Greater than 14,000 meters

I love the track. I love the controlled environment, the splits, the mindless repetition. I love the feel of smooth surface beneath my feet, the quickness of my cadence, the level ground. I love the bold white finish line and counting down the turns. I am in my element out there.

But for some reason, this season, I’ve been avoiding it. I’ve gone out there a few times, like when 5×600 repeats were on my schedule, but when it came to doing anything longer, I resorted to the trails. Maybe it was because my standby training partner is in her element on the trails. I’m easily convinced to change, especially if it means I have someone to chase after. And its not like change is a bad thing. Running on trails is lower impact and more neurologically challenging than running in circles over and over.

But this week, I knew I needed to find my interval nirvana. And I had a craving for something big, something that would take a lot of determination to get through. I modified my training plan from 5x600s to 10km worth of repeats. Add in the rest intervals, and my total distance racked up to over 14,000meters. 14,300 to be exact. While not the most epic or difficult set of repeats known to (wo)man, it was the biggest set I’ve done all season. And I was reveling in it.

I invited a few friends, and we met at a newly redesigned high school track. Up here, where the tracks get plowed by snow removal trucks starting in March, there is no such thing as a rubberized track. Just a smooth, crackless, even asphalt oval. And I think its absolutely beautiful.

We settled into our 10K paces for the first part of the main set, 5x800s. I was a little fast on the first two, but pulled back on the reins to avoid disaster later. We caught up with each other on the rest interval between (easy jog 400) before taking off as soon as we crossed the start line again. The 800s flew by. I almost wished I had made the workout 10x everything… maybe next time.

The 400s made my mind focus, but I couldn’t keep track of how many we’d done. Run a 400, jog a 200, run a 400, jog a 200, and it took me a while to grasp that odds were on the start line, evens were starting at the 200m mark. But I was focusing in my form, how my feet felt when they hit the ground. Where my knees were, where my hands were. I was focusing on my breathing, and I was focusing on holding back. Don’t chase the boys, I thought, just run your paces.

Louisa spectating after her long run

Regrouping was the best part. The guys would walk until I caught up, and we’d jog until the start line, and then we’d funnel into a line as we took off. It didn’t need guiding, everyone knew what we needed to be doing.

I’d finish the same distance behind the boys each time, comfortable with my pace and trying hard not to kick it in on the windless home stretch. The back stretch was windy, though, and I started sticking with Jesse on the first turn to be protected from the wind.

The 200s breezed by. Run a 200, jog a 100. Less rest, and unintentionally faster paced. I upped the anty, worrying less about my 10K time and focusing more on my ability to stay in control of my form, fast on my feet, and light. My legs wanted to burn it up, but I held back until the last five.

Two and a half hrs and two bottles of Kola/BananaNuun, and I was headed home. That was faster than I thought it would be. I was expecting 3 hours, pain, crying, maybe puking, definitely whining. I heard none of that. I didn’t dole out any of it. It was a piece of cake (ok, maybe not exactly), and my legs weren’t even trashed afterward. I was actually itching for more.

I didn’t do more, of course. I simply went home and made a protein shake. Seven more days of quality. Intensity. Recovery.  Then it’s time to taper for Rev3 Cedar Point.

You can make those again…

Yesterday was a recovery day, and like many of my fellow endurance athletes, I used the day to catch up on food. Since I only had a swim, and I got that done in an hour at lunchtime (it was a tough hour… but a good one), I spent the afternoon finding recipes in my Gluten Free Gourmet cookbook. Although I came across a delicious pound cake recipe that I flagged, none of the cookie recipes sounded all that satisfying or feasible (I was in the mood for sugar, not oatmeal). Fortunately, a quick Google search launched me over to the Land O’ Lakes butter website. They have an entire collection of gluten free foods. Go figure.

The recpe called for cream of tartar, and since I didn’t have any, I substituted the baking soda/cream of tartar allotments with straight-up baking powder. Thanks again, Google. It worked alright, although my dozen cookies converged into one. I’m not sure if that’s the baking powder’s fault, or because the cookies were nothing but featherlight flour mix and sugar and butter. Good thing I greased the pan with lots of butter (sorry, Land O’ Lakes, I’m a Jilberts fan).

My cabinets are stocked with Bob's Red Mill gluten free flours

The Snickerdoodle recipe was easy, and my only modifications, aside from subbing baking powder for cream of tartar and baking soda, was to sub cinnamon and sugar with Askinosie chocolate chunks. I used about a third of a bar of 70% dark chocolate, chopped it up, and folded it into the cookie dough.

The end result? Fantastic. Crumbly, yummy, buttery cookies with chocolate chunks. Cookies the size of my hand. I made these last night, and believe it or not, they have already disappeared. Baberaham just told me: “You can make those again, anytime!”

Healthy? Probably not. Delicious? You betcha. And since the recipe only makes a dozen cookies (granted, they are large cookies), there isn’t a fear of caloric catastrophy from eating the entire plate. The cookie yield is the rate limiting factor, not your inner strength to say “no”- which when it comes to cookies, neither B nor I really have one.

Who’s idea was this?

I am having a hard time dealing with the idea that students are back in town. Orientation starts this week. Freshmen are moving into the dorms. Undergrads are partying outside their houses with their music blaring and their drunk friends are squealing until the wee hours of the night, waking up their neighbors (…that would be me). Yeaaah, college!!!

I guess I’ve been there, done that. I think my time in grad school has made me even less tolerant of such behavior, and now I just want people to leave my Keweenaw in peace. Alas, I cannot be granted such wishes, so instead I resort to working so hard that regardless of how loud they party, I’m gonna sleep through it.

Last season, I learned how to train for an Ironman. I knew I could survive it, but my training pushed me to race smart and methodical. This season, I have learned how to train independently. Or I guess, am still learning. I’ve done my first solo century, I’ve traveled to every tri I’ve raced this season alone, and I’m becoming pretty good friends with myself. Maybe this has something to do with my anti-social behavior in regards to the kiddies returning to Tech? I’ll drag out a training partner every once in a while (ok, maybe more often than that), but I think my Long-Course Psyche is building up strong. If nothing else, I’m learning to be more prepared (eg. no one is out there at mile 50 when I bonk, so I better have enough food to keep me going).

I’m making choices now that I never thought I’d make before. And I’m not talking about what kind of chamois cream to smear or what flavor EFS to put in my bottle. I am talking about my lifestyle choices, where I would rather go to bed early to get up and ride my bike than stay up late and drink beer. Not that I don’t do that from time to time, either. I guess another thing I’ve learned in the whole process of becoming an endurance athlete is balance. Recovery. Recovering my body, as well as my mind. And I know one great way of recovering my mind: spending time outdoors in the Keweenaw.

. Wash, rinse, and repeat.”]Luckily, I’m learning that diligence pays off too, at least I hope it will. I’ve been working on my swim with a friend who rocks, and she pushes me to get the workout in instead of sandbagging it because I’m bored. Turns out, having someone else there in the pool makes the swim less boring (dare I say, even fun?!).

And I’m having less of a difficult time getting on the trainer now that I’ve found the show Dexter. Whoever said television rots your brain never experienced an easy recovery ride on the Mag.

And last but not least, I’m starting to enjoy the weekend work days all by my lonesome. Who’s idea was this?

I asked myself that question when I turned right in Lake Linden and headed up the Florida Hill at mile 103 on my long ride yesterday. Four miles to Laurium, four miles of hill. But in all honesty, that hill was easier than the previous twenty miles I spent battling the cross winds off Lake Superior from Gay to Trap Rock Valley. And it was calming, having the entire five foot shoulder to myself, hopping onto M203 and just cruising home. Sure, I had a headwind on the downhill where I should have been hitting 45mph. Sure, I wanted to call Babebraham when I got to McLain. But not because I wanted to get a ride 9 miles from home, but because I’d been out for 8hours and I thought he might be worried.

So who’s idea was this? I know I can’t take credit for the scenery, but I can take responsibility for my choices. And I am really grateful I’ve made this choice.

Lake Superior looks like a cloud from the top of a hill on 5 Mile Point Road

The Big Lake

Perfect roads + little traffic = awesome

Eagle Harbor from my room with a view

Life lessons I’ve learned as a Race Director

I have been racing for years, but I’ve never put too much thought in the process behind the race. At least, not until I got the idea of having a long course triathlon in the UP. Since there isn’t one up here in my neck of the woods, I wanted to bring one. But I didn’t know, really, how much work it would really be.

While its fairly straight forward to put on a high school cross-country meet (have clipboard, will travel), its a tad more complicated to put together a half-iron distance triathlon. Obviously. With the Koop just passing, I have had my share of panic attacks and nightmares that woke me up at 2am double-checking that the swim caps are already in. While I didn’t direct the Koop all by myself, I did feel an overwhelming sense of overwhelmingness (?) when I thought about all the things that could go wrong on race day.

Along with all the stress of trying to execute an awesome race, Ive learned (and am still learning) a lot about what goes into these things. Before, I had an idea, but I never really knew the depth and length of the lists involved in putting on a successful and huge event. It really is putting a lot of it all into perspective. And not to mention, worrying about appeasing triathletes (uhm, hello?! We are a finicky, demanding, and needy bunch) didn’t make it any easier.

It’s interesting, really- the things that we take for granted as athletes.  I can’t help but grin ear to ear when I think about all the cool things involved in this long course tri. So without further adieu, here’s my translation of life lessons that were reiterated to me while directing my first ever triathlon, the Kuparisaari Tri, this past Sunday.

Communication is key. No one (in real life) can read minds. So if you need something done, you need to ask for it. Not only that, but other people don’t take kindly to being surprised. Communication started with local officials and businesses back in October when we decided to put on this race. Where could we have the swim? What would make a good bike loop? Can we even use the roads we want to? The Coast Guard was there, as was an ambulance, and this required planning and communication from both ends to know who needed to be where and at what time.

The most important means of communication, our live race updates, could not have been so painless without the help of KD8FPN and friends, and the Keweenaw County Repeater Association. The Ham Radio folks were stationed at nearly a dozen locations to relay information about the live race back to race headquarters, which was a huge deal since cell phone coverage is nil across most of the race course. The radio folks seriously saved our race from being a flop, in so many ways. Without them, I am not sure how painful race day would have been.

Perseverance pays off. Between you and me, there were a lot of behind-the-scenes situations that may have exploded in our faces. For example, we ran dangerously low on water at one of the bike aid stations, we nearly ran out of cups on the run course. The buoys didn’t get out for the swim course until the morning of the race. But the athletes weren’t aware, and/or didn’t care, and we at least made it appear that everything went off without a hitch. In reality, it really did; no one was injured, no one got into any serious accidents. There were no broken bones Smith Fisheries Road descent and no one needed an IV after the race. The race crew did a great job of defining a problem and immediately establishing a way to remedy it, so the athletes were none the wiser.

Money doesn’t grow on trees. There are a bajillion costs tied into making a successful race. Seriously. Aside from all the things that the athletes get to take with them (in the Koop, we gave out medallions: $5, shirts: $15, swim caps: $3, age group awards: $5-10 depending on the placing), there’s also things that the athlete might not realize. Timing costs about $8 per athlete. The swim buoys are around $100 each (for the cheapest ones!), water jugs are about $20 each (and there’s usually two at every aid station) and water/food for around the course really adds up. Plus, there’s the PortaJohn or two (or five)? That’s $100 a pooper. Renting tables (and chairs too) for aid stations and the finish area cost about ten bucks a piece, which isn’t a lot, but that adds up, too. For sanctioning, we had to pay for registration to USAT ($150), plus pay for permits for land use around the race area. There’s always something good that comes out of offering the volunteers a (tangible) gift to take with them, too, so for the Koop, I wanted to treat our volunteers well. I offered a race shirt or visor and pasties and coffee for them. A hungry volunteer is an unhappy volunteer. I’m not sure who told me that, maybe it was my mother? Anyway, turns out that the coffee and pasties (and shirts!) were a huge hit! The biggest point of the matter is, things don’t just come together, there is a lot of penny-pinching and renting and borrowing involved, especially with a first-year, small scale event.

There are some really incredible people in this world. Dare I say that the Keweenaw is home to many of them? There were plenty of people that let us borrow their services for free (whether it be their time, their loot, their sleep, or their energy, or all of the above). Luckily, we had some awesome sponsors (The Bike Shop, Downwind Sports, and Cross Country Sports) that donated swag for us to give away to athletes as prizes, and Churning Rapids Trails, Portage Health and The Keweenaw Co-Op donated food and gear for us to use for free, too. We didn’t have to pay for photography, because some awesome friends (Juskuz and xmatic) volunteered their services for free. We had two extraordinary bike aid stations, sponsored by Team UP and Northwoods Endurance, and the groups didn’t need any guidance, they just stepped up to the task and held down the fort.

Hands-down, we could not have had this race without the volunteers and local businesses. For the Koop, our volunteers and sponsors were AMAZING! Some of our biggest support came from The Bear Belly Bar and Grill, who made nearly 200 pasties for the athletes and workers, and scavenged for cups for the finish area when we were bombed out and depleted.  Without Cathy and Troy and family, the volunteers would be eating coffee beans off the table instead of drinking fresh brewed coffee from cups. The family and staff at The Lac La Belle Lodge worked their buns off helping out all day on Sunday, and I am forever indebted to them. And they did it, all day, with a smile on their face. They even said (dare I repeat?) that they had FUN!

Without our volunteers, spread out across the course, the world would be cold and empty and our race courses would be barren and dry. People showed up, offering their awesome services for nothing (aside from the best spectator spots ever), and just did what needed to be done. People were shifted from one job to another, some stood out at the aid stations for hours just waiting for the last of the athletes to come by.

Grin and bear it. Most of our athletes were really happy, excited that such a big race could be found in the quiet Keweenaw Peninsula. But there were some that just did not seem to enjoy their time up here. They didn’t get enough swag in their race packet, they didn’t like the awards, they didn’t understand why the race was so expensive (in my defense, early registration was $95 online, which is the cheapest half iron distance tri I have ever seen). What could I say? Could I do anything to defend myself from their insults? We put a lot of hard work into the race, the weekend, the event; was I just going to sit back and take it? You bet. It’s not my place to cry about it, nor is it my place to tell an athlete that they are wrong. In their opinion, they didn’t get enough. So whenever the race would get criticized, I was getting criticized, but I would just bite my tongue, nod my head, and grin and bear it.

There is a lot of power in the words “Thank You”. The behind-the-scenes-craziness of race directing is overwhelming, to say the least. but there always seems to be someone there that comes to the rescue. Every time I turned around, someone was there to help me complete a task that I didn’t think know I wouldn’t be able to do by myself, like put up the 20×30 foot tent, or help get the buoys in the water. It blows my mind how helpful and selfless people can be; athletes were helping set up the finish area the day before their big race, community members were spending their Sunday of leisure running errands and carrying gear from point A to point B.

The other side of this: When athletes came up to me post-race and said thank you, for putting on the race, inviting them up, showing them my favorite part of the UP. That was it. That was all I could ever have asked for. People were happy (generally speaking) with the race. Sure, there are tweaks and things we can improve, but our athletes enjoyed themselves. Practically everyone crossed the line with a smile on their face. When I look through the race photos, I see happy faces, smiling faces, joy, excitement (and yes, a little bit of pain, but hey, it was a long course tri! What do you expect). In the end, it was a very rewarding day.

Note: The kind of pasties I’m taking about are a Yooper thing. It’s a food, a Cornish meal-in-a-pastry-shell that is best eaten with ketchup. Meat, potatoes/rutabaga, and onions. mmm… if only they were gluten free.

Eye candy

A few posts ago, I blogged about my solo ride through the Keweenaw. Looking at that post made me want to run to the living room and caress my gorgeous steed. Yes, I know. I’m talking about my bike.

But really, it’s gorgeous.

As I finagled with the bars (in hopes that they won’t let me down on my ride tomorrow) and readjusted the elbow pads (so that I could possibly be more aero, or at least more something instead from sucking), I couldn’t help by glow when I saw the beautiful lime green and blue paint and the gorgeous white saddle. The shiny top coat, the blue bar tape, and The Bike Shop sticker. The integrated cable routing and the special bottom bracket that is so beefy… (screeeeeaaach!)


But, even though I could fantasize all day about this beauty, I was longing for more. Something… something was missing.

And then this bad boy showed up at The Bike Shop.

It’s like I bought it a sexy new outfit. Not that it needed it. Seriously. I mean, really.

But you can see my point.

So now I have a single, front race wheel (still saving up for that rear one, ya know; grad student stipend and all), and I’ve got a fancy new tire to go with it. I’m even considering rocking some latex tubes.

Wow, this post just got out a little of hand.

A few of my favorite things: Summer edition

  • Walnut zucchini bread (five zucchinis can go a long way!)
  • Getting my CSA on Thursdays
  • Picking berries while I’m out on a run
  • Lemon-Lime + Kona Kola Nuun (two tablets + one bottle = concentrated deliciousness)
  • Swimming in the Portage Lake without a wetsuit
  • Justin’s Nut Butter honey almond butter– stuff one in my jersey pocket and I can go for 50 miles
  • Running in a sports bra
  • Icebreaker TechT Lite (superfine 150) – perfect for hot, humid days (when cotton is a huge no-no)
  • The cool breeze on an early morning ride
  • Yeti Cold Press coffee (Peace Coffee)
  • Organizing a race and overhearing people in town talking about it (in a excited way!)

My life is like whoa

It’s gonna be a busy week. I will get you some really juicy reads soon, but first, here’s my excuse(s)  for being the opposite of a good blogger.

On my agenda:

  • Get a manuscript to my advisor
  • Cryofreeze and slice tissue for the eight millionth time
  • Histo the shiz out of some more slides
  • Decalcify some bones
  • Drive 11 hours for a wedding
  • Be in my awesome friend’s wedding
  • Make sure that the shirts get here in time for the race I don’t need to worry about this at all, because Core Concepts is supa-awesome!
  • Race packet stuffing
  • Set up a race course that is 70 miles long
  • Make sure athletes get their race packets
  • Attend another wedding
  • Direct a half-iron distance triathlon on Sunday

Good thing its only a medium week for my training… although I’m not sure when I’ll have time for a 120 mile ride between hauling tables, food, and race gear 45miles north of here in about seven separate trips and putting on the inaugural Koop. I’m thinking that packet stuffing might include some sort of assembly trainer ride.

Ridin’ solo

Last year, I had training partners to head out on a century every time I did, I had wheels to suck and others that would want to stop to pee and add to my feet-on-the-ground time. Last year, I had others to plan out the route, others that would pick the pace. Others that would share their food if I bonked or suggest stopping for a Coke at mile 50.

Sunday, I did my first century by myself. I rode solo, for nearly 100 miles, and it was the hardest ride I’ve ever done. I don’t think it would have been any less hard had there been others riding with me; I probably would not have focused as much on the paincave I was entering if someone else was riding with me though. No, riding by myself was a learning experience. I had a mechanical and had to fix it myself. I ran out of water and had to get more from the bars along the way. I had the bar stool tempting me to sit and have a margarita every time I needed another 20ounces of water, but I didn’t sit. Sometimes I didn’t even take off my helmet. I was on a mission.

I started by heading out to Lake Linden, one of the more-sketchy routes in the Keweenaw. At least, the road between Hancock and Dollar Bay is bad, as the shoulder is non-existent and the traffic is fast. I quickly got to Lake Linden and headed out towarded Dreamland. There’s just something really cool about the names of towns in the Keweenaw…

I realized about five miles past Mud Lake Road that Bootjack Road wasn’t the best road to ride a century on. I couldn’t do it anyway, since the road is only about ten miles long, but the false flat and bubbly pavement made me feel like I was riding through sludge. I had to stop and check my tires to make sure I wasn’t riding flats, because I felt like I was.

Rice Lake Road was of even less caliber quality. I made it up the first hill and quickly decided to turn back and reroute my remaining 70 miles.

The Dreamland Bar was my first aid station. I was out of EFS and Nuun already (seriously, 50ounces in 30 miles? … ) so I headed inside for a can of Coke. I needed something, because I felt dizzy, anxious, and tired. It was a little later of a start than I wanted (I left my house at 10am) so I was getting close to my normal lunch time, and I downed to packs of Justin’s honey almond butter to hold me over.

I felt better once I got on better roads. Trap Rock Valley Road is one of my favorites, but I wasn’t on it too long before I made the turn toward Gay. Unfortunately, all the work I put in trying to get up the steep hill was lost when I dropped my chain at the top. and by dropped, I mean: Slammed it between my small ring and the frame. And it was stuck. I didn’t want to yank to hard for fear of dinging up my frame or -worse- breaking my chain, and when I thought it was back on I was fooled. It fell off again, and I felt the anxiety come back. But, I finally got it back on, it stayed on, and I happily cruised all the way into Gay.

I was a little embarrassed to walk into the Gay Bar (yes, it really is called that) and be dripping with sweat, but I was out of fluid, thirsty, tired, hot, and thirsty. I was really thirsty too. I bought a large coke and grabbed the same sized cup of water, and had enough change left over for a Snickers (the original energy bar). The ice was nice, and it made my water bottle nice and cold for about five miles. By the time I got to Dollar Bay I was dry again, so I stole some water from a hose at a church (I am probably going to hell, but not for that).

I made it almost home, practically crying as I weaved through the rough streets and fast traffic of Ripley. Nothing is more nerve wrecking than a grandma that won’t budge over the dashed yellow line (or in my case, when she does budge, but only to drift to the right of the white line). I was beat. I took the bike path home to avoid any more motorized vehicles, and when I got home I took a cold shower and drank a cold glass of milk. And I got it done.

The blueberry queen

Yesterday afternoon, I went blueberry picking at the Gierke Blueberry Farm in Chassell. I was on a mission to pick a shitton of blueberries, enough blueberries to (dare I say it) last me through the year. This is a big feat, because I 1) LOVE blueberries and 2) have a problem with stopping when I eat them.

I picked and picked, and picked some more. I found a few jackpot bushes, and felt gluttonous about halfway through but could.not.stop.picking. By the time my friends dragged me away, I was 17.5lbs of blueberries richer.

What will I do with all these blueberries, you ask? What won’t I do. Muffins. Cobbler. Ice cream. Oatmeal. A bloggy-friend sent me a recipe for Zippy-Fast Blueberry Crisp (via microwave) and I am psyched to try it. But my favorite thing to do with blueberries is just eat them raw and plain.

Today, they’ll be fueling me right on a long ride through the Keweenaw (I had creamy grits with 1/2c blueberries for brekky). Chances are good that I will stop along the road somewhere and find another blueberry (or raspberry. or thimbleberry) bush to steal from.