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Something To Believe In

September 13, 2010 Fear, Fitness, Friends, Fun 1 Comment

Greg has been off mountain biking for the last four days while I’ve been home with Argus. He and his buddies go on an annual trip, usually somewhere epic like Moab, UT. This year, they are staying closer to home and went to Mammoth, CA.

In 2006, the trip was in Whistler, BC and the girls got to go. Woo hoo! It was my first time visiting that area and I was excited to be along for what promised to be a fun trip. While mountain biking has never been my first passion, I knew the trails there would be fantastic and that I would be riding with a couple of girls who had been to “Dirt Camp” and could give me a few pointers without judging my less-than-stellar abilities.

It was slow-going at first as we warmed up to the terrain and each other’s riding styles. I started out riding reasonably tame single track through the forests with three other relative novices while a helicopter dropped the expert group on top of some mountain. In the end, I think we novices had a much better day (as you can see from that section of Pete’s photojournal.) By mid-afternoon on the first day, I was actually starting to feel more comfortable on my bike and I surprised myself by taking more risks – going faster, riding over short ladders without bailing out, and getting some air (approximately 2 inches, probably) when navigating a drop. It helped that I wasn’t intimidated by my fellow riders, as is often the case when I am when I ride with Greg. We were all in the same boat, working on our individual skills and cheering each other on along the way. I was really enjoying myself!

Even four years later as I write this, I can picture where I was standing at the top of a long ladder with a sharp turn at the bottom. This one, to be exact:

Now, I know this isn’t difficult to someone who is a mountain biking veteran. It even looks tame as I look down (or up, as the case may be) it now. But perspective is everything.

“V” flew down it with no trouble at all (he probably could have done the expert ride that day). “A” came down next and she made it look easy. “J” had a few false starts at the top, but she eventually made it without incident.

And then it was my turn.

I stood up at the top of that ladder for two hours. It was probably more like fifteen minutes, but it felt like an eternity and my fears were piling up. I was nearly paralyzed thinking about all the things that could and probably would go wrong. Meanwhile, my friends were encouraging me that I could do it. “Just look ahead!” “You’ve got this!” “Don’t look down!” “This isn’t the hardest thing you’ve done today!”

As my mind continued to wander to far-off places like hospitals and assisted living centers for the young, I began to feel even worse about the situation. Here we were in a beautiful setting, among friends, getting great exercise. WAIT! THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE EXERCISE! And I had stopped the whole show over my silly fears of crashing, hurting myself, and looking like a fool.

Even though I hadn’t moved in probably 30 minutes by then (including the time it took the others to go down and my panic attack), my heart was racing. I was sweating. It sure felt like exercise.  Aha! I’ve found the silver lining! With this in mind, I hollered down to my friends,

“How many calories does fear burn?”

And with that, I had created a filter through which I could measure the hard decisions in my life.  Because what is more important than burning calories, even if they’re metaphorical?

I eventually made it down that ladder and didn’t crash. Even if I had, it would have been worth it. TRYING made it worth it. I even did a bunch of other, even scarier stunts over the course of that weekend. Like thisthis, and even this (but nothing like this). And, while I have not been mountain biking on any trails that resemble these, I know I’m good enough to do it if I really want to.

Most people don’t like being afraid. Or they like being afraid of things that aren’t real – like scary movies and haunted houses at Halloween. This idea that I’m burning calories when I do scary things gives me one more reason to go for it. That, and finding out time and again that what’s on the other side of the scary thing is so much bigger than the fear itself and better than where I was.

It’s kinda fun (in a masochistic way, of course) to apply this idea into all aspects of my life, not just physical things like mountain biking and triathlon. You know, life-changing things like moving cross-country or deciding to get up every day and be positive even though your body is broken into a million pieces from a bike wreck. Or hey, what about getting married? There’s a big one that people do every day and don’t realize how scary it is.

Wait… Marriage? Scary?

How many of you said “forever” in your vows? Start counting!


Less Fun Than It Sounds

June 14, 2010 Fear, Fitness, Food 1 Comment

I treated myself to a mock Olympic distance triathlon on Saturday and, much to my dismay, bonked during the run. As it turns out, calories matter. Who knew??

For those not familiar with the term, bonking basically means “hitting the wall” while engaging in endurance sports. In short, your body runs out of energy. It is not as fun as the word implies it to be, believe me! It had been a very busy and tiring week, starting with being out of town and drinking copious amounts of wine at a friend’s wedding in Florida the prior weekend. Saturday was my sixth straight day of workouts and I had done a hard 40-mile bike ride in the hills on Friday. I had a busy day and weekend ahead of me, but this training tri was important so I went for it.

I woke up early (6:30ish) and had a familiar breakfast. I didn’t want to overdo it since I’d be swimming in short order, but I knew I needed more than a banana. I opted for a corn tortilla with melted cheese, then I added black beans, half of a baked sweet potato and Cholula. I eat this often and thought I was doing myself a favor with the combination of carbs and protein. I left the house around 7 AM to set up my “transition area” at Mel’s house on the lagoon. It was a picture-perfect morning.

The swim was fine, nothing spectacular and nothing disastrous. There is a ton of new seaweed that has nearly reached the surface and that makes me feel kind of claustrophobic when I’m swimming. On the other hand, the water temp was great and there were no waves to speak of. I swam 31:40, which was a little slower than I’d hoped for because I had to deal with quite a few issues with my goggles (I’m concerned about this) and I changed course several times. I exited, got out of my wet suit and rinsed it, and headed out on my bike. I wasn’t timing transition areas, obviously.

I mentioned in a previous post that my cycling race course is entirely flat, so I opted to keep this training route flat. This forces me to work on pushing to keep my speed up and I knew I’d have a few “obstacles” in terms of pedestrians and other cyclists on the Bay Trail to keep it interesting. It was early enough (8 AM) that the trail traffic wouldn’t be horrible, and it saved me from wasting time getting through downtown San Mateo out to Crystal Springs and back. I felt very strong throughout my bike ride. My average speed was 17.1 mph, which included a few sharp turns and other weird slow-downs. On my last mock tri, I forgot to hydrate at all during the bike, so I was very proud of myself for finishing my entire FRS bottle and most of my water bottle. I paced myself to eat my AccelGel at mile 20 so it would kick in about the time I started to run. Clockwork!

I finished 25.09 miles in 1:28 and quickly transition into my running shoes, visor, and grabbed my hand-held water bottle. The first mile never feels good, so I’m not that surprised that I was pretty miserable. But at about 1.4 miles, I was really struggling. I brought it down to a fast walk and drank a lot of water, catching my breath. I was mentally beating myself up. Remember all that talk about, “I can do anything for…”? Well, it was no good on Saturday. My quads were cramping charlie-horse style. My stomach was cramping and I didn’t know which end was going to revolt first.


I walked 30 seconds and tried to run again, only to be plagued by more cramping. This went on for several minutes. I finished my entire bottle of water by mile 4 and I knew there were no refill opportunities. I pushed myself to run ONE-MORE-MILE and told myself I could walk back to my transition area from there, wherever that ended up being. It was ugly. It hurt. Not only was this so defeating, but I was putting myself really behind for all of the other things I needed to do that day. There was no time to be sick. Back at Mel’s, I grabbed a soda out of the fridge — it was cold and full of fast calories. I loaded my stuff up and headed home. Greg fixed me a protein smoothie while I showered and tried to put it all into perspective:

This was a very important lesson in nutrition. As often as I am “afraid” of calories, they are VITAL. Welcome them. Love them. Lesson: pack food in your jersey, even if you don’t eat it.

This was thankfully not an actual race day! I came home and the first thing I said to G was, “I am so glad I did not pay money to do that.” I would have been in tears if I had actually been trying to race against other people. As much as I thought my run at Wildflower hurt and looked bad, this would have been pure torture if people had been passing me and there was nothing I could do about it.

The battery ran out on my Garmin 405 so I have no way of knowing how slow my 10K run was. I have no way of knowing my average pace. This is a blessing.

I FINISHED. It wasn’t pretty and it felt even worse, but I finished.

Two more weeks of hard-core training before my July 4 race. One week of taper and travel. I rode 35 miles in the hills of Napa County on Sunday and took today as a rest day. Tomorrow, I hit it again.

Shake it off. And don’t make the same mistake twice.


Fair Weather Fitness

February 8, 2010 Fitness, Food No Comments

Super Bowl Sunday brought sunny skies to northern California, the first in a long time. After spending a cold and rainy Saturday in Folsom learning to swim more efficiently, Greg and I were anxious to take advantage of Sunday’s sunshine. We headed out to Canada Road for a 30-mile bike ride. I have not seen Bicycle Sunday this busy in a LONG time. Ah, fair weather fitness.

Perhaps it wasn’t just the sunny day. After all, there was a cold, strong wind that probably should have deterred many of these fair weather exercisers… Perhaps this was a pre-game calorie burn. Riding your bike for an hour at a reasonable pace will burn somewhere around 800 calories. According to the Calorie Control Council, the average armchair quarterback will consume 1200 calories and 50 grams of fat from snacking alone — and that doesn’t even count meals! Keep pedaling, guys!

Greg and I chose to run errands during the start of the game, avoiding traffic and crowds. One of these errands was stopping by the Gap to exchange a pair of pants for Greg. In looking through the stacks of pants, we could not find his size — 34×36, but I did come across several pair in size 44×32. I’m pretty sure the guy wearing those pants enjoyed his fair share of chips, Velveeta, and little smokies during the game (and likely his share of indigestion later).

Back at home, we settled into the bean bag to watch the game on our DVR, and dined on jerk-spiced grilled shrimp with tropical salsa salad. Score one for eating healthy!