Swim, Bike, Run for a Cure

Chronicles of my insanity

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ungoogleable Experience

100 miles around Lake Tahoe and beyond complete!  What an amazing experience.  It's always hard to describe the emotions that occur during long rides, and there are many emotions to be had over an 8 hour day on the bike.  But here's my attempt at sharing . . .

Waking Up
Our day begins with a 5am alarm.  My friend and roomie, Eileen, and I go about the morning business in that blurry silence which happens when you are trying to be functional at an hour best suited for sleeping.  I eat a banana and some bread and down a cup of awful hotel coffee in attempts to force my eyelids open.  By 5:45 we are amid a buzzing group of cyclists in the hotel lobby ready to roll.

The Start
Shortly after 6am, the 5 of us roll out the door and begin our ride merging into a mass of cyclists already on the road.  America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride (AMBBR) has about 3000 registered cyclists, 700+ of which are part of Team in Training across the county.  It's a fairly spectacular site to see hundreds of purple jerseys pedaling away.  Even more amazing is the fact that the 700 of us raise over $3 millions in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Our chapter raised over $171,000 as of last week.   It's a great feeling when you know you contributed to this amazing effort of good in the world.  And when you see so many people dressed in TnT gear, it's like a real life data visualization of the impact.

Anyhow, back to the ride.  Here's what the day had in store for us.  100 miles and just under 5000' of climbing, 72 miles around the lake + a 28 mile out and back jaunt to Truckee.   This is a fairly flat route by Bay Area standards, and I knew we were ready for the adventure.  Our group included our trusty Coach Jim, Eileen, Morris and myself all seasoned riders, and Todd, who was embarking on his very first century.  

Emerald Bay (Mile 1-32)
After a nice flat warm up, we round the west side of the lake and begin climbing up by Emerald Bay.  I had been to this spot once before on my bike back in 2011 after an unfortunate incident of my car breaking down and stranding me in South Lake Tahoe for a few days.   What I remember about that ride was how scary it was with all the traffic and then the absolutely stunning views.  So upon my return, it was a delight to find they had closed traffic on our side of the road for this 5 mile climb.  It was not to my delight, though, that it was strangely foggy that morning. A heavy layer of fog, a la San Francisco, had settled over the lake, and all you could see as you climbed was the familiar white layer. Hrmph.  As we get to the top 45 minutes later, the sun starts to burn a hole into the fog and clouds, and miraculously, we are treated with this amazing view.  I retract my hrmph-ness, mother nature.  You win!

Out and Back to Truckee (Mile 32-60)
At about mile 32, we take a turn to do an out and back to Truckee.  On the way out this is an ever so slight downhill, which is great for pacelining and fast riding.  We all tuck in behind Jim, and start cruising along. As the last in the line, I was enjoying all the benefits of the pacelining and taking in the views a bit.  

Up ahead, I see two cyclist suddenly stop on the side of the the road, even though there is no shoulder.  The rest is in slow motion.   Jim swerves, Todd breaks quickly and falls,  Morris crashes into him, Eileen swerves trying to avoid Morris and the traffic next to us, and I slam on the breaks.   We all stand and lie there stunned for a few seconds as traffic and bikes race past us.  I turn towards the road and start signaling for cars to slow down.  We all help Morris and Todd stand up.  Thankfully no one is seriously injured. 

Morris's bike, unfortunately did not fare as well.  A broken derailleur and shifter and some pulled muscles put him out of commission.   So we move off the road, and begin the hilarious process of trying to call SAG.  After a serious set of miscommunications and an hour of sitting on the side of the road, we finally get some help and transit for Morris and his bike.    We are able to continue on to Truckee down one teammate.  :-(

[Side note:  the guys who essentially caused this giant tumble, didn't even bother to ask us if we were okay.  They simply looked at all of us lying on the ground and then rode away. Jerks.]

North Shore (Mile 61-75)
Back from Truckee, we round the north shore of the Lake.  This was a fairly long stretch, where we are able to paceline a bit more (safely!) and go through a series of rollers.  Eileen, who had done the ride before, had said lunch was at mile 70 or so.  I vaguely remember looking at the map earlier in the morning and seeing the same information about lunch being at King's Beach at 70.  For me when doing 100 mile rides, mile 65 or so is when I start to get tired and very hungry.  But since I knew lunch was at mile 70, I didn't bother eating too much knowing that we had a lunch stop ahead.

Let's just call miles 70-75 the Hangry Miles of the ride.  At this point, you are riding fairly close to the shore and can see the lake and the beaches. At each turn you think you are going to pull into one of these beaches for lunch, but you don't.  You are also rolling through a fairly developed part of the lake where there are hamburger joints and pizza parlors and ice cream stands every few feet. And you are very, very hungry and getting very, very angry that the lunch stop was not at mile 70 as promised. This is also when you think you may have missed the lunch stop and get silently angry at everyone else around you.

Lunch (Mile 75)
So it turns out they moved lunch a few miles from the last time Eileen did the ride, and I was very tired at 5am.  We did not miss lunch and had a gorgeous picnic table view.  We even met some locals who had been doing this ride for 20 years, and had their sweet teenage daughter join them for the last 5.  My whole outlook on life was changed by a ham sandwich, a bag of chips, and a cookie!

Hills, More Hills, and a Big Hill (Miles 75-94)
Fully refreshed with calories, cold water, and a lot of chamois butter, we return to our bikes. Immediately after lunch, you face a two mile climb that takes you back into Nevada.  Normally, this hill would not be a problem, but after gorging yourself of lunch and various snacks, everything feels a little sluggish and your stomach is not thrilled with you. Frankly, it's very mean.  But then you are treated to bopping along through Incline Village, a very wealthy neighborhood on Tahoe. The houses are enormous and the views just grand.

Then we begin the climb to Spooner summit.  This is a doozy of a 9 mile climb, fairly steep at parts, and hits you around mile 82, which, again, is just mean.  This goes on for a good long time.  At this point, it's the warmest part of the day.  While it was just 78 degrees, it felt like a billion degrees with the asphalt and all the sweating and all the complaining that was coming out of my mouth.   However, just when I would get really tired, I would look to the right and see the amazing views. Here's a peak of Carnelian Bay and it's crystal blue waters.  If we had been closer to the lake, I would have jumped right in!

At these events they set up cameras on the hills because you are going slow enough that they can capture a non-blurry photo of you.  These are also, sadly, the moments when you are most likely suffering the most.  Here is one where I am trying to be happy for the official race photo as I climb up Spooner.

We finally all survive the climb and regroup for the last 12 miles.  The descent is 6 miles down Hwy 50, a 4 lane highway.  The roads aren't closed, but because there are so many cyclists on the road, the traffic generally was giving us a full lane.  The road is smooth and clear and fairly straight.  I hit close to 50 mph on my trusty bike.  What a thrill!

What?! (Mile 94-100)
The last 6 miles are a series of rollers. As I am cruising down a hill, I hear a sudden pop and ssssssss....  flat tire! Luckily there is a wide shoulder and I pull over.  My rear tire is completely flat.  

Slightly defeated, I hop off my bike and get to work changing the tire.  I take it off and start examining the tire to see what caused the flat.  On the first go around, I don't find anything but some white feathers in the tire that look like they blew in there when I was taking the tube out.  I go another round and find nothing but the feather.  One more time around and I stop at the feather.  Well what do you know!  It was the feather!  The quill was stuck through the tire and had a pointy bit which punctured the tube.  I pull it out and try to get the feathers out as well with no avail.   Who in the world gets a flat tire from a feather?!

Meanwhile Jim pulls up having come back to help me.  Dozens of riders zip by me yelling out, "Bummer!"  Jim gives me a patch and I cover up the feather holes, and put it all back together.  The official ride SAG shows up right then.  They pump my tire back up and help me get it back on the bike.   We rejoin our teammates and see that not 200 feet from where I got my flat, the finish line is in sight.  We were less than a mile from the finish!

We all roll in together with big smiles on our faces. Hooray! Todd completes his first century, which was strangely emotional for me.  His wife was there to greet him, and I had a wave of emotions remembering what it was like for me to complete my first century, too.  It's a great sense of accomplishment mixed with exhaustion, the fuzziness of dehydration, and then the wave of knowing you just rode 100 miles.  This time, I was just pleased as punch to be part of Todd's accomplishment and know that we did all of this in support of an important cause near and dear to me.  Also I was very very very hungry. We end the night with lots of food, beer, and smiles all around!

When sitting down to write this, I was trying to remember all the emotions that go with training and completing an event like this.  I've done it several times now, but each time there are always a handful of special moments that warm my heart, ones that are hard to describe although I always try. There's not a word or a phrase that captures it well enough, so I am always looking for  a good German word or some photos that can help in the description.  To that end, I tried to google "bike flat tire from feather" to see if I could find a photo to support my story.  Not to flatter myself too much, but I am an *excellent* googler. If it's on the Internet and indexed by Google, I will find it.  But after 10 maybe 20 different boolean search variations, I came up with not one entry about someone else getting a flat tire from a feather.  Not a photo, not a story, nada!  So there you have it -- the perfect metaphor.  Doing century rides with Team in Training is an Ungoogleable Experience.*

Many many thanks to all that supported me in my fundraising and training.  You guys are the best!

As always,  much love and gratitude!

** Strangely, spellcheck recognizes ungoogleable as a word

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Shifting Landscapes

Things have been on the move lately!

Chris and I are preparing for a remodel of our house, with construction starting in a few months, we hope.   This has been a project in the planning stages for oh, say, the last 6 years.  For anyone who has spent any amount of time on a long bike ride with us, you surely have heard updates of this plan. And you will have to hear about it likely for another 6-8 months.  But then it will be done, and you will all be invited over to a big party!    But until then, let's continue on with this beating-a-dead-horse topic.

So, we are going to have to move out of our house for the duration of the construction. We have very luckily a place to stay in Rockridge, so will be up and moving parts of our life to Oakland in a few months time.  It's been quite the rubics cube of puzzles planning this all.  Some things are getting sold, somethings donated, others moving to Rockridge with us, others into storage.  While I don't mind the planning the logistics of it all, I am little uneasy about the upcoming upheavals in my life.  I'm actually pretty good about traveling and going with the flow in the short term, but my home has always been the place where I find stability and sanity.  So picking up and dispersing my life all over the Bay Area feels daunting.

Recently, we had a conversation with our next door neighbor, who has owned his house here since the 70's.  He told us that the reason our house and others on our street have such steep staircases and high garages is because our house used to be located several streets down the hill.  During the construction of the 280 freeway nearby, our house was relocated up to it's current location.  I immediately began to do some internet sleuthing to see if I could verify his story.  While I have not found any actual proof that this applies to our house,  I did find references to many houses between the 1930's to the 1950's getting moved in our neighborhood.  Given our house was built in 1940 per historical records, most likely it would have been moved due to the expansion of San Jose Ave, rather than 280. But the moving part  could be true. In any case, the fact that you can up and move an entire house is fascinating to me.  Here's a historical photos of a house that was moved in the 50's I believe.

and here's one from the horse and buggy days.

And here's a Facebook page of an upcoming book about the very topic, San Francisco Relocated.

[Side note:  Dive bar Clooney's in the Mission may also have been moved to it's current location.]

Ok, sorry to take you down my internet searching rabbit hole, but it is really fascinating, isn't it?  I mean, the idea of just taking your entire house with you and putting it in a new landscape is pretty amazing.  Same house, different views and different neighborhood.  

But then I started thinking if we could just move our house to Oakland with us, it wouldn't really be the same home.  For me, the part of the home being the center of your life is not just about the physical building, but about the people and community that you live in.  It's your friendly next door neighbors who share a beer from their cooler on a Friday evening. Or the owner of your neighborhood grocery store who knows what kind of cheese you like.  Or the hairdresser that knows the ins and outs of not just your hair but your personal life.  Or the series of mini parks and the Glen Canyon that I run through on my neighborhood runs.

So all of this really does take us back to cycling, I promise.   I've taken a few years off from Team in Training, and was recently wondering if I would enjoy it as much as I have in the past.  I had looked at the roster of people on the team,  most of them were new to me.  And I looked at the ride locations for the season, many of which were far away and new to me.  I also have a new-to-me bike that I have not ridden any long distances on, and I started to get concerned that I would need new gears or new adjustments on it.  Given all the changing landscapes of my upcoming life, I actually was a little concerned about adding in more newness to my life.

But this Saturday, I joined the team for my first ride of the season.  There were so many familiar and friendly faces -- previous coaches, teammates, honored teammates that I have spent many an hour with on my bike.  These are people who I may not see very often, but are ones that always welcome me with open arms. We rode a classic Bay Area ride (Paradise Loop) on what was apparently the perfect San Francisco day (75 and sunny!)

We dedicated the ride to an amazing man, AJ Jabanero, who lost his battle to liver cancer this past week.  He joined Team in Training several years ago when his two year old daughter, Izzy, was diagnosed with Leukemia.  He and his family spent endless time and energy supporting Team in Training.  Izzy is now in remission and a healthy litte girl.   Sadly, AJ is no longer with us.  But his spirit and energy lives on.

So all of this -- the joy and the sadness -- all of this was a little bit like coming home.  The community, the support, the cycling, and the fun. It was a reminder for me that this is why I keep doing this Team in Training thing.  It doesn't matter what else is going on in my life, where my home is moving to.  If I can hop on my bike and support some people along the way, then I will enjoy the shifting landscapes and enjoy the ride.

And by the way, if you want to join me on the ride and help change the landscape of blood cancers, please make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Any amount is much appreciated!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The More the Butter!

Well, well, well.  We meet again.  Over 1.5 years later.  Good to know we can pick up where we left off so easily.

What have I been up to lately?  Allow me to summarize:
  • 3 long months in a miserable boot back in July 2013.
  • Then, out of the boot. Yay!
  • Then back in the boot a week later.  Boo!
  • 3 long months in a miserable boot.
  • Then back on the bike for the first time in January 2014.  17 miles. Woo hoo!
  • 6 months of intensive physical therapy + swim and bike training.
  • Speedster (my bike) develops 2 cracks in the frame. Bye bye bike.
  • Complete an aqua bike ( 2.4 mile swim + 112 mile bike) on a rented bike I had never ridden before. Ouch!
  • Buy a new-to-me bike, and name it Butter.  He's a smoooth ride!
That pretty much brings us up to speed.  What have you been up to?

Nice!  Sounds like you've been busy.   What do I have planned this year, you ask?

Well, in the spirit of New Years resolutions, I've signed up for another round of training and fundraising in support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  I'll be training for and riding  America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride.  It's 100 miles around Lake Tahoe on June 7, 2015.

I know! It does sound fun.  Care to join me?

Oh. OK.  Well, think about it.  I'd love to ride with you.  We ride all over the Bay Area.  In the mean time, though, you could support me by donating to my fundraising efforts.  I'm trying to reach $3500 by June.  

Yeah, it's always a challenge to fundraise, but it's worth it.  LLS does such good work at supporting research and helping patients and families who have cancer.

Thank you!  That's so generous.   And thank you so much for spreading the word.

Okay, well, great chatting with you.  Let's catch up here soon, okay?


PS.  Donate here!  http://pages.teamintraining.org/gba/ambbr15/melissacheung#home

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Reflections from the Boot

Helloooo!!  I'm still here!

As some of you may know, my training has taken a turn.  A turn towards the sofa for the last 3.5 months.  I've been unable to train, and sadly, my goal of doing a 50K this year are on hold.

The Short Version
This is what happened:

The Longer Version (with pictures so you'll keep reading)

About 3.5 months ago I started having some pain in my right knee.  It was only painful while I ran, at first.  Then I couldn't finish my runs at all.  And then it hurt whenever I walked.  So I hauled myself in to a series of doctors and medical types, who ran innumerable test and tried all sorts of crazy stuff, none of which actually seemed to help, including:

  • Not running (boooooo!)
  • Cortisone shot (hey, turns out i'm severely allergic to cortisone!)
  • Ultrasound and electrical stimulation for 12 weeks (oomphf, insurances doesn't cover all of this!)
  • 2 MRIs (ugh.  so many battles with my insurance company)
  • Physical therapy for 10 week (Check out my one legged planks! Strong core!)
  • Dextrose and lidocaine injection into one of the bursas of my knee (super cool to watch the needle go into my knee under the ultrasound machine!)
  • New physical therapist (double oomphf!  he doesn't accept my insurance.)
  • Cupping (ouch! don't look at my freaky bruises!)
  • 200 reverse bridges a day (hey, look my core is still strong!)
Somewhere between the cortisone shot and the 200 bridges, my big toe started hurting.  I dismissed it as too much training.  All of my doctors dismissed it, too.  Finally, after complaining about it repeatedly, my PT told me to go to a podiatrist. 

So off I went to the Sports Medicine Clinic at St. Francis.  They treat the dancers at SF Ballet, so figured I'd get some good care.  (I was right.)  Two visits, an X-ray and an MRI later, I'm told my seismoid bones are fractured, broken into 3 pieces.  One of the pieces is worn down to a nub, indicating the fracture likely happened a while ago. 

These are your seismoid bones in your foot:

They are embedded in your tendons. You step on them every time you walk (or run) or do anything really involving your feet. You put about 50% of your body weight on them every time you take a step.  They are very tiny bones and very difficult to heal.  Since mine were broken into pieces, the little pieces are floating around in my tendons causing all sort of havoc.

The treatment: Resting, tapping, padding, custom orthotics and the dreaded boot.  I've been in it for 6.5 weeks now, and have at least 1.5 more weeks to go.  My last check up indicated that it was not healing as it should, so I now get to add to my list of treatments, the Bone Stimulator. It arrives next week, and is some sort of ultrasound-based device that is supposed to increase stimulation and support bone healing.  I guess it looks like this:

It has been a real drag hauling this ridiculous boot around.  I can't drive (since its on my right foot). I can walk, but do so very, very slowly.  I can exercise a little bit, but am fairly limited in what I can do.  Getting to the gym itself is a good chore.  I now get up 45 minutes early in the morning so I can get to work on time.  Good times!

So, what have I been doing since I can't run, walk, or drive, you ask?  Here's a sampling:

I've been tending to my orchid.  This is HUGE for me as I have a brown thumb.  Good old Orchy is thriving.

I went to San Antonio for a conference for work.  I saw the Alamo.  (It really has no basement.)   [Note:  Black foam boot + 107 degree temps = bad idea.]

I've been cooking and drinking a lot:

I went to Donner Lake while my team ran.  I sat at the beach and had my friends bring me beer:

2013 is clearly not turning out to be my year or running.  (I got into the NYC marathon, even.  But will have to defer.) I am, however, hopeful that I'll be back running, or at least walking at a normal pace, before the year is over.

So there you have it. 

By the way, for all of you who donated to my fundraising efforts this season -- Thank you!! The funds still go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and I will be able to train with them for another event when my body is ready.

Until next time . . .

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Self Perceptions Gone Awry

It has been a busy few months with training and work, so my entries are not as frequent as I would like.  But here's to a nice sunny Sunday of the sofa to catch up.

So trailing running is not quite what I had expected.  Or perhaps a better way to put it is that being a trail runner is not quite what I had expected. 

The trails, the routes, and landscape -- those are exactly what I expected.  Beautiful, breathtaking, steep, varied and inspiring.  There have been so many trails that I've never been on in my 13 year in the Bay area, so it has been an absolute treat to discover new gorgeous places in my home town.  I am, again, reminded of how lucky we are to live where we do.  

Yesterday, we ran from Rodeo Beach.  The fog was thick and hung heavily around the coast.  I have hiked around there a bit in the past, and mostly I've just been inspired by the views you have down to the Bay.  But yesterday, the whole world was shrouded in wet, misty fog.  The kind where fairies might come out to greet you. You couldn't enjoy the typical grand vistas,  so you had to enjoy what was closer in.  And at this time of year, it was bright, beautiful, dancing wildflowers!  Such a treat!

I also expected trailing running to be hard.  And so far, it has not disappointed.  Here's the profile of the half marathon race we did yesterday (my first trail race this season!)

When I did the Death Ride, our average ratio of climbing to mileage was 100 foot per mile.  That is a long, good, tough ride.  But here I am on my little size 8 feet, with no aid of a simple machine, running 2,300' over 13.1 miles.  See that spot at mile 12 that goes straight up on the profile?  Well, it does actually go straight up.  The photo perspective does not do this hill justice.   I am facing the wrong way on the trail for two reasons:  a)  So that photo would not be of my backside, and b) because walking up the hill backwards was the only way I could give my muscles some relief and get myself up the darn thing. Thanks to Eileen and Juliette for keeping me going!

Now being a trail runner is a different thing all together.  In my head, I would be running up the hills with strength.  My body would be tired and achy but as it had been when I was training for road running races.  My pants would get loose again as the always do when I train for these types of endurance events.   I would gain agility and grace as my core got stronger and I learned to run down hills.

Granted, in my head, I also become 5'10, leggy, and incredibly fast gazelle, which I realize is perhaps just a touch unrealistic.  But the rest of it, seemed like reasonable assumptions to make.  

The reality, however, seems to be like this:
  • I walk alot.  I knew that many trail runners will walk steep, long hills to save their legs, especially when doing the ultra distances.  But I seem to walk way more than I expected.  I'm sure as I get stronger, I will walk less.  But for now, it sometimes just feels like fast hiking and I'm a bit disillusioned.  Part of this is due to my knee injury and my healing process, and part of this is that it's just plain hard!
  • My body hurts in weird places.  The balls of my feet and my big toe ache alot.  One tiny spot under my right hip is killing me. I have weird chaffing from my knee brace.  I get all itchy just thinking about the possibility of having run through poison oak (of which there is a lot).
  • My metabolism has definitely kicked in, but my pants are not loose.  Building up a lot of muscle in my legs and glutes.  When doing the Death Ride, I mostly just got more muscle definition, but running seems to make me legs bigger (and stronger!)
  • I continue to be a klutz going down hills.  I am getting faster, but I feel like a toddler most days, unstable and likely to go down at any minute.  And when I do, I'm sure I will break out into tears.
But in reflecting back on my various endurance endeavors, I realize the disillusionment is just a mental phase of training.  Even though I know things will be heard, I sometimes have a difficult time coming to terms with this feeling -- the feeling that I'm in over my head or I'm just a generally sucky athlete.   This is the period where I remember why I always do these things with Team in Training.  Because it's not just about me, it's about helping the good folks at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society find a cure for cancers.

As a good reminder, one of our honored teammates mom sent me a video that Juan Carlos (now 13) and his mom made.  This kid is amazing, and I am hoping that our fundraising efforts will make his dreams of a cancer free world come true very soon.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to the next phase of training -- one where I start to see good progress and begin to feel more confident about it all.  I'll keep you posted!

In the mean time, if you'd like to help support me in my cause and Juan Carlos's cause of finding a cure for blood cancers, please donate to my fundraising page.  I'm just about $600 shy of my goal of raising $3000!  Can you help?

With much love and gratitude, 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Climbing to the Top of the Hill

[Note: Written several weeks ago.]

Tomorrow is my birthday.

In what is likely evident to everyone else (including my subconscience), I am avoiding dealing with the fact that this is a "big birthday." I planned more or less nothing in terms of celebrations on my birthday proper.  In fairness, I was born on December 25th.  Jesus typically sucks the wind out of any celebrations about me on that day.  I try not to complain too much about it -- after all it has been 40 years -- but sometimes you just want to be a self-indulgent princess on your birthday and do whatever you want on YOUR day.  But just about everything I want to do is closed (spas, museums, theatre) or off limits (biking or running -- more on this later).

So to carry on with the storyline of "it's not a big deal," I decided I wanted to volunteer on my birthday, as volunteering does in fact give me great joy. And since food is so important to me, to all of us, to social justice, I wanted to volunteer at a soup kitchen.  So I set about to contact all of the organizations in San Francisco that would be serving others on Christmas Day.  11 of them to be exact.  And all of them thanked me for my offer, but said that all their volunteer slots were full.  And would like I like to support them later in 2013?

I am thrilled that they don't need volunteers and so glad there are other people who also want to help.  Really, I am (hello, subconscience!).  But hearing this news did three things:  1) Made me feel even more frustrated about my birthday;  2) Made me feel like a jerk for saying no, I don't want to sign up and help you in 2013;  3) Made we realize that I should stop being a self-indulgent princess and deal with the fact that I'm turning 40 and offer to help organizations that need help.
Out on the Piute Pass Trail.  Note the TNT hat!

A little attitude adjustment later,  I realized it's really not about my birthday.  It's about my birthday YEAR!   And I should make each day of count.  So tomorrow, while I will not be volunteering at a soup kitchen, I will be having a Jewish Christmas (Melissakkah) -- seeing a movie and then going to a Chinese restaurant.  And the following week, we will be going to Austin for a week to see some great friends and celebrate the new year.

And because volunteering is so very good for my soul and spirit, I will be continuing on with Team in Training.  I will be fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in hopes of finding a cure for blood cancers and raising $3000.  And I will be pushing my own personal, physical, and emotional limits by training for the Tahoe Rim 50K Trail Run in July.

This is a big goal for me.  I'm not a strong runner.  I'm slow and haven't run in 3 months.  I'm currently recovering from a knee injury and am unclear how soon I can get back at the running.  But I'm not daunted by any of this.  In fact, I like the uphill challenge.  Moving forward, keeping my eye on personal goals, supporting a cause, being on trails every Saturday.  Doing this all with Chris, who will be coaching on our team. This all makes me extraordinarily happy.

As I start to look at this birthday directly in the eyes, I'll admit that it's a struggle to not take stock of my life and compare myself to others.  But in doing so, I realize that I have a lot to be happy about.  It's not about things I haven't done; nor it is about what I have done.   It's about how you go about living, growing, and changing.  Last week, I was thrilled to have breakfast with two of my great friends from college.  One of them commented on all of my recent endurance event activities.  Her husband kept saying, "You mean, Melissa?  From college?  Does triathlons, centuries, and marathons?"  Let's just say, eating nachos was a primary activity for me in college. . .

I realized that I have changed a great deal in some ways over the the last 20 year.  Don't get me wrong.  I still *love* nachos.  But I'm happy with who I am now and what I'm doing in my life.  It certainly isn't what I had envisioned for myself when I was 18 [which involved being a divorced, photojournalist, smoker, living in Paris -- I had a dark side back then clearly], but I am happy. And I think I will continue to be happy if I remember what brings me joy.

So on that note,  I couldn't really write a entry on this blog without asking for your help, could I?  Would you consider supporting me in my fundraising efforts?  Helping me with something that is really important to me and millions of people affected by blood cancers?  Come on.  It's my birthday.  Shouldn't I get what I want?  ;-)

Your donations are safe, secure and tax-deductible on the site below. Know that at least 75% of every dollar goes directly to support researchers, cancer patients, and their families and will make a difference in someone's life.


Here are some suggestions for donations, if you need some inspiration:
  • $40 - 1 dollar for every year of my big birthday
  • $50 - 1 dollar for every kilometer I will attempt to run at the race
  • $310 - 10 dollars for every miles I will attempt to run at the race (for those who want the miles conversion)
  • $75 - 1 dollar for every month I will be training on the trails
  • $100 - 100 dollars for every time I've run 26.2 miles or more
  • $250 - $10 for every plate of nachos I will likely eat during the training season

Onward, upward and over the hill!

Much love and peace in the new year.


PS.  If your company does matching, please let me know. Happy to help with any paperwork!

PPS. I just read the tagline for the race I've signed up to do.  A glimpse of heaven . . .and a taste of hell.  Ooophf.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

From Mars to Markleeville and Beyond

I've tried writing this post a few times in the past week, but haven't gotten too far.  In part it's because the Death Ride did a number on my right hand and all fine motor skills, which has prevented me from typing, holding a fork, signing my name, and opening a beer without much pain for the last 7 days. Injury aside (more on that later), it's mostly because I'm having a hard time mustering the right words to describe the event.

In social media short form, I've described it as:  "I did it!  11 hours of awesome and 4 hours of suck."

But all of you, my faithful blog followers, supporters and donators deserve a bit more.  So here's my attempt at the long form. And by long, I mean grab some popcorn and settle in. 

The Course
Here's what the day had in store for us:
  • 129 miles
  • 15,000 feet of vertical climbing
  • 5 mountain passes through the Sierras
  • All to be accomplished within 15 hours or so hours with various time cut offs along the way.
  • We start around 6,000 feet in Markeleeville.  Each pass tops out above 8,000 ft.
  • As you can see, a fact that maybe I didn't fully register until late in the game, over 2/3 of the climbing happens in the first 70 miles (nearly 12,000 feet).

The Weather
Weather plays a major factor in this event.  Luckily, we had a near perfect day.  It probably topped out at 86 or so.  Winds weren't bad, and not a cloud in sight.

The Start
Alarm goes off at 2:50am (seems better than 2:45am, don't you think?). Suzette and I fumble around the room, unaccustomed to functioning at this hour.  I forced a cup of coffee and a smoothie into my body.  Though I was aware of not sleeping much, my body felt strangely rested. 

At 3:30am, our team of 4 ladies and Coach Phil load our gear and drive to Markleeville.  It's pitch dark and quite at this hour. After all it's the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.  As we approach the start, we see a line of red bike tail lights blinking in the distance.  Tons of people had already started!   We hop on our bikes and roll around 4:30 am. 

I'm feeling nervous, determined, and nauseated.

Mars and Monitor x 2 (#1 and #2)
I've never ridden in the dark, and I was pretty apprehensive about it, even while I was doing it.  The blackness envelopes you, and all you can see is a small circle of 10-15 feet in front of you.  I just concentrated on my breathing, pedal strokes, and the red light in front me.  Periodically, I'd ask Suzette if she was still there.  After 7 or 8 miles we make the turn to start climbing Monitor.  I remember it's steep at the bottom, so just settle into the climb.  Soon I start to relax and even look up a bit.  I see all of those amazing mountain stars twinkling above me.  And to the right, following me the whole time is a crescent moon and Mars hanging off to its left.  These are the views I normally only see when we're backpacking in the mountains and I get up in the middle of the night to pee.  Even though there were hundreds of riders already out there,  I felt a moment of peaceful solitude as I made my way up that mountain in the dark.

Soon, I am treated to the slow, gentle bath of peachy light spreading as the sun rises to the east over the White Mountains and the Sierras.  It's breathtaking (or maybe that was just the altitude).  My teammate Lisa stopped and took this picture, and I am forever thankful to have a representation of this morning because it was one of the best moments of the day.

I reach the top, and receive my first sticker of the day.  For each pass you get a little sticker put on your number.  If you get 5 stickers, you are eligible for getting the coveted 5-pass finisher jersey.  I smash the sticker hard onto my number.  Don't want to loose it!
As I zoom down the backside, I am treated to the sun high in the sky bathing a mountain ridge on the east side.  I also see lines and lines of people not smiling climbing back up the backside.

We are really lucky to have our honored teammate Becky and Chris and Suzette's mom waiting and cheering for us at the bottom.   It's now probably around 7am and I am ravenous for breakfast.  I force some food into me, and we hop back on our bikes to climb what we had just descended at 48 mph.  Humbling to go back to a 4-5 mph speed.  

At the top, after getting my second sticker,  I see Suzette is over at the mechanical tent getting a new tire.  She had a bunch of flat tires already.   Wasn't a great start to the day for her, but I was happy to see that it was a fixable problem.  Next up was my favorite descent of the day.  It's 8 miles long and fairly straight.  I remember when Chris told me about his first experience on this road during the Death Ride in 2007.  He said he flew down at 50 mph and was screaming, "Left! Left!" as he passed riders all the way down.  I also remember thinking he was insane.  But today, I suddenly find myself hitting 49 mph. I'm not even scared, but rather having an absolute blast, and yelling out "Left! Left!"  I'm also wondering who I've become.

Ebbetts x 2 (#3 and #4), Ellie, and Eternity

Corinne, Me and Suzette on Ebbets
Next up is Ebbetts, a 13 mile climb up to 8,700 ft.  It's the longest and highest climb and the one I really struggled with during training camp.  But by now I had lots of company out on the roads.  Tons of my teammates were around, so it was a huge boost to hear even a little "Go Team" sputtered out between heavy breathing. I hit some real mental low points along the way on the front side climb.  I also started to get
"hot-foot," where it feels likes daggers in your feet on every pedal stroke.  My injured foot started flaring up, and my saddle sore was rearing it's ugly head.   I had to use some good mental gymnastics to remind myself that the pain was temporary and the mental anguish would pass.  I thought about everyone who donated to me, and remembered why we were doing the event with Team in Training.  It helped a lot. 

About 3/4 of a mile from the top is a beautiful alpine lake.  I see our head coach soaking his legs in the lake, and handful of other teammates resting in the shade, looking a little pale.  It seems I wasn't the only one having a bad stint.  

Ellie and Laura.  Our TNT Crew!
I knew, though, that our friend Laura and her cutie pie 19 month old daughter, Ellie, would be waiting for us at the bottom with ice and snacks.  As  soon as I arrived, I hear their cheering voices and spot Ellie covered in dirt.  That quick glimpse, the ice, and the chamois butter I applied seemed to re-energize me.    I was feeling good again at mile 65!  Okay maybe I can do this.

As I rolled out, our coach reminded us that we need to start watching our time.  It was 1.5 hours later than I had expected us to be at this SAG stop, and all of us were looking a little haggard. I looked at my watch and started to worry a bit, so moved quickly to get back on my bike.

Awesome Jersey design
Up the backside of Ebbetts for 5 miles.  Along the way, we received a lot of comments on our jerseys, which our teammate Betsy designed.  They are awesome, and it was a nice boost to have someone tell me I looked great, especially when I felt like hell.  The nausea that I had at 4:30am has not left all day.  I am uninterested in eating but forced myself to consume calories as we climbed.  I knew I would need the fuel for what laid ahead.

Woodfords, Picketts, Carson (#5)
Finally we roll into the lunch stop at the bottom after pass #4.  It's now 2 hours later than I had expected, after 2 pm.  I haven't really eaten anything substantial all day and I've been on my bike for nearly 10 hours at this point.  I know we should probably keep moving, but I really just wanted to sit in a real chair for a minute and eat some food.  The lunch lines were long, but I managed to get a sandwich and a soda fairly quickly.  Phil, Kristie and I sat for about 10 minutes while I inhaled my sandwich. I'm nauseated and hungry all at once.  My body is clearly confused.

I checked my watch again and started doing bike math.  It was 15 miles to Woodford's and the cut off was 4pm. We had 1:40 to get there.  Up to this point, I had been averaging about 10 mph on my bike.  After 5 minutes of some slow mental bike math (hey, I was tired!), I panic.  I toss my soda and head for my bike.  I really had to pee, but bodily functions would have to wait.  I yell to Suzette, who just rolled in,  "I'll wait for you a Picketts!" and I feel awful for abandoning her.  But we had agreed if time became an issue, we would just push on without the other.

Beth cooling off.
The 15 miles is mostly flat, and I knew that would work to our advantage.  We stayed in a paceline most of the way there, and I was able to watch the miles tick by.  We were pushing pretty hard at this point, but I was still mentally together.  We roll through Markleeville, pick up some more ice (was probably 86 at this point) and snacks from awesome TNT peeps, and keep on rolling. We hit Woodford's at 3:30, with 30 minutes to spare.  There's a guy in a grim reaper outfit greeting us and handing out ice cold V-8s. This seems absolutely normal to me.  

At this point I hear someone say that we still have a 15 mile climb ahead of us, and I feel utterly defeated from this news.  Until this point, despite some low moments in the previous 11 hours,  I never doubted that I could finish this. In fact, I was mostly in good spirits.  But now?  Now I was on the verge of tears and ready to give up.  Everyone is scampering around me, in a rush to move on.  I'm finding myself in a haze and starting to spiral down into the deep, dark land of self-doubt and self-pity.  I turn to my friend Todd and say, "I need a hug. I don't think I can do it."  He gives me a big bear hug, squeezes me, and assures me I can do it.  I hold on to his words and pick up my bike.

Crawling up Carson
Suzette and I are together again.  She had forgone lunch and all bathroom breaks to get there in time (talk about commitment!).  We leave Woodford's together.  We have 1.5 hours to hit the last cut off at Pickett's.  It's a 5 mile steady climb into the wind.  I know this climb is the least steep of all of the climbs, but after 90 miles and 12,000 ft of climbing, it feels like a vertical wall.   My stomach is feeling awful, and I truly want to vomit.  I push down all of the pain and vomit and apply the key lesson from 6 months of Death Ride:  "You can push through the pain.  Just put your head down and ride your own ride."  (Everyone was passing me at this point.)  The other key lesson is:  "Don't look up too much least you get discouraged by the hill."  I sort of forgot that lesson and had to talk myself down off a few ledges over the next hour.

As an added bonus, over the course of the last 11 hours, my right hand started acting strangely.  At first it was just aching.  Then my 4th and 5th fingers wouldn't straighten out fully.  Then they became incredibly weak. By the time we were at Woodfords,  shifting down was becoming a chore.  I was having to lean my whole body weight into the levers to change gears.  My triceps were shot and could barely hold me up, so I had to mostly climb with my hands on the tops of the handle bars.  I avoided shifting as much as possible, so just stayed in my low gear.  Thankfully, my gross motor skills were still with me, so braking was still in my repertoire.  Things were falling apart quickly now.

I roll into Picketts at 4:45.  30 minutes to spare.  (You have to leave this stop by 5:15 or you don't "get to" finish the course.)  Here, I sit down in the shade and have a long talk with myself.  My nausea is awful.  My energy is low. And I don't feel like putting anything else into my mouth.  My feet are swollen and I have some awful mosquito bites.  Someone mentions we have 10 miles of climbing ahead of us, and I sink further into my chair.  Am I really tough enough for this?  Am I willing to waste 6 months of training and bail out now?  Is this really worth it? Maybe . . . 

At 5:05,  a group of the team starts to get on their bikes.  I'm waiting for Suzette.  I know she's going to make it, but I'm getting nervous for her.  Right as they roll off, she arrives!  She grabs some water and food, and we roll out of there are 5:10.  From here on out, we can stop as much as we want. We just have to get to the top before 8pm.

About 250 feet from Pickett's, we see our teammates Libby, Lisa, and K.Sue stopped at a car.  We pull over so Suzette can get a proper rest (and so I can rest more).  Turns out Lisa's family has set up an amazing stop for them and they share the bounty!  We eat ice chilled watermelon.  They give us cold wash cloths for our face.  They spread out a towel on the ground so we can stretch.  They fill our water bottles with ice.  It's like a bike spa!

Today also happens to be Suzette's birthday (longest birthday ever).  We sing her happy birthday, and I break out my noisemaker I've been carrying all day for the occasion.

20 minutes later, we feel somewhat refreshed and head out for the final push.  We now have 5 strong women in matching jerseys pushing up the hill.  We work as a team, pulling each other in the wind, encouraging each other, and just being there for each other. I latched on to their wheels and pounded out the last 10 miles.  We stopped a few times to rest, and though I thought I was going to throw up,  I managed to keep it all together.  

Libby had described the final climb as 3 horseshoes, right, left then right.  After the first horseshoe, I lost track in my counting.  That's how delirious I was.   We pass people walking their bikes, people resting on the ground with their head between their knees, people in various states of disrepair.  I am inspired by one man who walks his bike the last 4 miles.  He has the determination to finish and keep moving forward.  After what seemed an eternity, we reach the final bend.  I know its not far, but I refuse to believe it until I actually see the finish.  Around the final corner and there it is!  It's a downhill sprint to the end, but because my fingers are so weak and I can't shift, I spin wildly out of control and nearly fall off my bike as we arrive.  We get the last sticker, and I drop my bike and run to the bathroom.  Stupid nausea.

After I recuperate a bit, we sign our names on the finishers board and the reality of what we have done just hits me.  I am over the moon!   We are in the last group of people to finish.  We have been on the course the longest of anyone out there, and are all exhausted.  There is a guy in the parking lot who has collapsed. Medics are swirling around him.  The ice cream is long gone. The SAG food is soggy and cold from waiting for us all day.  The volunteers are breaking things down and itching to go home.   But none of this matters because we did it!   Now we just have 20 miles back down the hill.  I muster all of my remaining strength, shake out my right hand, and try to focus.  I am keenly aware that I am very tired and not fully present.  It's a long, fast decent and I just want to get home in one piece.  We roll down for 20 miles and see the sun starting to set. We've come full circle on the day.  I feel the 5th or 6th wave of exhaustion roll over me as we come to a stop at the bottom.  It's about 7:30 when we finish.  15 hours on the bike.  15,000 feet.  5 mountain passes in Sierras.  Holy crap!

Post Ride Thoughts
I'm still in awe of the whole experience.  I can't believe I did that.   Still have rushes of joy when I think about it all.  It was definitely the hardest event I've ever done, and I enjoyed most of it.

Our team did amazingly well.  Most did 5 passes, and others made 3 or 4 passes.  Time cut offs, aside, I'm sure they would have finished.  And best of all we raised over $120,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  The funds will go to fund research for a cure and to support patients and their families.  It has been an honor to train and ride with this group.  And I'm getting a little itchy this Saturday morning as I sit on my sofa, and not on my saddle. I'm gonna miss the gang!

I'm still pondering the questions of "Who have I become?"  I'm definitely a different person than I was 6 months ago.  I've gained 30 new friends, some wicked tan lines, and 3 new stretch marks from growing muscles.  I have improved immensely as a cyclist, no longer scared of climbing or descending. I'm just happy to be able to bike.  Dare I say, I've improved as a person?  That might be pushing it a bit, but I am, more than ever, acutely thankful for my health and happy to have been on this journey.  Although this chapter had ended, the story will continue on  . .  .

The whole team at our victory brunch the next day.

Our Ride Group:  Team Estrogen + Phil

Next up:  

Stay tuned!