Monday, September 28, 2009

Collegiate Cycling Guilt

One hour ago, I was presented with boxes full of Stanford cycling gear to rummage through.

I was in spandexified heaven.

Now I'm mired in guilt. Money was not required to partake in the spandex binge--immediately. When I am slammed with the request to pay for the fun things I took with the school's name splashed all over it, as well as with cycling team dues, the party's over. (And then add, in a few weeks, triathlon spandex temptations, and triathlon team dues...oy ve.)

And thus I am faced with a paradox: I miss making money, but I wouldn't be in spandex-induced guilt if I weren't here, not making money.

But no self-respecting triathlete would miss the chance to fly her respective school's colors whenever mounting her noble, two-wheeled steeds, would she? WOULD SHE?

I didn't think so.

Comments that justify outrageous purchases for which I don't have the funds are warmly welcomed.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Being the White, Blonde Minority

I moved onto Stanford University's campus two weeks before classes started (today), and over a week before the undergrads overran the place.

In the spirit of "back to school", I went to "speed friending", an activity set up by grad student activity coordinators. Hundreds of new grad students met in a room filled with chairs in rows facing each other. Every three minutes, a whistle was blown, the person in front of me moved over, and was replaced with the person to his left.

I met about 10 people before the session came to a close, then we all met in a less formal social environment in the quad outside, where alcohol was being served to lessen the pain of smiling for hours on end, and repeating "core facts" about ourselves over and over again: Where do you live on campus? What are you studying? How long is your program?

I made two very important social observations early on: I was in probably a 3% white minority, a 1% female minority, and I was the only blonde.

What conclusions can I draw from these observations? Almost everyone I met was an engineer. That was to be expected as it's the largest graduate division on campus. But only one of them was a female, only a handful were white, and none of them were blonde.

The only other white females I met, actually (save for one), were in my communications program.

Does this mean that white people suck at engineering? Or that they all simply weren't brilliant enough to get into a top engineering grad school? Or does it simply mean that of all of the new engineers, a group of people stereotyped as socially awkward, the Indian and Asians and dudes are the most social? Is it true that bleach kills brain cells, and therefore a statistically insignificant number of blondes have been admitted to any Stanford graduate program this year?

It was an interesting phenomenon to be the minority for once. I didn't mind, but I did feel like I stuck out, particularly having just moved from Southern California, where 99% of the beachfront population is blond and white. (All percentages in this observational post have been entirely made up by the author.)

Having just read Schrag's Paradise Lost, about how California's social infrastructure had gotten so immensely clusterf***ed by the time he published the book in 1998, I was accutely aware that at some point, whites are going to be the minority, not just in California, but in the entire United States. I didn't think the change would manifest itself while I was still in my twenties. Is Stanford a forward-thinking microcosm of what California is to become?

By the time the undergrads arrived on campus, my status as an endangered species as a white blonde chick were annhilated. And what does that imply? That the majority of smart kids worthy of full-scholarship PhD study are not white, but the majority of paying students at this private university are?

Oh, what a social experiment University is!

Monday, September 14, 2009

How to Make Athletes Dislike Your Race Before Even Participating: The Santa Cruz Triathlon

I am a fan of race-morning packet pick-up. In fact, I believe it should be an immutable truth of racing for all races that don't involve ridiculous planning logistics (like an Ironman). No Olympic distance race should be without this option.

What if your car breaks down? What if you get there late the night before, because you're coming from some other family/work obligation? What if you simply can't afford to spend the night in your race's location, but are willing to get up at the butt crack of dawn to enthusiastically participate?

Santa Cruz Triathlon, I hope you're listening. This race ironically opened itself up as a collegiate race, offering a student discount, hoping to draw competition, while at the same time making packet pick-up available only until 3pm the day BEFORE the race. I say ironically, because a student discount will not cover the price of a hotel in Santa Cruz, where the cheapest, crappiest motels start at $130/night in September. To cover that, you'd have to offer entirely free entries.

That is how to make athletes dislike your organization before they have even participated in your race.

It is clear that you've made a promise to bring revenue into the city of Santa Cruz, as giving back to the community is your non-profit race's primary goal, but by making packet pick-up available only until 3pm the day before the race, and making it mandatory, you are grossly alienating the one faction of athletes you were so enthusiastically courting: college students. And, for that matter, you're ticking off anyone else who loves triathlon, and lives close enough to make the trek to participate in your race--but not twice in two days. The cost in gas alone to make the double trek is ridiculous.

We will still spend money in Santa Cruz. We will eat at Saturn Café. And we will be glad to pay the entry fee, knowing that it will help the local community. And we might have even gladly shelled out the cash to spend the night, but being forced to do so only embitters what would have been an otherwise enjoyable decision. Let us decide if we'd like to stay or not.

So, Santa Cruz Triathlon, your race looks fabulous. It is sure to be a ton of fun, and to do a lot of good for Santa Cruz, as was originally intended. But do not force your athletes into difficult financial decisions beyond deciding whether or not to pay your entry fee. The only difficult thing you should be forcing us to do is jump into the freezing ocean at 8am on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Xterra Lake Tahoe- The Report

I had one goal going into Big Blue Adventure's Xterra Lake Tahoe: to beat my friend Aaron. He's a fabulous mountain biker and runner. I'm a faster swimmer, and have a little more endurance for climbing.

The plan: beat him out of the water, hold him off on the bike, then run scared.

Part one went off OK. Aaron's bike was still hanging out when I got into T1. However, my brand spanking new Adidas Spezials had given me horrendous heel blisters a few days earlier, so I spent what felt like an eternity trying to put mole skin on my raw bits. Then I spent another small eternity trying to pull the middle finger of my left glove right-side out. How did that happen?

Still ahead of Aaron by some minuscule margin, I jumped on Qeee (my mtn bike) and headed out and up Tunnel Creek. And here is where the beauty of racing Tahoe as a points race instead of Nationals came into play.

Hundreds of people did not pass me on the climb, since hundreds of people weren't competing. And the people who did were very nice about it, since they weren't competing for a national title. This was the first year in three where I haven't had to yell, "Swim faster!" when some jerk came up on me and told me to get out of his way. It just didn't happen. Much more civilized calls of, "On your left, when you have a chance!" were the norm.

Two girls in my age group passed me toward the end of Tunnel Creek. It was game time. I tried to stay on girl #2's wheel through the Flume Trail, and when she stopped after the mandatory dismount, I took off ahead of her. Girl #1 had disappeared. Bah!

Riding around Marlette Lake, a Team Type 1 triathlete passed me, and that was about all. It was the most peaceful climb out of Martlette Lake I have ever done, which is a strange revelation to have during a race.

Then came my favorite part: the gnarly switchback descent. I saw girl #1 ahead of me, and noticed she was a very strong climber, but a cautious technical rider. I would use the switchbacks as my chance to get ahead. I bounced down them as best I could, but when I stuck my foot out to corner one switchback, I felt my left arch rip. Ohhh crap. But I was too elated that Aaron had not yet blasted by me that I flew back down Tunnel Creek and into T2 without giving my evil arch a second thought.

I shoved my new racing flats on and ran for it. Toward the end of the first loop, a ridiculously tall man and I were running together at exactly the same pace. I forged ahead so I wouldn't step on his heels, and he stayed on mine throughout the entire run. I passed Mr. Team Type 1, and one other woman, and ran into the finish line feeling rad--I beat my time from 2007 by about 10 whole seconds. Ha! But most importantly, I beat Aaron. I hadn't had more than a sip of water before he came through the chute 3 minutes behind me. It was a tight race, but we hadn't seen each other the entire time!

My time, which placed me 3rd in 2007's 20-24 age group, placed me first in this race's 25-29 age group. Coachubby had finished before I started my second run loop, and was out cheering for me. He had won the male 25-29 age group, making him the 2009 West Region Champion! Woo hoo!

While the fierce competition of Xterra USA (now at Ogden) is fabulous as it pushes an athlete to her max potential--to race harder than she ever thought she could--I had no qualms with Xterra Lake Tahoe and its totally "Xterra" laid-back atmosphere. I don't need the big flashy expo, or the fancy banquet. I do need the Lake Tahoe course, and so to Big Blue Adventure, I am grateful.

They kept my favorite race course of all time alive--it's the only race I've done 4 years in a row and there's a reason. (And that reason is certainly not the people of Incline Village.) It's the camaraderie of Xterra triathletes, which is sometimes forgotten in the heat of nationals competition, and the beauty of the Xterra course.

Oh yes, and having the race at the end of August instead of the beginning of October, when it has been known to snow--yes, snow!--before and/or during the race: PRICELESS.

(The only downside is the evil foot. I have not been able to run since, keeping my streak of destroying some body part at every single Xterra event I've ever done alive...but it was worth it! Photos courtesy of Rosalie, Aaron's girl.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

I Have Found Cycling Mecca

If you told me there was a place where bike lanes were abundant, cyclists were out at all hours of the day, in all shapes and sizes, and on all kinds of bikes, cars were scarce, and roads were closed to cars on Sundays for my cycling pleasure, I would have laughed and asked what kind of happy medicine the doctor put you on.

But this place exists!

It is Stanford and the surrounding hills.

I might say I miss the 30 miles I had to ride in LA to get to some monster climbs, as it allowed for an enforced warm-up/ cool down period, but I might be lying. Big time. I kind of liked the sadistic 7.5 mile Page Mill Rd. climb that began a measly 10 minutes into my ride on Saturday.

To add to the weekend heart-rate spike, I met up with some of Stanford's rad triathlon team on Sunday for a swim around the wharf in Santa Cruz. WHAT!? You're thinking. You, Erin, who stopped swimming in the ocean very much at all after that dude got eaten by a shark near San Diego, are now swimming in the ocean where Great White sharks are known to be lurking?

Yes, I did. And I ripped a ginormous hole in my 3.5 year old wetsuit in the process. I figured having my torso slightly sticking out helped distinguish my rubbery body from that of the hundreds of blubbery sea lions playing around the wharf and drafting off of us.

I also sprinted the entire way.

Last one out is a rotten carcass.


Xterra Lake Tahoe coming up! There are a lot of differences to be noted now that the race is no longer the USA Championships, but most of them are good.

Also coming up: Collegiate triathlon. Did you know there's an age limit on Grad student triathletes? USAT has capped the age of competition in collegiate nationals at 28. What do you think about this? (And praise the Lord I'm not there yet for a while!)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Moving Today!

I'm moving up to school this afternoon. Not sure when I'll have internet access next.

Wish me cool roommates and easy bike storage solutions!

Being a Girl Sucks Big Time Sometimes: Xterra Lake Tahoe, From the Beginning

A while back, I had thought of writing an article on athletes who, for some reason, were either forced into early retirement, forced to significantly reduce their training, or forced to cease training completely for a long period of time. What does it mean to pros and to amateurs, exactly, to be an athlete? How much do we let the fact that we are athletes (or specifically triathletes) define ourselves, and what do we do and feel when it's taken away from us? 

I thought of Greg Welch, Chris O'Riordan, a Stanford walk-on baseball player who was drafted into the Major League, and was quickly forced to retire due to (I believe) a shoulder injury. I thought of the week when my doctor called me and told me not to move when he realized my heart skipped a beat. That news didn't help the situation. 

A few weeks ago, my beachy best friend, and ultracycling/endurance sports buddy in crime started having trouble breathing. I thought maybe she'd developed sports-induced asthma. On August 22nd, she had planned on running a torturous 50K in the Santa Monica Mountains. 

She began having trouble breathing on a steep, 4-mile climb named Bulldog in Malibu Creek State Park. She ran/walked the entire first loop. Race officials at the aid stations made her drink salt water, claiming it would relieve her symptoms. I can only guess they thought she was dehydrated...or that somehow, salt water would coat her lungs and calm them down...

When she came walking toward coachubby and me at the end of the 25K loop, she was upset and frustrated. She considered running again, but bowed out.

She went to see a doctor a few days later, who quickly diagnosed her with pleuritis, told her to take anti-inflammatory drugs and she'd be fine. 

So last Thursday (a week ago) she came spinning with me, believing it would all clear up eventually. She stayed through the entire class, even though she was struggling. At the end of class, after several minutes off of the bike, she was still having trouble catching her breath, and had a sharp pain in her left side. A school nurse in class told her she should get it checked out at an ER. I told her I'd pick her up in half an hour.

Off we went to Kaiser Permanente, where she was admitted immediately. They took a chest xray and blood. Both were completely normal--except for her d-dimer, an indicator of possible blood clots. Just to be safe, the doctor said, perhaps they should take a CT scan.

You might as well do it while we're here, I said. So we sat, watching her heart beat in a beautiful, uninterrupted (and slightly boring, I must say, particularly compared to mine) rhythm, for 2 hours. When they took her back for the scan, I went outside to continue hacking away at a ginormous history book.

An hour later, I got a text: "I have blood clots, will you come inside?"

Robyn was devastated. She had pulmonary embolisms on both sides. She would have to be started on blood thinners immediately, and most likely would be on them for an entire year, during which time riding a bike outside, and trail running are out of the question. All exercise, at least for the first 1-2 months is not allowed, except for a nice walk here and there. 

Just like that, she had gone from kicking my ass at everything I ever set out to do (double centuries, distance running) to being placed on a year long round of rat poison and enough pain killers to sedate a small army. 

Just like that, she had gone from being in shape enough to run a very difficult 50K in under 6 hours to having to rethink what role exercise is going to take in her life for a year.

Around 7:30pm, her boyfriend JZ arrived, and I left to shovel food down my face, and get ready to go to Tahoe the next morning with coachubby. I felt terrible leaving her like that. I could never understand how she felt upon hearing that news, but I like to think I can sympathize just a little from my week of sincerely believing my days as an endurance athlete were over. 

31 and totally healthy, Robyn had no reason to believe this could happen to her. And neither did anybody else--until they found out she'd started a birth control regimen in May. YAZ should officially change its name to NOZ and be taken off of the market. The mix of that drug and Robyn's chemistry proved almost fatal. And I had encouraged the use of birth control as a way to avoid unwanted visitors during race days and long training weekends.

Coachubby and I left on Friday to drive to Tahoe with heavy hearts, but excited to race for Robyn. After all, she had raced without full use of her lungs--it was the least we could do to push it at altitude!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Xterra Lake Tahoe, Pulmonary Embolisms, And People with Sticks Up Their Butts: A Race Report, Backwards

My mom taught me to take the "high road" whenever other people stoop low, insinuating that they are somehow better than I am for whatever incomprehensible reason. And I always do.

Not because I think about "being the better person", but because my brain has a 2-10 minute witty comeback delay. The incident is always over before the comeback is fully formed.

So, to the man lying on a beach chair on the beach in Incline Village next to his fat, bejeweled wife, and bratty kids, who was appalled that coachubby and I should rinse off in his lake post-race, telling us to get a room and oh, by the way, you put your stuff on my beach chair, that was rude, I have something to say other than, "OK, maybe we'll do that next year" or, "It's all yours!" after removing our bags from the chair-in-question:

Maybe if you did an Xterra, it would help loosen up that stick in your ass.
And maybe if your wife did an Xterra, you'd see that you have an extra beach chair; she's currently using one for each cheek.