Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Things Have a Way of Working Out

A year ago today I was "let go" from the only job I thought I had ever wanted.

True story: When I was a journalism student at Syracuse University, I would see the Syracuse New Times at one of my three places of employment, the long-gone Burger King on Marshall Street. I read it; I liked it. I announced to myself, "I want to be the editor of that paper."
After a circuitous route that included two years as a copy editor at a major daily newspaper, the editor of a small alternative weekly in Ithaca, years of freelancing, and working for a labor union as their communications director, I achieved that dream.
When I told Shirley Zimmer, former co-owner of The New Times, this story, she couldn't contain her awe that I had predicted my future 20 years before it became my present.
I spent 13 years on staff at the third-oldest alternative newsweekly in America, one as staff writer and 12 as editor-in-chief. It was daunting, it was scary, it was nerve-wracking, it was gray hair-producing, it was exhilarating, it was fun. I got to interview people I never could have imagined: Ray Suarez, Liz Phair, Pete Best, Graham Nash, Hillary Clinton. Actually, I had tea with her one late August morning; it was awesome.
Sure there were issues working there--any newsroom has its stresses, but an alt-weekly newsroom's are magnified.
The money stinks.
The benefits (what few there are) are pricey.
The work can be all-consuming.
You are perennially understaffed.
Every Tuesday, production day, demanded undivided attention--no doctor appointments, no lunches outside of the building, no idea when you might make it home.
For years I convinced myself that the positives far outweighed the negatives (life is merely a series of trade-offs, right?). Besides, it was a pretty cool job.

A year ago today my life changed. I had never before been fired from a job. I had never before worked so hard for someone who had no clue 1) how hard I was working, 2) why I was working so hard and, 3) why I so desired to protect the paper's integrity and my editorial staff. The dirty deed happened on a Tuesday, after the paper was put to bed; figures.
I cried (but not outside my office). I called my husband and cried. I called my daughter and cried. I went home and cried. I drank too much wine and cried.

I have never been one to wallow, however, so instead of continuing to feel sorry for myself, the next morning I posted a candid status update on Facebook. The community outpouring of support was incredible and flattering, and served to boost my self-confidence in the face of the ego-deflation I had just experienced.

Now, Facebook is both a blessing and a curse. Three-hundred-sixty-four days ago, I was truly blessed when a friend-of-a-Facebook-friend contacted me via, what else?, Facebook to say she had a position available, and would I want to come in and talk about it. Would I?

Almost a year later, I am enjoying this job (can't call it new anymore) at a different labor union than the one I worked at before, helping communicate the plight of workers, learning so much I can't even begin to list it, being part of a team that is like-minded and dedicated to the members we represent. I am doing good work, important work, satisfying work, and that's really what matters.

Some things, I believe, are truly meant to be. Way back in 1981, when I transferred to Syracuse University's Newhouse School, after I finally realized Skidmore College and I didn't mesh, my sister was organizing upstate New York healthcare workers for an upstart Service Employees International Union local. I moved in with her (free rent in exchange for keeping the apartment clean).

Nearly 30 years later, I find myself working at the place she helped form way back when (life can truly be strange). Some people she worked with are still with the union, and they remember her, and they remember me. And it feels wonderful to be appreciated.

So what's the takeaway? 
1. You're never too old to learn some lessons about life, or at least have them reinforced.
2. Life isn't fair, but it isn't meant to be fair.
3. Hard work does pay off, often in surprising ways.
4. Try as you might, you cannot control your destiny. You can take steps toward your life's goals, but they may get derailed. The key is to bounce back, be flexible and keep an open mind.
5. Dreams often turn into nightmares and then back into dreams.
6. When the going gets tough, the tough get going (one of my mother's favorite sayings).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lost in Cyberspace

This is a gripe.

I am having a terrible time retrieving my Running Log from runnersworld.com. I have kept this log since 2006, and it contains data that is important to a runner: personal records, miles run per week or month or year, shoes worn and mileage accrued on those shoes. I can't access any of that, and the customer service folks at Runner's World as well as Rodale, which publishes the magazine, in a word, suck! I have emailed, I have called, I have left messages. Nothing! Nada! Zilch!

I have already transferred the mileage on my five active pair of running shoes to beginnertriathlete.com. (FYI: You should replace shoes every 400-500 miles, that's why it's important to know). That was easy.

But what I'm really frustrated about is the lost-in-the-vortex information about my PRs. My best running year ever was 2007; that year, I PR'd at every distance. As I am starting to regain some speed (but likely not all of it, due to this annoying thing called aging), I want to compare current race times with my best, or even with those of 2009, or 2011.

It is nearly 2014, and I find it hard to believe that runnersworld.com doesn't have a mechanism for the subscriber to change his/her email and password, without the verification link going to the email address you no longer can use! If I log in using social media, all my accumulated information in my log is not there; I am considered a new user. When I contact customer service from the link on the website to change my password, the link for the new password goes to the email address that doesn't exist.

I can't figure out a solution to this problem, a first-world problem, but a problem just the same.

So I hope someone in customer service at Rodale sees this and gets in touch (or listens to my messages and calls me back). When you ask me to contact you, using a specific, non-toll free, phone number, and I get a recording telling me you're with other customers and to leave a message, shouldn't I rightfully expect a return call? Why do I have to call several days in a row, only to get that same message? Why don't customer service reps listen and respond to the previous day's messages at the beginning of the next day?

And I'm not a freeloader; I have subscribed to Runner's World and Bicycling, both Rodale publications, for years. 

If anyone reading this can posit a solution for me, please leave it in the comments section. Thanks.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Little Engine That Could

Well, the endurance experiment I conducted on myself earlier this fall was a partial failure; but it was also a partial success. My ultimate goal is to complete an Ironman-distance race in 2016, the year I turn 55 (gasp!). In order to test my mettle, I decided to return to a marathon this year--2007 was the last year I ran 26.2 miles at one time. I finished the Indianapolis Marathon in a respectable 4:03:24, missing Boston Marathon qualifying by so little that it still hurts. And speaking of hurts, a few months later the second metatarsal in my left foot snapped from overuse, which meant had I made Boston I couldn't have run it anyway.

Funny how things have a way of working out.

Ultimate goal in mind, I decided to train for a half-Ironman distance triathlon while also gearing up for a marathon, just to see if I could. If you're wondering how that went, re-read the first sentence of this blog.

Because Facebook is such a public forum, I'm sure most of you know that I posted a big, fat DNF at the Steamtown Marathon, Oct. 13. I'm still not certain what happened to me that day, but I do know I missed out on a gorgeous medal and a quick, downhill sprint to the finish. We still made sure to stop by Bingham's Family Restaurant on the drive home for lunch and a piece of pie. Maybe we'll return to Scranton in 2015 for some unfinished business; we'll see.

For redemption, I bumped my entry into the following week's Empire State Half Marathon to the full distance. I have to credit Richard Gardner, who planted the idea that I should look at Steamtown as a training run and finish the unfinished in my hometown. And thanks to my hubby, who never says no, but only asks if I'm up to the task, whatever race it happens to be. 

It's a rarity for me, but I didn't run the Empire State Marathon for the time; I ran it for pride, for self-confidence and for all my friends and family who were rooting for me to get it done. Five hours after I began, I finished that sucker, even though the last 8 miles were a real struggle. I saw many supporters on the course, at water stations, directing traffic, just watching, which certainly helped.

Special thanks to my work buddies, Dawn (with her daughter Ava) and Trisha for waiting patiently for me at the finish line, holding the best sign I saw all morning:

"Remind me never to run a marathon again; a half, sure, but not a full," I told my husband and two good friends a few minutes after I finished.

Two days later I was already investigating which marathon to conquer in 2014 (you knew that was coming). While I fully intend to return to Northeast Pennsylvania to get that Steamtown medal, for next year I'm leaning toward the Harrisburg Marathon. Many factors point me in the direction of the capital of Pennsylvania, not the least of which is timing. Although I followed an 18-week training schedule for Steamtown, as opposed to the usual 16 weeks, a few more weeks for a few more long runs--20-23 miles (the real hard work of marathon training)--would have helped. Harrisburg is held Veteran's Day weekend, even more time to fit in three more long runs, especially if I start in May or June.

And just like 2013, I will be training for a long-distance triathlon (or should I say two triathlons). Sept. 13 and 14, you'll find us in lovely Sackets Harbor for the Incredoubleman Triathlon. A sprint distance race is on Saturday, while the 70.3 starts 24 hours later. This will be an adventure, sure, but completing this challenge will further solidify my desire and confidence in my ability to race that day-long, 140.6-mile tri in 2016.

Sure I've lost some running speed since turning 50, but my endurance is better than ever. I just hope I can find adequate time to complete the training required. Since we're talking a little under three years from now, I have plenty of time to figure it out.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Big George Was Too Big

Never having been to Lake George, I had no idea what to expect. We rolled into town on Saturday, Aug. 31, and immediately it felt a bit touristy for my taste. Even worse, coffee was not available in town on Sunday until after the race started at 7 a.m. (you'd think merchants would figure this stuff out). Still, the area around the Lake George Triathlon Festival site presented a good flow for the swim-bike-run of the 70.3-mile Big George, my A race for 2013.

At the same I have been training for this race, I have been working toward the Steamtown Marathon, Oct. 13 in Scranton, Penn. It's been tough training for two races at once--at the end of every week, I feel like I haven't done enough running or biking. With one small tri to go, I now have more time to devote to running.

Add a new job--and everything there is to learn with that--and you have someone with not enough time who didn't pay attention to certain aspects of her training--longer bricks (bike/run) workouts, for example, and long bike rides. Still, I had a quality tune-up race at the Cayuga Lake Olympic Tri, so I knew I would finish Big George (an injury forced me to drop out of one race in my long career). I'm nothing if not stubborn.

The hotel was situated about a 1/4-mile from the race site. However, I never sleep well in hotel rooms, and this being Labor Day weekend, I should have known better. The drunks were in fine form on both sides of our room, fireworks boomed, making it difficult for me to get to sleep, and I made the mistake of saying yes to my stepdaughter's request that her boyfriend come along. Their whispering at 1 a.m. woke me up, and kept me up. It was not a good night (in good triathlete fashion, I have already learned from the aforementioned mistakes). Add insufficient coffee, and no traditional pre-race breakfast of scrambled eggs and a wheat bagel with peanut butter (no way to cook the eggs)--well, you know where I'm going with this.

Anyway, bikes had to be in transition on Saturday, one less thing to think about on race day. Sunday morning, 5:30 a.m., I headed to transition, toweled off the night's rain from my bike, and set up my gear. One of my favorite things about triathlons is that 99% of the people who compete are wonderfully friendly and helpful. At this race, they placed us "old ladies" together, helping me to size up the competition. Immediately I spotted a woman no taller than I but a lean, mean fighting machine, and thought, "There's the age group winner." We all chatted, got our gear ready, put on our wetsuits and headed across the street to Lake George, incredibly calm and a perfect 73 degrees.

I had wanted to swim the 1.2 miles in 40-45 minutes; I came out of the water in 43 (yay!), but a key mistake in the lake affected my time. I wasn't hugging the buoy line at all (I wondered where everyone else was), and kept getting off course, adding meters to an already-long swim. In fact, at one point while sighting, I saw a yellow kayak move in front of me, blocking my way and forcing me back on course (thank you). I had counted the big pink balls from shore (there were 9) and spent the swim counting them down--that worked for me at Steelhead 70.3 last year, giving me something to do. It was a small swim wave, and I started on the outside, so no need to wrestle with anyone for position. Except for getting a little off-course, this was an excellent swim!

Then on to the bike, the dreaded bike. Now, don't get me wrong, I love biking--it's the fastest way to cover ground (that's not driving) and this course was especially scenic. It's just that I'm terrible at it! The 4-mile climb out of town wasn't nearly as challenging as the 10 miles up Sweet Road in the beginning of the Syracuse 70.3; now that's a hill! I was impressed by the excellent volunteer support and police officers stationed at key intersections. They would prove helpful when two idiot drivers, on two separate occasions, thought the officer was waving them through when he meant that I could go.

The bike course goes along the Schroon River (I got a chuckle when an Adopt A Highway sponsor, as written on those blue signs, was, "Just Schroon Around." Get it? Adirondack humor.) Approaching Brant Lake felt like going back in time, with gorgeous homes and summer camps abutting the lake; charming is an apt description. The back side of this course is quite fast--the uphills of the eastern side became downhills--and just lovely. I bet in about three weeks it'll be even prettier.

I finished the bike near my goal time (I had wanted 3:35, but got 3:37, not bad for my worst discipline of the three) and changed my shoes and donned my hat for my joy, my first love, my best event--the run! The nice breeze on the bike became a blanket of humidity on the run, not oppressive, but moist just the same. And the first mile of the run was uphill! And the second! Which meant, in a two-loop course, miles 7 and 8 are the same uphills; there were some inclines on the back side of this course as well, but up always goes down. I had trouble opening my packet of Gu Chomps because I was too sweaty. An obliging volunteer at a water stop opened it for me, but it cost me some time.

I just could not get into a rhythm, but the wonderful downhills kept me going. The hubby was at the bottom of the first loop (I say bottom because it was downhill), and then up I went again. It was agonizing for me--remember, I love to run, and I usually am pretty good on hills. When I realized I was struggling I downgraded my goal, which had been 6:45. New goal: under 7 hours. I crossed the finish line at 6:59:19. Whew!

I watched the awards ceremony and sure enough, there she was, my predicted winner in the 50-54 age group, grabbing first place. Well, good for her!

As an aside, and mighty impressive--a woman won this race; yes, a woman, and after she had won the previous day's Olympic distance triathlon--they call this double-race King George. This is second race I have been in this year (the first was a 10K) when a woman crossed the finish line first. Title IX is finally paying off.

On the advice of the race director, whom I had emailed earlier in the week to ask about post-race showers, I headed toward what they call "Million Dollar Beach" to a clean bathhouse with hot showers! And changing rooms! Thanks, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation! Cold showers are the worst!

So, I've taken a few days to mull this race over, especially trying to figure out what went wrong on the run. These are my takeaways, things I will change for the next big race:

1. Do longer bike rides leading up to race day. I had done a few 40-milers and one 56-miler in the four weeks ahead of Sept. 1; clearly not enough.

2. Run off those longer bike rides. I do brick workouts once a week at least, after a 20- to 25-mile bike ride, and then only 2 to 3 miles of running; clearly not enough. This happens to be a factor of time--I need a good five hours to complete such a workout, and that's very difficult to carve out of my busy life. I need to find a way because I know it will reap benefits.

3. Do more hill work. I drove out to bike the beloved Sweet Road hill-from-hell, and did hill repeats closer to the house but I did them once each, meaning twice total; clearly not enough. Same goes for the run. A problem for me is that where I live, there are no hills. That was an advantage to living on the east side of Syracuse--drumlins galore! I'll figure it out.

4. Honestly assess my nutrition. I'm not sure I'm eating properly for what I'm asking my body to achieve week in and week out. This is something I will study over the winter.

Now, did I successfully train for a half-ironman race at the same time as a marathon? I guess I'll find out Oct. 13 in Scranton. Will I attempt another half-ironman? Of course! In fact, I plan to try something completely different in 2014, a new event called Incredoubleman, Sept. 13-14, a weekend devoted to several distances in gorgeous Sackets Harbor. I will race Saturday's sprint distance tri, and then compete in Sunday's 70.3.

Hey, I have more than a year to train!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Try This Tri

It was relatively chilly at 6 a.m. on Sunday, August 4, when we pulled into Taughannock Falls State Park for my latest adventure, the Cayuga Lake Intermediate Triathlon. I had done the sprint distance of this race in 2011 and remember it fondly. As I build up to my A race, Big George 70.3 on Sept. 1, I wanted to use the Olympic distance to test my fitness level.

Windy conditions affected the first two legs--the swim and the bike--but I told myself, "That's no excuse; it's windy for everyone." So I mustered my will and made it through the chop, even after the aggressive, female-only swim start sent my heart rate sky high until I found a lane and could start swimming instead of flailing. (Note to self: do not start swimming in the middle of the pack--off to the side would be much calmer and you can get into a groove that much quicker.)

The run, which let me down two weeks earlier at Lake Delta, returned to me with a vengeance. I'm still running above a 9-minute mile but yesterday I actually felt like I was running. My hamstring let me do my thing, and I let loose. My inner runner girl kicked in and I spent 6 miles passing people. What a relief.

Overall, I finished 3/10 in my age group (a surprise), 41/77 among women and 179/236 overall. Ithaca has a healthy community of triathletes, and I am happy that I was able to keep up. . .somewhat.

There are many reasons to recommend this race. Here are some:

1. They provide bleachers to the spectators. I have never been to another race that offers a place for supporters to sit while they wait for their athlete to cross the finish line.

2. The race T-shirt is made of recycled plastic bottles. And it fits properly. I have countless shirts that are size small, but they are unisex small so they look like a box. These, however, fit perfectly and they're stylish too.

3. The swim announcer was just a hoot, putting us at ease as we started our race. And his buddy who "played" the trumpet signaling that each swim wave had to assemble (like at the beginning of a horse race)--he was another hoot and a real anxiety reliever.

4. While the bike is difficult, a portion of those 24 miles goes along a road adjacent to Cayuga Lake. Spectacular houses dot the lakeshore, and on many of their porches sat supportive spectators, cheering us along. It helped me forget the hills, temporarily.

5. If you race the sprint distance, you get to cap off your feat with a run to Taughannock Falls, the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, plunging 215 feet. If you race the intermediate, your run distance is doubled and you're lucky to run to the falls twice. That tumbling, picturesque water could be a huge distraction, and I commented to the two volunteers at the turnaround that they had the prettiest spot in the entire race. So, if you need to take a walk break, this would be a perfect place to do so. As an aside, my sister was married at the spot below.

6. Another advantage to the run is that athletes tramp on grass (next to the lake and then Taughannock Creek) before linking to the hiking trail leading to and from those falls. Absolutely no roads. Sailboats and kayaks dot the water. It's just incredibly scenic (and safe).

7. Assigned spaces in the transition area. This saves so much pre-race anxiety and rushing around because you're trying to secure a "better" spot in the most optimal location than your fellow competitors. No one is elbowing out the person next to you for more space. It's so much calmer, and makes for less stress on race day. And if you're running a little late getting to the race venue, it's OK.

8. Impressive volunteer support and inspiring spectators. Coming back in from the bike on Route 96, I got a huge rush from the strangers lining both sides of the road cheering, ringing cowbells and holding signs. (And that's another thing--this race handed out cowbells!) It's such a great feeling, and provides much needed motivation before your final leg (ha ha), the run. The water stops on the run course each had a theme--I remember pirates and then a Motown tent near the falls, decorated with actual vinyl 45 records and women wearing poodle skirts (imagine hauling all that water, gatorade, decorations, etc., more than a mile up the hiking trail). If volunteers make that much of an effort for several hundred athletes, the least we athletes can do is thank them, several times.

9. Good, plentiful food afterwards. The Wegmans boxed lunches provided a healthy coda, with choices from roast beef, turkey and veggie. Whereas some races run low on water, this one had plenty. Part of the reason, as I observed it, was that the volunteers controlled who could grab what. No race number: No boxed lunch. It was that simple. And the table loaded with cut up fruit--perfect. While we didn't wait in the long line for ice cream, a free cone after a race hits the spot.

10. Awards as individual as Ithaca, and as this race. Those who placed 1 to 3 in the women's age groups received handmade necklaces; just a nice touch. I don't know what the men received, but I'm sure it was just as special.

I heartily recommend this race. It sells out rather quickly, so be sure to pay attention to the Ithaca Triathlon Club's website for updates. It'll be tough to find a prettier spot for a triathlon in all of upstate New York than this one and if you have time afterwards, a visit to Ithaca yields all sorts of delights.

I intend to return next year; will I see you there?