Tuesday, September 1, 2015

London Work Trip Recap

The short answer for this blog post is, I worked a lot and slept even less, but it was a wonderfully productive endeavor. The long version is, I had to get an expedited passport last month so I could travel to my employer's UK office to screen and hire a social media apprentice, as well as train our partners for social media marketing. It was a great whirlwind trip that didn't leave a ton of time for sightseeing, but I made the most of what I could.

First, the Heathrow Express is amazing. For $33, you're in the heart of London in 16 minutes, directly from your terminal. You can buy tickets through their mobile app or at kiosks in the airport. It's perfect.

I walked all over London, mostly by accident. I stayed in Tower Hill, which is a lovely neighborhood one mile from my office. I spent at least an hour every day lost because my phone did not have mobile data while abroad. It was only on my very last night in London I took a Jack the Ripper walking tour and realized I spent the balance of the week traversing the locales haunted by England's most infamous unsolved serial killer. Lovely.

I did manage to get fish and chips at Poppies, which my coworkers assured me was THE BEST place to get it. I got the cod version and it was awesome. The fries were kind of meh, I like my crispier, but the fish was to die for. It was so crispy and crunchy and the tartar sauce was spot on. I ate it all.

I also spent a glorious afternoon at Spitalfields Market, which was an awesome craft fair and flea market where I bought quite a bit of artisan items. Think posters and photos and cotton dresses and cut paper cards. It was awesome.

Of course, I bought a Starbucks mug, because that's what I do. I like the skyline mugs, but the variety at this Starbucks was overwhelming.

I also had way too much fun at the airport duty free shop. The Heathrow airport is one of the nicest places I've ever been. It was spotless, it had showers and sleeping facilities and so much shopping I didn't even mind killing an hour there.

In all, it was a very busy trip that lacked a lot of sightseeing, but a work day in London is still better than a work day in suburban Chicago, because check out this view from my hotel:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Inside a London Grocery Store

I'm enjoying working in London this week, even if it means I spend an hour out of every day lost. At least it takes me to cool places. I popped into a grocery store today on one of my clandestine journeys and thought I'd share a few things that are different in a British grocery store. First, eggs are not refrigerated. You'll find them next to the bread.

Cocktails, however, are available premixed and canned for your convenience.

I don't know what these Reese's donuts are, but I'm sure I would approve.

Also, healthy foods are inexpensive and pre-packaged. There were salads, sandwiches, snack packs and all manner of protein-rich snacks ready to go, for $1-$5 a piece.

I had to buy these - you can't get them stateside because American children keep eating the prize inside. It's like Easter every day because each treat has a toy inside.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Oh the Places I Go

It's been a crazy, lovely weekend. If you follow me on Instagram, you already know I've been all over the place in the past few days. I enjoyed a relaxing #PureMichigan roadtrip:

Complete with open-water swimming

And Napoleon's first boat trip. He was very brave. Except in a doggie lifejacket. We don't need to talk about that.

Then I busted out my brand-new passport for a work-related adventure. I got an exit row for the long flight.

And arrived in London this morning.

Keep following me for photos of this amazing adventure!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Five Friday Things

It's been an incredibly crazy and stressful week, and I've got another one right around the corner. So I bring you a few things that have made me smile this week.

1. Sunflower guy: Did you read about the guy who planted miles of sunflowers in memory of his late wife? This one made me misty. It's a beautify story about how everyone grieves differently.

2. My garden is doing exceptionally well. I had tomato salad with dinner last night to try and use some up. My only regret is that I planted roma tomatoes. They're not that good. Next year, double the cherry tomatoes and zero of the romas, please.

3. I had a great time going to the Tigers v. Cubs game Wednesday, even though it was unexpectedly cold. Great seats, great company, great game. Who could ask for more?

4. Josh Duggar: Not only has the guy been disgraced for molesting his sisters, it now turns out he had an account on the infamous Ashley Madison website, and some claim to have found his OK Cupid profile, too. The speed at which he released a statement admitting to his hypocrisy makes me wonder what else he's hiding, and how I can fund the campaign to free his wife. Also, the data from the Ashley Madison hack is fascinating stuff.

5. I'm going on a very cool adventure next week to a far away land. Follow me on Instagram to see where!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Training Tuesday: What's next?

Not another triathlon. Not for a long time. I'm traumatized over Sunday's Pigman Long Distance Triathlon. It was terrible. I packed up my wetsuit and hung my bike in the garage.

I want nothing to do with these things in the coming weeks. I have decided I want to tackle the USAT National Championship in Sprint Triathlon. I don't want a life of "what ifs."

But in order to do this, I need to buckle down. I need to take off the weight I gained through my divorce and build back my speed. I need to get stronger, mentally and physically. I need to focus on eating clean and lifting heavy things.

So I'm going back to CrossFit. I have a work trip next week and will go back to WODs and weights and box jumps after that. I've frozen my gym membership and rearranged my schedule so I can dedicate three months to building myself up before a nine months of sprints and speed workouts and long runs.  I would like to continue to do the Circular Logic Marathon forever, perhaps adding another spring marathon, then train for Nationals and Ironman Wisconsin.

Basically, being a badass is what's next.

Monday, August 17, 2015

2015 Pigman Long Course Triathlon Race Recap

Six-word recap: This course and race are terrible.

Ugh, this race. I don't even know where to start. I am struggling to find nice things to say about it. I signed up for the Pigman Long Course triathlon because where else could I do a half-Ironman triathlon for $87? I've done cheap races before. In fact, Circular Logic is my favorite marathon, and at $45, it's one of the cheapest events I participate in. And it's a million times better than Pigman, for reasons that will become evident.

I feel bad. I understand this race was totally different this year because they changed the course to be more spectator friendly. And indeed, if I had a support team traveling to see me, this would have been ideal. They had a VIP viewing area for $19 that would have been worth it for spectators.

But for athletes, this course was miserable. Let me paint a picture for you: It's an incredibly complicated swim course with five turns, followed by four loops on a bike that included crossing rough train tracks eight times, closing out with a four-loop run through a campground. In 91-degree heat. With a total of three aid stations. One on the bike, two on the run. Oh, and they ran out of ice on the first loop of the run.

At least the race packet was loaded
This was the first race I considered quitting multiple times. Backing up, I picked up my packet Saturday afternoon at the race hotel, which is where we stayed the night before race day. That process was a nonissue, but we all knew it was a new course and tried to study the maps, just to get more confused. We rolled out to the state park Sunday morning and parked right next to transition without issue. It was already hot and steam was rising from the Iowa farmlands.

The alarm bells started going off as soon as I hit transition. The racks were rickety and not numbered, leaving athletes to DIY. There wasn't any water anywhere at the start, and it was already well above 80 degrees. I went back to the truck to fill my bottles and hoped my bike didn't topple over. My group went down to the beach by 7:15 a.m. and I started to full on panic. The water was HOT and the "meeting" failed to actually explain the course. From what I surmised, we would be swimming out and making two left turns, keeping the buoys on our right. The microphone kept cutting out, and it was so poorly explained that 1/3 of the elites got it wrong on the way out. I did enjoy the time trial swim start, and the water was as smooth as glass. I knew the swim was going to be a challenge by two things: the lack of buoys and the color of the men's swim cap. Who sends a bunch of swimmers out to open water in a black swim cap sans and marking at all?

Can you see this? Neither could the lifeguards
So I took to the water and swam like an idiot. I felt like I was doing well, but there weren't enough buoys to sight from, especially between the last turn and the turn around flag. I ran into swimmers going the opposite way more than once, and added an extra 1/10 of a mile to my swim in the process. The lifeguard situation was lacking, at that the race was very lucky the water was calm or else the scant staff they had in the water would have been insufficient to quell any legitimate safety concerns.

The swim course - what would you even call this shape?

I got out of the lake and found zero water to rehydrate, so I just got on my bike and hoped to suck down an entire gatorade immediately. There was no mount line, just get on whenever. The pavement for the bike was incredibly smooth, but the course was not. It was hilly and shade less. It was also not a closed course, despite what the website advertised, and I saw a handful of cars driving like their wives were in labor.

There was one aid station, which you reached at the end of the loop (so about every 13 miles). That was the only place to drop bottles without a penalty - I ended up having a spectator take one of my bottles. It was virtually impossible to NOT litter as there weren't trashcans on the beach and very few on the run and bike, too. The aid stations only had water or AdvoCare, which was straight garbage. It was strawberry flavored and had nothing in the form of electrolytes or salt. After I ran out of my own-gatorade, I switched to water and relied upon the SaltStick I brought to get me through. Yet another safety concern in the heat, for sure. There was one toilet on the bike course.

I felt great coming off the bike, despite the sweltering heat, but that changed quickly. I grabbed my handheld in transition and the water I filled it with might as well have been boiling. There was no sunscreen to be found anywhere and it was full sun. In the first two miles of the run, I lost it. My water was hot, I didn't get enough ice at the first aid station and I realized the run was another set of infuriating loops. In fact, there were four 3.3-mile loops ... and I didn't realize
there was a fourth loop until I set out onto my third (and what I thought was final) loop because the signage was unclear, at which point I got murderously angry.

You see, there were two aid stations. Both ran out of ice. On the first loop. It nearly 100-degree "real feel" weather. And I've had a resurgence of plantar facitiis in both feet.
An aid station at the orange star would have been amazing

I feel bad for the volunteers. In addition to toiling in ridiculous heat, it was clear they were not adequately prepared and trained for this. It seems easy, handing out water to athletes. Except there wasn't enough supplies or manpower, to the point that Alyssa's husband ended up in charge of the second aid station.

The run course left transition and went to the right to a turn around, then back down and to the left through a campground. We had lungs full of campground smoke and the campers couldn't leave, but were surprisingly cool about it. One campsite set up their kids with super soakers and offered coolers of ice, which meant they were better prepared than the race was to deal with the heat. If I hadn't taken my handheld, I would have been in a world of pain. The spacing of the aid stations meant that for quite a long stretch, there was nothing. I was empty by the time I got to each. If they had added one more at the turn around loop in the camp station, it would have made a big difference. There were toilets in transition, at the second aid station and one in the campground, plus two of the campground toilets, so I did wait for a port-o-potty at one point.

I caught up to Alyssa in the last loop of the run and we agreed on the spot we are never doing this again. Like I don't even want to think about doing a triathlon again after this.

We crossed the finish line at the same time, I got into the lake to cool off and hit the food tent hard. They had all-you-can-eat spaghetti, pizza, cookies, watermelon, bananas, pretzels, granola bars, beer and soda. It was easily the best thing about the race. I chowed down, then took an ice-cold open air shower and changed behind the bathrooms building because alas, the bathrooms at the park were locked.

I wanted this race to be awesome. I wanted a sub-six finished. I trained all summer for this moment. But the day and the course did not cooperate. I get the race was trying for a new concept in racing, but it could have been executed so much better. When you try something novel, you have to do it top-notch or else you won't get the support you need to keep doing it. Double the aid stations and you'd have a totally different day. Increase the lifeguards and the number of buoys on the swim. Add misters or sprinklers and more kids with water guns. Unlock the bathrooms at the post-race party. And for all things holy, do not use dark-colored swim caps in murky water.

Time: 6:22:10 for a half ironman (6th in my age group)
Cost: $87
Pros: Wave swim start, smooth pavement for the bike
Cons: Literally everything else, just read above
Would I do this race again? No, nope, never.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Three Things Thursday

1. National Smores Day was Monday, did you celebrate? I sure did. I love burn-y tasting things, so of course mine was extra crisp. Any excuse to light food on fire and then consume it, naturally.


2. When I went out to Verona last month to bike the Ironman Wisconsin course, I got this shirt at Rocket Bike Studio for $10. I love it because the front has the elevation profile of the course. If you've ever done the loop, you know it's basically a roller coaster at some points. I've clocked 35+ miles per hour on the downhills at times. On Saturday's two-loop ride, my max was 37.8 MPH. Not at all terrifying ...

3. Google photos is replacing Picasa, and so far, I really like the changes. It makes photos easier to find by date, subject, venue and person. The facial recognition is a little screwy - it doesn't recognize that me dressed up is the same person as me running. But it does make it easy to delete entire people and subjects from your photographic history. Another quirk of the new recognition software is that I have a whole folder of cats. I own zero cats. Apparently, Google knows Napoleon has cat-like tendencies, such as hiding under furniture and napping in the sun. Google knows all.

Here kitty, kitty ....