Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Credit card "challenge" update

Back in May, I wrote about a column by Michelle Singletary which quoted statistics regarding credit card usage studies. It indicated that even people who paid off their credit card balances each month spent more on purchases than if they paid cash. I have spent the past two months trying to pay cash for purchases. Here are my observations. First – I’m not used to carrying more than $20 cash!! I found I was extremely nervous being out in public with the amount of cash I needed for weekly purchases (primarily groceries and gasoline). Second, it’s terribly inconvenient for me to get to a bank to withdraw the cash I need (my paychecks are set up for direct-deposit, so no need to go for that anymore!) Third, since I have one of the credit cards where I earn a percentage back with every purchase, I would fork over the cash and mentally calculate how much money I *could* have been accruing. Fourth, since I hate, hate, hate shopping (did I mention I hate it?) budgeting a certain amount of cash is difficult because I tend to save all my shopping and do it in bunches (usually rainy days when I can’t be on the bike!) This means I need oodles of cash on one day and nothing for stretches in between. With all that said, however, I can definitely say that I have enjoyed not having to pay a credit card bill every month. I plan on continuing this experiment for several more months, to see how purchases average out. So far, my cash vs. credit expenses look to be very equal, but it will be interesting to see if there will be a difference long-term. To be continued!

Friday, July 25, 2008

It all works out

I almost didn’t ride my bike into work today as it was cold, damp and dark when I was starting out. However, the afternoon forecast called for 80 degree temperatures and lots of sunshine. I figured I’d regret it this afternoon if I didn’t ride in the morning. So I wore an extra layer and off I went. These days I’m back to starting out with the headlight on as it’s still quite dark when I’m setting off. I was rewarded by one of the most beautiful sunrises of the summer. And of course, my afternoon ride had perfect weather as well. Was it ever worth it!
On a separate, sobering note - I was saddened to see today that Randy Pausch lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. If you haven't listened to his "Last Lecture," here's the link. God called an amazing person to heaven today. RIP, Randy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Birth Verse

Amidst all my doubts about committing to the training necessary for the Ironman, a message of faith and hope crosses my path. One of my co-workers mentioned a web site called Birthverse. Here's the blurb from their home page...

BIRTHVERSE consists of 366 verses chosen from the 66 books of the Bible. Each verse correlates the chapter and verse with its month and day. Your birth was appointed by God and has been recorded as your birthday. Our team spent countless hours searching the Bible for the perfect verse for each day of the year. Claim your verse, study it, memorize it and share it with others. But most of all, allow God to reveal Himself to you through your BIRTHVERSE.

Here's my verse -
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:23 NIV

Lots for me to think about in the next few months.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ironman Lake Placid

This past weekend was spent in Lake Placid, NY. We were scoping out the Ironman scene. Swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles. Talk about a run of emotions for me. During the drive up, I was all gung-ho about sticking with my long-range goal of competing in 2010. At the start of the swim, I was feeling melancholy about whether I really wanted to commit to the hours upon hours of training necessary for me to complete it successfully. While watching the bicyclists come through town after the bike course, I was convinced that yes; this is something I want to shoot for. Then, after four hours of volunteering, we went to the run course where some of the last competitors were still out running. It was 10:00 PM by this time, they had started at 7 AM and they still had about six miles to run to the finish. That was a reality check. That lonely solitude which I must be prepared to endure if this is to become a serious goal. I’m still thinking. I have time to decide. If I can make it through this winter with some serious training under my belt, I will volunteer again in 2009 and register for 2010.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ooh, ooh that smell

Ooh, ooh that smell
Can't you smell that smell? Lynyrd Skynyrd, "That Smell"

My day at the "Mini-Mussel" Triathlon; Seneca Lake State Park, Geneva, NY

Let me start by saying that the Musselman has a lot going for it. It has super organization, great volunteers, and good courses. But that smell! I am not one who is usually bothered by natural odors. I actually like the smell of skunk. I can pick up all sorts of animal waste and not think twice about it. I can ride by a farm where liquid manure has been spread and almost enjoy the odor. It just doesn't bother me (man-made perfume, though - that's a different story!) I had been warned that the smell at this triathlon was pretty objectionable, but I just didn't think it would be that bad. Was I ever wrong. It hit me when I first got out of the car at the park and it didn't go away (of course, we got away from it when we were on the bike course and you didn't notice it when swimming, but still!) There was lots of time spent setting up and waiting so it did get a little tiresome. But enough of the bad and on with the good!

My good friend Janet (who is mostly responsible for getting me into triathlons), had participated at this venue previously. She decided not to race this year, instead volunteering to help with the running of the race. We were able to carpool together, which made the drive so much more enjoyable for me, considering we left well before daybreak. We drove through substantial fog, but as the morning progressed, the fog started lifting. At one point, as we crested a hill overlooking a valley, I thought the fog below took on the appearance of a lake. Janet (being of Swedish descent) thought it looked like snow. Of course, my camera was stashed in a bag in the trunk, so I wasn't able to snap a photo. I doubt that the effect would have been the same, at least that’s what I’m telling myself to make me feel better!

Janet and I stayed together through registration which was held off site and which went very smoothly. Upon arriving at the park, she departed to fulfill her volunteer duties and I got my gear set up in transition in record time. Once set up, I made my way to the body marking, where Janet was ready with the permanent marker. We were numbered in five places! Janet included some smiley faces along with the numbers and they drew a couple of comments from fellow athletes. It's always good for morale!

I had lots and lots of time to debate with myself whether I wanted to wear my wet suit or not. The lake temperature was reported to be 72 degrees, so I didn't really need it for warmth. It does help with flotation, though, and since I'm not a good swimmer (in fact, I'm a terrible swimmer,) I ultimately decided to wear it. I managed to get a good warm up swim just before the start, something that I need to do to get into the rhythm of breathing and calm my butterflies. Seneca Lake is the second longest of the Finger Lakes (38 miles) but greatest in volume. It is 618 feet deep at its deepest point and has a mean depth of 291 feet. It rarely freezes in the winter. It has waves! Bigger waves than I have ever swum in before. I realized the wet suit was helping me to roll with the waves. I mentally congratulated myself for making a good decision for once.

There was a short pre-race meeting, and then it was time for the first of five waves of swimmers. My wave was the third to start. Once again, I saw Janet as she was helping give a hand to the athletes as we were stepping off the dock into the water. It was good to see her smiling face and her calm demeanor further quelled the uneasiness in my stomach. We quickly waded to deeper water, waited just a couple of minutes and then we were off. Within minutes I had gotten swiped in the face by a wave just as I was breathing in. Uh oh. It was similar to the feeling you have when you get the wind knocked out of you. But I was in the water. I wanted to yell for help from the kayakers, but I couldn’t get any words out of my mouth. I also couldn’t raise my hand, because I was busy treading water to stay afloat. Thankfully, my wet suit helped keep me buoyant enough that I was able to cough and sputter and finally get my breath. The entire episode seemed like an eternity, but probably was 1-2 minutes at most. I was able to get back into the rhythm of swimming and managed to make it out of the water in pretty decent shape. As I was running toward the transition area, I heard Janet running beside me, shouting encouragement and reminding me to remember to drink on the bike leg.

My transition to the bike was uneventful but the first couple of miles of the bike leg were very crowded. The first several miles of the bike course are a gradual climb and we had a pretty stiff headwind to boot. It took a lot of mental effort to keep fighting into the wind, but I hoped the tailwind at the far end of the course would make up for it (it did.) About half-way into the course, we turned west and after another mile or two, crested a hill with a beautiful view overlooking the lake. I felt so completely happy and lucky that I am able to participate in something which brings me tremendous joy. It was about this time that I passed three women standing on the side of the course cheering wildly. They each had on grass skirts and I wondered for a minute if our own VeloBella LiLynn was there. I gave them a good “woo-hooo” as I went by and felt completely stoked!

It seemed I had a pretty clumsy dismount from the bike, probably should practice that a little more. I did hear Janet in the background, again shouting encouragement, but this time I didn’t see her. My transition into running gear went very smoothly and before I knew it I was out on the run course. It was in full sunshine and hot! Did I say hot? I love the heat, but it was hot even by my standards. I had trouble keeping my breathing deep and even. I settled into a pace I figured I could maintain to the end. Lo and behold, I started to feel better and was able to pick up the pace a little for the last mile.

The finish area was lined with spectators for quite a while, which really helped make the last few yards painless. Next thing I knew, I was handed a cowbell with a special mini-mussel finisher paint scheme and a bottle of water, which I desperately needed (even though I had remembered to drink on the bike leg!) Janet and I reconnected and after a short rest, we headed out onto the bike course for a little cool-down lap. We returned with plenty of time to get to the start of the men’s elite race. My biggest disappointment of the day came when I discovered that the battery in my camera was dead. No photos. Oh well, there’s always next year. It was pretty neat to hear the athletes’ accomplishments introduced over the PA as they made their way down the dock into the water. When the start gun went off, my overwhelming impression was astonishment at how fast they swam! As they neared the completion of their swim, we walked to their transition area so we could watch them. Since none of them wore wet suits, and their bike shoes are already clipped into their pedals, all they had to do was throw down their goggles and swim caps, put on their bike helmet and run to the bike mount line. Our original intention was to watch the start of the women’s race and the end of the men’s race, but by this time both Janet and I were feeling pretty tired and we still had to drive home. We made our way back to the car, loaded up our gear and we were on our way.

Did I mention that it was hot? We stopped a few miles down the road at a donut shop where Janet got an iced coffee and I decided on a strawberry-banana smoothie. I had never had a smoothie from this particular chain before. It was awful! I don’t have the most discerning taste buds, but this was on the verge of being un-drinkable. What a disappointment. All-in-all, I was pretty happy with the results - 8th in my age group. There's still plenty of room for improvement, but hey, that's all the more incentive to get out and train!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Busy, busy

Just a short post today...I've really been busy exercising - even did another 10-mile run a week ago on July 4th. It was right here in my town, so I figured I couldn't pass it up. I was really happy with my overall time and the fact that I was able to maintain an even, steady pace. My splits at each mile only differed by 30 seconds. This spurs my hope that I might be able to tackle a marathon someday (but I will need a lot more steady training!) In addition to the running race, the weather here has been beautiful and dry most of the week, enabling me to bike to work four times.

Tomorrow I will compete in my second triathlon of the season, my fifth ever. I haven't competed at this particular venue before, so I have no expectations about my performance. The neat part about this venue is that they run four separate races throughout the weekend, including an Olympic qualifying race for professional triathletes. The start times are staggered so that the amateur athletes will be able to watch the professionals. Talk about inspiration! I can't wait. Hopefully I will be able to get a report written on Sunday and possibly even snap a few photos!