Sunday, February 27, 2005

Trail riders

Saturday was the first day of the Houston Rodeo, which always means... trail riders!

The riders start coming into town on Thursday and Friday, setting up camp in various spots both inside and outside the city. Some of the camps are just blocks from where I live, so every year I get to spend a weekend with horses and people in cowboy hats wandering my neighborhood. On Saturday morning the riders line up with their horses, wagons, buggies and carts and ride or drive down Memorial into downtown where they join in the parade that kicks off the three week long rodeo.

So even though I could've done a bike ride in Humble Saturday morning, the threat of rain and the promise of trail riders kept me in town.

I started with my usual bayou loop. I hardly saw anyone out there. Most runners were probably downtown for the 10K Rodeo Run. Hey, I can go farther than 6.2 miles and do it for free! In spite of having the trails mostly to myself, I only saw one rabbit and no other cool wildlife. But when I came up the hill that takes one from bayou-level to street-level at Sabine Street, I found several trailers and a lot of horses standing around. Cool. The trail riders, busy gearing up for the ride into downtown, waved and said hello. I'm always impressed by how friendly they are.

I went up Sabine to Allen Parkway and headed back toward Shepherd in a happy mood, even though my legs were stiff and not really feeling up for this run after only two miles. Well, too bad. The dogpark at Montrose was empty, which surprised me. But after I crossed Shepherd and headed west up Memorial I saw what had happened. Everyone from the regular Saturday morning dog-walkers to the neighborhood families had come out to watch the trail riders go by. Most of these folks chose to congregate on the sidwalk outside the new Starbuck's, so I had the choice of running in the street on busy Memorial Drive or running in the parking lot. I value my life, so I chose the parking lot.

I reached my turnaround point and headed back to Shepherd, where police were starting to close off the side streets and horses and riders were beginning to line up. I avoided all that and turned in to River Oaks where I ran among the rich folks for a few miles. It was raining by the time I came back to Memorial and headed for home, running along the trail with the horses ambling down the road beside me. I was already wet by this point, so there was no point caring about the rain. I just settled in to finish my run and enjoy the last of the trail ride. It was great fun and there were some beautiful animals out there-- palominos, appaloosas, pintos and a lovely buckskin. As always I was very impressed with the children who were riding. It takes discipline and experience to sit a horse well and especially to do a trail ride. Some riders come from hundreds of miles away. The fact that so many children do this impresses me greatly while leaving me with little patience for the undisciplined brats I sometimes see in restaurants. But let's stay on topic here...

To me, the trail ride symbolizes some of what is best about Texas and about America. It's an embracing of both past and future (modern trail riders sleep in well-equiped campers). Most trail riders are black or hispanic. Some groups come from Mexico and include Mexico's flag with the Texas and American flags on their wagons. Some riders come from Louisiana, playing the zydeco music of the Cajun people. (For my foreign friends-- Cajuns are former French Canadians who emigrated to Louisiana when Canada became British.) The trail ride is about the people who made this state, formerly an independent republic. And it's about the people we are today.

And pretty horses, too!

Weekend Workouts
Saturday: Run, 14.5 miles
Sunday: Bike, Spinervals 9.0 Have Mercy, 2 hours

Friday, February 25, 2005

No rabbit stew recipes, I hope! Posted by Hello
I don't think I fit. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What are you looking at? Posted by Hello

Monday, February 21, 2005

Happy Day

Wow. I'd forgotten that a day at the office with no useless overlong meetings and no boss pecking me to death could actually be... nice.

And productive.

I went in to work at my usual time, put a huge dent in my To Do list, took care of some tricky problems that came up that weren't on the list, had enough done by the end of the day that I could've easily just shut down the computer and headed home, but I stayed about half an hour late in order to print out some reports to start working on tomorrow. It was pleasant being at work. I was getting things done and it felt good.

A few more days like this and I might actually start liking my job again.

In even better news, my legs are back! I got on the trainer Sunday feeling a bit skeptical, but from the first sprint set to the last, two hours later, my speed was right where it used to be before I got sick. I was so relieved. It was the first really good workout I've had on the bike in a long time.

One thing I've started to notice in my training is how my ab work is starting to help my running and cycling. On faster runs and higher cadences on the bike, I can really feel my core muscles pitch in to help with the work. Interesting. It's taken six months to get to this point, but it seems to be finally paying off. The ab work started helping with ordinary lifting tasks months ago (I'm the only female at my office who can replace the jug in the water cooler without assistance), but this is different. I had always read that you needed a strong core to help your running and cycling, but now I know what that feels like. It's pretty cool.

So now that my confidence in my cycling is restored, I sure hope the predicted rain doesn't materialize this weekend!

Recent Workouts
Sunday: 2 hours bike (Cyclerobx - 30 min, Spinervals 5.0 Mental Toughness - 90 min), 3 mile walk
Monday: 30 minute elliptical, 15 minute run - moderate pace

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Didn't fall off the planet...

... it just hasn't been a very exciting week.

I spent most of the week either in meetings or trying to get as much done as possible before my boss leaves for India. He'll be gone for three weeks, thank goodness. I'll be able to get a lot done without him around!

Isn't it funny how our bosses often prevent us from working effectively? My husband's boss was out sick this week, and Dan came home talking joyfully about how much easier it was to do things without the boss around. Not that his boss is a bad one-- we've both known him for years and are fond of him. But he's the type of guy whose words have trouble keeping up with his brain, and his hyperkineticism exhausts you before you can even react.

So with my boss and his picky-picky, makework ways out of the picture, maybe I can dig out from under some of the avalanche that's fallen on us since we had to let the temp go and since I had to start spending 5-10 hours per week in meetings that are more or less useless. To make things even better, my dotted-line boss is finally expressing an interest in helping me get additional office help. Hooray! It only took five months. She tried to tell me that it was unprofessional that I hadn't come forward with a business case before now, but I cut that off by pointing out that up until now she and my regular boss have both been unsupportive every time I've suggested it. What am I supposed to do, go over their heads? I've been tempted, but with everyone counselling, "Wait. Things are moving. Things will change soon," I've tried to do just that... wait.

Anyway. Hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel is real this time.

This was my massage week, but due to meetings and schedule conflicts, I wasn't able to see Mary until Thursday. It kinda threw my week out of whack, but I was ready for my run today. My pace was good, even at the end, but I got a late start and had to make three pit stops, so I got home much later than I had wanted to. I also lost time stopping to fuss over my GPS. I ran an older route today and wasn't 100% sure of the distance, so I wore my GPS, which worked fine when I started out but started acting flakey as the rain clouds moved in. I couldn't get a signal at all after about 12.7 miles. But by then I was back where I knew my mileages, and I think my overall distance came to about 15.3 or so. But I'll call it 15.

Not much of interest happened on my run today. I saw an accident on Memorial Drive, but didn't actually see it happen. I just saw the banged-up cars and traffic jam afterwards. I also noticed that the city is starting to put up wire fencing along Memorial like they do every year about this time. This can only mean that the trail riders are coming through next weekend! I've never been a cowgirl and I think the whole Texas-Western schtick is silly, but I love to see the trail riders. I'll have to be sure to drag myself out of bed early next weekend so I can watch them go by!

Recent Workouts
Monday: 45 minutes core and strength training, 30 minutes elliptical
Tuesday: 45 minutes core and strength training, 55 minutes bike - Spinervals 11.0 Big Gear Strength
Wednesday: 45 minutes core and strength training, 45 minute run
Thursday: 45 minutes core and strength training
Friday: Overslept. No workout.
Saturday: 15 mile run

Monday, February 14, 2005

My Valentine Posted by Hello


This isn't exactly a Valentine's story, but here goes...

I must've been 20 or 21, and things were not going well. I was working as a bartender in a fancy downtown restaurant where the waiters wore tuxedos. But I was just the day shift bartender and very little of that money trickled down to me. There were other issues going on in my life as well-- things that don't bear going into. Suffice to say that I was living pretty close to the edge in a lot of ways.

So one summer afternoon I was standing at my usual bus stop on Main Street, waiting for the #20 and idly watching people go by. Suddenly I noticed off in the distance, a bum walking my direction. I was young, but not stupid and I turned away quickly. Experience had taught me that making eye contact would only enourage him to approach and try to sell me some rusted nail clippers or beg for a dollar outright.

But as I turned away, something odd caught my eye. Something red. Curiosity overpowered street smarts and I looked at the man again.

He seemed ordinary enough for a homeless guy wandering downtown-- wild matted hair, dirty denim overalls... and a bouquet of red roses.

Wait a minute! Roses?

Yes, this dirty homeless guy was ambling down the street as if he hadn't a care in the world, carrying a bunch of slightly windblown red roses, their stems wrapped in a scrap of newspaper. Against all common sense, I stared.

And our eyes met.


I turned away again, but it was too late. In what seemed like an instant he was in front of me. I opened my mouth to protest that I had no money, but before I could form a single word, the man pressed the flowers into my hands. I tried again to say something, but the words wouldn't come out in time, and through the buzzing in my brain I heard him say, "Here you go, m'am. You have a nice day. Have a nice day."

And then he was gone, continuing on his way up the street, with me staring at his back, speechless. He never turned around to see if I was watching him and I never saw him again.

I have no idea where he got the flowers, or why he gave them to me. I wish I could say they immediately made my life better, but they didn't. They did remind me though, that life was still strange, mysterious and wonderful. And that good things can happen when you least expect it.

Happy Valentine's Day, friends!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Private Idaho

Once again, I planned to do an organized ride over the weekend, and once again the weather didn't cooperate. We're getting closer, though. This time I actually picked up a packet. This was easy enough since the ride was organized by the bike shop near our favorite Indian restaurant. Dan is on their team and was volunteering with packet pickup, so I had my own personal volunteer to keep an eye out for a small shirt for me.

So I picked up my packet on Saturday after my run and on the way to lunch. Once Dan and I were settled into our booth, I looked in my goodie bag. Shirt, bib number, registration forms for other rides, coupons... and something kind of big and heavy. Wow, I must've scored! What could it be? A half dozen Clif bars? Some kind of bike tool? I found the object that seemed to be the culprit and pulled...

It was a small bag of potatoes.


I looked across the table at my husband. Uh... do you know you're giving away potatoes in the goodie bags?

We both examined the small plastic bag of fingerling potatoes. "Well, a potato company is one of the sponsors," Dan pointed out.

Well, okay. So now I have some potatoes. They're too small for baking, so I guess I'll cut them up and make little roasted potatoes or something. Maybe with some cheese. This is definitely the weirdest thing I've ever gotten in a swag bag.

It was still threatening rain at 5:30 this morning so I ended up staying home. A wise choice, as it turned out. Dan was working as a volunteer and he reported that it was awful-- non-stop rain for most of the ride, flat tires by the score from debris washed onto the shoulders of the roads and a few bad falls from people hitting potholes obscured by standing water. Oh, and lots of wind. Just in case all the rest wasn't enough misery.

So I stayed home and did a session on the trainer. My own private ride. My own Private Idaho.

I have got to think of a good potato recipe.

Recent Workouts
Saturday: Run, 14 miles
Sunday: Bike, 90 minutes, Spinervals 5.0 Mental Toughness

Friday, February 11, 2005

Black Range

I was scouting airfare between Houston and Albuquerque on behalf of my husband, who is planning a little trip out that way next month. Seeing that Albuquerque costs more than twice as much as El Paso, I asked if he wanted to buy the cheaper ticket instead and drive the 240 miles to the family property near Belen.

He said no way, as I rather expected. But I teased him about it anyway, pointing out that my parents had crossed the Black Range on a winter night in December with two little kids in the car, so who was he to be a wuss about it?

After ribbing him a bit, I got curious about the Black Range. The only memory I have of it is that December night in 1976. My parents, little brother and I were on our way from San Antonio to my grandparents' house to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. We must've fallen behind schedule because I'm sure it wasn't my father's intention for us to find ourselves alone in those mountains after dark.

And by "alone" I mean completely alone. And by "dark" I mean pitch blackness.

Those mountain roads wound about for mile after endless mile, with no lights except for the occasional dying town or passing semi. Snow clouds moving in had obscured the moon and stars, and the tall mountains with their dark soil and mysterious wilderness closed in on our two-lane highway as it threaded its way north. The distant glow of villages was a rare and welcome sight that faded into the rear-view mirror all too quickly. It seemed we were the only car on the road, so that the occasional semi was a welcome sight after too much of the oppressive blackness, even though at times it seemed they would run our enormous blue station wagon off the little two-lane blacktop. Light, no matter what the source, was welcome.

The longer we remained in those mountains, the closer I crept from my snug little nest in the back of the station wagon to where my parents sat up front with my sleeping brother. In the glow of the dashlight, we talked in hushed tones about God and the land, darkness and light.

When we finally came down out of those mountain passes into the flatter land and lights of Socorro County, it felt like we had finally come up for air after a long time under water. I don't know if I dozed or not, but crossing the Manzanos just a couple dozen miles away from my grandparent's farm didn't seem nearly as treacherous. The Manzanos were familiar old friends that seemed to always gaze fondly upon our family homestead; near enough to touch yet distant enough that reaching them was a long day's walk.

The Black Range though, had a taint of evil about it.

So imagine my surprise to go online and run across this place.

I told my husband we absolutely must check it out. Wildlife, ghost towns... what's not to like? Heck, the place is probably haunted. I'm ready to see the Black Range again, so long as we don't try to cross it at night. I have a feeling not much has changed in nearly thirty years. The Black Range, even in pictures, looks like it still has the power to conjure darkness.

Obligatory Endurance Sport Content

I'm starting to get a bit frustrated with the "spring" cycling season. With 70% chance of rain and 15 mph winds predicted for Sunday, it doesn't look good for the West U Warmup ride. And to be honest, I'm a little reluctant to hit the roads with my legs feeling like they do. It's entirely possible that the new legwork I've added to my morning workouts is causing this temporary setback, but it still spooks me a bit that I can't pound out high rpms for very long.

I tried one of my Cyclerobx tapes this week. I did the one with Tyler Hamilton, of course. It was okay. I was disappointed that even though it was supposedly 45 minutes, there was only about 35 minutes of actual hard spinning, and that doesn't include the two minute breaks between sets. Two minutes is really too long in most cases. This will make a great spin workout for days when I'm pressed for time or my legs are feeling really dead, but I think I'll stick with some of my later Spinervals for the hard workouts.

Recent Workouts
Monday: 45 minutes core and strength training, 30 minutes elliptical, avg 200 strides per minute
Tuesday: 45 minutes core and strength training, 45 minutes spin- Cyclerobx
Wednesday: 45 minutes core and strength training, 30 minute run, hard intervals
Thursday: 45 minutes core and strength training, 30 minutes elliptical - avg 195 strides per minute

Monday, February 07, 2005

Will these make me faster? Posted by Hello

Monday... and weekend workouts

Another week, and I'm determined not to let my job get to me. My schedule is filling up with useless meetings and overlong trainings, but I need to try and take a better attitude toward it - just shut up and deal with it. It's not like I can change things, because I've certainly tried. I'm just not important enough.

The weekend went by way too fast, as always. My Saturday run was kind of interesting. I saw an armadillo near the start of my run, which is something that doesn't usually happen. Armadillos aren't as smart as rabbits, who know that as long as we runners stick to the trail and keep moving, we're harmless. The armadillos see a human in the vicinity and immediately take off into the underbrush. As did this one, so I didn't get to see much of it. The rabbit grazing nearby was totally unconcerned by my presence, though. It must've heard that I'm a bit fond of bunnies.

Once I came around to the Allen Parkway side of the bayou, I accidentally found myself in a cross country race of some kind. It was kind of amusing because the runners seemed to be going in all directions with no rhyme or reason to their movements. Okay, there were little orange flags in the grass, but they didn't seem to be marking anything in particular. Runners were on the trail going my direction, on the trail going the opposite way, crossing the trail, making loops in the grass, and more or less loping about at random. Even the race photographer seemed confused, because I think she took my picture. I'll have to try to find out what race this was and check. Hey, I was trying to stay out of the race, but it was impossible to tell what was part of it and what wasn't. A few regular signs with words on them would've been helpful. But no harm done. I did my best to stay clear of anyone wearing a number, and by the time I crossed to the west side of Waugh Drive, I was out of the fray.

That was my only real excitement for the morning. I went farther than I had planned in River Oaks and on a whim, took a different route home. I didn't have my GPS with me, so I had to guess at my mileage, but I think it was around 14 miles.

Dan and I decided to skip the Big Chill ride on Sunday, based on an evening weather report predicting 80% chance of rain by 11 am. So of course it didn't rain at all. Dan got a bit grumpy over it, but I always have a Plan B and set up my bike on the trainer. Oddly, my legs just weren't up for it, though. Thank goodness I didn't find this out part way through a 50 mile ride with bad headwinds. So I cut my two hour trainer session to one hour and called it a day.

I don't know why it's taking me so long to get my legs back after last month's illness, but I'm getting really tired of this. I suppose I could go work on my swimming, now that I can no longer use my lungs as an excuse to slack on my pool time. But... I really don't like swimming. It's boring. It's cold. And it's wet.

Recent Workouts
Saturday: Run, approx 14 miles
Sunday: Spinervals 9.0 Have Mercy - 1st hour only, 45 minute walk
Monday: 45 minutes core and strength training, 30 minutes elliptical

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Door

So I went to my assistant asking where she had stashed the new binders. "In the storage room under the stairs," she told me.

Storage room under the stairs? What storage room? What stairs? How long have we had this room?

She told me where it was and said it was keyed to my submaster. Curiouser and curiouser. Obviously I had signed off on the re-keying of this room at some point, but I have no recollection of it.

But hey, more storage is always a good thing, so I followed her directions and found that yes, there was a door just where she said it would be, under the stairs by the handicapped entrance. I unlocked it and stepped inside.

It wasn't anything to write home about. Bare brick walls, a bit of county-hospital-green trim around the door, concrete floor. Cold. A lizard scampered across my foot. It was just a small room... storing an old typewriter, a few dead adding machines and some boxes of binders.

I got my binders and left.

But it got me wondering how I had managed to overlook that door set in so tantalizing a spot. Perhaps it was the "Maintenance" sign that signaled my brain that this was no great mystery and was in fact Someone Else's Problem. There was a time though, when a door under the stairs would've awakened every little nerve cell in my brain with thoughts of mystery and adventure, hidden secrets and all.

My Aunt Pin had a house that every summer brought these feelings to a fever pitch.

Technically I suppose she was my great-aunt. She was my grandmother's sister-in-law. But I always called her "Aunt." She lived in a rambling two-story frame house in Dennis, Massachusetts, right around the middle of Cape Cod. I thought the house was wonderful.

It had been built in 1792 and had a plaque on the front to prove it. It was a house full of that "old house" smell of wood floors, wood panels, wood everything. It had a Cape Cod cellar, which was a round stone basement for storing vegetables and butter. It had two parlors, two porches, a long dining room, and a half dozen rooms upstairs. One of the rooms- a little garret room off the largest bedroom - was haunted. I have a very dim memory of an elderly male relative lying sick and dying in that room, but I know no specifics, and I don't know if it was he who haunted that room when it became a toy room for me and my cousins. I just know that in spite of the bright paint, boxes of toys and scads of sunlight, there was something creepy and cold about that room that made even a steady, never-seen-a-ghost gal like me unable to bear being alone in there for even a minute.

But one of the more intriguing things about the house was the door to nowhere. It was a door set into a wall of the dining room, and Aunt Pin swore that it led to absolutely nothing. My cousins and I weren't able to see for ourselves because it had been shut for so long that the paint had sealed it, and neither us kids nor our elderly relatives could yank it open. So we had to just take her word for it.

I always thought that if there was one mysterious door, there must be others and I led little expedtions to find them. My cousins and I checked stairs, walls and floorboards for secret compartments. We begged (and failed) to be allowed up into the attic. But we did one day go up into the attic of the barn, and while we didn't find treasure, exactly, I did find a moderately valuable early edition of Sinclair Lewis' Arrowsmith and a centennial U.S. history book that claimed to hold "One Hundred Items of Great and Enduring Interest..."

At least a quarter of the incidents are ones that even with my degree in history, I've never heard of, that's how obscure they are. Oh, those wacky Gilded Age folks!

Anyway, with a childhood history like that, how could I have gone five years without noticing a never-opened door underneath a staircase right in my own office building? There's nothing wrong with growing up, but I hate to think I might be turning into a grownup.

In triathlon training news, I had been having just enough pain in my never-properly-diagnosed foot recently to find it annoying. So while poking around on it Wednesday night, I found what appeared to be a knot around the base of the first and second metatarsals. So I rubbed it and it seemed to feel better. It felt the same Thursday during the day, so I rubbed it again last night. Bad move. I could barely stand on it when I got out of bed this morning. Sport tape has me moving again, but we'll have to see how things go on tomorrow's run. I had been planning to run up to Rice and Hermann Park, where I could see the ducks, but I'll stay close to home instead so I can come home and finish my workout on the elliptical trainer if my foot gives me any trouble.

And the Cyclerobx tapes I ordered off ebay arrived today. OMG-- proto-Spinervals with Coach Troy in long hair and Tyler Hamilton in the back of the room pedaling away! I don't know if I'm going to be able to do the workouts from laughing! This is going to be fun.

Recent Workouts
Tuesday: 45 minutes core and strength training, 45 minutes Spinervals, No Slackers Allowed
Wednesday: 45 minutes core and strength training, 30 minute interval run
Thursday: 45 minutes core and strength training, 30 minute elliptical, one mile hard run at 7 min/mile pace
Friday: 45 minutes core and strength training

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Greedy Bunny Posted by Hello

Gray days

Cold. Damp. Drizzly.

This is what passes for winter in Houston.

It's been like this for several days now, just gray, damp and dull. I decided to skip FrostBike on Sunday because I just couldn't get excited about it. If it doesn't rain (as currently predicted) I'll try for the Big Chill ride this coming weekend. They're advertising homemade cookies at the rest stops and chili at the ride finish. Now that out to make up for spending several hours riding through winter-ugly Katy!

I think I've found the source of the problems with my rectus femoris. I've changed my morning leg routine, cutting out one of the exercises I used to do every day and the problem seems to have stopped. Odd if that did the trick, because the exercise itself never caused me any trouble. But it's best not to ask too many questions about these sorts of things. When something is working, don't go messing it up.

My assistant is back this week, so I am no longer the highest paid mail-sorter at my university. This gives me plenty of time to hang around in meetings like the one this afternoon that was supposed to end at 4 and dragged on until 5 while we devolved into endless speculation over how many auditors can dance on the tip of a ball-point pen. Or some such silliness. Honestly, you'd think I was the only one in those meetings with other things they could be doing than carrying on these philosophical and ultimately pointless ramblings about how budgets might be done if we all had different names, green hair, and spent half the year on Mars.

So it was nice to come home through the endless gray mists and find my critters safe and warm, waiting for me. What a life! I often look at them and think we humans are so misguided. We aren't the superior species - they are. After all, they aren't the ones trudging off to the office in the rain.

Recent Workouts
Saturday: 14 mile run
Sunday: 2 hour bike, Spinervals 9.0 Have Mercy
Monday: massage, no workout
Tuesday: 45 minutes core and strength training, 45 minutes bike Spinervals 1.0 No Slackers Allowed