Going Downtown 
Sunday, April 19, 2009, 08:39 PM
Posted by Administrator
Paul and I often lament the fact that Tucson lacks a downtown. Sure, there is that area referred to as "downtown," complete with city hall and a few tall buildings, but it does not offer much to entice Tucsonans to venture down there on a weekend afternoon. And so no one was more surprised than we to find ourselves in downtown Tucson twice this week, with plans to go a third time tomorrow. Maybe there is something to this Rio Nuevo thing...

It all started on Thursday evening with the opening night of Cinema la Placita, a series of (usually) classic movies shown outdoors at La Placita Village. In the spirit of Bike to Work Week, the 2009 series kicked off with Veer, an enlightening documentary about Portland's cycling scene, which includes a crazy activity called "zoo bombing," involving adults riding kid-sized bikes down steep hills at insane speeds.

I encourage all you Tucsonans to head downtown and check out Cinema la Placita this season. They provide popcorn, chairs, the flick and a unique setting in which to watch it. You bring the family, a few bucks for a donation and, if you'd like, a picnic dinner. It's a fun and inexpensive way to spend a Thursday evening.

Unfortunately, Saturday was primarily a working day for me. I manned the beer garden at the MDA Harley Ride, selling drink tickets and trying not to appear too horrified by the sad spectacle of the bikini contest.

But, Sunday brought us downtown again for the inaugural Urban Assault Ride. A team bike ride scavenger hunt with checkpoints and obstacles - what could be more fun? Paul, however, did not share my enthusiasm for a cycling event that might involve Big Wheels, Bike Jousting and Inflatable Slides, and so there was no Team Vyriotes at this event.

I suggested that we bike downtown today just to check it out and, upon arriving, immediately regretted not twisting Paul's arm a little harder to enter as a team. We chatted with some friends and took in the spectacle of 300 participants talking strategy with their teammates while waiting for the starting gun. Pictured below is Tri Girl (and sometimes pirate), Elaine, with hubby, Zac.

The photo does not do justice to the hilarious stampede of helmet-wearing, costume-clad cyclists running for their bikes. While many duos sported matching outfits, some went above-and-beyond with wigs, capes, argyle socks and more.

One of my favorites was the Pink Taco team.

After the start, we grabbed a late breakfast at the Cup Cafe and then meandered home, hitting a few of the checkpoints along the way to watch people ride while balancing water on their heads, do a beer bottle ring toss and participate in a 3-legged race involving Frisbees and tennis balls. Next year, we're in!

Lo and behold, yet another sports-related event will be held downtown tomorrow evening. In an effort to support the revitalization of downtown, the Southern Arizona Roadrunners are holding social runs every Monday evening at Maynard's. Rumor has it that last week's event, the inaugural run, brought out 200 people. In an effort to be the change we wish to see in the world, Paul and I plan to rush home from work, throw on our running gear and join the crowd.
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Catalina State Park Race Report 
Sunday, April 12, 2009, 10:51 PM
Posted by Administrator
When Denise arrived at my house at 6:00am to carpool to the Catalina State Park Race, the skies were overcast and the temperature was a raw 50 degrees. The race did not begin until 7:30, but, being averse to the cold and having seen the rainy forecast, our top priority was securing a parking spot at the race site, thereby guaranteeing shelter from the elements, as well as a place to store dry clothing for after the race. As it turns out, we would have been safe to sleep for another 30 minutes or so, but we had plenty of time to chat in the warm car while watching unhappy-looking people emerge from the race shuttle buses and stand around in the cold.

I briefly ventured out into the drizzle to listen to the blame-game among running buddies ("I can't believe you made me do this") while awaiting my turn for the porta-potty. I also caught up with some fellow Tri Girls, some (Shari, Jess and Jennifer) who had braved the damp cold that morning, not to race themselves, but just to cheer the rest of us on. Thanks ladies!

Racers had the option of running the course one time for the 5.5-mile event or twice (minus the first 1/4-mile) for the 10.75-mile event. As I have been struggling with my IT band, I opted for the short course and, come race day, was pleased with this decision. Who knew when the skies were going to open up and let 'er loose? I did not want to be in the middle of a wash when it happened.

But, thankfully, the rain stopped and, while the 10.75-mile runners were getting started, I reluctantly stripped off some layers and did a light jog to wake up my muscles. Then, I wove my way through the starting crowd to find a spot in the middle where I ran into a bunch of old friends from Better Then Ever.

When the gun sounded, we had 1/4-mile of road to jockey for position before the course entered a narrow trail. This is an IPod-legal race and, while I often listen to music on training runs, it's just not appropriate in this environment. All races involve lots of passing, yet much of this trail was just wide enough for two people abreast. Some IPod-wearers jogged obliviously along, smack in the middle of the trail, completely unaware of the traffic jam behind them, forcing people to run through the shiggy to get around them. Let's practice common sense and common courtesy folks, huh? If you feel the need to completely zone out to your tunes while running, then stick to the treadmill - a crowded race course is not the place for you.

This course is unusual with two different loops and two different out-and-backs (double that for the 10.75-mile folks and you could get a little dizzy), but it's really the only way to have a race at Catalina without some serious elevation gain. Personally, I don't mind all of the back and forth, as I got to cheer for friends multiple times during the race. As far as trail runs go, this one is fairly flat, with a few steep, (but short) ups and downs. Paul and I run here frequently and so I'm familiar with the terrain and knew exactly what to expect. This knowledge did not make the final 1.5 miles on the sandy bridle trail any easier, although the silver lining of the rain was that it did pack down the sand slightly.

Last year, I completed this race in 1:04:29 and placed 178th out of 305 runners. This year, I was astounded to shave off almost six minutes with a time of 58:52. I finished in 159th place out of 325 runners, which means I just barely squeaked into the top half of finishers, which, sadly, is exciting for me.

So where did those 6 minutes come from? Partly, I credit the training I have done for my recent endurance races, as well as my hilly, quad-building bike rides. But, I also credit a new-found tolerance for discomfort. In the past, I would often run 99% of the race at a comfortable pace and then, when the finish was in sight, kick it into high gear for a final sprint across the line. But, at this race, when it was time for high gear, I found I was completely out of gas. My legs were spent. I may not have looked very good crossing the line, but I felt great knowing that I had pushed the whole way and had truly left it all out on the course.

After chowing down on eggs, tortillas and smoothies, Denise and I spent some more quality time in the car while waiting for the award ceremony. When they announced that it would begin in a few minutes, we ventured out and chatted with friends until we finally got too cold and left. I'm not sure if the ceremony ever actually happened - apparently there were some issues with the timing, which may have had something to do with participants in the longer race opting to do the shorter race instead.

Overall, it was a well-run event with a festive atmosphere. They even had a raffle whereby one lucky participant won a limo ride to and from the race. On a cold, rainy day, that was a stellar prize! On the downside, albeit in a effort to provide exceptional service, they ordered "womens fit" t-shirts for the female runners. However, these t-shirts were apparently made for a breed of women lacking breasts. While I normally order a small or x-small, I ended up with a medium, for which I am still too busty. And I'm not too busty for anything.

After arriving home and warming my chilled bones in the hot tub, Paul and I hit the gym for a full-body strength workout. In hindsight, this was overly-ambitious considering our plans for a 65-mile Easter bike ride the next morning.

We survived the ride, a reverse version of the Tour of the Tucson Mountains course, although it was not my most enjoyable day on the bike. My quads burned the entire time and I definitely lost steam toward the end. On the bright side, I'm perfecting the art of taking pictures while moving at full-speed.

About 7 miles from home, I got a boost when we stopped at Govinda's to refuel at their vegetarian Easter brunch buffet. If you've never been, you've got to check it out - unless you can't imagine a meal without meat, in which case you'd be sorely disappointed.

Now, I am exhausted and I think I have earned a rest day for tomorrow.
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Mystery Weekend 2009 - Joyce's Turn 
Sunday, April 5, 2009, 10:39 PM
Posted by Administrator
Flashback - It's February 25, 2009. We've just arrived at the Tucson Airport where I find out that Paul is taking me to San Francisco for my Mystery Weekend. I'm thrilled! Then, I'm concerned. Will Paul be disappointed that his Mystery Weekend destination is sleepy Apache Junction, Arizona?

I had been leaving him clues all week and then, as we started the drive on Friday morning, I gave him the answers, one-by-one.

Clue #1 - Are you excited yet? Only 144 more hours. Be sure to pack the camera. There will be beautiful wildflowers.
Answer #1 - ...at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Clue #2 - This weekend, we’ll be living on the edge…
Answer #2 - ...of the Superstition Mountains.

Clue #3 - A week from today, we might be, “Sittin' on the front porch swingin' with Blanche."
Answer #3 - ...at the Meanwhile Back at the Ranch B & B.

Finally, I handed Paul our race confirmations for the El Tour de Phoenix bicycle race on Saturday. While I had done my best to preserve the mystery, this race was definitely on Paul's list of Mystery Weekend possibilities. Normally, he would be completely unaware of the race date and distance, but, a few weeks ago (and much to my dismay), some riding buddies invited him to ride in it with them. I played it off as best I could, but now Paul knew that his Mystery Weekend involved bicycling about 70 miles on the same date as El Tour de Phoenix. A rather large coincidence? A clever red herring from Joyce? Nope, that was in fact the mystery. Thanks a lot riding buddies.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum
While I'd consider it a bit too far of a drive from Tucson to be a destination in and of itself, if you happen to find yourself in the area, this desert arboretum is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. After a picnic lunch and a stroll through the flora, the workweek worries began to fade. Yup, the vacation had begun.

Race Expo
From the arboretum, we drove to Mesa to pick up our timing chips and numbers and to browse the vendor booths. This stop was much quicker than anticipated as there were hardly any booths to browse. I know, I know...smaller race, smaller expo, smaller hoopla. You can't have it all.

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
For the life of me, I could not find lodging in Mesa that was unique or special in any way, and so I broadened my search and found this gem in nearby Apache Junction. It was a bit of a risk being 10 miles from the race site. Would I regret this later? Would it be a hassle driving back and forth? But, the photo below, emailed by the owner, sealed the deal.

And we were not disappointed. Meanwhile Back at the Ranch is six acres of heaven tucked away in the sprawling metropolis of Greater Phoenix. Literally at the foot of the Superstition Mountains, we stayed in the Pioneer Cabin, a cozy studio which was the original "Feed Barn" when the ranch was built in the 1950's. Joy, the owner for 39 years, was just as sweet, welcoming and hospitable as you'd want a B & B owner to be.

We spent much of Friday afternoon relaxing on the back porch. Paul took pictures of the birds while hoping for a bobcat to wander by. I read the latest Runner's World while pausing occasionally to take in the gorgeous mountain views.

All of that relaxing made us hungry, and so I whipped up some fajitas in the kitchen, which was well-stocked with what I'm pretty sure were the original kitchenwares and appliances from the 1950's.

Then, with full tummies and relaxed minds, we were in bed at 8:00 pm. With a 6:30am start time, we set two alarms for 4:00am and, despite the early hour, felt refreshed and ready to go when they sounded.

El Tour de Phoenix
Last fall when El Tour de Tucson took over the streets, Paul and I discussed how it could be a lot of fun to do it on our tandem. However, we're both turned off by the sheer volume of riders. 8,000 bikes are a lot, especially when you consider how many of them are being pedaled by weekend warriors who have no idea what they're doing. With only 1,000 riders, I thought El Tour de Phoenix would be a safer, less-stressful way to get a taste of these events. Though I've done a few triathlons and lots of riding, this was, in fact, my very first bike race.

We arrived at the race site at 5:30am and, by the time we had put the bike together (and by "we" I mean Paul), hit the porta-potties and found a spot in the line-up, there were only 10 minutes left to stand around in the cold - perfect timing.

With the general excitement of cycling in a crowd that large, the first five miles flew by. Early on, we witnessed a few near misses, as well as the aftermath of one crash. In the spirit of self-preservation, we were avoiding riding in a pack. And so it was quite a surprise when I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a seemingly endless paceline of bicycles emanating from our back wheel. Unknowingly, we were pulling a pack, and a rather large one at that. They stuck with us for a few more miles and then, around mile 10, the paceline broke apart and lots of people sped ahead. We did recognize a few of our former wheelsuckers as we gradually caught them over the course of the race.

Though not wanting to stop, after about an hour of riding, there were some necessities to attend to - using the bathroom, stripping off some clothing and applying sunblock. When we got back on the road, about seven minutes later, the pack had thinned considerably and we had lots of catching up to do. Although the first part of the race is on city streets and fairly flat, I could not believe that we were keeping an average pace of 20 mph - definitely faster than our usual riding speed. In all the excitement, I was really pushing it and was wondering if I'd pay for it later.

The first hill came as we entered Fountain Hills. However, I realized that our San Fran bike ride from hell had forever changed my perspective on hills. This...was nothing. We flew down the other side and turned onto the scenic Beeline Highway. Around this time, I realized that we had hit the halfway point of the race in 1:59:40. Hmmm...could we break four hours? Then, we made our second, and last, stop of the race at an aid station to use the porta-potty, refill our bottles and scarf down some bananas being handed out by adorable volunteer kids.

As we continued up the highway, we realized that 4 hours was not going to happen. On this course, the first half is also the fast half. Now we were facing a gradual climb and there was no a chance of maintaining that 20 mph pace. We turned onto the Bush Highway and enjoyed the rolling hills and stunning views of the mountains and lake (yes, a lake in Arizona - Saguaro Lake). On both highways, a full traffic lane was coned off for the riders, which was much appreciated, especially considering the number of large vehicles with boats in tow.

Around mile 50, my lower back started to ache, but, otherwise, I felt surprisingly good. And then we hit the only part of the course that made me a little cranky - Usery Pass, our final hill and a seemingly never ending one at that. To add to the challenge, at the bottom of the pass, our course merged with that of the 25-mile race participants. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love seeing all of the kids and newbie cyclists out there giving it their all. The problem lies in the fact that we were passing lots of them and they were weaving all over the road, not yet having learned cycling etiquette. After a few close calls and numerous false peaks, we finally crested the pass. And this is where the race really got fun.

We only had about 10 miles to the finish and it was almost all downhill. I'm not a very competitive person...but I loved hauling ass down that hill and flying by whole packs of surprised riders. Only one guy tried to come with us and he managed to hang on for a few miles before we dropped him. This is a perfect example of why I love riding a tandem. In addition to spending quality time with my wonderful husband, I get the thrill of competing at a higher level than I ever could on my own. Paul is a strong rider and, on the tandem, I get to experience his strength and speed firsthand. I love it!

The course did flatten out for the last few miles, but we kept pushing, not being sure exactly how far we were from the finish line. Understandably, the map they had given us was not to scale. And, understandably, our bike computer could be a mile or so off over a course that long. Not so understandably, depending on what you were looking at (race ads, course map, race medal), the course was either 72 or 74 miles. Two miles may not seem like much of a difference, but when you're at the end of a race and are not sure whether you have 1 mile or 3 miles left to go, it's annoying. (For the record, our bike computer read 70.20 miles at the finish. I have no idea how long the course actually was.)

We crossed the line in 4:17:22, good for 15th out of 21 tandem teams and 668th and 669th overall out of 959 riders. These results are pretty typical for me, but not so for my tandem captain. Luckily, Paul is willing to accept a mediocre race time in exchange for the pleasure of my company.

We hung around just long enough to take in some calories and do a little stretching before leaving in search of real food. Racing is a very social experience for us and we typically allow lots of time for post-race catching up with friends. But, the downside of out-of-town racing is that you don't see many familiar faces or familiar purple race jerseys.

Post Race

We had planned to eat out that evening, but being so enamored with our little ranch and so unmoved by the restaurant choices in the area, we decided to eat in. A quick stop at Safeway and we had a caprese salad and all the fixin's for homemade oven baked turkey sandwiches. And so it was another quiet, relaxing evening back at the ranch.

We woke this morning to what seemed like gale force winds and I was immediately grateful for the excellent weather we had for the race. Although we had planned for a trail run, we bundled up and settled for a hike instead. With the wind making so much noise, we, unknowingly, got fairly close to a herd of about 20 deer before they detected our presence and started bounding away. What an amazing sight!

Upon arriving back at the cabin, we found a lovely breakfast basket waiting for us - a nice touch. After enjoying our morning feast and packing up the car, Joy gave us a tour of the main house and asked to take our photo which she promised to email. We could not be happier with our stay at Meanwhile Back at the Ranch and highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in that neck of the woods.

What's Next?
The bike race taught me that I've been slacking on our training rides. Not purposefully - I thought I was pacing myself. But now I know that I can really push it for a few hours...and Paul knows it too. Somehow, I don't think he's going to let me forget it.

With no long distance races in the near future, I plan to focus on strengthening my legs which will help both my running and cycling. It was difficult to do much lower body weight training when preparing for my marathon and ultra, because I always wanted fresh legs for my weekly long run. I'm looking forward to this change in focus and whatever adventure comes next!
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A Different Kind of Endurance Challenge 
Sunday, March 29, 2009, 08:55 PM
Posted by Administrator
It was a weekend jam-packed with happy events and reasons to celebrate. And so I had to pace myself.

Pre-Wedding Run
Denise picked me up at 7 a.m. on Saturday and we headed to Reid Park for a 4.5-mile run with the bride, Billie, as well as Heather and Amy. Then it was bagels, fruit and wedding talk at Billie's house before her salon appointment.

I managed to squeeze in a little time in the hot tub to loosen up before...

Birthday #1
At noon, I entered Peter Piper Pizza for the first time in my life to celebrate the 1st birthday of little Jake. Not wanting to hit the wall or risk GI distress this early in the weekend, we passed on the arcade games and pizza, but had a nice time catching up with friends.

Birthday #2
We couldn't let the day pass without commemorating the 10th birthday of our boys, Rex & Mielo. While they may not have recognized the significance of the day, they seemed to appreciate the slice of fine, Greek cheese that was served with their kibble that evening. Our little boys are all grown up.

The Wedding
This was our second wedding at The Oasis at Wild Horse Ranch. It's a beautiful venue and Billie and Tom had a nice ceremony, including some inadvertent comedic moments when the minister said, "with this wing" instead of "with this ring"...twice.

We enjoyed prickly pear margaritas during the cocktail hour (proper hydration is so important at these events) and then were pleased to be seated with a group of our trail running friends. You know you're at a table of athletes when no one seems to mind dinner discussions about vomiting during races.

We laughed a lot and even danced a little before calling it a night. The weekend was not yet over and we needed to rest up before Sunday's festivities.

Birthday #3
Despite a late evening, we found ourselves awake before 6am. I hit the hot tub once again to warm up for the day ahead, but decided to multi-task by calling Susan, a wonderful friend from college, to wish her a happy 35th.

Birthday #4
The final party of the weekend was a noontime birthday potluck at Catalina State Park for our friend Jim. We decided to arrive a few hours early and go for a trail run, as this is simply what we do when we find ourselves so close to beautiful trails. That and I had a sneaking suspicion that last night's dinner of breaded chicken covered in white sauce was not a low-calorie meal.

We did our standard 10-mile loop at Catalina. However, to satisfy my need for variety, Paul humored me and we ran it counter-clockwise. My legs felt heavy, but it was one of those perfect Tucson spring days, and so we just took it slow, enjoyed the beauty and tried to ignore the sound of gunshots from the nearby firing range. That's a little disconcerting.

When we had first arrived at the park, the group picnic ramada was completely deserted. When we returned after our run, it was full of birthday guests and yummy food. Now that's how you finish a long run!

We are already looking ahead to next Friday which we're taking off of work to enjoy a full three days in a mystery location which has yet to be disclosed to Paul. That's right, it's Mystery Weekend #2, planned by me for Paul! Check back next weekend for the full report.

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Dave's Run for ALS 
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 11:29 PM
Posted by Administrator
Riding up Mt. Lemmon just wasn't enough and so, to round out the weekend, we ran a 5K this morning. Actually, I'd been planning to race at Dave's Run for ALS for months, as it benefits MDA.

While the race didn't start until 8:30 a.m., I arrived at 7:00 to set up an ALS info table. Paul came later with our three dogs in tow, much to the delight of the crowd.

It was quite a social morning with all of my worlds colliding - MDA co-workers and families, Tri Girls, Better Then Ever friends, SAR friends. My kind of day! I was especially excited that my two MDA co-workers were running their very first race. Sure, it's inspiring to watch the elites, but I find it just as inspiring to watch someone step out of their comfort zone and onto their first race course. Big congrats to Katrina and Tim!

Paul and I both planned to take it easy as we were tired from yesterday's ride, but Paul brought the dogs for insurance. They started at the back of the pack and then slowly worked their way up, making for a nice, easy jaunt. I, on the other hand, got carried away and really pushed myself.

I started off with my friend Denise who typically runs a little faster than I do. I stuck with her as we ran up a gradual incline and then cruised down a gradual descent. At the turnaround, my watch read 14:36 and I started thinking that I just might be able to crack 30:00 - something I've only done once or twice. Of course, now we were headed uphill again and I knew I'd need to work hard to make this goal. So, when Denise's plantar fasciitis flared up and she decided to walk a bit, I decided to keep on truckin'.

At the top of the hill, I caught my breath and began picking up speed to take full advantage of the long, downhill finish. I kept glancing at my watch and knew that it would be close. Sure enough, when I turned the corner and saw the finish line clock, it read 29:40. I began to sprint and gave it all I had. As I ran across the line and under the timing clock, it read 29:58. Victory!

While gasping for air and trying to bring my heart rate back down to an acceptable level, I grabbed the camera from my car to catch some photos of friends crossing the line. I got back just in time to see Paul and the kids finish. That was a first. When we both run a race, it's he who always has time to get the camera before I finish!

When results were posted on the wall, I was slightly disappointed to see my time listed at 30:00.04. Apparently, I need to work on my lean at the finish. That's okay - more motivation to actually do some speedwork before the next 5K!
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