Monday, July 31, 2006

112 miles of agony

A day of superlatives: it was too hot (>100 degrees) and too windy (20-30 mph) to ride 112 miles on the bike, but we did it anyway because we apparently love to be miserable. We did not expect to need three bottles of fluid for a 23-mile stretch (the longest stretch between refueling stops), but towards the end of the ride, we were going through liquid like no tomorrow, and we all (Justin, Kris, and I) finished up our fluids (or “effectively” finished up our fluids by refusing to drink 98 degree Infinit). I almost pulled out of the ride after the first loop because I felt like crap – stomach issues mostly and general blechness, but Justin insisted that he was not going to ride without me (sucker), so I went on. It’s a tough line to figure – do you “listen to your body” and take it easy when you feel yucky, or “tough it out” and train through the “yuckiness” so that you can race through the same kind of “yuckiness”. I made a good call by continuing, though, because I felt a lot better (relatively speaking – still generally miserable) towards the end of the ride. And…I logged 112 in the worst conditions ever – because I finished that ride (actually not too terrible – 18.5 mph average, but we were riding really conservatively to not die…), I can do anything! My own little psychological warfare arsenal!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Thoughts on New Orleans...

I spent a week in New Orleans just recently for a conference and had the opportunity to take a tour of the city to see how recovery efforts have progressed following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last fall. Several of us from my museum were able to ride with a professor from the University of New Orleans (who still lives in a FEMA trailer) and hear firsthand about life before, during, and since the hurricanes. I wanted to share some pictures that my boss, Jan Caldwell, took. Unfortunately, seeing the city through photographs and television does not even come close to how the city looks in person - the enormity of the devastation simply cannot be conveyed realistically through two-dimensional media. At first, I was reluctant to go on the "hurricane tour" - it seemed too voyeuristic and exploitative to me, but many of the people at the conference from New Orleans really encouraged visitors to go see the neighborhoods for themselves. I think they feel forgotten and put out of everyone's minds. After seeing everything, I was simply at a loss as to what I could do to help the situation, but I realized that I can start by reminding the people that I know that the situation is still pretty tragic, but not necessarily without hope.

A few of my thoughts:

- Before my visit and from the standpoint of a biologist, I was appalled that the city would even consider attempting to rebuild in the flood zone. I still have many concerns about rebuilding efforts, but now I have a much better appreciation for the cultural importance of the area and its ties to the river and surrounding lands. I am not sure what the best solution will be to rebuild the city, but I do understand that many New Orleanians are doing everything they can to save their city and its culture, and I respect that.

- I am completely mortified at what little has been done to help the people. I don't feel that governments exist to give handouts, but I do feel that one of the primary functions of government is to serve the people. During and following a natural disaster, the government (local, state, and federal) should help with facilitation and coordination of rescue and recovery efforts, as well continue to be involved with rebuilding efforts. I expected the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana to be broke, from economic losses, as well as from the obvious costs involved with dealing with the disasters, and according to many locals, this appears to be the case. What I didn't expect to hear was that the primary "presence" the federal government seemed to have for the disaster was through FEMA. Many of the people who I talked with or heard discussing the hurricanes were frustrated about insurance companies (e.g., many insurance claims have yet to be paid because the "wind" or "water" dilemma, where insurance companies are trying to deny claims because certain damage scenarios are not covered, but with the hurricane, damage ensued as a result of many causes, and it is almost impossible to tease apart root causes). People are concerned about skyrocketing building costs (the Lowes parking lot was packed!) and continue to be annoyed with the hassles involved with getting FEMA trailers (subcontractors set them up for $17000-$35000...what a deal!). Based upon numerous examples and discussions I heard from local people, I now believe that many in the private sector are taking advantage of this situation to a degree that is criminal, and because of this, I feel that the government should be stepping in to help negotiate these issues.

- Finally, there are some incredibly caring individuals and organizations that have stepped up to help the people who have been affected by these disasters. They've helped tremendously, but there is too much that needs to be done to rely on the generosity of these people alone.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I wish there were a simple solution for all of the issues involved with this disaster, but there obviously is not. My thoughts in sending this email to you is to simply ask you not to forget about these people in this city and also to ask you to think to yourself what you might hope for or expect should you ever find yourself in a situation similar to what these people encountered. I think of myself as pretty independent, but there definitely are limits to what I can and cannot do by myself (e.g., getting utilities turned on, ensuring clean drinking water), and I realize that I rely on society for many things that I take for granted. Since my visit to New Orleans two weeks ago, I can honestly say that I have spent a good deal of time thinking about what I can do - surprisingly, I think there is plenty to do, from voting for a government that will serve its people well on all levels, to staying informed on issues, to participating in well-researched charitable causes...alright, I've said enough.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Race Report: USAT AG Nationals

The USA Triathlon Age-Group Nationals Championship was this past weekend in Kansas City, MO, at Lake Smithville. We drove the six hours to Kansas City on Friday, arriving a bit after noon. We picked up our registration, tried to check into our hotel room (800+ triathletes apparently overwhelmed the hotel, so many rooms weren’t yet clean!), and checked out the expo before heading out to the race site to rack our bikes. Trying to get to the race site was an exercise in absolute frustration – Justin and I were absolute idiots to each other, probably because we were both ravenous and maybe a little tense…and there were two sets of race site directions, with one being completely screwed up. Of course, as we’re approaching a road that we know is one to turn onto, I kept grabbing the wrong directions. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad, but we had a friend driving behind us who likely thought we were completely stupid! We finally made it out to the race site – a beautiful venue, really. We set-up our bikes (which looked pretty nice with our new front wheels that finally arrived – we won a nice gift certificate for the TTT in late May and received the first part of our “purchase” [the wheels] the day before we left for KC!) and then left to get some dinner. We made it back to the hotel and crawled into bed…

Got up the next morning, generally ready to go. Justin and I ate oatmeal at IHOP and were at the race site with 2+ hours to spare before the race start…plenty of time to get warmed up, check and double-check transition, etc. The swim was a non-wetsuit swim and the lake was really shallow for a ways out, so we wanted to get in a decent warm-up. We did our warm-up in the water, and then got out to wait the 45 minutes for Justin’s wave (mine would follow his)…and proceeded to freeze in the process! There was a brisk wind, and with temperatures only in the 70’s, it was really cold! We were both shivering, and my jaw actually became quite sore! Eventually, though, Justin headed out to do his start – a pretty good start, I thought, considering his wave had to be the largest. The swim start was a beach start, but like a sailing start, there was definitely a favored end to start at – the far left end was significantly closer to the course, so starting at the other end would mean you would be swimming a bit further. Generally, folks noticed this, and each progressive wave would move further and further down the beach to the left. I saw Justin go off as he planned, running through the shallows and then dolphining until he could start swimming. I made my way down to my own wave and when the gun went off, thought I was off to a good start. I saw a group of women get ahead of me, but I thought I was doing alright and just focused on my stroke. My swim cap started coming off, so I had to do a quick adjustment to pull it back onto my head. As I neared the second rounding buoy, I saw a woman actually cut it, instead of going around it – how annoying…stupid girl, obviously, we have to round the damn buoys…I went around the buoy the correct way and then tried to go reel her in. As I was nearing the swim exit, I noticed my cap coming off again, so I just pulled it off and shoved it in my top. Exited the water and ran up to transition to get the bike gear on…

Earlier in the week, I practiced “flying mounts” onto the bike…okay, they’re really not too “flighty”, but it essentially means that you throw your leg over the saddle in a blind sort of way and then get going on the bike. As I ran past the bike mount line, I took a deep breath and went for it (you really can sort of miss this and end up on the ground…so I was slightly nervous), and it worked just fine! I took off on the bike and immediately felt pretty good. I was able to hold my target heart rate, and I was passing people left and right, including several women in my AG. The bike course was rolly, but the road surface was pretty good, compared to Oklahoma’s crappy roads. As the bike leg wore on, my HR started dropping below 160 and closer to 150, even though it seemed I was still trying just as hard…I just kept at it and pedaled back to the dismount line at transition. Had a mediocre transition (the back of one of my shoes folded over and I had to fix it), but watched as a woman in my AG tried to run off with her helmet on…she realized her mistake and jumped over the rack to return her helmet to her transition area. I took off right after her and was able to settle in for the run, strange enough. At each aid station, I was able to take ~6 cups of water to throw on my face…so nice and cool! I passed a few women in my AG, which was awesome! The run seemed to fly by, until there was just a half mile left…and I heard footsteps behind me. When you hear footsteps behind you, there’s quality about the kind that belong to someone in your AG because they are generally a little quieter (those people who want to pass you know that the element of surprise is a good thing), and so I took a quick look behind me…sure enough! Damn! She made her move, and I responded…by moving to the right and making it hard for her to get around me. I suppose that is probably not the way to respond, but when you’re tired and hurting and bummed that someone is challenging you during the last quarter mile of the race…you do what your instincts say to do. I might have considered tackling her to keep her from going by, but that would have taken too much energy, I think. No matter, she danced around me and finished 15 seconds ahead of me. Damn! I reached the finish line and congratulated her…and recognized her from the TTT. Andrea Myers had won the women’s overall at the TTT – a good competitor! I hope she doesn’t hold my blocking maneuver against me (she was nice at the finish and told me she had also recognized me from the TTT). I found Justin, and my wonderful husband waited a little while before he broke it to me that I was a little ways back on the finish order. Oh well, I guess…at least Justin had a killer bike split and was pleased with that! We found some of the Tri-OKC people to hear about their races, and listened to Greg and Chuck (the two very fast guys in Oklahoma) talk about the “tough course” (Greg, who was 8th OA, apparently stopped a few times on the run course for cramps…he probably went from 5:00 mile pace to 5:02 mile pace!). But you know that the racing is tough for everyone…we all just go different speeds!

Good days can be hard to “put together”, I guess. Nationals this past weekend appears to fall into that category! When I saw how bad my swim split was (25:45 – ouch, ouch, ouch) and then saw that my bike split was nothing noteworthy for me (1:10:xx), it was pretty obvious to me that it simply had not been my day. Yesterday, Justin put on his analytical hat and REALLY looked at the results. He sat me down and essentially told me that I was easily 4 minutes off of what I probably could have done, based on swims by others who we’ve raced before. How in the hell could I have had such a poor swim? I’m not sure, but I do know that it’s been a little while since I’ve felt good in the pool, probably because we have just been racing a lot…and we’re tired…and it’s hard to push hard all of the time. The lack of a wetsuit certainly didn't help either! And the bike…well, I know I’ve been stronger on the bike. We’ve missed out on some of the important long runs and rides because weekends have been full of racing. The training/racing cycle is just that – a cycle…lots of waxing and waning…peaking and recovering…and we were simply not peaking this weekend.

So, starting today (we took two days off for mental replenishment), we’re back at it. I leave for New Orleans for a work conference for a week, so I will be focusing on the run, as well as doing lots of strength, core, and swim cords.

2006 USAT AG Nationals Results