Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why I don't use Strava

My apologies to the 16 of you who follow me on Strava.
Sure, everyone stalks each other on social media. Guilty! Studies have shown that Facebook causes people to be dissatisfied with their lives because we constantly compare ourselves to others, and we forget to live our own, personal existence. I find myself somewhat jealous of other people's vacations, pets, and that they have time to run in the middle of the day when I'm stuck at work. Maybe people feel the same way about me.

I do use Facebook and this blog to keep myself 'honest' about what I'm doing with my time. I like to get feedback about my activities, what I could be doing better, and am glad to start a conversation even if it turns into a disagreement. But, I'm not telling you about every aspect of my training, or my life, for that matter. My Facebook content is censored. Are you shocked? You really shouldn't be.

You  might have heard about my hatred for sites like Pinterest (and magazines, and Hollywood, for that matter). The only thing Pinterest is useful for is understanding that people, for the most part, are clones. We all like the same things. Re-pinning something with 10,000 pins is not necessarily a good thing. Pinterest is also a virtual world of what we could have, instead of what we really are. Most of the hairstyles on there don't work, and so much of the other stuff looks like it came from a catalog. It's a fantasy. It's a lot like #photostockgirl. She is a model for what we all want to be, but she isn't you. You are just fine the way you are. So am I.

Recently, I ran into someone who had asked if I have been riding my bike. I explained that I have been riding my bike - quite a bit actually. To which she said,  "Oh I just haven't seen you on Strava."

"I don't use Strava."

Strava is an app that records rides and runs like a GPS device. It collects pace, miles per hour, route, distance, and elevation. On top of that, it's also a social media app that allows the athlete to share this information with other users. People can "follow" you, or you can "follow" them like a Twitter or any other social media account. When one logs into their Strava feed, they can compare a workout to others in the Strava social network. They can also see who was on the same ride, and users can leave comments for each other. The course is broken into segments, and the app records each users best time on each segment and applies a personal record when a faster time is recorded. Also, users can compare themselves to all other users on each segment. That's where the competition comes in: the fastest athlete on the segment is named "King of the Hill."

If you use your Garmin once a year, and improve dramatically over that year - you will break a lot of personal records. Note: x 56!
There is this overwhelming peer pressure in the cycling and triathlon community to put everything on Strava. True, I do use Facebook and my blog to make myself accountable to others, but the stuff I don't feel like sharing, doesn't get shared. Strava shares just about everything (at least about riding and running). If Facebook and Pinterest make people feel dissatisfied with life - well, Strava puts it into numbers - which seems to be even worse. Who can I be the best I can be when I'm trying to beat so-and-so's time on such-and-such segment?

I already mentally beat myself up enough already.

I have a Garmin, which I prefer to use over any smart phone app. It's mostly for safety. I want the device right in front of me where I can see it, or have it safely secured to my wrist. Also, I don't want an app to run down my iPhone battery. We know how little time we have without charging these days. I don't want to track an epic bike ride, and not have the ability to call someone for help or look for directions. Yes, I tend to get lost. I track my workouts with my Garmin so I can log into my account and look up my past riding, running, (and now!) swimming history. There are still pieces of the Garmin that I haven't used to their full potential - a la the heart rate monitor. Baby steps.

It's great to see improvement, but I don't need to see what everyone else is doing or compare myself to others. When you use Strava, there is no getting around it unless you set up a private profile. But, Strava is definitely meant to be a social app, not private. You may have asked to follow me on Strava, and I'm certainly not going to reject you. I've also seen some of the awesome rides and runs that you have done, and I DO think you are really awesome. But using it on the daily would not make me feel good about my own goals, and my own efforts. Every time I see another athlete's epic workout on Strava I think to myself, "I could do that."

Or worse, "I'll never amount to anything."

If I start training for someone else, then I will surely be doomed. So, I move forward. Watching my own progress, and training to the best of my abilities. . . Strava-free.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Breakthrough and Mogwai: Kaiser Half Marathon Race Report

Having a breakthrough is like finding a mogwai. With great speed, comes great responsibility.
It was a stormy night, and I was in China Town buying presents for the family when I came across this strange shop where I bought a mogwai for my son Billy. Oh. Wait. Slightly different story...

It was a stormy morning along the Great Highway of San Francisco when my running buddies and I arrived for the Kaiser Half Marathon. Despite a temperamental quad/knee issue, I had signed up for the race, and didn't want to miss out. After all, it doesn't hurt to run! The strange Chinese man with one blue eye told me that I should be aware, go slow, and stop as needed. (Ok, the strange Chinese man thing didn't happen.) My goal for this half marathon was to use it as a training run, enjoy the Chi, and put one foot in front of the other. No pressure.

My running friends, one from England and the other from Ireland, made me hold my proverbial California tongue about running in the rain and cold. After the drought we've been having in California, the rain was a good thing, except I may have been slightly under dressed. Only one of us (not me) came prepared with a garbage bag. A garbage bag is this awesome invention that is meant for carrying garbage, but actually makes a handy throw-away jacket for the rain and cold. Make a hole for your head in the top, and you have a some schnazzy outerwear. Luckily, volunteers were handing our bags out in the bus shuttle line.We also figured out that a swim cap is an excellent rain repellent for an iPhone. These inventions should really be re-branded.

I have digressed.

There were thousands of runners out there in Golden Gate Park, set to run this early season half marathon. Good crowd. I seated myself at the front of the eight-minute mile pack, expecting that everyone would pass me in the first few miles, and I was mentally prepared for that. After a gospel rendition of the National Anthem, we were off! Mile one was good, at mile two I ditched my garbage rain coat, at mile three I got a little cramped, and by mile four I was moving along just fine.

Blah blah, moving on. I had an awesome race. Every mile except mile three was below an eight-minute per mile pace. I have been hovering around 8:02 and 8:09 for years. Granted, the course had a lot of downhill, but when I reached the halfway mark, feeling feisty, I knew I could set a personal record if I could just keep up the pace. Running along the Great Highway was flat, but runners also caught a headwind, which was mostly to our backs in the other direction.

I saw my entire track workout pace group from the turn around (around mile 10) until the finish. It made me proud to know that I hang with the right people at track workout once a week: Jimmy, Debbie, Matt, Gemma - we were all there within a minute or so of each other. Debbie, and two totally random girls picked up their pace for the last three miles, and I tried with all of my might to stay on their heals to the finish....

For a Personal Record! 1:43:52 (7:55 per mile pace)

Better yet, a PR in February, while I'm still losing holiday weight, and am injured. If this is any indication for how the rest of the season goes, I'm stoked. (Knocking on wood in fear of bad luck.) Honestly though, I got lucky. I was mentally prepared for anything, but broke rules that I wouldn't normally break on an important race day.

The rules I broke are similar to the rules of the mogwai:

1.) I'm not very "light" right now (holiday weight).
2.) I was wet (cold), didn't wear the proper gear.
3.) I ate pizza pre-race, after midnight.

Now, the pressure begins. I know I can maintain a sub-8 minute mile on a flatter course. But there is such a difference between 7:58 and 7:35. I'd like to get to that 7:35 pace and maintain it over 13 miles. Can I get there? And how?

I need to be more careful. With great speed, also comes great responsibility. Ability to improve is like the mogwai, and not caged up at a strange shop in China Town anymore. I need to give this new mogwai love, but also figure out how to live with it, and mostly, don't mess it up! I was forgiven this time, but I know the reality.

It's going to take a lot of careful training and foam rolling . . .or I will have to return the mogwai.

Injured Mogwai is prepared for battle.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

It's the Climb!

Remember that song by Hannah Montana? That is definitely how I felt about climbing 8,300 feet on my bike a couple of weekends back - until we reached the last epic hill. This is the story of how a Rock Star ride turned into a big, hot mess.

I was stoked, and maybe a little apprehensive to take on so many hills for a 70+ mile bike ride. But, I do like climbing in general! Everyone should feel the desire to climb: in life, in love, literally (on a bike). Upward is the way to go.

My cycling friends and I started out on the campus of UC Santa Cruz, and straight away, we were on Empire Grade. *Note anything with the words 'Grade' or 'Mountain' won't be a nice, flat road. Furthermore, any road with the words 'Creek' isn't going to be flat either, at least not in California. At least they could call it 'Waterfall' to give you a clue, but I suppose that name is too long for s a street sign. Empire Grade became Ice Cream Grade, which might be a 'cool' place, but it's just more climbing. Around this time, I noticed a very tired calf muscle. My calves are rather tight, but so far it hasn't deterred me from any exercise.

Our group stopped, ate something and we were off again. This was our first regroup after 1.5 hours and only 11 miles. All. Up. Hill.

We made it to the town of Boulder Creek, and safely made it out of some sketchy traffic, and even avoided a run-in with a large truck that didn't give us 3 feet (It's the law, people!), and a huge deer carcass in the bike lane. That was a close one!

There were some awesome descents too! I'm finally getting comfortable riding downhill as fast as a car.

For miles 25 through 55 I felt like a total rock star! I sprinted ahead a couple of times, I got out of my saddle and pushed up a couple short hills with all of my might. I was having the time of my life. God, it was a beautiful day! We saw breathtaking views of the Santa Cruz mountain (or valley, because we were ON the mountain), took some turns around a picturesque country Christmas Tree farm, and ended up at Big Basin State Park for a potty break, followed by another leisurely climb and some conversation.

I was completely doped up on endorphin! Man, that stuff is the shit!

There was a very comfortable assent through Big Basin State Park, but toward the top, I noticed my knee was not comfortable at all. I was having a hard time pushing down on the pedals without a sharp knee pain. It was the worst time for this to happen because we just reached Jamison Creek Road (the mega hill of the entire ride). "Here we go," one of my friends said as they started the climb. We had been aware of exactly when this climb was coming, and maybe only slightly aware of just how brutal it would be.

Because I'm such a 'Rock Star' I decided to start up the hill instead of heading back to town to wait for a ride back. I started walking, and felt fine, but each time I attempted to get back in the saddle, a sharp knee pain made me get off of my bike and start walking again. I got into the saddle a total of 3 times, and probably only getting about 100 feet each time. 1.5 miles of mostly walking up that hill, I decided I might as well walk the whole way. Who knows what that descent would be like. . .

Luckily, or unluckily, this road is not traveled much by cars. I missed three opportunities to ask someone in a truck for a ride. I thought about throwing my bike over the edge once. . .

So, I spent about 5.5 hours in the saddle that day, plus an additional 45 minutes walking uphill. In my cleats. Yowza!

Never did I imagine that I would injure myself on the bike. Everyone injures themselves running, right? Isn't running the devil? Maybe I have tight calves due to running, and it was just a gateway drug to biking.

Today I am going to rehab, i.e meeting with a Sports Therapist/Chiropractor today. It was just a matter of time, I suppose. I hope it's something that can be fixed, and I can help to prevent by not going overboard in the future. Otherwise, I'm going to have to go to real rehab and that will not be pretty, or cheap. But, like anyone with an addiction, it will probably be a life-long struggle.

The moral to the story is, don't take your legs out and think you are going to be Hannah Montana. It might work for awhile because you have impressive genes from your father, but there is a big difference between having some talents, and then knowing how to use them.

Don't become the Miley Cyrus of cycling.