Trek Women
November 22, 2008


So, back in September when the air had relinquished it's hold on humidity, running became glorious again.  I could throw on shorts and a top, garb the iPod and head out the door and run.  The air was clear, the sun shone.  There were no looming tri's on the horizon and trees started turning beautiful colors.  I realized that fall was the perfect time to work on my running without the added pressure of the three-sport training focus.  And so I ran and the endorphins flowed.  And those endorphins thought it would be a brilliant idea to sign up for the Philadelphia Half-Marathon.  I would complete the race that had trained for and then couldn't do last year, focus on my longer running to prep for more Olympic distance tri's next season, and notch another long distance race to my endurance list. 

I was fooled.

Fooled by the endorphins, fooled by the easy, beautiful days. . .

It is cold in Philadelphia in November.  Often there are gray skies that press their dreariness down upon you.  It is dark in the morning.  It is dark in the late afternoon.  What was I thinking?

Tomorrow morning I will toe the line with over 20,000 of my newest running buddies as I run the Philadelphia half-marathon.  Race-time temps?  We're looking at 24 degrees with a wind-chill of 18 degrees.  I will be layering - a lot.   In all those layers I will attempt to run fast - for my family - not because they care about me setting a new PR, but because the faster I run, the faster I get back home so that I can hop in the car and head to the airport to hop a flight to Miami for a Bahamas cruise.

So, if you happen to also be just as crazy as I am, or were also fooled, look for me, runner 20908 as I try to think warm Bahama thoughts in my hat, gloves and six layers.  And for all of you out there, whether traveling or not, I wish you a safe, happy and healthy Thanksgiving.


November 19, 2008

Shhhh. . . I Ride For Me

I have been struggling with writing to all of you about my Trek Travel Women Who Ride Santa Barbara Trip  because I feel like I'm struggling to come up with descriptions adequate enough to do justice to the amazing experience I had.  Trek Travel truly had every minute detail covered.

Who Knows Where We're Going?
On Day 1, twenty-two women shared two vans for the hour long trip to the Solvang area and the Curtis Winery.  We relaxed and chatted as we toured and tasted at the winery.  Following our tour, we enjoyed a beautiful picnic lunch on the lawn of the winery, set up for us by our guides, Andrea and Diane.  I was constantly amazed at their ability to be chef, tour guide, mechanic, cyclist, chauffeur and concierge all without ever seeming to break a sweat.  After lunch we changed into our cycling gear and got fit on our bikes.  There were a number of writers and editors who were part of the trip and we all got to utilize the Trek Project One to custom design our rides for the trip.  The thrill of designing a beautiful, Jen Polo original Madone 6.5 WSD online was quickly eclipsed by the actual beauty of seeing it come to life right before my eyes.  How often can you look at racks of 20 Madone's and know EXACTLY which one is yours to ride?

Day 1 was set to be an easy 15 mile ride to get us warmed up and have a get to know you with our bikes.  We had a briefing on the route, got our cue sheets and headed down the sloping winery driveway.  That is when some turned right and others turned left.  A group of us paused at the bottom, watching, not knowing any women well enough to know who had the poor sense of direction (I won't point any fingers - um, Selene. . .).  We were righted in our path and enjoyed what turned out to be 18 miles ending at our hotel for the night in the little town of Solvang.

SolvangOn Day 2 we did thirty miles, with options for more or less, around Solvang.  The scenery was beautiful and the company was even better as we were able to ride, share stories and feel the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair with no time-line other than how much time we wanted for a quick shower before checking out of the hotel and heading to Santa Barbara for the evening.  We climbed some hills, gathered at the Maverick Saloon where the signs proclaimed "Ladies Welcome" and later enjoyed a fabulous Italian dinner topped off by a limo ride back to the hotel.

"I'm Gonna Frame That Graph"
On Day 3, in Santa Barbara, we had a number of options for riding, including a total of ride of 59 miles for the day.  While I had felt a lot of nerves going into the trip - my own insecurities about being a strong enough rider, being able to handle anything that looked hilly, being able to handle four straight days of riding after mostly running for the past month or so - by the second evening I had made a deal with myself.  I was going to attempt the 59 miles.  I had never ridden that long before, constraints on my training time and my love of family time, mostly have me topping out at 30 mile rides.  I knew I didn't want to be sitting on a plane home regretting not trying - especially after I realized that this was the perfect time to challenge myself - when else do you get the fully supported (SAG van, guides and awesome women to ride the miles with) opportunity to try something you're not fully sure you can do?

We all started out together, riding a beautiful area along the Pacific.  Ann, Becky and Susan and I stopped for a quick coffee shop bathroom break before heading into the foothills. We then headed into the hills and climbed, and climbed, and climbed.  We took a few stops for pictures and to consult the elevation graph that seemed to often not be giving us a clear picture of what was in store.  I had never climbed this much ever and it was sapping my energy leaving me ravenous.  We stopped for a break where I was willing to admit that I needed some M&M's badly and like a mirage in the desert, there it was - the Trek Travel van pulling along side us and asking us if we needed a snack.  We reevaluated during our snack, where Alison (on her first day on a road bike ever) caught up with us.  Becky, Alison and I decided that we were in it until we rode right up to the picnic lunch waiting for us at the Santa Barbara mission.  Diane led us in a few more miles of climbing where we were treated to spectacular ocean views and then we began our descent toward lunch. 

After lunch, Andrea and Diane swapped places and Andrea took Becky, Susan, Lori and I on the second half of our day, leading us through University of California, Santa Barbara.  We left Susan and Lori on campus as they headed to the school bookstore for shopping. 

Becky and I stuck together and at the end of the day, 61 miles later, we were toasting ourselves and our girl-power accomplishment from the jacuzzi of the hotel.  The next day Becky told me she wanted to get a copy of cue sheet from our ride saying,  "I'm gonna frame that graph."  Becky and I will forever be connected by all those up and down spikes on that graph and the fact that we rode every one of them (and then some).

I Can't Believe It's Over
Our last day dawned about 10 degrees cooler and much, much windier than our previous days for riding.  The first six or so miles my legs and my brain fought with the headwind.  Somehow our group ended up with Selene riding off the front.  My only worry was that Selene wasn't the best person to follow for directions (see Day 1) and I wasn't sure if my legs had a detour in them today.  Selene kept us on course and sixteen miles later we were handing over our bikes and heading to pack and then hit the airport.

As I sat on the plane home later I reflected on so many things.  The trip gave me relaxation, new friends, fabulous food, new challenges, and a sense of strength that I can accomplish so much more than I ever give myself credit for.  But, more than that, what stuck with me was the exercise we had done the first night during cocktails.  We were asked to all introduce ourselves and share the reason that we ride.  Here are just a few of our thoughts, "for sanity, for weight loss, for transportation, for health, to feel like I'm flying, to feel alive. . . "  

While we started our trip on Day 1 with a small ride, perhaps nervous in not knowing each other, nervous in our own abilities, by Day 4 we were all in it together, no longer willing to hide that all our reasons for riding are all a part of each one of us.  The truth is we ride for ourselves and because of that we are all better wives, mothers, girlfriends and women.  I didn't think that group psychology, friendship, rejuvenation, strength and self-confidence could all be packaged in one bike but yes, it was one amazing bike on one amazing trip.  I was so proud to be just one rider on a journey with twenty-one other Women Who Ride. . . .


November 12, 2008

Cleaning Me

I found myself doing something unusual since my return from Santa Barbara's Trek Travel Women Who Ride weekend on Monday.  The kids have been off of school for the past two days and I found myself. . .cleaning.  I'm not really the cleaning type.  Straightening, organizing - sure - but I'd sooner take a toothbrush to some grout than, well, take a toothbrush to grout.  But, for the past two days I've been cleaning as if it were spring rather than November. (Fair disclosure:  I hear people clean things in the spring - I'm not sure I really know from personal experience).  I've even gone so far as to have the patience to teach Cameron how to clean a bathroom - only an 8 year old boy can think it fun to scrub a toilet by hand.  I'm going to ride that wave as long as possible.  When we were done with the bathroom Cam stepped back, breathed deeply and said, "Mmm. . . it smells so good in here.  We should do this [clean the bathroom] more."  I laughed, but when I viewed the shining counters, faucets and lavender smell, rather than crusted toothpaste, - why is it that kids get more on the counter than on their toothbrush? -  I secretly agreed.

It took me into the second kids room closet cleaning/organization to realize that this had nothing to do with a sudden Mr. Clean-gene activation but had everything to do with being away for 4 days without my family.  Traveling with 22 other women, eating, drinking, riding and experiencing the rarest of all gifts for many women - someone else sweating all the details - was a thorough cleaning for me.  It cleaned out  built up mom-stress, it rested me and refreshed my spirit in a time of year where the increasing dark, cold and repetition of the day can start to dull my finish and my patience. The trip was all it was advertised to be, and so much more - they didn't advertise the refreshed and renewed mom-feeling.  I came home feeling like a shiny, gleaming mom, showing only the best parts of me for time with the kids.  I am breathing deeply, and will be spending the next week sharing the trip memories, stories and pictures with all of you out there while thinking, "Mmmmm.  I should do that for myself more often. . ."


November 5, 2008

Seventy Three Degrees and Sunny

There are more leaves on the ground than on the trees here in Pennsylvania.  It was snowing briefly last week and we've had more than one hard frost that left the remaining vines in our garden done for the year.  In essence, it's November.  I've told you that I'm determined to keep riding outside as long as possible this year and I've found what has to be the best possible way to do it - Trek Travel.

I'm hopping a flight this afternoon for Santa Barbara, California where the forecast calls for 08SB-L seventy-three degrees and sunny over the next four days. Tomorrow morning I will meet up with approximately eighteen other women, for a Trek Travel Women Who Ride Santa Barbara Wine County Weekend cycling trip.

On the itinerary are four days of riding, amazing scenery, fabulous food, and numerous winery stops.  I'm looking forward to getting away and getting to know other women riders while Trek Travel takes care of all the details.  I return on Monday and I'm sure I will have some wonderful pictures and stories to share.  I can't wait to tell you all about it. . .


November 4, 2008

A Matter of Degrees

ERic Shanteau Have you ever played the game that involves figuring out how many people (or degrees) separate you from someone famous?  Well, as of Sunday afternoon I can now say I am now zero degrees from an Olympic athlete.  On Sunday, I met Eric Shanteau, the American Olympic swimmer who was diagnosed with testicular cancer right before the Olympic trials who went on to compete in the Olympics in Beijing.

Eric (we're on a first name basis now) spoke about his cancer diagnosis and his history in swimming and the work in achieving his dream of being an Olympic swimmer.

At the same event, a friend of mine was speaking about women who have never done triathlons before and the barriers to getting women involved in the sport knowing that it is something that many, many women can achieve but are afraid to try. 

What she left us with was the thought that woman are capable of so many things they can't even dream possible.  What struck me most was her final thought when she told us that everyday we should do something that we fear.  First I had to get past the notion that I didn't know I had such a profound friend (no one really sounds profound when you are spinning or running right next to them at top effort) and then I thought about her words.  I have been a little stuck with the notion ever since.  I'm not sure it's because I don't know what would happen if I tried something everyday that made me afraid or if I'm more afraid to actually identify a list that long of things that I'm afraid to try.  But, it has me thinking. . .  I know I'm still afraid of an ocean swim in a tri - I'm petrified of getting eaten (irrational but it's my fear).  Do you think it's even possible to do something, little or big, that you fear every day?  Will facing day to day fears help me become a better athlete, better my mental focus when I race, or at least be less afraid of the pain that sometimes is a part of racing your best?


PS.  If only I had been able to convince Eric to become my swim coach - then I could swim faster than whatever is out there in the ocean that could eat me. . .

November 3, 2008

The Next Season

Berry 5K group  Over the past two years it has become abundantly clear that I do not do well in the triathlon off-season.  The first off season I spent quality time connected to an IV pole doing time with more rounds of chemo.  Last year's off season had my arms occupied with crutches while my leg was in a cast.   Clearly, the off season is not my best season.  So, this year, in an effort to avoid whatever the next catastrophe could possibly be, I am eliminating the off-season.  I instead am focusing on what I am terming the next season.

Not everyone may deal in the absurdities that befall me in the off season, but by its very name its a season that brings a nutritional slide, lack of focus, and general sloth-like behavior (maybe it's just me, maybe its the cold weather or maybe it's a mother-in-law who bakes thousands (I'm not kidding) of holiday cookies).

So, this year I've decided to set some areas of focus for this next season.  The first is to work on my running since that is my weakest area.  The other is to keep riding outdoors as long as possible and then switch to some actual speed work on my trainer when I'm forced inside.  I really want to nail that 20 MPH+ bike split next season. 

About a week ago, I joined some fellow Team Survivor members at a local 5K - it was in my town so I actually got to sleep in and then head to the race.  I ran my long run of 9 miles the day before as I'm still prepping for the Philadelphia half-marathon (without some races it would be hard for me to focus on the run alone).  I set a new 5K PR for myself but it came with some pain.  The race had a lot of hills, including an uphill finish and my legs felt like lead from the long run the day before.  Berry5K blurry Jen But, I was happy (once I caught my breath) with a time of 27:29 (8:51/mile).

I finally must be doing something right in learning to push myself, both mentally and physically, because I had two separate volunteers ask me if I needed help after the race was over.  (And, as you can see, I was so speedy that I was just a blur at the finish line!)  I think this next season is going to be a good one. . .