Monday, August 18, 2014

I did it!

My goal this year was to ride 1,000  miles before Cycle Oregon - and I made it with three weeks to spare!
No rest for the weary, though! My new goal is to get another 250 in before we head out of town. That's a bit of a stretch, and I know it. Here's how I think it'll go:
     This week: Wednesday 15 miles, Saturday 86 miles (omg), Sunday 20 miles = 121
     Following week: Wednesday 15 miles, Saturday 50, Sunday xx, Monday yy = 65 + ?
     Final few days beforehand: Wednesday 15

If I do the miles as planned, that'll leave 49 miles for me to do that Sunday/Monday (it's Labor Day weekend already...!). That should be very doable - note there is an IF in the previous sentence, and a SHOULD in this one. We'll see how it plays out. I do have plans with my bike friends for a specific ride that Sunday, but I'm not sure about its mileage.

This coming Saturday will be my longest ride of the year (.4 longer than the longest Cycle Oregon day, though much much much flatter) - it's an organized ride, and I'm not going with any friends, so I hope that there are enough other riders to distract/entertain me as I slog it out. And I hope it's not as hot as it's been lately.. it's looking like high 80s which is ten degrees cooler than the LAST organized ride I did, so that's a positive sign.

In general, I'm nervous about my conditioning and stamina. I guess part of that is because it never gets easy, even if it goes faster! As part of a loop I did this weekend I revisited a hill I did this spring. At the time I remember I was in my smallest gears and going 3 miles per hour - my app thought I'd stopped moving! This time I was in harder gears and kept it above 8 miles per hour the whole time, so clearly I've improved! But I was sure happy when the light at the top of the hill turned red so I could recover.

I was talking to a bike pro today and she was impressed with my training - I've been doing just about 100 miles/week and running about 6 miles/week, usually with two days of little or no activity. She thinks it'll be sufficient for me to do okay on the ride. I sure hope so!

I also finally picked a bike seat. It is fine in the crotch and upper legs area (the woman I talked to today calls that area the blegs (butt/legs) - ha!). The seat makes my sit bones feel sore, but on the other hand I've been on a different seat every week all summer long. My butt has NO IDEA what "my" seat feels like. So, I bought the seat, have it on my bike and have a couple hundred miles to get used to it. Gulp.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Calories and fitness: almost six months in

On February 19th this year I started logging my calories using an app called LoseIt. It's free, but I chose it mainly because a couple of friends were already using it. In fact, I had it on my phone for at least a couple of months before I started using it. I've always resisted counting calories - because it's both hard, and honest! - and I haven't been in a place where I wanted to be really scrupulous about my intake.

There wasn't anything magical about the date I started tracking - I was staying with friends who were both riding a health/fitness wave, and it inspired me to get started. I'm still not remotely perfect - I don't really know how best to figure out calories when I eat out, so I've created a generic "restaurant meal" entry that I use, and take a wild guess about how many calories I actually ate. And when I spent two weeks in Hawaii for my brother's wedding, I didn't bother at all - just tried to make healthy choices and resumed my tracking when I got home. In fact, non-tracking has been my M.O. for all the various trips I've taken this year, and I think it's worked pretty well for me.  Fortunately I really do know how to eat pretty healthily, and I've been doing a better job about portion control, which is probably my biggest issue. (Also, I haven't bought ice cream to keep at home since at least the beginning of the year - definitely a help!)

So how's it going? Pretty well! Counting calories FINALLY imparted to me on a gut level why exercise is so important. If I'm limiting myself to 1,149 calories per day, it makes a HUGE difference if I go on a run and pick up 400 calories! There's no question that is an hour well-spent.

I had some medical stuff earlier this year that resulted in me dropping 5 pounds (I'm totally fine now), and since then I've dropped an additional 20. When I started tracking I was at a new all-time high (by just about 5 pounds but still... not the kind of records I like breaking!), so I'm still in a familiar weight range right now. And I've been training for Cycle Oregon, and cross-training by running. Once the ride is over (and it's coming right up!!!! eeek) I know for sure I will bike a LOT less. But I want to keep running, and intend to sign up for some 5k runs, and perhaps a 10k in the spring, so I stay motivated and engaged with exercise. And I can head back to the pool once the rains set in - that's a tough workout!

I use RunKeeper to track my running, walking, biking, and swimming. So far this year I've run 52 miles (!!!) and have biked 907 miles. My pre-Cycle Oregon goal was to hit 1,000 miles, and my stretch goal was 1,200. Since I still have three weekends to train (gah) I may even make it to 1,300 before we go ride 400 miles in a week. Yowza. I've set a goal to run 100 miles by the end of the  year, and I guess I'm on track to meet that goal too. To be honest, I'm way more wowed by the running numbers - I've done Cycle Oregon three times before, so riding 1,000 miles in preparation is significant, but at least a little familiar. Running ANY distance is a totally new experience for me!

As I said recently, this fitness/health stuff seems to come in waves, and I'm under no illusion that I'm suddenly magically a new person. But... I think I have the tools to do this. I'd like to drop a few more pounds before CO, but really, I'm focusing on being strong and active. We'll see where it takes me!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

On being particular

I'm a decisive person, and have never understood people who spend lots of time doing research to make just the most perfect choice possible on the planet (or so it seems to me) - I like to come in, assess my options, pick one, and move on.

This comes in handy lots of the time - planning trips (pick a destination, pick a flight, book some kind of lodging, and go!), buying a used car (price is right, age is fine, let's do this thing), heck, even shopping for clothes or jewelry. I remember poking around at the Saturday Market with a friend who assessed every bit of jewelry, put stuff on hold to revisit it, and really pondered each and every bauble that caught her eye. It drove me insane, and I wound up buying way more than I ever normally would - in retrospect, I realized I was trying to show her how this shopping thing ought to be done!

The truth is, my way isn't the One True Way, however it is my default operating behavior and it's hard to remember/believe that people act differently for rational reasons.

Right now I'm living in the world of being picky. I'm trying to find a new bike seat, and it's not coming together easily! I have friends who say their bike seats never give them any trouble - yeah, you spend seven hours sitting on something and you'll be a bit sick of it, but they don't ever have any specific pain points or anything.

I'm now on the sixth seat I've tried this summer and still am not finding my perfect match. When you are testing a bike seat, there are three main areas of discomfort to consider: the sit bones (the contact point between you and the seat where most of your weight goes), the crotch area (which can't be blissfully ignorant of the existence of the seat, but hopefully feels neutral about the situation), and your upper legs/inner thighs area (which can chafe/pinch/bruise if the seat is too wide or in other ways too much present).

First seat: good sit bones, bad crotch, no notice of legs
Second seat: decent sit bones, fine crotch, leggy complications
Third seat: painful sit bones, fine crotch, no leg awareness.
Fourth seat: terrible horrible no-good crotch.
Fifth seat: probably much better but still sore from fourth seat. also didn't feel super well-supported in the sit bones
Sixth seat: This is the same brand as the second seat and so far I think it might be mostly okayish. Sit bones are okay, crotch is okay, not sure about the leg complications.

It's killing me that I can't just go, get a seat, and ride away happy, but apparently this isn't something I can force!

I had similar issues when getting a mattress.

My first was a latex mattress that seemed great at first, but after a few months I realized it was too soft - and they did not take returns. When I left the bay area I sold it to a soft-mattress-loving friend who is super happy with it still.

When I got to Portland I did some research and read that people were pretty happy with IKEA mattresses. So, I got one there. And it wasn't comfortable. And then I found out they had a terrible return policy: you have to buy a second mattress, then they will take the first mattress back, but won't refund your money - you'll get a store credit in the amount of mattress #1. So basically you're out the cash for TWO mattresses. This seems so insane as to be impossible, but that's what several store employees told me. So when I got my second mattress I chose one that felt comfortable and was not super expensive. Fortunately for me when the store employee called to talk about giving me the store credit for the first mattress, she asked why not just refund onto my credit card? I was very happy to let her!

Unfortunately that second IKEA mattress was also sub-optimal. I was going to just live with it, but a couple things happened: my sister moved in and could benefit from a decent mattress in my guest room, and some friends gave me mattress money for my housewarming present. SO back to the mattress store I toddled.

This time I chose a locally-owned shop that sells regionally-produced mattresses. They too have a pretty strict return policy: you get one return and it has to be done within six weeks. I got a mattress, they delivered it, and after about six weeks I realized it just wasn't working - much to my deep chagrin. They let me swap it for another, which is the one I have now. To be totally honest, it's good but not great. If I could exchange it again I totally would! But I can't, I don't need any more mattresses, and I am NOT going to go back through this process if I can help it! I have considered setting up my guest room bed and rotating between the two to see if I prefer one mattress over the other. But I can't (yet) bring myself to be quite that picky just yet!

....and I am definitely focusing on my seat first!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Headwinds, tailwinds

Woo-hoo: it's time to buy a pair of shorts one size smaller! Since February I've been tracking my calories for the first time in my life. I love that various apps make it so easy to do that! I don't do well tracking when I eat out - I made up a "restaurant meal" entry and then take a wild guess about how many calories I ingested. I eat out maybe four times a week, so this isn't an ideal thing, but it's working okay for now. I've also been exercising a lot, and I have to say it's motivating to be able to get caloric credit for the exercise I'm doing!

Last week was the first time I tried running intervals. I did six 6-minute cycles; each cycle consisted of 3 minutes of running fast, and 3 minutes of walking/staggering/trotting. It was really really hard but gave me some payoff immediately - the next time I ran (two days later) I cut a minute off my average speed, and I cut another minute off this week! Now I'm down - temporarily, anyway - to an 11:30 mile, and it's still hard but it's starting to feel like I'm actually running. Crazy!

All in all it's been a great spring/summer for me on the health & exercise front, but I'm realistic and know it's not like I'm suddenly a new person. I typically go long months with little to no exercise, and then may have a biking season or something before resuming my slothful ways. Right now it's feeling pretty natural and good to get out there and exercise, and it's likely it won't always be that way.

A billion years ago I subscribed to Utne Reader, which is a magazine that compiles interesting stories from other media sources. This was in the early 90s, and I remember reading an article about time and how we perceive it and how we cycle through it - sometimes we are sluggish and everything is effortful and takes forever, and sometimes we are a whirlwind of productivity and everything comes together and time is our magical friend. I picture it like a sine wave of effort with the uphill and downhill chunks not really in our control, but hopefully ours to recognize and seize upon.

So, right now, I'm in the downhill curve of the sine wave, in terms of exercise - for the most part it feels good to get out there, I enjoy the activity (even when it's hard and I'm tired and sore and... I swear, I DO enjoy some element of it!), and I look forward to the next round. One of these days I'm likely to encounter the uphill, headwind, don't-wannas and I will have to deal with them when they come.

Also: I'm not giving away my bigger shorts just yet! In truth I'm just at the bottom of my typical twenty-pound average weight range, and chances are I'll bounce back up and my new small shorts won't fit. Maaaaybe I'm really going to keep losing and stay down... or maybe not!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stay on target...

Well, I'm still biking, still running a bit. I'm trying to pick out a new bike seat in the midst of all this training - it's daunting to commit to riding five hours on a new seat, without being sure it will be remotely comfortable! And sometimes..it's really not! But a local bike shop has a seat lending library, so I don't have to commit without testing, and that's fantastic. I've managed to get just about 100 miles in on each of the two seats I've tried so far, and I don't think I've found my one true seat yet but the process is pretty great.

According to my gadget, I've biked just shy of 600 miles so far this season. That's great, since my goal before Cycle Oregon is 1,000 (1,200 would be even better). I think I can pretty confidently say I'll get another 400-600 miles in the next five weeks.

The hills will still be brutal, and there's no help for it. Sunday I rode 25 miles in the West Hills:

I'm proud of the fact that it's a figure 8. You know what that means? It means we absolutely killed ourselves getting up into the hills (that wiggly bit on the bottom-right was crazy crazy steep), and then we went down some and opted to go back uphill again. Woo! Here's the elevation profile (in meters, but you can see the gist of it): 
Brutal. The worst bit was a quarter-mile at a 13% grade. I was in my smallest gear, could barely bring the pedals around, going under 3mph, and I accidentally lifted the front part of the bike right off the ground in my struggle to keep going. Yikes! But hey, it's over now. And that whole ride was 25 miles, 2200 feet of climbing - one-third the mileage and one-third the climbing on the worst days. 

I honestly don't know how on earth I'm going to get through that ride in one piece, without sagging. One of my friends has already dropped, but the rest of us are holding firm so far!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The time I: tried a float tank

I have a friend who is raising money so she can go spend two months volunteering on an elephant preserve in South Africa - how cool is that?! A few months ago, she coordinated a fundraising raffle and got lots of good prizes donated. In fact, I donated my cake-baking services as a prize, and the winner claimed it two weeks ago for a coworker's going-away party. She never let me know how the cake was.. hopefully it went over well!

Anyway, in my opinion one of the best things about the raffle was that you could pick from the available prizes if your ticket got drawn. I won very early in the evening, so I chose the gift certificate to a local float tank center.

I know: a what? I'd heard randomly about sensory deprivation float tanks from a friend, who back in the 1990s went on a couple of dates with a guy who had one in his basement. (I found that very weird and Very Portland.) The idea is that the tank has about 10 inches of extremely salty water in it, heated to about body temp, so when you go in and close the door you feel weightless and isolated from the world.

When I lived in Oakland a float tank shop opened near where I lived and I often walked past it - I decided I was intrigued by the idea of a float, but too cheap to shell out for it, even though some of the benefits sound great, like feeling really relaxed,  having an amazing nights' sleep the night following the float, and even getting some meditative insights. So when I saw that a float certificate was an available prize for my winning raffle ticket, I was all over it!

The float center I went to has three styles of tanks: a small open room, a tank that has a lot of head room so you could almost stand up if you wanted to, and a traditional tank you have to squat to get into. The certificate I won was sufficient for three floats, so I decided I'd try all three tank/room types before I was done. Sunday was my first float, and I went in the tank with the head room.

I read Lisa's description of a float at the same center, and it's very accurate - each float tank is in its own room, which has a changing area (that is, an undressing area) and a shower, and then the tank. They give you wax ear plugs to put in, to keep the epsom salt-water out of your ears. There's a dim light on in the room which they tell you to turn off before you get in the tank, and there's a dim light in the tank you can turn off when you're ready. And then.. you float.

At first I felt a little confined by the space (even though it was big) - I think because the air was humid, it felt a little hard to breathe at first. Then, because it was dark and the water and the air and my body were all the same temperature, I realized I really couldn't feel what parts of me was in the water and what parts were floating above - even when I had my hand half-in, half-out, I couldn't feel the difference. Very trippy!

The water was CRAZY buoyant. It was probably waist-high if I sat up, but I was physically unable to sit - I kept floating up to a reclining position when I tried to sit cross-legged in the water. It takes no effort or thought at all to stay on the surface, which was a pretty amazing feeling! 

However, mostly I was a little bored. I was already well-rested (since I'd gone on hard bike rides the previous two days and slept like a rock each night) so I don't think I dozed. My mind wasn't racing, exactly, though I did think of a few things to keep on my to-do list. I thought about some blog posts I might write (namely this one, but perhaps some other experiential ones, like the time I went skydiving, or got open-water certified to scuba dive, or moved cross-country on the train), and I thought a tiny bit about my career path (no blazing insights, alas).

For the most part I sloshed around and wondered what time it was. The tub was long enough that I could extend my arms over my head and not touch either my feet or hands to the edge, so I spent time pushing off from one end and gliding to the other, then bouncing back to where I'd started. It's as close to weightlessness as I'm ever likely to get, and I guess if I ever DO get to space I'm going to spend a lot of time gently ping-ponging myself around.

Eventually some music came on to let me know it was time to get out. Then I was a little reluctant to wrap it up, but I do have two more floats left. I felt very relaxed the rest of the day, but I did NOT have an epic nights' sleep - in fact I woke up a couple of times disappointed that my sleep wasn't being amazing!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Another three

Yesterday I ran another three miles during my lunch break. This time I ran solo, at the track near my home, and only walked about ten steps of it.

Goodness, is running any distance on a track BORING. It was nearly empty so I ran part of it clockwise instead of the traditional counter-clockwise, but it only helped alleviate the boredom a little. But mostly I just kept plugging, and finished at a slow and steady 13:30 pace.

So now what? I guess I learn how to do it better. The first  mile and a bit was brutal - I just wanted to STOP - but I pushed through it and was reasonably okay the rest of the time. My knees were tight yesterday and today as well, so my exercise today was 30 minutes of swimming which seems a good alternative.

Tomorrow, assuming my knees are okay, I think I will return to the track but do intervals - what, specifically, I don't know. Perhaps running fast on the straights, trotting the rounded ends, and alternating running and walking laps? I'm totally making this up as I go.

Tonight I'll be spending time with friends as it's the third anniversary of my friend's husband's death. I will be really appreciative of life and fitness and being with good people. I will also marvel a bit at how much has changed in three years - it was one of the nudges I needed to move back to Portland, but I sure wish he was still alive!