Blogs tagged with "Cleveland"

No, this blog is not about my 2014 racing season. It's about finding inspiration for my art while [attempting] running. The other day, I dug out my trail shoes and went for a run after a soaking rain. The trail was lonely, but I was moved by all the footprints and bike tire prints in the mud, despite the bleak landscape created by winter rain in Cleveland. I tried to capture it in my latest print, titled "Scenes from the Towpath: Signs of Life" (this one is much bigger than all my others - it's 8 in x10 in, and it's the largest I've ever printed with my tiny etching press). It took about three evenings of work to produce - using an acrylic plate and only my drypoint needle:

No, this blog is not about my 2014 racing season. It's about finding inspiration for my art while [attempting] running. The other day, I dug out my trail shoes and went for a run after a soaking rain.

Looking upstream - several identical suspension bridges
cross the he Allegheny River to connect Pittsburgh's
downtown with the riverfront park and stadiums

As a resident of Cleveland, I always hesitate when I consider writing (or talking) about Pittsburgh. I hesitate because my Cleveland friends don't appreciate my ravings about Pittsburgh. (The last time I wrote about Pittsburgh was after the marathon last year and I already took a lot of flak for that.) In their defense, my friends forget I'm not FROM Cleveland. I wasn't born a Browns fan and I don't hate the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After writing that, I feel the desire to rant about how ridiculous these sports rivalry things are. But I'm married to a die-hard Ohio State University fan (with two degrees from there including his PhD), and my husband Jim has an unending supply of quotes by famed OSU football coach Woody Hayes about his hatred of Michigan - and not only the University, but the entire STATE of Michigan. For instance, upon learning from an assistant that they were running out of gas returning from a recruiting trip in the state of Michigan, Woody was alleged to have said the following: "We'll coast and PUSH this goddam car to the Ohio line before I give this state a nickel of my money!"

So, to my Cleveland friends re: Pittsburgh: ok OK, I GET it. I just don't share it. For many reasons I'll go into.

Pittsburgh and Cleveland have an amazing number of similarities. They're both blue-collar steel towns. In both cities you can find several great institutions of higher learning. Both cities have outstanding cultural institutions that were funded by wealthy industrial families of the American Renaissance. When I rave about  Pittsburgh's cultural institutions, I could just as easily be raving about Cleveland's (and I do). And yes, both cities have die-hard major league sports fanatics.

One thing I love about Cleveland is its location on the shores of Lake Erie. Ironically this is the reason Cleveland DOESN'T have one of the things I REALLY love about Pittsburgh - the topography. Pittsburgh's intrinsic beauty lies in its location. Downtown Pittsburgh is formed by the junction of three rivers - the Ohio, the Monongahela and the Allegheny. Surrounding this three-river valley are steep hills with buildings and residential communities built right into them. It often reminds me of San Francisco. One of the things I look forward to most when visiting Pittsburgh is making my way up to the the Mount Washington area (Grandview Avenue) and looking down at "the city of bridges":

Downtown Pittsburgh from Grandview Avenue
Looking up the Monongahela side of Pittsburgh
The junction of the three rivers

I've been to Pittsburgh more times than I can count. Unlike Detroit (you can read my thoughts on Detroit in blog form from earlier this year), we visit Pittsburgh on a regular basis to go to the art museums. We don't usually stay overnight, but when we do, I always bring my running shoes and get up early the next day to see the area.

On Thursday night, I once-again found myself in Pittsburgh, this time for a music gig - The Decemberists. My husband Jim and I decided to stay an extra day and booked a hotel downtown at the edge of what's known as the "Strip District" - the historic (and very cool) market district. Because of our location, my morning run was along the riverfront trail - the Three Rivers Heritage Trail - a route I know very well because I've run it before as part of one of my favorite races, the Pittsburgh Triathlon.

Heinz Field

While I was out running, I gave some thought to why this industrial steel town with a decrepit old riverfront has become a favorite place of mine. I can't even remember the first time I saw Pittsburgh. And I certainly can't count how many times I've been there. And, as previously stated, many of my Cleveland friends wouldn't be caught dead stepping foot in Pittsburgh. So why do I love it so much?

The first thing I came up with - while running - is the amount of care that has gone into revitalizing the riverfront. Pittsburgh's riverfront has undergone a revolution over the last 10-20 years. Pittsburgh's legendary double-duty Three Rivers Stadium was torn down and replaced by Heinz Field - where the Steelers play - and PNC Park - where the Pirates play. Both stadiums lie directly across the Allegheny River from downtown Pittsburgh. They sit majestically above a beautiful riverfront park along the waterfront. This park is along the trail on which I was running.

PNC Park - the architecture is a beautiful tribute
to the steel town's history

The first time I ever ran on the trail was in the 2002 Pittsburgh Triathlon. The race was organized by Friends of Riverfront, a group that has been working to clean up the riverfront and expand and maintain the trail. Their work has paid off. The first time I did the triathlon (2002), water temperature in the Allegheny River was over 80 degrees F, but we were "encouraged" to wear wetsuits because of the bacteria count. The situation had changed drastically by the last time I did the triathlon - in 2009. The trail has been extended much further upstream, the riverfront park was dotted with public art and historical markers and the water was immensely cleaner. Pittsburgh is a city that cares about its image, its heritage and its natural resources. I'd like to see Cleveland do more to celebrate its own industrial, cultural and sports history the way Pittsburgh does on its waterfront.

After my run, Jim and I spend a few hours shopping in the Strip District, grabbed a bite at our favorite Pittsburgh eating and drinking establishment, Piper's Pub, and took a stroll down to a place Jim always wanted to visit, Pittsburgh Guitars. As we were driving home, I recalled some of our past experiences in this city.

One confusing mess of bridges & highways

One of my earliest trips to Pittsburgh was when Jim's father had miraculously landed two tickets to the Major League Baseball All-Star game at Three Rivers Stadium. I don't remember much about that trip except that it was a very late night and trying to get out of town was very confusing. It reminded me of another major complaint my friends have about Pittsburgh - finding one's way around. It's a fair complaint (it's almost as difficult as Boston). There's an inherent difficulty in navigating a wedge-shaped area between two rivers with a seemingly-infinite number of expressways and bridges. Anyone who doesn't live in Pittsburgh usually ends up lost (or not where they wanted to be with no idea how to get where they want to be). It's become an accepted part of every trip we take to Pittsburgh - leaving extra time for getting lost. In fact, I was almost disappointed that we made it into town and to our hotel without incident this time. But we made up for it on Friday when we ended up accidentally driving out of town while trying to cross the Monongahela River to get to Piper's on Carson Street.

Despite the navigational difficulties, driving into Pittsburgh can be an awe-inspiring experience. Approaching the city on I-376 through the Fort Pitt Tunnel will give you one of the most stunning view ever of a city. Coming out of the tunnel always gives me the feeling that I'm descending over Pittsburgh by air - the vantage point gives a full view of downtown, all three rivers and all the bridges. I still remember the first time we drove that route - my heart almost stopped upon suddenly seeing the magnificent panorama. Do it sometime. You won't be disappointed. Unfortunately, we don't always approach Pittsburgh from I-376 - it usually depends on our specific destination and how much time we have.

Edward Hopper's "Cape Cod Afternoon"
at the Carnegie Museum of Art
(I bet you thought I'd post a Warhol)

This brings me to another reason I love Pittsburgh and one of the main reasons I like to go there repeatedly: Art. After a short drive, I can be standing in front of a Warhol. Or a room of Warhols. An entire museum of Warhols. Even better, I can be at the Carnegie Museum of Art standing in front of my favorite Edward Hopper Painting, "Cape Cod Afternoon." There are numerous art and cultural establishments in and around the city of Pittsburgh - the four Carnegie Museums are only a small fraction of it. Yes, I know Cleveland has an awesome art museum. (Afterall, I am a member.) But so does Pittsburgh. And it's only two hours away. (And Cleveland Museum of Art members get full admission reciprocation, i.e., it's free!)

And finally, I always like meeting people in Pittsburgh. We never get scorned upon revealing we're from Cleveland. Having traveled to Pittsburgh for a concert this time, it was ironic that one of the employees at Pittsburgh Guitars had the distinct impression that Cleveland "gets all the best gigs." Jim and I disagreed, but he backed it up with tales of his travels north to our fair city to see concerts at our own Beachland Ballroom (arguably the best music venue in the greater Cleveland area).

It made me think... could my whole love-of-Pittsburgh be a case of "the grass is always greener"? I don't know, but for now, I'm just glad we have more than one city to choose from.

Cleveland acting like New England

In Cleveland, we have an amazing civic treasure known as the "Emerald Necklace," or Cleveland Metroparks, a connected string of suburban parks (called reservations) that encircles the city of Cleveland. Long before I was fortunate enough to be a park employee (I work for Cleveland Metroparks Zoo), I was a daily visitor to the parks either on foot or by bike. If you envision the park system as a necklace, I live right near the bottom (where the pendant would be). My two very favorite bike rides are in either direction from there through the Metroparks - north and west or north and east.

On my first outdoor 100-miler, I tackled the west branch. Yesterday, on my second, I went east. In addition to being the last bike century workout before Ironman St. George, I also planned to use this ride to assess the winter damage to the park roads so I know better what routes to take this summer. While I was out, I remembered all the things I love (and hate) about riding east through Cleveland Metroparks.

There's really not much to hate, actually. It's more of that proverbial "love-hate relationship." To my surprise and delight, the roads had weathered Cleveland's harsh winter amazingly well, and I was able to spend more time looking around than worrying about dodging pot-holes. And, that's when I realized how much I love (hate) this route.

Squire's Castle in Cleveland Metroparks
North Chagrin Reservation

The route took me through the rolling hills of Bedford Reservation, into South Chagrin Reservation, and then north along the Chagrin River and into North Chagrin Reservation. Once you pick up the Chagrin River, you get to see how "the other half lives" (that is, if you're ME and NOT the "other half"). Along Chagrin River Road is where every house looks like a castle, but the actual "castle" is in Cleveland Metroparks (it's called Squire's Castle).

Being from New England, I always feel transported back there to a time when all roads followed rivers. In fact, the scenery of this area could be lifted right out of a Robert Frost poem (see photo at top). The landscape is punctuated by huge park areas, forest, creeks and horse stables. There are both rolling and steep hills. And there are little iron bridges. Everyone lives in "villages" and the places have names like "Hunting Valley" and "Gates Mills." It seems that each village has its own coat of arms which is proudly displayed as you enter the village. There's even a polo field. Yep, you heard me. A POLO field. I mean, seriously, who plays polo? But there it is, the Cleveland Metroparks Polo Field.

But I digress.. getting back to the ride.. I did see lots of bikers on what was very likely their first outdoor rides of the season. And not only road bikers, but EVERYONE was out yesterday - runners, walkers, hikers, mountain bikers, motorcyclists - all taking in the temperatures in the... high 50s! It looked like summer. There were people in shorts and tank tops. I've become well aware that Clevelanders see temperatures above 50 and declare it beach weather. And what's wrong with that after the crazy cold winter and spring we've had this year?

As a "Clevelander," I did it too. I walked outside with bike shorts and short sleeves, determined to make this a summer (or at least spring) ride. I found out rather quickly (one-half-mile into my ride) the air whizzing by on the bike wasn't so summery, and I quickly had to don a pair of arm warmers and gloves, which remained on me for the duration of my ride.

It started out well - most likely due to the fact I was riding with the wind. I reached the 34-mile turnaround at an average pace of 17.7 mph. By the time I hit 65 miles, it had dropped to 17 and I had become discouraged. I always forget that road riding requires stopping at stop signs and traffic lights, and, on this ride, several bathroom breaks because I hadn't dressed warm enough to sweat. I did my second loop south through the Summit Metroparks - mostly on their bike path. Similarly, this path went past some really ritzy areas such as Silver Lake. In the end, I decided to dub this ride "the other half."

My nutrition consisted of Carbo Pro mixed with Infinit Nutrition's preset cycling formula at about 250 calories per hour and supplemented with E.F.S. Liquid Shot. During my long rides this year, I've learned a new lesson: I need more than 250 calories per hour because I get lightheaded (more than usual) when I limit it to 250. I added the Infinit formula because it supplies protein but not so much that I start to feel nauseous like I used to with Hammer's Perpetuem.

The final 20 miles were mostly on a downslope which gave me time to rest my legs and get my average up to 17.3 mph by the finish. While in the homestretch, I realized my legs weren't feeling very fatigued. In fact, they were feeling pretty good. It gave me hope for the second part of my workout - a short run off the bike.

By the time I got home, the sun had come out and temperatures were warming into the 60's. My husband Jim had planned to use the day to get ready for summer: put away the snow blower (woo!), get out the grill and do lawnmower maintenance. Lucky for me, he had also agreed to ride his bike with me while I ran and carry water so I could test my run nutrition. (Secretly, I love when he does this because I have someone to talk to - or complain to - after six hours of riding alone.) It also helps to have him assess my running form and pace.

I did a quick transition - put on my running shoes, took the last swig of Carbo Pro in the bottle, grabbed a Gu and filled a water bottle - and was on my way. But something was NOT RIGHT. I didn't feel fatigued. I didn't even have "the wobble" (the J-Team terminology for what you look like coming out of the Ironman T2 transition tent). Jim commented on it first: "you're looking pretty good."

My comment? "I don't think I should feel this good." My legs felt fresh (dare I say "springy"?). Not the way they should feel after 100 miles of biking. And not the way I expected them to feel after my final really hard week of training.

I had decided to run for 30 minutes.. enough to get me through the first Gu/water stop. But when we got back to the house, I felt good enough to throw in 10 more minutes. It was somewhere around 38 minutes of running that I said it. I don't know why. I don't know what came over me. But I said IT.

"I feel good enough to run a whole marathon right now."

EEEEEEEEEEK! Did that just come out of my mouth? All I can hope for now is that the same thing happens on race day. It's 27 days away.

Needs no caption.

March in Cleveland - I've said it all. I'm sure you don't want to hear about it again. The rain. The snow. The ice.

The SLIPPING on ice.

The treadmill. The indoor track. The trainer.

The LONG rides on the trainer.

With seven weeks to go until Ironman St. George, Spring broke in Cleveland this past weekend - but only for a brief moment. That was the moment I managed to get outside for my first long bike ride of the season. My goal was 100 miles. But you need more than a moment to finish a century ride. You need several moments. And a little luck. And I seem to always run out of those things when I need them most.

The day, and my ride, started out relatively pain-free. It was noon on Sunday and the temperature had warmed into the low 40s. I checked the weather and saw it wasn't too windy and the rain would hold off (rain? what rain? it was a clear blue sky) until 7 pm. I mixed up my nutrition bottles and decided what to wear - concerned about wind-chill, I chose my fleece wind-stopper mittens and jacket.

My husband Jim was heading out for lawn care supplies, but before he left, I asked him to check my bike's wireless computer battery because the display had been blinking. (That meant the battery was dying, right? What else could that possibly mean?) Jim swapped out the battery with one from an older bike computer then pocketed the "dead" one for reference to buy extras.

At noon standing in my kitchen, I was unaware I had just made the first two mistakes of my ride: (1) I made a hugely wrong assumption about the weather (more on this later) and (2) I didn't READ THE MANUAL and therefore made a MORE hugely wrong assumption about bike computers. When I rolled my bike out of the garage, there was an obvious problem with the computer - the display was working but the numbers were all zeroes. I adjusted the sensor and tried again. Nothing. I read the manual. There it was in black and white: if the speed number is blinking, THE SENSOR NEEDS A NEW BATTERY. NOT the computer. And I just sent Jim out with the only other "good" battery.

Jim was treated to a frantic phone call, after which he stopped for batteries and made his way back home as quickly as possible. The bike computer was back up and running by 1:30 pm. At this point, in any other city, I would have looked up at the sky and said "no problem." But I live in Cleveland, and I know better. And I was having a massive anxiety attack about the weather.

I jumped on my bike and began my journey through the hilly west branch of Cleveland Metroparks. The wind had already begun to kick up as my route headed north. By the the time I reached my turnaround near the lake, I had been riding for 34 miles almost directly into the wind.

At this point, it would be a safe assumption that riding out against the wind means you'll be riding back "with" the wind. This is never a guarantee in Cleveland. We truly live by the old saying: "if you don't like the weather in Cleveland, wait 15 minutes - it'll change." I looked up at the blue sky and then whipped out my iPhone to check the weather.

And there it was in front of me - around 4 pm, the wind would change direction. And it did. On my way back, the wind shifted from north to east to southeast. What direction was I headed? South. Then east. In disbelief, I mused that this must be the kind of day that leads us to recall how bad we had it in the "olden days." I could just hear my future self: "..way back when I was a triathlete, we rode into the wind, BOTH ways."

More from the "mad scientist": Weather Underground plots
prove the wind changed direction between 4 and 5 p.m.

By the time I hit 50 miles, my speed was dwindling from the hills AND the wind. The clouds had rolled in and the temperature was fighting to stay above 40 degrees. My wind-stopper jacket had done such a great job that I was soaked through the layer underneath it. I was now starting to feel the cold. I stopped again and called Jim, hoping for some moral support and to ask him to meet me somewhere with dry clothes, another water bottle and the lighter lenses for my sunglasses.

What I really wanted to do was pack it in. I was cold. I was tired. I didn't want to finish my ride in the dark. My legs were rebelling from running 21-miles with hills the day before. And worst of all, my motivation had taken a nose-dive. Jim's moral support came more like a warning: "if you don't do 100 miles today, you'll have to do it next weekend on the trainer because it's going to get cold again." Ouch, the double whammy - slamming my attitude AND the crap Cleveland weather.

But it worked. Ok. OK! I'll finish this thing. He offered to meet me with supplies on the second out-and-back leg. I was about to head into - and subsequently, out of - the Cuyahoga Valley. I had visions of having to walk my bike up those final hills. In the DARK.

Shake it off!

The downhills into the valley were good for some speed, even into the wind. And by the time I turned around, I was feeling better mentally and physically. In the 20-mile homestretch, I would FINALLY be riding with the wind at my back. Jim met me and I was able to quickly change into dry clothes and get back on my way. Would I make it home before dark? Jim gave me a little blinkie light just in case.

Warmed up and dry now, I was able to get back on the road with newfound enthusiasm.

It lasted about 10 minutes. Then I heard what distinctly sounded like acorns hitting the pavement. Hmm.. I glanced around. No acorns - in fact, no nuts of any kind. And then it hit me - right smack in the face. The SOUND (the one of "acorns hitting the pavement") was not acorns hitting the pavement but RAIN DROPS hitting the pavement. Enormous MONSTER rain drops. Rain drops with attitudes of their OWN. And they were hitting ME now. I heard myself groan. This ride had now entered the realm of the Disaster Magnet.

The rain clouds darkened the conditions even further, and I decided to take the quickest way out of the valley - mostly for safety. I got off the road and onto a paved bike trail for as long as I could. By the time I rolled into my driveway, I was soaked from the outside in, the roads were slick, drivers were yelling at me and it was almost completely night.

And on my (now working) bike computer read the following: 100.2 mi.

Yesterday's drive on the highway

March in Cleveland is a very trying thing for an endurance athlete. And I know "everyone" is complaining about the winter blahs right about now, especially in the midwest, but this is one of those years when March - the "spring" month - has been especially bad for us runners/bikers/swimmers with weekly nine-to-five jobs. The weekday weather has been great, but the weekends (Friday through Sunday) have been slammed with cold, snow and, at times, blizzard conditions. And if it's not snowing, it's 32 degrees and raining.

Normally, the unpredictable March weather wouldn't be a problem, as I usually start my really long stuff in April or May. But this year, in my infinite disaster-magnet wisdom, I registered for an Ironman - Ironman St. George - the first week of May. I swear I was being completely rational when I hit that "submit" button last July. But it was warm and sunny. My thoughts were: "No problem! I can get outside in March for my long rides." What was I thinking? How could I forget the year we had three blizzards in three successive March weekends? (I remember it because my running friends were out in horizontal snow training for spring marathons.)

In my defense, this winter I've tackled my indoor training with enthusiasm and without going mad. I've maintained my sanity through several five-hour trainer rides and weeks straight of indoor workouts. But I'm now at the point where one long run (2:30+) on the treadmill will surely push me over the edge. And for more than just mental reasons. After an nine-miler on the treadmill at my fitness center three days ago - my first time back on the 'mill since the great treadmill disaster of 2011 - I realized that, unlike the bike trainer, the treadmill compromises my form. My stride is shortened and my hamstrings were still screaming two days later (note: stumbling stiff-legged down the road on slush and ice yesterday was not the smartest thing to do but luckily didn't end in disaster).

This weekend in the snow and slush, I have to tackle a long run and a long brick. I can't keep putting them off hoping for "better weather." With eight weeks to Ironman, it's do or die time. And although my training volume is decent, my race-specific workouts have been severely lacking.

Which brings me to my other point in this blog. This spring is the first time I'm going into an Ironman without any race experience in prior months. My last triathlon was in November and I've only run a marathon since. I feel completely unprepared for racing, and, unfortunately, I can't get to a race in the next two months due to limited funds and the inability to take any vacation time. The only thing I will do is a race "simulation" to test my abilities and nutrition. But I do feel like I'll be going into St. George cold (no pun intended).

All I can say is, like the way we deal with the weather in Cleveland, I'm going to make the best of it.

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