Monday, August 31, 2015

Trolls, Witches, and Ancient Ice

Warning: this is not a race report. It's not even about triathlon. But it's short, and has pretty pictures.

What to do after competing in the ITU Long Distance World Championships in Sweden? Bid adieu to my bike and Elliott (who had to return to work) and travel with my parents to the land of fjords, mountains, and $12 Big Macs, of course! Prior to this trip, I had been to Sweden a few times already--first while an exchange student to Finland, and again to visit a Swedish friend I met in Switzerland (yes, those are two different countries). But Norway was new ground. (Fun side note: I had first attempted to visit Norway in 2000 but fell asleep on the train from Stockholm, missed the connection, and woke up in Göteborg. Oops.)

Making friends with the locals.

First stop: Oslo, where we explored the city on the Osloian (Osloeese?) version of Capital Bikeshare, City Bikes. I also got to catch up with my AFS exchange student mentee, who is now a producer for a Norwegian reality TV show; I supplied her with some potential plotlines, so if you ever catch an episode that involves Norwegian D-list celebrities pre-gaming with Jon and/or Kate + 8, you're welcome.

Shall we start drafting our Emmy acceptance speech?

From there, we headed north and west for what seemed like forever (European countries are small, right?) but was really just a blip on the map. Destination: Solvorn, on the Lustrafjorden. Haven't heard of it? Neither have a lot of Norwegians, but it's a beautiful, peaceful, not heavily touristed place.

Definitely not in DC any more. 

It was also a great jumping off point for a kayak-hike-trek day trip to the Nigardsbreen glacier, described as "appropriate for ages 10 and up." When the guide started handing out ice axes and created a rope line (in case someone fell into a crevasse), I realized this was a bit more hard core than anticipated. Major props to my 60-something parents for being up to the challenge! (Though my mom will be quick to point out she was also misled by the "fun for all ages" description.)


Small town Norway has some advantages: quiet forests, amazing views, friendly locals, and few tourists. It does, however, require some attention to detail. To wit, the only restaurant in Solvorn is open until 9:00...but stops taking orders at 8:00. And the ferry across the fjord to the Stave church at Ornes starts at 7:00...but the church doesn't accept visitors until 10:00.

Worth the wait.

For the drive to Bergen, we could either take the longest tunnel in the world or the much longer-only open in summer-don't look down route. We opted for the latter, which still had snow banks as high as the car. In June.

And this is when my mom pelted me with a snowball. 

It also had the weirdest rest station attraction I have ever seen. Plus side: now I can say I saw a bear in Norway.

It was in a cave. Since I guess that makes sense.

Eventually, we left the mountains and entered the bustling metropolis of Bergen. It was strange to see other tourists again. Plus, lots of cod. You see, back in the day, Bergen was a German trade town and cod was king. (Seriously.)

Its fish-focused history lives on as aprons and tablecloths.

While many people approach Bergen from the sea, we decided to take the funicular up the hill to get an bird's eye view. Two key takeaways: 1) Bergen is known for being cloudy and rainy, which is not ideal for said bird's eye view. 2) Birds are not the only creatures flying around the city.

If you insist.
All in all, a fun adventure!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

In the Land of IKEA

Continuing my trend of "retro" blog postings (8+ weeks behind), here's what went down in Motala-town...


Elliott, my parents, and I arrived in Stockholm a few days early and stayed in an apartment my parents had arranged via house swap. Not only was this place free, we got to pretend to be yuppie Swedes in the Södermalm district, riding bikes everywhere, shopping at corner grocery stores, and drinking the local beer. (Full disclosure: we got lost pretty much every bike trip, and it took me two weeks to realize that the beer sold in grocery stores has low ABV and one must go to the "systembolaget" for the real stuff.) 

Here's looking at you, Stockholm!

They always say that you learn as much about yourself as the destination when you travel. I learned that I dislike museums. Especially when the entire museum is about a ship. That sank. Within 15 minutes of departing the harbor. I did learn, however, that I like free wifi, so I was able to entertain myself.

Back at the ship museum.
Making friends with the locals.

After a few days, Elliott and I met up with the Team USA group for a city tour and bus ride to Motala. Much to my joy, the city tour included *another* tour of the ship museum, so I kept myself busy doing other things.   Normally I avoid traveling with a group, but the Team USA package was pretty useful. They reserved several floors of a hotel on the main town square of Motala, just a five minute talk to the transition area. The USA Triathlon team also included a mechanic, doctor, masseuse, coach, and a few other people who helped handle logistics. Each of them was so incredibly helpful as all of the fun pre-race mini-crises unfolded: my bike didn't want to be rebuilt, my foot had a gnarly blister, the long plane ride had done a number on my back, and let's not forget the daily drama of whether the swim would be canceled due to the cold. Cue the ominous music. 

They must have known I'd be pushing the WATTS.

But first: a little background. Why was I in Sweden? What makes this race so special? And why on earth was it in Motala? As I've mentioned before on this blog, I won my age group at the long distance national championships in 2014, earning me a spot on Team USA in 2015. Unlike the Ironman world championships, people at this race compete as part of their national team. Therefore, rather than wearing my usual LUNA Chix kit, I had a Team USA onesie with TOBIN on the stomach and butt and my awesome sponsors, LUNA bars and Rose Physical Therapy, displayed on the front. As for why it was held in Motala, here's a fun bit of trivia for you: Motala is host to the world's largest bike ride each year, with over 23,000 participants. It also has a (very cold) lake and scenic paths for running. 

Thankfully, Sweden is not known as an earthquake hotspot.

Let the games begin!    

First off: All the athletes got to walk through the town square as a parade of nations, including flag bearers, cheering crowds, and an opening ceremony. It was an incredible experience, and felt like an "It Gets Better" ad to my 15 year old self, churning out the laps in the pool. 

I'm in a parade!

Race day was unusual. First of all, it wasn't pouring, for a change. Also, the race didn't start until 9, so I actually had a leisurely start to the morning. So strange. The official word was that the water was very, very cold--too cold for the planned 4000 meter swim--but warm enough to have us hop in the lake for 1500m before climbing onto our bikes for 120 km (approximately 74 miles). The swim is my strongest leg of the race, so I was bummed to miss the extra distance...until I waded into the water and lost track of my toes. Well then. The rest of the swim was pretty rough and aggressive, but I remembered all the times I shared a pool with the Aqua Zumba class and felt right at home (minus the Rhianna music). I exited the water, plodded on frozen feet through transition, hopped on my bike, and saw...

Stars, stripes, and a smile!

Yes, those cheering folks are my mom and Elliott, but they weren't the surprise. Sneaky sherpas, they had arranged for not one, not two, but THREE banners to greet me, one at each loop of the course. It was such a thrill, and the #sponsorlove gave me an extra boost up the hill. (Pics of the other two banners are at the bottom of this post.) The bike leg was 120 KM, nearly 75 miles. It was scenic, well marked, well paved, and well winded (how's that for spin?). Let's just say I was very glad to be done with that ride, especially after dropping a chain on the second loop. (Fun fact: LUNA bars still taste good when one's fingers are covered in bike lube. Mmm bike lube!)

The run comprised 3 x 10 KM loops, about half of which was on wooded trails. The scenery was beautiful, the aid stations frequent, the weather perfect...I think I would have absolutely loved the run if I weren't already so tired. At this point, I also started having some GI issues and faced a trade off: slow down, keep the gut happy, and finish, or run at the planned pace and risk exposing some bodily fluids and DNFing. I decided that I had already come so far, both traveling to the race and nearly 80 miles that day, so I played it safe. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Finally, the finish line. I looked behind me (coast = clear), grabbed an American flag from my mom and another flag from the Team USA coach, and ran through the finish chute, a huge grin on my face...until two other women in my age group sprinted past me. Sigh.  

So happy to be almost done!

Still, it was a good experience overall. 17th in the world in my age group isn't what I was hoping to do that day, but better than the 101st I placed at Ironman 70.3 worlds last year. I certainly wouldn't have been able to participate at all if it weren't from the support of Elliott, my family, friends, and fantastic sponsors, LUNA bars and Rose Physical Therapy. Onward!

And now, a few more gratuitous photos:

Total lie, but appreciated.

Rose Physical Therapy brings DC spirit to Sweden!

One of my competitors. I think he's still out there...
"Sir Taste-a-Lot"--alas, not really.

Picture 120 KM of more or less this view. There are worse ways to spend a day.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Challenge Poconos Race Report

Guess what guess what guess what: I got to wash my hair today. What does that have to do with Challenge Poconos? More than you'd think. The reason why I was so excited to wash my hair today is because it's the first time I've been able to do so in over two weeks. Because I had, according to the Ear-Nose-Throat doctor, "not the worst ear infection I've ever seen, but close." And that's why this race report is so short (and timely, for a change).

Ear protection for the shower

In case you're planning on also coming down with a nasty case of swimmer's ear (or, even better, wish to avoid it), here's how it went down: combine a lot of swimming with ignoring early symptoms due to being out of town for work, add a dash of pre-existing waxy ears and small ear canals, and then visit urgent care, where the doctor doesn't have the proper equipment to diagnose you and actually makes things worse by trying to flush chemicals into your ear. Let's just say that prescription-strength pain relievers are a wonderful thing. 

So what about Poconos? The awesome folks at Challenge USA let me defer to next year, so I hope to write a real race report in 2016. I also delayed the end of my tri season, adding Giant Acorn in September and USAT Aquathlon Nationals in October. Good thing I'll be cleared to swim again later this week!

As always, thanks to Rose Physical Therapy for making the *rest* of me feel good, and to LUNA bars for keeping me nourished even when chewing is difficult.