Friday, April 26, 2013


While I was training for my half-marathon, i discovered that I had more than just some sore muscles - I had a problem with my piriformis muscle. It's pulled or strained or just plain ol' broken, or something, but it hurts. I saw my chiropractor for treatment for several weeks leading up to the race, and I believe that helped me get through the race.

I also believe that the race itself with all its hills and trails exacerbated the injury, because ever since then, it's been more painful than before the race.

I'm at the point now, a month after the fact, that I can walk without limping, so I am making progress. Running is still the thing that hurts it immediately, and though I can recover quickly after a run, I am constantly aware of the pain and it never leaves all the way. So I'm having to modify my training plan somewhat. For now I am eliminating running from my schedule, and that hurts. I didn't know that I considered myself a runner until I told myself I couldn't do it right now. I will miss my runs with my buddy Amy, and I will miss maintaining my fitness level that's easy to do with running. Cycling is good, but I feel like I have to do it for longer to get the same benefit I would get from a run in less than half the time.

My two crazy (and I love them!) sisters have decided that since we're training for one hundred and forty miles, we should plan on riding the full one-forty. I totally get that mindset - you don't want to train with a lesser distance in mind, because then it sets you up for failure. This way we can only succeed, really.

I do not doubt for one second that the three of us can complete all 140 miles. I know Neva can - she's an experienced rider. I know Louise  can - she's been training so hard for this, and nothing is going to hold her back from accomplishing her goals. And I know I can. I've done a half-marathon this year, which taught me a little something about endurance and going beyond what was comfortable. I recently took a communication style class at work, and in the summary of my personalized results, I found this little gem: "You probably pride yourself on your ability to face challenges head-on. When you've set your mind on a goal, you're not easily swayed by obstacles or disapproval from others."

Yeah, I know we can do this.

I also secretly get a kick out of people's reactions when I tell them what I'm (we're) doing. It's cool. It's usually a flash of skepticism followed quickly by one of respect.

Yeah, I want to do this.

If that were the only issue, I wouldn't let that stop me. I would work through it, do it anyway, and know that I'd need the next two to three weeks recovering. However, the weekend after the race, I have a dance recital. And I know that sounds petty and small compared to what we're doing, but it's also something I've been practicing (training) for, and I also have a group of people depending on me for that. Right now, I can physically do less for that than I can for our ride. Rather, it's painful also, but in a more intense way.

So my bottom line is this - I plan on doing the full 140 also and am training (mentally and physically) to that end. I am also doing the necessary treatments for this muscle injury to get it as recovered as possible so that I can be as ready as I can be. My caveat is that on the actual day of the ride, I need to pay attention to that injury and not overdo it to the point of stupidity. I can perform in my recital if the pain stays the way it is now (although it won't necessarily be pretty), but if it gets any worse than it is, I may not be able - physically - to do the full 140. Unfortunately, I won't know until that day how it's going.

You wanna know what else bites? My two crazy, loveable sisters are both cancer survivors. You try telling them you may not be able to complete the full distance because of a tired and sore butt muscle! But since they love me too, they get it and are supportive of what I need to do - what any of us need to do. We will support each other, and if one has to drop out, that one will continue to cheer for and encourage the other two. And if two have to drop out, those two will continue cheering and encouraging.

It also helps knowing that we've got a great support crew of children/nieces/nephews/spouses/siblings there to cheer us on and help us. Since we're planning on going the distance, we will not have the advantage of all the support the official race organizers can offer along the route. Our family will become that support crew for us, besides just cheerleaders.

And when it's all done, however it goes down, we will all celebrate. 

It's all relative.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Little Tujunga Canyon

I went on a ride the other day. Not just any ride - a canyon ride. The foremost thought on my mind for the H140 is not just the distance, but the Eureka hill. The Eureka mountain, is what it will seem like by the time I’m through with it. There are Cat 3 and Cat 5 climbs getting into Eureka. At mile 20 – the first rest stop – the starting elevation is 4827 feet. By mile 37, the elevation will be 5604 (the Cat 5). At the stop in Eureka, the elevation will be 6601 – mile 52.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is a total elevation change of 3629 feet, all done in 50 miles.

A hundred and forty miles? Pshaw.  It’s that Eureka climb that’s always on my mind.

So I planned a little bike trip up Little Tujunga Canyon. From a cycling website: “This route is difficult and advanced, only recommended for seasoned cyclists. But for those seeking excellent climbs with views, this ride is a winner. It tops out at close to 5,600 feet of elevation gain, and on a windy day, is an arduous albeit satisfying undertaking.” I’m not sure about 5600 feet, but “arduous,” “difficult,” and “advanced” are pretty much spot-on.

I made it up the first summit. That’s an elevation change of 1500 feet over six and a half miles. The whole time I was chanting, “Eureka, Eureka,” and that’s what kept me going. At one point another cyclist passed me. I saw him approaching and said to him as he drew even, “I guess you’re just going to blow past me now, right?” He smiled encouragingly and said, “It’s all relative.” The good news was that I was able to keep him in my sights for the duration of the climb. I felt good about that.

When I reached the summit, I knew I needed fuel. I hadn’t been able to hydrate for the better part of an hour since that would have required not pedaling. I was also getting tired. Did I mention that this was the first time using my new clips? Unclipping on a road bike with wobbly legs at the top of a mountain is not as easy as it is in spin class when I nonchalantly hop off my bike. I was still trying to get my at least one of my feet out of the pedals when I had to stop, because if I didn’t stop I would have started back down the other side of the mountain, and I wasn’t able to do that.

Stop I did. Fall I did. At least I wasn’t really moving when it happened. And I managed to unclip myself while I was on the ground. I wasn’t hurt, other than a tiny wound on my shin. Oh, and my pride. Two hikers saw the whole thing happen. They were appropriately concerned and could sense my embarrassment.

While on my break, I looked at my directions. It said something like, “After the first summit….” FIRST summit???” I mentally shouted. If there’s a first one, that must mean there’s a second one. I didn’t want to believe it. I had already done so much climbing, it didn’t seem possible there could be more mountain. After my short break, I remounted the bike and started downhill. That was nice. No, actually it wasn’t. It should have been, but my legs were still wobbly, so I had to ride the brakes a lot to stay in control, and it was cold.  

Then came the second climb. It wasn't as long as the first one, but it felt tougher. There were more curves and turns and steeper ups. There were times I wanted to get off the bike and just walk. Two things stopped me - I knew I wouldn't be able to go as fast and thereby be done with the torture as soon as if I just stayed on and pedaled; and I wasn't sure I'd be able to unclip.

I made it to the second summit, and kept going, secure in the knowledge that if I just kept going I'd be done soon. Again my legs were pretty wobbly, and the downhill felt precarious, so I rode the brakes.

Suddenly I heard a very loud POP. I looked quickly at the front tire and knew it was the back tire. Of course it was. It's always the back tire. I started to pull over - it's a narrow, windy canyon road, so I knew I needed a turnout where cars wouldn't run me over should one happen by. So I pulled over. So intent was I in getting to a safe spot and making sure I didn't crash before I could stop, that I stopped before remembering - again - that I needed to unclip. So I stopped and THEN crashed. From a standing position.

I did manage to get one foot unclipped before I tumbled. Unfortunately, it was the foot opposite of the side I landed on. So there I was, turtling, as I was trapped by my own body weight and the bike. I calmed down long enough to realize that I needed to go against logic and bring my body over the bike to the side where the foot was clipped in. I let myself fall against the mountainside and did just that.

Thankfully I had a spare tube with me, so I changed the flat and got back on the bike. This time I spent the next part of the flat road practicing which foot I felt more comfortable unclipping first, and making sure I could do that easily. By the time I got back to civilization, and a red light, I could successfully clip out.

All was fine and good until the bike started feeling sluggish underneath me again. I pulled over, thinking that maybe I hadn't pumped the tube up enough. This time the outer tire appeared to be the problem - it wasn't holding the tube in. When the tube was inflated all the way, it poked out of a certain spot. Deflated it would stay in there, but it's dumb to ride on a flat tire.

Somewhat deflated myself, I called C and asked for a ride home. I was exactly halfway through the 46 mile loop I initially set out to do.

When C got there and we loaded me and all the gear into her car, she said, "Not for nothing, Laura, but I think you've got some kinks to work out before June 15."

"Yes, that's exactly why I'm doing these rides before then - so I can figure all of it out."

"You know, there are lots of hills in Burbank. You could do the same loop 20 times instead of one loop one time 20 miles away from home."

I'm not counting it as a failure even though it didn't go the way I had wanted. I learned important things, and got some really great bruises and road rash from my standing crashes.

Here's a little video I put together of the climb to the first summit and a little bit of the downhill. It's all in fast motion, except for one small part. I had to speed it up so it wasn't more boring than it already is. Perhaps only other cyclists will appreciate this.


P.S. For whatever reason, I can't get it to upload or recognize it from YouTube, so click here to go watch it

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Great Day!

This conversation happened today:

Steve (Office dweller by my cube):  [singing] Zippity doo dah, zippity ayyyy...

Laura: [chuckles]

Steve: It’s a great day, Laura!

Laura: It’s a zippity-doo-dah day, Steve!

Steve: [laughs, delighted] But I’m going to be late to my meeting!

Laura: That’s because Mr. Bluebird’s on your shoulder, weighing you down a little bit.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Getting Someone to Like You

From the movie, "People Like Us," and edited for language:

1.   If you like something because you think other people will, it’s a sure bet no one will.

2.   Most doors in the world are closed. If you find one you want to get into, you’d better have an interesting knock.

3.   Everything that you think is important isn’t. And everything you think is unimportant is.

4.   Don’t crap where you eat.

5.   Lean into it. The outcome doesn’t matter – what matters is that you’re there for it, whatever “it” is, good or bad.

6.   Never climb into bed with someone who has more problems than you.

7.   Always assume your mother’s listening.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

H140 Training Update #1

Now that the half-marathon is behind me, this is the time to jump into training for THE BIKE RIDE. I had great intentions of getting a start on it on Good Friday. It was a holiday for me from work, and I thought it was the perfect day for a little inaugural bike ride. I had a route all planned out - a 20 mile route along mostly bike paths to Woodland Hills. The route runs parallel to the Metro Orange Line. Some of it is in bike lanes on roads, and some along the paths.
The day started in a bit of fits and starts. I had spent several hours during the week getting the proper tool (pedal wrench) to put my Speedplay pedals on the bike - the pedals that allow you to "clip in" with biking shoes, providing they have the compatible cleats. With freshly-mounted cleats and newly-installed pedals, I thought I was ready. I've spent years on a spin bike with cycling shoes - how much harder could it be to make that transition to a road bike?

As it turns out, not as easy as I thought. The cleats and fittings are different than the ones I use in spin class, so all the muscle memory I have for clipping in and out was completely useless for these new ones.
Just a small setback, no big deal. I switched the pedals out to the store-issued ones (I was an expert at this by now), rechecked all my supplies and headed out.
All was well and good until I hit a literal bump in the road. There was a two-three inch difference in the pavement which I didn't see in time to properly avoid. Other than jarring my bones inside my skin, I thought everything was okay, until I realized that the ride felt mushy and slightly out of control.
Flat tire. Not to be deterred, I smugly pulled my PocketRocket bike pump out of my pocket and started pumping up the tire.
...Which didn't hold any air. While the tire itself was still in good shape, the tube had apparently gotten pinched and was completely useless.
While that initial ride could be considered a failure - no cleats experience, flat tire and only a quarter of the goal distance accomplished, I learned some valuable things: Be more aware of bad pavement spots and carry a spare tube.
I'd somehow figure out the pedal thing later.

Fast forward one week. I still hadn't gotten the pedal thing figured out (but that was because I hadn't tried again yet). I started out on the same trail and this time made it the whole way with no mishaps. I did 40 miles in three hours. I'm pleased with that distance if only because I got some good time in the saddle. It was a fairly flat road, and I know that I need to concentrate as much on hills for this ride as I did for the half-marathon.
Tonight I  took a backwards approach to the pedal issue. The bike shop guy recommended a specific lubricant for the cleats, so I put some of that on the shoes, then put the shoe on the pedal. So what if the pedal wasn't on the bike yet? Getting the shoe properly clipped in was no small victory.
I then took the whole kit and caboodle and put it on the bike, then put my foot back in the shoe and practiced clipping in and out with that foot. I then put the other pedal on and practiced with that foot (doing that one in the proper order - foot in shoe, shoe in pedal), and now feel fairly confident with the motion and movement.
This Saturday I have another ride planned - a 43 mile loop from Sylmar to Santa Clarita via Little Tujunga Canyon. Yes, lots and lots of hills on that. One more thing on my to-do list - extra tubes.

Only 10 weeks to go until the ride. Hopefully that will be enough time for me to get ready to the point where I feel - I dunno. More than not-ready. It's like the training I did for the race. I never felt ready, but I at least I knew I had done everything I could. I need to feel like that by June 15.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Muscle Memory

Muscle memory is an interesting thing. We may not have a conscious definition at the ready for it, but we know what it means when we say something like, “It’s just like riding a bicycle.” As a musician I rely on muscle memory to do in a moment of stage fright what my fingers and brain together cannot do -  play the right notes at the right time. As a dancer, the same concept applies. When the stage lights come on and you can only hear your own heartbeat and rapid breathing, muscle memory is what makes the feet start moving and doing the right thing. The brain goes into a sort of paralysis and the muscles calmly say, “I got this. Stop thinking and let me do the work.”

Those muscles though, don’t know how to do what they do without a lot of practice and hard work. I’ve never known anyone who’s just hopped on a bicycle, for instance, and started riding without ever falling or fumbling or needing training wheels. Sure, once you’ve mastered that skill years can pass without ever being on a bicycle and those muscles will immediately recall what they learned that long time ago. The core tightens to help balance, the legs pedal to help momentum, and the arms know how to steer and help balance the bike – all working in a masterful display of teamwork.

Playing a musical instrument and dancing – they all require tutoring, the desire to learn and the fortitude to keep practicing, even when that act is tedious, monotonous and repetitive.

Yet it is those aspects that make the muscles know what they’re supposed to do even when under stress or duress and there is no hope that the brain will properly function to lend any help.

The heart is a muscle, did you know that? It can be trained to love another person. Sometimes it takes practice and perseverance. In Greek there are four terms for love – agape (charity); eros (romantic love); philia (friendship); and storge (natural affection such as parents/offspring, though it is also used to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations).

Just as surely as the heart is as muscle, it too experiences the phenomenon of muscle memory. Having once loved, it knows how to get back on that metaphorical bicycle and ride again.