Tuesday, April 04, 2006


My coworker took these pictures of Geoff making the transition from foot to bike - that smirk on Geoff's face is his reaction to all the cheering he received because he was the first runner in. I got my triathlon results today. I jogged the 5K in 31 minutes (I expected as much.) I climbed the 7.5K mountain bike leg in 29 minutes (at least that time was in the top half of all competitors, which I think is not bad for racing at my "commuter" speed), and finished the 5K ski in a dismal 41 minutes. There was only one guy in the entire race that skied slower. Judging by the amount of time I spent on the ground, I'm guessing that guy broke something.

This winter has been my first experiment with regimented exercise - training if you will - and I am definitely learning something about my physical inclinations. Geoff has been blessed with the enviable talent of both speed and endless endurance. I, unfortunately, will never have speed. But I do believe that endurance is within my grasp.

See, I lack the two most important qualities for speed - the muscular makeup to achieve it, and the competitive drive to work for it. In all honesty, I raced a sprint triathlon at the same speed I would have if I was running a course five times as long. I waved at runners as the blew by me and made self-depreciating comments to the skiers who stepped over me on the trail. Even without taking the race seriously, my "go-get-em" drive was seriously lacking.

And this is the exact reason why I believe I could be so good at endurance. My body finds this physical threshold of long-term comfort, and it holds me there. There isn't a competitive synapse or hormone burst in me that's willing to break it, risk it for something better. And I could just continue at this level for - well - I'm not even sure how long. I remained at this level for most of the 24 hours it took me to do the Susitna 100. I didn't experience any discomfort beyond general sleeplessness and soggy chill, and my muscles recovered very quickly after the race. As it turns out, my "Sea to Ski" experience was somewhat similar.

I am a turtle. A spectacularly slow turtle. But I do believe that, with the will to do it, I could use my turtle powers to finish just about any distance, within a time that's considered reasonable, and have a great time doing it. All I need to do is work to increase my comfort threshold - for example, adding miles per hour to the the speed I can comfortably bike at. If I can do it for one hour, I can do it for 24. I'm not saying I'm certain of this. But I do hope to test this theory further as the summer season approaches.
Monday, April 03, 2006


Date: April 2
Mileage: About 5
April Mileage: 5
Temperature upon departure: 35

Today I raced the Homer Sea to Ski Triathlon.

Ok. Maybe "raced" is a bit of a stretch. While fighting off wind exhaustion and sore calves from yesterday's "out in the weather" camping marathon, I jogged a 5K, pedaled a pretty decent 7.5K mountain bike climb and - while still spectacularly awful - did manage to get through a 5K cross-country ski without stabbing myself with a ski pole.

But the important thing is, I completed my first triathlon. Which (I think) makes me a triathlete. Never mind my general disdain of running, the fact that climbing is my weakest link as a cyclist, or my stunning inability to stay vertical on a pair of skis. I am Ironwoman.

Geoff and I decided to do it on a lark. It was a sprint event after all, so there wasn't too much worry about not finishing or hobbling to the end. Plus, today was a beautiful day. And, according to current forecasts, it may be the only one until May. It was a good way to spend an afternoon - meeting athletic neighbors, getting some good exercise. I decided from the get-go that I wasn't going to race it hard. We took off from the Mariner Park (the "Sea" part of the name) at 1 p.m. Headwinds were blowing fierce right into our faces, which made it feel much colder than the 35 degrees it was. Still, that didn't stop Geoff from taking off like a flash and finishing first on the running leg with what he guestimates was probably a 18 or 19-minute longish 5K (the results aren't online yet, but I'll be happy if mine was close to 30 minutes.)

Those 10-minute miles placed me solidly in the back third of the pack, so I had the thrilling opportunity to pass a lot of people on the bike leg. We were climbing, climbing, I was riding easy and passing cyclists (OK. So most of them looked suspiciously younger than 16. Still). When we reached Highland Drive, the gravel road was a slushy, icy, unplowed, pothole-filled mess. I was so thrilled. "Finally!" I thought. "This is my event." Forgetting that I had filled my tires to a solid 45 psi, I tore through the slush with reckless abandon, swerving down the rolling hills and pumping hard up. I passed more people. Mud flew in all directions. I flew forward. Dozens disappeared behind me. I was reaching the middle of the pack - I was beating many of the relayers. The race would have been mine - but then it was time to ski.

The ski started out with a steep downhill. I missed the first turn and planted my bad knee in hard ice, literally screaming out in pain because I was unable to hold it in. The trail was icy and hilly - unfortunantly for me, it was mostly downhill. Skier after skier flew by. I limped along. At one downhill, I fell near the top, lost my pole, skidded all the way down, and literally had to crawl back up the hill to retrieve it. Then, after failing to duck-walk up another steep, icy hill, I abandoned my vertical stance again in favor of a few quick frog hops (I learned this technique as a mediocre snowboarder.) There are so many ways to explain why my ski leg was so, so pathetic. And yet, I had fun. The sun was shining. I could hear a bull horn blowing in the distance. What was there to complain about?

I think my final time was about 1:40. I really hope my run/cycle was under an hour, and only the ski was that mind-numbingly awful. The truth is, I didn't keep track of my time, so I don't really know. But I didn't race hard. I feel better now than I did when I woke up this morning (except for my knee, which broke open again on the ice skids). So, all in all, I'd say I came out ahead.

By the way, about that picture - my feet aren't really that big. In my ignorance of European sizes, I bought a pair of ski boots that are really about a men's 10. I wear a women's 8.5. Could that be my problem? I'd like to blame something.

Triathlete, out.
Sunday, April 02, 2006

April fools

April came around and Geoff and I finally got around to going winter camping. It was pretty cool. By that, I mean it wasn't a disaster. By that, I mean it wasn't a spectacular disaster.

We left for Caribou Lake in a raging snowstorm - him on skis and dragging what turned out to be a very study sled setup, me slogging behind on snowshoes and carrying what wouldn't fit in the sled on my back. We hiked into the wilderness about five miles on Friday and set up camp a little ways off the trail. I took off my snowshoes and instantly sank up to my crotch. It was all snowshoes all the time from that moment on.

We built a fire that provided warmth only in that it needed to be fed constantly with the thin, wet spruce branches we were trying to burn - so we had to do a lot of hiking, sawing, hauling, repeat. We began cooking dinner before we realized that we forgot to bring any silverware, so we had to eat this thin, soupy vegetable mixture in tortillas - slopping half our dinner over the firepit/snowbank (um ... the bears are still sleeping, right?). The new snow was heavy and wet, and it soaked into everything - gloves, coats, pants, base layers, skin. Our only respite was a little four-season tent, which wasn't waterproof on the bottom, and which soaked up the melting base with reckless abandon.

I slept through the night but was reluctant to get out of the tent in the morning, knowing the only thing I had to look forward to was eating gruel ... I mean oatmeal ... with a spruce twig and pacing around camp in my sopping wet clothes (sitting still for more than a few minutes was out of the question in the building windchill.) Geoff and I set out on a day hike around the lake that slogged on for six of its own miles. We returned to camp, ate tuna sandwiches as fast as we could get them down our throats while our body temperatures ticked down several increments, then began the march home just as the snowstorm was picking up steam into a full-on, into-the-wind, white-out blizzard.

And as I shuffled across the barren surface of a frozen lake - a space so choked in the monotone whiteness that walking with my eyes closed only improved visibility, with windburn searing my cheeks and chin - a painful sort of irony struck me. April showers - April fools.

Nature can be so cruel.