Sunday, March 30, 2008

"This race paid for itself"

I worked really hard all week so that I could take some time off yesterday and go with Rob to the Hillsboro Roubaix, his first bike race as part of the Wild Card Cycling Team. I don’t think I’d ever been to a bike race quite like this before. Its actually pretty hard to spectate at a bike race because the riders go so darn fast and they all look alike, so its hard to even tell if you’ve seen your man (or woman) go past. At the many triathlons Rob has done, I always was able to stand in the transition area and see him several different times as he switched from the swim to the bike to the run. He’s done a couple criterum bike races—usually several laps around a centralized location—so again, I got to see him frequently. At this race, I pretty much saw him take off at the start and then zoom in at the finish, with a lot of standing and waiting in between.
Pre-race: Wild Card Cyclists are at the front of the line in orange jerseys.

Rob and Karl, just before the race

And they're off!

It was fun to watch though. The riders always have such brightly colored jerseys on and there is a lot of excitement and drama in the air. There were a bunch of bike races going on too (with pros and riders of various different categories), so even though I wasn’t seeing Rob very often, there was always something to see. I was a little freaked out because traffic control wasn’t so great. There was one intersection right by the start/finish area that was really tight—cyclists were zooming around, cars were trying to blast through, and one overweight traffic guard (who was consuming a big mac and fries) was trying quite unsuccessfully to keep it under control. As much as I hate drivers, sometimes I couldn’t blame them: it was very unclear what they were supposed to do at this intersection. I was standing next to a woman who had a son in the junior division, and she started helping out with the traffic control. More power to her, she was a mother lion alright.

As soon as I saw Rob and the other Wild Card guys go through this intersection (on their way up a big hill), I ran back down to the start/finish area just in time to see Rob cross the finish line, but not enough time to snap a photo. Darn, better luck next time.

It turned out that two of the guys from Rob’s team (Stew and Thomas I think) got 1st and 2nd place and Rob came in 6th overall. That is a really great job, to have so many Wild Card guys up in front of such a big field. Plus, the one woman on the team (that I know of) did the women’s race and came in 1st place overall. Talk about hard core. I think the Tour de France ought to be next on their agenda.

The race was really hard on me; I didn’t do anything but stand in the freezing cold all day, but I was exhausted. And hungry. I’d assumed that a few fig bars and a mealy pear would sustain me, but I’d severely underestimated that. Note to self: take something more substantial to Rob’s next bike race.

Being cold and tired, I actually went to bed at a fairly decent hour and almost got a whole good night’s sleep. Despite the fact that my dinner had been a bowl of cereal (will I never learn?), I needed to do a 17-mile training run this morning if I want to pull off the Madison Marathon in May. Rob told me that there was a 5K race over at Crystal Lake Park in the morning. It was a little bit pricy to enter the race, but 100% of the proceeds were going to needy families in Ecuador. Rob planned on doing the race (yes, after a bike race the day before!), and since my heart bleeds for all of Latin America, it wasn’t too hard to talk me into it. Sometimes doing a small race as part of a long training run can be fun. I figured I could run over to the park (approximately 2 miles), run the race (add another 3), run back home (2 again), where I could refuel and only have about another 10 to go.

It was cold and raining, so it didn’t go quite as smoothly as all of that. But it was not too shabby. Rob and I ran over to the park together (incidentally, Crystal Lake Park is where we got engaged some 8 years ago), registered for the race, and then shivered in the semi-freezing rain for about 45 minutes while we waited for the race to start. Actually, I couldn’t take the cold and ended up running a loop around the park to keep myself warm. I felt pretty out of place at this race. It was put on by the pre-med students or something like that, so it was a very small field of very enthusiastic college students who cared a lot about Ecuador, but had probably never run more than a couple of miles in their lives. That being said, it was one of the best organized races I’ve done in a long time. Much better organized than the marathon I did last December. For starters, the course was marked and they had orange cones and volunteers standing at the corners making sure everybody went in the right direction (not that it would have been too hard—it was 2 loops around the park). And they had a huge spread of food at the end—tons of really great bagels, cookies, fruits, pastries, even pancakes with syrup. I was really impressed.

At any rate, the race started and we took off. It was a little congested at first, but I could see Rob and the other leaders of the pack up ahead of me. We cruised down a bit of a hill and a girl passed me; as we got to the bottom of it, I went on ahead and didn’t see her again. I realized that I could see only one other woman in front of me; the rest were all guys. I hit the first mile at 6:55 and sped past the other girl. She stayed on my heels for a long time. I hit mile 2 at around 13.57 and around then some volunteers called out “You’re the first woman!” And then, “Right on your heels is the second woman!” I thought… no way!. Is this really so small of a field that my puny 7-minute miles have me out in front? I realized that this might be the only time in my life, to have the opportunity to be the first woman finisher in a race. I could hear #2 just steps behind me and I decided I was going to go for it. I kicked it and took off. Only 1 mile left, no problem. Besides, its not truly a 5K unless you puke at the end.

I blazed through to the finish line, where the race volunteers were screaming and cheering like I was about to win the Iron Man. I felt like I should tell them, settle down guys, I’m really not going that fast! They had put a red tape across the finish line and were shouting “First woman finisher!” and snapping about a million photos as I broke the tape.

What a feeling that was. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience, to break the tape. It wasn’t even my best 5K time by a long shot. I think the fastest I ever ran a 5K was something like 22.11 back when I was at least 5 years younger and 5 pounds lighter. This time I was something like 22.25, which certainly isn’t setting any records, but on a personal level, I'm not going to sneeze at. I guess these pre-med kids didn't know I hadn't broken a world record, and they treated me like I was some kind of royalty.

I met up with Rob after crossing the finish line and found out he’d finished about 3 minutes earlier in 3rd place overall. It turns out that only 1 person finished in between us: I was 5th overall. We hung around eating cookies after the race (not going to help me lose those extra 5 pounds) and shivering in the cold. Then they did an awards ceremony which was the coolest thing ever. Instead of handing out lame trophies or medals like most races do, they had real actual prizes donated from local businesses. You got to pick your own prize, and the male and female winners (that was me!) got to pick first! I chose a $20 gift certificate to Strawberry Fields—a local health food store I visit about once a week. Rob, as the 3rd place winner, also got to pick a prize; he chose a year’s worth of free bread from Panera Bread Company. No kidding! Its a little certificate and every month you can go in and get a free loaf of bread. I was standing there, basking in the glow of my fabulous cash prize, when Rob said, “Well, this race paid for itself.”

That’s true. The entry fee was $25 per person. I made back $20 and Rob got 12 loaves of bread, which has to be at least that. So our net loss on this race was probably negligible. Score.

We ran home, where I briefly contemplated throwing in the towel on my planned 17-miler, but ended up having some Clif Bar and pounding the pavement once again. I ran another 8 miles, ending up at 16.25 total for the day, which I figure is good enough. I did the whole thing wearing my Bitch Socks—these are socks specially designed for runners/cyclists and they have the word “Bitch” stitched into the cuff. One of the women in the cycling club was wearing some a couple of years ago, and I guess Rob said to her, “Wow! Where did you get those socks! I’ve got to get a pair for my wife!” He got me 3 pairs for Christmas that year, and I think Aunt Marcia was a little horrified as I opened them up. But I love the Bitch Socks. If you’ve got the word “Bitch” sewn onto your socks, everybody knows you are one tough cookie and they should not mess with you. And don’t forget it. That’s Ms Bitch until Dr.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Friends Do

Every time I hear the story of how What Friends Do came about, I cry.

Here's a really great interview with Aimee and her mother, explaining the whole thing.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The irises don't know its still winter

My grandma has said that if it rains on Easter Sunday, it will rain for 7 Sundays thereafter. Well yesterday was Easter, and at one point I looked out the window and saw snow flurries. Yes, it snowed on Easter Sunday. I do not know what this means exactly, but I am dreading the next 7 Sundays.

Last week was spring break, but it certainly didn’t feel like spring. This winter has been the longest winter I can remember. I’ve been cold since October. At first it was kind of a novelty, to feel cold again after a year of living practically on the equator. I remained cheerful until about January, but here we are at the end of March and I am well past the point of what I can endure. It feels like ice is running through my veins and I wonder if I will ever thaw.

My grandma wrote me a letter last week and asked if the iris bulbs I planted last fall were coming up yet. The thing is, they are. There are little bulbs sprouting all over the neighborhood, and I look at them with consternation, worrying that the poor things will freeze before spring ever arrives. Didn’t anybody tell the irises its still winter?

I am wondering if anybody knows any old farmer’s tales of what the signs of a long winter are. I’ve read that when spiders spin larger than normal webs or when wooly worms have a certain coloration pattern, these are indicators that a long winter is ahead. But Urbana spiders seem puny to me after a year in the jungle, and I don’t remember what the wooly worms looked like last fall. If anyone else knows what any of the signs of an impending long winter are (grandma probably knows a few), please send them my way. I’d like to be prepared for the next one.

There’s still a chance for me to get a good night’s sleep, so I’m going to try my best to get some rest. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

#8... or #9...!?

I just happened to come across this. My lifelong dream is coming true on April 25, 2009! There’s going to be a marathon right here in C-U!!!! Another reason to either put everything in my life on hold or somehow speed it up to get it over with before then. April 25, 2009 is going to be far from ideal, but I’m going to have to do everything possible to be able to run this marathon!! I am already so excited that I can barely breathe. I think I need to make myself some chamomile tea or this will be another sleepless night.

Cloth Mother

Rob and I had two St. Patrick’s Day parties to go to last night. The first one we went to was at Professor Pablo’s house. I have a long history with Pablo, including sharing a room with him and his daughter for a month the very first time I was in Nicaragua. Before Pablo, I was decidedly disinterested in primates. My first year in grad school, I had to take a course with him on primate cognition and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Much to my surprise, I liked it and kept going.

Throughout grad school, I’ve had my ups and downs. Mainly, a lot of downs at the beginning, and also during the year that I was writing proposals and preparing for pre-lims. If such a thing exists, I think I actually had a nervous breakdown in November of that year. I had thought nothing would ever be more difficult than Dunlap Love, but this thing came really close. There was this never-ending drama involving the toughness tester, my project in general, the seemingly impossible task of getting the proper research permits for Nicaragua, etc. More than a few times, I ended up in Pablo’s office, sobbing and practically catatonic. The thing is, Pablo is not my real thesis advisor. For parts of my grad school career, it has been him for all practical purposes, even though on paper its SL.

Just as Rob and I got ready to leave Pablo’s last night, Pablo pranced over to say goodbye—cocktail in hand—and referred to himself as my “cloth mother.”

This was so hilarious that I just about fell over laughing. What Pablo was referring to was a truly horrific study conducted by psychologist Harry Harlow in the 1950’s. Harlow et al took newborn rhesus macaques away from their mothers to see what would happen. As one might imagine, the results were not pretty. They continued the study by creating “wire mothers” and “cloth mothers.” The wire mothers were these roughly monkey shaped things that were featureless and made out of wire, whereas the cloth mothers were monkey-shaped things that had faces and bodies covered with a soft, warm cloth. Results demonstrated that even when the wire mothers were equipped with bottles of milk and the cloth mothers had none, the baby macaques preferred the soft cloth mothers. Especially when subjected to fear, stress, or unfamiliar situations, the poor dears clung to their cloth mothers for comfort.

Just imagining myself as a scared little rhesus macaque and Pablo as my cloth mother made me laugh so hard that tears were coming out of my eyes. I laughed all the way to the next party. I think Rob, who was not familiar with the Harlow study, was a bit disturbed. “Cloth mother!” I would roar, doubling over and dabbing the tears from my eyes. In retrospect, its still funny, but nowhere near as funny as I found it last night. Maybe that green cocktail Pablo fixed me was a little stronger than I had thought!

In other news, I have decided that for various reasons, it is absolutely essential for me to run another marathon this spring. I’ve selected Madison (Mad-City Marathon) in the hopes that I will get to visit my little nephew on the way up there (will have to check with my sister to see if they will be around that weekend).

In order to commemorate my newfound determination to run marathon #7, I flew through a 16 mile training run in the rain on Saturday. I felt no pain and even took 2 calls on my cell phone while I was running. Tonight I managed an 8-miler in the rain with some people from the running club. Again, the miles just flew by. Hopefully I can stay on this roll.

Got to go, we’re in the middle of a laundry debacle here. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Almost Spring

There are a few things to say.

Its almost spring. This past Saturday it was 13 degrees and I think I came within an inch of frostbite when I ventured outside, but we’ve had a change of weather since then. Its warmed up and although there are still a few dwindling piles of blackish snow out there, birds are chirping. I think this is a good sign. This means the birds are back and warmer days are ahead.

Today was Frida’s birthday. I was all proud of myself, thinking I was some kind of tough cookie because I rode my bike to downtown Champaign for Frida’s birthday dinner at a fancy restaurant. We had a really nice time: good wine, good conversation, good friends, good mango/rum cheesecake for dessert. And I made it there and back on trusty Iris 2 just fine.

When I got home I checked my email and had a message from Leda. She told me that she was in Managua with Esther because Esther was having a baby! What a surprise that was to hear; I’ve read the message about a hundred times to see if I really understood what she was saying. Actually, when we left last August, I had a pretty strong feeling that Esther was pregnant. But I wasn’t going to say anything. It just feels so weird. Like I’m pacing outside the waiting room or something, waiting for the baby to be born. Only I’m 2,000 miles away. I hope everything is going okay in Managua. And I hope the father of that baby is there for her.

Anyway, that’s it. I’ve got to go, the Golden Girls are on. Thanks for reading.