Thursday, April 3, 2014

Granite Falls Spring Tri - Just Around the Corner!

I can hardly believe it, but here we are in April already and the Granite Falls Tri is on Sunday.  That's three days away!  Not sure how the heck this happened, but I have a few last minute thoughts to share.

First, I haven't trained nearly as much as I should have.  The weather this week has been the first nice week we've had all winter and that is unusual for North Carolina, but true.  So, there have been multiple day stretches in which I couldn't even get to the club to work out, and weeks in which outside training was not really possible.  PLUS, my family has been SICK this winter!  We're NEVER sick.  But there it was - a stomach bug for my daughter, then myself, then my husband.  Then a viral infection for my daughter this week, which has left all of us praying we won't catch it, at least not until after Sunday.  All of which have kept me from training consistently.   And I have realized that life gets in the way.  That I have other priorities - my kids, my family, my other activities - that are just as important and I don't know how people whose actual job isn't in the fitness field find time to seriously train for these events.  I mean, this is a sprint and I can't find time.  To do a half or even a full Ironman - the training required.  I know it's only an hour or two a day when you break it down, but it's nearly every day.  And that's really hard to maintain.

So, although I have pushed myself, have run in 20 degree temperatures, and in 40 degree raw, cold rain it still has not truly been enough to get me where I wanted to be.  There are members of my group who have been way more dedicated than me and who are way more competitive and I'm proud of them.  They are the ones who have been at the club for nearly every cycle class, every run club, every evening Masters Swim class.  They have done bricks on top of bricks, and practiced transitions in the rain.  I, on the other hand, have been to Masters here and there and have been satisfied to know that somehow, my 400 yard swim time improved by a full minute, that I can swim 2800 yards without paying for it for the entire rest of the day, and figured out that I will go just as fast by swimming my nice, easy stroke as if I blew myself out trying to kill it.  I somehow improved my run pace by a minute, and have probably run more than anything else during this training period because it's so easily doable no matter the weather.   I have ridden the course twice and know I can average out at about 17 mph though I'll be pushing pretty hard to achieve that.  Still, today I biked about three miles and followed with an immediate one and a half mile run and I was struggling a bit.  I should have trained more!

Next, that this whole thing has been really great and informative, but also really overwhelming.  I have learned so much - the benefits of lace locks and body glide for my running shoes, how to utilize a foam roller to stretch properly, the absolutely unequivocal benefit of decent running shoes, how clip-ins work, how to do dynamic stretching to warm up for a run, how to do an open-water turn properly and why I like them so much better than flipping.  But this is an overwhelming process, and this is just a sprint!  Who would think that a short swim, a bike, and a run would be so involved??  I am actually okay with all of it insomuch as I have done this once before.  But still...  And the folks in my group - only one of them aside from myself have ever competed before and so most of them are way nervous and overwhelmed about all of this.  Our trainers have covered every aspect of the race in depth - packet pick-up, race day set-up including body-marking, timing chip, race number placement, transition area set-up.  They've practiced how to deal with passing in the pool, the chaos that may ensue in the pool, the pool to bike transition, the bike course, the bike to run transition, proper pre-race and race-day nutrition.  (All I can hear is Janice yelling at me "NO DAIRY!  NO WHEAT BREAD!  CARBS!  CARBS!  SUGAR!).  Sigh.  It's no wonder that even my very even-keeled husband is not willing to discuss the race at this point, that one of our group has been unable to sleep, and others have been on the verge of outright throwing up.  I do want to tell them to calm down and keep things in perspective.  Overall, it IS just a sprint.  An hour and 15 minutes.  They just need to swim.  Then bike.  Then run.  They do this stuff nearly every day.  No big deal!

Finally, I realize that I guess I'm more competitive than I am willing to admit.  I have been checking the participant list, and I know that, at last count, there were about ten women registered in my category (female age group 40 - 44).  I would really like to come in top three.  I feel I can potentially finish this race in an hour and 12 minutes IF everything goes right.  But I also know I'm not all that realistic.  I can probably do the swim in five minutes, as long as no one in front of me holds me up.  I would have to maintain an average 17 mph pace to finish the bike portion in 35 minutes.  That's going to be hard with that hill on the 98 bypass.  My speed will probably be faster than 17 mph going down Rogers, right at 17 mph on Heritage Lake and Averette, and 11 mph on 98.  We will see.  And then my legs are going to be tired with a capital "T" and depending on whether they've changed the run course or not, that's going to really slow me down. The original run course is all uphill for the first mile and a half, then downhill, then uphill, uphill, uphill.  The revised course, if they use it, is more flat.  Either way, I'll be lucky to keep a 10 minute pace and more likely it will be 10:30.  So right there, with transitions, I'm at an hour and 12 minutes.  So.

That's it.  I feel bad for my husband. I know he's nervous and there's nothing I can say to him that will make him feel less nervous.  I feel bad for me - I'm a little nervous, too and I know it will increase as Sunday approaches.  At least the weather is still looking okay, and we know we'll feel better when it's all over.  And we can start training for Smile Train in June!  Wish us luck!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tri Training Update

It is three weeks away, the Granite Falls Triathlon.  Three weeks.  And while we have had a smattering of days in the 60's, when it's been possible and even quite pleasant to bike outside, today is, yet again, cold, rainy, and even a bit icy.

This three months of training has been a challenge for me.  We've had the most lousy winter North Carolina has seen in years, with at least four separate weather events that have closed schools and kept us trapped indoors.  My family, who never gets sick, has been taken DOWN with stomach bugs and sinus infections.  And while it is feasible, possible even, that I could have spent a whole lot more time training inside, for one reason or another, I just haven't.

Don't get me wrong.  I have ridden the bike course twice, ridden it and then followed with the full run course once, and I was fine.  I will have no problem completing this tri and I feel my time will be decent.  But I wanted to be out riding a whole lot more and ... oh well.

So here's what we have been doing, for what it's worth:

We've ridden the bike course, which is probably the single biggest benefit to us.  You never know what the bike course is really going to be like until you ride it.  You can drive it, and imagine how the hills and terrain are going to be, but it's no substitute for the actual thing.

This one was worrying us - we've heard endless horror stories about the windy, narrow, busy Rogers Road, the enormous hill on 98, and the traffic.

So, hubby went out with the group on a Sunday about four weeks ago.  I was sick with a stomach bug.  The weather for them that day was beautiful, and he said it went fine.  The following week, when I was feeling much better, and the weather was beautiful again, he and I went out again, this time with our friend Ella who is doing the tri as well but not training with our group.   A week after that, I went out with the tri group, and followed up the ride by completing the run course.  Hubby was sick with the stomach bug and missed that one.

On that day, there were some additional riders with us that were not part of our group, but who I knew.  We agreed that the guys would go first with Robert, and the ladies would go as a separate group, with Janice taking up the rear.  Six women in all started off and two of them who were more experienced riders quickly took the lead.  Erica from my group and I kept close to each other - our pacing was about the same - but the women in front of us were always visible.  At some point down Rogers we realized that Janet and Janice were nowhere to be found behind us.  Rogers Road is fine, by the way.  Nearly all downhill save for one short but annoyingly steep hill down toward the shopping centers.  But with a moderate shoulder and traffic, it is not bad.

When we got to the corner at Heritage Lakes and caught up with the first two ladies, one of the riders called Janice to find out if all was okay.  Turns out Janet's chain came loose and they were unable to get it fixed and so had to turn back.  So we continued on without them.

Heritage Lakes is busy, but wide, but had the most debris to contend with, plus a couple of small but annoying hills.  The traffic is fairly heavy on this stretch, too, as it's a major cut-through to the bypass.  We managed it fine, again keeping a decent pace and keeping the two riders ahead of us in view at all times.  I took the lead in front of Erica this time, but she was always right on my heel.

We got to the intersection of 98, and went on through, then stopped at the Jones Dairy light.  When the light turned, we headed off, tackling the first hill which is not too terrible, before leveling out for a bit as the road narrows.  This is a rural stretch of road with fields and some minor subdivision entrances on the sides, but there is a LOT of traffic and not much shoulder in spots.  Traffic is going about 50 miles an hour, people don't tend to slow down or move over and it's hairy, I won't lie.  You just have to focus on keeping your bike straight and staying as far to the right as possible, avoiding the occasional pavement drop off and rutted shoulder.  

So after the road is level for a bit, you start to come into the second hill - the one everyone talks about.  As has been my experience in the past, it's not as bad as people make it out to be.  It's a hill - one hill - and you just do it and get through it and then it's done.  You are definitely going to be in the lowest gears.  Your pace is definitely going to be slow.  It's maybe five minutes.  No big deal.  And the nice thing is, when you're done, you come to the intersection at Averette and that road is a piece of cake.  It's relatively flat, wide, and easy.  The only issue there is the potential for wind because it's pretty open.

At Averette, the two front riders got some pretty good distance between themselves and me.  But all in all, I think the ride took about 30 - 35 minutes.  We left at around 1:50 or 2:00 and were done by 2:35.  We pulled into the parking lot at Granite Falls and I took a little time putting my bike in the truck (I had to go inside for my keys to unlock the tailgate, then go back inside to store the keys again).  Then I was off and running.

I struggled at the beginning of the run, I won't lie.  I haven't been doing enough brick training and my legs were tired.  I think this is the biggest obstacle with this race.  Because the hills are tough, your legs are particularly tired.  Robert and Brandy quickly caught up to me and passed me on the first hill in Granite Crest.  Brandy was always just a little bit ahead of me for the rest of the run.  The first hill there is STEEP and it sucks.  Then the course levels out, then it climbs again, through a gravel path and then up a hill into the next part of the neighborhood where you finally, upon reaching the top, turn around.  Then you head to another off-road path that is very gravelly and rutted and none of like it and all of us are pushing for the race organizers to change it because it truly invites the possibility of rolling an ankle.  That part of the course is all downhill.  Erica was walking back up it as I was headed down (she was okay, just taking a break).  Brandy was headed back up as I approached the bottom.  And at the bottom, you turn and face a pretty steep climb back up.  When I finally got back up to the top and onto the pavement, Robert was there waiting for me, and we ran together back to the club, which included one more moderate hill, a steep downhill, and then another moderate uphill climb back to the parking lot.  It's a pretty ugly run course if you ask me.  Anyway, we all talked for a while in the parking lot and I learned that most of the men's group were pretty far ahead from the get go (how do they do that???), with one member of the group lagging in the middle of the men and women, and then us.  We all agreed that traffic was the biggest obstacle to the bike ride and that hopefully it would be much better the day of the race with it being earlier in the day and with police presence.

I feel pretty good now that I've been able to ride the course twice, with one of those being a ride and run.  I don't think I'll probably ride the bike course again before the race.  I feel I've sufficiently taken my chances and don't want to tempt fate.  Even our experienced road cyclists in the group feel that particular route is not worth the risk.  Like I said, just an awful lot of traffic and a very narrow road.

So today, I will probably train in the evening by swimming in the club's master's swim class (I haven't been in the pool in two weeks.  Yikes!!!!) and doing something else - maybe strength training - in addition.  The weather is supposed to improve over the weekend and maybe, just maybe, we will be done with this crappy winter once and for all.  But I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Supporting North Carolina's Teachers Regardless of Political Affiliation

A friend of mine posted a photo on Facebook today of himself with several other people and Governor Pat McCrory. He was excited because the Governor had come to Franklin Academy, the charter school his children attend, and my friend had the opportunity to participate in a parent panel with him.

I try very hard to temper my opinions when it comes to social media. I really don't want to alienate friends and I realize we all have our differing opinions. However, I often also question exactly how much I should hold my opinions back and why I should do so.

It's tough. People post stuff to Facebook, so they're opening themselves up to criticism as much as they are to compliments, but let's be honest - it's really the compliments that we want and expect. Yet, a vital part of this country's health is founded on the ability to have lively and hopefully thought-provoking discussion and disagreement on a wide variety of issues and so, should I really hold myself back when it pertains to an issue that is very much in the news right now, and on which I am quite passionate in my opinion?

In regard to this friend's post I did, after some consideration, make the comment that perhaps the Governor might want to come to a public school and see firsthand the effects of his administration's policies, and experience what our teaching professionals thought about it. I mean, really, a visit to a charter school that isn't subjected to the same academic requirements and for which admission is totally based either on a lottery system or who you might know? Nothing more than a photo op. Big deal.

Of course, my comment generated an immediate response from someone, obviously a Republican, who argued that Wake County's problems preceded the current Governor (meaning she was blaming Democrats for all of the school system's failings), and went on about how hard she "fought" to get her kids into Franklin, and then went on to throw in a dig at the Common Core.

Whoah. Way to stay on point, lady. But isn't this is the problem with the dialogue today? Ignore the actual argument I was making (that NC teacher pay ranks at the bottom nationally, that the current administration has cut any incentive for teachers to pursue a master's in education, that veteran teachers still aren't going to get a raise, that our lawmakers bitch about our lack of academic excellence but refuse to fund that excellence, that the expectations of teachers are so drastically out of whack with reality), and instead make it about politics, and then go off on a tangent about things that have nothing to do with the specific argument - Wake County schools and Common Core.

It's nice, by the way, that this woman got her kids into a charter school Yay for her! I applied to some charters and magnets, but not being a particularly lucky person, I didn't get my number pulled out of the hat. I don't really think Franklin Academy is all it's made out to be anyway, and I wouldn't be proud of the fact that I got to jump ship from my local public school rather than support it. Way to be one of the privileged few sweetie. I also don't believe the Common Core is some liberal conspiracy designed to indoctrinate our children but that's a story for another post.

The fact of the matter is, previous administrations did fail to provide teacher raises, because the economy was in the toilet and doing so would have been fiscally irresponsible at the time. Today, the economy is improving and North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in terms of population. The Republican administration has the opportunity to really be groundbreaking in terms of its support of public education but through many well-documented missteps, it's decided to vilify our teachers instead, and throw the public education system to the wolves. What's the excuse right now for not reinstating routine pay raises? Oh, that's right - tax breaks, because they're more politically popular.

Here's an ugly truth - public programs like schools require government funding. Taxes are a necessity - they pay for our public services. If anyone - Republican or Democrat - really believes we can function as a society without government intervention in paying for these things, they are living in la la land.

North Carolina has ridiculously low property taxes. That's really nice, and I enjoy that fact. But, with the huge influx of people coming into this area, I think it's reasonable to take a look at increasing those taxes. We're talking a minute increase here folks - less that what you'd pay for a new 60" flat screen tv. And it would go miles toward improving our ability to fund education and restore faith in our teachers. And yet, no one is willing to float that idea. Why not? Does McCrory really believe we can continue to get by the way things are? Or is he just that unskilled as a politician that he doesn't have the chops to make a publicly unpopular thing happen even though it's necessary and right. A little of both, I think.

Look, I know there are bad teachers out there, but this vilification of the profession as a whole is ridiculous. It's time we started treating teachers with respect. They attend four years of college. Their office is filled with 20+ kids in various stages of discipline, various stages of treatment for social issues, with varying family situations, all of which impact their ability to successfully teach these kids. They teach underachievers, middle of the road kids, and overachievers. They are creative, tireless, enthusiastic, and they love what they do.

Are there bad teachers out there? Yes, there are. But it's time the principals bore the responsibility for them. After all, the principals interview them, make the hiring decision, and (should be) monitoring them for effectiveness. That doesn't always happen though. In fact, I believe a lot of the issues people have with teacher pay and how to effectively pay them on a merit-based pay system could be solved by refocusing our attention on the principals of the school and redefining their responsibility within the whole mix.

Individual teachers who are creative, who teach the curriculum in innovative ways, who reach their students even if those students don't perform well on the standardized test, who make their kids want to learn - those teachers should not be penalized because their class, as a whole, falls below some politician's predetermined benchmark for success.

But I digress.

I just get so frustrated when I hear otherwise educated folks, who would never NEVER stand for the type of treatment from their own employers that these teachers must put up with, stand on their soapbox and make this a political blame game, while ignoring some very obvious facts. And those facts are that we need to make education a priority in the state of North Carolina, and in the country, that we need to treat the teaching profession with respect, that we need to clean up the top heavy bureaucracy that encompass the school boards and the administrations. We need to stop arguing about the situation and DO something useful about it.

So, in all due respect to my friend, and to his legion of Facebook friends who will either silently nod their heads in agreement with Governor McCrory's policies or vocally disagree with me, I simply can't get excited about his elbow rubbing with the Governor at his kids' school, nor can I sit by silently and ignore the multitude of enthusiastic Facebook "likes" about it.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

This Winter Weather

North Carolina is not known for having particularly rough winter weather.  From time to time, we might get a significant snowfall, or perhaps ice, but most often it's a dusting of snow or temps in the 30's for a period of time.

This winter has been on the rougher side for us.  It's been cold, off and on, for a while, with temps down in the single digits and this week in particular has been a wild weather ride.

It was 67 degrees all the way back on Monday.  I was at the park with the dog in jeans and a long sleeve shirt enjoying the beautiful day.

On Tuesday, it started in the 50's and dropped to the 20's and we had four inches of snow on the ground by Wednesday morning.  School was closed Tuesday, even though the snow didn't start until 5:30 p.m. or so, and if you want to know why, just google Atlanta, GA, January 2014 snowstorm, or Raleigh, NC, January 2005 snowstorm.

Anyway, my tri training has derailed a bit this week.  Yes, I could have done something Monday, but I didn't, as they are my designated day off.  And I could have swam on Tuesday morning, but the girls were off of school and I didn't quite make it to the 9:30 a.m. class, and I worked at 1:00, so ...

Wednesday was too icy and snowy, and today the option for Run Club was to run inside on the treadmills.  Ugh.  Big sour face.  Just shoot me, thanks!  Tomorrow I will finally jump back into the fray with an hour long cycle class followed by another hour in the pool.

I sort of feel guilty about missing four days.  Even with tomorrow's exercise, there's no way I can make up the time missed.  While I want to say that it's not that big of a deal to me, I know I need to keep my momentum going strong and I know I could have exercised this week and was basically too lazy to do so.  I used the weather as a handy excuse to complement my lack of motivation.

Ah well.  Here's hoping this is the last of this wintry nonsense.  I moved south for a reason after all.  (Oh my God, I can't imagine if I were still in Baltimore right now - I'd be going INSANE).  Saturday is the first day of February, which is the real start to my New Year's resolutions anyway.  January is always a lot of nonsense to me  - a lot of new year noise if you will.  I'm ready for February, to take the new year by storm, to welcome warmer weather, and to be able to ride my bike outside again without packing on two or three extra layers.  So ... Bye bye snow, don't let the door hit ya'.