Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Child's Play is Hard Work

So this blog is having one of its intended effects, which is to make me move around on days when I might otherwise blow it off, just so I can have something to write about. I know all 25 of you are waiting with bated breath to find out whether I'm going to ride my bike to work or walk around the park or dip myself in some river or other, and I hate to disappoint you.

Today was a glorious, beautiful, wonderful day in that the temperature probably peaked at 75 degrees. I'm more acclimated to Sacto heat than I was last year, but it'll still be a year or two before 95 feels comfortable, if it ever does. After a full day of reading the unreasonable requirements of county agencies and private foundations, emailing clients who suffer from varying degrees of panic, stress, and underfunded infrastructure, and other grant writing delights, I was damned if I was gonna transition straight into Cheetos and junk TV. But part of me really wanted to. Look, there's a "Mythbusters" I haven't seen yet! Oooh! But I couldn't figure out what to do. Bike, swim, walk? Nothing appealed, despite the weather.

But I figured I'd been cycling and swimming more than doing any actual weight bearing activity lately, so I slipped on the Asics and headed out aroud the neighborhood-school-canal-levee loop. But I decided I would take a work-play break at the playground in the park next to the school (See Chapter 5 - Embrace the Awesome Power of Fun). It's a little kids' playground, so I had to be creative. I climbed fearfully onto the middle section of this crazy spring-rigged seesaw, and just as I had anticipated, it acted like a balance board from hell. My ankles wobbled, which made the springs jiggle even more, which made my ankles wobble further, setting up a self-feeding energy loop that threatened to hurl me out of the galaxy in a blaze of glory. So I jumped off. I tried a couple more times, but each time I only managed to stay up there 15 or 20 seconds.

Next was a session on the swings (good for the abs, arms, shoulders), followed by the spiral slide (good for the abs as you keep your feet up). Then some fake pushups and fake pullups, a few step-ups onto the climbing structure, and voila! instant exhaustion. I continued past the skate park, over the canal, and back home with a satisfying sense of exertion. My torso and shoulders felt like they were lined up over my hips and legs, much more so than before my little playground adventure. I even jogged up the levee path to test out its suitability for future hill repeats.

A future task - figure out how to use the ferocious dinosaur playground equipment pictured here as a means to a workout. Without killing or maiming myself or others. (Note: I love the internet. I think this is actually a picture of the very dinosaur in my playground. How cool is that? And if it isn't my dinosaur, it's the exact same model.

The Houseworkout

Last Sunday, I posted a status update on Facebook about the tiring effects of vacuuming my house, and I couldn't believe how many comments I got about it. Made me decide to write about the houseworkout in a little more detail. I don't know how many calories vacuuming burns (those online calorie counters are pretty bogus and my heart rate monitor is missing), but it sure feels like a lot. The bogus calorie calculators tell me it's somewhere between 350 and 475 calories per hour for my weight, which is - let me be perfectly coy here - considerable.

I've been leery of doing the whole house vacuum, stairs and all, ever since I put my back out doing it in December. Now I try and watch my posture, engage my not-so-mighty core, and avoid crazy twists and bends as I wrassle with the monster machine. It's heavy and wkward, and I have to use the attachments to do most of the downstairs, which is hardwood and faux wood. By the time I was done on Sunday, I was dripping with sweat and ready to while away several hours watching football. Which I then did.

Strangely, I later developed an urge to mow the front lawn with our push mower, another hot and exhausting activity. Fortunately the lawn is small, but there were the early leaves of autumn to be raked, too. And may I just say that it is wrong to have to rake leaves when the outside temperature is above 90 degrees? More heat, more sweat, more water, and then more football. John Madden's absence leaves a huge void which Cris Collinsworth will never fill, but sports on TV after a guilt-allaying houseworkout is as close as I get to nirvana many weekends.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Pleasant Fatigue in the Shoulders

One of the things I missed most during the worst of Boo-Boo Kitty Syndrome was the sensation of pleasant muscular fatigue. My muscles went from stiff and unused to burning, cramping and aching with nothing in between. So when my arms and shoulders felt loose, heavy, and tired yesterday evening, I relished that.

I hadn't done too much to get that feeling, but I will count it as my first real swim of the Big Fat Fitness Comeback. The heat was squatting over the big valley, and I was feeling oppressed by it. Having failed to get outside in the morning while it was still cool, and having sat through the entire California-Oregon football debacle, I decided to shed my frustrations and get into the water.

Last time I'd swum in the American River, my friend and agent Dave was in town. Dave is a big proponent of swimming at every opportunity (Chapter 14), but the water was chilly and crowded with kids and boats, so we didn't get too serious, just splashed around some. But I got an annual pass to Discovery Park and I thought it was worth exploring the beach there as an option for actual open water swimming.

Just upstream from the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers, an old erector-set metal bridge crosses the American. The kids were mostly down on the wider sandy area of the beach, and the boats were sticking to the middle channel, so there seemed to be an opportunity on the river-left side of the bridge to swim up and down. The current in late summer is pretty negligible.

I slipped into the water, relishing the cool green rush. I quickly ran into some weeds though, which I loathe, and I flailed about a bit before finding some deeper water without the hideous scratchy tentacles of green. I went up and down a bit, focusing on what I could remember about technique: high elbows, high hips, rolling body, getting a full breath. I wasn't going hard at all, but I did feel like I was really swimming. I had to pause a few times to dodge a soggy football, but there was no malice involved, just kids having a good time.

The swim probably lasted less than 20 minutes, but I felt it in my arms and shoulders, even my hips from a little vertical kick drill. I eased my way out of the water and the 95 degrees of Fahrenheit felt great. Not oppressive at all. Later in the evening Tim and I went to see
Inglourious Basterds and my arms felt like sandbags on the armrests of my seat. It was awesome.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Path of the Bike is Twisted

Even the endless Sacramento summer is grudgingly retreating as the northern hemisphere tilts away from the sun. We’re still dry-roasting in the afternoons, but the longer nights cool things off more quickly, and when I set out for the morning train, the sun isn’t yet over the horizon. Last fall I was a much more occasional bike commuter, still adjusting to my new home and schedule, and still making my first tentative forays back into exercise of any kind. When the days got shorter, I bought a headlight and an extra blinky red light for my stern, but I think I only braved the darkness once.

This year I’m pretty committed - so far. I could tell you how the crisp morning air wakes me up and the ride gets my blood flowing, and how the rising sun lights up the trees along the river, and those things are true. I’m even coming to enjoy the late afternoon warmth as I roll the bike off the over-air-conditioned train and back to the bike path.

But the real reasons that I’m a pretty regular rider now are my dislike of the walk from the station to the office and the cost of parking the car at the Sacramento station. The overflow lot is a very reasonable $4/day as long as you’re in by 7:30 and out after 5:30, but it adds up. I suck at saving money, but this one seems like a no-brainer. And the walk to the office on the other end, through a mixture of warehouses, some cool modern offices, and a bunch of dilapidated South Berkeley housing, is not the kind of walk one would particularly savor. Sure, there are some fun businesses to think about - the sake factory by the station, a number of specialty photo processing and printing shops, an organic sauerkraut joint, and Mork’s sheet metal and fabrication, which boasts its own gargoyles (of sheet metal) over the shop entrance. But mostly it’s a dull walk, and there’s only one route that makes sense from an efficiency standpoint.

So we'll see if, as the darkness creeps in, I'll be able to keep my bike groove going. I think that part of the problem last year was that I wasn't sure what to wear in the early mornings when it was cold. Full cycling tights seemed extreme, not to mention a struggle to pull on fresh from the shower. Cycling shorts - too cold, definitely, but pulling my winter jeans on over the shorts felt constricting to ride in.

I know some people just jump on their bikes in their street clothes and ride to work, but I'm afraid I find that extremely uncomfortable. I have to have some padding in the nether regions. Maybe I'll add some stretchy track pants to my ensemble, over the bike shorts, and then carry my work jeans in my ever-expanding backpack. Laptop, power supply, reading material, thin hoodie for the cold train and the cold fog of Berkeley, and now my PitBull bike lock system (U-lock and cable). My train was an hour late the other day and without a lock I couldn't go anywhere. So even though I bring my bike up to the office, I carry around what feels like 15 pounds worth of lock against the predations of Berkeley bike thieves.

Yeah, I could attach my lock to my frame with the bracket, but I don't want to clutter up my frame with a bunch of commuter hardware. I'm hanging on to my vision of my bike as a workout and racing machine rather than a pack horse. So instead I load my back down with the weight and keep my bike streamlined. (Chapter 11 - Outfit Yourself Judiciously)

The Path of the Bike is a twisted path.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fear, Pain, Granite, Hope

About a mile into our hike to Twin Lakes, which perch in a cirque high in the Desolation Wilderness, I confessed to Anne that I had been fearing this two-night car camping trip more than any outdoor trip ever. This was astonishing to me, since I have been on some scary trips. In 1993, I got into a helicopter that dropped me, two other Americans, and a Russian photographer in the absolute middle of roadless nowhere in the bogs of Siberia. The pilot had a crudely drawn map of where to pick us up in two weeks. Scary. Rafting the Zambezi, a river with fierce crocodiles and fiercer hippos? Also scary. I liked to ensure that there was at least one person sleeping between me and the river.

But I had been absolutely petrified of driving up CA Highway 50, camping at the perfectly nice Wrights Lake campground (running water included, though the potties were pit, not flush), and going on a hike with Anne. I was afraid of full-body cramps and spasms that would make me cry out in the night. I was afraid of a week or more of relapse into fuzzy-headed, queasy, achy, crampy fatigue. I was afraid my various cranky and creaky bits would simply not allow me to sleep on the ground anymore, even with extra foam under my ThermaRest. I was afraid of seeing once again, in a new arena, how poorly my current state of fitness compares to my fitness of three or four or five years ago. And I was afraid that I would push myself beyond what I thought were my reasonable limits

I was not particularly afraid of being humiliated by Anne's superior hiking prowess. Even at my most mighty, I could never keep up with Anne on an uphill grind. And I tried really hard not to compare my un-hiking self of September 2009 to my backpacking self of 2002 or 2004. I even tried not to remember my backpacking self of 2006, when I developed full-body cramps for the very first time after a hard day's uphill work. Every time I moved any part of me, bits would spasm: rib cage, abdomen, back, inner thighs, shoulders - even parts that hadn't been very much involved in the climb. I cried out so loud and so often that Anne was kind of embarrassed about what the campers down the lake might think.

Just four weeks ago, a couple of days of hard physical effort getting ready for Mom and Dad's 50th anniversary party had brought on a slight reminder of the full-body extravaganza, as well as the week of mild relapse. So I had lots of historical data about what could happen to me during the kind of exertion that I could experience during a high mountain hike.

Twin Lakes was about the easiest hike out of Wrights Lake that would get you up into the granite, and granite was what this trip was all about. I love granite, especially the luminous Sierra Nevada granites, and I had been pining for it ever since our Alaska cruise reminded me of how great the mountains are just a couple hours from home.

So I laced on my new boots (REI swapped out the Merrells for lighter Vasques); we packed lunch and water and a layor or two against the uncertain-looking weather, and set off from our walk-in campsite to the trailhead on the other side of the lake. The first twenty minutes or so went quite well, as I concentrated on keeping my pace slow and steady, engaging my core for big steps up, breathing through my nose.

Pretty soon I had co-opted Anne's trekking poles and was beginning to feel my muscles fatiguing. It took what seemed like hours to reach the trail fork at 1.4 miles, but the sheets of granite, Jeffrey pines, and views down the western slope of the Sierra were amazing. It seemed worth it. After the fork we sidehilled over a bit before pushing up a wall of granite where the trail was mostly marked by trail ducks, piles of rocks set out at irregular intervals.

I was starting to feel queasy, lightheaded and uncoordinated, as well as extremely tired and dry-mouthed. A bit of altitude, probably, as we went up from 7000 to 8000 feet. I wasn't feeling too bad aerobically, though some of the steep bits made me pant quite seriously. I was just very, very tired. We came across a troop of Boy Scouts, loud and energetic, running up parts of the trail, ignoring their leader. Lots of other hikers passed us. I was used to that from my Slow Fat Triathleting.

At about mile 2.2, I started getting really cranky. We had been up another steep up, and the lake was nowhere in sight. I was seriously exhausted, but it's very hard to turn around on a trail that promises an exquisite alpine lake. I wanted that lake to appear and I wanted it NOW. "Where's the f---in' lake?" I yelled at Anne, who was ambling easily ahead. "Soon!' she promised.

It really did not feel soon, and my crankiness increased. But the lake was in fact exquisite, pure, blue, dotted with islands, nestled among peaks of at least three different kinds of granite. Lunch was accidentally sparse as we had left the cheese in the cooler in the car, and I was having a hard time choking down what we had. After some food and a rest though, things were better. Anne read a couple of chapters about Maud Flynn, who was plain, clever, and bad, and we listened to the Scouts running around the lake, and then leaving. Eventually, I plucked up my courage for the descent. A couple of cramps as I got up made me nervous. We set off.

Again, I had a burst of optimism at the beginning which proved wholly unwarranted. Leaning on Anne's trekking poles, I made my way painfully down huge steps hewn of the beautiful granite, among tree roots, through large rocks and small ones. I couldn't believe how steep the down was - but it certainly helped explain why the up had been so very trying. We missed the trail for a while, mistaking stray rocks for trail ducks, and scrambled across the mountain for a while until we ran into it. Usually we're prepared and have maps, but this was kind of a half-assed trip in some ways.

I tried to appreciate the beauty around me, but things were hurting and I was stumbling, twisting my ankles and jarring my back. The boots fit great though. No hot spots or blisters. Just aches from the pounding of my weight on the rocks below. Gravity plus weight equals less fun in the mountains. Having less weight would mean more fun.

Anne, bless her, went and got the car once we got to the trailhead. Along with the forgotten cheese, we had icy Diet Pepsi in the cooler, the best beverage I had ever consumed. I had some cramping, but I downed a massive amount of ibuprofen back at the campsite, and later on I was able to move around with just kind of average post-exertion soreness. We dined on Thai vegetable curry and chewy brown rice, pretending to be backpackers, a bit. I built a fire; we read more about Maud Flynn. The stars were blazing, and I felt content.

No screaming pain in the night, no pounding headache the next morning, altitude or no. I had pushed myself too far. A reasonable decision would have been to turn back after an hour of hard hiking or maybe an hour and a half. I had let my ego drive me; my eagerness to reach a goal; my idea of how fit I should be as opposed to how fit I am. I had ignored my body's pleas for mercy and forced it to endure past the point where I should have quit. The accomplishment of reaching the lake was memorable, and I think it turned out not to have been a mistake. I feel some glimmer of hope that I might be able to work up to some real mountain trips, maybe next year. But I have to do some practicing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Out of Water. Boots Not Good Either

Today I made another big (financial) commitment to the BFFC, toodling over to REI to buy a pair of hiking boots. In the spirit of Chapter 45 (Get High (into the Mountains)), I tentatively agreed to go camping with Anne this weekend. And camping with Anne is not like, let's get the lounge chairs and a case of beer on ice and sing some songs. There is singing of songs, but not the lounging. At least not until after a vigorous hike. Anne was campaigning for backpacking, but as weird as my back has been lately, the idea of carrying even a light pack around didn't appeal.

Tried on four pairs of boots, ended up with the Merrell Passion Peak or Phaser Peak or something like that. A lighter backpacking boot, in the optimistic belief that Anne and I will backpack next summer in another, more advanced phase of the BFFC. I liked some Vasques and some lighter Merrells, but they didn't have the backpacking sturdiness. I walked around a lot in the store, up and down the fake mountain they have, and the boots felt great.

Filled with glee, I proceeded on my fitness odyssey to Clunie Pool, in beautiful McKinley Park. It has a rose garden, tennis courts, basketball courts, kiddie playgrounds, huge trees, a jogging path, and an enormous pool. Finally, I was going to swim laps again. I think it was December 2008 when I was last in a lap pool. I rounded the corner behind the Clunie Memorial Center and the pool looked beautiful: clean, blue, sparkling. And empty. WTF? It said on the City's web site that this pool was open 4-7 pm for lap swimming, and it was about 5:45. Nope. Pool closed. No reason posted, but I assume it's the insane budget situation (about 390 city jobs up for the axe, at last count. Recessions suck). Back to the drawing board for lap swim. Might have to bite the bullet and join Natomas Racquet Club or the YMCA once my car is paid off next month. (Whoo hoo!) Any Sacramentans reading this, please feel free to let me know what my other options might be.

Only slightly daunted, I loped back to the car and pulled out my new boots. I could walk a mile or so around the park and break them in, work up a sweat, and not be defeated by the stoopid budget cuts and closed pools. I laced up and set out. But oh no! About 15 minutes into the walk, my feet started killing me along the outside edges. What was up? How could walking in the park, on the flat, feel so different from walking in the store?

I made it around the park, but my feet felt pretty achy by the end, and that was not a good sign. As soon as I post this, I'm going to go over the soles of the boots with a wet paper towel and remove all traces that the offending footwear ever touched a dirt path. And hope that nobody from the Sacto REI reads this blog, at least before I get back there on Thursday.

Growing Pains

The first major hurdle of the Big Fat Fitness Comeback is upon me. From the base of my skull to the sacro-iliac joint in my pelvis, my neck and back are cranky. Not in spasm, not blown out, but just grumpy, painful, stiff, and threatening to blow out at any moment. I can’t place a starting point for this phenomenon. The upper back has been stiff in the mornings for weeks now; the mid back and lower back got pretty tweaked when I was working as my brother’s assistant stage hand for my parents’ party a few weeks ago; and I have the neck of a typical computer slave, ready to seize up at any time. Last night as we drove home from our friends’ house, muscles cramped up in the front of my neck, creating a nifty combo of pain and choking, though the muscles in question were on the outside of the neck, not really my throat as such.

I did a modest workout on Saturday morning, in an unusual late-summer rain shower that hit the pavement in fat drops. I walked, and jogged a few steps and walked again. I did my semi-pushups on the metal gate, and a few sets of sideways shuffling along the path on the way home, just to move in the lateral plane for a change. Going forward (or backward) on a bike or on foot is movement in the sagittal plane. I had to look up how to spell that. Twisting the night away - that’s the transverse plane. Well-balanced athletes move easily in all those directions. I do not.

There weren’t any major strains though. I got home feeling peppy enough to deadhead a few roses and do battle with the ferns invading our front walkway. After all that, though, I was struck by fatigue and spent the rest of the day and evening watching sports on TV from the BPC. This is almost not an exaggeration. At some point in this great immobility, my hip/lower back sent out a communique that all was not well, so I stretched my glutes and piriformis as best I could without actually leaving the BPC’s warm embrace. Felt better, and virtuous for having stretched however perfunctorily.

Sunday - “eh.” This “eh” is pronounced with the short “e” of “pet” rather than the “ay” sound of the Canadian generic interrogative particle. A flat tone of voice and a wry twist of the mouth convey the appropriate emotion. Back felt bad in many places, energy was low. Eschewed exercise completely and visited friends instead, which involved much driving, which it was my turn to do. My neck joined the chorus of disapproval.

Monday - same “eh.”. The walk to the office from the train felt hard and uncomfortable, though my ankles felt worse than my back for some reason. Day at desk didn’t help much but didn’t exacerbate the situation. I weenied out and got a ride to the afternoon train from my co-worker.

Tuesday has the feeling of a critical day. If I let three days go by without real work-up-a-sweat movement, I feel like I might lose momentum in a serious way. But I don’t want to wreck my back. So maybe it’s just walking again. Sigh.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Flexible like Gumby

Some things just don't seem to come together. Of all the things that needed to happen for me to get back in the pool, the most unlikely one came the quickest and easiest: I got two swimsuits that fit. I found a reasonably accessible public pool with lap swim hours from 5-7 pm - also a little unlikely as Sacramento cuts back on just about every service it has - and I packed my bag with suit, cap, goggles, towel. But have I been in the pool yet? I have not, ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday, I planned to head out after a conference call at 5 pm, but that call didn't start till 5:30 and by the time it ended at 6:20, it was too late to get across town to the pool and still get a swim in. But, being flexible like Gumby, I did jump on the bike and ride for about 40 minutes. Learning from previous mistakes, I just did a couple of intervals of harder work, and I made sure to do them on the way home.

Yesterday I forgot to put my bag in the car, which was particularly stupid as I would have been able to get out of work early and get to the pool by about 5:30. And I missed my bike commute too, since I was picked up from the early morning train and taken directly to a meeting with clients. Can't really stash the bike in the boss's car, or meet with clients in my usual bike-commute attire. So yesterday was pretty much a waste from the Big Fat Fitness Comeback perspective. Or it was a day off.

Today, a work at home day, seemed like a perfect day to make it to the pool, but then my internet went out in the late morning (curse you, Comcast!), which pushed back my work schedule well past 5 pm. But I took advantage of the opportunity to jump on the bike again and ride for 45 minutes. Average speed of 13.5 mph, which is pretty reasonable for me at this stage. I did a two mile mini time trial, but then I forgot my starting time, so it wasn't much of a data point. Still might make it to the pool later on, if I commit to Chapter 29 - Work Less (At Your Job). Kind of a tough one in this scary labor market.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hey, It's the Fair, OK?

Woke up the day after my Capitola walk-swim-walk adventure feeling tired, headachy, a little queasy. It might have been a hangover except that I only had a single Dr. Funk at Hula's Tiki place, and it wasn't that strong. This was a feeling I knew well from Boo-Boo Kitty Syndrome, when it was my norm for months on end. I started to freak out. Did I overdo it? Mostly modest activity on 5 out of 6 days - was that too much? Or was it just the rigors of a little travel, a strange bed, a few hours in the car, not getting my usual oatmeal/fruit/walnut/yogurt brekkie? Or were those rigors part of the overdoing it? This sort of hypochondriacal second-guessing was also typical of BBKS, and believe me, it's more tedious to experience than it is to read about.

So I ditched the bike ride or vigorous walk in favor of the Big Poofy Chair and a morning of tennis and golf on the tube. I sound like a serious country club queen, but in reality I'm just a sports nut, and it all looks awesome in high-def. Morning stretched into afternoon and the Giants game (won handily, fortunately for my equilibrium), and I found myself feeling better, even a little restless.

Couldn't persuade Tim, but I lit out for the last day of the State Fair - couldn't pass up the calling of stinky livestock and fried foods. I perused the livestock show, admiring the enormous Dorset and Hampshire sheep, the pigs, the llamas (llama!), the horses, and the competent, low-key folks who cared for them and kept them clean and fluffy. I ate a corn dog of pornographic proportions. I saw portraits made of Jelly Bellys and exhibits of every California county's splendors. I saw fire artists, kaleidoscopes, chinchillas, lovebirds, cookware and mattresses. I watched a 13-year-old girl ride the mechanical bull with grace, rhythm, and determination, and a guy built like a defensive tackle almost win the basketball shooting game. I walked all over the massive fairgrounds, tired and footsore, but intoxicated with the silly fun.

Plus I was looking for the perfect deep-fried dessert. I had heard there were deep-fried Snickers bars, Twinkies, and Oreos. I never found the Snickers, but in the middle of the thousands of food stands, I did find one that offered both Twinkie and Oreo delights. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, Oreos. They arrived completely unrecognizable, covered in a half-inch of batter, sprinkles, and a little chocolate sauce. Wow. They looked very, very decadent, but they weren't that great. The cookie part got soggy and didn't contrast enough with the batter. They were just ok. I didn't even eat them all, but I ate enough to feel a little ill afterwards. But hey, it's the fair, ok?

Slogging back to the car, I calculated that I had been on my feet for about 2 hours and 45 minutes, and walking for at least 2 of those hours, albeit slowly. I was really beat when I got home, but not in a BBKS way, and although I doubt I burned anywhere near the calories I consumed in deep-fried Oreos alone, I did succeed in moving around outside. It wasn't my plan, and it was slow, but that's cool.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Making a Splash

There was no doubt in my mind what the Shape Up with the Slow Fat Triathlete chapter reference was going to be for this post: Swim at Any Opportunity (Chapter 14). Being in the water fills me with childlike happiness. If the water is open, unconstrained by concrete and untreated by chlorine, and the weather is crazy glorious, that's pretty much like crack.

This is Labor Day weekend, and Tim and I were visiting our friend Steve in one of the charming hamlets of the Santa Cruz mountains. My two key objectives for Sunday were to take in the floating begonia floats at the Capitola Begonia Festival and to swim in the ocean. Technically it's Monterey Bay, but since the bay is not particularly enclosed or protected, I think of it as the ocean.

Only nine floats came down Soquel Creek, but they were covered with real begonias and showed a lot of flair. My favorite was the giant pelican, complete with fish-costumed kids in its enormous bill. (Photo to come!) The crowds were disproportionate to the number of floats. We could hardly move along the creek path, but once we turned into the village, it turned into normal Labor Day madness. I arranged a rendezvous with Tim and Steve, ducked into the decently-appointed public restroom, and wiggled into one of my new suits. I picked my way through beach blankets and umbrellas and walked boldly into the water.

My internal wetsuit served me well . The temperature for the Monterey Bay this time of year usually hovers in the high 50s to low 60s. The calm water and hours of sunshine, though, had probably gotten the temperature up a couple of degrees from normal. It felt great to me, washing off the sweat and fatigue of parade-viewing in the heat, not to mention the hike from the car down to town. (Note to Steve: Hey, bud, the "great parking spot" that works for you on Thursday afternoons may not be such a great option for Labor Day freakin' Weekend!)

Not much to say about the swim itself. I had forgotten my goggles and swim cap, so I wasn't set up for a serious open water workout. A few strokes of freestyle, a few backstrokes, a bit of breaststroke, some of my patented Esther Williams (no relation) sidestroke, a lot of floating about, kicking, stretching, and generally feeling aquatic. I looked on it as preparation for my upcoming regime of lap swimming and a reminder of what I love about triathlons. I managed to work hard enough to feel it in my arms and legs, and the walk back uphill to the car seemed inordinately difficult afterwards. I mean, it was over a mile uphill in 82 degree weather, and I was carrying my beach bag and heavy wet towel, and I hadn't eaten anything since a bagel in the late morning... but still. I didn't feel too much like a trained-up athlete as Steve and my semi-sedentary hubby strode away from me.

But that's not important. I swam in the ocean. It was good.

Postscript: The sweet potato fries at Hula's Island Grill and Tiki Room in Santa Cruz are serious, and the drinks are tasty. But don't order anything "Jamaican Jerk" style - ludicrously unauthentic.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Seems Better Already

A potpourri of positive signs after just a week or so.

I woke up this morning around 7:30 and decided to go for a walk. This is positive for a few reasons. For years, the idea of me waking up voluntarily and without an alarm at 7:30 on a Saturday was pretty much inconceivable. I was always pretty ready to sleep 9 1/2 to 10 hours any night, and weekends were an invitation to sleep more. I never, ever woke up feeling alert and well rested, no matter how long I slept, and I usually felt tired and often headachy, in no mood to move or talk, let along exercise. Yeah, I became a pretty dedicated triathlete and even marathoner, but early morning workouts were few and far between during that time.

The alert reader will probably recognize that I had sleep apnea, a fact that went undiagnosed for at least four years and probably more like 20. But I got my APAP machine last year about this time, and very gradually some of the symptoms that had gotten so much worse during the Boo-Boo Kitty Experience began to subside (they had already started subsiding prior to APAP therapy, so I'm not willing to ascribe the whole BBKE to sleep apnea). First the headaches diminished, then I started feeling a bit more alert in the mornings, then it actually started to feel easier to get up, and recently I've had a few mornings where I woke up before my alarm and just felt like getting out of bed. This is really, deeply weird for me. I haven't had that happen since I was about 11 years old.

Anyhow, after feeling pleased with myself for a few minutes, I got dressed and went out. To my amazement, I felt much stronger and more energetic than I had just two days previously. I know from long experience that a great session of exercise can easily be followed by a sucky one, but I was still extremely gratified. I went up and over the levee and down along the dock by the Virgin Sturgeon, walking cautiously along the narrow, tippy floating it. It wa cool and breezy by the river, like the first day of fall, though I know that we could get quite a few more days of 97-100 degree heat before fall really kicks in.

I jogged a few steps as I reached the giant oaks by the Ghost Offices, and did a few step-ups onto the lowest-lying concrete bench. I even jogged part of the way back up the path onto the levee. My back didn't hurt, my calves and ankles weren't tired. I got home and found I had only been out for 32 minutes, but I'd done some semi-vigorous things during that time.

The final piece of excitement - and all this before breakfast - was that my Junonia swimsuits had arrived while I was at work yesterday. Like most women, I had a sort of sinking feeling about trying them on, but to my amazement, they both fit perfectly! I don't know how Junonia knows how to keep my boobs covered and in place, but they do and I thank them. Just in time for a Labor Day weekend venture down to the beach. Swimming in the ocean is one of my great joys, even in the frigid NorCal Pacific.

Today's chapter: Take Two Steps Back, One Step Forward (18). The one step forward days feel so good.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Making the Best of Walking

I'll let you in on one of my many guilty little secrets. I don't really like to walk that much. Ooooh, bad Jayne! Fitness and health writers are supposed to LOVE walking. The Mayo Clinic, for example, blathers on about how walking is so good for you, so safe, so cheap, etc. (And excuse me, Mayo Clinic, but do you really think that walking is going to "trim your waistline"? Y'all must be walking in some different shoes than I am.)

Well, sure, walking's all those things. It's a low-impact way to move the bod, and if the bod is sporting many pounds of excess flab, you're a lot less likely to damage yourself by walking than by playing badminton or basketball. Plus walking takes place outside, which is a positive.

That is all true. But I find walking to be tedious. I admit it.
I'd much rather run or jog than walk. I like hiking, certainly, but that involves being really outside, somewhere with mountains or other nature-y benefits. And there are parts of the world that are just so magical that walking in them is pure joy. Much of Wales or Scotland, for example, or the Mendocino coast. But that's more like hiking, really. "Walking," to me, generally involves being a flat, paved environment, probably suburban or urban, and is either something I have to do, like getting from the train station to the office, or convince myself I should do, like this morning.

Now I know I am diametrically opposing many of my own dictums here. Chapter 5 - Embrace the Awesome Power of Fun, for example, states unequivocally that exercise should not be drudgery, and I have just confessed that walking is a bit on the drudgy side. I have also written about how every time you go out and move your body, you should feel grateful for the privilege of doing so (Chapter 40). How you should move like an animal (Chapter 13) - relaxed, graceful, efficient. Well, fine. Some days the reward for the exercise is not the awesome power of the fun; it's the awesome power of the smugness that you can radiate when you know you got up and exercised before work. Sometimes the animal that you're moving like is a tired old hippo, not a young gazelle bounding over the plains, and the hippo is grouchy from the parasites that live under her skin.

And until I feel like my core and my joints are strong enough to run, I will walk. I'll do a few "pushups" off the metal gate along the path, and a few "assisted pullups" on a low tree branch, just to break up the monotony and use a few more muscles. I'll enjoy the ground squirrels and the mountain plover (pictured) in the landscaping of the Ghost Office Complex. I'll try to make it fun. And I'll look forward to running again.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

4 +1 +4 +1 Is Not Equal to 12 or even 10

It's a gorgeous late summer day in Sacramento. The temperature was only around 80 degrees at 1 pm, so I decided to take some of my own advice and Go Outside (Chapter 17) on my bike. I was finally starting to feel a bit of pep after a rough week recovering from putting on my parents' 50th wedding anniversary bash. Lots of people put in lots of effort - and your thank you notes are sitting on the hall table waiting for a mail run - but I really crashed after that weekend. Aches, involuntary naps, muscle cramps, mental fog, headache, all that crap.

But hey! Yesterday I felt all better and did my modest bike-train commute in fine style. It's about 4 miles from my house to the Sacramento train station, then another mile or so from the Berkeley station to the office. The ride along the Sacramento River, across the American River, and back over to the Sacramento was inspiring both ways. Big oaks and cottonwoods, geese on the beach, sunlight glinting on green water - excellent.

So today at lunchtime I saddled up and headed out along the levee, west and then north along the Garden Highway, where the Sacramento makes a huge bend. I was planning to go about 10 miles, warming up for the first 15 minutes or so (Chapter 3: Be Slow), and then doing a few intervals to get my heart rate up and feel like I was working out rather than commuting.

The warmup was delightful, and the modest intervals felt good. I felt my quads work and my heart rate go up without getting a huge anaerobic burn or sucking ghastly wind. I went out about 5 miles, but instead of making my usual U-turn, I turned onto Power Line Road, thinking to explore it and get a mild challenge climbing back up on to the levee. I bumped along the cruddy road surface, but enjoyed my proximity to the cornfields and apple orchards and the massive live oaks.

Coming back, though, I felt like complete and utter dog-doo. Getting back onto the levee, an elevation gain of about 30 feet, felt like climing Mont Ventoux, and the five or so miles back to the house seemed unimaginably long. My overall ride was going to be twelve miles, and I couldn't believe how tired I was. The Garden Highway stretched out before me for miles; I couldn't even see the big bend in the road.

So I switched my focus to Chapter 48 - Endure. I slowed down to a crawl, found a pace I could live with, and tried to block everything out of my mind, especially thoughts of time or distance remaining. I was looking for a Zen place of total mental non-focus. Without actually falling off the road, that is.

I drank my water in measured sips and contemplated a Gu, but I didn't feel like I was having a hunger knock. I just felt very, very slow. I worked on embracing my slowness, taking coasting breaks, taking breaks to get my butt off the saddle and air out the nether regions, and staying as comfortable as possible.

Finally the road started swinging east and I reached the Bridges restaurant - 1.3 miles to go. I gained a slight tailwind and a final spurt of energy to make it to the turn off the levee and down to my neighborhood. I coasted to the garage, feeling dull and weak. But I made it.

Note to self - an easy four miles to the train station, during which you try not to get too sweaty, is not really a workout. It's fun, and it's exercise, but it is in no way equal to an hour ride with some intervals thrown in. I need to start putting a little more extended saddle time in. And then think about intervals. And then, maybe next year, think about hills.