Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fun Size and Football Genes

Happy Halloween! I hope that everyone out there gets a chance to enjoy the festivities, have fun, and eat lots of candy! Tabbitha - our cat, decided that this year she wanted to be an elephant named Babbette. So I helped make the eyes, while Nathaniel grabbed the tape and held her down, and I had the brave task of sticking them to her rear end. Even though Tabbitha was very excited about the holiday, she didn't think much of the costume process. Then again, who really would like getting paper eyes stuck to their ham hocks? So the eyes which I so painstakingly made, and Nathaniel and I who risked life and limb sticking them on her kitty- rear, only got to enjoy them for a few minutes. Because Tabbitha, we discovered, didn't have much patience or temperament for things stuck to her butt. So for a few minutes she went nuts chasing her tail, but eventually got one of the eyes off. It's lying in defeat next to one of our bookshelves. We are greatly amused by the fact that she's still got one eye on her butt. Apparently she doesn't think this is all that funny, so she's no longer hanging out with us, but instead sulking on her own, figuring out plots to take over the world, her back giving an occasional twitch from the adhesive eye. But I've got to hand it to Tabbitha, that she's been a very good girl, sticking to her diet of "Iams Weight Loss" cat food (and we've been pretty good parents not giving her extra treats!) When Nathaniel weighed her this morning, she was down from 18.2 pounds to 17.6! Way to go Tabbs! And lest you think it's weird to weigh your cat, Nathaniel is fascinated that a cat of her size can still manage to hurl herself at him and catch him off guard.

So while we're on the subject of weight loss, let's discuss the holiday of candy - Halloween!

While at the store the other day, I found myself beholding an entire isle of candy. Not a shelf, not a wall, an entire isle devoted to yummy delectable goodies. I was completely mesmerized, beyond words. It was unbelievable - Holy Cow! I was blown away by the choices, staring in disbelief at how many packs of various candy were crammed into each shelf, almost like insulation. Woe to the parents who bring their kids down this isle. Actually, wait - woe to the triathlete who's season isn't quite over yet. Sigh. Big sigh. Bummer.

Note to self: next year end your season late October, right before Halloween. Then you can indulge in ALL the candy you want, guilt free!

That was the problem. There was no way, no way I could purchase a package or five of these tasty treats. It was too much. I couldn't be trusted. I knew myself well enough to know that if I started in on a bag of snickers, peanut m&m's, baby ruths, butterfingers, or even worse peanut butter cups - all meant for the little ghosts and ghouls who never arrived on our doorstep because we live at a condo complex that has mostly retired couples (think of Del Boca Vista on Seinfeld) or young kid-less couples -that I would eventually pass out from a chocolate/peanut/sugar-induced coma, with dribbles of chocolate on my face, melted chocolate on my shirt, and only the empty, crumpled wrappers as a reminder of the carnage that had occurred. Nope. Not this year! (Not again.)

And why?

Because I'm racing my final, biggie, A-priority, gold-star, numero uno, big kahuna, most important, did I mention A-priority? - race of the season in something like 10 days, and don't want to ruin myself with one bad night. (I'm discussing candy, nothing else!). And it's not that I can't handle a treat or two, because as a rule, I usually do! But I've learned a few things about myself over the years, one of the most important is that when it comes to training and food, I tend to be an All-Or-Nothing kind of a gal.

Days when I train, when I go through tough workouts, when I've got really long workouts, or high intensity/high volume/evil-coach workouts, I'm really great about my nutrition and food intake. I make sure that I fuel before, during, and after, eat enough fruit and veggies, and indulge a little when I feel like it. As long as my weight stays stable and within reason, I don't give it much thought. On the other hand, my off-days or off-season days are the times when I'm not quite as careful with my nutrient intake. I still eat pretty healthy, but I tend to eat a lot more, and a lot more junk (go back to the peanut m&ms, extra helpings of dessert, and all the stuff that I don't usually eat during my season because it's not "healthy"). So the healthy eating and training go hand-in-hand, as do the off-season/rest days and junk intake. And when you think about it, that's a pretty bad cycle to be caught up in. It should be the exact opposite - dude, if you've biked for 4 hours, you should get to eat whatever you want! The off days should be focused on relaxing your body, repairing the tissues, and giving yourself the proper nutrients to help you along. Enough said.

So back to gazing mesmerized at the isle of candy.

I just knew that bringing a bag or two home, would invite certain disaster. And not that I'm in the business of self-sabotage, but let's be real. The last thing I want to do is lug around a few extra pounds with me while I'm racing. Believe me - I'll get my treats afterwards, but just not yet anyway. And why??

I'll be the first to tell you, I'm not a "naturally" thin person. I've been blessed with a football player physique, big shoulders, big arms, dense bones, lots of muscle tissue. Great if you're playing rugby or a contact sport (I was always good at ultimate Frisbee), but not so great if you have to do endurance stuff. My junior year in high school, I was the only athlete entered in both the 3200 meter run AND the shot put. I wasn't the fastest runner, but man-oh-man, I could lob that 8 pound shot clear across the field. Yes - those are the genes that I got.

I also got the genes that like to maintain a "heavier"/"denser" body weight. Wonderful if there's a massive famine and we've got no food, OR if I ever end of going on Survivor - but again, not great when I'm trying to stay long and lean. I joke with Nathaniel that when I get old, I'm going to have boobs down to my waist that are held up by my protruding stomach, and fat ankles, or "cankles". (Well, I don't really hope for that, just something that I've noticed is prominent among female relatives in really old family photos. But my Mom and my Sister give me hope. They're not like the others that I've seen. Mom is in great shape and takes really good care of herself, and Karyna got the "long and lean" genes in the family). Insofar as the bags of candy go - I would start, feel guilty about having a few pieces, and the just throw in the towel, figure the damage was already done, and then just finish off the entire sorry affair. Back to the all or nothing principle. Kind of like Bridget Jones - she ended up eating the entire contents of her fridge because of "An American Stick-Insect and Very Bad Man". At which point she was reduced to eating dry cereal and doing Vodka shots - something that even I couldn't do at this point ("big person" genes + very little alcohol tolerance = I'm not the greatest person to party with, because a few drinks and I'm asleep).

So there you have it. I can't be trusted with the candy. And believe me, I could probably do okay - but I've been know to sleep walk. And food has disappeared while I'm sleepwalking (another blog). The funniest incident was after Nathaniel returned from his last deployment, I bought him a box of Cheezits, his favorite kind. I'm not a big fan, but occasionally I'll take a handful or two. A few mornings after he got home, I woke up with the taste of cheddar cheese in my mouth. Hhhmmmm? As I walked into the dining room/kitchen, Nathaniel gave me a huge grin.

"I see you were hungry last night!"

"What do you mean?" I responded, my taste buds acutely aware of gooey-cheesiness on the inner part of my cheek.

"You ate the Cheesits last night - after I went to bed!" He showed me the empty box.

I was speechless.

He continued on, "But sweetheart, you really made a mess. I found a trail of cheezits from the kitchen, through the dining room, and into the living room. Look!"

I looked. He was right. This wasn't a cruel joke. The taste of cheese in my mouth was further affirmation of my midnight snacking. Great! I actually eat junk food, but I'm not even awake to remember or to enjoy it. Wonderful.

And to top it off - there were crushed Cheezit bits, ground into the floor after I had unknowingly trodden on them. The bottoms of my feet only further confirmed what had already been done,

I gave Nathaniel a guilty look, apologized for eating his treats, and then promptly wondered how many other times I've sleepwalked in the middle of the night and eaten different foods... Well I figured that if I was eating while I was sleeping, I must have really been hungry.

But Halloween candy is different. It's just there. It's meant to be handed out, given away to kids who celebrate the holiday, and not consumed in mass quantities by weight-conscious triathletes in the middle of tapering for their final race.

Back to the Isle of Candy. They all looked so delicious, so close... just a layer or two of plastic and I would be in direct contact with all of my favorite treats. But not yet. Not yet. My season isn't over, I still have work to do. Time is ticking down, and soon I'll get to enjoy all the treats I want (within reason... I've still got fat ankles to worry about), but this year will be different. This year I've had a purpose, set all different kinds of goals, and have steadily worked towards them. No, I haven't yet done everything I've set out to do, and there have been a few things that I wanted to get done that I wasn't successful at. But I still learned, I still put my head down and plowed through the tough times. I still did the work, put in the hours, the training, the energy, the money, the effort, the early mornings, the early nights, and I'm really happy with what I've done. It hasn't always been easy, but that's life. I've learned so many valuable things this season that I've would have NO CLUE about had the "bad" stuff not happened. My bike at Timberman was one of the most painful, disastrous, agonizing, and sad rides that I've ever experienced. But I'm grateful that I did - because the meaning and the lessons that I got out of it are far more valuable than one bad race/ride could ever be.

So yeah, I could buy a few bags of candy, eat a few pieces, and function fine the next day. And all in all, it probably wouldn't matter one single bit. But after all the work I've done, the lessons learned, I don't want to risk turning into Cookie Monster a few days before my race. After the blood, sweat and tears, its' just not worth it. So another lesson learned, I guess (especially after the candy coma fiasco 2 years ago. Let's just say that I haven't been able to eat a "fun" sized snickers bar without remembering painful indigestion).

And that was the entire point of this blog - or at least what I originally set out to write about. "Fun" sized candy. I enjoy eating candy bars as much as the guy or gal next to me, but "fun" size? Come-on! They're not fun, just the exact opposite. I get no joy out of eating something the size of my thumb. One, maybe two bites, and I've scarfed the entire thing! So before you know it, you've consumed 4 or 5 "fun" size bars, hardly realizing it because they're so bloody small. Just goes to show how mass marketing, bright colors, and clever ad campaigns are contributing to America's obesity epidemic. Fun size my rear! Fun size would be BIG - the kind of bar you can really enjoy.

Oh but wait - I've just found the big bars. They're not "regular" size or "extra large" or even "Huge"... no, they're the "Monster" bars. Ha ha. So Happy Halloween - enjoy the candy and chocolate highs, and please don't take all the candy. I'll be right there with you in about 10 days or so (not that I'm counting). You never know what I'll do for Peanut M&Ms or Peanut Butter Cups. In the meantime, I'll try to refrain from sleepwalking,while Nate hides the candy. But I don't know how much I'll be able to control it after November 10th.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Food for Thought

This is a classic poem by non other than the great Robert Frost. As I was going through my day, I kept returning to the final line: I took the one less traveled, and that has made all the difference. Sometimes you have days where introspection and writing is really helpful. There are other days where you just need a bit of inspiration, or "food for thought", so to speak.

Here it is, by Robert Frost (1874-1963) THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh! I kept the first for another day
Yet knowing how way leads onto way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I hope that you enjoy! Each time I read this poem, I learn something new about myself, or am able to place it into my own context. I suppose this retrospection is a result from my big race in a week or so (not that I'm counting!). I am happy with the road that I've taken, even though there are lots of twists and turns. Its not the "normal" road, or a road that many people would choose, and that has made all the difference.

*Although, I don't particularily enjoy the "bumpy" roads or the "crotch-killer" roads as I call them while I'm biking. You know what I mean - beautiful back country roads that unfortunately have a lot of bumps, uneven surfaces, and the reverbrations from the pavement hit you directly is some pretty senseitive areas. THOSE roads aren't that great - but I suppose they're just part of the process. Another road taken.

Hurrah for Robert Frost and his inspirational messages in writing. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm about to go have a late-night snack. FEED ME SEYMORE! Alas, that's a whole new blog all together.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sprinkler Runs

Packers vs. Broncos. Monday night football. 7:30 pm CST. ESPN. It's been on our calendar because Nathaniel is a fan of Green Bay. And because I'm a fan of Nathaniel, I am therefore a fan of the Packers. (My logic prof would be proud!) So I'll write while Nate explains all the wonders of football. But it's still a bit confusing to me. If a 340 lb, angry, aggressive, pumped-up guy were running at me, I'd drop the football, yelp, and run the other way. No, I'll take that back. I'd throw the ball to him, hopefully distracting him, and then make my getaway. I may not be especially speedy over short distances, but if I was being chased by a 300-pounder in helmet and padding, I could convert those endurance muscles into fast-twitch speedy bullets. But I still get a kick out of watching Nathaniel watch football. So if I seem a little scattered, please accept my apology. And I've got to admit, the game has been growing on me... I think the strategy and the coordination of the 3 teams (offense, defence, and special teams) is pretty neat - then again, coming from a single-person sport (save the relay), this "teamwork" thing is a little foreign to me. I still don't like the part about getting pummeled, but then again, I suppose that's why I don't play. Give me a bike and painful seat any day, thank you very much.

That being said...

Yesterday I had my final long run run until Clearwater. I let myself sleep in, enjoy a leisurely Sunday morning of oatmeal and coffee (with creamer!), and listened to a replay of Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" (Nathaniel got to listen to the annual Halloween reading of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" and was a happy camper), and finally got the gumption up to leave for the run. I was looking forward to the run, as I had an option of staying in heart rate zones 1-2 (if I was tired) or pushing the pace into the higher heart rate zones. After the previous day's intense brick and a final overload week of intensity, I was a little doubtful about how speedy I would be. But you never know, so I went into the run with an open mind.

Additionally, the "later" start time enabled me to train in warmer conditions, as the temperature at 7:00 am was in the low 50s. Beautiful, absolutely wonderful running weather, but as I'm trying to remain as acclimated to as much of Florida's heat as possible, I figured the temperature around noon would be hovering somewhere in the upper 70s. I wasn't disappointed. Great for a potentially warm race in a week or two (exciting!)

I got my gear together - shorts, top, visor, sunscreen, a few gel packs (to work on race-nutrition) and yes, the camel back. I know, I know - I probably look like a dork to the average Joe. But hey, at least I'm a hydrated "dork". And besides, Nathaniel - in his lovingly way - says that I look "cute". So there I was, a cute hydrated dork, gels in had, starting out on her final 1:45 run. Ready Set Go!

Within about 50 feet, I could tell, I just knew that this probably wouldn't be a zone 3-4 heart rate effort. My legs just didn't have their usual "snap". For some reason, that didn't bother me. I figured I would enjoy the beauty of UWF (University of West Florida), work on my hill running technique (the hills there are ferocious), and just enjoy the peaceful serenity of a beautiful day. I reasoned that there was a time and a place for different heart rate exertions, and because Coach had given me the option of taking it easy, I knew it would be key to listen to my body. No worries! There are just some days where you're flying: things feel great, and the workout is going so well you just want to drop to your knees and scream in jubilation. And then there are other days where it's just a little bit more challenging - but that doesn't take anything away from the fact that you're still out there doing. "Slow" pace aside, I knew it would be a great run. And it truly was. I felt lucky to be out there, just running and thinking.

And then it started getting a little warm. 20 minutes later I was getting a little more steamy. Another 10 minutes I was downright hot. Thank goodness for the Camel back and gels. And this is exactly what I wanted - the opportunity to train in "heat", or at least warmer conditions.

Cue the flashbacks to sprinkler runs. Eons ago when I ran Cross Country and Track in high school, our team used to go out on long runs. Instead of the usual 4 or 6 miles through the areas surrounding our high school, when it was warm/hot, we would make a bee-line for the local golf course. Running on golf courses is a lot of fun - the grass feels squishy under your feet, there's lots of rolling terrain, and it's a pretty neat feeling bounding through sand traps. The drawback is, of course, the other golfers. And club house managers. And the groundskeepers. For some reason they really didn't like our antics of running across the greens. At the time we didn't bother - it was golf. It was slow. It took forever. It was b-o-r-i-n-g! But now I kind of feel sorry for the groundskeeper, even if he did call our high school coach and complain. Oh well - we were stupid kids who didn't appreciate all the hard work that went into golf course upkeep.

The best part of golf-course runs by far were the sprinklers. Because golf courses need to remain green and in immaculate condition, oftentimes the water system and sprinklers would be out, watering various parts of the course. On particularly hot days, when our coach wasn't following us in his red mini-van, we would beeline for the sprinklers and cool off, eventually dashing through in our shorts and sports bras, until we were discovered by angry golfers, angry groundskeepers, or even angrier club house owners. We would grab our shirts, tear across the course, ignoring golfers, golf balls, carts and all, sprint up the hill and make a mad 1/2 mile dash to the relative safety of Como Lake. A great speed workout! But it was great fun, and it made warm days bearable. Good company and a huge industrial sized sprinkler, I suppose it's true that the little things in life can make the biggest difference.

As I was huffing up the UWF hills, I remembered with great fondness these past training runs. How carefree we were - no worries, just training and racing, and going to school (of course). A simple life, free of adult worries or responsibilities. I miss some of those aspects, but would not trade places with my former self, period. Something about having a few dozen awkward years to live through just doesn't seem all that appealing. So I'll take the life I've got, thank you very much, slow-paced run and all. But it was rapidly heating up, and I was hoping that the UWF Soccer Complex would have their sprinkler systems out. I huffed up the next hill, listening to the sloshing of my camel back or my stomach (probably both), made sure I took in my second gel (about 1:00 or so into the run), and looked longingly towards the Complex. Darn it! No such luck. Just to make sure, I jogged past the stadium. The sign "Non-Potable Water" made my heart sink. The though of running through water that had been treated by our waste was beyond disgusting. But the grass looked great!

But that made me think of another incident involving Sprinklers that wasn't quite so carefree. And potentially very embarrassing.

A little over four years ago, Nathaniel and I were married. As part of his first duty assignment, he was sent to school out in 29 Palms California, in the middle of the high desert, above Palm Springs and near Joshua Tree National Park (It's beautiful there, we fell in love with the desert, the vivid colors, the extreme climate, the clean/clear air, the beautiful red and tan stone formations, and of course, the Joshua Trees). We drove out there together as part of our honeymoon - a car trip across the US from Virginia to California in July - what an adventure!

As you can imagine, 29 Palms was VERY hot in July. The temperature as we were driving on the Marine Corps base was 123 degrees F. I have never experienced heat like that. It was stifling, unrelenting, ceaseless. There was a 3 mile running trail on base near the waste water treatment (which I dubbed "Camp Toilet"), and an additional paved Tank Track that ventured 9 miles out towards an outlying camp inside the main military center. As long as I ran early in the morning, before the heat of the day, I felt great. It was hot, but it wasn't unbearable yet. The humidity was low, the colors were beautiful, and I truly enjoyed the desert serenity. Usually I would start my runs about 20 minutes before sunrise, and the temperatures skyrocketed shortly after the sun was above the horizon.

One of these particularly warm (okay, stifling HOT) mornings, I was walking back up the hill on 3rd street towards the temporary barracks we were staying in. As I was walking, I noticed all sorts of Marines marching in formation to their academic classes, or running in formation with their squads. I felt a little out of order - the only female within sight, standing out, non-uniformed and alone, on a male-dominated infantry base. Just at that moment, as I was passing the General's Parade Deck, the sprinkler system came on.

Let me explain, the Parade Deck is a pretty big deal in the Marine Corps. The Commanding General is able to conduct inspections on the deck, formal military processions take place, and it's a place reserved mainly for military functions. But the grass looked so lush and so tantalizingly green. The water looked beautiful - I bet that it was cool, lush, clarifying - and it certainly made the grass look beautiful. All I wanted to do was to strip off my shirt, throw off my shoes, and run carefree through the sprinklers. My inner child was nearly throwing a fit - Go Go Go GO GO! What are you waiting for?? You LOVE water! It's hot! It would feel SO GOOD! GO HAVE FUN. Let go of reason, and just fly!

It was so tempting. I paused, watching the water rotate in wide circular arcs over the lush grass. It did look wonderful. And I was a little warm. And I had just finished a long run, so a sprinkler run was definitely called for. But reason took over, and I realized I would look like a complete idiot, among all these uniformed professional Marines, marching in their orderly formation of 60 paces per minute (I counted. I just have this thing for numbers. Plus it's really neat to see them marching to this particular cadence when you've got techno music to the same beat. It looks a little surreal, but pretty cool). So I took a pass on the sprinkler run, vowing to return when no one was present, and run like a little kid to my heart's content.

Later that day I explained my near-sprinkler adventure to Nathaniel. He looked absolutely horrified.

"What?" I asked, unaware that I had done anything wrong. For Pete's sake, I didn't even put a toe on the grass, let alone run barefoot and shirtless through the sprinklers.

"Sweetheart," he started. "Do you know what non-potable water is?"

Was this a trick question? What was I supposed to say? I'm from Minnesota, where we get enough rain to make all the fields green. "No," I replied, nonchalantly.

"Well, it means that it's water that's not safe for drinking." He plowed on. "And based on how ungodly green that grass looks in the middle of the high California desert, I suspect that the water that's doing the sprinkling, comes directly from Camp Toilet."

I was speechless.

"Mother Nature's fertilizer at it's best." He laughed, a glint in the corner of his eye.

Wow. I was still speechless.

And then the complete and utter grossness of what I had almost done hit me. I was just about to strip down and run through poop-water in front of hundreds of Marines. I would have been beyond their help - they probably would have called the Military Police, who would have carted me off, poopey-water and all, for some serious questioning.

I guess I need to learn to pay attention a little more. AND wonder a little more about what kind of fertilizer is being used to make the grass in the desert so green.

What do you know? You learn something new every day. And that is what explains how suspiciously healthy the Parade Deck looked, for the middle of the desert. In July. Next time, I should make sure to read posted signs, rather than run headlong into a potential gross mistake. It would have been very embarrassing if I had abandoned reason, and run headstrong into the Camp Toilet sprinkler water, in front of hundreds of Marines. Thankfully, I didn't.

But it just goes to show - make sure you know what you're running into before you decide to take the leap.

And with that happy thought, I finished out my run. Not the fastest, but still a great showing, nonetheless. Runs like this are simply wonderful - carefree, and just running for the sake of running. By the end, it was no longer my camel back making the sloshing, but my stomach. It was now full of gels, water, oatmeal and coffee. But through some miracle of miracle, I didn't get sick and felt almost as good at the end as I did at the beginning. I guess it's just the power of positive thinking. And good memories that make you laugh.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Spider webs

The other day I was in the bathroom, getting out of the shower and ready for my day. I had just tackled an abnormally difficult swim, and could feel the ache already in my triceps and lats. The thought of stretching my triceps made me whimper, and even the act of bending over to feed our cat had my lats and back protesting. I could tell it was going to be a long day.

And then I dropped the towel. Literally.

Great, now I had to bend over again, only this time it was for my own good, not for the sake of our cat. My mistake. Sigh. If my body could speak, it would have been creaking and groaning. And all this from a swim, what's the deal? It's called overload, baby. And this is just part of it, so buck up! A few more weeks to go and you'll be done.

As I bent over to pick up the towel, I noticed a little bit of movement in the bathroom corner, right near the doorway and our cat water filter. (Quick note - no, you didn't read that incorrectly. We do have a cat water filter. Our stupid cat doesn't like to drink stationary water. She'll drink from faucets, taps, yes, even the toilet. But NOT a water bowl. So Nathaniel got the idea of getting her a water filter. See - he really does love the cat, but will never admit it. He'll just call her "Bozo" and shake his head in exasperation. And Tabbitha drinks to her little heart's content.) Anyway, movement of any kind by something that I'm not aware of, just doesn't sit well with me. Especially when that something has a "crunchy" exterior, IE and exoskeleton.

When we first moved to the South (North Carolina and now Florida), I was amazed at how big the bugs were. Not surprised, not baffled, but just plain amazed. And fearful. I didn't realize they came in those shapes OR sizes (being from Minnesota, where one cold night kills them all off). The first night Nathaniel and I stayed in our new apartment in North Carolina, he opened a window, and I screamed. What emerged was the biggest, absolutely grossest, largest, hairiest, fastest-moving, (did I mention gargantuan!) cockroach I have ever seen. It was terrifying. It crawled down the wall onto the bare floor, and made a bee-line towards me (as I was the only other thing in the room. Our furniture hadn't arrived yet). I screamed and made a weird hop/jump/scramble towards Nathaniel and yelled at him to get it. He looked just as taken aback as me, but being The Man, he dealt with the bug. I'll never forget the crunching noise that bug made in death. It still gives me shivers. So yeah, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a big fan of things that move... of that sort.

But I do like spiders.

When I was a little girl, I used to be terrified of spiders. I thought they would bite, and their legs didn't look normal. Any opportunity I got, I would squish one or run away (if it was too big). My Dad tried to reassure me by saying, "Don't worry. They're more afraid of you than you are of them!" To an 8 year-old with an over active imagination, this was of little reassurance. My Mom took a different approach.

"Spiders are good luck!" she finally explained. "We never kill them, but we can release them outside!"

It worked. From that point on, whenever I saw a spider, I would remind myself that it was "lucky", and if it was too big to stay inside, I would get my parent's help and we would set it free. Not a big deal. And soon, spiders and other bugs didn't bother me.

In my senior year of college, I discovered a rather formidable-looking spider in my apartment. Nathaniel had recently left for Quantico, and I was on my own, with just Tabbitha for company. Remembering my Mom's words of wisdom, I figured the spider would bring me luck. So I did what any creative, lonely person who-was-missing-her-fiancee would do, I named it. I decided the spider was a male, and his name would be Chester. Thus it was me, Tabbitha, and Chester the spider. A happy trio!

As the months progressed, I would notice Chester hanging out on the living room ceiling and occasionally in the bathroom. He seemed to like high places, which was fine with me. I didn't want Tabbitha eating our third flat mate, and her tenacity to pounce on anything that moved worried me slightly. One day when I was reaching onto the top shelf of the kitchen cabinets, I noticed a bunch of spider webs. They were beautifully created, well maintained, and placed between two empty bottles of wine. (Nathaniel and I collected wine bottles from special occasions - we saw this once at a B&B we stayed in one spring weekend. The owners had a wide collection of wine bottles that had notes or inscriptions written on the labels from previous guests. We have kept bottles from special events ever since, only we'll write a note and place it in the mouth of the bottle. It's always interesting to go back and remember a special event from 5 years past.) I was amazed by the delicate detailing of this web. I made a mental note to check back in a few days.

Sure enough, a few days later, I saw Chester in his web. It was beautiful.

Unfortunately, Chester's life soon came to an end, through a cruel twist of fate. To this day, I still feel bad about it - Chester was a part of my little family in Madison. It wasn't an easy time, with Nathaniel being gone and my worrying about my future. Chester was just there, a reminder that life was okay and things would keep going, regardless of weather or not I finished a thesis draft or read a certain book for class in time. I noticed one afternoon that Chester was hanging out under the bathroom sink, near Tabbitha's cat box. The box was nuclear, as Tabbitha had just dropped a bomb. (To this day, I don't know how a cat that cute, can produce something so vile!). I was afraid that Tabbitha would find Chester and decide to reward herself with a post-poop treat. Very carefully, I grabbed my Zip Disk case, and scooped Chester onto the plastic. Chester seemed okay - not too terrified. He wasn't trying to crawl up my arm or anything, so that was at least a good thing. Carefully, ever so carefully, I climbed onto the counter top intending to place Chester back into his web, while precariously balancing on the narrow counters with one hand. Just as the disk case was near the top of the cabinets, I slipped. I lost my balance, and in doing so, involuntarily let go of the disk case with poor Chester perched trustingly on top.



I froze. Tabbitha peeked around the corner.

The disk lay innocently on the counter top. I approached very slowly, not prepared for what I would find. My worst nightmare was soon realized. I had squished poor Chester! To a little spider, a big zip disk case would weigh a lot. Chester didn't have a chance. I can only hope that he didn't feel any pain as he was squished. At least it happened quickly.

I was very sad. I killed Chester. I know it seems really stupid and silly, but when you're an overly-sensitive person, who misses her fiancee, has big worries about the future, and is trying to finish up her final year of college, even the teeniest of things can shatter your world. To this day, I still remember Chester and his beautiful web, which remained intact between our wine bottles, until I moved out. A fitting tribute to a little spider who made my world a little less lonely.

Fast forward to the morning a few days ago. I was relieved to see a small spider constructing a web between the cat water filter and the bathroom door, and not something else. It amazed me how much time this spider spent, building and perfecting her web. The detailing was wonderful, long thin lines, strongly secured between the tiled floor, doorway, and filter. She kept moving quickly up and down her silk-like lines, oblivious to my curious eyes. I wondered how long it took her to perfect her technique, how much time she spent building her web, perfecting her craft.

Watching this little spider work so hard reminded me of the things I do. They may seem out of the ordinary to some, but the swimming, biking, running, training, racing, thinking, and the lifestyle I lead is just as natural to me as building the web is to this spider. It was extraordinary how detailed she was, making sure that each line was firmly attached, and connected before moving on. She would make sure everything was correct, strongly constructed in detail and form before moving onto the next step. We too do the same. We construct or training (or have a trusted coach do this for us). We prepare, we pay attention to details, we take the time and effort to make sure we do things the right way because it's just inherently a part of what we do. We are more like this spider than we realize. The devotion, the dedication, the time spent on our craft is all similar.

I smiled as I realized we had another spider in our house. I tried not to groan too loudly as I pulled myself off the cool floor, towel in hand. I didn't want to disturb my new friend; she was already hard at work. Even though I was tired and sore, I could feel my resolve strengthen. I was in the middle of crafting my own web, making sure to create my own design, constantly building and strengthening as I went along. I didn't always know which direction I would travel next, but I kept working nonetheless. It wasn't always easy, but I didn't give up. This was just a part of me; a part of what I do. Hurrah for spiders!

My Mom was right. Spiders really are good luck.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Armchair Wars

Recently in our household, a battle has begun. Nathaniel, (the husband) versus Tabbitha (the cat). I myself, don't really understand the nature of the fight. And I think that it's more funny, nay hilarious, than anything else. You see, both of them - and remember one is a cat, which the other claims has "limited intelligence" - prefer our ugly green arm chair. It's ugly. It's green. It's not the most comfortable pieces of furniture, and everything being said, I think we would do much better with a comfy, cushy, non-itchy recliner. But in this case, it's 2 against 1. Nate and the Cat, versus me. So I sit back, bemused by what transpires.

Let me explain, first, that Tabbitha is a rescue kitty. She was abused as a kitten, discarded at a Wisconsin animal shelter in a snowstorm in a paper bag!, by people who didn't love her or take care of her. The vet and animal tech that found her cleaned her up, gave her a good home, and then advertised across the University of Minnesota campus email that a cute, gray little kitty wanted a home. This was right around the time that Nathaniel left for The Basic School in Quantico, VA. I was staying in Wisconsin, planning on finishing my thesis and undergrad degree, and figured that I could give this little kitty a good home. So this seredipitious event worked out and Tabbitha and I quickly bonded. Because Nathaniel was in Quantico, he really didn't get to form the same kind of bond with her that I did. But they still love each other, even if he gets attacked with more frequency that I do (which is rarely - for me, that is).

Right off the bat, Tabbitha was a lovable, cute, playful, if not slightly aggressive cat. I figured that her attacking strangers was just a "phase" and would wear off soon. Well, it hasn't. I can't tell you how many times I've had to apologize to house guests because Tabbitha has cornered them and is going for their ankles. Little kids, big kids, big people, dogs, anything that moves, she'll brace herself, ready to attack. And the worst part of this, is that she especially likes to go after Nathaniel. She's figured out "choke points" (as Nate calls them), in every house/apartment that we've lived in, and is able to attack or lash out at people's legs as they are forced to pass her (because it's the only way). I tell you, this cat is NOT normal. But we still love her, in spite of all her eccentricities. And she has her moments where she's really cute, lovable, and likes to curl up and fall asleep. Unfortunately, these moments never occur in the company of other people, so our friends and family don't really believe that she's not as vicious as she appears. (Now when we have people over, Tabbitha gets to take control of the bedroom and spend some quality alone time. Not for her sake, but for our friends. We want them to want to return).

Back to the armchair. Did I mention it's green? Ugly? Itchy? I don't know why they've both formed attachments with the chair, but they have. And for some reason, they just can't share. It's either Nathaniel OR Tabbitha. I refuse to get involved. Instead I watch, concerned for the safety of Nathaniel (the cat scratches), and concerned because Tabbitha is a "mere" 18.2 pounds, at last count. Nathaniel would never hurt her, but he loves that chair. And he's willing to put up with a few scratches to get it. Case in point:
In this photo, Nathaniel tried to pick Tabbitha up, place her on his lap and "share" the chair. She, obviously would have none of it, and lashed out accordingly. Let's face it, there are times when even the best of us have a difficult time controlling our rage. Tabbitha has no control. She just lets everyone know that she's unhappy. In these moments of cat-rage, poor Nathaniel is besides himself. All he wants is this little (okay, ginormous) kitty to love him. He feeds her, he lovingly calls her "bozo", and makes off the wall suggestions such as "shaving her", just to hide the fact that he loves this cat. So when Tabbitha wriggles in his arms, twists her body and lashes out, Nathaniel isn't the happiest of campers.

And everything has now come to a head with the aforementioned arm chair.

I swear these two deserve each other.

This morning, Nathaniel and I woke up around 6:30 am. He was looking forward to a luxurious morning of no studying and no martial arts training, while I was trying to forget about my final long brick workout before Clearwater. He asked if I was interested in coffee - silly question! So he got up, make coffee, and the last thing I remember was hearing the sounds of beans being ground.

2 hours later, I emerged from my slumber, groggy, but ready for the first cup of Joe. I guess when it's "cold" outside, I don't really mind putting off a workout. And the weather really WAS beautiful, albeit very windy. But I knew the workout needed to be done, wind or not, time wasted or not... I figured that if I left by 10, things would be all right. And in the meantime, I could enjoy a big bowl of oatmeal, a grapefruit, and a few cups of coffee. And to top everything off, I had some great entertainment.

While online looking around at the news and other blogs, Nathaniel and Tabbitha respectively took over the ugly green armchair a total of 3 times. The first, Nathaniel got up to refill his coffee. Tabbitha, seizing on the opportunity, made a quick dash to the chair, settled in and got her big cat butt comfortable. Nate got back, full cup of coffee in hand, and stared down at the cat, who had stolen his chair. I hid my grin behind the computer, and pretended to be oblivious.

Tabbitha was hastily pushed aside (she only attacked his ankles twice the first time), and Nathaniel got resettled, while Tabbitha planned her next move. I could see her thinking, watching his every move, and biding her time.

About 15 minutes later, nature called (all the coffee), and Nathaniel excused himself, quickly grabbing his half empty cup and current read, and headed for the bathroom. Before he left, he told Tabbitha, "Don't even think about it. It's MY chair."

I smiled behind the computer screen, pretending to be engrossed in my reading.

Tabbitha followed Nathaniel's every move into the bathroom. As soon as the door was shut and she was sure the timing was right, she bolted over to the chair and settled in. Again. I inwardly grinned, trying to hold my laughter back, let it be a giveaway to Nathaniel. I'll admit, I was a little curious about his next reaction. A few minutes later he returned.

He stopped, dead in his tracks, and looked at the cat. The cat looked back, as if to say, "Dude. You got up and left. My turn."

Nathaniel didn't see it that way. For the second time, he removed the cat from the chair. This time she got a few swipes at his arms, and again at the legs (for good measure.) But Nathaniel was unwilling to give up his beloved chair. And Tabbitha was bound and determined to protect what she thought was rightfully hers.

I waited. I watched. I tried not to grin.

"What?" Nathaniel asked, slightly annoyed.

"Nothing. Nothing at all. I just think you two are cute, that's all."

I didn't get a reply, instead a dark look from Nathaniel, and an innocent stare from Tabbitha.

20 minutes later, Nature called again. Poor Nathaniel. He loves coffee, but his body won't always keep up with his consumption. So out of the chair he went.

Tabbitha's ears perked up. She stopped cleaning herself, one leg mid-air, and glanced over at me. It was as if she was thinking "What do you think? Should I do it again? He's not there! I want that chair!" She stopped cleaning all together and listened. The bathroom door clicked shut. Her eyes travelled between the hallway where the bathroom was situated, to the chair, and then onto me! I looked away, not wanting any part in this battle. She continued to look, watch, listen. But she didn't move. I could feel her eyes on me, waiting. All it would take would be a slight nod from me, and I knew she would immediately fling herself into the chair. One jerk of my head, and she would become one with the chair.

I sighed in exasperation. Oh, what the heck? It'll be fun to see Nate's reaction. Again. I quietly and gently patted the chair, and before I could remove my hand, Tabbitha had jumped up, made a few cat-like circles to settle herself in, and promptly pretended to fall asleep. Oh boy, this cat was smart. And had nerves of steel. But then, what do you expect from an animal that plots choke points across the house and attacks people at will?

The toilet flushed. Nathaniel emerged and first headed to the kitchen. An empty bladder meant more room for coffee. I heard the coffee pouring, and hid behind the computer screen. I was afraid that he could tell I was up to no good by the blush in my cheeks. Also, because I have a tendency to laugh uncontrollably at the most inappropriate of moments. I didn't want to be the giveaway, especially with something so potentially funny.

It was Nathaniel vs Tabbitha for the Ugly Green Armchair. Round 3. Bing Bing!

Nathaniel walked into the living room, and paused mid-walk. A look of amusement, bewilderment and exasperation crossed his face. All he wanted to do was sit in his bloody chair and enjoy his 3rd morning cup of coffee. And this blasted cat kept interrupting his morning. He looked at me. He looked at the cat. The cat looked back, and then looked at me. And then Nathaniel looked at me. Bloody hell - just bit your lip and don't laugh!

They figured me out. Now I was the one who had to remove the cat from the chair. This time, thankfully, she didn't attack. But I had to entice her with an extra treat as a distraction. Hey - whatever it takes. But I suppose that's why she's an 18.2 pound monster, er, cat.

And Nathaniel and Tabbitha really are good friends. They just need the right spot to share. Like this one.

And maybe while they're distracted, I can figure something to do with the ugly green chair. You never know.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Doing OUR part

The other day I was sitting in traffic, stuck at one of the many red lights that are not properly timed in Pensacola. I don't know how hard it is to synchronize lights, but obviously our city planners are a tad bit behind the power curve. Hey, when heading to Barnes & Noble can take as little as 10 minutes, or as much as 25, depending on the lights, it's not cool. So enough to make someone who hates being late to appointments or meetings a little manic about leaving the house in time... anyway.

When I'm waiting in the car, I'll usually people watch. There's a lot that can be learned from your neighbors in traffic. For one thing, I'm always surprised when people blare really loud music with their windows down. Usually when I pull up to a stop light, I'll turn down any offensive lyrics (not that I really listen to controversial tunes, but occasionally I'll put Korn on), but just because I don't want to attract too much attention. Or another one - people who pick their nose in traffic. They think that no one is looking, but they're wrong. You'd be surprised at how often I see this.

But the worst offense, by far, is people who throw trash and cigarette butts out their window. There is no excuse for littering. Absolutely NONE.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen people holding their lit cigarettes out their window, take a few drags, and then flick the burning stub out onto the pavement. For one thing, how hard would it be to to throw the butts into a designated place in the car, and then throw it away in a trash can? But then again, if you're all about throwing your lit cigarettes out the window, you obviously aren't interested in trashing your car with your litter. But Mother Nature is okay to trash. A second thing - what if someone happens to have a fuel leak on their car? You never know. One misplaced lit butt and KA-BOOM! (The fuel leak isn't all that far off - it happened on our 1996 Toyota Corolla, "Elma". The permeating smell of gas was a giveaway. Nathaniel was deployed when I had to get the lines replaced, but he made me call the insurance company to get the car towed, rather than risk driving it and blowing up.)

But seriously.

I don't understand why people litter. In all honesty, how hard would it be to place trash in a garbage can? And it's not just cigarette butts, but all sorts of litter. I see wrappers, plastic bags, discarded junk - and for what? Why? When I'm out running or biking, oftentimes I'll see trash, pick it up, and throw it away at the next trash can. All it takes is just a little bit of effort, and the world can truly be a better place. I just don't understand why people do this in the first place. It doesn't take a lot, but we can all do our part. I don't want the world to become an ashtray or open pit. There is so much beauty to behold, and it seems such a shame to throw that away.

Even athletes are to blame. During a race, have you ever discarded a wrapper or empty gel? I try to keep my trash for 2 reasons 1) I don't want to litter 2) I want to avoid penalties at all costs! It takes so little effort, but we can all do our part. Even on long bike rides, how difficult is it to carry all of your trash out with you? On occasions when I've lost an empty gel pack, I'll try to go back and pick it up. And I'm by no means perfect: I've thrown stuff away, but I've at least tried to make an effort to pick it up, or remedy my mistake. But so few people (based on the amount of trash that I've seen over the past few weeks) care. We can all do our part.

And what about nature. The environment. Little cute (and not-so-cute) animals that could mistakenly try to eat this stuff? Plastic bags kill dolphins. Dolphins ingest jelly fish, but oftentimes mistake the plastic for the jellies. The plastic bag gets caught in their throat, or blocks food absorption in their stomach, and they can end up dying. What about plastic rings that hold soda water bottles or cans of coke? Cute (and not-so-cute) animals will get these plastic rings caught around their necks and will slowly (and painfully) be strangled or unable to eat. So please don't throw these out. If you see them, please pick them up and discard them - or at least break the plastic O-rings. I try to cut mine up before they get tossed. It's that easy It's SO EASY to do the right thing.

So why not do it?

Make a change, it doesn't matter if it's small or big. We can all do our part, weather it's picking up a piece of trash on a run, making sure that we take care of our own waste, and yes - when someone throws a lit butt out their window, give them a dirty look. Sometimes it seems a little overwhelming to me, but I know that it's the little things that people do to help that makes this world a better place.

So go for it! And you might just feel better afterwards... and you never know. Someone might see you doing a "good deed" and then, in turn, return the favor by doing their part to keep the community clean.

Sorry if this was a bit rambling today. I don't usually go off like this, but the lady in traffic earlier really got my gander up. It's so easy. It SHOULD be so easy.

And while I'm on the topic of helping out for the greater good.... next time you see a turtle crossing the road, or about to cross, please stop and help it get to the other side (if you can. I realize that traffic can be a bit daunting, and you have to watch out for your safety). But I'm a big fan of turtles. And I'm sure the turtle would appreciate your help too.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Cold" weather and droopy tights

I'm being a wimp.
And I'm really annoying myself.
Here's the deal: I grew up in Minnesota, and spent my college years in Wisconsin. Cold weather? Ha! A joke! I'm immune to cold weather! I grew up romping in the now, sledding down the snow-covered hills at Newell Park, and going ballistic at the first snowfall. I loved it all, the seasonal change, watching the autumn leaves fall of the trees, smelling the clear air, feeling the cold nip at my nose, nearly everything. So enthralled was I, that I spent 4 years in high school devoting every late fall and winter afternoon to Nordic Skiing. Like the postal service, we went out in all conditions. I was the first one off the bus, and the last one on. I loved it! I loved the feeling of floating above the snow, gliding effortlessly across the smooth surface, the warmth from the bus after a long workout. It was wonderful. The snow, the peaceful woods, watching a cold sunset and long shadows stretching across the ski paths - were all wonderful. And cold weather...? No biggie. Because I had already been out in 0 degrees for hours, skiing or playing chucking snowballs at my sister, or building a snowman. There we were, two Minnesota/Nordic, blond-haired, blue-eyed girls, rosy cheeked and bundled head to toe in various types of cold-weather gear. And when we trundled inside, we would leave piles of wet, soggy gear on the floor, partially melted snow leaving wet spots all over the carpets. But it was wonderful, and I still treasure those wonderful winter memories.
But my ability to withstand cold has been severely compromised since living in Florida.
A few days ago, I had a morning run scheduled. I love running in the morning - waking up at the crack of dawn, watching the beautiful colors streak across the sky, breathing clear air, and just letting myself think. There usually aren't a lot of people out, so I get the road or trails to myself. I've never minded getting up early, and a cup of coffee never tastes so good as after a really great run.
The alarm went off, I bounded out of bed, and saw Nathaniel in the living room. He was sitting in our ugly green recliner, looking at stuff online. Before I could say "HI" or "Good morning", he looked at me with a slightly malicious grin.
"Do you know what the temperature is?" Innocent question, but he looked slightly mad as he asked it.
"No," I responded slowly. "But don't tell me, just wait." I opened the door to our deck.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," he warned, a slow smile spreading over his face.
And then the blast of cold air hit me head on, colder than any leap into the pool, colder than my ventures off the ski bus, colder than the water in Oceanside Harbor before 2006 California 70.3 (I was COLD! - as you can tell from this photo shot. Here I was, with my friend and training partner Kacie, as we waited in line to enter the water. We were some of the only idiots out there with SHORT sleeves. Notice the neoprene hats behind us, and the people hugging to stay warm? My nose was freezing, and I had lost all sensation in non-essential body parts, like arms, legs, feet, hands, those kinds of parts. When Kacie's Mom took this photo of us, I remember the exact thought that was going through my head. I will never do this race again. Quick note - I went back in 2007, and will be going again in the future. But this was one of the coldest moments of my life.)

I didn't heed Nathaniel's warning. I opened the door and BAM! (as Emeril would say) - the cold hit me. I was dimly aware of Nathaniel's laugh in the background, and then heard him exclaim that the temperature was 49 degrees.

And then it hit me: I am a wimp. I am a cold weather wimp. The Nordic child in me would be appalled! All those snowy, wintry, nose-freezing, bone-chilling days spent romping outside in the cold Minnesota air have finally left my system.

I still had to run, and I blanched as Nathaniel suggested I run on a treadmill. It was 49 degrees, not -9 or anything (which I've still ran in, by the way), you have to draw the line somewhere, right? Gray skies and a "chilly" morning, piece of cake. (I just don't like being cold).

So I went to the dresser, pulled out my ahem - tights, long sleeved whicking shirt, and windbreaker, and got dressed. Not that bad... but my high school self would have scoffed at my tights. As my Dad once told me, "If it's 32 degrees or warmer, I'll wear shorts." What's a mere 17 degrees warmer, eh? And let's face it - to someone living in Florida, who has become acclimated to the 90 degree heat with high humidity that makes it feel like a warm. wet blanket outside, a windy 49 degrees can be quite a shock to the system.

The only other problem with my get-up, were my tights. I've had them from a while, and they're my favorite pair. I wore them during my first marathon (Pensacola, February 2007). I've had many great memories wearing them, fast runs, great bike rides, and I just like how they fit. I'll say that again: I like how they fit. They're the only pair of tights that I own that doesn't make the little bit of tummy fat that I have spill over the top of the band. I know, I know - but for some reason I'm a little vain about my stomach. It's always been that way- for as long as I can remember... I just don't like the "muffin top" look, so I would rather have a larger size than have to suffer through a workout worrying about how awful my stomach looks. And for what? It's not as though passing drivers are thinking to themselves Wow! Look at that girl run. She sure is fast, but gee whiz, get a load of that wobbly stomach! Complete bollocks, if you ask me. But I'm sensitive nonetheless. So this pair of tights has become my friend. (By the way - the temperature really WAS cold when this photo was taken. It was 38 degrees outside, 30 degrees at the start of the run, with a windchill of 18. Bbbrrrr. But I was happy to be done! It was a great first marathon, I had a blast... and in my photos... no muffin top! Again, my high school self would be appalled :)

I put my tights on and gasped. They were loose! Holy cow, what have I done? What happened? How is this possible?!? They're TIGHTS! Some quick thinking, and I rolled down the waist a few notches, so the band was tighter and sitting just below my belly button/hips. And viola - no stomach spillage. Extra bonus!

A few minutes later, I was out the door and driving to the track.

I love running speed work. I always have. There's something so liberating, so freeing about going fast. One of my happiest memories during a race was the half-marathon run at Timberman. I just let go and felt as though I was floating. Yes, I was still in a lot of pain, but the sensation was indescribable. "The runner's high", I suppose. I am still searching for that same sensation, that feeling of being in "the zone", and hope to experience it again soon. In the meantime, my track workout was at the forefront of my mind. As I was driving to the UWF track, I snuck a peek at the car's thermometer. It read a discouraging 47 degrees. Humbug.

As soon as I walked onto the track, the wind nearly ripped the paper I write my splits on out of my hand. Great! Cold AND windy. Nathaniel's treadmill was starting to sound downright motivating. I threw my stuff in a pile under the bleachers. This is the point that I would usually stall - get an extra sip of water or re-tie my shoes. Not today. Instead I shot off on my warm up, trying anything to stay warm, and not wanting to spend any additional time in the cold.


No, this wasn't cold. I was truly a wimp.

And then I started having "tights" issues. Apparently there's a reason for tights being, well, tight. They stay on that way! After half a lap, I could feel the waist slipping, and the tights bunching up around my knees. I jerked up as quickly as possible, trying to maintain my form as best as possible. There! That's it. 200 meters later, they were slipping again. Double humbug! 2 more laps around the track and I was not a happy camper. Not only was it cold and I was being a big wimp, but my trusty tights were now highly embarrassing. What was I supposed to do? I've got 2 mile repeats (hard enough as it is!), and the last thing I want to do every lap was to tug up my tights and break my stride. But I had a plan. It wasn't going to be pretty. And my high school self would have turned red and pretended not to know me. But I knew it would work.

I removed my windbreaker. I needed as much access to my torso as possible. With a strong resolution and a determined mindset I knew I could 1)beat the cold and 2) beat the tights. I quickly unrolled the waist, taking one last look at how "hip" I looked. No muffin top, I could see my abs (yea!), and my tights were at my bikini line. Here goes. I unrolled my tights and quickly (just to make sure no one was looking), hiked the waistband of my tights up to the line of my heart rate monitor and sports bra. Yes, I now looked like an old lady, with her waist band hiked up to her boobs. Wonderful. Lovely. All feelings of "coolness" I had were quickly erased. And now I was cold because I was standing around hiking up my not-so-beloved tights.

But it worked, for the most part. I still had to yank them up during my sets, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. So my trusty tights will be replaced by a new pair, that may give me a slight muffin top - but I won't have to hike up to my chest in the process. And you never know - next week it'll probably be 70 degrees all over again, so I can just pretend the new "wimpy" side of me doesn't exist. Denial will be okay, as long as it doesn't get "cold" again. And the Nordic child in me sighs in exasperation. But one trip home, one romp in the cold and the snow, will bring my old self back. And I can't wait.

The photo at the top of the page was taken during a light snowfall in front of my parent's house on Como Lake. The image makes me really happy - it reminds me of home.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Junior Mr. Speedo

Very few things annoy me at the pool. I usually swim on my own, or else during the practice time of some of the really fast kids on the GPAC (Greater Pensacola Aquatic Center) team (boy - those little kids are speedy! Pretty cool to watch a 10 year old swim a butterfly). So while the practices can be a bit lonely, I am generally upbeat, enjoy the solitude of the sport, and really work hard on pushing myself. If anything, I'll get annoyed at myself - I'm not a big fan of cold water, so it generally takes me a few minutes to "get up the gumption" to take the plunge - so to speak. But once I get going, it's great. Moreover, after Jen Harrison's blog entry a few weeks ago about SWIMMING, my entire attitude has changed. I've been even more upbeat, looking at my swimming as a really fun opportunity to play around, go fast, and do something that really gives me a lot of pleasure. And as a result, my swim times have really been coming down after hitting a mid-season plateau. It's been wonderful.

Today was going to be another great swim, I could just tell. You know when you get those feelings? - I don't really have any other way of explaining it, but you can just tell. Well, it was going to be a real gem - T-pace work and lots of sprints. Just another workout to help make me faster. Yea! Just try and stop me! I knew I would be tired, I knew my breathing would be laboured, I knew my lats and triceps would be sore from the intense pulling, and that my legs would feel heavy with all the kicking - but in a weird way, I was looking forward to it. I wanted the challenge. I wanted the opportunity to push my limits, to push my body, to push my mind. Rock on!

Got to the pool, made some pre-swim small talk with another local triathlete who was tapering for Ironman Florida, and then got ready to jump in. Goggles - check! Pull buoy - check! Cap - check! Swimsuit? (just kidding) - check! Here we go! Warm-up went well, but I noticed the pool was becoming more and more crowded. But it didn't bother me, why would it? After all, I'm usually looking down on the lane line, oblivious to what's happening on the pool deck (unless there's a thunderstorm. We're allowed to swim during a storm UNLESS the guard specifically sees a lightning bolt. It still freaks me out to swim with a storm happening nearby, but as long as there are other people in the pool I'm okay. And as soon as the guard blows the whistle, I'm out of the pool as quick as possible. But I try to hang in there and get as much of the workout completed as possible.) So... more and more people, but both lanes next to me on either side were open. Maybe people don't like swimming on my side of the pool... Maybe my brightly-colored suit and bright blue turtle swim cap were just a little too much. Didn't matter. I was still going to kick major butt (my own, seeing that I wasn't swimming against anyone... yet).

And then I started my sets. T-pace (training pace, based on a swim time trial that I completed for my coach, who then in turn crunched the numbers and gave me a target pace to work my swim sets off of) work is always "pleasant". Started with 400 at +:03 from t-pace, then 4 X 100 at t-pace, and proceeded down the ladder until I hit 200 at t-pace +:03 and then finished with a flurry of 4 X 100s at under t-pace. Fun, eh? The workout goes by pretty quickly, and the rest intervals are all :20. Just enough time to catch my breath, but not nearly enough time to recover from the previous sets exertion. But I was feeling good, swimming fast, but not feeling hectic or rushed. Oddly efficient for such a fast pace. Hhhhmmmm. Sometimes I worry about starting out too quickly and blowing up, so I'll overcompensate and not start out quickly enough. Today was different: I just decided to go for it (a theme that I've been following as of late). If I blew up, at least I would go down trying. I've done this workout enough times to know what starting off slow is like. So I went out and swam hard, but well for the first 400.

During my first rest interval, I grabbed some water, gasped for breath, trying to get as much oxygen into my deprived lungs as possible, and noted a guy getting ready to jump into the lane next to mine. I saw his wife/girlfriend/significant other sitting on the side of the pool, handing him a camel back and holding the bag and the straw while he drank from the valve. Okay. And then, as though she sensed my disapproval (let's be real, when you've got all of your limbs and have them in good functioning order, and are about to hop in the pool for a swim - how hard would it really be to get your own water?) - she looked at me. And then he looked at me. I made a quick mental note of their appearance (late 20s, young couple, obviously dedicated to each other, but he was the one doing the swimming and she was the one in jeans, a pair of fancy shoes, holding an expensive looking bag. She had very nice makeup, but I can't picture her features. It was :20, and I was more focused on my swim sets than the people 1 lane over). She was just very made-up for the pool, and I really didn't think that she would want to get her eye-makeup wet. Does that stuff even stay on in the water? Probably not as much as she had on. But it didn't matter. I still had the rest of my swim. Go go go!!!

The next few t-pace 100s went by amazingly fast. I was just on! My times were the fastest they had ever been, and while I was really working my rear end off, I was turning in some great numbers (for myself). Still, the :20 rest intervals were hard, but I distracted myself by checking out the couple, sipping some water, and then trying to keep myself from passing out due to lack of oxygen.

And then I had company. The guy in the lane next to me, decided that it would be fun to race.



This happens occasionally at the pool, where someone decided that they'll pace off of me, to swim my speed, or try to beat me. Sometimes it doesn't bother me at all (especially when I can beat them, or am doing slow sets), and sometimes, when it's more obvious (like they look at me under water and push off the wall a few seconds before I make my turn), it gets a little more annoying. I don't mind swimming with partners, and I know ahead of time we're going to push each other. We're working towards a common goal and for our common good. But when random strangers decide to race me from half a pool away, I think it's a bit of a cheap shot. I'm really good about following my own pace, my own workout, and listening to my body and not letting their ambitions interfere with my plan. But it's still annoying.

There's one gentleman who does this quite often - I've nicknamed him "Mr. Speedo". He sports a mighty blue and a mighty small speedo, is in his mid-40s, and is a pretty decent swimmer. He'll usually position himself two or three lanes down, never right next to me though, and then hangs with me for a few sets. I've gotten pretty used to his antics, used to the idea that his speed is directly correlated to mine. If I want to have fun, I'll deliberately speed up or slow down, and he'll match me, almost stroke for stroke. Annoying at first, but now I'm so used to it that it doesn't bother me anymore. Nathaniel will ask if "Mr Speedo" was at the pool, and it's a joke that we share. Ha ha. Use a pace clock, my friend. But in the spirit of good sportsmanship, I've never mentioned it to me, because I realize that at some point I've done exactly the same thing.

Today was different, though. They guy in the next lane was downright rude and annoying. Obviously he wasn't paying attention in swim-etiquette class.

I am delighted to present to you "Mr. Speedo, junior". I know this, because it was written on the rear end of his suit, in big bold letters. SPEEDO.

For the next 20 minutes, I had plenty of time to examine Juniors exterior, so I'll give you the lowdown. He had a pretty solid build, that of a swimmer. He wasn't really tan, and as I didn't recognize him (I know a lot of the swimmers), I assumed he was a transplant, new to the area. Or maybe the military crew cut gave that aspect away. Wherever he was from, he didn't have very good swimming lane manners. He was wearing a little black speedo, but more in the cut of a boy short, and had a pair of reflective swedish goggles (the painful kind that always dig into my eye sockets..ouch!). Additionally, he was swimming with not one set of paddles, but two. Not at the same time, he just would alternate. One lap red. Next lap green. And then back to red.

Kind of like Christmas.

But not really. I wasn't happy. I was pissed. At least the man in the red suit brings holiday cheer. This instead was bad.

Here's why: During the start of my 300 swim, he started swimming next to me. At first, just next to me, but then he started going ahead. Still not a big deal. I figured he was just going fast, and that's fine. NO issue. As I came back to the wall to finish my first 50 and completed my flip, I noticed he had stopped on the wall. Fine. Later, dude. Breathe, stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe, and repeat. I was into my set, the swim feeling good. Hit the 75, flipped, and headed back for the first 100. It would be time to check my splits, and I was excited to see what kind of pace I was holding. Just as I was heading toward the wall, I saw Junior openly look at me under water and then push off the wall about 1 or 2 seconds just before I flipped. Oh-kay... whatever. I was still doing my swim. Got to the 125, flipped, and noticed that he was about half a body length in front of me. But he was using his paddles. Gee whiz - anyone can go fast with paddles. Come on! Whatever. I focused on hitting the 150, breathing every 4 strokes and looking the other direction away from him, and was pleased with how great everything else was. My body was responding really well to the effort. All right - passed the 150 mark, was on track, and noticed that Junior wasn't shadowing me this lap. Maybe he had to adjust his goggles...

Before I hit the 175 mark, I was already hedging bets about weather or not he would swim next to me for another 50 meters. It's times like this that I figure I would make a great poker player.

10 meters to the wall. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breath.... and sure enough, Junior looks my way and then shoots off the wall, just as I'm starting my flip. I know this because I was staring directly at his SPEEDO'ed rear end. Nice. (Not really). There he was, yet again, half a body length ahead of me, pulling as hard as he could with his green paddles. Thanks buddy, I'm touched that you've decided to race me, but can you be any more obvious about your intentions? And there he stayed, about half a body length ahead of me for the next 50, and as before, stopped and waited, while I rounded out my final 50 of the 300.

I hit the wall in record time, in spite of Junior playing his games, caught my breath as best as I could, noted the time, grabbed a quick sip of water, and then started my 100s. It was almost exactly the same as the last set. He started slightly ahead of me, pulled up half a body length, and tried to keep the gap as best as he could. This time, my pace was a bit faster (by about 3 seconds per 100), and he had to work harder. I was fine, annoyed, but fine. But then again, I can cruise to a 1:15 100 with paddles, easily, piece of cake. Not so without the paddles. He managed to hang with me for a full 100. We hit the wall at exactly the same time, and this time I was curious. I peeked a glance over at him. While I was breathing pretty heavily (like a train!), he was doing his best to hold in his breath, and hide his apparent effort. I don't think he was all that successful, for 2 reasons. 1) His face was beet red and he looked like was slowly being strangled. 2)Mrs. Junior Speedo was looking at him with a lot of concern, while shooting me dirty looks. Obviously I wasn't about to get any sympathy from her. Oh well. Time's up. Time to go fast again. I took off, and surprise surprise - Junior didn't follow.

The next 100 was exactly the same speed as the first. I was fast and I was consistent. Great job so far with the workout. Yay me!

I started my final 100, and can you guess it? Nope - he didn't start with me, but instead joined me for the second 50. Atta boy! Give yourself yet another break and then start a second ahead of the chick in the lane next to you!

I was beyond annoyed. I was angry, and I was pissed. Who the heck does this? Even Mr. Speedo has manners, unlike this buffoon. What was his deal? Swim with paddles AND start every sprint a second or two ahead of me? To what purpose does this serve? Congratulations jerk! You just beat a girl - way to go. And you know what, if I had paddles and a long break on the wall, I would kick your ass too.

The rest of my workout passed in exactly the same way. I would swim fast, but Junior would start just a little bit ahead. After starting ahead. With his paddles. And after a break. And I just got more angry. But what can you do? Nothing. Nada. Zip, zero, zilch. So I just swam, stuck to my workout, and made a mental note of insults to swing at this guy. But you know what? It wouldn't be worth even yelling at him, or insulting him. A complete waste of time: seconds that I would never get back. Obviously he's got the morals and ethics of a worm, and doesn't mind doing what he's doing At the end of the day, he's the one that has to live with himself (well, he and his overly-dotting significant other) - he knows what he's doing, weather he realizes it's wrong or right. Yep - it's crap. But if his self-esteem and self-worth are based off of beating a random girl at the pool, well, that's a pretty sad life to lead. If it means that much to you pal, go ahead and take the win, for what it's worth. Unlike you, I don't base my self-worth off other people's performance.

And that's where it ended. When I realized I wasn't going to play his game anymore. Because I don't base MY self worth off of what other people do. Sure, I may have a bad workout or a bad race, but if I've done the best I can with the tools I have, it doesn't matter. I still had one of my best swims ever, but now as I write this (easier now than when I was walking to the car from the pool), I really feel sorry for Junior. Humph. (Didn't think I would say that, did you?). He probably can't help it, and if he could, well that just shows how much lacking in the morals department he is. What a sad way to live.

So here's to you, Junior Mr. Speedo. I wish you all the best in your swimming and life conquests. And I'm not angry with you anymore for swimming next to me the way you did. Happy to be of assistance. And if you need to swim next to me in the future, that's okay. Only you better watch out - because I'll be all that much faster. And I don't want you to feel bad afterwards when I beat you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Flying Shopping Cart

From time to time, the little kid in me just has to emerge. Doing silly things, making silly faces, making weird noises - all fun distractions from the drudgery of every day life. When I was younger, my Dad used to do this to the point of embarrassment (not his, but mine, and especially my Mom's). To this day I still have vivid flashbacks of his making over-exaggerated arm circles, beating his chest in an ape-like manner, or making funny noises - all while in public - and remember being horrified. This Man could not be my Dad, he's an impostor. "Normal" parents don't behave like this - intentionally act out and be overtly weird. Occasionally I would catch a glance from my Mom, who at this point was used to my Dad's sense of humor. She would just shake her head and say, "Oh Winnie!"

Keeping that in mind....

Today I found myself going through the drudgery of every day life. Sunday's workout hit me like a ton of bricks, and Monday's deep tissue massage wiped away any hope of an early wake-up call this morning. So today I let myself sleep in, lounged around a bit, and enjoyed way too many cups of coffee. Eventually I got my rear in gear and got stuff done that I had been putting off for a while, you know, the kind of stuff that lurks in the background and is incessantly there... but you put off doing it, because you can.... I managed to get in some good writing, did a little research, and then went to the kitchen for a snack. I opened the cupboards and then it hit me.

We're out of food. Again.

Big sigh. This means I have to schlep to the grocery store. Even bigger sigh.

And it's not like we had no food in the house - we had enough to make a whole bunch of stuff. But just not the kind of stuff I was trying to eat. And because I'm the one who plans the meals, goes to the grocery store, and follows a careful nutrition plan during "my season" - we generally eat pretty healthy stuff. But it doesn't mean that we don't have our fair share of processed, quick, easy stuff lying ready in wait. Because, believe me, we do. But when I opened the fridge and saw that we were out of red peppers, only had 2 eggs left, were down to the last grapefruit, and had virtually no spinach left, I decided right then and there that it was time to head to the grocery store. And then I spied the empty coffee creamer (fat free french vanilla!) on the counter top, and realized that if something wasn't done pronto!, my usual morning cup(s) of coffee would be compromised. As in, they wouldn't be the same. And if they weren't the same, I would have a much more difficult time functioning... (goes back to the Butterfly Effect!). The decision had been made FOR me - to the store!

Gargantuan sigh.

I usually head to the grocery store once a week, or at least I try to. Because Nathaniel is active duty military, we are able to shop at a government Commissary (I didn't know about that until I became a Marine wife), that sometimes has cheaper prices than regular stores. However, the Commissary is a bit of a trek away, about a 30 minute drive. And the lines are long. And food stuff on the shelves is constantly being re-arranged, so even with a list there are things I can't find. So usually when I go, I'll have to have some kind of additional excuse to go to the military base that it's on - like go to the gym or something. If I'm going to go all the way out there, I at least want to be productive about my time. It's no fun spending 45 minutes in the store, while driving for a full 60.

So I made my list, checked our stock of food, consulted with Nathaniel, figured out just how many more variations of Stir Fry, Turkey Loaf, baked/grilled chicken breasts, Spinach Taco Salad, or Kabobs I could come up with, and got ready to hit the store. I also grabbed my gym bag, and figured I would lift first and then knock out the shopping. I was feeling downright productive!

My lift session went fine. I feel a bit of an oddity at the gym, which could (and probably will at some future point) be a completely new blog entry. I usually hit the gym (old gym, not the new one) on Pensacola Naval Air Station (home to the Blue Angels and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world!). Most of the time (at these gyms) there aren't a lot of women - mostly guys. Okay - not a big deal, considering there are so many more males than females in our Armed Services. But I do feel weird when I place my little 5 lb plates on the 45 lb. bar to do a chest press, and the guy next to me is benching 120 pounds PLUS the bar. Usually when I see this, I've got a few thoughts going through my mind: 1)Holy cow! 2)He's benching more than me AND my cat's weigh combined! 3)How can he do that? 4)Humph! At least I could outrun him, so in the case of a national emergency when all we had left was our foot speed, I would survive. So take that! That'll teach you to give me a funny look when I bench press a whopping 55 or 60 pounds! But I digress...

Workout was fine, got changed, and then faced the drudgery of the Commissary. It was even sprinkling lightly, certainly a reflection of my mood. It was Tuesday afternoon, just around 4:30 or 5 as people were getting off work, and I knew, I just knew, the store would be packed. It always is. It's never fun, trying to navigate my shopping cart past people who think nothing of blocking the ENTIRE isle with their own cart. The isles are notoriously narrow, so trying to search for something while other people are blocking your attempts can be a bit discouraging. Even Mother Theresa would have had a difficult time being cordial to some of the people at the store. I feel like a totally mean person, rude and not my usual self. But sometimes the grocery store feels like a battle zone.

Sale in Isle 6? Better watch out as 3 or 4 other customers mow you down in an attempt to grab the last frozen chick legs.


Hey look! It's the random friends we haven't seen since yesterday! Let's decide to catch up about EVERYTHING as we block the entire isle, chatting about meaningless dribble! Super. I'll just back my car up, shoot the "evil-eye" look, and navigate down a slightly less congested isle. Not fun!

You see how mean I become?!? And all because I don't want to spend the majority of my afternoon wandering aimlessly around the Grocery Store.

BEWARE: If you see a mad-woman with a crazy glint in her eye, wearing running shoes, and a baseball cap, ramming her veggie/fruit/healthy food/yogurt/granola cart indiscriminately around corners, you'll know that it's me. And at that point, I'm probably a little bit frazzled.

Luckily, most of what I needed was on the "outside" of the store - fruit/veggies/dairy/meat, etc. I had to make a few trips up and down the isles to get the basics - diet coke, black beans, cereal, gum, and 2 Coconut Ritter Sport Chocolate Bars for Nathaniel (when people/friends that I see at the store question me about the chocolate or candy in the cart, I'll respond with "It's for my husband!". They wink and nod knowingly, never convinced that I won't scarf it all myself. Wait till off season!). Overall, not that bad, though. I was in and out in 40 minutes. I even managed to remember everything on the list AND I didn't get lost once (the first time that's happened, due to how frequently the store is arranged and rearranged. Once you get used to the layout, they'll pull a fast one on you, and make you navigate the flippin' place all over again. A shrewd effort to get you to spend more time and therefore more money in the store. Humbug!)

I went through the checkout, made small talk with the cashier, paid the bill (HOW much for all this stuff! You would think we would be twice as big as we are for the large quantities of food we go through!), and was on my way out to the car. It was still misting lightly, but it was kind of a nice effect. I could smell the sea air from a few miles away, the sky was getting a little darker as it does this time of year, and fall was finally in the air (okay, fall to someone in Florida - meaning the temp was in the upper 60s/low 70s).

I was done. Mission accomplished. I had survived. Great workout at the gym, followed by a very productive shopping trip. Yea! No Grocery store (hopefully!) for another week (unless we're out of coffee creamer. I will not yield on that one). Loaded the groceries in the back of my car, threw my wallet and water bottle in the front seat, and prepared to bring my cart back to the store.

And before I knew what I was doing, I found myself sprinting with the empty grocery cart in front of me, down past the long line of cars to the front of the store (I had parked as far away from the store as possible, something I resolved to do after watching my Mom circle the parking lot for what seemed like hours in search of the perfect spot). My elbows were locked, one foot was perched on the piece of metal connecting the two wheels together, my body was positioned just right to counter balance the weight of the car, and before I could stop myself, before I realized just how many people were watching, before I thought about how stupid I must look, I jumped on the cart and rode 10 feet before hopping it off and doing it all over again. I was flying in my shopping cart!! It was wonderful. It was exhilarating. It was freeing! There I was, baseball cap, running shoes and all, sprinting down the parking lot and riding the grocery cart. It was great. My inner child had emerged yet again.

If you're ever at the store and feel the urge to do something silly, hop on the cart, or just embrace your inner-child, go for it. Beating the drudges of daily life with a little bit of silliness is the best way of coping that I can think of. And who cares who sees you (aside from your kids!). Besides, it's fun. So today, I did a lot of boring, everyday stuff, but also had a blast making a complete fool of myself. Who cares? My Dad would be proud!