopped and looked up. It was a canoe. I was way off course--way, way off course. The guy in the canoe, who witnessed my cursing, said "Don't worry, you have all day to finish". I was going to quit. All I needed to do was touch the canoe and I would be disqualified. I was willing to accept the tow of shame back to shore. I thought about my nephew serving in Iraq for the 4th Infantry Division, I carried his picture in my shoe. If he could endure the conditions of Iraq, I knew I could at least try to finish the swim. Before my first stroke, I saw another swimmer about 200 yards ahead of me and suddenly I thought, "hey, maybe I won't be last".

Eventually I made it to shore, I passed the other swimmer at the second buoy and the canoe continued in his escort. The bike and run were nothing. I am a land animal. When I finished in approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes I vowed I would never do another triathlon.

Never say never. I can finish that distance in under an hour and a half now and as for competing in other triathlons, I say "bring 'em on."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Today I celebrate my inspiration

A year ago today, I lost my Dad after a long battle against his degenerating heart. I’ve come to learn that he unwittingly has been my inspiration in many ways, but particularly in my pursuit of sport. My Dad taught me everything I need to know to compete in triathlon and because of that I cannot help but be reminded of him as I train and race.

He balanced me on his bike frame during family bike rides when I was too young for my own bike—this taught me balance and that small, slimline seats are not always comfortable. When I finally got my first bike—a blue, slightly used no-speeder with fat tires and enormous fenders—he taught me how to ride safely. He would take the entire family on evening excursions around the neighborhood—this included riding on some roads that as an adult, even with a helmet, I find quite dangerous. My Dad was comfortable with his lessons of safety.

He taught me how to swim without getting my hair wet in some of the most crystal clear and incredibly frigid lakes of upstate NY. Initially, I cheated and touched the bottom of the lake with my long arms. I’m sure he knew but encouraged me anyhow. I can see him in his blue swim trunks, his Saint Christopher medal slapping the water, exhaling as if he were blowing out birthday candles with every stroke—and not a single strand of hair touching the water.

Today, as I climb a long hill at the end of a 10-mile run in high humidity, or as I struggle to finish the last 300 meters in a 3200-meter swim, or as my gluteus maximus is giving me a maximus pain in the buttocks on a 54-mile bike ride, I remember how much suffering he endured merely to spend one more day with his family and suddenly I see my way through. His life and lessons inspired me to cross the finish line of my first half-Ironman earlier this year, and I have no doubt that he will lead me to the finish line in Lake Placid—but if it’s alright with you Dad, I’m much faster if I put my face in the water.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Why triathlon?

Triathlon takes you back to your childhood. It is a return to the carefree days of summer when you played basketball, swam, played kickball, biked, and continuously ran around breaking only for lunch and dinner. There are differences, of course. As a child I never worried about my multi-sport performance--as an adult there is worry (will I perform well, will I get a flat tire, will I bonk), and fear (can I really swim that far, was that a big fish I just saw), and a sense of accomplishment at a new personal best or merely just finishing. More powerful then those differences, however, are the similarities. The most significant of which is the moment in every race when I am 10 years old running between activities in my pro-keds.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

How it began

On July 24, registration for the Lake Placid Ironman opened--a day after the 2006 race completed. My partner (JB) called with a co-worker, Rob. Rob had just registered for 2007 race and promised to be my training partner if I registered too. JB reminded me that it has been a life goal to compete in the Lake Placid Ironman.

With 355 days to prepare, the support of my partner (a triathlon widow), and a training partner on board, I put my money on the line and officially registered. Like many others before me, the inspiration from watching the broadcast of the race in Kona has me on the road to becoming an Ironwoman. Could it be more difficult then becoming a Half-Ironwoman in the Florida 70.3......I sure hope not.