Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dearest Bridgette

A Conversation from Today

B: It's almost the nighttime.
Me: Yes, I suppose it is.
B: But it's the daytime.
Me: Why is it the daytime?
B: Because the Earth turns.
Me: And when it's the daytime, what is shining on us?
B: The SUN!
Me: And what is the sun made of?

(Long pause)

B: Hot magma!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My Running Journey, Part 3: It's a Charlatan Thing

I find it's best to write when I am both exhausted and in physical pain. Don't you?

It keeps me honest -- less inhibition, more zest.

In keeping with my need for an outlet, I intend to write about my Ironman experience -- starting with my volunteer experience in Arizona last November (I know . . . so far, I've skipped it) to my own IMAZ race experience this November.

Indeed. Catharsis is the reason for today's post.

You see, I have officially changed from being a complete and total non-runner, to a person who looks and acts like a runner but doesn't feel like one at all!

Is this progress? I'm not sure.

Two weeks from today I will run my first race. It's a 10K (6.2 miles) that will be run outside, no matter the weather (see last post). I am prepping mentally and physically in the usual manner: screaming, eating a lot, and occasionally going to the gym.

(I don't know why, but I almost wrote 'zoo' instead of 'gym.' See how writing while tired is super honest?)

Some of you may be thinking, "Surely (you idiot) this can't be your very first race ever?"

Despite the fact I'm kind of mad at you for suggesting I'm a liar, your question is a good one. And I am a liar, but only sort of.

In my heady college days, a roommate suggested we sign up for a biathlon. So we did! Just. Like. That.

Oh, those good old college days!

Here we are before the race. Don't we look tough?

Tiffany the strong & Kelly the ... wait. 
Am I actually making a muscle? I don't see one.

The biathlon was a 1/2 mile swim and a 5K.

I prepared for the swim like this . . .

"Well, I know how to swim."

That was it.

When I completed the swim, the Lap-Counting-Helper-Girl told me I could get out of the pool. But she was mistaken. I could not get out. No, but really. I tried and failed. Then I thought I might drown, and I wondered if anyone would notice. And *then* the LCHG told me I HAD to get out. I was sharing the lane with other swimmers after all.

It took me an entire five minutes (I think, you know how time flies when you're having fun), but eventually I rolled myself up onto the side of the pool like a very small but totally beached whale.

I lay/sat there a long time before I remembered that a biathlon meant two events. I finished them both. But my time was so terrible I've blocked it from my memory.

BTW: While I was rummaging for that image, I found a few more photos from ye olde undergraduate years. And so I shall prove to you now how doing badly in that race was not a fluke.

Photo #1

I believe this was the first photo ever taken of me on campus, during freshman week when we were getting to know our roommates by playing field games. See how I'm already requiring that others do the heavy lifting? They moved all my boxes into our dorm, too, while I ate Cheetos and played Rubik's Cube.

Tammy, Kelly, Carrie

Photo #2

Due to early freshman bonding, Tammy and I remained good friends. Yet after years of forcing her to carry me around campus, she finally retaliated. 

 Photo #3

I used to cycle from time to time with this fellow whose last name I don't in fact remember. Nevertheless, I grabbed my bike, and we made it all the way to Utah Lake! Which wasn't very far. And also, it wasn't my bike. Oh! And also, also . . . I'm just now remembering this, but I still have a scar on my knee from that ride.

 Jason, pink water bottle, Kelly

Photo #4

Hiking the West Rim of Zion National Park. Notice the way I'm leaning on my friend? I'd like to say it was just for the photo, but you know me. After this shot she carried me piggy-back.

Kelly, Mindy, girl, other girl, Ryan, Amy

Photo #5

Last, in case you think I have no fighting spirit, if you think I'm just a finishing-last, carried-by-roommates kind of gal, think again! Because I NAILED this competition! Grand-master donut-scarfing night of sugary sweet awesomeness.


Okay, nostalgic lazy days over, let me finish answering your question -- the one where you accused me of having never raced before.

In addition to the biathlon, I have also done two 5Ks. Which I walked. Both of them.


And that brings us back to today and next week and pain and exhaustion.

Here's the thing.

Remember how I took that running technique class? 

Well, I did. And I found out that I don't run the way I should and that when I try to run properly I look like a chicken.

Remember how I went and bought a lot of race specific gear? 

Well, probably not because I doubt I mentioned it. But now I am.

I bought some Pearl Izumi minimalist, isoTransition, 4mm drop running shoes. I bought CW-X thermal compression Pro Tights (which sounds super-cool because "Tights" is preceded with "Pro") because the saleslady at Scheels claimed the webbing would keep my hips and knees in proper alignment, minimize lactic acid build-up, and improve recovery. I bought a couple of high-visibility thermal running shirts/jackets.

I even purchased a pair of $55 Saucony cold-weather running gloves. Seriously, I think I've only ever bought one other pair of gloves in my life, and those for well under $10. All other gloves have been hand-me-downs, or I've found them in gutters and rinsed them off before wearing.

Remember how I ask everyone I know for running advice?

Well, I do. If I see someone running who looks like they're good at it and/or enjoy it, I stop them mid-stride and ask them how & why they are able to run and not cry at the same time. And I try very hard to take their advice.

Remember how I've started running?

Yeah. Me too.

After my first, and so far only, 10 mile run.
It was after this run, in fact, that I decided I needed better gear.
(P.S. I found those gloves in a gutter.)

I've been building up stamina, no doubt, but it's a very slow process. When I started, I couldn't run a mile without stopping.

(Hey! Just so's you know, one of my very favorite people to talk to these days has run over 50 marathons in addition to a 50-miler. She LOVES to run and has lots of fun doing it. And yet she told me, "The first mile is always the hardest." Them's words to live by!)

Recently I've been on the treadmill at the gym (again, see last post) in my compression pants and jiggity-jig shoes, and I've been trying to go for certain distances without stopping. I rarely if ever make it.

Then . . . (this is where the pain and exhaustion come in) . . . last week, my family got sick. I was sick for about a day, but Bridgette was pretty bad. It was a respiratory thing, and she was in rotten shape, hacking and rattling without stop. She'd cough so hard she'd vomit, again and again. It was a series of long days and longer nights, and I wasn't able to train.

And after that I fell down the stairs.

Yep. You heard me.

It was three days ago, Thursday, the day of the infamous Utah ice-storm. Only I didn't fall down icy steps, I slipped on the carpeted steps you see in that photo above.

I have a new respect for old people who break themselves upon staircases. Because I was very nearly broken, and I'm not old.

It really hurt. It still hurts.

So yesterday (Friday) I hit the gym for the first time in a week, knowing my 10K was happening 15 days later. Ready or not, here it comes.

And you know what?

I felt like I was starting over!!!

One week off and back to zero. Back to stopping before I reached 1 mile. Gah!

I managed 4 miles yesterday, in batches of 2 miles each. And despite lack of sleep due to deep-bruise induced all-over pain, I headed back today for more, squeaking out at 5 miles. So now I'm tired and in pain and sore too.

In the end, I know I can finish a 10K, yet I don't feel like a runner. Not in the slightest.

In fact, I'm afraid. I'm afraid that after actually trying I will end up finishing, but only barely, just like that biathlon of yesteryear.

But here's the weird part. People are beginning to think I'm a runner, even though I know I'm not.

After all, I run so slowly, that I end up running a long time. Other gym rats who notice I'm still going 30 minutes after they've stopped look at me like, "Huh, check out that girl who's wearing official-looking running gear. And sweating a lot. She must be a runner. Hey look, she's still running."


If they ran a 20 minute mile, they'd run a long time too. I feel like a fake. A fake that's trying, but still.


Today, despite my difficulties, I had two interesting interactions at the gym.

1) After I moved on to weight-training, I noticed a guy who was a real runner. He had good form, and he ran fast. Later on we ended up working out on neighboring machines, so of course I asked him about it.

He told me he used to run 10-11 miles every other day, for fun. You know. He's one of those people.

Which is great because I need to know more of those people.

Then he suffered an injury and has only recently been able to run again. And he said, "The first time I got back on the treadmill, I couldn't even run a mile." No! "I'm only now getting up to about 5 miles. If I had one piece of advice? I'd say, don't stop. Even when you want to stop, don't."

So that was comforting.

2) As I was leaving, I once again accosted talked to a good runner, this time a young woman. She pointed to an older man on the step machine next to her and said, "He's the coach of the UVU long-distance track team. He gave me a few pointers a couple of weeks ago, and it's made a huge difference."

Of course I sidled right up to him and told him my ultimate goal and asked him for advice.

Coach Evans talked to me about how to incrementally advance my training, swim / bike / run, without getting injured.

I told him I was running a 10K this weekend, and he said, "That's pretty far! You should start with a 5K!"

Then he kindly took a break and asked me to hop on the treadmill and run for him.

"Yeah, sure," I said with more bravado than I felt because the last time I was judged on technique I failed miserably. I've been working on it, but I hadn't yet asked anyone professional for feedback. Also, I was at the end of a 2 hour workout, and I didn't feel like running.

He watched me for a few minutes and gave me a couple of pointers, mostly on my hands and arms and breathing. Then he watched me a few more minutes, and finally said, "Actually, you look really good. Your foot strike is right, your posture and lean are perfect, your knees are bent correctly, and your gait is good."

And that was that, and I felt a little better.

Not because I'm a runner.

Make no mistake, I'm still a charlatan.

But because I am no longer a charlatan that also runs like a chicken.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


For those who hear about inversions and wonder why we whine about them, this is a great semi-scientific explanation.

Illustration: The photo shows rising steam from a power plant near my home at sunset on the first day of an inversion.

See how the steam reaches a certain height then is flattened and held down?

An atmospheric inversion traps all vehicle, household, commercial, industrial emissions, etc. close to the ground. After a few days (or weeks), it gets quite nasty, especially in a highly populated place. It's also a great illustration of what we normally let float up into the higher atmospheric layers.

There's an explanation here: NOAA Temperature Inversion

This pic was taken three days ago, but now it's too hazy to see the steam from the power plant at all, even in broad daylight.

Windless winter days in conjunction with geographic layout mean a lot of inversions in Utah. They are dangerous for certain groups at best, and everyone in reality.

I just Googled "air quality Utah 2012" and the lead stories include a pollution report that gives 7 Utah counties failing grades, a NOAA research group with an article titled, "Utah's winter air quality mystery," and a Huffington Post article titled, "Utah Air Pollution Plans Scrapped, State Board to Start Over."

Along with typical traffic cams, we also have "HazeCams" and air quality maps that warn people to stay inside and limit physical activity, especially children, elders, and anyone with a heart or lung disease. It runs on a 6-colored scale: Good (green), Moderate (yellow), USG (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, orange), Unhealthy (red), Very Unhealthy (darker red), and Hazardous (dark maroon).

There's a health alert associated with each.

Dark maroon health alert reads, "Everyone may experience more serious health effects."

Salt Lake City inversion December 11, 2012

There are also restrictions put into place, like, don't build a fire to get warm on red air days.


Don't go outside.

We've experienced a lot of poor air quality days this year, first because our summer was full of wildfires, (almost 1500 in Utah alone, with smoke blowing in from fires in our neighboring states of CO and ID), and second because this winter has been ... unusual.

It's been cold.

Not just cold. That's normal. It's been COLD. Like really really cold. And it hasn't let up for a month straight. We've only had one day that peaked (for about an hour) over freezing.

That hour, 34°F, was lovely.

At night we've been getting down to... -4°F, -8°F, -11°F (-24°C) ...

During the day we've been in the single digits and teens.

And I know that's normal for some places, but not here. Yeah, we have winter, but this is unusually cold.

Our pre-Christmas snow (so magical!) is still here. It never went away. It has been occasionally added upon by less magical post-Christmas snow. Which is also still here.

There's nothing like dropping off your kid at preschool when it's 1°F. Or heading to the store at 10AM when it's risen to a whopping 3°F. Makes you want to wake up, get out, and make a happy start to the day!

That's probably why I found this so funny, filmed four days ago.

Comparatively, it's true that Utah's got nothing on the people in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories or those crazies at Concordia Station, Antarctica. They're welcome to laugh at us like we laugh at California. Or at least at California's newscasters.

(Although, at this very moment, we really are colder here than at any of the Antarctic stations, except for Concordia and the actual Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.)

And we have been pretty consistently colder than Milwaukee.

See what I mean? Weird.

But let's add in an inversion.

Inversions get blown out by wind, tamped down by rain and snow. But when it's simply and unceasingly cold, they just exist.

And nobody wants to go outside.

I'm definitely not running out in these conditions. I've been training at the gym on a treadmill. Yet, like it or not, my first race is still clipping toward me in the same manner as time.

My first race of the year happens on February 9th. It's the Hale Freezes Over 10K, never cancelled, no matter the temp, the blizzard, or the inversion.

So what was the point of this post?

There was none. I'm just whining.

And since we started with the power plant, I'll end with the power plant.

Bridgette and I went exploring and found something neat on the flip side of the plant, the side that's not obvious from the main road. The sound you hear (a constant whooshing/gushing) is the hot water vapor from the turbines escaping into cold air and instantly condensing. It's hard to see, but there was a deluge of rain inside the structure. Make it full-screen for better effect.

It was very cool! I mean cold...

I mean awesome.